Tuesday, August 7, 2007

You da man!


As a comedian, you have to know yourself. Know your movements. Know your voice. As a performer, comedy becomes a study of yourself. It becomes a narcissist's trade--not at bad as actors, but pretty damn close.

...I have always depended on the kindness of strangers...

My problem is that I don't fawn over myself in the mirror. You'll never catch me checking out my reflection as I walk past a store front. The thought never occurs to me.

You're thinking: Lucy, what about if there is spinach in your teeth? Or fresh gooey brain nuggets protruding from your skull? What do you do then?

My answer is: Like Blanche DuBois, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

And don't worry! I reciprocate! Even if I've known you for less than 5 secs, I'm the first to tell you that you have falafel residue on your cheek. I think it's only fair. Because I always follow the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. That's gospel to me!

The latest bit I'm hearing from comedians is that they record their performances to gain further information about themselves. One comedian told me that he never knew he swayed side-to-side before he saw himself on tape. Good to know, right? With that information, he quickly edited 'the sway' out of his performances.

In this trade, you end up studying yourself, much like sports teams watch their gameday videos. You need to video tape yourself to watch what you look like on stage. You will learn so much just by watching your performances. You notice if you're a swayer, a pacer, a hide-behind-the-mic'er, a gaze-down-at-the-floor'er, or a look-out-at-the-audience'er (which is the best problem to have). You hear how many 'um's, 'uh's, 'ah's there are in your act. You gain a ton of information, you adjust your nuances and your performance, and ultimately you grow as a comedian.

The one thing I've learned in my performances is that you have to be okay with silence. It's okay to have time and space between your jokes. It's okay to use that precious pause in between (and sometimes during) jokes. That silence builds confidence. You know all eyes are on you. I've been told time and time again, you need to own the stage. Not only do you own the stage, but you also have rented that microphone, and for that time being, you occupy that space. (Until the landlord gives you light and then you have to vacate!) Don't let the audience taunt you. Don't let the people offstage (managers, bookers, other comics, etc.) freak you out. You have to get into your head that you are "da man" (no offense, ladies).

I heard about one comedian who purposely paced the stage---giant, giant steps. He would walk the perimeter of the stage and take his time before each joke. Each joke, of course, was a zinger and it killed. But in between each joke, he took about 15-30 secs. 30 seconds?!? That's a lifetime! (You can especially relate to this if you've ever been on stage or made a speech!) Imagine this guy just pacing--just walking, like he owned the stage--owned the performance. Of course, this guy was a huge football player type--I think he was black, not that that matters. But maybe it was easy for him to get into that "frame of mind." Whereas I, 137 lbs, post-NYC heatwave, have to learn to "own it."

But maybe being scared isn't so bad. There seems to be a consensus amongst comedians that the best type of comedy stems from when you're scared. When your back is against the wall, you're cornered, and you have to perform in order to get out. That is when true comedy develops.

Maybe that is the transition. Maybe that's the rite of passage. Where you go from scared fledgling to fiery phoenix. And that's why I have this blog--to document the inevitable ascent.

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16 comments:

Madeleine said...

Grit Lucy, you've gotta have grit, which lucky for you, you've got it seems. Many years ago when I was still dabbling and floudering in theater, I discovered I was better off being off rather than on stage. It takes courage - a whole heapful of it too - to get and stay up there. I ran from it eventually, but I have to say there are times I wish I would get up there again. Few things beat the rush of really getting thorough to an audience. Keep it up and down. Own and let go of yourself.

Born Worrier said...

Thank you for your comment on my blog. I really admire anyone who can stand on a stage in front of all those people. I have to attend a departmental meeting once a month and I squeak and mumble my way through and there are only six of us.

Jenny! said...

I check myself out constantly in store windows! You can tell whos looking at your ass that way!~

electro-kevin said...

You have to be very VERY brave to be a comedian. I don't know how you do it. Good luck.

NYCPonderings Chick said...

yeah i would def watch yourself in a tape, because you can also go through after awhile and weed out jokes that work and jokes that dont work, also practicing tones of voice and facial expressions that work, comedians seem natural yet they are not, conan obrien for example practices run through after run through of jokes before the performance and he has everything timed out...your just looking at your performance, not yourself really, so judge like an outsider would, it might help the routine!

Steve said...

