Hey. I’m Matt Ruby (email@example.com). I live in Brooklyn and I'm a standup comedian and the creator of Vooza, a video comic strip about the tech world. This is Sandpaper Suit, a comedy blog about standup, filmmaking, and whatever else I feel like talking about. Established 2006. Phew, that's a while.
Venue: Stand Up NY Date: 1/29/07 Length: 6 minutes Crowd: 15 people
Mixed feelings about my set last night. On the one hand, it was a dead room so might as well go down with material that I wanted to try. On the other hand, I feel bad getting onstage in front of a "real" audience with material that's completely untested. Feels almost unfair to 'em. Overall, it was a rough few minutes but there were a couple of things I hit on that have potential.
One thing I've noticed is that whenever I try new material, my setups are way too wordy. Makes it more conversational but also comes off as if the set is dragging. When I refine jokes, I'm always chopping 'em down severely. Keeps the pace up.
I'm looking forward to getting more stage time so I'm not as anxious to try new stuff out all the time. I feel like I have to make the most out of my time onstage instead of just relaxing and going with the flow. Like I wish I had chatted with the two Microsoft Vista-promoting chicks or one of the other tables. Since I'm still excited to test out material I don't act as "real" as I should.
I'm in a really unhealthy relationship. I've got polio and she's got smallpox. It's sick.
I caught a butterfly the other day. Crazy thing is it had a tattoo on it's lower back. It was a picture of a teenage girl.
A friend of mine got a Chinese character tattoo. I asked him what the symbol means. He said, "It's Chinese for 'unoriginal tattoo.'"
Life is like a movie. One that was inspired by a true story.
I want to know where Dr. Pepper went to medical school. 'Cuz he is putting his name on some unhealthy shit.
I admire the optimism of unemployed people who say they're "in between jobs." I'm not optimistic about work, but I am optimistic about sex. So I like to say "I'm in between blow jobs." That might be why I don't get hired.
Joke of mine: "You always see convenience stores. But I just opened up an inconvenience store. It's only open on Sundays between 5-6 AM. And everything's always out of stock."
Got some laughs with it but never *loved* it loved it.
Today Brian writes, "...you can't do the inconvenience store joke anymore. I was just watching Rob Schneider on Young Comedian's special from 1989 and he does it on there. Says he opened an inconvenience store, they won't give you change, they don't have shelves, etc... thought you'd want to know. at least it's a pro joke you thought of. even if shneider became a hack."
My response: "So I'm like a young Rob Schneider, eh? Scaaaary. ; ) I better start preparing to audition for "Deuce Bigalow 3: The Deuce is Loose."
Anyhow, like Rob Schneider, that joke is now dead to me.
Venue: Caroline's Date: 1/20/07 Length: 5 minutes Crowd: 120 people
My set at Caroline's went well. I knew I wanted to get a good tape from it so I brought my A material (different version of video coming but this one's all I've got for now). Had a nice rhythm to it and I was confident cuz I had done well with the exact same set at an open mic on Thursday. If I get open mic'ers to laugh then I think that's a good sign it's gonna work in front of normal people too. Was a very friendly crowd too. Got a lot of positive feedback after the set which was cool.
COMMENTS FROM CLASS TEACHER ON THE SET Blue collar tractor joke good, White collar: good premise but the private jet joke and country club wife could not follow the anchor joke so you need to punch up or rewrite. Same with celebrity'sanctity of marriage joke. Celebrity punchline good but Britney couldn't follow it. It was more of a commentary than a punchline. Need to punch up. That's it. The close, gay/jewish parade was great.
COMMENTS FROM DANIELA ON THE SET (Paraphrased from notes) Take the mic out of the stand. It's blocking you from the audience and you're not comfortable enough onstage yet to do it. The Mel Gibson joke is not your opener. Takes too long to get to the punch. Mention the bringer audience. Schlomo/Blind Date joke is good. Schlomo is a great word. Love the Blue Collar Comedy joke too but don't say "hack joke" line. Was better other time you did it when you talked (sarcastically) about how much you love that kind of comedy. Gay pride parade & jewish "we control Hollywood and the media" stuff is strong. These are some great jokes. Great confidence. A+ set. Well, A+ for a bringer audience. Which means more like a B set for a regular audience.
