Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A series of questions...

Here are a bunch of questions I have encountered in my pursuit. I've decided to put in them into self-interview format. Enjoy!

- Should I memorize my jokes?
When speaking to several comics, it seems to be "to each his own." In the very beginning stages, memorizing seems a bit useless. As a comedian, you need to be able to morph and change in front of different audiences. You need to be on your toes and be prepared for interruptions (waitress mishaps, hecklers, microphone feedback/failure, etc.) You may realize that in your prepared set, placement of a specific word in your joke may not do well with a particular audience and you'll have to gauge that and adjust accordingly.

Let me be more specific:
Let's say the punch-line word is "Coco-cola." But you know that this particular audience doesn't drink Coke, but instead, they drink Pepsi. And they are unfamiliar and perhaps even dislike any reference to Coke and Coke products. So if you memorized the joke, as originally planned with "Coke" in it, the joke will fail. And maybe the audience will turn on you. You, as the comedian, will fall flat on your face.

So you need to be verbally nimble. Instead of memorizing, standup comedians suggest that you memorize the format of the joke. You should be able to understand the structure of your joke enough to change it as needed.


My take on this: "Dammit!"
I find this to be hard to do. It's like memorizing the format of crossword puzzle. But with time and experience you learn to "go in" and "out of" your set when interruptions or omissions occur in your set. Can't wait 'til I have a handle on that!

- Should I take part in any "Bringer shows"?
Like the title says, a bringer show is where you, as the comedian, need to "bring" people to your show. The booker makes money off of this, and it's dangerous for you as a comic because, essentially, you're selling your soul by using your friends and family to your benefit. Usually the guests/audience has to pay either for admission/entrance or for a drink minimum.

When you do a bringer show, make sure your set is tight. You want to invite the friends aren't the "laugh-y" friends (friends that laugh at every joke because they think that if there's dead silence, that's a cue that you're bombing, and in their eyes that's bad. So they overcompensate by doing the filler fake laugh.) You don't want that because it's deadly obvious. And it'll hurt you in the end.

Plan on recording your "bringer" set because if it turns out great, you'll want it to later promote yourself to other managers, bookers, bigger and badder comedy clubs, etc. Ideally, you want a video format. Visual is always much better than simply audio.

Bringer shows will get you in good with the promoter/booker, if your friends turn up and end up paying. But can be detrimental if the opposite occurs.

Bringer shows are dicey, at best. Very little payoff and there's a lot to lose.

Ways to overcome the bringer show, do your own show. Find a great venue (laid back owner), set up your own show, with a set of comics that you know are solid, and promote up the wazoo. You can develop your own following and create a name for yourself that way. The hardest part is finding a regular audience. You can always collaborate with bands and dance parties. I, mean, c'mon really. Who doesn't want to laugh?

- How do you get good fast?
The best way is to get on stage--often. It's inevitable and unavoidable. You need to be on stage in front of an audience as often as possible. I've been told several times to try to get on stage every single night. If not, try to get close to that. However, it can get expensive, especially if you have to pay to get on stage. But again, you can promote other people's shows for stage time or you can create your own shows. Both are a sacrifice of time. But whoever said work was a bad thing?


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Monday, July 30, 2007

Black rooms versus White rooms

Ooooo. This post is about to get controversial! Hang tight!

Okay, so this weekend I happened to be lucky enough find a very hip and "with it" black comedy group, The Neighborhood Watch. They've been in existence for almost two years. They have garnered a small following and are looking to make some waves in the near future.

The director is David Lester, who befriended me immediately, after I performed for the first time at his weekly open mic on Tuesday nights at The Five Spot in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

...If you don't believe racism still exists, then I pity you...

A few days later, we get to talking about the most controversial issue in comedy: Being a black comic and playing a black room versus playing a white room. It's a major issue in comedic development.

A little bit of history: Black rooms are called the Chitlin circuit. That circuit was named this because of the popular southern black cuisine, Chitterlings.
Because of Jim Crow laws and your basic garden-variety segregation, great black artists/musicians (Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Little Richard, James Brown, Ray Charles, AND JIMI HENDRIX) needed to travel to distinctly black clubs in order to perform for them. Because white people sure as hell weren't going to sit next to "the help" while trying to enjoy "the help"'s performance on stage.

...black/white dynamic directly goes into crafting a career as a comedian...

(And guess what, folks? They still exist today. Yeah, along with racism. If you don't believe racism still exists, then I pity you.)

Anyway, this whole black/white dynamic directly goes into crafting a career as a comedian. It's to our advantage.

To make it easier, let's just go through the Pros and Cons of each circuit.

Benefits of playing a black club:
- It doesn't cost anything to get on stage (no drink minimum, no drink tickets, no $5-$7 to get on stage.)
- Once you're established, you always get paid! (And payment equates to anywhere from $50 - $200, depending on the show)
- If you can play a black club, you will kill at a white club. (Again, this requires a small adjustment in delivery, but minor if any at all.)

- It's easy for comedians who play the black circuit to get stuck and remain in this circuit. (I'm purposely not saying "black comedians" in this line. The very first person/comedian I met on the black circuit just happened to be white had been in the business for 5 years. He also is a staple in the black clubs in NYC.
- Black clubs are not located anywhere central. Usually they are a distance from any major subway stop or train route.
- Black shows almost never start on time. I know it's sad and stereotypical to say, but it hasn't changed. Don't be surprised if you arrive on time and wait an hour before the show starts. (CPT is in full effect, yo!)

Benefits of playing a white club:
- Name recognition -- if you play them long enough, people will eventually get to know your name and face. It's where you'll get agents, managers, producers, etc. to see you. ('Cause they sure as hell aren't coming out to the black clubs.)

