Oil spill reaches horses?

From the NY Times site this AM. Poorly placed photo for Kentucky Derby story? Or is the oil spill really THAT bad?

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Hot Soup tomorrow w/ Christian Finnegan

Lineup this Friday:

Myq Kaplan
Christian Finnegan
Tom McCaffrey
Ben Kissel
Andrea Rosen
MC Mr Napkins

Hot Soup!
Every Friday
Doors at 7:30pm. Showtime at 8pm.
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave.
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope

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Screw ups are a gift

Robin Williams on Marc Maron's WTF podcast discussing alcoholism, cocaine, divorce, joke stealing, heart surgery, fame, Richard Pryor, jealousy, and Twitter. Great stuff.

I liked this bit Williams said about working with Jeff Bridges:

Something screws up and [Jeff Bridges] says to me: "It's ok. It's a gift. If something screws up, it's a gift. Don't be afraid of it." That forces you to make something special that you didn't plan. You're in that moment and you're forced to deal with it and deal with it together.

He's talking about acting but applies to standup too. A perfect set is the same every time. But when something goes wrong, it's an opportunity to make a unique moment happen. It's you and the audience in it together.

Now I've just got to convince myself that Seamus — the drunk guy in Jersey City last night who kept yelling out to me "Show your tits!" — was NOT an asshole and was actually giving me a gift.

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Heightening from McCain to Rudy to I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

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John McCain told Newsweek: “I never considered myself a maverick.” Jon Stewart's response (starts about 2:40 in) is a great example of heightening — finding the unusual thing and then asking, "If this is true, what else is true?"

Normally this is where we would toss to a montage of John McCain calling himself a maverick but I don’t even fucking need to. That’s how embedded the word maverick is on his persona.

It would be like Rudy Giuliani saying "I never mentioned 9/11. I don’t know what you are talking about."

It's like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter saying, "I never believed I was butter. Why would I have believed that? I never believed it." It's ON THE CONTAINER!

Pretty textbook with the three examples and the last one being a sharp left to absurdity. (Textbook absurdity? Hmm, sounds like a fun class.)

This article also explains heightening and suggest using it as a tool in drawing caricatures.


Latest We're All Friends Here podcast is up with Lawrence, Comers, and Herron

Listen online to BTR episode #6 with Mike Lawrence, Josh Comers, and Mara Herron.

00:00 Mark Normand and Matt Ruby Intro
09:33 Mike Lawrence
23:12 Mark and Matt
25:26 Josh Comers
45:11 Mark and Matt
46:14 Mara Herron
60:39 Mark and Matt Outro

Previous episodes. Subscribe via iTunes or RSS feed. (Note: It will show up in your iTunes under the title "Breakthru Radio.")

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Tonight (FRI) = AMAZING Hot Soup lineup with Kumail, Matt McCarthy, Yannis Pappas, and more

This lineup at this week's Hot Soup on Fri (4/22) night may be our best yet. Really, this will be a super show. And I'm hosting. Come on out.

Kumail Nanjiani (Letterman)
Matt McCarthy (Comedy Central)
Yannis Pappas (VH1)
Lisa Delarios (Comedy Central)
Matt Maragno

Hot Soup!
Every Friday
Showtime at 8pm
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave.
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope

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Video: I leave the stage to yell at heckler who won't shut up

Did a show for an online comedy TV station on Monday night. Supposed to do a clean set and not talk to the crowd at all (the producer made a point of that).

The problem: A table in the back kept yelling shit at the comics all night. Finally the club kicked them out — right before I went on.

Problem solved, right? Not so fast. The club still wanted money for their drinks and I guess the guys didn't want to pay. So plenty of yelling and shouting was going on between them and the club staff. All in the hallway right by the side of the stage.

Eventually the crowd got distracted. I could feel necks turning. Even I couldn't concentrate on my jokes. Though I knew I wasn't supposed to deviate from my set, I felt like an idiot for not addressing it. So I did.

Here's what happened:

It settled down after that so they must have shut up or left or something.

More clips of me dealing with unruly audience members:
Gay heckler yells "f*** you" at me (at Princeton University)
"This roomful of people would like you to stop talking" (at Sound Fix)

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Strange fundraising

MS is a disease that takes away your ability to walk. Yet the big fundraiser to cure it is a walkathon. That seems in bad taste to me...like having a softball tournament to cure Lou Gehrig's disease.


How honest do you feel a comedian's act should be?

