Jews love watching a movie and eating Chinese food on Xmas Eve. But I'm a self-loathing Jew, so I watched Passion of the Christ and ate Pork Fried Rice.

Ah, good times. Merry Xmas. Happy Hannukah. Blah blah blah. There are no Hot Soup shows tonight or on New Year's Day. We return on Jan 8. And I'll be in LA from Jan 14 - 20 doing shows so stay tuned for updates on that.

Also, this blog will be dormant until the New Year. You can handle it.


The press conferences of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Andy Warhol

Press conferences in the sixties sure were strange. The vibe was less reporter/artist and more zoologist/caged-animal. No wonder that clever subjects decided to handle it by being funny, absurd, and/or combative. For example...

The Beatles:

Bob Dylan:

Andy Warhol:


Steve Martin: "I never let them know I was bombing"

A computer scientist talks about lessons learned from Steve Martin's "Born Standing Up."

Paying your dues is overrated. Simply putting in the time is not enough. Martin’s story is one of a constant urge to innovate. He was trying to figure out the essence of “funny.” He then yielded these insights to move beyond the static structure of the punchline that dominated performance comedy at the time. This restless urge to understand then innovate led him to be outstanding. Without it, he would have just become another good comedian. Like hundreds of others.

Being Funny is an article where Martin summarizes his comedy philosophy.

What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh...

Now that I had assigned myself to an act without jokes, I gave myself a rule. Never let them know I was bombing: this is funny, you just haven't gotten it yet. If I wasn't offering punch lines, I'd never be standing there with egg on my face. It was essential that I never show doubt about what I was doing. I would move through my act without pausing for the laugh, as though everything were an aside. Eventually, I thought, the laughs would be playing catch-up to what I was doing. Everything would be either delivered in passing, or the opposite, an elaborate presentation that climaxed in pointlessness. Another rule was to make the audience believe that I thought I was fantastic, that my confidence could not be shattered. They had to believe that I didn't care if they laughed at all and that this act was going on with or without them.

Related: Excerpts from "Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life."


Where's your family from?

With all this Xmas talk and the long beard I've grown, I'm feeling extra Jewy these days. Even got jealous of a friend's conversation I overheard. He's Italian and this is how it went down:

Friend: Are you Italian?
Stranger: Yeah.
Friend: Where's your family from?
Stranger: Sicily?
Friend: [raises fist] Paisan!

And then they high fived. Which all bummed me out. Because as a Jew, you never get to have an exchange like that. With us, it's more like this:

Jew 1: Are you Jewish?
Jew 2: Yeah.
Jew 1: Where's your family from?
Jew 2: Poland.
Jew 1: Oh. Um. Never forget.

Jews! "Never forget" is like our Jingle Bells.


Christopher Hitchens on the fuel for material

Christopher Hitchens passes away. His views on debauchery reminds me of things I've heard Doug Stanhope say too; That basically, living a long life is less important than living an interesting one.

He also professed to have no regrets for a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking. "Writing is what's important to me, and anything that helps me do that - or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation - is worth it to me," he told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2010, adding that it was "impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle."

Here's a compilation of Hitch's smackdowns on religion. For a counterpoint: "Gotta Serve Somebody" by Bob Dylan.


Sunday 12/18: Hot Soup with McCarthy, O'Connor, and Angelo

It's the last Hot Soup of the year. And it's Andy's last show before he splits for the west coast. And after the show, Stephen Merchant, co-creator of The Office and Extras, will be performing standup at his own show. So do it.

Hot Soup lineup:

Matt McCarthy (“a Belushi-like mad man” -NY Times)
Sean O'Connor (Conan)
David Angelo (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
Andy Haynes (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
Special holiday guests

I'm hosting.

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Every Sunday. Doors at 8:45pm, showtime at 9pm. $5 tickets.
Produced by David Cope, Andy Haynes, Mark Normand, and Matt Ruby.


"Comics who are green try to be more blue to appear less yellow"

"Comics who are green try to be more blue to appear less yellow." Andy Sandford quoted that line to me the other night when we were talking about cursing onstage.

It rang true for me. I used to curse onstage a lot when I started. But eventually it started to bug me when I realized a punchline was hitting because I threw a "fuck" in there. If I took the "fuck" out and it didn't get a laugh, I didn't feel like it was actually a funny joke.

Plus, I've had to do clean shows (church show, opening for headliner who wanted me to stay clean, etc.) and it sucked to sit down and have to eliminate jokes. I don't want to have to think about which material I can or can't do at a show. If everything in my arsenal is clean, it's one less thing to worry about. Not to mention, it was disheartening to vet material before a show and realize a big chunk of my stuff relied on talking about sex or cursing.

Anyway, already discussed this a while back but the green/blue/yellow line was clever enough that I thought I'd bring it up one more time.

Btw, here's Stanhope's defense of cursing (“that’s just how I talk”) which I get; Being who you are offstage when you're onstage makes sense. But I'm not a guy who curses all the time in real-life so it feels like doing it onstage a lot would be solely for shock value.


CK and el Duque

CK answers reader questions at Reddit.

You need to get on stage as much as possible and vary your stage experience as much as possible and not quit and take care of yourself and always question why you say the things you say and enjoy yourself...

i don't know about "Supposed to" I think there's a million ways to do things. there was a pitcher for the Yankees once named Orlando Hernandez or "el Duque" he was a cuban exile. A thing they said about him was he was hard to hit cause he had so many arm angles and release points. a hitter studies a pitcher and watches for the ball so he can time it, but with el duque, you don't even know where the fucker is coming from. Nine o clock? Eleven? And does he let go of it up top or out front? Impossible. I sometimes think of comedy in those terms.

The baseball reference reminded me of his talk about "brushback pitch" jokes a few years back.

And if you don't know already, his new special is avail online for $5.


Sandpaper Suit Podcast Episode 4 - Myq Kaplan and Josh Gondelman

It's back. Three Jews with beards — Myq Kaplan, Josh Gondelman, and me — share a car ride from NYC to Boston and talk about fame, comedy, philosophy, girls, and more. Listen below or get it at iTunes or download the MP3.


A special We're All Friends Here with Mark and me in the hot seat

Saturday 12/10: We're All Friends Here
It's been requested for years. Now it's happening! Mark and I sit on the hot seat and answer questions from each other and guest co-host Neal Stastny. It's gonna be intense. Dan Soder does a set to open up.

Saturday, Dec 10 - 8:00pm
The Creek and The Cave
10-93 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY


Sunday 12/11: Hot Soup
Harrison Greenbaum
Phoebe Robinson
Jessi Klein
Bryson Turner
David Cope

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Every Sunday. Doors at 8:45pm, showtime at 9pm. $5 tickets.
Make reservations now
Produced by David Cope, Andy Haynes, Mark Normand, and Matt Ruby.

Also, check out David Cope's new web series Strung Out, a comedy about playing harp in the big city. Here's the first episode, featuring Reggie Watts.