About the class Andy Engel, the guy who books the new talent night (aka bringer show) at Caroline's, puts the class together. The teacher was Linda Smith (working comic who's appeared on Conan and HBO and a writer for The Rosie O'Donnell Show, among others). There were about 19 students in the beginning, a few dropped out along the way.
Classes were held at a dance studio in midtown. We met once a week and we slowly built up material. First class, we started by doing two minute sets each. Did more each week building up to a graduation show at Caroline's (it's during the day and the attendees are friends/family of students). Every one did a five minute set at the show and we got a tape of the performance.
Supportive open mic environment It wasn't so much an instructive class as it was a supportive environment to perform weekly. Linda would offer comments about what was good or not after each set (other students would chime in too) but there wasn't really much actual instruction along the way. The first week we got a handout on some different joke types but that was it.
What was good about this: Compared to real open mics, which are often downers, it was a friendly atmosphere for getting comfortable performing in front of others, learning how to handle the mic, tightening material, etc.
Students The other students in the class were a mix of unemployed actors, professional dudes who wear cell phones on their belts, a couple of younger hipsters, and random others. Average age was around 30. Seemed like more than a few commuted in from the 'burbs. As performers they were generally pretty bad. A couple were completely delusional (a la American Idol wannabes who can't sing). There were maybe four people with potential, five who were painful, and the rest were somewhere in between.
Was it worth it? I would've liked it better if there had been tougher criticism involved. Linda was pretty soft on us most of the time. I know you don't want to crush the hopes of beginners but I like constructive criticism, even if it's painful. That said, I understand why she acted that way. It's a delicate situation when some people know what they're doing and some are completely clueless. I think she handled it pretty well.
The class definitely helped me build confidence and it was good to meet other aspiring comics. Yeah, I wish there had been more on topics like premises, act-outs, mixes, calling the room, etc. But it was still worth it.
Plus, I got a solid tape with Caroline's in the background. That's something a lot of comics would kill for.
Bottom line If you're just starting out in comedy, it's a good way to get your toes wet, build confidence, and meet others. If you're already seasoned, you'll probably feel like someone stuck you on the short bus.
BRIAN ADDS... I agree with you that the class is really most suited to those whose primary need is confidence, support and the opportunity to get a soft landing the first few times in the air. But I also think that those things are pretty tough to come by in the stand-up game, and that Linda in particular, is genuine in her enthusiasm and desire to help everyone get better.
And I found that both Andy and Linda were really helpful outside class too. That is, I could run material past Linda, report in to her on how my shows were going, get more specific critique by sending her emails or calling her. I don't know if you took advantage of that.
Plus, Andy made a call or two on my behalf to other club bookers recommending that they take a look at me. And he put me up on stage at Caroline's on a Monday night ( I got massacred by the way. I totally choked---no timing, no punchlines, no confidence, I was like Michael Spinks staring across the ring at Tyson in '88, the fight was over before it even started). But still, Andy gave me the shot. Do I think he did it because I'm a screenwriter/producer? I don't know. But for whatever reason, I feel like I got my money's worth out of the class.
The biggest drag to me was that the person I thought had the most potential, in fact, I'd say the one person who seemed to me to be a born comic in that class quit. And I thought it might have been because she was embarrassed to be in a room filled with so many hacks, so many cliched writers, you know? (Nice job by me, huh, calling other writers cliched after I reference Spinks/Tyson...)
Venue: Caroline's Date: 1/20/07 Length: 5 minutes Crowd: 70 people
BRIAN I was actually happy with my set, b/c all I cared about was that first bit (posted above). I had thought it would really work, and now I know it can. I think it's the first actual proper bit I have written. Did it work for you sittiing there?
MATT Overall comments on your progression: I think you're doing a really good job of getting comfortable and natural on stage. You seem more honest and natural each time i see you. You're not hitting a lot of big punch lines yet but i think that'll come.
Did you check out that book i mentioned a while back, Judy Carter's comedy bible? It's totally cheesy at times but has a LOT of really good analysis in there on starting each joke with a defined attitude/premise, using act-outs to get laughs, incorporating mixes, etc. it's been really helpful for me.
She really emphasizes brevity and conciseness too. One thing she says that I think is really good: "If it's not part of the joke, it's part of the problem." I think tightening up your jokes would help a lot. Taking too long to get to the laughs sometimes.
Comments on your set:
* 1st bit had a real nice rhythm to it, almost musical in the way you went back and forth between NYC and LA parts. Would like to see you get to a punchline earlier in the bit though. "Invite you to twice as many parties" gets big laughs...maybe go even further with it?..."invite you to some really raunchy parties." Def a good start though.