Reader question:

How honest do you feel a comedian's act should be? Have you ever found yourself unable to enjoy someone's set because you knew they were lying? Not something that was an obvious exaggeration or a goofy statement but something that appeared to be the truth, such as claiming to be single when they're actually in a relationship (or vice versa).

I'm fine with lying on punchlines. Going somewhere ridiculous is kinda the point there.

And little white lies are ok too. Like "I saw a crazy thing today" when it was actually weeks ago. Always surprises me how that can actually make a difference in a joke too. Immediacy helps.

But I dislike when premises are big lies. If you pretend that someone did something crazy and then you make fun of that fictional act, it just seems hollow to me. Or you make up a silly "this guy said to me" line and then mock it...well, what's the point? There's no there there.

The worst of all is when a premise is just clearly false. Like clearly that NEVER happened. Totally takes me out of it. When that happens, I can't even pay attention to the rest of the joke. It's like watching someone try to dance with a dead horse.

That's for me and my jokes and my p.o.v. If you're an absurdist comic or going for something else, making shit up is fine. For example, almost all of Steve Martin or Zach Galafianakis' act was/is made up of lies. And that's why they're funny. Different recipe for a different cake.

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Lawrence at Whiplash

Video of Mike Lawrence's first Whiplash set. Magical set. Just kills it. And ya know you've got a Lawrence-friendly crowd when they cheer at the mere mention of comic books!

I've seen all these jokes a bunch but it's funny how a hot crowd can really make a persona come alive. You feel like you really know him after this set, esp since so much of it relates to personal stuff like his sex life, family, work history, etc. Feels like the big connection with the audience he gets here is, in part, because of how much he's willing to reveal himself.


Hot Soup: Mushroom Barley edition

Friday (4/16) features:
Wil Sylvince
Grant Lyon
Michael Terry
Adam Pateman

Hot Soup!
Every Friday
Doors at 7:30pm. Showtime at 8pm.
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave.
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope

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Classical or jazz?

Interesting convo going on over at last week's "Focusing on industry over the room" post.

Erik C Nielsen said:

As far as this issue is concerned, I oscillate between the pragmatic -- "hey, if it gets laughs, whatever" -- and the idealistic -- "if it's dependent on the condition of the room, is it really yours? If it's ephemeral, you're going to say it once and then it's dead, did it really ever matter? If it's only funny in context, is it really as strong as a thing which is funny EVERY time?"

I feel like riffing is almost always the antithesis of craft, of efficiency, of speed. The most well-crafted set would contain little or no riffing -- the ideal comedy set, like the ideal in every other art form, is solid, filled up word-for-word, no wasted effort.

So while I certainly see the practical efficacy of riffing, there's something about it that feels like an artistic cop-out to me. ("Hey, I've got actual content, stuff I've crafted, but maybe I'll shock you a bit if I just make up a thing on the spot! Here it is!")

I mean, ad libbing isn't striving toward the ideal, you know?

myq replied:

Erik Charles Nielsen is about comedic performance as symphony.
Pro-riffers are about comedic performance as jazz improvisation.

A jazz improviser might play something only once and have it wow, compared to an orchestra performing Beethoven's fifth that wows every time.

I don't think either of those things are illegitimate as art or music.

I agree, there's good and bad riffing in comedy. Some people are amazing at it. (Paul F. Tompkins' latest CD starts with several tracks of fun riffing, before he goes into his excellent material, which is precisely the sort of thing he does at live shows as well... and his riffing delivers consistently, though it is unique to each situation.)
You can build up your muscles of riffery, just the way excellent improv performers put on excellent different shows every night.

And I'm sure there are symphony orchestras that can play a performance and mail it in.

There are ups and downs to each. Some people tend towards one rather than the other, and you're allowed to do whichever you like, or whichever you think you're good at. Or whichever you're NOT good at, if you think you can/should get better at it.

When you get down to it though, jazz is jazz and a symphony is a symphony, and a jazz symphony is a hybrid of the two, but they're all music; they're all art.

And the according analogy in standup--if you enjoy being in the moment, do it. If you enjoy working on polished pieces, do it.

They're both standup.

Andy Kindler is amazing and in the moment so much of his set, I love watching him. He is like comedy jazz.

Steven Wright is amazing and does a 90 minute show that is full of specific jokes that go the same way every time, for the most part. He is a comedy symphony.

They're both great, and neither of them needs to be the other way.

I think it comes down to intention. What do you want to do? Let's take CK. He's churning out so much new, great material at such a rapid pace. I guess it's more the symphony model but he's creating and retiring material so fast that there's def a slash and burn, jazzy thing going on there too. If he was doing the same bits for years at a time, that'd be one thing. But every six months he seems to have a brand new hour.