Anthony Jeselnik's Dane Cook impression

Soem guys write jokes and stand there and tell 'em. Some guys rely on physicality and act outs to get laughs. Here's what happens when the former impersonates the latter:


What Comedy Central Records looks for in a comedian

An interview with Comedy Central Records' Founder/Vice President Jack Vaughn [thx OE]. He's asked, "How do you discover talent?"

Ultimately, there are basically two criteria for who we sign to the label:

1. You have to be really funny.
2. You have to have a distinctive voice or point of view.

That’s it. Things like having a strong following or being on TV or in movies is great, but those two criteria are the main things we look for.

And he also discusses the recording process.

One of the quirks of this genre is that the audience tends to be the most important part of the recording, and how the audience reacts can drastically change how the jokes are perceived by the listener. Jokes seem funnier the harder people are laughing at them — this is the reason sitcoms customarily use laugh tracks — which may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised just how important it is.

By the time of the album recording, the comic has gotten so good at doing the material that the differences in delivery among the sets are usually minimal. But the difference between an intelligent, raucous audience in a packed room, and a sober one in a half-empty club is staggering. We’ll re-record shows if the audience isn’t good enough.

I hadn't really realized that CCR almost singlehandedly brought comedy albums, which hadn’t sold much since the late seventies/early eighties, back into vogue.


Being self-effacing and why male comics obsess about their weight

Why Are These Hip Male Comedians All Talking About Their Weight? is an article that claims "talking about this publicly is their way of pushing the envelope. "

[Marc] Maron’s not the only male comedian who’s been talking about his food issues lately—a topic that’s culturally associated with, well, teenage girls. Louis C.K. talks constantly about his weight...Patton Oswalt talks about his struggles with weight on his latest album, Finest Hour—and on this recent appearance on Conan. Oswalt jokes about getting out of breath when he dances with his toddler daughter—and about joining, then leaving, Weight Watchers, because the meetings didn’t have the same frisson as AA gatherings. “They're very helpful, but all my friends who are drug addicts and drunks, their meetings are awesome—they have all these dark stories: ‘I T-boned a school bus.’” Meanwhile, the stories at Weight Watchers are about being embarrassed in a bathing suit and trying to avoid pie...

It’s still at least somewhat taboo for men to be seen as obsessing about their weight, so talking about this publicly is their way of pushing the envelope. When they were younger, rebelling meant challenging the ruling paradigm or the trappings of middle-class life. “Now the enemy is really ourselves, and the struggle between accepting ourselves or hating ourselves,” Maron said.

Funny to me how this piece describes talking about weight as pushing the envelope. Was it pushing the envelope when Louie Anderson did it decades ago?

(Love this line: "When I go camping, the bears put their food up in the trees.")

I'd argue that "pushing the envelope" and "fighting taboos" is only a tiny part of why comics talk about being fat, single, balding, ugly, or other self-effacing stuff. They do it because 1) it gets laughs since it's the opposite of how people usually present themselves and 2) it disarms an audience.

I think it's tough to underestimate that second reason. I feel like being mean to myself onstage gives me more room to be mean to others too. After all, I'm willing to point the finger at myself so why not at the rest of the world too? Without self-effacing material, you start to seem like a pretentious, know-it-all asshole who thinks he's better than everyone else. Show some flaws and you humanize yourself.

Or, as Eddie Brill put it, get out of "you suck" territory and bring it into "we suck." That helps get an audience on your side. Then you can go wherever you want with them.


Gary Gulman on when an audience's laughter isn't important

Gary Gulman is asked, "Are there jokes that you do just for you?"

For me at this point I do all the jokes for me, not in a self-indulgent way, but there's nothing I say just to get a laugh. I do a joke because it's funny or clever or meaningful to me.

That hasn't always been the case. For years it was a mixed bag. I did some jokes just because they worked and gave me that oxygen we need. I was looking to get hired, which is a terrible motivator for an artist, but I've evolved, hopefully.

The greatest thing I ever heard related to this was in the Curb Your Enthusiasm pilot. Someone, it may have been Jerry Seinfeld, said that Larry had unwavering convictions as to what he thought was funny. That's essential to becoming unique/original and it's hard to stay true to in an environment where the audience's laughter is (wrongly I feel) considered so important in measuring a performer's talents.

Part of the series Comedy Writing by Mike Bent which looks pretty decent. Below, an excerpt from Everything You Know is Wrong by Bent.

The members of Firesign Theater said it all when they named their 1974 album “Everything You Know is Wrong.” That's the attitude you have to take. You need to question everything around you. You can't just accept things as they are; you need to consistently challenge the status quo. That doesn't mean you have to be an outcast from society; it just means you need to look at things differently.

The full "Comedy Writing" series.


Two great interviews with Patrice O'Neal about love, dating, riffing, and synergy

R.I.P. Patrice O'Neal. First Giraldo, now this. Fuck. Can we please stop losing the BEST comedians around!?

I actually talked to Patrice a few months back for the first Sandpaper Suit Podcast. (Unrelated note: The hibernating podcast will be reemerging soon.) It was a great conversation about dating and relationships, a topic he always had fascinating opinions about. You can listen or download it at iTunes.

A Shot of Yager interviewed Patrice in October. He talked about how he weaved from material to riffing.

To be able to go off the cuff, you have to have a synergy with the crowd and they gotta love you, but then at the same time you have the structure of your act that helps you go off to the left. It's like having a GPS. It's a place where you generally know where you're going and you take a left or a right. You don't have to be that worried you won't get back on the road.

If you don't know where you're going, you gotta rely on the GPS. Meaning you rely on just going off the cuff or just being funny, you can wind up in a bad place. Ad you got no place else to go because you took a wrong turn and you gotta be able to have your professionalism and your preparedness and material to get you back on the road.

I love doing crowdwork because I think people are interesting. I've gotten a lot of material from audiences. I've gotten a response I didn't think I was gonna get and you really embrace that response.

The GPS analogy is great. It's also interesting to hear how often Patrice used the word synergy in the interview.

If you haven't checked out Patrice's terrific Elephant in the Room special, stream it on Netflix. Still nothing like seeing him push buttons live though. It was joyous watching him fuck with people. His presence will be missed. Don't know what else to say. Damn.

Related: Patrice O'Neal: "It's a mob dynamic"


The spiritual lessons of Groundhog Day

Oh neat, Roger Ebert thanked me (via Twitter) for quoting him about Rodney and Groucho. Love that guy. (Actually, all those guys.)

Speaking of films, while reading "And Here's the Kicker," I was surprised to find out the movie Groundhog Day is hailed by religious leaders as the most spiritual film of all time.

"At first I would get mail saying, 'Oh, you must be a Christian because the movie so beautifully expresses Christian belief'," the film's director Harold Ramis recently told The New York Times. "Then rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon. And the Buddhists!"...Professor Angela Zito, the co-director of the Centre for Religion and Media at New York University, told me that Groundhog Day illustrated the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that individuals try to escape. In the older form of Buddhist belief, she said, no one can escape to nirvana unless they work hard and lead a very good life...

