Podcast Episode 131 – Second City’s Kelly Leonard

Great improvisers make comedy look so easy.  They just hit jokes out of the park like hanging curve balls.

But as Kelly Leonard explains in this week’s podcast, improv is one of the most challenging forms of performance on the planet.

That’s why the good ones, like Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers, etc. all go on to superstardom.

But before that, they all started at Second City in Chicago.

Kelly Leonard has been running the show at Second City for decades, and he saw those three I just mentioned and so many more, pay their dues on his stage.

I’m a big believer that one of the best ways to lay the groundwork for any show is through improvisation (it’s how I created my first show, The Awesome 80s Prom, and how I wrote my next show, Gettin’ The Band Back Together)so when I ran into Kelly in Chicago, I said to him . . .

“Kelly, will you be on my podcast?”

And he said . . .

“Yes . . . and . . . ”

Listen to Kelly and I improv some Q&As on all subjects such as:

  • What improv is great at . . . and where it fails.
  • Is a dramatic improv possible?  (Hear what happened when he tried one.)
  • How improv has changed in the era of Political Correctness.
  • The art of writing . . . FAST!  And how to do it well.
  • Why improv is being studied by academics and what it could mean for society’s future.

By the way, if you didn’t get that “Yes . . . and . . .” reference above, then you should read Kelly’s book and also take an improv class because it will improve your acting, your writing . . . and your life!

Enjoy the podcast!

Click here for the link to my podcast with Kelly!

Listen to it on iTunes here.  (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here




Are There Rules to Writing? This Oscar Winner Thinks So.

One of the many awesome things about the internet is that you can learn how to do anything or learn how to improve something you already know how to do by tossing a few keystrokes into Google.

There are free videos galore on YouTube (Did you know that “how to” vids on YouTube get 4x the views of animal videos?), as well as tons of paid learning opportunities from colleges, experts on any subject, and more.

My staff and I have studied on Lynda.com, GreatCourses.com, and my latest favorite, MasterClass.com.

Yeah, they cost some money . . . but education on any subject has the best ROI on the planet (I met someone recently who told me they wanted to learn how to speak Spanish, but wouldn’t spend the money to buy an online training course . . . and then the dude told me how he went to Vegas and blew a wad of cash at the Blackjack table. #PrioritiesPeople).

Anyway, I di-grant. (That’s digress and rant smooshed together.)

The most recent course I’ve taken on MasterClass.com is a screenwriting class taught by Aaron Sorkin.  No, no, I’m not looking to pen the next Pulp Fiction.  But Aaron is a guy that has written successful plays, successful TV shows and successful movies . . . and that says to me he’s a guy that understands how to tell a story.  And getting better at that will make me a better Producer/Writer/Blogger/Marketer/Anything.

I’m only about halfway through the course, which cost me $90, and already I’ve gotten a whole bunch of truth bombs (as well as some fun West Wing stories).

But my favorite so far was the session I watched yesterday when Aaron talked about the rules of writing.  He preambled that so many artists he runs into think that creating art of any kind is so freeing because there are no “rules.”  On the contrary, he insisted . . .

Rules are what make art beautiful.  Without them, you’re just finger painting.

Is that a Sorkinism or what?

He referenced Aristotle’s Poetics (of course), and I was reminded of my favorite blueprints for writing anything, The Writer’s Journey and Steve Cuden’s Beating Broadway (I liked that book so much, I ‘booked’ Steve for my upcoming conference).

And I agree with Aaron 101%.  And whatever rules Aaron pays attention to, all of the rest of us lay-writers need to pay twice the attention to.

But I will offer one suggestion to free up those who feel restricted by any rules.  Write what you want to write.  If you run into problems, consult the rule books.  Don’t do the reverse.  Writing “by the rules” becomes writing “by the numbers.”

Go.  Write.  And then, if something isn’t working, go back and check your favorite rule book.

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Want to learn more about the rules of writing and get your script in the best shape it can be?  Forget paying a high priced dramaturge.  Learn how to be, as Aaron calls it, “a diagnostician” and diagnose the issues with your script yourself!  I’m teaching a one-hour online course on TheProducersPerspectivePRO next Wed, 9/13/17 at 7 PM on the most common faults I’ve seen in the hundreds of scripts I’ve read and how to address them.  It’s only for PRO members, so click here to join. 