I'm impressed with anybody that can get up on the stage and perform. I sometimes think that actors have it far easier than stand-up commedians - they can hide behind their role and the costume. But when you're performing comedy you're performing an element of yourself (I assume). Shit scary. I could never do it.

I would however appreciate people telling me when my flies are undone or if I have a malicious bogey hanging out of my nose. Like you said: the kindness of strangers. Such things are terrific ice breakers too. Though maybe not so much the thing about the bogey...

Elise said...

If I ever met you, and you had spinach in your teeth, I would definitely tell you :)

istanbultory said...

Jenny,
I so know where you are coming from, sweet thang. People are forever staring at my ass. Some even ask for polaroid photos of it. Damn it-I am growing tired of unwanted sexual attention from the ladies. What's a boy to do!

Lucy, thanks for communing me with earlier at my blog. The test scores me as a libertarian by the way.'sounds right. I do believe people should be free to run their own lives with government only as our servant and never as our master.
As for being a stand-up comedian, it sounds like a tough environment, one that demands serious preparation and a high pain threshold. I believe the fear factor will diminish.Istanbul Tory knows a lot about fear and the kindness of strangers given his chosen profession.

Lucy said...

madeleine - certainly, grit is necessary to be a comedian--along with a smidge of humility or a at least completely lack of common sense.

born worrier - I remember having to do the required speeches in grade school (book reports, science fair, etc.) and I hated them then. So I can imagine what it's like to do it professionally in a corporate setting having to speak in front of a bunch of stale bagels.

jenny! - ahhh, you're such a leo!

electro-kevin - thanks, kevin. Marriage--I don't know how you do it! Congratulations once again on your Anniversary!

nycponderings chick - thanks for the suggestions. I don't know how Conan did it. I heard the same thing about Jim Carrey. I'm definitely going to have to take note from the greats!

steve - I think actors have it far easier, too. You should check out my post on Actors v. Comedians. Seinfeld has a great snippet on the difference between the two.

elise - thanks, elise! glad to see someone else subscribes to my "Golden Rule" philosophy as well.

istanbultory - i like your blog a lot! I only wish I had discovered it sooner. I, too, scored Libertarian. I guessed that would be your result as well based off of the political position you take on your blog. I subscribe to most of it. Perhaps, we're kindred spirits after all! Please stop by, again!

Tuscan Tony said...

Lucy, the best people in the world are those that gently point out the spinach between the snappers, after a decent interval of say 5 minutes. You should cultivate them assiduously.

p.s. your very own Woody Allen was here in Tuscany last year, and although only ostensibly here to play jazz I did ejoy him doing a great standup routine, I think unknowingly!

Enjoyed the blog very much.

Chief Scientist said...

"My answer is: Like Blanche DuBois, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Was she one of the Golden Girls?

This is funny stuff. I designate you an honorary scientist. Don't let it go to your head.

Cash

P.S. You have spinach on your teeth.

P.P.S. This is making me sign in with my blogger/google account so it may go to a weird place rather than my actual site. Sorry 'bout that.

Pope Terry said...

Well treat other how you want to be treated is all well and good, but it doesnt go well when you all you want people to do to you is a dam good groping, I dont know how many dirty looks I've gotten after treating people the way I want them to treat me....

Oh god is he kidding...?

-eve- said...

You're right, we need to learn how to use silence. I often have a problem with that myself (when doing public speaking), but silence is a powerful tool.
I agree with video recording oneself; I did it when I did public speaking in school, and it DOES help one to see oneself. :-)

Cidersweet said...

Hi Lucy!! V. Good to read your blog (as always, anyhow :))

boneman said...

This being an older post, I almost wonder if I should bother posting here or go to a more recent post...

Steven Wright (I put instant coffee in the mirowave and it became a time machine) used to speak a mile a minute (maybe faster) and NEVER paced.
Then, someone suggest he slow down, maybe walk a little while delivering.
He started out doing it and his speech slowed down, the audience started hearing it, and next thing you know, he could actually "pace" his material with that stroll he does on stage.
The slower he walks, the slower the delivery, and with Mr. Wright (heck, I don't know the guy personally!) ....most of his great gems are the "slow" ones!

Sidhusaaheb said...

Well, I am no comedian, but my guess is that if you are enjoying your own performance, then the audience definitely will, too.

:)