[Rabbi] Niles Goldstein recently said that there was a resonance in Murray's character being rewarded by being returned to earth to perform more good deeds, or mitzvahs. This was in contrast to gaining a place in heaven (the Christian reward) or else achieving nirvana (the Buddhist reward). He is considering using the film as an allegory when he speaks to his congregation. "The movie tells us, as Judaism does, that the work doesn't end until the world has been perfected," he said.

As Ramis has been told by Jesuit priests among others, the film clearly also contains themes found within the Christian tradition. Michael Bronski, a film critic with the magazine Forward and a visiting professor at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, where he teaches a course in film history, said: "The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect."

Pretty special when a story can speak to so many different types of people on a spiritual level. Reminds me of Joseph Campbell's discussions of the need for modern myths and the storytelling formulas that show up throughout different times, places, and cultures. If you're not familiar with Campbell, check out this interview he did with Bill Moyers on Netflix. It's fascinating.

Oh, and to bring it all full circle: I got turned on to Campbell by my mom, who had him as a professor decades ago.


This weekend's lineups for We're All Friends Here and Hot Soup (Gulman, Kaplan, Hamilton)

Saturday 11/26: We're All Friends Here
Chris Distefano
Adam Newman
Justy Dodge

Saturday, Nov 26 - 8:00pm
The Creek and The Cave
10-93 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY
Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand


Sunday 11/27: Hot Soup
Gary Gulman (Comedy Central 1-hour special)
Myq Kaplan (Letterman, Comedy Central presents)
Ryan Hamilton (Last Comic Standing)
Karl Hess (Montreal's JFL Festival)
Mark Normand (Last Comic Standing)

I'm hosting.

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Every Sunday. Doors at 8:45pm, showtime at 9pm. $5 tickets.
Make reservations now
Produced by David Cope, Andy Haynes, Mark Normand, and Matt Ruby.


Roger Ebert on the pathos of Rodney Dangerfield, W.C. Fields, and Groucho Marx

Roger Ebert's review of Back To School talks about Rodney Dangerfield and the hurt that seems to lie beneath his one-liners:

Yet in Dangerfield, there has always been something else in addition to the comedian. This is a man who has failed at everything, even comedy. Rodney Dangerfield is his third name in show business; he flopped under two earlier names as well as his real name. Who is really at home inside that red, sweating face and that knowing leer? The most interesting thing about "Back to School," which is otherwise a pleasant but routine comedy, is the puzzle of Rodney Dangerfield. Here is a man who reminds us of some of the great comedians of the early days of the talkies - of Groucho Marx and W. C. Fields - because, like them, he projects a certain mystery. Marx and Fields were never just being funny. There was the sense that they were getting even for hurts so deep that all they could do was laugh about them. It's the same with Dangerfield.

This is exactly the sort of plot Marx or Fields could have appeared in. Dangerfield brings it something they might also have brought along: a certain pathos. Beneath his loud manner, under his studied obnoxiousness, there is a real need. He laughs that he may not cry.

Speaking of W.C. Fields, Ebert discusses his appeal in a different piece too: "It is the appeal of the man who cheerfully embraces a life of antisocial hedonism, basking in serene contentment with his own flaws. He is self-contained." Cue Groucho...

"I knew Fields well," Groucho Marx told me in 1972. "He used to sit in the bushes in front of his house with a BB gun and shoot at people. Today he'd probably be arrested. He invited me over to his house. He had a girlfriend there. I think her name was Carlotta Monti. Car-lot-ta MON-ti! That's the kind of a name a girl of Fields would have. He had a ladder leading up to his attic. Without exaggeration, there was $50,000 in liquor up there. Crated up like a wharf. I'm standing there and Fields is standing there, and nobody says anything. The silence is oppressive. Finally he speaks: This will carry me 25 years."


Nick Griffin on trying to make depression come out joyful

Comedian Nick Griffin talks sleep, shows and sadness.

How does it feel being described by (WTF Podcast host) Marc Maron as one of the only comedians “more unhappy than I am”?

Yeah, that’s true. I’m working on that. I don’t know — I mean, look, I get the blues and I write a lot about it and I try to make my comedy as personal as possible. I am a kind of a depressive guy, but hopefully it comes out somewhat joyful on stage, at least for the people to hear. Comics in general are pretty miserable people. The nature of comedy is to look at the world and find out what’s wrong with it and tell everybody. So you spend 23, 24 years doing that and you’re going to get down after a while.

Good news: Comedians take sadness and convert it into joy, like a tree takes CO2 and turns it into oxygen. Bad news: Do this long enough and it will make you miserable. (Or is there a way to avoid the "you're going to get down" part?)

P.S. Griffin is headlining at Gotham this weekend.


Murderfist Soup

Lineup for Hot Soup this Sunday (Nov 17):

Joe Derosa (Comedy Central Presents, Bored to Death)
Murderfist (ECNY award winner for Best Sketch Comedy Group)
Damien Lemon (MTV2's Guy Code, Russell Simmons Presents)
Michele Billoon (Chelsea Lately, Craig Ferguson)
Dan St. Germain (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, World of Jenks)
Andy Haynes (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
David Cope (Bumbershoot)

I'm hosting.

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Every Sunday. Doors at 8:45pm, showtime at 9pm. $5 tickets.
Make reservations now
Produced by David Cope, Andy Haynes, Mark Normand, and Matt Ruby.


Spin Mag's 40 Greatest Comedy Albums

Let the arguing begin! SPIN's 40 Greatest Comedy Albums of All Time. [via RGD]

We assembled a crack team of comedy nerds to compile an authoritative, definitive list of the 40 best comedy albums of all time.

Top spot goes to Bill Cosby's "To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With." Overall, a pretty good list. But of course, there's plenty to argue with (e.g. "Bigger & Blacker" over "Bring the Pain"!?).


Tags with friends

Jay Welch writes in:

I imagine you've listened to (or intend to listen to) the WTF episode last Thursday with Chris Rock. There were quite a few interesting things that happened in that interview, but one item in particular stood out to me. Around 30 minutes into the episode, Chris Rock is talking about Eddie Murphy's writing process, and Rock says that people pitched in tags, but didn't have writers. There's debate in the scene sometimes about whether it's okay to incorporate tags from other comics, so it's nice to see two high profile, highly regarded comics weighing in on the issue saying it's a friendly, benign thing. Maybe their opinions could make less established comics more comfortable with it.

Here's a rough transcript of the relevant portion. Starts around 29:50 into the episode.