My fear is to wind up in a place where you're just phoning it in. Reciting a script every night. That might be the "ideal" perfectly crafted symphony, but to me there's a price you pay for that. You sell your soul a little bit.

That's why I love watching a Todd Barry, Patrice O'Neal, Todd Lynn or others who have great, crafted bits but also spend a large chunk of their sets really existing in the moment. I think they are as engaged and interested as the audience when they perform. They're having a good time each time they go up onstage. And that to me is the other idealistic thing to shoot for: To make people laugh but to also be fully engaged and having a blast while you do it. A lot of comics seem most fully alive when they're riffing. Then they settle into material and you feel the air go out of the balloon a bit.

Depends on how you see the world, I guess. I also think performing in a jazz or rock group would be way more fun than performing in an orchestra. The fuck ups and mistakes and wrong turns are what keep you from feeling like a robot. Symphonic perfection may be the ideal to some, but the idea of it kinda puts me to sleep.

One more thing: Erik asks, "If it's ephemeral, you're going to say it once and then it's dead, did it really ever matter?" Maybe that makes it matter even more. It was a special, unique piece of magic that existed only in that one moment in space and time. It's a once in a lifetime event that an audience and a performer get to share. Maybe that's how much you care for THAT audience. You're trying to make something special for them, even though you may never be able to use it again.


Kumail's John Mayer story

He did it as a bit at Whiplash last night. Wow. A 7+ minute chunk of material that is outrageously good. It's such a compelling story that every one is on the edge of their seats. And then what he does with it is just gorgeous. Recreating the whole scene while bringing in perfect analogies and even milking huge laughs out of just repeating the name "John Mayer" over and over again. A perfectly crafted, Peanut Brittle-esque adventure. When he puts an album out, it's gotta be the closer. Feels like a career defining bit. Not because it involves a celeb but because it's that damn funny. Was awesome to see.


The tattoo whisperer

Did a show for a bunch of Pratt students (art school in Brooklyn) the other night and got an applause break midway through...but not cuz I said something funny. I just randomly guessed that a girl had an e.e. cummings tattoo. Strange moment. Recorded it, here's the transcript:

Me: You got tattoos also?

Girl #1: Yes.

Me: Also a mathematical symbol?

Girl #1: No, I have literary tattoos.

Me: Ah, nice. What do we got? Some e.e. cummings?

Girl #2: [Screams] I have an e.e. cummings tattoo.

Me: You have an e.e. cummings tattoo! Look at this, guys! [Applause.] Hello fate. Welcome to the man who is able to guess tattoos. This is my carnival trick. I'm gonna bring out the bearded lady next.

Girl #1: She works at our school. She works at Pratt.

Me: This girl does?

Girl #1: No, the bearded lady does. She teaches the circus class.

Me: God. What do you have to do to be a professor there? Do they just hire them at Coney Island? You're a midget who can drive a nail through your nostrils — come be a professor at Pratt. You can teach the digital media class. Is the bearded lady a good teacher?

Girl #1: She teaches the circus class. You can't take it as a freshman.

Me: Yeah, you need to be a little more EXPERIENCED before you take the circus class. "We don't let just anyone tame the lions at Pratt." Circus class! What are you doing with your lives? How much does this school cost you a year?

Girl #1: $43,000.

Me: Oh my god. Well, you'll all make it back in the art world so no worries there.

The end

(Fyi, the tattoo was the opening line to this poem.)


Upcoming shows: Kabin, Three of Cups, Under St. Mark's, etc.

I'll be standing up at these shows:

Saturday, April 10
8:00pm - Going Steady @ The Cove

Sunday, April 11
9:00pm - Comedy Show @ Beauty Bar

Monday, April 12
8:00pm - Uncorked @ City Winery

Wednesday, April 14
9:00pm - Pretty Good, You? @ Under St. Marks Theatre

Thursday, April 15
9:00pm - Comedy as a Second Language @ Kabin
9:00pm - Punch Your Face Comedy Show @ China 1

Friday, April 16
8:00pm - Hot Soup @ O'Hanlon's

Sunday, April 18
7:00pm - Arms & Hearts @ Karma
8:00pm - Sunday Night Standup @ Three of Cups

Monday, April 19
9:00pm - Comedy Time @ Broadway Comedy Club

Tuesday, April 20
9:00pm - RUBBER BULLETS Comedy Show @ 87 Ludlow

Thursday, April 22
8:00pm - Supercream Supreme @ Legion Bar

Friday, April 23
8:00pm - Hot Soup @ O'Hanlon's

All my shows are listed on the calendar.


