Patton Oswalt's advice on how not to be a miserable comedian

This is a great Comedy And Everything Else podcast featuring Patton Oswalt as the guest [thx PM]. The really good stuff starts about 20 or 30 minutes in when Oswalt starts waxing philosophical about standup.

Some of the types of comics he goes after:

1. Comedians who feel entitled because they've been doing standup for a long time. Oswalt's take: It doesn't matter how long you've been doing it, it's how well you've been doing it. Basically: "You haven't been doing comedy for 20 years, you did it for 1 year and you've been repeating that year for 19 years."

2. Comedians who get pissy about the success of hacky comics. Oswalt: Be happy for them and their success. If they can succeed doing stupid shit, that's fine. You don't want those fans anyway so who cares? It's a diff audience and has nothing to do with you.

3. Comedians who don't help their peers. It's why Oswalt did Comedians of Comedy. He thinks you need to bring people you like along with you on the path to success. They will help drive you and keep you funny/honest. Otherwise, you'll just wind up a shallow (and prob unfunny) asshole.

Also neat: The crew mentions Rory Scovel as one of the best new young comics out there (at about 1hr and 6min in).


Sandpaper Suit thread over at aspecialthing

I just started a thread over at aspecialthing (a great message board site for comedy enthusiasts) that includes top posts from this blog: "Top posts from Sandpaper Suit, NYC comic Matt Ruby's blog about standup."

If you're a fan of this site and also read AST, I'd really appreciate if you could go to that thread and post a nice comment about Sandpaper Suit (why you like it, topics you've seen covered here that were helpful/interesting, etc.). That way AST readers will know it's worth checking out. Thanks guys.


Behind the scenes as Louis CK films a new TV pilot


Louis CK called me a motherfucker last night.

Some background first: He sent out a Twitter message two days ago saying he was filming a pilot and to write in if you want to come. People who responded got a message to come to The Comedy Cellar early last night (it was about 2/3 full) where he filmed some standup segments for the show.

Before filming, he explained the deal. The pilot is for FX. It will alternate between standup clips and actual scenes. Also in it: Todd Barry, Nick DiPaolo, and Rick Shapiro. He joked around that it most likely will never get picked up. He's directing the show too and it was interesting to see him talking tech stuff with the crew and closely examining the steadycam shots (using some fancy new Red camera that weighed so much the cameraman had to take a break every 15 mins or so).

He did some Q&A with the crowd while cameras were setting up. I asked him what the narrative of the show was and he replied, "You want me to tell you the entire story now, you motherfucker?" Oddly, that word seems almost like a term of endearment coming from him. Heh. He didn't answer and moved on to other questions, mostly about his previous work on movies.

The standup performance lasted about 40 minutes and is almost all new material that he's developed since his last special was filmed two months ago. So I guess that puts his material development rate at about 20 minutes per month. Jesus.

Some was still being fleshed out (after a bit on people who honk car horns, he looked down at his notes and grumbled, "Who the fuck cares what I think about honking horns?"). But some was really great stuff that's already top tier (great stuff on how all relationships end badly and chaperoning at his kids school especially stood out).


Is "you're a good writer" really a compliment to a standup?

A few times in the past month I've had comics say to me after a set: "You're a really good writer." And while I want to take that as a compliment, there's something in my head that's thinking, "So what you're really saying is: 'You're not much of a performer.'"

So it was funny to read this interview between Todd Barry and musician Nick Lowe and read this bit from Todd:

Usually, for a comedian, if they say he’s a good writer, it’s sort of a backhanded compliment. Like it usually means shitty performer, but not that they wouldn’t also compliment a good comedian on his writing. I think I do get complimented on my writing, but if they just go, “Heyyy, good writing,” that’s a little jab.

I'm sure the opposite is true too. When people tell a comic, "Wow, you really have an amazing energy onstage!"...that guy prob sits around thinking, "Damn, my jokes aren't very good, are they?"

In truth, I don't mind the backhandedness of the good writing thing. First of all, at least something is good. And second, I really dig comics like Birbigs or CK who don't even seem like they're performing at all. They just seem like they're talking to you the way a normal person does. The performance is there, but you feel like it's almost hidden rather than being hit over the head with it.