Maron: Was he [Eddie Murphy] writing all his own material?
Rock: He was writing all his own material, yeah.
Maron: And did he have people around, throwing shit in?
Rock: People, you know, for tags.
Maron: Yeah.
Rock: But that's what friends are for, for tags.
Maron: That's right.
Rock: It's only when they're not your friends that they go "Oh, I should get a writing credit for that tag."
Maron: Yeah. Right, right.
Rock: That's what comics do. It's like, "Hey, that thing you did--"
Maron: I said something to you once, and I don't know if you remember it.
Rock: Didn't you give me a tag, like, in the Comedy Store parking lot one night?
Maron: Oh, maybe I did, yeah I think I did. Yeah. I can't remember what it was, though.
Rock: I can't remember what it was, but I remember talking to you in the parking lot of the Comedy Store.
Maron: Yep, yep, I can't remember what that was. It was, uh,
Rock: About a particular joke.
Maron: Yep, yep, you were working on something.
Rock: That's what we do.
Maron: Of course, of course.
Rock: It's like you got something, "Hey, did you ever think of this?"
Maron: Did you ever think of that angle?
Rock: Yeah.
Maron: Yeah. Right, yeah, you gotta fill your head with something.

Re: "Oh, I should get a writing credit for that tag." Weird, I'd never expect someone to give me credit for a tag suggestion. Maybe that sort of kvetching is what happens when you get to a Rock-y level of fame.

I think this convo is also about the difference between tags and premises. If it's an idea for a premise, you hold on to it because it's your seed to grow. If it's a tag idea for someone else's premise, let 'em have it. What are you going to do with it anyway?

Plus, tags are often the easy part. Another comic once told me, "Premises are everything." I don't know if I'd go that far, but it does feel like coming up with an original, truthful, and surprising premise is the biggest challenge comics face.


Capture Your Flag interview: The arc of a standup comedy career

In 2010, I did a lengthy interview with Erik Michielsen for Capture Your Flag, "a knowledge video library built upon repeating annual interviews."

A year later, Erik asked me back to discuss standup more and see if/how things had evolved over the past year. I'll be posting some of the clips here (like the one below on the arc of a standup comedy career) or you can view the full 2011 interview at YouTube.


Finding a community

Rob Delaney: How to “make it” in comedy.

1. Read all the time.

2. Write all the time.

3. Perform all the time.

4. Move to New York, Los Angeles or London if you have the means. There are more opportunities in these places so why not infinitesimally improve your odds?

5. Find a community, like the UCB, the ImprovOlympic, the Groundlings, Second City, etc. Yes, you’ll learn stuff and be exposed to more comedy, but just as importantly you’ll meet the people who will one day hire you.

6. Don’t quit. This one’s hard, but patience is a indispensable ingredient.

7. Work harder than anyone around you.

8. Be nice.

The community thing is tough in standup because it always feels like a pack of lone wolves. (If that phrase doesn't make sense...well, exactly.) A collective, like the Blerds in Chicago used to have, seems like it would pack more of a punch than just a guy going at it alone.

Boston Comedy Fest tonight

I am in the semifinals of the Boston Comedy Fest tonight (11/11/11). 8pm at Davis Square Theater. Come on out.

P.S. There is no Hot Soup this Sunday. Back on the stove next week.


Kinison, Zeppelin, and the loud-soft dynamic

At Schtick or Treat, I did a set as Sam Kinison. (It looked like my face was about to explode.) Ya often hear Kinison described as a rock 'n roll comic and while learning his routine, I realized part of that might be due to how much he relied on dynamics.

In that sense, he was the comedy equivalent of Nirvana, The Pixies, or Led Zeppelin. Quiet verses into exploding choruses. Mellow into screaming. Lulls you into a comfort zone and then rips it all to shreds. Something about that clash of dynamics is really hypnotizing.


Facebook: You've changed

Facebook used to be a great tool for comedians. Lately, not so much.

Event invites have lost their mojo. People don't respond anymore. (Are invites even still getting to people's inboxes?) A show that used to get dozens of "Yes, I will attend"s now gets just a handful.

Start a group, you say? One that we started for Hot Soup a while back now says, "This group is scheduled to be archived. Over the next few months, Facebook will be archiving all groups created using the old groups format."

What to do? Facebook says, "We recommend that you create a Page and notify your group members about it." Did that. (Hot Soup at UCB-East, yeah!) But things changed on that recently too. Now you can't update fans of a page using Facebook Messages.

As of September 30th you'll no longer be able to send an update to fans using Facebook Messages. We want you to connect with your audience in the most effective ways possible, and updates that go to Facebook Messages may end up unseen in the "Other" folder.

So you're helping me connect by taking away my ability to send people messages!? That's like saying, "I want you to make friends so I'm forcing you to stay in the house."

Listen, I hate spam and all that too. But is there some reasonable way to promote a show on Facebook these days?

It also seems to be way harder to get traction on anything posted at Facebook these days. Videos, funny status messages, etc. For example: The first episode of our "Made With Love" cooking show, posted a few months ago, got dozens of comments and 30+ likes. The second episode, posted last week, got no comments and only seven likes. It feels like it didn't even get seen by most folks.

I know the feed that shows up for me, which used to be somewhat relevant, is filled with BS from people I don't care about.

To sum it up: Facebook, you don't bring me flowers anymore.


Mindy Tucker's Schtick or Treat shots

Mindy Tucker's great photos from last week's Schtick or Treat.

Some highlights: Richard Pryor, Dr. Dirty, Kristin Schaal is a horse, Cheech (or is that Chong?), Benny Hill chase intro, Phyllis Diller, Russell Brand, and Fozzy Bear.

My favorite one...

...is us out in the audience watching Matt McCarthy (as Dr. Dirty) bring down the house. So damn funny. I was literally in tears.

Thanks to everyone who came out and performed and to Sachi Ezura for putting it all together. We gotta film that shit next year.


The NY Times starts a comedy beat and truth vs. cleverness

Well, how 'bout this. The New York Times is starting a regular column dedicated to comedy criticism. First up: this well written profile of Hannibal Buress which includes this explanation of the new column.

Despite the rumbling buzz surrounding this comic who has refined his skills for nine years, first in Chicago and then New York, obscure dance companies have been reviewed more often in the mainstream press.

Stand-up is the only major art form in which most American critics don’t take performers seriously until they leave the field. Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C. K. needed television shows to really receive notice. To paraphrase a great man, today’s comics don’t get no respect, and considering their ambition, diversity and influence, they should.

That conviction undergirds this new feature, appearing every other week and dedicated to reviewing comedy. Not limited to stand-up, this feature will try to reflect that vast and fragmented scene, for creative, funny work can be found everywhere from late-night cable to bars in Brooklyn to a tweet.

Neat to see some NYC media outlet (other than Time Out NY) give some love to the comedy scene here. The paper also recently profiled the UBCeast opening and discussed how comedians are using Twitter.

[Aaron] Glaser got a new handle, retooled his approach and began filing the sort of one-liners that punctuate his stand-up. “If the Beatles were founded today,” went one Tweet, “Ringo would be a laptop.” He developed a system: tap out a joke on Twitter, then monitor the reaction. “I’m sure no one will admit it,” he said, “but it’s nerve-racking when you think a joke is great, and no one responds to it.”

