From the beginning, and to this day, I would never tell a lie onstage. So now I walk out, I go, “I’m so happy to see you,” and I really truly am so happy to see them. The one thing I brought to this business is speaking the absolute truth. Say only what you really feel about the subject. And that’s too bad if they don’t like it. That’s what comedy is. It’s you telling the truth as you see it.
I like this idea as the inverse to Steve Martin's old approach (i.e. everything he says onstage is a lie). Also, some of her advice to comics from that piece:
First of all, don’t worry about the money. Love the process. You don’t know when it’s gonna happen. Louis C.K. started hitting in his 40s; he’d been doing it for 20 years. And don’t settle. I don’t want to ever hear, “It’s good enough.” Then it’s not good enough. Don’t ever underestimate your audience. They can tell when it isn’t true. Also: Ignore your competition. A Mafia guy in Vegas gave me this advice: “Run your own race, put on your blinders.” Don’t worry about how others are doing. Something better will come.
THE RACIAL JOKE TEST
The test is “DO THAT JOKE IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE MOSTLY COMPRISED OF THE GROUP YOU MIGHT BE IN DANGER OF OFFENDING”. If if doesn’t fly or you don’t feel comfortable then drop that joke.
The last line of the piece: "Please go to harlem and pull that puppet out and see how it goes."
The film opens with simple, white-on-black titles, backed by an elegant, evocative jazz standard. The story that follows, framed by documentary-style straight-to-camera interviews, concerns a witty, urbane Jewish neurotic and his relationship with a sunny, fashionable shiksa. They stroll in through an autumnal Central Park and discuss death, sexual hang-ups, and New York real estate; the borough of Manhattan is captured in loving beauty shots, often backed by the music of Louie Armstrong. From that description, it would be easy to assume I was describing any number of Woody Allen films (Annie Hall in particular). But no, I’m talking about director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally.
So why did Harry/Sally do so much better at the box office than any of Woody's movies? Bring in the happy ending.
Yet the key to When Harry Met Sally’s initial financial success and subsequent cultural ubiquity most likely lies in its third act, when it takes some turns decidedly its own. To be clear, it’s not all an Allen carbon copy; the famous Katz’s Deli sequence, for example, is a funny scene, but it’s also a “funny scene,” an entirely unbelievable set piece with a (hilarious, mind you) sitcom punchline that one can’t imagine within Allen’s more grounded world. But most strikingly, once Harry and Sally take the plunge and their relationship becomes more serious, it becomes more of a conventional romance — and more of what we would come to define as an Ephron movie.
Most importantly, the picture culminates with an apologetic Harry coming to his senses, sprinting through New York City on New Year’s Eve, and delivering a big, heartfelt speech so he can win back Sally, who he really loves after all. This happy ending is When Harry Met Sally’s chief divergence from the Allen playbook. It’s not just that his best-known comic romances, Annie Hall and Manhattan, end with their focal couples apart rather than together; in Allen’s nearly 50 films as writer/director, only six (Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters, Oedipus Wrecks, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Melinda and Melinda) feature a couple that meets, falls in love, and lives happily ever after.
Allen’s jaded view of love — all broken relationships and heedless infidelity — may be the more realistic one, but realism don’t sell tickets, kids.
Love this Curb Your Enthusiasm scene. Interesting to me how different this kinda humor is than doing standup. He's milking the shy, quiet thing here – for a while – in a way that'd never work onstage in front of a big crowd. On a screen, you don't have to "command the room" in the same way. You've already got the audience's captive attention. The camera does the heavy lifting for you. That means you can get laughs from subtle looks or simple/quiet things that'd get lost in a live, "you need to reach the back row" setting.
“The way I see it is that I was always pretty comfortable with being vulnerable, but not particularly confident,” Tweedy said. “I feel like I’m a lot more confident, but I still embrace the fact that I am pretty vulnerable, if that makes any sense. I don’t have to be somebody else. I don’t have to be as good as somebody else, I just have to keep making stuff that I am excited by. That is one of the only things I have had control over. I am more aware of it — I am more aware of the things that I have control over.”
Almost no comedy will be inoffensive to everybody, and if it is it's probably pretty boring. With comedy you're relieving tension by saying and doing the unexpected, and a lot of times that by its nature will lead to people not liking the results or saying it's offensive to them — that your representation of their particular experience is unfair or inaccurate. That will always happen, but I think the likelihood of that happening is so greatly diminished when you're setting out as a performer or creator to try to be honest. Instead of just saying Okay, what's the first thought that comes to my head — what's the easiest stereotype I can make fun of? and then just going with that, thinking a little bit deeper and trying to understand the real motivations and attitudes and behaviors that make us human, and then looking at those things as the material you can focus the joke on — I think that's where the best comedy comes from and that's why people like Key and Peele are almost infallible. It'd be really tough to put together a legitimate case about them being lazy or insensitive comedians. They feel like humanists to me.
