Capture Your Flag interview about my standup
Making 'em think vs. making 'em laugh
Matt Ruby comedy videos
A shopping list of recommended gear for comedians
Video: Gay or straight?
The 10 greatest standup bits of the past 20 years
Why Doug Stanhope drinks on stage
The side of the majority isn't funny
More answers to Stupid Ass Questions
"Think Tank" web comedy series (collection)
Bill Hicks’s Principles of Comedy
An education on getting college gigs, college agents, and NACA
The Comix staff offers tips and pet peeves for comedians
Marc Maron explains why he likes Andrew Dice Clay
Video: "I Need Laughs: One week in the trenches of the New York underground comedy scene"
Alt shows give comics an excuse to be lazy
Video: Looking through an audience member's purse
Tom Scharpling and Paul F. Tompkins mocking Gathering Of The Juggalos
How to get a crowd to come out to your comedy show
Is crowd work a crutch?
Patton Oswalt's advice on how not to be a miserable comedian
Behind the scenes as Louis CK films a new TV pilot
The live performer’s divided brain
The evolution from clever to truth teller
Gotta input to output
Adjusting your material based on the type of crowd you're performing for
Romantic comedies are to women what porn is to men
If show producers told the truth, it'd sound like this...
My dad hates everything
The invented foil in "Everything's amazing, nobody's happy"
The fascination with hecklers
Gaffigan's path to success and doing topic-driven material
"Do you have any advice for beginner comedians?"
Video: Behind the scenes at SXSW Comedy 2009
Gervais and David talk about the truth and being unique
Jon Stewart should stop using comedy as a shield
The difference between a me-too show and a remarkable one
When your mom's a bigger rebel than you'll ever be
My least favorite thing to hear: "I've been watching a lot of TV lately and..."
There is no hack subject, only hack approaches
Highlights from the great commentary on Louis CK's "Chewed Up" DVD
Comedy Feng Shui: 10 things that ruin comedy shows
Louis CK at Comix = most impressive standup show I've ever seen
Trying to write extended bits instead of quickies
Harvard Business School, Sandpaper Suit, and Chris Rock's small experiments
Is it better to start off as a comic in NYC or somewhere else?
Want more? The "best of" category has a few more top posts from the past year. And you can also check out the best of Sandpaper Suit for 2008 and the best of 2007.
More new stuff coming in the new year. Thanks for reading.
At this point, I'd like to place an embargo on anyone who complains about something that we all already realize sucks. Wait, Nickelback isn't a good band? Ed Hardy t-shirts aren't cool? Sarah Palin isn't smart? Michael Bay makes bad movies!? The Grammys don't go to the most deserving artist!??? You might as well tell me that drowning is unpleasant and 2 + 2 = 4.
Let's put an end to the whole bitching about Dane Cook thing too. At this point, it's just a cliché that tells me a lot more about how you want to seem cool than about your taste in comedy.
So I started doing stand-up for reals (though not for pay) when I was 21. I didn't get paid until I was 23 and I didn't make a real living from stand-up until I was 29 (and that was still supplemented a bit by secretarial work and at 32, I'm still signed with my temp agencies in case of a slow month which hasn't happened in a while).
I can tell you what I make, but it is different for everyone and I don't know — FROM DAY TO DAY, MONTH TO MONTH what I will make. I didn't know about 3 of these gigs until last week in November.There is no shame in having a "day job" or secondary passion to support you while you pursue an artistic career. There is nothing creatively stimulating about living in a cockaroach-infested apartment and busking for change (I've done that), not knowing where you'll get money for food, living on credit cards and not having health insurance. I did the above in the beginning and ended up in a lot of trouble! Now, I do not use credit cards and live below my means- there is no 401 K PLAN for comedians.
That said — Example income for starting "headliner" — middles and emcees make considerably less — Comedy Club gig — Thermopolis, Wyoming (5-45minute shows) $1200 gross (minus airfare $200 and then minus %20 of net in commissions $190 and minus federal tax 30% of ? of net after airfare and commissions: TOTAL NET: $680. And for comics, it usually takes a few years (at least for me, 10 years) to headline. They don't pay for hotel or air for emcees and middles — lots of driving and crashing with friends. Clubs pay you in cash or without taking out taxes — some comics get in trouble when they don't pay quarterly taxes to IRS (Read:me).
