Mike Stern makes his living consulting Alternative and Rock radio stations, as well as coaching personality shows. In today’s post, Mike displays some of the ways in which he approaches his craft, and what inspires him. Oftentimes, it stems from other pop culture sources – like TV. In today’s guest post, Mike offers 8 great tips for radio personalities and DJs, spurred by watching a little Netflix. – FJ
As a consultant who coaches several morning and personality shows, I’m always looking for inspiration – analogies, object lessons, and other shining examples of what to do – and what not to do.
Sometimes you find them in odd places. Former Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly used to watch televangelist shows to find a bit of inspiration he could impart to his jaded team of NBA multi-millionaires. In that same spirit, I’m always looking for great examples of humor, entertainment, and performance I can pass on to the shows and personalities I coach and support.
So when Seth Myers mentioned that comedian Neal Brennan is one of his best friends, it convinced my wife and me to watch his Netflix special, 3 Mics.
And the premise is fascinating. The entire show literally features Brennan rotating between three microphones on the stage: one for short one-liners, one for more traditional stand-up comedy, and a third for “emotional stuff,” monologues about Brennan’s life. Clever, right?
Despite the unique concept, all I could think about while I watched was how much it felt like I was seeing an on-stage rendition of a morning show not ready for prime time.
3 Mics starts with the one-liners: short, relatively funny jokes like: “a neck tattoo is really a way of saying you are fine with making minimum wage.” These struck me as a solid morning show benchmark bit – entertaining content that gets right to the point and ends on a high note. In a PPM or diary world, it would be pretty solid content.
And then there was the stand-up material on mic two, which was very much like hearing a morning show give their take on a news story. Brennan shared some interesting insights on various subjects. Some got a few laughs (in my living room) and others fell a little flat. But hey, morning shows have their hits and misses, too.
Where the show really fell short was the “emotional stuff” – mic three. Here Brennan fell into the same trap that trips up so many morning hosts: focusing on himself, especially before there’s a relationship in place.
I didn’t need to know about his battles with depression, his tortured relationship with his family or how several different women have left him with a broken heart. That’s because as Jamie Mac, Operations Manager/Zimmer Broadcasting, would say, Brennan failed to make an emotional deposit with the audience prior to trying to making a withdrawal. He was asking me to care about his life, but hadn’t demonstrated that he cares about me.
It’s like sitting next to someone on an airplane (yes, this happens) who pours his whole life story to you, and you’ve barely met. And of course, it’s a one-way conversation.
And while Brennan’s “emotional stuff” topics were very revealing, they weren’t particularly relatable. He talked about having a lot of money (he was Dave Chappelle’s writing partner on Chappelle’s Show) as well as being the youngest of ten children – experiences not many of us can relate to. And while the story of being left out of his father’s will was sad, it also felt self-aggrandizing considering he didn’t need the money.
So what lessons can actual radio shows learn from Brennan’s 3 Mics effort:
1. Be creative
It’s rare to see someone take a unique approach to a show – be it mornings or stand-up – like 3 Mics. It’s hard to get attention today, and one way to do it is by being willing to try something different that no one else is doing. So he deserves some props for coming up with a truly unique stage concept.
2. Play to your strengths
Brennan writing experience with Chappelle means he clearly knows how to bring outlandish concepts (think Clayton Bigsby, the blind, African-American white supremacist) to life. Yet, a lot of his material in 3 Mics centered on straightforward jokes and topics any comic could write. Know what makes your show stand out and focus on it.
3. Be relatable
Brennan’s strained relationship with his dad and having his heart broken are universal experiences. But he lost the audience (at least me and my wife) by focusing on elements of the story that only impact him – like being rich enough not to need any inheritance from his father. It’s important to build content around the universal parts of a story that most can connect with.
4. Forge a relationship
People care about you when you care about them. And that is tough to pull off in your first TV special or for a brand-new morning show. It takes time and investment. Maybe that third mic could have been topics from the audience that Brennan might have improvised on. And that underscores the value (for most radio personality shows) of phones and taking the time to form a bond with an audience.
5. Watch your pacing
Whether it’s a stand-up routine, a monologue, a presentation, or a morning show bit, it’s important to be concise. Several of Brennan’s pieces were laden with unnecessary details that didn’t impact the outcome of the story and could have been trimmed. I kept thinking there were “migrating” PPM meters while watching the show.
6. Learn from others
While Brennan’s storytelling wasn’t particularly engaging, there are people like Shannon Carson, who I met at last year’s Podcast Movement, or the participants in The Moth’s storytelling contests that are amazing. Taking the time to seek out and critically analyze other shows can truly help you grow as a talent.
7. Use Social Media Effectively
The content on Brennan’s Facebook and Twitter pages is almost identical, yet people use these platforms much differently. Twitter is great for those snarky one-liners and quick-hitting observations that Brennan likes to write. But Facebook lends itself to video and longer form content. It would be a great place for him to refine his stand-up skills and serious commentary, but he’s not taking advantage of it.
8. Be Honest About Your Skills
At one point, Brennan admitted he’s still learning stand-up having been more of a writer and producer in the past. Perhaps he’s more suited to a behind the scenes role rather than being on stage. Self-deprecation is part of it, as is the sometimes painful process of evaluating your talent and focusing on what you do best. It can be painful, but it’s the quickest path to success and satisfaction.
The talent I work with regularly know that one of my shortcomings is that I sometimes fail to highlight the good while being critical.
So there’s this: Neal Brennan is clearly talented and creative. He’s got a skill set and a resume that could turn him into a bona fide star. And the 3 Mics concept is original and it grabs your attention. There’s something here.
Just don’t hire him for mornings.
The official trailer for 3 Mics is linked below. WARNING: It is extremely NSFW.
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