Live set at Karma a couple weeks back at The New Young Comedians show.
The Living Room at Postmark Cafe
326 6th Street (between 4th & 5th aves)
Park Slope, BK 11215
2nd & 4th Fridays at 8:00PM, FREE
Fun lineup: "Emily Epstein hosts Kyle Grooms, Matt Ruby, Wil Sylvince, Ryan Conner, Phil Kessell, Matt&Katina! This week Luke is doing stand-up and Abbi is doing a sketch and fake news."
DIRECTIONS: Take the F train OR the R train to 4th Ave/9th Street stop. Exit at 9th St. Walk uphill toward 5th ave, and make a left on 5th ave. Left on 6th street to Postmark Cafe.
"This is a clean show. NO F-word!" Uh oh. Can I handle this??! Sure. Gulp.
I started listening to Howard in about seventh grade and couldn't get enough. I just felt like he was the only person on TV/radio that was actually telling the truth. He was a miserable, terrible person in a lot of ways...but it was fucking authentic. In comparison, everyone else on air seemed full of shit.
I didn't really care about the strippers, midgets, and other freak show stuff. But I loved when he and the crew would sit around talking about their lives. He talked about his small dick, how he hated his life, how he masturbated in his basement, his relationship with his wife, etc. He was Louis CK before Louis CK.
And I loved how he forced other people to tell the truth. Everyone on the show had to discuss intimate details of their lives, air out their dirty laundry, have any fights on air, etc.
It was so compelling because it was real. You can't be on the air for four hours every day of the week and fake it. Also, radio is a really intimate medium for some reason. Maybe it's the "voice in the ear" factor or something.
His interviews with celebs were super too. No Entertainment Tonight bullshit. He'd ask how much money people made, whom they fucked, whom they hated, which rumors were true, and all the stuff you want to know but people never ask. The next day, these interview would often be in the news. Because he got people to reveal things they never revealed before.
That's why a lot of celebs would never go on. He broke that PR shill shield of protection. You got to see the real person. People could play along and be cool (Arnold Schwarzenegger always handled Howard great). But if you weren't up for getting into the truth, you were better off staying away.
I don't have Sirius so I don't really listen to Howard anymore. (That's why I've been using the past tense.) But I came across this recent Chevy Chase interview (below) and it's a great example of what I'm talking about. Howard gets Chevy to talk about banging Goldie Hawn, being the most famous person on SNL and how the others resented him for it, getting into a fight with Bill Murray right before going on air, how Chase and Murray improvised their one scene together in Caddyshack, how he was locked in a basement when he was younger, and tons more. Where else would ya get this kind of conversation?
(Update: Bummer, YouTube took down the Stern-Chase video. Fwiw, Stern's site has notes of recent interviews with these people: Norm MacDonald, Chris Rock, Chevy Chase, and Brad Garrett.)
I don't think my standup is all that Howard-y (tough to dole out that vibe in 5-10 minute chunks)...but I do like the direction "We're All Friends Here" is going in. It's got a lot of that raw, truthful, conversations-you-never-hear-anywhere-else thing going on. And that's why it's so fun.
The stateroom scene from "Night at the Opera":
A scene from "A Day at the Races":
Girl: I've never been so insulted in all my life.
Groucho: Well, it's early yet.
Love that. More quotes from "A Day at the Races."
The contract negotiation skit from "A Night at the Opera" is a classic.
Groucho: It's all right, that's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause.
Chico: You can't fool me, there ain't no sanity clause.
Can't find the video anywhere though.
Also, I remember this great scene at the horse track in "A Day at the Races" where Groucho and Chico are making a deal and keep selling each other the same book back and forth. Can't find that either but I remember it being my fave thing in the world when I was like ten years old.
My dad also looooved Steven Wright so we'd always get together and watch his HBO specials when they were on. And then Wright became the first standup I ever saw in my life when he gigged at my college.