If followers do react, though — with retweets, “favorites,” or “likes” on Facebook, to which his Twitter feed is linked — Mr. Glaser will drop the line into his stand-up material. Such was the case with the Ringo joke, which killed in performance after earning online kudos, and now it’s part of Mr. Glaser’s regular set. “Generally if it works on Twitter, it works onstage,” he said.

On that topic, I've also found that Twitter is a great way to test out premises before taking 'em to the stage. But I also think there's a danger in the overly clever, mix-and-match style encouraged by the 140-character limit.

As I've argued before, being clever often feels like the opposite of being soulful. Since I'm Times-ing out already, this article on people who write taglines for movie and TV posters offers a good story about cleverness vs. truth.

I asked them, of all the lines they’ve written, which is their favorite.

“Little Miss Sunshine,” David said. “I wrote the line that ended up on the poster. It was, ‘A Family on the Verge of a Breakdown.’ I didn’t know they were going to have the van on there, for the double meaning, I had written that line and it ended up being a nice part of the poster, it was very sweet and it had a good feel to it.”

Richard’s favorite was one he worked on with David for an ESPN documentary called “The Streak.” It was about a wrestling team that had never lost a match; it had “the longest running winning streak in the history of high school sports.” But “the tension was so unbelievable. If they lost they would be disgracing their grandparents. So my line was, ‘The more you win the more you have to lose.’”

I asked why that was his favorite.

“Because it’s NOT clever.”

David and I both tell him well, yes, it is clever.

“No, it’s truth! It’s true.”

“So truth trumps cleverness?”


Related: "The evolution from clever to truth teller" and "Misdirection" from here at Sandpaper Suit.

Wool Soup

Lineup for Hot Soup this Sunday (Nov 6):

Glenn Wool
Sean Patton
Anthony Devito
Danny Solomon
Ross Hyzer
Matt Ruby

Andy Haynes is hosting.

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Every Sunday. Doors at 8:45pm, showtime at 9pm. $5 tickets.
Make reservations now

My other upcoming shows (calendar):
11/8 - 8pm - Savage Practice @ The Creek
11/9 - 7pm - Boston Comedy Festival @ Davis Square Theater (Boston)
11/10 - 7pm - What's Your Story? @ Luca Lounge
11/11 - 7pm - Beauty Bar
11/11 - 9pm - Spit Take @ Fort Useless
11/12 - 8pm - The Cove
11/15 - 8pm - Amazeballs @ Parkside Lounge
11/18 - 7pm - Eastville Comedy Club


[VIDEO] Made With Love: Seared Scallops (Episode 2)

In episode 2 of the Made With Love series, Gideon and Vanessa Schwartz prepare scallops and reveal too much about their personal lives.

If you missed, here's the first episode. CNN called it "a fictional cooking show where the couple's relationship is crumbling just like the cookies." It was also featured at Huffington Post, NY Magazine, and TruTV.


You get good at farming and then they want you to cook

An Afternoon with Neal Brennan has some cool illustrations and good talk on standup and writing for TV.

Everyone wants to know why you don't do a TV show. It's 'cause they're hard, and I'm not curious as to whether I can do it or not. I know I can do it. It comes down to the specifics of who and when and what and where. I did it. I'm not curious. I don't even want my own sitcom. I see my friends that are comedians going in. It's like people who are single and like, 'Oh, I guess I've got to get married.' No! You don't have to get married. If you're a comedian, you don't have to be...Hedberg used to do that joke about, "You're a farmer, you wanna cook?" No! I like farming. That's how I feel about stand-up. I got into it late. I feel like I have some ability at it and I think it's a wildly noble profession. Not because it can be hard and it's grueling. It's noble because if you're doing it right, you can affect change a little bit. Or you can certainly affect the way people think. You can do it in a way that has long-lasting effects. The people that have affected my thinking the most in my life are f*cking Hicks, Chappelle, Rock, y'know, Carlin. These guys really affected the way I think.

He also talks more about smiling onstage...

I figured out another way to smile onstage. Look at the audience laughing. If you look at the audience laughing, you will laugh. [...] The face has mirror neurons. Whatever you see in someone else, your face will subtly do. Laughter is really contagious, as corny as that sounds. It's worth doing.

...discussed here previously.

Here's the Hedberg bit he refers to:

Might be the most inside baseball joke about the comedy industry to ever air on a CC special. Mitch could really get away with anything.

Speaking of that, I dug Gary Gulman's line at his recent We're All Friends Here appearance when I called a discussion we were having "inside baseball." His response: "The term 'inside baseball' is inside baseball."

Schtick or Treat is Tuesday night

Tuesday, Nov 1
10pm showtime (9:30pm doors)
The Bowery Poetry Club
Tickets: $8
308 Bowery (Between Houston and Bleecker)
F train to 2nd Ave, 6 to Bleecker
For advance reservations, email schtickortreat@gmail.com
Facebook event

More details/lineup.


Conan-flavored Hot Soup

Lineup for Hot Soup this Sunday (Oct 30):

Jesse Popp (Comedy Central, Conan)
Josh Comers (Conan)
Brian Kiley (Conan)
Colin Jost (Saturday Night Live)
Emily Heller (San Francisco)
Zach Broussard (New Orleans)
Mark Normand (Last Comic Standing)

I'm hosting.

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Every Sunday. Doors at 8:30pm, showtime at 9pm. $5 tickets.
Make reservations now


Woody Allen describes his writing process and how he wrote 50 jokes a day...while on the subway

Slate offers up "the most interesting articles about and by Woody Allen."

In Woody Allen, The Art of Humor No. 1, the interviewer asks him about his process. He talks about how he used to write fifty jokes a day while riding the subway.

When I was sixteen years old I got my first job. It was as a comedy writer for an advertising agency in New York. I would come into this advertising agency every single day after school and I would write jokes for them. They would attribute these jokes to their clients and put them in the newspaper columns. I would get on the subway—the train quite crowded—and, straphanging, I’d take out a pencil and by the time I’d gotten out I’d have written forty or fifty jokes . . . fifty jokes a day for years. People would say to me, I don’t believe it—fifty jokes a day and writing them on the train. Believe me, it was no big deal. Whereas I’ll look at someone who can compose a piece of music—I don’t know how they ever begin or end or what! But because I could always write, it was nothing.

He also talks about the tenuous relationship between how long you work on something and how funny it is:

I’ve written on legal pads, hotel stationery, anything I can get my hands on. I have no finickiness about anything like that. I write in hotel rooms, in my house, with other people around, on matchbooks. I have no problems with it—to the meager limits that I can do it. There have been stories where I’ve just sat down at the typewriter and typed straight through beginning to end. There are some New Yorker pieces I’ve written out in forty minutes time. And there are other things I’ve just struggled and agonized over for weeks and weeks. It’s very haphazard. Take two movies—one movie that was not critically successful was A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. I wrote that thing in no time. It just came out in six days—everything in perfect shape. I did it, and it was not well received. Whereas Annie Hall was just endless—totally changing things. There was as much material on the cutting-room floor as there was in the picture—I went back five times to reshoot. And it was well received. On the other hand, the exact opposite has happened to me where I’ve done things that just flowed easily and were very well received. And things I agonized over were not. I’ve found no correlation at all. But, if you can do it, it’s not really very hard . . . nor is it as tremendous an achievement as one who can’t do it thinks.