- There's no immediate pay off. You might not even get paid for your gigs. Consider it a donation of your time!
- Competition - You have to work and work and work to gain the top spots. (But again, if you play black clubs, you won't have to do as much work, because you really honed your craft at the black clubs.)
- A lot of networking and politics is involved (not that you won't find it in black clubs), but it's more at play in the white clubs.

So my talk with Dave was telling. And as you can see there are benefits to both. If you want to be a knockdown drag out Triple Threat comedian, cut your teeth on the black circuit, and craft and refine your comedy on the white circuit. Guaranteed you'll be a force to be reckoned with!


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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Should I enroll in a Comedy class?

So I am a naturally academic person. I gravitate towards books and research whenever I approach anything brand new and exotic. When traveling, I refer to map and guidebook. When learning a language, I grab an audiotape and a translation dictionary. When setting the clock on the VCR (do people even use those any more?), I refer to a manual. I want to be able to put it in my own terms, digest it, and act.

...Should I? Shouldn't I? Should I? Shouldn't I?...

Of course, when entering the weird and strange world of standup comedy, I do just that. I run around and gather information (comedy runs, reading "how to" books on comedy, and asking around), and then put all the information together and create my best laid plans.

During my quest, people (beginner comics like myself), say to me:

"Hey, have you ever thought about a comedy class? I took one and it really helped. You ought to consider taking a comedy class."

Now, as academic as I am, I'm still cheap. And with enrolling in a comedy class, I inevitably come face-to-face with a financial decision: Do I want to drop 200? 300? sometimes even 400? clams to hear someone's opinion on comedy and how it should be performed. Financially, there's a lot to lose. They aren't cheap and they don't promise you anything.

Now there are some staunch dissenters in this highly sensitive argument.

People who dissent say pretty much what I say:
- It's expensive.
- It's someone's opinion. A good comparison is that it's like the practicing doctor versus the non-practicing now-administrative doctor. (i.e. Dr. Kelso on NBC's Scrubs.) The latter is out-of-touch and is not as "up" on trends on comedy as say you would be if you just hit the scene on your own.
- You don't get what you need out of the class. You need significant stage time, in front of real audience, not classmates rooting you on.

...The craft is honed on stage....

- With most academic institutions, there's a promise of networking and getting in at places, that someone who didn't pay for the class would not be a privileged to receive. Again, this is the complete opposite in the comedy world. You're goal as a comic is to network and get your face out there. The only way to do this is to go to those open mics.
- The class is just a suspension in time. You, whether or not you take the class, need to get on stage.
- Again, it's someone's opinion on how it should be performed. They are going to cut out and rework ideas that that may in fact be good and fertile, thereby changing your comedy. Let the audience decide not your teacher. And again, you can't learn comedy from the classroom. Comedy is always on stage. The craft is honed on stage.

There two types of classes that people recommend:

- Standup comedy classes
- Improv classes

And surprisingly, it's terribly one-sided. There is a higher percentage of standup comics doing improv than the reverse. The standup comics need the stage time (not necessarily doing their standup act, but being in front of people helps, too.)

The improv artists rarely work alone (unlike standup comics) and so they are less compelled to separate and splinter off like standup comics would. Therefore, improv acts don't really have a need to take a standup class.

Either way there is no substitute for getting on stage. The more often you get on stage, the more likely you will get comfortable. The more comfortable you are on stage the more likely you are "become" your stage persona more easily. And then your jokes begin to flourish--they'll just flow out of you.

Should I? Shouldn't I?
Should I? Shouldn't I?

So far the tally for comedy classes:

Pros: None
Cons: Lots

I rest my case.


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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Standup comedy is unnatural

So I was having a discussion with a writer-turned-standup comic, recently. And we were both trying to make sense of our uncanny desire to get on stage. Essentially, we are willing to risk public humiliation, be secretly judged, and experience our 5-7 minutes of fame (in exchange for a one-drink-minimum), for what? And why? Why? Why? Why?

We both we went silent.

Him: It's unnatural.
Me: Right.
Him: It's perverse.
Me: Uh, huh.
Him: No other animal or specie subjects themselves to such painful and masochistic conditions.
Me: You said it, brotha.

And with those last words, we walked to the nearest train station and parted ways.

But his words stayed with me.

He's completely right. People run away from any form of public speaking, especially standup comedy.

Actors have lines written by someone else, usually about someone else. But this is all me. Nothing is hidden. This is all truth. When I get onstage it's me--naked, pure, and most importantly, vulnerable. The gloves come off, folks!

And for the same reason, that is why audiences are so fascinated. People are terrified of getting on stage and speaking their mind. (Unfortunately, this is a result of culture, our family construct, and our educational system.) So if someone else is willing to do it, you as the audience are happy you're not doing.

It's sort of like watching someone eat it while crossing the street. If they do a faceplant while in public, everybody watching is happy that it wasn't them.

Audiences are attracted to the raw truth and honesty. A standup comic is going to virtually read their most personal thoughts and dreams and present them to you on stage--ready for you to cut them down and make waste of them (if you so choose).

Every entertainer exposes themselves somewhat: writers/authors, singers/songwriters, dancers/performance artists, poets/painters, etc.
Standup comedians stand at the top of the heap when it comes exposure and humiliation. We're the Jesus Christ of entertainment when it comes to pain and suffering to lead people to a better path--only to get shot down at the end. (Did I go too far with that last analogy?)

Standup comedy is completely the opposite of what we've been taught as human beings. We all remember swearing never to fall in love again after that dreamy boy (or girl) at the playground rejected us for some other douchebag with the latest game on the Sega Genesis system. Well, take that experience and amplify it 100 times and add some feelings of guilt and sprinkle some familial exile for the next 5-7 years. "You said what about Mom on stage?"

The lesson we have since learned, "Protect yourself, remain strong, and keep your mouth shut!"

