Hardwick/PFT on one-liners, clubs, and tangents

Chris Hardwick's Nerdist Podcast #33: Paul F. Tompkins has lots of good stuff.

They talk about the difference between longform and shortform standup. For example, one-liner quick hit jokes can work great for a showcase set or a quick TV spot. But keeping that tempo up for 45-60 minutes is a whole different beast.

Chris Hardwick: I don't know how the two line joke comics survive in an hourlong set. I know they do but I can't write those kinds of jokes so I don't really understand.

Paul F. Tompkins: That's so much stuff that you have to write. You have to fill up 60 minutes of one-liners. That's A LOT of material.

Chris Hardwick: And they're all hit or miss. A two-line joke is hit or miss and that's it. For all the ones you have to write to put together an hour, there's probably 8 times more that you've written.

PFT has moved away from clubs thanks to the Tompkins 300 revolution. He talked about what's wrong with the club system. Basically, comedians are like a human bowl of pretzels.

Paul F. Tompkins: [Clubs] are in the restaurant business. You're the only one who's in the comedy business. You're doing your comedy in somebody's restaurant. You're in the comedy business. They're still in the booze business.

Chris Hardwick: We basically keep people focused so they keep pouring beer in their gullets.

Hardwick also admires PFT's ability to start a bit in one place and end it somewhere completely different. ("Cherry Picking" off Impersonal is a good example of this.)

Chris Hardwick: You have a writing skill with your standup that is incredible to me...Within the body of a bit, you can take a tangent onto some minor detail that almost seems accidental and then all of a sudden you go into that and that becomes the focus of the bit. And then some tangent on that takes you further into the bit. It's like levels in Inception. You're in limbo. But that is a phenomenal way to write and that's not something I see anyone else do.

Paul F. Tompkins: Well thank you. A lot of that I must admit is by accident. I feed a lot off of the energy of the crowd and I like to allow for the possibility of improvisation. I might write one tangent in there but where it goes depends on how people respond to the tangent. If they laugh at this weird thing that I threw in there that's ultimately a thing that I think is funny that I don't know necessarily if the audience is going to think it's funny, but I hope they think is funny.

You know, when you're writing standup, the idea is this is so funny in my head I am reasonably sure that other people will find this funny too. I have to translate it from the language in my head where it's just a thought, just a flash that made me laugh. I have to translate things like that into human speech so that other people who don't speak the language that's in my head will understand. And then I know that if I phrase it this way, this is how I say funny things, people will laugh at that. I'm pretty sure.

Then there's other stuff where I'm like, "I think this is funny but I don't know if anyone else would ever think this is funny." I'm compelled to throw it out there just to see if anybody laughs at that. That's the little tangents. And then if people do laugh at that, then my instinct is always: Let's see how far I can push it. Let's see what I can get out of this...

You keep talking until they stop laughing. And then the next time you talk about the same stuff, you cut out the part where they stop laughing.

Also worth checking out: recent Nerdist podcasts with Birbigs and Gaffigan.


myq said...

PFT is one of my favorites.

I like the things he says (in his written comedy, in his riffing, on his podcast, in this interview, and probably other places).

Just wanted to make a comment that wasn't arguing with anyone. Unless anyone wants to fight.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

myq - You couldn't be more off-base. Wake up and smell the Payola! That guy's a puppet. He works for a larger, savvier comedy organization -- a tightly-knit web of shrewd businessmen and razor-sharp writers only out to earn as much money as possible by being as hilarious as possible--a groupcleverly titled, Paul F. Tompkins. Who do you think colleges make the checks out to? Exactly.

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