What I've noticed: The longer I work on something, the more fussed over it seems. And a lot of times, that's the opposite of funny.

It always amuses me when I show up somewhere with a bunch of new material that I worked on for a while but the only thing that winds up worth keeping comes from a riff on something that happened in the room. Happens all the time too.


The 4th Annual SCHTICK OR TREAT on November 1

Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand
2011 ECNY nominee for Best Comedy Event
Halloween comedy tribute show featuring 30+ of NYC's top comedians performing as their favorite comedy legends

Tuesday, Nov 1
10pm showtime (9:30pm doors)
The Bowery Poetry Club
Tickets: $8
308 Bowery (Between Houston and Bleecker)
F train to 2nd Ave, 6 to Bleecker
For advance reservations, email schtickortreat@gmail.com
Facebook event

The concept: Bands often perform special "tribute" sets on Halloween and do a show as some bigger, more famous band. It's fun and crowds dig it. This is like that, but with comedy. It's a quick turnover show where each comic gets up to three minutes to do a set as a famous comic and then it's on to the next performer. It's always a TON of fun. This year's edition will feature FAKE versions of:

Anthony Jeselnik
Aziz Ansari
Bobcat Goldthwait
Colin Quinn
David Cross
Sam Kinison
Jerry Seinfeld
Judah Friedlander
Larry David
Marc Maron
Maria Bamford
Paul F. Tompkins
Richard Lewis
Rodney Dangerfield
Susie Essman
Todd Barry
Whitney Cummings
Zach Galifianakis
...and more!

Mindy Tucker's photos from last year's Schtick or Treat.

Videos from previous editions of the show:


Thinking like a comic: Fran Lebowitz, Steve Albini, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, etc.

Loved the Fran Lebowitz documentary that Scorcese did. Watching it, I kept thinking that she has the mind of a standup. For example, her thoughts on the gay rights movement:

Who are now the squarest people on earth? Who are the only ones left who want to get married and join the military? Homosexuals.

After I heard that, I thought, "How has that never been a standup premise before?" So ripe for the stage. And her thoughts on race also sound like they could be the premise for a great (Chris Rock?) bit:

The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, "What would it be like to be black?" but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That's something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, "We have to level the playing field," but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word "advantage" at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.

It is now common -- and I use the word "common" in its every sense -- to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, "Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?" the answer is invariably "Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you've got to perform, you're on your own." This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That's how advantageous it is to be white. It's as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.

Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at -- or actually in -- their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don't have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like -- other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That's the advantage of being white. And that's the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.

Speaking of an "everybody else has got it wrong" attitude, someone sent me this Steve Albini interview for Gothamist. It's got a great rant on NYC "artists":

New York is such a monolith that it’s pointless to have an opinion about it. It’s like bitching about the weather. It certainly won’t accomplish anything and it certainly won’t make you feel better about what you didn’t like. New York has a couple of characteristics that are undeniable and one of those is that it’s a magnet for assholes who couldn’t get any attention at home and decided that the problem wasn’t that they weren’t interesting but that there were all these squares around them in Dubuque or whatever and they need to go to some big cosmopolitan city like New York where people will appreciate them. So if you can imagine that scenario playing out within every city in North America and every one of those assholes with an opinion slightly outreaching his ability getting on a fucking Greyhound. You end up with a pretty good description of what’s annoying about New York is that it’s full of people whose self-image just ever-so-slightly outstrips their ability.

I studied painting under in college under Ed Paschke, who is dead now, he was a brilliant, brilliant educator...He described it as the “catch-all of runners up.” And I think that’s probably what annoys me about New York when I’m annoyed by it. Whatever they’re doing at the moment, that’s not really them, in their minds. Like, I’m working in this bookstore but I’m not a bookstore clerk, I’m a writer. Or like, I’m working in the restaurant but I’m not a waiter, I’m an actor. There are all these people who are not the thing that they are doing at the moment and therefore feel demeaned by every second of their existence. And the chip on New York’s shoulder is the thing that keeps everything on the ground there. It’s the massive weight that causes all of the gravity that happens in New York.

Ouch. Btw, Albini's The Problem With Music (from the early 90s) is a classic among bands and music biz types. Though it's a bit dated now, I'd still recommend it for anyone who works (or wants to work) in the entertainment biz.

And speaking of being inspired by non-comedians, some famous authors who have stellar Twitter feeds: Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and HL Mencken. Neat to see how timeless their stuff is.


Think Tank on NYC Busking

One of the latest videos we've made for MSN's Postbox NYC site.

<a href='http://postbox.msn.com/?submissionid=19959&categoryid=8&cityonwall=all&q=all-All+Topics&videoId=38708cca-323a-4f36-8f18-5bed10e3e0bd' target='_new' title='LAUGH AT: NYC BUSKING' >Video: LAUGH AT: NYC BUSKING</a>


Hot Soup with Sean Patton and Dan Soder

Lineup for Hot Soup this Sunday (Oct 23):

Sean Patton (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
Dan Soder (Just For Laughs)
Neal Brennan (Lopez, Chappelle Show)
Barry Rothbart (Tonight Show)
Kate Berlant (Crime & Punishment)

Hosted by David Cope

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Sundays at 9pm - $5
Make reservations now


Winston Churchill: One hour of prep for one minute of talking

Winston Churchill's grandson in this documentary:

According to his private secretary, Winston Churchill would invest one hour of preparation for every minute of delivery. And so for a major set piece speech in the House of Commons, running to 45 or 50 minutes, we are talking of 45 or 50 hours of preparation. While fighting Hitler at the same time.

It's interesting to see how much prep time Churchill would put into his speeches. While comedians ain't giving speeches about fighting a war, that ratio of prep time to finished product is prob worth keeping in mind.

The finished product is just the tip of the material iceberg. Way more gets buried under the surface.

I think about this sorta thing in terms of a 1/2 hour standup special (or headliner set). It's not about getting to 30 minutes worth of material. It's about getting way more — 300 minutes worth of material? — and then picking out the best (or most appropriate/thematic) half-hour of stuff from that.


Subwaydenfreude, Groupon, Sag Harbor, etc.

Some things I posted recently at twitter.com/mattruby:

If you have a "favorite vodka," you really just have a "favorite ad agency."

Subwaydenfreude - the joy felt when you descend subway stairs, see a bunch of annoyed people waiting, and realize a train will arrive soon

Groupon really brings out the Jew in me. $30 for a Brazilian Wax? I'm considering it! [Heads off to Google "sugaring techniques."]

There aren't a lot of celebrity sightings on the Staten Island Ferry.

I really think Hank Williams, Jr. needs to apologize for what he's done. Then again, I've felt that way about Hank Williams, Jr. for years.

Is Sasha Fierce pregnant too? If so, I bet she is doing it with ATTITUDE.