I'd argue that my dad has pretty good taste in comedy...but then again he also loved Rita Rudner. Hmm.
Labels: about standup
Shaving your head is a weird way to cover up the fact that you're going bald because the solution is exactly the same as the problem. You don't hear: "Dude, you've put on a few pounds. You know what you should do? Gain 300 more pounds. Then no one will notice!" More of the same isn't much of a disguise. No one ever says, "You're starting to smell a little funky...you should cover yourself in skunk juice. Be confident about it."
I get my hair did at a barbershop in the, um, urban neighborhood that I live in. [Sidebar: Urban is supposed to be a polite way to refer to black people but isn't it a bit racist to imply that black people couldn't possibly live in a rural place? Could you call a black farmer from Montana urban just because he's black?]
It's different than other haircut places I've been to in the past. Trevor, the guy who cuts my hair, doesn't ask me if I want to leave 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch. He just points to the five dudes who hang out in the front of the shop and says, "You want it like this guy or you want it like that guy?" Nice idea but it's a weird vibe when you're the only white guy in the place and you're picking from a lineup of black dudes. "#4, please step forward and turn to the side. Yup, that's my haircut." Almost feels like there should be a two-way mirror or something.
Each time, I have to explain to Trevor that I just want a basic cut. This is necessary because a lot of the other customers there are very into sculpture of the head. Intense styling with precision razor blade detailing. Curves, geometric shapes, ice swans, etc. Nice stuff but I don't want my stylist getting all Giacometti on my head.
Still, Trevor asks each time about my hairline and "shaping" it. I think the idea is he could shave it into a straight line across the top of my head. No indents in the front. Like this would really fool anyone: "Oh, he's not losing his hair. It's just that his hairline is in the middle of his forehead." I don't think anyone would buy that.
I also stop him from spraying product on my head when he's done. The spray is called "African Dream" and it makes your head glisten. I don't want my head to glisten. And I don't really think that Africans are dreaming about my bald head.
The shaved head is nice in some ways but comes with issues too. Like now I have to worry about burning the top of my head when it's sunny. Can't really use suntan lotion 'cuz I still have some hair. Maybe spray suntan lotion in there? That seems kinda Gotti though. (Spraying shit on your head seems very north Jersey to me.)
So I suppose I should wear a hat. But there's a problem there: I think hats are for dicks. Sorry, if you wear hats. But if you do, maybe it's time you face the fact that you're a dick.
I just don't think there's any cool way to wear a hat. Baseball caps? For dicks. I always think of baseball caps as the official logo for date rape.
(The one time I enjoy them: Those University of South Carolina baseball caps. If you haven't seen before, the mascot at USC is the Gamecocks. So people buy USC hats that say "Cocks" on them. It's always some meathead frat type guy too. I love the fact that these macho guys are walking around telling the world, "What does this guy like? Cocks!")
Then there's those brimmed hats that obnoxious guys wear at nightclubs or on reality TV shows. I can never remember if they're called Fedoras or Federlines.
What about those newsboy caps? Nah, you look like an extra from Oliver Twist or Newsies. If you wear one of those, you should sell a newspaper that reads, "Extra! Extra! I'm a dick." But no one would buy it. Because they would just look at your hat and know it already.
Hmm...I guess I'm just going to let the top of my head burn.
2 The Bon Jovi Rule (No Hands to the Face)
Richie Sambora is the guitarist for Bon Jovi as well as a devoted dad to his daughter, Ava. He once said the band's ability to stay healthy on the road is made possible by one rule: No hands to the face. Rock 'n' roll stars shake so many hands and encounter so many germs while touring—greeting fans backstage, signing autographs, and attending afterparties. You will almost never see a successful rock 'n' roll superstar sticking his finger in his eye if he has an itch. Instead, he will use a sleeve, a cuff, a shirttail, a tissue, or whatever else is available. Let your children learn how to stay healthy from one of the greatest rock bands in the world. Teach your children the Bon Jovi rule: No hands to the face.