My standup comic comedy friend tried to then make comparisons to nature. Monkeys, Zebras, Whales, Kangaroos... none of these guys get on stage in front of their animal brethren and try to make them laugh! You don't see lions trying to make the entire pride laugh it up. What is that? What is this perverse mindset? What are we thinking?

We are not animals. We can reason. So shouldn't we reason our way out of this? Shouldn't we figure out the easiest way is just not to get on stage in the first place? Technically, we're putting ourselves in danger. That is the opposite of reason. So then perhaps the animals are smarter than we are.

Duly noted. But we still want it... however unnatural it is.

"Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit..."

"There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain..."


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To Curse or Not to Curse?

Keep your humor clean for long-term success -John Kinde of HumorPower.com

That is the question.

I've realized that I want to curb the use of any bad words in my set and officially stamp myself as a completely clean standup comic. I have two reasons for this:

1) Marketability

"Keep your humor clean for long-term success."

I think Mr. John Kinde of Humorpower.com has it right. I've already noticed that comedians (who aren't even that successful yet) have to start changing their material to fit specific audiences. Comedians will have to do that anyway, because of ancillary gigs. There might be corporate events, or events with kids in the audience, or just plain censoring. As a beginner comedian, it's really easy to start getting paid on the college circuit. And when that starts happening, those very same beginner comedians are receiving lists of what not to say while on stage--sometimes minutes before going on. Who wants to deal with that type of added pressure?

Now some comedians say, "Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.." and completely toss the list. And as a comedian you risk alienating your audience or even worse your bookers/GMs/managers/agents and any one else you have to deal with in to book a show--especially if you're not that widely known or established. Sure. Dave Attell can shirk admonishment and fair warning, perform a set complete with cussin', and walk offstage with another job in tow, reputation unscathed. But can Joe Nobody from Wichita afford to lose the publicity and gain bad press?

If your material is already clean, then you won't have any of the headaches. And you can bet when you get a set on any of the late night shows (Conan O'Brien, David Letterman, Jay Leno) you're getting ramrodded into doing a clean set--Middle America can't handle anything risqué or off-color.

2) The Challenge

When I first entered the scene, in fact even at my first open mic, all I heard were people swearing left and right. All the jokes were blue.1 along with a wave of general misogyny, which didn't help motivate me to get on stage, being a woman. To be honest, I almost turned around and left right there and then. At the time, after witnessing that, I thought, "If this is comedy, then this isn't for me."

Is this what comedy really is like?

But I then remembered thinking, this is the side of comedy you won't see on TV. You'll never see the dingy dirty basement humor unless you attend an open mic yourself. There's a reason this kind of comedy will never leave that basement. Not only is it not funny enough to make the real set, but it also alienates the audience.

Audience members want to relate to you, the comedian. They want to be with you, right there next you in the story/joke. If you humor is about killing, raping, maiming anyone, you may be lucky to get one or two laughs. I remember one comedienne friend of mine telling me, "I don't laugh at rape jokes." Rape jokes? Like rape jokes are common category! Geez! (By that time, I was only a month into the scene.)

Seinfeld mentions both of the above reasons as to why he kept his comedy clean. Those and one more reason: Mr. Bill Cosby, who was a huge influence on Seinfeld, along with many others.

So I rest my case. I'm keeping it clean, like in a boxing match--above the belt. My goal is reach everyone, so that everyone can get the message. Isn't that the only way to go?

1 The term blue comedy or blue humor is comedy that is profane or obscene. You would often hear it uttered in a sentence like, "His comedy is very blue." "She's doing her blue set tonight." [Return]


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"Needless to say..."

You know what? I can't stand that phrase "...needless to say..." It's a phrase that means nothing. It especially means nothing when it's uttered. In fact, as soon as it's spoken, it's lost all meaning.

If it was truly "needless to say," you wouldn't need to say it, would you?

In fact, in order for that word to be useful, we (all of humanity) would have to be clairvoyant. Because only in psychic circumstances would it truly be "needless to say" anything. We would all just instinctively know what it is that you want to communicate.

I have a slew of other phrases and overused idioms that I will be adding to this list. Feel free to comment and build upon the list, so that perhaps we all can end the useless phrases atrocity together.

Oh... and here's my latest comedy set. It kind of blows, so beware!


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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Laughing for laughing's sake

Like whoa! -Black Rob

Thanks to RAFFI for this topic. His post on his blog, CitizenMindful,
Laughing my Asinine off is what inspired today's post.

About two weeks ago, I attended The Brooklyn Comedy Company's monthly show, "Shades Of Black: The Breakdown".

I wasn't sure what to expect, so I first took a guess and predicted that I would experience either one of two types of black comedy. (Black as in Afr. American, not to be mistaken for black as in dark comedy.)

Either the:
- Angry black comics (neo-soul, right-fist in the air type of comedy)

or the...

- BET Comicview / Showtime at the Apollo type of comedy.

I was happy to say that I got neither.
To get a better idea of the type of comedy, click here.

Overall, the comedy was pretty good. I would rate it at a 7.5 out of 10. Not laugh out loud, bust a gut--but definitely good!

So I entered the show, at a time that I thought I would be late. (The flyer said 8pm.) Instead, I got there around 9pm, because I had a busy Comedy Run that night. To my benefit, the show had just started. (Thank God for CPT.) Anyway, the show was packed, with a mixed crowd--black and whites, and some blacks with whites (Yep, interracial couples, folks! I'm going to take this moment and quote Black Rob and say, "Like whoa!") Interracial couples front row at a comedy show? (Now, that's takin' some liberties that most would not feel comfortable doing--even in NYC. That's begging to be made fun of*, or at least pointed out.) I think of interracial dating constantly, so much that it became a monomania. (Thank you Free Dictionary.com!)

Okay, so now the show has started, and it's going well. Typically, with all comedy shows, there's a host. The host's role is not to steal the show or anyone's thunder, but to keep things rolling. Some times the host tells mild jokes, minor stories or chats up the audience (crowd work) just to keep the energy light--but nothing hard-hitting. The host is not there to make laugh out loud gut-busting jokes.