Fun thing about getting a foot cramp during sex: For a split second, it just seems like I am REALLY into it.

Based on the way girls comment on each other's photos at Facebook, I now think the word gorgeous means "slightly better than usual."

Going to the airport is especially painful for me since my ex-girlfriend's name is Boingo Hotspot.

I used to believe in punk rock. Three chords and the truth! These days, I'm happy with two chords and some white lies.

Gal I know said she never wanted to have kids. Then she turned 30 and met a guy who built shelves in her garage.

That town called Sag Harbor? I like to imagine it's actually SAG Harbor, a lagoon filled with unemployed actors auditioning for each other.

It's odd that guys who are totally broke are the ones most likely to have chains on their wallets.

Music vs. comedy: Every girl's dream is to have a song written about her. But every girl's nightmare is to have a joke written about her.

I think the weirdest thing about the 80s is that people thought saxophone solos were cool.

They say comedy is like jazz. So be sure to listen to the jokes I'm NOT telling.


What a Just For Laughs booker looks for in a standup

The Comedy Nerds interview Steve Heisler, writer for the AV Club and one of the people who helps decide who gets into the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. What is JFL looking for? Heisler's answer (starts around 27:00 in):

I can tell when people are really excited about their material and they've tried it out a lot and they've road tested it and it's very unique to them. And I kinda like people that are wildcards in a way, where they have a very unique energy or they have a very unique sensibility that they completely go for. Nick Turner is really goofy and he just goes for it. He doesn't have like a goofy joke and then a joke about, "So I'm dating this girl..." He just totally goes for it.

Heisler on what he thinks comedy does best:

I think of it as a matter of art and artists. The best art we see is where the artists are talking about some real raw truth and they're trying to explain that thing to as many people as possible and there's a vulnerability that goes into that. And there's a lot of setup to be disappointed. And in order to get to that place you have to be very clear about what it is that you're saying. And there's a part of you that needs to be ok with the fact that people might hate it. But as long as you expressed it, it's ok.

Another episode of TCN features Nick Turner on Being A New Face At Montreal.


Priming the pump

Heard this story from a club manager while on the road: Road dog comic comes into town. Club gives comics two free drinks but that's it. Before the comic goes onstage, he pulls aside a waitress and tells her to wait until he's 20 minutes into his set and then to bring up a shot to the stage and tell him it's from a customer in the back. She does it. Comic makes a big deal out of it, does the shot, and raves about the customer from the stage and how great he is. The set continues and, as it goes along, eight other audience members wind up buying the guy a shot (his intention all along). And that's how you manage to drink for free when you're a road comic/alcoholic.


Hot Soup with Nikki Glaser

Lineup for Hot Soup this Sunday (Oct 16):

Nikki Glaser
Kevin Barnett
Gary Vider
Mark Normand
Special guest

I'm hosting.

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Sundays at 9pm - $5
Make reservations now


Video: On The Street with Mark Normand - Occupy Wall Street

Mark Normand goes down to Occupy Wall Street and asks the protesters about drugs, body odor, Jews, sex, movies, and more. I shot/edited it.

In case you missed, there was also this On The Street video we made discussing gay marriage.

Re: the Wall Street protesters, we just went out there to get some laughs. But I think it's worth giving some context too. Yes, there were some funny freaks there. But most of the protesters we met totally had their shit together and gave intelligent, compelling reasons for why they were there. If you think it's just a bunch of drum circling hippies, I recommend stopping by for yourself.

For a more serious take on the proceedings there, check out this video that Ted Alexandro and Jim Tews put together. And I also recommend this Real Time clip of Alan Grayson's smackdown of P.J. O'Rourke (who judging by his last couple of Real Time appearances has totally lost his marbles).

Speaking of Real Time, a couple of written pieces on the protests by frequent guests there are worth a read: Andrew Sullivan, a conservative, wrote "Why Occupy Wall Street Is Here To Stay." (Excerpt: "This is not socialism. It's pointing out how capitalism, unchecked by government, can kill itself.") And Matt Taibbi offers up "My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters." (Excerpt: "The primary challenge of opposing the 50-headed hydra of Wall Street corruption, which is that it's extremely difficult to explain the crimes of the modern financial elite in a simple visual. The essence of this particular sort of oligarchic power is its complexity and day-to-day invisibility.")

Unsurprisingly, neither of them discuss Jews or body odor.


Ted Alexandro on letting jokes breathe

Michael Stahl interviews Ted Alexandro. Ted on why he allows jokes to “breathe”:

I was probably more of a “joke writer” in the early going, shorter jokes, less stories, but I was always pretty comfortable with silence. I learned a lot from working with Louis CK that being interesting, being intriguing, and engaging the listener is as important as being funny. At this stage, after almost twenty years, I know how to be funny. So, now it’s more about figuring out what I want to say and how I want to say it. Can I show more humanity? More colors? To me, doing what I do is more interesting than just joke, joke, joke. You always go with what you’re drawn to. And now I’m more drawn to being human, being interesting, still being funny, of course, that’s the job, but I like engaging with people and letting them see me think and then it becomes more like a conversation. There are pauses in conversation, there are people searching for the right words, so, yeah, I try to be more organic with my presentation.

Something else about the patience Ted (or Todd Barry) shows onstage: It makes them stand out from other comics.

Also, Ted's advice to new comics:

You’re not getting into a business, you’re getting into a lifestyle. That’s my approach. Others might differ in their opinion, but in the first five years it’s not going to be much of a business anyway because you’re not going to be making any money. [Laughs] It’s going to be a failing business that will put you in a hole. It has to be something that you have to do, you don’t have any choice, you know? It has to be “in you.” Then do it, keep doing it and put yourself into the mindset that it’s a job. Go to the work environment. Go to comedy clubs, even if you’re not performing. I was just at one last night after a set; I just stopped in with a friend to see a show at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre. Here we are, fifteen or twenty years in, and we’re just going to watch a show. Go to the workplace; you’re going to learn something, develop relationships. I didn’t realize this initially, but the people you build relationships with early on may very well last your whole career. You have a special kinship with the guys you started with, that you were in the trenches with, that you were doing these shitty open mics with. So start that journey and the rest of it will work itself out, the money will work itself out. Where you land, whether you become an actor or writer, you do videos, you do songs, or whatever you do, all of that is going to work itself out through the relationships you make. It’s all very mystical. How does it all come together? Who knows? But you have to be present, put the work in, the time in, and, essentially, try not to think too far ahead.

"You have a special kinship with the guys you started with." Reminded me of an interview I heard with Jim Gaffigan where he was discussing Greg Giraldo. In my mind, those guys seem like such opposite people. But from Jim's stories, you could sense just how tight they were due to coming up in NYC together. It's akin to soldiers: The people you're in the trenches with are the only ones who truly know what it's like.


Video of me leaving the stage to stop two audience members from fighting

So the other week at Kabin was one of those nights. I'm five minutes into my set and it's going well for the most part. But this couple in front row won't stop talking to each other. They're two feet away from me. I give 'em a nice warning to keep it down but they go right back to yapping. It wasn't THAT loud but when it's right in front of you, it's tough to ignore. So I abandoned my set and started talking to them about it.