Podcast for one-year We're All Friends Here anniversary show now up

The latest episode of the We're All Friends Here podcast is now live. It's the one-year anniversary show featuring return visits from Sean Patton, Hannibal Buress, and Dan Goodman. It was an awesome show...get ready for some dirt!

Also, the iTunes feed for the podcast is now up to date with this episode and the one before it too. (For some reason, the last episode wasn't showing up there until now.)

And thanks to everyone who came out to the last show on Friday night (podcast coming soon). Man, we really got somewhere, eh? Here's what our guests said afterwards on Twitter/Facebook: JL: "Just had the most emotionally draining set/interview of my life." Ted: "I had a ball and you guys do a great job!" RG: "That was by far one of the brightest highlights of my comedy 'career.'" Thanks guys, we had a great time too. See ya at the next one: July 24 at The Creek (8pm).


Jesse Popp on the NY Times site

Neat. The front page of the NY Times web site has a big pic of Jesse Popp (who I think is very funny) and a slideshow/interview with him. Includes some cool photos with at least a few comics whom ya might recognize — if you're someone who hangs out in the scene, that is.


It's part of the Times' "One in 8 Million" series. However, I don't think they are referring to the one in 8 million comedians trying to get stage time in NYC.

Getting road gigs

A reader writes in:

One thing I was wondering is, do you have any old postings about how to go about getting road gigs?

Nope, haven't written about that before. For the road gigs I do, I usually have a fellow comic from that town (e.g. Boston, Chicago, or D.C.) who knows I'm decent put in a word for me at the good show(s) in his/her hometown. If more followup is needed, I'll send along an email with a brief bio and a link to a set online. That usually works. Then I go to the show and try to kick ass so 1) the comic that referred me doesn't look bad and 2) I can get booked again there.

One way being from NYC helps: Audiences here are as tough as they get. To paraphrase ol' blue eyes, if you can make 'em laugh here, you can make 'em laugh anywhere. (Well, unless your jokes are all about riding the subway and how dumb people in the south are.)

So if you show up and have a great set, you can prob get booked again pretty easily. But if you're not confident about your ability to do that, it might be a better idea to hold off before getting out there. You don't want to do a shitty set and wind up blacklisted from the place.

Other comics I know have actually set up their own tours which is a cool, DIY way to go about it if you're willing to put in the time to set all that up. From what I've heard, these shows can be pretty hit or miss though.

Of course, if you have an agent, they can set up shows for you. But that's a whole different can of worms...


Why people are getting it all wrong when it comes to gay men

You still hear morons say things like, "I hate faggots. I like WOMEN!" Sorry dude, if you hate gay men, then you hate women too. 'Cuz they are totally into the same things. Who likes fashion? Gay men and women. Who likes appletinis? Gay men and women. Who likes cock? You got it.

When you think about it, girls are total faggots. You can not get more faggoty than a girl. Even the draggiest of drag queens isn't 1% as faggy as someone with a vagina. Not even close.

And you know how some people are mad at illegal immigrants for stealing jobs? If that makes any sense, you know who should hate gay men the most? Women! Think about all the jobs gay men have stolen from women over the years. Hair stylist. Interior decorator. Gay men are the Mexicans of fashion! Forget Texas and Arizona, ladies...build a wall around Chelsea. That's where they're coming from. Protect that border. You're about to lose flight attendants and florists.


Performing "theater style"

The other week I had to do a show without a mic. Doesn't happen too often, but it is interesting to me how it changes the dynamic of a set. You feel a lot more like you're doing theater. Things become more intimate and one-man showish. It humanizes you. Eye contact feels more real. The whole thing takes on a more conversational vibe rather than a one-way monologue.

You've also got to project more and amp things up so they can hear ya in the back. Subtle stuff just gets lost. Plus, you're not tethered. You can wander out into the audience and talk to people up close (that's true with wireless mic shows too) — something I enjoy doing. At this show, I wandered into the center of the crowd for half my set and definitely felt like people started locking more then.