That being said, someone should have told the couple in the back row that this was the case. This couple made no bones about laughing at everything the host said. The host would be in the middle of the joke, just about to give the punchline, and this couple would burst out laughing--first started by the woman cackling and the boyfriend filling in where she left off. And it was so disconcerting that even the host stopped her set for a bit and addressed the outrageous couple in the back. And to add some color the picture, the couple was white. (Not all black people are loud and obnoxious, you prejudiced pricks---white people are, too!)

Anyway, it did get to the point of irksome and perhaps even greatly annoying, to the point of members of the audience turning around and glaring, like you would do in a movie theater.

My point is that, as much as we comedians want you to have a good time and laugh, it's very unfunny if you laugh at everything. It throws off our radar. We can't tell what really is funny and what's not. It's also extremely disturbing to not only the joke-tellers, but to the rest of the audience.

So I'm saying, like RAFFI, be mindful. We understand you had too much to drink, but don't ruin it for everyone else.

* There's a theory that the reason why you don't see certain groups/demographics represented a comedy shows are because they're afraid of getting made fun of. For example: Fat people, and Asians. I'm not being racist myself. I'm just repeating conversations that I've had with other comedians. I should be like dragnet: "Just the facts ma'am," but I guess this is closer to hearsay.


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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Comedy is therapeutic

So yesterday, I went to help out a comedy buddy, whom I'm sure would like to receive more publicity and web traffic, so I'll put her MySpace link here. Anyway, Erica, as I shall refer to her, wanted to take advantage of the CNN newsroom which is a portion of the CNN Studio Tour on the 3rd floor of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle here in NYC. The newsroom is open to the public. And for a fee, anyone can make a tape and "recreate" the action in front of the camera by becoming a newscaster and read the news. Erica has a sketch character she created and wanted to have digital stills taken of her performing her act--sort of a "behind the scenes" look. So she asked me to take the photos.

...You just made my day...you just made it so much better...

The entire shoot took a lot longer than expected. And, in the beginning it seemed we were annoying the staff. Usually, they get the stale old tourist from Oklahoma to come in, read the script, and happily traipse off with a video, totaling 5-7 mins. By the time we were finished 1.5 hours had passed.

But the mood changed within the first 20 mins. Erica went into reading the script (of course, in character), and both staff members busted out laughing. I was in awe! I saw comedy at work. And I'm sure this is a "you had to be there" moment.

But here's the best part: The male staff member said to Erica, "You just made my day, I was having a really crappy day, and you just made it so much better."

I audibly "awwhhh"ed. (Yeah, I'm sentimental like that.)

Anyway, this is why I do comedy--to change people's moods, and ultimately to change their days. It's a pity that people usually go to see comedy at night because I'm sure if every office meeting started with a 15 min set by Todd Barry then many more members of the work force would get more done.

I believe comedy can be therapeutic for both the comedian and for the audience member.


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Monday, July 16, 2007

Actor versus Comedian: The epic battle!

Say what we told you say! -Seinfeld

Comedian versus Actor...Comedy versus Drama

There has always been an epic battle between actor and comedian. Well, not so much a battle, but perhaps a competition. Well, not so much a competition, but perhaps a comparison.

Okay, okay. There has never been any conflict between the actor and the comedian. No one has ever pitted them against each other. (Maybe Shakespeare did it once, but he's biased because he was an actor.) Well, I can't wait for this to happen organically. So I'm bringing it about artificially on this blog.

I have always thought there was a hierarchy amongst entertainers, particularly between people who speak in front of an audience (as opposed to the singer, dancer, etc.)

I've always felt that at the top of the heap is the standup comedian, then the stage actor, then the film actor, and then probably somewhere in there is TV. Generally, the standup comedian can travel down from his high rank and filter into other entertainment fields and work well in that environment. But it doesn't work the other way around. Not many actors can drop what they're doing and work in standup comedy.

I'm not sure if people ever take the time out to really think about the difference between actors and comedians. This Seinfeld clip pretty much says it all: Seinfeld acceptance speech on the CollegeHumor website.

But to be honest, Seinfeld has never been the greatest actor. He's actually an aberration. Seinfeld can't act to save his life. But that's okay, because to me, he's the King of New York--or well at least, Queens.

Typically, the best actors are developed out of comedy. Case in point: Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Michael Keaton, Will Ferrell, and Adam Sandler. (I know. I know. You're thinking, "Adam Sandler??!? What are you smoking?) Bear with me. Let's go down the list.

Tom Hanks first got his comedy chops working on a film called, Punchline (1988). In order to research his character, he spent at a lot of time doing open mics in the LA metro area. He had a crash course in the life of a standup comic. And now he's used those very skills and translated them to film. He's been in the best films of all time: A League of Their Own (1992), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Philadelphia (1993), Apollo 13 (1995), Forrest Gump (1994), You've Got Mail (1998), Cast Away (2000), and Joe Versus the Volcano (1990). (Ha, ha!)

He spans all categories of film: action, comedy, rom com, and clearly drama.

Robin Williams obviously has a much more pronounced and developed career in standup. And then he made the switch, I would say originally with The Fisher King (1991) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), but most notably with Good Will Hunting (1997).

Everyone knows that Michael Keaton has been the best Bruce Wayne to date, with Christian Bale coming in at a close second. Again, I'm convinced that Michael Keaton's acting chops were sharpened because of the skills he learned from his stint in standup comedy. Before Multiplcity (1996), before Beetlejuice (1988), there was Johnnly Dangerously (1984):

- Johnny Dangerously: The name's Dangerously. Johnny Dangerously.

- Lil: Did you know you're last name is an adverb?