Yes, if there's one group of people who's able to give good advice to kids on how to stay healthy, it's rock stars! Those guys are just so clean and sanitary.
I especially enjoy Kid Rock's advice on dental hygiene...It never woulda occurred to me that you could floss with a stripper's thong. And you'll never see Tommy Lee sticking his finger in his eye if he has an itch. Instead, he will use his penis. No hands to the face!
WTF? All the good downtown shows are disappearing. I mean Sound Fix in Williamsburg, Union Hall in Park Slope, and The Creek in LIC have cool shows...but still, that's Brooklyn and Queens, not Manhattan. I don't like the idea of good non-club comedy being pushed exclusively to the outer boroughs.
Rififi had hundreds of people per week there drinking at 8pm. Doesn't some other bar in that hood that has a stage want to sell those people drinks?
Karma's getting decent shows but there's something weird about that room. It always feels like people aren't sure why they're there or something. Why doesn't Kabin do more shows? Or a place like Rehab on Avenue B? Could Parkside turn into a cool comedy venue if Greg Johnson's show starts up there regular? Supply and demand means something new will pop up eventually...um, right? Hmm.
Related: We'll be doing a special Manhattan version of "We're All Friends Here" at The Slipper Room in the Lower East Side on Thursday, Oct. 30 at 8pm. Stay tuned.
Update: Mo Diggs explores the same issue in depth over at The Apiary today.
Labels: about standup
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Next live show/taping is on Friday night (details).
I go into a scene and say I'm going to kick your fucking ass. I'm going to win. We're gonna get down to it now or we're gonna get down to it later. We're gonna get down to it on page one or we're gonna get down to it on page five. But I am going to win.
Here's audio of that and Shandling's take on it...
You can see it too. When Baldwin's on SNL or 30 Rock or doing a small part in "Glengarry Glen Ross," he just crushes it. He wants to beat the other person in the scene.
I first heard the interview about a year ago and the attitude inspired me. I don't think comedy is a sport or anything, but I do think it's a good goal: To win the night. To be the best standup on the show. To be the person that people leave talking and thinking about.
Alec Baldwin, an appreciation [Kottke.org] offers links to a couple of clips of classic Baldwin SNL bits...
What firmly installs Baldwin onto my list of favorite actors of all time is his many Saturday Night Live appearances. Watching Schweddy Balls and Inside the Actors Studio (with Baldwin as Charles Nelson Reilly) still brings tears of howling laughter to my eyes.
And here's a kinda sad profile of Baldwin in the New Yorker.
P.S. Also liked how Shandling mentions in that NPR talk that he finds magic in the moment, in the back and forth of him and the subject, and that a more scripted, formal approach would be less fresh and interesting. "It's about the moment, even when it goes wrong," he says.
The most inappropriately truthful comedy chat show you'll ever see.
FRI Sep 19 @ The Creek
8pm - Free
Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand
Featuring Pete Holmes, Josh Homer, Jared Logan, and Dan Goodman.
Podcast of previous shows
10-93 Jackson Ave at 49th Ave (map)
Long Island City, Queens
2. Also, I'll be on this month's New Young Comedians show at Karma...Details:
Wednesday September 17
51 1st Ave (3rd/4th St)
8:00p - $5
hosted by Chelsea White
Ok, you can carry either a skateboard or a bottle of Pelegrino, but not both. Unless the message you want to send is: "I really like to snowboard, when I'm not managing my hedge fund."
Digging the watch over the sweatband look. He's probably headed to a Fashion Week show.
Anxiously awaiting the next ad in this campaign: "Cottonelle: Back that azz up." Also: Is that dog supposed to be coming out of someone's asshole? At that point, you probably have bigger worries than what brand of toilet paper to buy.
And one more that I saw but didn't get a photo of: Dude wearing a skull and crossbones belt buckle made out of rhinestones. Y'know, to let the world know he's both dangerous and fabulous. Maybe he also carries a switchblade with Barry Manilow on the handle.