I like that notion: If you're coming across as human and digging deep and trying to understand people's genuine motivations and behaviors, it's gonna be tough for anyone to call you insensitive.
Love how this video (above) is making fun of the format of documentary trailers for flicks like Dogtown and Z-Boys (below). The actual concept isn't that meaty but the editing and style of it make the whole thing shine.
My one run-in with Robin Williams was when he was filming Patch Adams in Chapel Hill. Back then I was in a rock 'n roll band and we were on tour playing a burrito joint that night near UNC. After sound check we wandered around the campus and ran into the place on campus where they were filming outside.
About 100 people had gathered around to watch the goings on. When the director called cut, Williams didn't head for his trailer though. He jumped out into the crowd and signed autographs and started riffing with everyone who was standing there. It was that manic energy that we've all seen from him. He cracked jokes and worked the room (well, lawn actually) until he got to us, four shaggy looking rockers with mustaches. I thought he'd give us both barrels but he actually had a pretty sincere conversation with us about music, touring, being on the road, etc. He signed an autograph for our drummer, we invited him to the show, and he said he'd think about it. And then he moved on to the next available target and kept going until they needed him back on set about 20mins later.
It was just a brief encounter but it def seemed like he had an energy level that didn't go down. "Always on" would be an understatement. I thought this line from A.O. Scott's piece on Williams summed him up well: "His essential persona as an entertainer combined neediness and generosity, intelligence and kindness, in ways that were charming and often unexpectedly moving as well."
If I were asked to name the single scene in all of romantic comedy that was sexiest and funniest at the same time, I would advise beginning at six seconds past the 20-minute mark in Preston Sturges' "The Lady Eve,” and watching as Barbara Stanwyck toys with Henry Fonda's hair in an unbroken shot that lasts three minutes and 51 seconds.
Stanwyck plays an adventuress who has lured a rich but unworldly young bachelor to her cabin on an ocean liner, and is skillfully tantalizing him. She reclines on a chaise. He has landed on the floor next to her. "Hold me tight!” she says, holding him tight -- allegedly because she has been frightened by a snake. Now begins the unbroken shot. Her right arm cradles his head, and as she talks she toys with his earlobe and runs her fingers through his hair. She teases, kids and flirts with him, and he remains almost paralyzed with shyness and self-consciousness. And at some point during this process, she falls for him.
Become undeniable. When was the last time you went on stage and you killed so hard the person after you bombed? If you're fucking doing that on a regular basis, people are gonna notice, regardless of what you have between your legs.
Barry Katz did an AMA at Reddit. ("I've managed, developed and produced for Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Tracey Morgan, Jay Mohr among others and host the Industry Standard podcast on the business of comedy. Ask me anything.") In it, he breaks down the typical rates that comedians get paid...
If you're going to a comedy club in your city and seeing a person headline that you don't know that well, he's probably making between $1500-$3000 a week. The person going on before the headliner is probably making between $500-$1000 a week. The person MCing probably $300-$500 a week. If you go to a special event with a name that's a household name, you can probably figure out how much they're making by looking at how much you paid for the ticket and the people in the room, and normally the artist is making 50% of that gross, up to 100% depending on their pull. It the tickets are $25 apiece and 300 people in the room, you're talking about $7500 for that show. 6 Shows, about $40-$45K coming in. Chances are a headliner of that nature could make $20K or even up to $50-$60K that week, maybe more. That's usually how it works.
...and gives his advice on finding a manager (hint: don't).
Don't worry about finding a manager. When you're doing the right thing, when your comedy is undeniable, when you go to your home comedy club ten times in a row and you have the best set of the night by a landslide every, single, time and every bartender, every waitress, every manager, every comedian that hates you, every audience member if they had a truth serum in their veins would say you had the best set of the night. If you can figure that out, and do the kind of comedy that you love, embody the kind of material that blows you the fuck away when you watch it, when that starts happening, managers like me will chase you like your ass is on fire. But until then, keep working hard, keep doing the right thing and don't lose faith in yourself. You will prevail.
Katz also has a podcast where he interviews industry types.
To tell you the truth, Norm and I had done Update for three and a half seasons. I felt like we had made our point. What I did like about the way we approached Update was that it was akin to what the punk movement was for music: just real stripped down. We did whatever we wanted, and there was nothing there that we considered to be a form of cheating. We weren’t cuddly, we weren’t adorable, we weren’t warm. We weren’t going to do easy, political jokes that played for clapter and let the audience know we were all on the same side. We were going to be mean and, to an extent, anarchists.
