“Being a stand-up comedian is a serious business, but with a lot of laughs,” says veteran comedian, Dave Schwensen. “Stand-up comedy has become a giant industry and a major source of talent for movies, television and radio. The entertainment world is constantly looking for new faces.”
Schwensen’s face can be seen not only at local and national comedy clubs, but also at libraries and other venues, speaking about his two passions, comedy and The Beatles. His books include: How to Be A Working Comic (Backstage Books), Comedy FAQs and Answers (Allworth Press) and The Beatles in Cleveland (North Shore Publishing).
Schwensen grew up in Vermilion, graduated from Bowling Green State University, then moved to New York City, where he studied under famed acting coach, Lee Strasberg. “My friend was a stand-up comedian and it looked like a fun job,” he recalls. “So I took a comedy workshop in NYC and started performing at open mike clubs. I then started my own comedy club in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. It was very successful and was my key to landing the job as manager / talent booker for The Original Improv (stand-up comedy club) in NYC.
“I probably performed at the NYC Improv over 200 times, ” he adds. “But I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes dealings. Soon I was setting up showcase auditions for The Tonight Show, David Letterman, The Today Show, HBO, Cinemax and others. The producers would call me for recommendations and I would put together a lineup of comedians I thought were ready for network television. The talent coordinators would come in to watch, then decide who got the show.”
After some time in Los Angeles (where he was talent coordinator for The Hollywood Improv and A & E’s An Evening at the Improv, among other work), Schwensen returned to his hometown in 1993. The following year, he decided to host a workshop for aspiring local comedians, which he’s been doing ever since.
“Our main workshop takes place over a three-week period at The Cleveland Improv Comedy Club,” he says. “We meet for three Saturday afternoons from noon and 4 pm, followed by a weeknight evening performance at The Improv. Each workshop is limited to ten people, due to the time spent working with everyone on an individual basis. Each participant has performance time on stage during every meeting and members of the workshop are encouraged to help with ideas, suggestions, punch lines, jokes and experiences. A lot of friendships have been made through these workshops, and of course, we laugh a lot while getting the job done. Graduation night is a performance during an evening show at The Improv.”
Schwensen says that when it comes to being a successful comedian, talent and originality are essential. But it also involves preparation, experience, a knowledge of the business and knowing what is expected.
“There are established business methods within the comedy industry that performers should be aware of. Developing, writing and performing a stand-up comedy act—and learning how the comedy industry works from an insider’s point of view—is what the workshop is all about.
“Because I’m also a businessman and a behind-the-scenes guy, I know what goes on behind closed doors in choosing who gets the job, and who doesn’t. I pass along this information, and more, to the comedians in my workshops.
“It beats the heck out of a basket-weaving class,” says laughing.
Coming from a guy who has worked with Jay Leno, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne, Ray Romano, Drew Carey and others, that’s reason enough for those aching to itch their funny bone to enroll.
*The current group will perform at the Cleveland Improv on Wednesday, July 28th at 7:30 pm. Schwensen suggests anyone interested in the workshops should attend this performance and contact him after the show.
For information, see www.TheComedyBook.com. Or send an email to Dave@TheComedyBook.com.