Sample Television taping- The Late Night 2AM Interview show- audition for 2 years: $1100 gross (minus tax of 350, minus commissions of 330: TOTAL NET: $420)
So, you're on the Tonight Show and do your first headling gig and you have $1100 for the most exciting month of your life. I earn about as much as a well-paid legal-secretary after expenses- about 50K. And I'm very lucky. To live in LA — on your own — it costs about $2000 a month — so I still temped up until up until a year ago. And, from what I hear- there are no guarantees. Just like McDonald's still has advertising, comics can't really coast on a Tonight Show appearance from 5 years ago. As in any business, it is constantly building and creating new contacts and maintaining old ones.
Net income on Comedy Central Special is $5,240.($15,000 gross, minus 40% tax — $6,000 (higher tax bracket) and 25% ($3,750) commssions) after 9 years of stand-up. And the deal is a "buy-out" meaning you don't receive residuals and they can play it as much as they want for as long as they want. Which is great for exposure and is wonderful, and it's definitely continues to pay in terms of getting better rates for comedy club bookings. Currently, there is no union for Comedians — club pay depends from person to person. Emcees in a club make $150 to $300 a week, middle acts: $150-700 a week and headliners $800 to $2500 unless you're a celebrity or they do door deals where you get a percentage of the door if you're a big draw — Carlos Mencia, Brian Regan are a few comics who aren't necessarily househould names, but "draw", are famous among comedy aficionados.
No wonder so many standups turn to acting, hosting, TV commercials, writing, etc. As for Bamford, at least she's now collecting a nice paycheck from those Target ads.
Labels: about standup
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Permalink | 12/18/2009
How do you die with frustration of being stuck in the trenches with all the other comics .
The frustration of feeling things are not happening as quickly as they should .
The frustration of crap gigs .
The frustration of other comics doing better then you
I'm not expecting chicken soup for the comedian soul .....but sometimes it's just soooo frustrating
How do I DIE with it? Slowly I guess. Like we're all doing.
Guessing you mean deal. Well...
I think you have to love the process. You have to get joy from doing shitty shows and mics. View 'em as a challenge instead of a chore. Part of that is really loving comedy. And I mean really loving it, warts and all.
Yes, you may be stuck in the trenches with other comics. But maybe that's the fun part. Getting to hang out with people who are sharp, quick, and fun.
That said, I do hate the handshakes-for-every-comic-in-the-room bullshit at shows. For me, part of staying sane is not trying to be friends with everybody all the time. Some people think I'm a dick because of that. But I'd just rather not be fake.
"Things not happening as quickly as they should." How quickly should they happen? If you're great, people will notice. If that's not happening, then get better.
And actually, the longer you wait before you get "seen," the more prepared you'll be when it happens. You'll have really honed your act and you'll be tight if/when industry does check you out. The waiting may be painful, but it's also helpful.
Also, recognize that success comes with a downside too. Once you're doing paid spots, it's a lot more pressure. You have to deliver at a certain level. When you're doing crap gigs, you can fuck around. You can play. You can experiment. You can try new things. I'm sure a lot of established guys look back fondly at the days when they could get away with whatever.
As for other comics doing better than you: If they deserve it, then great. If not, oh well. You can't control that stuff. I try to not get down about things that I can't control. I'm all zen and shit like that.
Also, you should get drunk. That makes everything more tolerable.
Woooeee! This is our big holiday show!! Saturday, not Friday, for this week only. And then we're off until Jan 8.
Happy Kwanzaa everybody! Free eggnog and after party!!
I love this line up. These are the jews we got this week:
Brooke Van Poppelen
Showtime at 8pm
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave.
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope
Part 1/details. In this part, we discuss the influence my parents had on me, the importance of being an editor, finding your voice, warriorness, comedy milestones, working on new material, my standup evolution, and more.
How does Scharpling (host of The Best Show on WFMU) keep his poise during his bits with Jon Wurster? He pinches his leg.
"Once in a while, the silliness of the whole thing hits us during a bit and we lose it," Mr. Scharpling wrote in an e-mail message after the show. "Sometimes Jon has to cover for me by talking while I'm gathering my bearings, and sometimes I have to do the same for him.
"One time that stands out is Jon deliberately thinking the band Husker Du was called Husker Dude. Hearing that line come out of Jon's mouth just killed the both of us. I had to hold it down, playing the outraged straight man while Jon kept laughing silently. Which makes me want to laugh. I usually end up pinching my leg to stay on track."
Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner recently talked with the AV Club about the straight-guy/funny-guy dynamic.
AVC: The straight-guy/funny-guy dynamic has been around for ages. How did the two of you fall into that format?
