West Virgina

West Virginia won the NIT but the team's championship T-shirts said "West Virgina." [Insert joke about meager intelligence of West Virginians here.] At least the tees didn't say West...bah, forget it.


Revealing laughs

Which jokes you laugh at can sometimes reveal a bit too much. A couple of weeks ago I saw Jim Norton do a joke about how awkward it is to go with your girlfriend to get your AIDS test results because then you can't really celebrate that much. Some guy in the back starts stomping his feet and going "Aw, yeah. For real!" Later on, Jim started joking about how once a guy starts having sex, he can't stop. The guy in the back shouted out his approval again: "That's the truth!" Best of all, this guy in the back was on a date! She must've been so thrilled to be out on a date with a STD-having rapist who can't keep his mouth shut at comedy shows.


How Chris Rock works out new material in a small club

I got bumped from my set at Stand Up NY last night...but for a damn good reason: Chris Rock showed up to do a 45-minute set. He's getting material ready for a tour in the fall (and I heard him mention on TV recently that he's doing a New Year's Eve show at Madison Square Garden too). There were only about 30 or so people there so it was a loose vibe. He did all new material and glanced at his notes on a yellow legal pad pretty frequently.

He came out and mocked some guy who was trying to film the set and then pretended to stop by putting the camera on the table. Chris said, "I've made fucking movies! You don't think I know when I'm being filmed!?"

Some of the bullet points for the night:
* He hates rich kids so now he kinda hates his own kids
* Kids are cruel ("You don't need to be taught to hate, you need to be taught to love.")
* Walmart is the AIDS of retailers
* Hip hop is weak nowadays
* Hot chicks are always in debt because they think someday a man will come and "clean up the mess"
* Women "can never go back" financially, men can never go back sexually

Of course, it was all about the delivery. He didn't get that preacher vibe going very often but it came out in spots. There were 5-10 lines during the night that were just ridiculously good. Like lightning bolts. My sense is that he starts with these bolts and then writes around them.

Like "Walmart is the AIDS of retailers." He talked about how Walmart kills off all other stores and how Walmarts are so big they're like a town (security guard tells him: "You were by frozen foods? You really shouldn't be near there after 11pm.") Then he'd glance over at his legal pad and say, "No unions." Then just start ranting about no unions or health care for the employees there.

It was tough to tell how much was prepared and how much was just ranting on the spot. He even commented on some of the bits halfway through. "This needs to be fleshed out more if it's gonna make it. It's just you don't want to hack it up with the whole 'Walmart's a town' thing...etc."

He did hardly any crowdwork. Why bother? It's not like he's gonna be able to use that on HBO. He wasn't there to play, he was there to get material together.

Crowd was pretty much in awe. Random tourists from Amsterdam and North Carolina got way more than they bargained for. And then there was the bunch of comics in the back just soaking it up. A few more showed up as word got out via text messages.

Chris didn't stick around afterwards. He got off stage and then headed out (and I heard later he went and did another set at The Cellar).

Update: Chris Rock and I "share" a bill again


Obvious beauty

Venue: Bowery Poetry Club
Date: 3/12/07
Length: 6 minutes
Crowd: 60 people

Sometimes girls get catty and say "I guess she's pretty...if you like that kind of obvious beauty." Well, call me crazy but when it comes to beauty I kinda like the obvious kind. You know what subtle beauty is? Ugly. I don't want beauty that makes me think.


"Funny" isn't what makes people laugh

People think jokes are funny or they're not. The truth is it's all relative.

Every comedian knows that a joke that kills in one room can die in another. It's rare to laugh out loud at a comedy record when you're listening at home even though the people in the room are guffawing. And the opposite is true too: A comic who's only so-so on TV or on a CD can be a riot live.

It all depends on the setting. Are there other people around? Does the room have energy? Are people warmed up? Is it a lively group? Etc. One interesting thing I've noted is listening/watching a comic at home with even just one or two other people leads to a lot more laughter than if you're alone.

What's So Funny? Well, Maybe Nothing (NY Times) is a scientific look at why people laugh. Turns out "funny" has less to do with laughter than a lot of people think. And the results are definitely interesting from a standup perspective.

According to the article, people use laughter as a punctuation mark. It's an exclamation point, a gasp, an a-ha, a recognition, a conversational lubricant like nodding or saying, "uh huh."

He found that most speakers, particularly women, did more laughing than their listeners, using the laughs as punctuation for their sentences. It's a largely involuntary process. People can consciously suppress laughs, but few can make themselves laugh convincingly.

I think that last part is interesting too: You can't fake laughter convincingly. That's part of the whole rawness of comedy. An audience can pretend to like a band or a painting, but it's pretty obvious when people are fake laughing. You're either on the bus or off the bus.

Also, we laugh as a way to connect.

The brain has ancient wiring to produce laughter so that young animals learn to play with one another. The laughter stimulates euphoria circuits in the brain and also reassures the other animals that they're playing, not fighting.

Playing, not fighting. That's why comics can get away with saying some of the meanest and/or most truthful things, because they do it in a playful way. They can deliver straight, painful medicine because the pill is coated with sugar. It's amazing what you can get away with saying as long as people are laughing.

There are also a lot of control/hierarchy issues in play.

[Laughter is] a subtle social lubricant. It's a way to make friends and also make clear who belongs where in the status hierarchy...[From an experiment:] When the woman watching was the boss, she didn't laugh much at the muffin joke. But when she was the underling or a co-worker, she laughed much more, even though the joke-teller wasn't in the room to see her. When you're low in the status hierarchy, you need all the allies you can find, so apparently you're primed to chuckle at anything even if it doesn't do you any immediate good.

So people laugh at others who they perceive to have higher status. That's why control is such a big part of standup. If you lose control of the room, forget about it. If they don't respect you, they'll never laugh.

But what about Rodney Dangerfield, king of "no respect"? That's bullshit schtick. Listen to an album of his and you can see he's got the whole room in the palm of his hand. Total master at controlling the room. No respect, my ass.

Actually, that's a common comic ploy, insult yourself as a way to ingratiate yourself with the audience. Then once they've "let you in," ya take 'em over.


Everything is a muscle

Open and close strong, wander in the middle. Work in 20% new material. The less you're gonna get laughs, the more real you should be. No sense being performy in a dead room. "I can't believe he just said that." might be worth more than laughter. Befriend other comics at your own level. Those above you won't give you the time of day. Those below you suck. Get a show so you can trade stage time with other comics. Stage time is currency. Work work work. Will other comics watching you say that a joke is hack? Then cut it. Everything is a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Talk about what scares you, what you hate, what's dumb, what you're ashamed of. Get comfortable. Control the room. Never apologize. Cut it in half, then take another 10% out. Sometimes it's them, not you. Use jokes that you know kill as your barometer. The meaner you are, the more playful you should seem. Tickle, don't poke.


Caroline's set: Friends with benefits, Shakira, etc.

Venue: Caroline's
Date: 3/3/07
Length: 6 minutes
Crowd: 80 people

I was asked to perform at Caroline's for a comedy school graduation show. Crowd was d-e-a-d (situation not helped by the fact that it was 2pm, crowd seemed mostly suburban types, and I was the first comic to go on). Went with more of my one-liner bits but only got mild laughs. A lot of jokes that normally kill got barely any response. I blame it on the crowd. Bastards!

(Actually, I just saw Chris Rock on Bravo and he was talking about how a good comic *never* blames the crowd. Fair 'nuff.)

If it was a normal show, I prob would've broken it down after a minute or two and turned more conversational. But given the situation, I figured it was best to just plow on through.

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