Crowdwork doesn't work as well though because you lose your volume edge over audience members. That means it's more of a free-for-all. If you're interacting with random people in the crowd, it's nice to know you can out-volume them at least.

Don't get me wrong. I still prefer having a mic by plenty. But going without once in a while does give ya a different perspective. Also, if there's a situation where there's a mic that's cutting out or some other audio issue, it's nice to know you can just do it the old-fashioned way and get away with it. (Apparently PFT did this at a Moonworks show a couple of months ago which is pretty crazy since that room is enormous. Supposedly it went well. Woulda liked to have seen that.)


Friday: We're All Friends Here, free tickets for my New York Comedy Contest show tonight, and Tuesday W'burg show

Friday is the next We're All Friends Here:

We're All Friends Here
The comedy chat show with boundary issues
Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand

* Ted Alexandro (Letterman, Conan, Comedy Central)
* J-L Cauvin (Late Late Show w/ Craig Ferguson)
* R.G. Daniels (Sunday Night Stand-Up)

Friday, June 19
8pm @ The Creek
10-93 Jackson Ave at 49th Ave
Long Island City, NY
Just one subway stop from Brooklyn and Manhattan
Listen to the podcast

Free tix for tonight at Eastville
Also, I'm performing at The New York Comedy Contest tonight. 7pm at Eastville Comedy Club. Free tickets available, details below...


100 comedians face off all this week for the grand prize of $5,000. Each night industry judges from Letterman, Comedy Central, VH1, talent agencies, and management companies, pick 4 comics to move forward. Thurs and Fri begins the Semi-final rounds, moving into Saturday night's finals with one comic taking home $5,000, automatic Boston Comedy festival admission, and major industry buzz.


Free show in W'burg on Tuesday
And doing this fun show tomorrow (Tues) night.


Walk towards White Castle...sounds like the theme to a new religion.

Don Rickles does crowdwork on TV

Ya don't see crowdwork on tv/albums a lot. That's part of what makes this clip of Don Rickles hosting The Tonight Show in '78 so much fun. It has a genuine "what's gonna happen next?" vibe which ya rarely see on mainstream TV. [thx MN]

Here's the man of the hour (talk about word of mouth: I had four different people tell me to go see "The Hangover" this weekend), Zach Galafianakis, going off on Carl, who has the worst body language he's ever seen (from "Live at the Purple Onion").

And Jimmy Pardo does some brilliant crowdwork with a kid named Ethan on this track of the Comedy Death Ray album.

Do you have a fave clip/track of a standup doing crowdwork? Link it up in the comments.


Standup as a means to a different end (e.g. screenwriting)

Lee Hurwitz is thinking about trying standup and sent me a note. Here's his question and how I responded:

While the idea of performing stand up definitely intrigues me, my ultimate goal is to be a comedic screenwriter. I write all the time, but writing and getting my writing out there are two very different things. I have been thinking that maybe by trying to do some stand up, I can get my name out there a little bit (amongst other comedians) and network with other like minded people. But I know that stand up is obviously tough enough in its own right, and I don't know if getting into it just to try to later get into screenwriting is a pointless idea. Do you have any thoughts on this matter?

I def think standup is a smart move, even if you ultimately just want to be a writer.

One time I was talking with a big shot writer/producer who also does standup. I asked him where standup fits in. He pointed at the stage and said "That's the hardest thing to do. If you can do standup, you can do anything."

I think it's a solid point. There's nothing tougher than getting up on stage and facing that judgement of a roomful of people while trying to elicit a primal response from them. It's so unforgiving. But that's why it'll also tighten up everything else you do. It'll raise your bullshit radar. It's no coincidence that people like Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, Larry David, Woody Allen, Dave Chappelle, etc. were all stage performers first before they began writing for the screen.

It's easy to sit at home and write stuff and think it's brilliant. When you get up in front of a crowd, you quickly realize most of your brilliant stuff is actually crap. And you get to figure that out quickly, in small chunks. With screenwriting, you have to put in a huge investment of time before you ever get any feedback at all. I'd say put your ideas to the test right away in a real-life setting and see how they fly. If anything it'll make you a more ruthless editor — the world could certainly use more of those.