MB: I think the real engine behind it is Carl, not me. I’m just collecting the fares. But he’s the guy that creates the subjects, the questions, and creates a kind of buoyant, effervescent, terribly naïve character. He keeps saying, “Sir, I find that hard to believe, that you’re 2,000.” [Laughs.] He actually says that. So I didn’t even start it. I wanted nothing to do with it. I was eating a piece of sponge cake and drinking Manischewitz wine in a corner somewhere at a party, and suddenly Carl comes over with a tape recorder and says, “I understand, sir, you were at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.” And I was off. I was off doing what I had to do.
CR: It’s really a writing job—the straight guy comes up with the premises. In all good writing teams, there’s always someone who has a strength in one area, and my strength is that I always come up with ideas. I write books that way—I put a first line down and say, “Where does this go?” About a week or two ago, somebody came and told me about an article that said the guy considered the straight man in old vaudeville days owned the act. Weber and Fields, one of the biggest acts in vaudeville, it was Weber who owned the act and hired Fields. And he used many different Fields. There wasn’t one Fields. And Abbott and Costello, Abbott got the lion’s share of the money. He was the head guy. He found Costello, and it turned out that that was an accepted thing, the straight man was the guy, the producer, the writer, and the other guy was the guy who made the money for him. But I never thought of it in those terms. I am also the voice of the audience. I’m going to ask questions that if I were in the audience, I would love to know what this man thought about this, this, and this.
AVC: What about the straight-guy/funny-guy dynamic has caused it to last so long?
MB: Well, the straight guy is never given enough credit. For me, the heroes are the straight guys. The funnier one in Laurel and Hardy is Oliver Hardy. And Laurel gets all the credit for being the comic, and Hardy was the straight man. Abbott is a relentless maniac driving everybody in the world crazy, especially Lou Costello. And Lou gets all the credit, and Abbott gets no credit for framing it, for the architecture, for the support, for the drive. He does everything except the punchline; he’s amazing.
AVC: Regular audience members don’t seem to be very interested in comic setups.
MB: Yes it’s true. It’s so true. And I think the straight guy is critical. Dean Martin never got any credit. All the credit went to Jerry Lewis. And it was Dean’s reactions and his ease and his grace and his sheer talent that made that team work… Jack Benny was really the straight man of The Jack Benny Show, and that’s what made it so marvelous and wonderful. [In one joke], he’s in his vault—you hear him step by step, you hear the vault creaking, you hear the vault open, you hear some tinkling of coins, of gold or something. Then you hear a voice say, “Okay, your money or your life.” And you wait—this is radio—you wait a full minute, interminable space in radio. And the guy says, “Well?” And Jack says “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!” The same thing with Johnny Carson, who just listened to comics. I loved doing his show, because you really made him laugh. He wasn’t kidding.
My take: The toughest part about being the straight man is being unselfish. The laugh goes to someone else. You create the environment for laughs but someone else gets to deliver the actual punchline. In that sense, it's almost like being the producer of a show but within the actual act.
In Part Two, we discuss the influence my parents had on me, the importance of being an editor, finding your voice, warriorness, comedy milestones, working on new material, my standup evolution, and more.
Since we discuss my being a musician a bit in Part One, here's the 411 on that: I spent years as the frontman in a rock band called Plastics Hi-Fi. That was back in my Chicago days. After we split, I recorded a solo album and then moved on to Ruby Lament, a more electronic sounding project. Ya can click on any of those links to hear tracks if you're interested.
Saw a guy with FULL face tattoo. Musta seen Tyson's face tattoo and
thought, "Nah, too subtle."
Can't believe I heard a commercial that starts out this way: "From the
director of Wild Hogs..." Maybe it's an ad for the apocalypse!
Brooklyn Academy of Music emailer subject: "Swedish Circus, Afro-pop
ballet, New French Films, & more." What, no Sri Lankan Burlesque!?
Waiter just got very aggro with water choice. "Would you prefer
sparkling water or will you be drinking from the gutter this evening?"
Sangria = "I'll take the cheapest wine you have filled with fruit that
you were about to throw away. And leave it an open bowl!"
Lost fans aren't as annoying as The Wire fans. Lost fans only know
what's in a hatch. Wire fans know "what's wrong with society."
Sometimes when I'm in Williamsburg I can't tell if people are having
fun or making fun of having fun.
More at twitter.com/mattruby.
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Episode #2 coming in a couple of weeks.
Joe List (Comedy Central)
Nick Turner (Too Cool for School)
Neil Constantine (NYC)
This will get messy.
WE'RE ALL FRIENDS HERE
The comedy chat show with boundary issues
Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand
Saturday, Dec 12
Doors at 7:45pm, showtime at 8pm
10-93 Jackson Ave at 49th Ave
Long Island City, NY
Just one subway stop from Brooklyn and Manhattan
Mostly, who cares? Just another lookyloo incident that only matters because someone tabloid famous is involved.