Focusing on industry over the room

Feels like everyone's trying to get on TV. Honing that showcase set. Trying to win contests. Doing what it takes to "climb the ladder."

I get it. Overall, it's a smart move. But it annoys me how it takes you away from what's purely funny in the room at the moment. The more you worry about a neatly packaged product that's well rehearsed, the more you lose rawness and immediacy. The idea that this room on this night is something special — that you're seeing something that couldn't happen anywhere else. It's part of makes comedy magical.

That's what I like about Yannis' crazy Bar Four show. You feel like anything can happen there. At most shows I go to, I feel like I know exactly what's going to happen.


Hot Soup: Leek edition

Friday's lineup:
Sara Schaefer
Kevin Barnett
Ross Hyzer
Mike Drucker

Hot Soup!
Every Friday
Doors at 7:30pm. Showtime at 8pm.
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave.
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope

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Hedberg riffs on Irish "whoo hoo"

Happens all the time. Mention some city and a yobo in the crowd yells out in response. Here's how Mitch Hedberg dealt with it at one show:

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When a one-liner guy drops the script

Bad things in life can lead to interesting things onstage. Got to see a comic who's normally a one-liner guy break out of his shell the other night. His gf had just broken up with him and it seemed like he was taking it rough and needed to talk about it.

From a comedy standpoint, it was really interesting to watch someone who I had only heard do scripted jokes seem totally in the moment. He was being open and honest about what was on his mind.

And it totally changed the tone of his delivery. The pauses. And how the crowd reacted to him. Now it wasn't the punchlines that were getting laughs. It was everything. The uncomfortableness. The authenticity. The reality of seeing someone talk through real drama onstage.

I'm glad he got it on tape (assuming he wants to keep going in that direction). Because I think the tough thing is to hold onto that raw emotional state/delivery. Unless you're a really good actor, it's tough to reconnect to that authentic feeling once you're doing something night after night. And then those in-between laughs disappear. (Part of that whole lifecycle of a bit thing I discussed recently.)

At least he can look back and see what it is that was getting laughs. Which pauses, which lines, etc. Because the laughs came at unexpected places.

Overall, it was neat to see a real A-B comparison of the same comic with different material. Seemed like a more organic, pure exchange with the audience this way — instead of a script with "here's where you laugh" moments.


"Massage" lines that let a crowd know you're not a complete dick

From "Mike Birbiglia's guide to better storytelling":

Step 5: Finesse with attention-grabbing asides. (A few from Birbiglia's repertoire: [Following a groan] "I know… I'm in the future also." / "Now, before I tell this part of the story, I want to remind you that you're on my side.")

MB: One of the ways that [latter] mechanism was formed was not out of some skillful writing. It's from the charity golf story where I was performing after an 11-year-old boy who had survived leukemia. I would tell that story without that qualifier, and people would just look at me like, “We hate you.” And saying “I know…” to the audience was another kind of necessity that came out of people gasping. There are certain kinds of things you don’t want to hear, and one of them is, “Uggghhh.” And also an “Ooooh.” That’s not good.

Those Birbigs lines always kill and do a great job of letting the audience know he's completely aware of how he's being perceived and what he's saying.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. How master comics get away with saying dickish things yet still have the crowd like 'em. I think a big part of what makes people like Burr or CK great is the way they massage some of their edgier bits. You know CK loves his kids and spends lots of time with them and that let him get away with calling his daughter an asshole.

Here's Bill Burr in "Why Do I Do This?" after he jokes about a black swim team movie:

I'm not being a dick here either. OK? Just to clarify. I don't want anyone coming up to me after the show: "I was thinking it and then you fucking said it." I'm not saying black people shouldn't be able to put on a speedo and go for a dip.

And before he launches into a tirade on the demands of women, he says this:

I just find women, they're just like, uh, I think they're great. I don't want this to come off here like I'm some woman hater 'cuz, y'know, I know I'm a psycho. But I just find them to be relentless. Just every day they gotta come at ya...

Lines like those seem like toss offs. But I think they play a key role in letting a comic get away with saying edgier stuff. It's a way of keeping people on your side instead of just going full throttle with "tell it like it is" prickness.

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Hot Soup: Chicken Noodle edition

Friday's (4/2) lineup:
Damien Lemon
Doogie Horner
Ahmed Bharoocha
Max Silvestri
Jarrod Harris

I'm hosting.

Hot Soup!
Every Friday
Doors at 7:30pm. Showtime at 8pm.
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave.
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope

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