I enjoy how "jokes that played for clapter" is the enemy here.
The “brainy” economy designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse –providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions. The perfect “subject” for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity — shock treatments — as “human interest” shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes along with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire.
Most comedy directors now believe that even an expertly written script can’t reliably elicit belly laughs. Nicholas Stoller, the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, both of which were substantially improvised, said, “The movies we’re trying to make, which have a hard laugh every minute, could not be made without improv.” Traditional comedies have a sleekness that calls to mind the typewriter. Consider the moment in the 1980 film Airplane! when two passengers chat before takeoff: “Nervous?” “Yes.” “First time?” “No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.” The point of improv, Apatow told me, is to make scenes feel fresh and unstudied—“to get the imagined typer out of the way.” When an improv really works, it has a skewed specificity that bears the stamp of an actor’s subconscious. In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, it’s the scene where a vexed Mike Myers, as Dr.. Evil, stifles his son, Scott, with a whole run of shushes: “Let me tell you a little story about a man named Sh!” Scott opens his mouth—“Sh! even before you start.” Tiny pause. “That was a preëmptive Sh!” Scott opens his mouth again—“Just know I have a whole bag of Sh! with your name on it.”
Getting the script outta the way and replacing it with the performer's subconscious makes an entirely different cake.
1) His energy onstage. So many comics rely on being high energy – practically yelling toward the crowd. Ted takes the opposite approach. He leans back. He draws you in to his worldview. There's a zen calm to his approach. Yet he still manages to be hilarious.
2) And I dig the way he's political. See, there's the kind of comedian who preaches and lectures about his political views. Ted doesn't do that. He's a "be the change you want to see in the world" kinda guy. He's super involved in the Occupy movement without being in your face about it. And he seems to constantly be doing things like making calls for Obama or cleaning up after Sandy or volunteering somewhere in Astoria.
3) He also founded the New York Comedians Coalition which got clubs in the city to raise spot pay for comics. I can only imagine how hard it was to bring together a group as lone wolf-ish as NYC comedians in any sort of organized way. But Ted managed to pull it off.
4) Then there's his most recent standup special. Most comics tape specials in a big room in front of a juiced up crowd. Ted taped his at The Creek in front of a few dozen people. It's a special about the reality of doing standup, not the "on steroids" version that's usually released. (And he was able to put it out without lining the pockets of a big corporation.)
5) A lot of big name comedians look down on comics who are less experienced. They ignore them or do the ball busting/hierarchy thing. I've never seen Ted do that. He's always been patient and kind in conversations with me and other less-experienced comics. No wonder he gets so much respect from his peers.
It's easy to measure the wrong things in this business – to look at who's got industry heat or a pilot deal or a high iTunes ranking. But sometimes the person who's really winning is the one who redefines success. When I look at how well Ted does both onstage and off, I see true success. I see someone who is an example of how you can make people laugh and be an artist and a nice, authentic human being.
When I hear comics tell those jokes, I wonder what other, more personal experiences they might have to talk about.. You say you worry that people think you look like a lesbian and you aren’t one? Okay, sure. How large a part of your life is that fear? The audience you are in front of tonight might never see you again, so is it a crucial enough aspect of your life that you’d want to it be the only topic an audience ever hears you discuss? If not, talk about something that is. If so, why is that? What are you so afraid of?
I think that's an interesting frame: If an audience is only going to see you once and hear you talk about one thing, what would you want it to be?
Artists fit into one of three categories-the natural performer, who does the best they can within their limits on stage; the superficial performer, who shouldn't be on stage in the first place because they've got nothing original to tell you; and the supernatural artist, who, in Bob's words, 'is the kind that digs deep and the deeper they go, the more gods they'll find."
It's like artistic limbo. How low can you go? Also brings to mind another question: What happens if you find demons in the depths alongside those gods?
I’m not saying it’s everyone’s path, but my path was being really good at everything. I can write something, I can direct it, I can edit it, I can produce it, because at the end of the day you have to assume no one’s going to make anything for you. Assume you have to make it yourself and then whenever someone will help you or you get money for it, that will only be a bonus as opposed to being an expectation. I feel like people get bogged down by feeling like they need someone to validate their idea before making it as opposed to just making it.
Good thinking. Waiting around for the industry to "discover" you puts your fate in the hands of others. Not to mention, a lot of industry folks operate from a place of fear and not wanting to get fired as opposed to caring about what's good or not (if they even know what's good). Make something you think is great and prove it's worthwhile. Even if it gets you nowhere, at least you made something. Makers make stuff. Complainers complain about stuff.