Sergiu Floroaia runs "the first 100% stand-up comedy website in Romania" and recently interviewed me. Link: "Încerc să fac un nou set în fiecare lună, dar durata unui set în New York e de obicei de 8-12 minute." Fuck if I know what "Încerc să fac un nou set în fiecare lună" means. Anyway, he translated my answers...here's the English version.
How did you start? Did you have a role model?
How I started: I moved to New York City after living in Chicago for a long time. I began to go to Rififi and Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater and saw a lot of great comedians for cheap or free. I'd thought about doing standup for a long time before that but seeing all these great comics in person is what really gave me the push to try it.
I didn't have any one role model. But I remember seeing great sets by people like Patton Oswalt, Greg Giraldo, Nick Kroll, Will Franken, and others before I tried standup myself. Those nights showed me what great, raw standup can be like in the flesh. Something I hadn't really experienced before moving to NYC.
Once I started hanging out in clubs a lot, my perspective changed a little bit. At that point, what I really enjoyed was watching great comics perform multiple times and seeing how their material changed/evolved. People like Todd Barry, Judah Friedlander, Todd Lynn, or Gary Gulman come to mind as guys who I got to see a lot and really enjoyed how they mixed up their material and interacted with the crowd. New York is a great place for that sort of thing because you see big name comics drop in to clubs all the time. Also, there are lots of great up and coming guys too who you might not know of but will hopefully get more recognition soon.
What are you doing now? (In terms of comedy)
I perform standup at least a few times a week at different places in New York and occasionally elsewhere. I host two shows too: "Flying Carpet" at Rififi [now on hiatus] and "We're All Friends Here" at The Creek and The Cave (Mark Normand cohosts that one). I also work on web shorts too. You can see those here:
How often do you change your material? How much do you work on 30 minutes of solid material?
I'm constantly changing my material. I try to do a new set of material each month at "Flying Carpet" so that pushes me to write a lot. Also, the scene in New York isn't that big so a lot of times I wind up performing for audience members and other comics who I see a lot. Telling jokes that people have heard before isn't fun for them (or me) so that's a good motivator for writing more too.
If there's a downside to this quick turnover of material it's that I don't get to hone jokes as much as if I did the same stuff over and over. But I think that'd be pretty boring anyway. I'd rather take chances on new stuff. That's more exciting for me and I think audiences feed off that excitement too.
As for 30 minute sets: I wish! Occasionally, I'll do a 15 or 20 minute set but the average set in NYC is usually 8-12 minutes.
Is your favorite joke the same with the joke that works best with the audience? What is that joke?/What are those jokes?
My favorite joke is always changing. Usually it's something fresh because I get sick of stuff quickly. So check out my most recent set and you'll probably see what's my fave stuff at that time.
Sometimes a joke I really love will fall flat with the audience. I might try it a couple more times but if it still gets nothing, I'll drop it. You've gotta follow the laughs.
What's your take on offensive material? How far can you go? How far do you go?
Well, I'm not crazy about comics who use dick jokes and naughty words as a cheap way to get laughs. That seems rather childish.
But I like things that are smart and truthful even if they are offensive to some folks. The truth is often offensive. That shouldn't stop you from telling it.
How far can you go? It depends. I think the more people like you as a person, the further you can go with doing edgy stuff. It depends on the audience too. I talk about sex, nazis, rape, and other stuff but it's usually in a pretty lighthearted way. Sometimes I go too far and lose an audience. It's a balancing act that I'm still figuring out. If you get them on your side by first being friendly and likable, it makes it a lot easier to get away with the dark stuff.
Do you think we should be able to laugh at anything? (Why?)
I don't think any topic should be untouchable. If it's funny, it's funny. The more offensive something is, the more it has to actually be truly funny.
You argue that stand-up is about being a funny person, not having funny material. Why is that?