Now I know Will Ferrell isn't a standup comic, but improv is a close cousin to standup comedy. Plus, he's proven himself through and through. He's done his set of comedy flicks: Elf (2003), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) (ingeniously written by former SNL head writer now turned writer/director Adam McKay). But he's also done art house films: Melinda and Melinda (2004), Stranger Than Fiction (2006).

[WARNING: If you haven't seen this viral video, The Landlord, with Will Ferrell's real-life daughter Pearl, you're missing out! Brace yourself! It's hilarious! And today's Will Ferrell's Birthday! (Check out that 'fro on IMDB.com. I'm convinced he's part black.) Is it any wonder that Cancers dominate the Oscar nominations? Food for thought!]

On to Adam Sandler: Adam Sandler's potential is brimming over! If you haven't seen Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Spanglish (2004), or Reign Over Me (2007), the latest with Don Cheadle, then you're missing out on another side of Mr. Sandler.

Now let's begin a drama lesson: High brow v. Low brow comedy
(Here's an article that mentions Highbrow versus Lowbrow.)

Now let's discuss why this conflict between highbrow and lowbrow is an issue in American media.

First off: American's don't like "the thinking man's humor". Many people don't know the history of the Seinfeld sitcom, but it was on the verge of being canceled in the first few seasons. It got moved around NBC's lineup. It was an uphill battle because middle America didn't understand the very jewish and New Yorker-based humor. And for that same reason Seinfeld it doesn't really work in England and the UK either.

A few "high brow" shows:

  • Arrested Development I feel got canceled as well because the "average" person didn't get it.

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm is relatively ironic and sarcastic so it was produced by HBO (a seemingly smaller audience than network tv.)

  • Family Guy is back, after having episodes banned (for other reasons) and then canceled again. And then picked up by TBS and Cartoon Network (Adult Swim.)

  • I would also regard Chappelle's Show as high brow. There's a lot of controversy about Dave Chappelle's humorous and wildly successful TV show, Chappelle's Show, but that is for another post.

    So this is why I worry about whether my comedy should be dumbed down for mainstream America.

    It's like the quote from Holden in Chasing Amy, "It's like my grandma always said, 'The real money's in the dick and fart jokes.' She was a church lady."

    I first saw this phenomenon at work at the open mics. All the big and easy hack laughs came out of dick and fart jokes. So clearly, this is very evident and doesn't plan on changing.


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    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    Women in Comedy: Laura Kightlinger is back!

    ...so few women comediennes...get to produce their own work...

    I've mentioned this exceptional standup comedienne before, in a previous Women in Comedy post. She is a woman who is near and dear to my heart. She has most notably been under-the-radar since the HBO's Lucky Louis series, and before that she pretty much fell off the edge of the earth. This woman is: Laura Kightlinger.
    Ms. Kightlinger has a unique style all her own. I, personally, love her deadpan delivery and husky male voice. Obviously, she's not male, but I think it's cool when women have low or raspy voices. I've always wanted a raspy voice, but it only happens either right when I wake up or when I'm sick. I have friends who have the raspy voice from smoking too many cigarettes and I've always somewhat envied them for it. But I've never been daring, rich enough, or stupid enough to pick up the habit.

    So Laura is back with an original series presented by IFC called, "The Minor Accomplishments Of Jackie Woodman". Laura created, wrote, executive produced and stars in the series. (KUDOS, LAURA!) According to Wikipedia's synopsis, they describe the show as "an eight-part comedy series about two best friends maneuvering through the not-so-glamorous side of Hollywood." It began airing on IFC August 4th, 2006.*

    Now, I have no idea what "live action comedy" is, but from what I gather it seems to be synonymous with "sitcom". And the synopsis on the IFC website says it is. So we have to take its word for for it.

    I found some clips from the show here. Enjoy!

    I felt this post was relevant because there are so few women comediennes and even fewer women multitasking comediennes who wear many hats and get to produce their own work! Once again, I am proud of her---as a woman, and as a comedienne.

    * So maybe I'm a little late on this info, but I'm airing this as if it's brand new, late breaking news. My news team consists of me, myself, and I--- so nyah!


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    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Friday, the 13th--a day of happiness!

    Today's friday the 13th. One my favorite days to celebrate. Good things always seem to happen on said day. Most of the day was spent studying. And thinking and more thinking.

    ...my link cherry has been popped...

    I wrote (or at least thought about) a few jokes. Nothing noteworthy, but I earned new blogger friends, and my link cherry has been popped today.

    I haven't been on stage in about a week and I'm going through a bit of withdrawal. But then I think about the cash I have to drop to get on stage and I then I no longer feel guilty for not being on stage.

    I still find joke writing to be a bit of a chore. I tried churning out a few with my sibling. And then I thought about a piece of advice I was given from comedy great Greer Barnes.

    Mr. Barnes mentioned that if you hear or think of a joke in your head and you proceed to tell that joke the exact way you heard it in your head, then 99.9% of the time, the joke will work. But the problem with comedy writing and joke telling is that the way you hear it in your head is not always the way it comes out. It's the translation that is difficult. And I've always been sharp with the pen, vocabulary, and linguistics in general. But I've realized this all has to do with recall--pure, unadulterated recall. I find myself racing to a pen and paper over running to my digital voice recorder, because the DVR throws me off sometimes. I would start with telling the joke into the recorder and thinking about what I just said in the middle of finishing the next sentence, missing the phrasing of the following sentences, because I'm so tuned into what's coming out of my mouth. It's probably the verbal equivalent of a copy of copy-- perhaps feedback. Yeah, I speak and all I get is feedback. Yeah, you don't want to be in the same room when I climax.

    God help me. I missing some key jokes.

    I am Jack's smirking revenge.
    I am Jack's cold sweat.
    I am Jack's raging bile duct.
    I am Jack's colon.
    I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.
    I am Jack's wasted life.
    I am Jack's inflamed sense of rejection.
    I am Jack's broken heart.