The one thing you don't want to do is say, "I'm going to be different than anyone else — I'm wearing jeans!"...Steve Martin told me when he started out he was dressed as a hippie, and that shocked me. He was like, "Well, I was doing avant-garde stuff. Then suddenly I realized avant-garde comes out better from a guy in a white suit." I thought that's pretty fucking smart.
People laugh at odd combos. High-low, skinny-fat, smart-dumb. Comedy is in the contrast.
Los Angeles friends: I'll be in your city next week. If you want to see me tell jokes, I'll be performing on the following shows...
Jun 10 - 8:00pm - Put Your Hands Together @ UCBLA
Jun 11 - 8:00pm - Pints & Puns @ Angel City Brewery & Public House
Jun 12 - 8:30pm - Josh and Josh Show @ Bar Lubitsch
Jun 13 - 8:00pm - Peachy Keen @ Bar Lubitsch
Jun 15 - 9:00pm - Neal Brennan and Friends @ Mi's Westside Comedy Theater
Jun 15 - 9:45pm - French Toast @ Le Taix
People talking about drug trips are like people talking about their dreams: You had to be there – and you weren't. That's what makes this chunk by Simon Amstell on doing Ayahuasca so amazing. It's deep and it's weird and it's funny throughout.
Future Insights interviewed me about Vooza. Questions include: "Was there a specific viral internet video that made the light bulb go on for Vooza?" "Is it harder for you to play the straight man or the guy who delivers the punch lines?" "Which is your favorite Vooza video, and why?"
You know those self-indulgent videos where people talk about creativity, inspiration and their approach to branding as motivational music plays in the background?
Since launching (and doing we’re-still-not-sure-what), Vooza's made it its business to demystify the startup journey by zeroing right into the smarmy “thought-leader” attitude that so readily shuts people out before they've begun.
1, They don’t have to provide you with a living. You can still eat if they fail.
2, They don’t have a deadline. And as there is no time pressure, you don’t revert to your usual formula. You try new things. You experiment. You take risks.
3, This is a Labour of Love. You provide the ‘Labour’. And you provide the ‘Love’. So when you spend time on it, it is because you really want to. That keeps you coming back and pushing it on. That’s important. This thing will require you to keep plugging away at it, maybe, for years.
Love pays well in the end. But in the early years, it doesn’t pay at all.
I think the experimentation part is important. The more you're trying to make money off of comedy, the more you start to follow the rulebook. The industry has a way of homogenizing people. It all starts to look, sound, and feel the same. The time when you're not getting paid offers you freedom. It gives you the ability to do whatever the hell you want.
The segmented nature of the series — disconnected tales, anecdotes, moments, and reveries, some of them just a few minutes long — evokes the stop-and-start rhythms of a stand-up routine, an art form in which it's perfectly acceptable to pivot from one subject to the next with a blunt transition: "Women." "Football fans are the worst." "Now I'm gonna talk about things that you can do to keep people on their toes." He's talking to you directly, in the way that a stand-up comic would talk to you from the stage at a club, but he's doing it through the language of film — a translation that's not as simple as it sounds, given that stand-up is pure performance, just words and gestures. Theater...
The only transitions between these stories are the commercial breaks between acts, or the seven days separating one full episode from another. This temporal black space is the equivalent of a stand-up saying, "Can we talk about Obama for a second?" or "It is so friggin' hot right now!" Every such transition means the same thing: "Now I'm going to talk about something else, and hopefully I'll be interesting enough that you'll keep listening and not heckle me." Richard Pryor could do routines in which his dog or his pipe talked to him, then ramp down into more personal stories. Eddie Murphy could do a filthy routine about Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton as gay lovers and a childhood reverie about kids and ice cream within the same performance. George Carlin could mix wordplay, social satire, religious and political commentary, personal memories, and even an extended fantasy about the destruction of the world and somehow make it all seem to fit. And if you didn't like one or another of these bits, all you had to do was wait a few minutes, and the comic would be on to something else.
Good points I think. Most TV feels more like watching a storyteller. The random leaps at play in Louie do evoke a standup set more than most of the narrative-driven things on TV.
One other CK thing I read recently from GQ: That's Not Funny, That's C.K. I think the part about anger coming from fear and shame is interesting – how much great comedy comes from those things?
This is worth noting only because a decent amount of his material seems to emerge from a place of anger—or maybe more accurately, anger's parent streams, fear and shame—and when he's standing there in his black T-shirt and jeans, sweating and red-faced, you get the sense that however much that joke has been honed for comic effect, it also isn't totally an act. The signal seems to be beaming from someplace real and not completely peaceful inside him.