I do think there's a lesson here about getting outside of your comfort zone though. A lot of comics hit the same couple of rooms over and over and this sort of incident shows why that can be a bad idea.
Mayer almost always goes up at The Cellar where he's pals with the other comics and in with the owners and seems to be able to do whatever he wants because of who he is. (It's also a very cliquey, testosteroney, bust each other's balls kinda environment there.) Once he brought his act to an alt show, it seems like it hit him what a different ballgame it was. All of a sudden, he was out of his element and had to scramble. And the result sounds like it wasn't pretty.
That's the problem with getting stuck in any single comedy ghetto. Instead, I'd advise doing whatever room you can. Alt shows for Brooklyn hipsters, club shows for tourists, urban rooms, Harlem coffee shops, hostels filled with backpackers, Park Slope restaurants, "art star" freak mics, Jersey City dive bars, corporate gigs, suburban hotels, whatever. Lots of jokes will work at one of those places. But a joke that works at ALL of them? You know that's funny.
Will it get awkward sometimes? Yes. But that's the way learning often feels. Uncomfortable.
I hate to go to the CK well yet again, but he put it well:
Go onstage in adverse conditions, that's how you get good. Do you really think that becoming a great comedian means finding audiences that are already ready to laugh at what you have to say?
Being comfortable or getting better: Sometimes you have to pick one.
The cool thing about watching a guy like Louis do shows a week apart is that you can note the differences in wording and inflection in jokes. It struck me last night that he isn’t married to any particular precise wording in a lot of cases. Example: in Toronto, he said milk cartons had been 'invented by some Dutch faggot in 1740'. Last night, he said 'that some Dutch fucking loser invented in 1783'. It doesn’t have to be 1783. It doesn’t have to be 1740. It doesn’t have to be 'loser' or be 'faggot'. And if he wanted, it probably doesn’t even have to be 'Dutch'. So many comics make definitive choices down to that level of detail, and program their autopilot to whichever seems funniest. But Louis doesn’t memorize down to that level of detail, and it’s primarily the ideas themselves that do the heavy lifting. When you think about it, doesn’t that sound like… I dunno… the correct way to do this? No wonder other comedians love him so much.
Not sticking to the same exact wording also keeps you present. You're not coasting when you do that. You're in "front of mind" mode. And that's more engaging to an audience.
Then there's the honesty. Danny Mendlow explains why that's the thing that makes CK "the best working comedian in the world":
So what is it that makes Louis so great? To me, it’s all about his honesty. I believe that comedy is nothing more than the uncensored truth. The reality we all live, but are afraid to talk about, the thoughts we all have, but are afraid to admit. What separates Louis from the rest is that he is so painfully relatable. No matter what the subject matter is, you can’t ever get mad at him because he’s so real and genuine about it. He knows he’s not supposed to say what he’s saying, but he doesn’t care.
It's not just that he doesn't care. He gets off on walking that line. And those provocative topics and setups get people paying attention. Tell an audience that your young daughter is an asshole, and they're really gonna want to hear what comes next. When an audience is locked in like that, it's a lot easier to get laughs.
Plus, he's pretty damn fearless. He's got a willingness to say shit that no one else will say. Maybe my fave example of that is this clip from the Opie and Anthony show when CK responds to Patrice O'Neal's explanation of where the word "kike" comes from:
CNN will even just read Twitter posts on the news now. Because where else would I go to get random opinions from the internet??? If random, anonymous opinions are news, I guess this will be coming soon to CNN: "Obama's Health Care Plan: Let's see what the bathroom graffiti at McElroy's Pub has to say about it."
Sometimes they'll have something that's not even news, it's just a cool visual. Like a car chase or a building demolition or panda bears. You can't just call something news because it's fun to look at. "Coming up at 11, the final screen of Donkey Kong. You haven't seen that before, right??? And then: Cats on skateboards, do they cause cancer? It's our next poll question."
Anyway, we all know what really matters when it comes to news: Teeth. Lots of teeth.
And Hot Soup is back on Friday night (12/4) at O'Hanlon's (hey, O'Hanlon's has two apostrophes in one word...impressive!). Check out this lineup:
Myq Kaplan (Comedy Central)
Dan Allen (Comedy Central)
Maeve Higgins (Star of Irish tv show Fancy Vittles)
Gabe Liedman (Big Terrific)
Joe Zimmerman (special guest from North Carolina)
Showtime at 8pm
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave.