Comedy contest advice from Myq Kaplan

Me to Myq Kaplan:

Hey man. I'm entered in a comedy competition for the first time next week. Since you're the master at winning these things, I wonder if you have any advice. Five minute set in the first round. Should I hit 'em with quicker jokes and one-liners only? Or ok to do longer bits (like that mom/weed one)? Any other advice?

Myq's reply:

well, since i'm also in that competition i think (NY comedy contest),
my answer depends on whether you're in my first round
jk lol

but to answer your question seriously and sincerely (or sneakily and deceptively, who can tell?),

the general advice i would give to anyone in general is to be yourself, the comic that you are at your best, doing the stuff that hopefully both you enjoy and that an audience will enjoy the most

more specifically though, to actually give more of an answer...

it's a good question, and a relevant one to someone like you who has access to material of both sorts...

i wouldn't say absolutely that you should only hit them with quicker jokes, but i will say that some people with only longer storyish bits sometimes do find themselves less fortunate in situations like this--the guy who won the seattle competition the year i did it was damonde tschritter, a strong story-teller, who did consistently very very well in the semis and finals, which were rounds of 10-12 minutes and 15-20 minutes, respectively
but i believe he Almost didn't make it out of the first round, which was 5-minute sets

in my experience, as someone who Does have mainly shorter jokes, or longer bits that are made of shorter frequent laugh lines, i've found some measure of success in contests

but it's certainly not only this type of comic or act that Can succeed in contests

baron vaughn did make it to the finals of the boston comedy festival his first year in it, and his jokes are quite elaborate and lengthy, i would say
and he did it because he was himself, and his self is Hilarious

back to specifics of your question for You--because you've got the power to hit people hard and fast, and that can be advantageous with such a short time limit, i'd say it could be a benefit to take advantage of, but again, your whole five minutes needn't be that...

you could open with two minutes of it, and then some longer stuff
or whatever other mathematical combination you like

plus a hilarious, poignant, and relevant conclusion

hope that was helpful, but not helpful enough to beat me if we end up facing each other

art fight!

Check out Myq's blog Godzillionaire.


Suntanning and that "healthy glow"

Interesting fact: Ms. Hawaiian Tropic 2009 is also Ms. Skin Cancer 2038.

It's weird that being tan is considered healthy since it's just a sign that you're burning your skin. "How'd you get that healthy glow?" "House fire. Third degree burns. If it wasn't for these embarrassing tan lines, I'd show you my black lung!"

And what's with these people who tan before going on vacation? Y'know, the ones who say, "I'm building a foundation." Foundation? Then before I go on vacation, I should just do three weeks of Vicodin and Ecstacy. Form a base. That way I don't scare off the locals when I get there.


1) Subscribe and 2) WatchThinkTank.com is live

You can get Sandpaper Suit delivered to you by email. One email a day, includes links from "The Pocket" too. Or here's the RSS feed if you're one of those types.

Also, just set up WatchThinkTank.com, a site for the new web series Mark and I are doing. Will keep posting 'em here at Sandpaper Suit too so not really anything special if you're a regular reader here. But if ya want to subscribe just to Think Tank and not to the rest of this site, ya can do that there.

Btw, next week's episode may be my favorite one yet. Stay tuned.


What's the job of a comedian?

This post from last week led to some interesting discussion about what the job of a comedian should be. Is it to entertain? To make people fell comfortable? To make them feel uncomfortable but ok with that?

In "The Making of Zach Galifianakis" [via MD], Zach says:

Wherever there’s something that people don’t feel comfortable talking about, that’s where the good jokes are. People might misunderstand you, but I decided, right after my show was canceled, never to dumb my material down for anybody. A bad comic follows his audience, catering to whatever they want; a good comic will always lead.

Playwright Noel Coward once said [via JW] this about the theater (and maybe you could substitute standup in here?):

I think the primary purpose of the theater is entertainment. If by any chance a playwright wishes to express a political opinion or a moral opinion or a philosophy, he must be a good enough craftsman to do it with so much spice of entertainment in it that the public gets the message without being aware of it. The moment the public sniffs propaganda, they stay away.