Can’t make it on the 13th?  It’ll be available for viewing “on demand” for all registrants the very next day.

Get more info here.

Because a bunch of you missed the Producing 101 teleseminar.

One of my bloggin’ missions this year was to give you what you want.

So back in the frigid month of January (remember that nonsense?) I wrote a blog asking you specifically “what your problem was.”  I wanted you to tell me what you wanted in posts, seminars, and more.  And I’d adjust my New Year’s resolutions to try and deliver.

I got a bunch of comments, and even more emails telling me very specifically what  you were looking to learn about in 2014.  I created a punch list of all those things that you asked for and have slowly been working my way through ’em.  As you can imagine, more info and tips on how to raise money for your shows or theaters was at the top of the list, which is why I created and released Raise It (which I’m proud to say has gotten some pretty awesome feedback – read the testimonials here.)

Surprisingly, and this is why it’s always important to ask your readers/audience what you can do for ’em, the other subject you wanted discussed was much simpler.  You wanted to know how to start.  Or more specifically, you wanted to know how to get started the right way with Producing Broadway shows, Off Broadway shows, and any type of show.  That’s why I developed Producing 101: The Three Fundamentals of Theater Producing, which I taught in my first teleseminar back in April.

And I have to say, I never thought speaking into a microphone in my office with a whole bunch of people listening in from all over the world could ever be so much fun.  But it was awesome.  In addition to me dissecting my system for a proper foundation in Theater Producing, I also took questions from people as close as New Jersey and as far away as Tokyo.

Since then, a lot of folks have asked me when I am doing it again.

The answer is?  I’m not.

With It’s Only A Play coming up, as well as Gettin’ The Band Back Together, Somewhere in Time and a couple of projects I haven’t even told you about (including my wedding which is in . . . gulp . . . 3 weeks!), it’s just hard to find the time.  When I broke that news to a few of the folks that inquired, they asked if there was any way that they could get their hands on the material.

And well, sometimes I feel like the genie in Aladdin – if you ask for something, I feel like I have to give it to you – (unless it’s a new Porsche so please don’t email me for that!).

So, if you missed the Producing 101 Teleseminar, or if you have never even heard of the teleseminar, but are interested in learning about the three fundamentals of theater producing, click here.  I’ve made the recordings available, along with a text-book-like transcript, tips on how I get my shows off the ground, and some other fun stuff.  It’s the perfect starter course if you are interested in producing.  Or you’ve been at it for awhile and things haven’t taken off yet, well, as Mr. Chase, my Basketball teacher in high school used to say, get back to the fundamentals.

Click here to learn more and to get Producing 101.

And more of what you want coming your way, including something I’ve always dreamed about having myself!


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)
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In honor of my 4,000th, here’s my top 100.

So get this noise . . .Ken Davenport Top 100 Blogs

Today is my 4,000th post.

I really can’t believe it, but it’s true.  Since I started bloggin’ back in 2008 (!), I’ve written four-freakin’-thousand entries.  Huh.  Let’s think about that for a sec.  If each entry is about a page, then I’ve written the equivalent of War and Peace . . .  two-and-two-thirds times over!

Crazy, to think about it.  Especially when you consider that if someone walked up to me six years ago and asked, “Ken, will you write a 4,000 page book about theater and producing?” I’d tell them to go stuff themselves because there’s no way I could write a 400 page book on theater and producing!  (Once again proving that big goals should be chunked down to bite sized goals so they are more easily digestible by your self-conscious.)

Back in January, when I asked you all, “Yo!  What’s Your Problem!?!” I got a bunch of emails from new subscribers saying, “Ken – where do I start?!?”  When I got this in the past, I used to say, “Browse it up!”  But now, with 4,000 posts, and some blogs better than others (even I know when I write a stinker), I figured it was time to solve this problem with a little more structure.

So I put together a book of my Top 100 Blogs!