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope
Other upcoming shows I'm doing:
12/5 7:30pm Lil' Seany Boy Show @ Comix
12/5 9pm Village Lantern
12/6 9pm Just For Laughs Comedy Festival Audition @ Broadway Comedy Club
12/7 8pm Back Door Comedy @ Bar Nine
12/8 9pm Hellz Yeah @ Union Pool
12/11 8pm Cool secret show in Greenpoint (email me for details)
12/12 8pm We're All Friends Here @ The Creek
This calendar has all my upcoming gigs.
Yup. If there's anyone who hates drugs and alcohol, it's the entertainment industry! Next up: "Anorexia's arch-nemesis: The Fashion Industry!!"
(Nice touch with the raised devil horns too.)
"The fact is, we are a comedy show, and if it's not funny we're not doing it, no matter how big of an issue it is," King said. "We care really passionately about the things we do, but first and foremost we have to make people laugh."
I agree. First thing ya gotta do is get laughs. Then you can worry about making your point. In fact, that might be a wise career path too. Worry about being funny first and then worry about getting across some sort of "message."
Reminds me of a recent email exchange I had with Myq Kaplan about making 'em think vs. making 'em laugh...
you see this carlin daughter interview in punchline?
"In the book, he talks about realizing that laughter wasn’t necessary to know he was being successful at his job. He says, ‘I got that as long as the audience is willing to sit there and nod their heads and I knew that the wheels were turning in their heads, that I was doing my job.’ So, there’s a man who is acknowledging that he is making people think, and he’s okay with it."
didn't see that. interesting.
i'm kinda fascinated by if there's a point when this "make 'em think over make 'em laugh" approach becomes ok. after x number of years, or a certain amount of success, or having been on TV, or once people are knowingly coming to see you vs. just a random crowd, or if you get 1hr instead of 8 mins.
i just can't shake the feeling that someone who does this [i.e. a laughter is not necessary approach] at my level and for the crowds i'm performing in front of is just being selfish. not to mention, that path will never get you on TV or enable you to reach a level of "fame" that you can do this for a career. in short: i wonder if you need to make people laugh first and THEN you earn the right to make 'em think. at least if you want to do it under the umbrella of "comedy."
i think your assessment is pretty much dead on
i mean, if you can be as compelling and interesting as carlin was in an 8-minute set when you're starting, power to you, go for it
(because isn't ALL of beginning standup selfish to a certain degree? most people are bad, and if you weigh only the momentary benefits to yourself versus the horrors you're pushing upon crowds, strict utilitarianism might suggest that everyone stop and never start comedy)
also, when people went to see carlin in his later years, they weren't going to see "a comedy show"
they were going to see carlin
that's probably a considerable, noteworthy difference
(because even if some newby CAN be as compelling/interesting as carlin, that might not entertain or please an audience that's just coming to see "comedy")
i definitely think being funny first and interesting later makes sense, but i don't know if it HAS to be that way
it's probably just harder if you're more interesting than funny first
i'm trying to think of people like stanhope (who i believe always had the capacity to be funny initially), or other interesting people and how they started, and the one that jumps out as someone who might have bucked this route is maron...
i don't believe he was ever just a punchline-providing audience-pleaser, was he?
either way, i think you CAN do whatever you want from the get-go, but if you DON'T go the funny, audience-pleasing (at least learning that you CAN do it) route, it might be a harder road to hoe (is that an expression?)
agreed. and i also think there's something good about mastering the conventional way of doing something before you start breaking the rules. like miles davis playing standards before getting all freaky avant-gardey. do that (prove you CAN follow the rules) and the choices you make to NOT follow the rules become even more powerful.
but then there are the few cases where people do seem to come up with something genius right out of the gate
i hear douglas adams created the hitchhiker's guide in his early twenties
not that it's particularly Unconventional
(and after reading "outliers" and hearing about the standard 10,000 hours of work that most geniuses seem to have put in before they were at the top of their game, like the beatles, etc... have you read it?... it also talks about how, sure, mozart did create his first symphony or whatever when he was 3 or 4, but after putting in 10,000 hours of work after that, the stuff he was writing at 10 or 11 made that original stuff look like crap... i'm paraphrasing... anyway, point is it seems like most people in any art, craft, skill, trade, most of anyone who is great at something does put in the work, and i presume the work most often comes in the form of the conventional at first, learning before becoming awesome)
that said, mozart DID write shit when he was 3 or 4, and regardless of how great it was, he was doing it
Related: Malcolm Gladwell on what makes a great performer: 10,000 hours