One key factor on this: The stage of your career. When you're just starting out and making a name for yourself and trying to get paid and all the rest of it, can you really afford to be precious about your art? Can you get away with making people feel uncomfortable then? Or do you have to suck it up for a while and be a real crowd-pleaser before you get to the point where you can afford to turn people off? Except for anomalies like Andy Kaufman, maybe you need to spend years proving you can make people feel comfortable before you start making them uncomfortable.


Conan's first Tonight Show from LA (with Josh Comers on staff!)

Tonight is Conan's first night at 11:30pm. Big congrats to friend and fellow NY standup Josh Comers for getting a writing gig with the show. He's now out in LA (photo from Tonight Show site) and told me in a note things are going well ("it's fun to be part of television history").

Josh was always a super writer and it's great to see him making the leap after years of hard work. I remember seeing him at a mic a few months back telling this joke: "How do you know when you're no longer paying your dues and you're just failing?" A few days after that, I remember giving him some drunken advice at a bar: "You know all those funny jokes you've written...you should tell them in a row." Shows what I know! (And also shows what a prick I am, eh?)

Anyway, before Josh left town he showed me the packet of jokes he submitted. Really great stuff in there. I guess the whole thing was a bit of a whirlwind...a current writer for Conan saw him at a show in January and told him he should submit. Josh put together a package right away. Months later, in May, he got a call and within a week or so he was hired. A few days later he was on a plane to LA.

He knew a couple of the other writers there beforehand which probably helped, but the real ace up his sleeve: He had been writing late night monologue jokes every day for a year at a "secret" blog that no one knew about. So he had a huge supply of jokes to pick from. Looking through the packet, you could see the polish. I was really impressed. Sharp, funny jokes that you could totally see coming out of Conan's mouth.

Monologue-style jokes are a strange breed. You've got to be clever yet still use references that everyone's gonna get. That's why the targets are always the same couple of dozen people/topics. Josh managed to hit those topics without seeming stale, not an easy thing to do. I think he'll do well there.

Conan's been doing a ton of press leading up to his debut and this long piece in the Times is the best one I read. Here he talks about the link between music and comedy (something I've discussed here before too):

Dressed for the show in a suit and tie, and then settled behind the drum kit of the “Late Night” band, the Max Weinberg Seven. O’Brien began drumming as the band played “On the Road Again.” “Music and comedy are so linked,” O’Brien said earlier, as he walked up and down the halls of his offices, playing one of his many guitars. “The rhythm of comedy is connected to the rhythm of music. They’re both about creating tension and knowing when to let it go. I’m always surprised when somebody funny is not musical.” O’Brien smiled. “And, you know, Johnny loved to play the drums.”

Lorne Michaels on what makes a good host:

I liked that Conan was young, intelligent and that he had, like Johnny Carson, good manners. A good host always obeys the rules of hospitality, and Conan has an essential decency and work ethic that were obvious from the start.

Reminds me of an episode of Make 'Em Laugh I watched recently where Joan Rivers gives two reasons why Johnny was such a great host: 1) He was a great listener who followed along and wasn't a slave to a list of questions and 2) He was the perfect straight man because he wanted you to get the laughs.

Conan on all the variables that come along with doing comedy:

“The thing that saved my life was that I didn’t really know what I was in for,” O’Brien said, an hour before taping his last show. “If they had explained to me exactly what was involved, I might have run. But I did not want to fail. And now I’m addicted to the feeling of what it’s like to do a good show. There are 35 variables every night — what comedy do we have? What’s the audience like? Who are the guests? What time of year is it? What’s my mood? You need 15 cherries to line up to pay out the jackpot. And, every now and then, the stars align. And you keep chasing after that feeling.”

All those variables are what make standup so fascinating. So many things play a role: the room, the PA, the crowd, the host, your confidence, the placement of each word, little variations in timing, etc. It feels almost impossible to come up with a fixed formula because there are so many moving parts. But yeah, when you hit it and really lock in, there's nothing quite like it.

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