    I am my own distraction.


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    Wednesday, July 4, 2007

    The Transition

    All I can say is that the "transition" from audience member (timid wannabe) to active and determined standup comic is fast! It's quick. Quite literally it's at breakneck speed. I think all the difference lies in confidence.

    ...I've surpassed death...

    First things first: If you're just starting out, your jokes don't have to be that good. I mean, 'Yes,' eventually you should be able to make the audience laugh on your own merit. But a lot of the hilarity of your jokes lie in your persona. And most, if not all, of your persona lies in your stage presence.

    So let's do the math: Good stage presence --leads to--> easy to translate (i.e. good) persona --which leads to--> funnier jokes. Get it, folks?

    It's important to get your original personality out there.

    I remember being on the other side of the line thinking, "Oh my god, how do they do it?" And finally, I did it. I got on stage, and I hear a voice introducing me as a standup comic. And then it's over. I've completely transitioned. I'm on the other side of the fence, fully and completely. I've entered a land and crossed a border and the views of which the majority of people will never even dare to venture. It's truly magical.

    People now say to me, "I can't believe you do that."

    And for a moment in time I couldn't either, but now it's very tangible--very real.

    Take a dive.

    Seinfeld mentions people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. This is a part of his joke about the "Top Two Fears in the World." The biggest fear is public speaking. Second is death.

    And I've surpassed death.

    It makes me wonder, 'Was I always earmarked for standup comedy?'
    Because the moment I receive that mic in my hand, I feel at home. Almost like a rapper, aka emcee.

    And how does doing standup comedy in NYC compare to doing standup in any other city?

    I wouldn't know. I didn't start out in any other city. But from what I've heard echoed in the streets of the village, most people come to NYC having held title as big fish in their little small town pond. And NYC is the ocean with a ton of once big fish, now genetically dwarfed into little fish. They all hope to crack the formula for the antidote to become big once again.

    One thing I have noticed living in NYC is this: You need to be nocturnal to truly experience NY. If you're not, you'll miss out on a large portion of what New York has to offer. If you're a struggling standup comic, you have no choice but to get thrust right into the middle of nocturnal New York. Is that such a bad thing? Trust me. It's to your benefit.

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    Two kinds of audiences


    or Comics, there are two types of audiences:
    - Comedian audiences
    - Regular audiences (a.k.a. "real" audiences)

    I had the pleasure of playing to both one Thursday night. Playing to one audience and then the other back to back is like night and day.

    Let's describe the first and most likely, the one you are least familiar with: "The Comedian audience"

    To be a standup comedian, you must be the least bit cerebral. You probably imagine yourself (and your life) in a vastly different arena from where everyone else sees you and your life--perhaps life in general. It takes a certain kind of angle, aspect, skewed point of view to be able to take everyday ordinary topics and twist them into something no one has ever imagined. Clearly, there is an art to this.

    ...we thank God everyday that there are more of you than there are of them...

    I'm sure writers/authors/journalists/bloggers can relate. When they write, they too are communicating to you from a specific angle. But the methods comedians use, it has to be quick, pithy, witty (ideally) and hopefully can make you laugh.

    So think about it: You are now a comedian on stage in front of an audience completely composed of cerebral, over-thinking, over-analyzing bastards. All these goofs are listening to your jokes and DECIDING on whether or not it's funny. They are consciously and unconsciously twisting them in their overworked overanalytical minds--perhaps to maybe to steal the joke later on, re-angle the joke in their favor, or to sit and think about the question, "Is that joke really funny?" The point is, this comedian audience is hard to entertain mainly because they're not there to be entertained. To them they are there to cut, dissect, and tear your jokes apart in their head. Maybe even put it back together in a better niftier form.

    It's essentially playing to an audience who is constantly thinking, "How can they make a better mouse trap?"

    Can you now see the difference between playing a comedian audience versus playing your regular/real audience?

    The satisfaction and accomplishment lies in you, the comedian, being able to make a group of curmudgeonly comedians laugh. If you can get the littlest, smirk, grimace, or hum out of them, then that registers as a roar and applause break1 in a regular room. There's a proportion that goes into play as well. (Did you think I was going to leave the math analogies behind? But they worked so well, in previous posts!)

    A smirk or huff from a comedian audience registers as a cackle, uproarious laughter in a regular audience.

    If you haven't figured out by now what a regular/real audience is, it's your non-comedian--the basic everyday, garden variety audience member. (i.e. "You") And we Thank God everyday that there are more of you than there are of them.

    1Applause Break - Regarded as a positive thing in a comedian's performance. Simply a break in his routine interrupted by an audience's applause. [Return]


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    "How long've you been doing comedy?"

    Yes, this is the inevitable question amongst standup comics.

    ...This is inevitable question...

    I always ask because there is a bit of a hierarchy in comedy, as in any position, job, occupation. It's the basis behind history. You need to learn where your forefathers came from---those that took the plunge before you and established what you're working with today. Now granted, the guys that have only been around 1-2 years really haven't made that much of a 'splash,' so to speak. But they still know more about the environment that you will be working in. And at the same time, they are dwarfed and will be learning along with you.

    But I've noticed there's a parabola of how people answer that question: "How long you've been doing comedy?"

    Remember Conic math: The PARABOLIC Asymptote, is used for a Parabolic line approaching to a curve, so that they never meet; yet by producing both indefinitely, their distance from each other becomes less than any given line.

    When a parabola is formed, it is basically a shape of a "giant U." The two arms of that "U" will travel indefinitely but never approach the axes ( x, y). Have I lost you?

    Perhaps here's a better definition:
    "For parabolas, the two arms eventually become parallel to each other..."

    So my point is that they're essentially traveling within the same environment. One arm is seeing what the other arm is seeing: same conditions, same circumstances, same niche.