But I had nothing to do with picking the Top 100.  I let you do that.  And you didn’t even know it.

The Top 100 blogs that made it into this book are the blogs that were the most popular and the most read over the last six years.  They are the blogs that, for whatever reason, resonated with you.

Blogs like:

– “What do Barry Manilow and Mike Tyson have in common?”
– “Does an attack on The Times signal a change in the times?”
– “Why you should focus on getting people to NOT see your show!”
– And 97 more of your faves.

It was so tempting to just fill up this book with the blogs I personally enjoyed, and the ones I thought were “important.” But, when it comes down to making something that you want people to read (or see . . . if you apply this theory to a show), you have to put the audience first.

(Huh.  I think that’s actually my producing mission statement.  I gotta remember that one.)

So, the blogs in this book are not my Top 100.  They are yours.

If you don’t want to click through the 4,000 to read the “most read” then get the book.

You can get it in ol’ fashioned paperback here.

Or you can get the eBook version here.

And if you want to see the other books I’ve put out in the world there, click here.

Thanks again for gettin’ me to 4,000.  I wouldn’t have gotten to four blogs if it weren’t for all of your passion keepin’ me goin’.  Because believe me, I’ve wanted to stop several times.  But your emails and comments (even the ones that disagree with me!) keep me bloggin’ away.

But, I think I’ve got another 4,000 in me.  You in?

Great.  I’ll see you in six years!


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)
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Why I stopped reading a book today.

Broadway BooksIf you’re like me, and since you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume you are . . . you’re a “finisher.”  You like to complete things.  You like to cross things off your list.  You like to get things done.

And one thing you don’t like to do is quit.  You started something, so G-d Dammit, you’re gonna finish it.

I’ve always been that way in every aspect of my life, including the little things, like watching a movie . . . or reading a book.  I just have to finish it.  You know what I’m talking about right?  You picked up that book, you decided to read it, you invested money in it (even if you bought it on half.com) and if you started it, then you’ve got time invested too!  How can you stop when you’ve started???

Just the other day I found myself 100 pages into my most recent book (I read mostly non-fiction stuff . . . a lot of books on marketing (here’s a good new one, btw) and business case studies from other industries that I think Broadway can learn from.).  And I suddenly realized I couldn’t even remember the last 30 pages.  This book wasn’t teaching me anything new.  It wasn’t entertaining me.  It was just taking up my time, and preventing me from getting to the bottomless electronic stack of other books I have waiting patiently for me on my Kindle.

Despite all that, every instinct in my Type A, slightly OCD in the best/worst entrepreneur kind of way, told me finish that effin’ book!  “Maybe it’ll get better, Ken!  You’re already in this far!  You can’t leave anything undone!”

But then, something happened.

I realized that I had already spent a few hours on this sucker so far . . . and it was going to take me a few more hours to finish it (maybe even longer, since it was Lincoln-like boring).  And I thought, in the same few hours, I could pick up download a new book, and it might teach me something new that could improve my business, my shows . . . my life . . . that much sooner!  This one wasn’t going to do it.  It was only delaying me from getting where I wanted to go.  It was holding me back . . . which is the opposite of what an entrepreneur wants, right?  My own instincts that make me a good entrepreneur were also preventing me from going forward.

It’s essential from time to time to put a book down and move on to the next.  Same is true in the stock market.  When you’ve got a loser, sell it, take what’s left, and buy something else.  Real estate?  Yep.  Anything you invest time and money in, like, oh, I don’t know . . . developing shows?

A Producer’s time is limited.  There are only so many shows you can have on your plate.  And when you’ve got a project that isn’t entertaining you, that you aren’t learning from, and that you don’t believe in as much as you did when you started, then you have to put it down, just like I did with my book.  (By the way, same is true for Writers, Directors, Actors, you name it.)

You can always pick it back up later if you’re inspired, but for now, if something isn’t working, put . . . it . . . down.

It’s hard, I  know.  Your time, your money, your emotion is in that sucker.  You chose it!  You don’t want to be wrong.  You want to believe!

But there’s something more rewarding out there for you.  And you owe it to yourself and to your career to have the time to find it.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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