* You could extend this topic even further. Do more comparison of blue collar NYC types vs. plastic LA types. Like what Chris Rock does in his "Commitment vs. New Pussy" bit. There's fertile ground here.
* Don't step on your laughs. At least once you started telling a joke before they were done laughing at the last one. Wait till the laughs start to recede and then keep going.
* I'm not crazy about the Neil Diamond joke but maybe it's cuz I actually like Neil Diamond. ; ) Fwiw, Heather mentioned she thinks Death looks a lot like Barry Manilow these days after his gazillion plastic surgeries.
BRIAN Watched it. Actually, the hollywood and neil diamond things got a lot of laughs. which is how I remembered it, but then I thought you were saying they didn't and i figured I remembered it wrong. the rest of it was just disorganized and jumbled and I wasnt concentrating.
MATT Oh yeah, you def got some laughs. Was just trying to offer some constructive criticism cuz I think that's more helpful than merely saying "you did swell."
BRIAN I've been sitting here thinking about the whole punch line thing. And I've decided not to push. I'm not going to do the judy carter book or any book or joke forms or any of that. I'm totally prepared to spend a year not getting consistent laughs in order to find my material in a more natural, unconscious way. Even the jokes I have that always get big laughs, like the subway joke, are too stock, not original or specific enough to really define anything. So I'm basically dropping them from the act. I dig the hollywood thing because of how it came to me, because it is essentially true, because it is representative of where I find myself and because it takes the audience on a journey. I think that the reason the audience was there for the end of that bit is that they were interested in where it was gonna go, even if they weren't laughing, they were listening. And if I can keep them interested and listening, then I feel like in the end, in a month from now, or in a year or two years, I can get them listening and laughing. Or, you know, maybe I'll just give the whole thing up after tonight...
MATT Yeah, I totally get where you're coming from and I think your reasoning makes sense. Actually, she makes a lot of the same points in the book. About finding your authentic voice, finding subjects you feel passionate about, etc. The structures are really just tools you use to shape the jokes.
Depends on whether you want to follow a map or just navigate your own path. If you choose the latter, the journey might take longer. But you also might wind up somewhere more interesting.
Personally, I get a kick out of knowing the rules, at least at first. It makes it that much more fun when you break 'em.
Joke structures (like premise -> act-out -> mix) remind me of the underlying structures you find in other creative outlets, like grids in graphic design or scales in music. Helpful tools but ones that should def be used as a foundation, not a crutch.
COMMENTS FROM LINDA ON THE SET I specifically liked the Hollywood/New York bit. It immediately establishes your stage persona, but it needs to be tighter which will allow you to carry that attitude through your whole performance. The death bit is a great premise. It's original and fresh, but I felt it fell a bit flat. I would like to see you develop it more. Punch it up and run with it.
You are obviously a great writer and that showed in the material. Your performance chops will come from stage time, stage time, stage time. Overall you did a nice job. Keep tweaking your material and keep showing up.
I see that Matt referenced this weird bit of mine that he called the neil diamond joke. Which is better called the death joke so as not to ruin the punchline. That said, punchline already ruined, here is the bit.
I freaked myself out the other night. I was trying to fall asleep but I couldn't get the image of death out of my head. I just kept thinking of death. And then the phone rang, and I was scared to pick it up. I thought, what if it's him, death, on the phone. Would I answer and say, 'hey, I was just thinking about you,' and would he say, 'see, I told you we should hook up with each other...' and I really almost lost it, but then I realized, hey, that's not the image of death in my head, it's Neil Diamond, I just get them confused sometimes.
Hey, this is Brian Koppelman. Matt and I met in a comedy class. We were among the small group of folks in the class who could be considered, by some, to be clinically sane. And we have been performing on a bunch of the same shows around the city. I guess some combination of those things led Matt to invite me to come post here. The below is a bit I wrote this morning, that I am going to perform this afternoon. I'll let you know how it goes.