Actually, it was Woody Allen who said that first so I can't take credit for it. I think it's about being a good performer. A lot of writers think all they need to do is write funny jokes. But then they get onstage and bomb. The jokes are only part of the equation. Your energy, rhythm, confidence, personality, delivery, etc. are all hugely important too. I think that's what Woody means. It's about writing good material AND being a good performer. Funny people can get laughs before they even get to the punchline.
What's the most important advice you'd give to someone that wants to start doing stand-up?
Do it as much as you can. There's no substitute for stage time.
Learn to listen. The audience is telling you all the time if you're on the right path or not. You need to gauge the laughs, the silences, the energy of the room, and figure out when they're with you and when they're not. A lot of new comics recite their acts instead of reacting to the room which can be a turnoff. Great comedy is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Live an interesting life. It's tough to be compelling onstage if you don't have any life experience that makes you worth paying attention to.
What's the stand-up comedian that you'd recommend as a "case study" for a beginner?
There's no one person. Everyone's gonna have their own comics they prefer. Find whoever makes you laugh the most, figure out why they're funny, and learn from that.
Labels: about standup
Johnny's reaction at the end is pretty cute.
Lots of good Seinfeld on Letterman clips at YouTube also. Watched a bunch and I feel like there's an almost songlike verse-chorus-verse quality to his bits. They last a few minutes, there's a distinct rhythm, always a few peaks but also some valleys where you wonder if it's worth it, and then they end with a real zinger.
Especially nice to have this stuff online since Seinfeld doesn't really have an album that captures him in his prime. (His post-TV fame "I'm Telling You for the Last Time" is shit compared to his earlier stuff.)
Labels: about standup
Other kinds of artists don't have to deal with this. Monet was never like, "Man, I really want to paint some water lilies today. I hope those fuckers bring a canvas. And hold it steady."
Even the best painter in the world can't paint if there's no canvas. And when you're starting out, a lot of audiences don't give you any canvas. They're more like a napkin. So you've just gotta turn that napkin into a canvas. Picasso that shit. 'Cuz Picasso could make anything into art. Picasso: "What do you got? A napkin, a cigarette box, and a trombone. Ok, here." And he'd collage that crap into something great. He was like the Macgyver of fucking art.
Comics need instant approval from the audience. Monet didn't have to start painting yellow and then turn around and be all "Hey, did ya like that? Was that good?" He didn't need a bunch of random fuckers to say, "Yes, we agree with yellow! Yellow amuses us! Continue!" Or he'd put in some green and there'd be a bunch of people who are all silent, "Hmm, we're not sure about green. It's too soon for green."
And Monet never had to worry about bombing. If he did, I wonder if he'd just take the easy way out: "Fuck, they don't like water lilies or landscapes. I know, I'll paint a dick. Everyone can relate to dicks."
I think they gave this show the wrong title. It should be called "The Argument Against Plastic Surgery."
I'm the third comic up. I decide to try and plow through the din. It's going pretty well and most of the crowd is digging it. But the talking doesn't stop (the main culprit is this guy at the bar who's talking to a girl and ignoring the stage).
So I decide to say something. The guy doesn't realize I'm talking about him though. So I start pretending I know what he's saying. The whole crowd loves it. Finally he realizes what's happening. Good times.
Here's the video:
Do you drink during/before a show? are you more on point with or without a buzz?
For me: I often have a drink or two beforehand to get loose but usually not more than that. I like to be sharp and be sure I'm not slurring or sloppy or anything like that.
I have a different take on being stoned than most standups though. Most comics I know, even ones who are stoners, never go on stage high. But I've performed "in the zone" before and actually like it. Maybe not the best thing for a super tight set. But, if I'm just playing around and experimenting, it can help me feel in flow and loose and lead me to interesting places.
If it's advice ya want, I'd say you know best what you can handle. If you can handle your liquor or your weed really well, then who cares. If you're an embarrassment after two drinks, save it for after the show.
