Gaffigan's path to success and doing topic-driven material

Listen to Jim Gaffigan on the "Comedy And Everything Else" podcast (hosted by Jimmy Dore, Todd Glass, and Stefane Zamorano).

GREAT interview. Especially good stuff starts around 60 minutes in. Fascinating discussion then about Gaffigan's path in comedy. No idea he used to do characters, political stuff, impressions, biographical stuff about his dad, etc. (He stopped doing political stuff because he thought he looked too Republican and too much "like someone's boss" to get away with it.)

Also talks about doing topic driven material and the challenges of that. His inner voice thing gets some play too. And great stories from the old days. I love imagining him and Greg Giraldo sitting around talking comedy and discussing their biggest influences (Dave Attell and Brian Regan). It's def worth checking out.

A Gaffiganesque experiment
Btw, a few months back I did a little experiment where, inspired by Gaffigan, I attacked a single topic (potatoes) for five minutes. It was pretty dumb (and prob too much of a rip off) so I never did it after that, but you can get the flavor in this video.

I also had a few more jokes on top of that and did it as a complete set at a few mics. It didn't feel right to me for above reasons, but I did notice something interesting. When you stick with a mundane topic for that long, THAT becomes the joke. That I was still talking about potatoes was funny.

Maybe kinda obvious in retrospect but surprised me at the time how much mileage I got in a room just from that. It was like a stunt to keep going on the same topic and people who would normally not give a shit would tune in to see what angle I'd come up with next. They'd even shout out different kinds of potatoes to talk about. (Usually au gratin for some reason.) There was definitely a sense of momentum and rhythm to it.

Fun playing with a topic like this as a concept, but it was also nice to move on. My heart just isn't into talking about something I don't really give a shit about for that long.


Kent said...

I believe Paul F. Tompkins discussed something similar on his first episode of Comedy and Everything Else, the idea of wringing the towel dry.

I think it's a great idea. The past couple of weeks I have taken an idea that won't leave my head (how shitty Delaware is) and am trying to turn it into a long bit by attacking it from different angles. Not everything is working, either in my head or onstage, but I find it a lot more interesting than saying "good enough" and moving on to the next decent 30-second bit idea.

Matt Ruby said...

Good point Kent. Taking that approach can really help you squeeze every last drop out of a subject. For me, I've found the funniest stuff is often in parts that are far removed from the original idea I had for a joke.

Aalap said...

Agreed. When i watch really talented comedians I find the hardest laugh is usually at the end of the path and not easily connected to the premise.

I think the key with attacking the subject from different sides is that you can slowly build a path to something that normally seems like a non sequitor, but now is easily connected to the original premise.

It's about stretching that line as a far as you can without breaking it, i think.

Edward said...

Like the shrimp bit in Forest Gump. Nothing's inherently funny about naming shrimp dishes, what's funny is that he keeps going on about it.

Too bad there isn't an equivalent of the fade out / fade back in to simulate the passage of time in standup. Maybe if you talked about a subject for a while, then had 15 seconds or so with an unrelated joke or two then went back to the original subject.

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