I'm a hollywood screenwriter but I live in new york. People ask me why. I say it's so I can keep it real, grounded. So that I can have non-hollywood friends, you know regular guys, working guys. But it gets tricky, because each world has different customs. See, half the people, the Hollywood people, you kiss hello, the other half, the regular guys, you give a hearty handshake. Now, if I just offer a hand to some hollywood guy who expects a kiss by accident, he's gonna think he offended me somehow. But if I try to kiss one of the regular guys, he's gonna give me a bloody nose. If the hollywood folks see I have a bloody nose they're gonna organize an intervention, try and throw me in rehab for cocaine addiction. If one of the new york guys sees I have a bloody nose, he's gonna ask me who the fuck did it and tell me we need to go take a bite out of that guy's ass. If I then tell one of the Hollywood folks I just took a bite out of some guy's ass...he's gonna invite me to twice as many parties. If I tell a new yorker I was at a party with a bunch of assbiters, he's gonna punch me in the nose...and we'd have to start the whole thing all over again.
Jason: how's it feel, btw? standup Me: very interesting. material counts for a lot but so much is delivery, timing, confidence, etc. they say you need to do it for years to even get decent. all about stage time Jason: Feels like it's one of the hardest jobs there is Me: one nice thing: there's an easily quantifiable metric for success...laughter. you know if shit is working or not. Jason: true but the rejection... Me: yeah, u def have to believe in what you're saying. same material can kill w/ one audience and die with another. it's been an interesting learning curve. Jason: I bet. It's gotta help in a lot of other ways too. General confidence, general belief in your own ideas, etc Me: i've prob already got a fairly delusional amount of confidence/belief in my own ideas.
Venue: Mo Pitkin's Date: 1/14/07 Length: 8 minutes Crowd: 25 people
This is just an excerpt (whole set went 8 minutes). Went for the more absurdist one-liner bits. Did ok though crowd was a bit fatigued by that point (it's a mixed open mic w/ musicians and comics).
This video is the first time I've ever seen myself do standup. I think I look pretty comfortable. I seem stoned (I am not). I like leaving the mic in the stand but then I'm not sure what to do with my hands. Note to self: Don't strike fabulous poses, like hand on hip, that make you look super gay (later in set, unseen here).
Brian: I like that penguin joke. The premise is really strong. We've talked a bunch about the idea of there being a few different approaches a new stand up can take in shaping his act. And we seem to have classified your approach as being absurdist or kind of third person observing and mine as a real first-person, self-revelatory thing. But in thinking about your jokes, they actually reveal a ton about the way you see the world. When the absurdist jokes are specific and tight they also serve as a sort of map of your brain. And so the audience gets to know you just as well as they get to know me when I am talking about something that might, on the surface, be more personal. Not that any of these distinctions/ruminations even fucking matter, by the way, especially to the audience. But in the beginning, before I can actually make anyone laugh, I take some bullshit comfort in being able to intellectualize about it.
Daniela: Stop swaying and leaning! Take the mic out of the stand. Don't do the penguin racist joke. It's been done before. Alcohol under attack is good.
Venue: Stand Up NY Date: 1/8/07 Length: 8 minutes Crowd: 17 people
I wanted to try sticking to written material since I wandered around quite a bit my prev time on stage. I felt like I kinda stiffed it but when I listened back to the set it seemed delivered well at least.
Tough room by that stage of the evening. After 1.5 hours of comedy, it's tough to keep laughing – I realize why movie comedies are so short now. Following HBO guys doesn't help either. Def educational to see how the pros do it though.
Weird too cuz the crowd was so split. You had the 10 kinda angry black kids, the Abercrombie and Fitch table, the parents waiting for their kid, etc. I don't think I've got the street cred to really appeal to the urban crowd but I didn't want to seem like I was performing just for the little white kids. I threw in my Snoop bit and some stuff that I normally would leave out. Tough to be all things to all people though.
I think that's part of why I liked the Mo Pitkin's open mic thing...it was more "my people" (downtown types). I'm learning how much the audience determines where you go with things. Do you stick with the material that you care about most even if it's bombing or do you tailor it to the crowd? Something to think about.
Note I sent to Brian (who performed earlier in the evening): Nice job winging it last night. Might not have maximized laughs but I think you're def building up comfort level on stage. I think it's a process of getting comfortable and then tightening it up so there's still laugh points.
Some minor comments: You started off seeming like you were gonna be really open/honest/confessional, which was good, but then you went into the Neil Diamond joke. Seemed like a disconnect. Also, kids these days prob don't hide their porn stash under the bed (I assume they just get it all on the internet). Might be dating yourself there.
Brian's Response: Thanks for your thoughts. Yeah, it was a tough night, but also a really good experience to have.