    If you're still having difficulty, explore the Conic section of your college math book.

    And then there's this other shape called a Hyperbola, which sort of acts in the same way. Parabola-Hyperbola demo

    [I added this link because I just thought this page was cute: An Emotional Parabola]

    Okay...okay, let me get back to the point, as it relates to comedy.

    If a burgeoning comedian were to travel the entire length of one arm of a parabola or hyperbola, ascend and descend the curve, and make his/her way to the other arm. That other side, that other arm, with a minimal degree difference, is the same condition/environment as the original trip. It's the curve that makes all the difference.

    That curve could eventually represent a "learning curve," if you will. But it's a learning curve of mild deceit. It's not a curve of out-and-out heinous lies, but mild deceit.

    The beginners who answer that question want to appear that they've been doing comedy longer than they have. So they'll say they've been in it longer and it's to their benefit because they'll appear experienced. They'll get better spots and more time, etc.

    ...everyone wants to stay around that curve, to remain current....

    Those that have been in it longer will say they've only been it for a shorter amount of time, so that when they kill they amaze the GM or the owner of the club.

    Where does that difference lie? Somewhere around 5 years. Inexperienced standups with only 2-3 years will push closer to 5 years. And experienced with 8-9 years will say 6-7, maybe even 5.

    You see, the inexperienced comedians are on one side, ready to travel the curve. While the experienced comedians have traveled the curve. Both are in the same environment. (I preface this by saying that once you're in the comedy circuit, you keep seeing/running into/meeting these "Big Dogs." But you're on the same stage, using the same mic, in front of the same audience.) I know, because I've been in this three months, and I have rubbed shoulders with Big Dogs.

    To the casual on-looker, they can't tell the difference between a powerhouse comedian and a beginner. There aren't any visible muscles or degrees given out--no badges of honor. Granted, if you're Dave Chappelle that's different. But there are a ton of other notables that are just as good, but don't show any visible signs of battle scars or of traveling that curve. It seems as though everyone wants to stay around that curve, to remain current.

    So I guess this is a really long and drawn out way of saying how comedians mask how long they've been in the scene, despite both levels of experience occupying the same space. There's only a slight degree of difference and eventually everyone will become parallel to each other. And most definitely everyone will travel that curve.


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    All inhibitions out the window...

    A chemical change requires a chemical reaction, a process whereby the chemical properties of a substance are altered by a rearrangement of the atoms in the substance. Of course we cannot see atoms with the naked eye, but fortunately, there are a number of clues that tell us when a chemical reaction has occurred.
    You're probably wondering, why have I quoted an 11th grade science text? Because after last week, I've noticed the chemistry of my being is changing--a chemical reaction is taking place in my body. For those of you who remember 11th grade chemistry, a chemical reaction has two categories: (1) Reversible (2) Irreversible. I'm referring to the latter.

    How has a chemical reaction manifested itself in my being? Well, I'd like to describe the it like the emergence of the Incredible Hulk from a mild-mannered scientist.

    What was the catalyst? The stage. The mic. The audience. Repeat cycle.

    All of a sudden. I'm nowhere near as inhibited as I used to be. My friends would say otherwise. They would say I wasn't really ever inhibited before. But now that my uninhibited self has grown into a virtual daredevil, I'm noticing a drastic difference in my demeanor. (It's really noticeable.)

    It's almost as if I've evaded death. It's definitely a high. It's as if I'm untouchable. (Although, I'm not the type to let it go to my head.)

    Maybe it was always there, and standup comedy was a catalyst.

    How did I come to this realization? Let's just say, that when I got out of the shower, I used close the vertical blinds. And now all of sudden, I forget. Not that I am an exhibitionist, but I'm so focused on other things, I really don't care.

    "here the fundamental properties of the materials involved have changed."

    "chemical changes are often accompanied by changes in temperature, the crucial difference being that these changes are the result of alterations in the chemical properties of the substances involved."

    "The bubbling of a substance is yet another clue that a chemical reaction has occurred."

    All of these quotes describe my current state. Bubbling over, simmering, letting off of exhaust, delta (a change in temperature), etc...

    It's nice, nice feeling. You should join me.


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    Sunday, July 1, 2007

    Comedy Run Galore!

    "Fake it until you make it." This is going to have to be my mantra for the next 7 - 10 years. Yes, that's the collective average of how long it takes to "make it" in comedy.

    I feel like comedy in comparison to other forms of media (acting, singing, etc.) is like walking on pins and needles.

    Or perhaps like roller skating on a cruise ship?

    Just to say that's it's safe in one area, but in another you're completely vulnerable. The ability to dodge and weave and remain flexible allows you remain viable--current...

    ...Brevity is king...

    With acting or singing, you can rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and pretty much nail it. And know that THAT's how you're going to perform it that night. But with comedy you can rehearse, practice, perform as many little shows as possible before you get to your major show and not even do what you originally had planned. I mean, don't get me wrong, you went in with a set list, but you came out with something totally different-- a completely new set and a completely new response (either from yourself or the audience). It's like the New York Lotto, "Hey, you never know."

    This week I've gone on at least once each night, starting Sunday. Crazy, huh? I didn't even think I could handle it. But I did. And there's a certain momentum involved that I need to maintain. So I need to continue this practice in order to keep it in my system.

    My biggest dilemma (which to most comedians would be a Godsend) but I have a lot of material to work with. Perhaps, too much material? I am rife with material! But I don't know how to develop it into:

    premise, set-up, punch...premise, set-up, punch,.. premise, set-up, punch...

    Short pithy statements are a necessity in comedy, especially with the waning attention span of audiences. Brevity is king!

    And the delivery itself should be like a rhythm. Comedy should have a beat to it. I'm black, so beat should come naturally to me. (Ha, ha, this is joke, mind you.) But my dilemma lies in delivery. And I still have yet to find my voice.