Got a question? Post it as a comment.
I'll always remember the advice Rich wanted to give this guy on how to be a good drummer: "Stop practicing your fills, smoke more weed, read Aldous Huxley, and listen to Ringo."
Good advice that. I guess the comedian equivalent would be: Stop writing at home and get up onstage more, smoke more weed, go see pros at The Cellar, and, well, still listen to Ringo. (Actually, if you watch the Beatles Anthology, Ringo really is hilarious.)
Labels: about standup
Wednesday, September 3rd
OPEN BAR 7-8PM, SHOW @ 8pm
BRYAN TUCKER (snl, chappelle's show)
KEVIN WILLIAMS (comedy central)
JAMIE KILSTEIN (bbc, comedy central)
w/GUEST HOST SEAN PATTON! (montreal comedy festival)
@ Sound Fix Lounge
110 Bedford Ave/N 11th
(L to Bedford, 3 Blocks North or G to Nassau)
I was talking with a comic who likes to get small writing groups together to bounce ideas off each other. I have heretofore been very protective of my writing and assumed all comedians would be insulted if invited to such a session. Now I'm wondering if it could actually help. She said you have to pick someone whose style of comedy you like and respect. Their purpose is to help you develop your ideas or take them in a new direction, not write your material for you or give you a direct punchline. Would you ever write with someone else or allow a group to influence your ideas?
Yes, I think writing with someone else can be very helpful and I do it on occasion. (I've only written with one other person at a time, not sure how a group session would work.) Sessions like that help cuz you get to say stuff out loud, bounce ideas around, get a different perspective, etc. How much influence others have is up to you. It's not like you have to follow their advice.
Def good to do it with someone you know, trust, and think is funny. You need to be able to tell each other straight up if something sucks.
Also, I definitely don't think it's insulting to be invited to do this. In general, feeling insulted or offended won't get ya far as a comic. Thick skin and all that.
And I'd advise against being protective of what you write. Most of what you (or anyone else) writes sucks. Oh well. Deal with it, get it out there, kill the crap, and build on the occasional jewels.
In fact, it's kind of a good idea to fall in love with negative feedback. Compliments are nice but knowing what went wrong is just as educational (maybe more?) than knowing what went right.
P.S. I know this Q&A stuff makes me sound like a condescending prick. (OK, I usually sound like that anyway.) Anyhow, feel free to take it all with a grain of salt or post why you disagree in the comments. You can also leave any more questions in the comments.
Some dude hanging out next to us goes, "Nah, don't do that." So I ask him what he recommends instead. He says, "You drink, right?" I say, "Yeah." He answers, "Well, there's a couple of brewery tours you could do. And then there's also this outside bar that you can hit up starting at noon."
So this guy thinks the only worthwhile thing to do in Boston during the day is drink. Who gives a shit about where Sam Adams lived when you can drink him instead?
At this point, I decide to fuck with him a bit. "That's cool for me, but my friend here doesn't drink." This pale look comes over the dude's face. He thinks for a few seconds. Then he perks up and says (seriously), "Well, do you do meth?"
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You don't consume alcohol...so clearly you must dig METH. Like that's the logical next step. "You don't kiss on the first date? You must love being gangraped then!"
I was tempted to fuck with him even more. But then it occurred to me that methheads aren't known for how well they take a joke. You don't see a lot of methheads being roasted at The Friar's Club. (Well, unless you count Stephen Seagal or Drew Carey.)
The incident also makes a case for the idea that brewery tours are a crock of shit. Everyone knows that the whole point is the beer drinking at the end of the tour. It's not like anyone gives a shit about vat technology. "Yeah, please enlighten me about hops and barley...this knowledge will be wonderful for my thesis on why I'm divorced and under house arrest again."
Actually, maybe this guy should start offering tours of his meth lab: "The bathtub lab tour that will blow you away...maybe literally!"