Interesting story from one of Lenny Bruce's trials (article). A witness transcribed his act and started reading it back in court. Bruce was furious: "I'm going to be judged on his bad timing, his ego and his garbled language."
But Richard Kuh, an ambitious assistant D.A., was eager to take on Lenny Bruce. The chief witness against Bruce was Herbert Ruhe, an inspector for the city's licensing division and a former C.I.A agent. At the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, Ruhe took notes on Lenny's performance, which he read from at the trial. (By the way, Ruhe told me later that he was just doing his job, that he had nothing against Lenny.)
Lenny was in a state of desperate frustration. He begged—he literally begged—presiding judge John Murtagh for permission to do his own act and not have it dismembered by an agent of the prosecutor.
"This guy is bumbling" Lenny told me, "and I'm going to jail. He's not only getting it all wrong, but now he thinks he's a comic. I'm going to be judged on his bad timing, his ego and his garbled language."
An unusual witness for Lenny was the syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, an active Catholic and political conservative. But she had a keen sense of humor and had attended some of Lenny's club gigs in New York. In taking the stand, she was treated with great respect by the judges and court attendants. Kuh, the Torquemada-like prosecutor, had put together—out of any context—all of Lenny's "dirty words" from the tape of the Café Au Go Go performance, which Bruce was not permitted to give to the court in his own way.
Kilgallen, demurely dressed, wearing white gloves, sat coolly on the witness chair as Kuh circled her and then, in a loud, accusatory voice, roared a barrage of "dirty words" at her. Pouncing, he shouted: "You say that Mr. Bruce is an artist of social value. What is your reaction, Miss Kilgallen, to these words—these words—he used in his act?" Dorothy Kilgallen looked at her gloves, looked up at Kuh and then, with precise constitutional logic, said: "They are words, Mr. Kuh. Words, words, words."
Reminds me of the whole Colbert tweet debacle or when blogs reprint what Tosh or Tracy Morgan say onstage. Seeing words written down or said by someone else is WAY different than hearing how they were delivered in the room from that performer.
Because of our Vooza show, I got to give a keynote talk at a big tech conference in Amsterdam two weeks ago. I pretended to be an idiot startup CEO who's overly obsessed with Steve Jobs. I told 'em to embrace failure and ignore their families. I think they figured out I was joking? Here's a clip...
Cristela didn’t make the cut. However, the producers, who also are behind ABC’s Last Man Standing, and 20th TV took the $500,000 penalty, a fraction of what a normal pilot costs, and used it to budget a presentation with ABC’s blessing (the network called it “proof of concept”). Cristela ended up filming a full-length pilot on the stage of Last Man Standing using that sitcom’s crew, led by director/co-exec producer John Pasquin, with two days of rehearsal and prep time, doing the blocking in a windowless room using paper plates and metal chairs. Cristela, originally not even budgeted to get a testing, tested through the roof, with Alonzo, who has no previous acting experience, scoring higher than Allen, New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel and The Crazy Ones’ Robin Williams.
I like the lean "proof of concept" approach they took to making the show. Do it as cheap and easy as possible and make something good and prove it works. Then build it from there. Everyone's always hoping to win the lottery and get the BIG DEAL but the organic way to do it is to build slowly, make sure it's a good idea, and then double down from there.
Silicon Valley is definitely worth a watch…If HBO isn’t your thing however and you still want to have some laughs at the expense of start up culture, the collection of shorts over at Vooza intelligently pokes fun at everything from crowdfunding concepts to product pitches and business card exchanges to product launch videos.
A reader writes: "I think you should do a blog post on musical comedy. Even if it's about how you think it sucks. I want to hear your opinion. Because I respect it."
I did think Flight of the Concords were pretty great. But mostly, I don't like musical comedy. The dickish way to say why: I think it's mostly done by people who are not good enough at comedy to succeed as comedians and not good enough at music to succeed as musicians. But they mix the two and deliver an inferior version of both things as a sort of magic trick that audiences like in the same way audiences like prop comedy and guys dressed in drag.
Look, I love music and I love comedy. I just don't get off on them being mixed. Probably because I'm very binary and take a purist approach to things. (Overall, this is an unnecessary and unhelpful way to live life but c'est la vie.)
Also, I think music hits people on some sort of reptilian wavelength and then makes anything that goes along with it easier to swallow. Think about how stupid most song lyrics are. Or the painful in-between song stage banter of most musicians. People let it go because, hey, music!
But, y'know, do your thing. It takes a village and all that. And anything can be done artfully and worth watching.