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    Two day streak...

    ...I'm in a comfortable for once...

    The moon is that weird color where it's sort of resembles a peach, but low in the sky--kind of apocalyptic. Uranus went into retrograde Saturday, June 23rd, 2007, and will last for awhile. (I think until August.) What am I trying to say? Things are getting weird, but in a good way.

    I met a comedian who is pushing me to get on stage, which actually motivated me. And so far I'm on a two day streak. Whoa! I know! (sarcasm). But I'm getting into a groove. Not just with comedy, but also this LSAT thing. The weird part is that things are working out--well! And I'm not fearing that things will fall apart either.

    [You know how things are going well in your life and the minute you begin to get used to things swinging in your direction for once, you fear them falling apart. I'm emphasizing that I don't have that fear and I'm in a comfortable for once.]

    Anyway, I feel good. That's all! Good, real good!


    I've been sending out these emails for comedians, creating a database/contact list. In a way, I'm sort of a list-serve manager. Well, I used to hate when I somehow mysteriously got on a listserve in college, without any prior notice or permission from me.

    Well, I performed that very act to these comedians. So I was worried someone would be pissed and approach me at one of the next comedy shows. The thing is, I did get approached. But, I received good feedback.

    Next thing: I randomly went to this open mic and got on, not scoping out the scene ahead of time, which is typically my protocol. And it was successful. (Perhaps, I have a knack for this comedy thing after all.) I mean, I didn't kill, but I ended with an enthusiastic applause. (Perhaps, they wanted to see my get off-stage.)

    Anyway, the point being, "it was fun." I enjoyed it.

    Last relatively good thing:
    I'm scoring waaayyy low on my LSATs, but I'm not worried having a talk with my instructor. I have to put the work in. And I'm confident it'll work out. My scoring accuracy is high, but I need to ramp up the speed. But again there's a protocol with this as well. But it's time I do my part to do well on this test.

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    Drama Geeks and Hecklers

    And now it's on -Jason Lytle

    Last night was really, really redeeming as an aspiring comedian.

    I met some awesome folks with a lot of knowledge of "how to go about this comedy thing."

    I meet some incredibly cool folks (comedians, up-and-comers with 2+ years experience-- which in comedy terms means you're simply a guppie.)

    There's virtually no difference between a comic who's been at it for 2 years than one who's been at it for 1 or 3 years.

    I'm starting to learn/understand/comprehend the comedy timeline.

    10 years on average to acquire "a comedic voice"

    5 years to gain full confidence on stage.

    and I'm also learning more about the dirty nasty politics involved.

  • sticking your neck out

  • paying your dues

  • burning bridges

  • owing/paying back favors

  • you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours

  • bringer shows

  • barking

  • crowd work

  • callback

  • the infamous "heckler"

  • With regards to the "Heckler," Key rule - You, as the comedian, have a microphone which makes you "da man." You are louder and therefore "always win." Period. If you don't win, it's like you coming to a knife fight with a gun and still miraculously losing the fight. If you're a smart, witty, intelligent comic that thinks on your feet (which by the time you're good/professional, you should be) then, the gun turns into a laser and annihilates that uproarious audience member and destroys anyone else's burgeoning ideas about interrupting your set. Nobody wants to be made a fool of, especially if they got front row seats to what was an one-sided battle of wits and a brutal tongue-lashing.

    Oh, and if you haven't seen the preview for the Jamie Kennedy documentary on the crowd Heckler, click here. Heckler the movie

    Recently, I've enrolled in this awesome acting school which allows you to "pay as you go." I'm the only stand-up comedian in the class, but I now have to get a monologue. Ugh! Theatrical stuff! The very stuff I hated and stayed away from in middle and high school, I'm volunteering myself for a painful reliving of.

    My story behind acting and performing:

    I've always hated the drama geeks. Everybody knows of or shared their school hallways with these kids. These are the kids that felt they needed to be onstage 24/7/365. (Who knows? Perhaps they never got enough attention from daddy and mommy.) These were the kids that couldn't leave the role on stage or at rehearsal and had to bring it with them to the cafeteria in the lunch line, during recess, or on the bus ride home. They learned of method acting at age 5 and have been die hard followers ever since. (You can see I have a lot of bottled up resentment.)

    But the most tragic incident was where I was "brutally rebuffed" (to use Cher Horowitz's words) by the drama geeks, after spending countless life changing adolescent hours (forgoing other responsibilities such as homework and studying) writing what was to be an awesome script for the class play, depicting every member of our graduating class' personalities perfectly. The drama geeks decided to scrap my script and re-write a much lamer one, which we all ended up performing with less than mediocre reception by the parents and staff.

    [For a little more history, each graduating class tries to out due the prior graduating class' performance, and I was primed to beat the class before us. And as you can see, our class play didn't make the history books let alone the graduation brunch later on that day.]

    Anyway, I ended up completely repressing any and all penchant I had for the stage and crammed all my energy into academics and the three S's: student government, sports, and studying, irrespective of order.

    So now that I've entered this underworld for standup comedy, it has become my new school, albeit, highly educational. I am insanely, happenstance-ly, extremely fortunate to run into these well-informed men. They welcome me with open arms and hospitably invite me into their world. I'm learning from other people's experiences and ultimately, their mistakes. Again, I am grateful.

    I just feel warm and fuzzy now, with regards to comedy.

    As you can see, it can be a roller coaster ride of nerves. (It makes for early sprouts of gray hair, which I have found on my scalp!)

    Getting on stage is supposed to help with the standup (stage presence and all.)

    It's a bit daunting that people even have 2 years on me. I'm truly, truly, truly a newbie. I'm a green thumb fish out of water.

    A lot of these comics are big fish from small towns, but in NYC, it's a bunch of big fish in a big town. And so, to quote Grandaddy's, Jason Lytle, "Now it's on."


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