The gal was the one who wouldn't stop talking and I remember telling her that she doesn't always have to be the center of attention. She told me I wasn't funny. I asked the crowd if they thought I was doing alright. Lots of applause. I asked her how it felt to have a roomful of people disagree with her. She kept giving me attitude.

In the past, I would have gotten meaner. But lately I've been trying to deal with stuff like this with amusement rather than anger. (Inspired in part by advice from PFT and CK on dealing with loud audience members.)

So I pivoted into talking about how I really felt at that moment. I talked about what it's like to do standup. I explained to her that it's hard. That it's like trying to hypnotize a roomful of people. And that her constant talking was making that really hard. I asked her to imagine trying to hypnotize someone while someone two feet away kept yelling, "I don't think she's a good hypnotist."

But she wasn't having it. And then someone else in the crowd started yelling at her. And then this happened...

OK, maybe that last line wasn't so Ghandi-ish. But when faced with the Panthera Latina, you get El Tigre Ruby.

(FYI, here are more videos of me dealing with unruly crowd members.)


Steve Jobs, death as "life's change agent," and LSD

The two greatest runs I've witnessed in my life: Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs. I always loved how Jobs brought the soul of an artist to an arena that usually splits up "creatives" from "businessmen." He showed that it was possible to be both. I admired his showman style too. He was a real performer at those product introduction things.

Worth a look: He went deep in this 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech.

Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new...Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Oh, and one more thing: Jobs once said taking LSD was “one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.” Neat to see someone like that open up about his use of psychedelics and the positive influence they can have.


Big Hot Soup and We're All Friends Here shows this weekend

Sunday: Hot Soup
Hot Soup this Sunday (Oct 9) has a great lineup:
Reggie Watts (Conan)
Rich Fulcher (British comedy series The Mighty Boosh)
Sean Patton (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
Hari Kondabolu (Comedy Central)
Nick Turner (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
Lisa Delarios (Comedy Central)

Mark's hosting and I'm doing a spot.

155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Sundays at 9pm - $5
Make reservations now

Saturday: We're All Friends Here
The comedy chat show with boundary issues is back again on Saturday (Oct 8). The lineup (with commentary from Mark):
Andy Sandford (Don't Let him near a Baby)
Amber Nelson (Might Live in the Woods)
Jessimae Peluso (Breaking Bad is based on her)

Saturday, Oct 8 - 8:00pm
The Creek and The Cave (directions)
10-93 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY
Just one stop from Manhattan and Brooklyn

You can listen to the previous episodes of the show at BreakThru Radio.

More shows
Other upcoming shows I'm doing:
Thu 10/6 - 8:30pm - Comedy Dungeon @ Jazz on the Park
Fri 10/7 - 8pm - We Settled @ Karma
Tue 10/11 - 8pm - Gene Hackman (Guest Tweeter) @ UCB East
Wed 10/12 - 8pm - Our Amazing Show @ Holiday Cocktail Lounge
Thu 10/13 - 9pm - Comedy Castle @ Castle Braid


How to get a job writing for Conan (and Demetri Martin's 2001 submission packet)

"What goes into a comedy writing packet" (along with this followup post about writing on Norm MacDonald's sports show) were really popular posts here and still get tons of traffic. My deduction: A lot of people are curious about the world of packets but there are hardly any resources about 'em online. Perhaps someone ought to tackle that?

One person who read the packet post passed along Demetri Martin's 2001 Writing Submission for “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” (PDF).

It's overflowing with funny ideas and he does a great job at matching the tone/voice of the show. Martin wound up as a sketch writer for the show and, in 2004, wrote this series for Slate on what that was like.

On the monologue side of things: Josh Comers, now a writer for Conan, started out writing monologue-ish jokes at his blog Jokes That Won't Matter Tomorrow. Josh hasn't updated it for a while but it's still worth a look if you're interested in getting into that area.

And over at The AV Club, John Mulaney discusses the difference between writing for the SNL audience and his standup audience.

In terms of stand-up, I still want things to be clear to the audience. I’m more comfortable with things in stand-up, because I get to take the responsibility for them, and the audience knows who it’s coming from, vs. you’re putting it in a sketch with actors. Sometimes your point of view comes across best when you’re saying it, vs. injecting your point of view into a scene where maybe that’s not what the audience likes. So yeah, you can be more direct. You get to do a lot more in sketch comedy, which is awesome. You can be silly, you can be clever, things can be more absurdist. Those things can be in stand-up as well. If you’re a conversational comic, like I think I am, you also have to sell it to an audience rather than just talking about it. Like, having a point.

There’s this comic named Ross Bennett who I knew from the Comedy Cellar. I was doing this club called the Stress Factory in New Jersey, and I had bombed terribly. Ross was there, and he said, “You’re very funny.” I said, “Thank you.” But he said, “These people have no time for your cleverness. You need to get to the point.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that. You will really capture someone’s attention if you’re saying something that they find interesting, or agree with. Or they at least understand what you’re saying, and what your point is. You can be clever with puns and do whatever the fuck you want, but to have a point that at least you believe in, that’s a strong thing. That’s the backbone of stand-up.


Paraprosdokian - a fancy word for misdirection

Mitch Hedberg's Wikipedia page says, "His material depended heavily upon word play, non sequiturs, paraprosdokians and object observations."

Paraprosdokian? Doesn't he own a diner in Astoria? Actually, turns out a paraprosdokian is defined as "a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax."

Examples mentioned at Wikipedia:

"If I am reading this graph correctly — I'd be very surprised." —Stephen Colbert

"You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they have tried everything else." —Winston Churchill

"If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised." —Dorothy Parker

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." —Groucho Marx

More on paraprosdokians.


Stanhope on cursing

In this interview, Doug Stanhope talks about his cursing onstage:

“That’s just how I talk,” he explains. “A Mexican accent isn’t necessary either, but if you have one, you’ll look fake and stupid trying to hide it. And there’s nothing more embarrassing than someone who doesn’t use profanity, trying to jam it into their set like that will help them. Just as awkward.”

I like the accent/cursing comparison. Either way is ok as long as it's legit and you don't come off sounding like a phony. When a British person sounds British, it's fine. When Madonna sounds British, it's like, "Wait a minute, aren't you from Michigan?"


Think Tank: NYC taxis and colleges

Mark and I keep giving our take on various NYC subjects every week at MSN's Postbox site for New York. Two of the latest videos below.

<a href='http://postbox.msn.com/?cityonwall=New+York&categoryid=8&q=New+York-All+Topics&videoId=f9b0f63e-4136-42b3-bcef-0d711e2e6f17' target='_new' title='LAUGH AT: NYC TAXIS' >Video: LAUGH AT: NYC TAXIS</a>

<a href='http://postbox.msn.com/?cityonwall=New+York&categoryid=8&q=New+York-All+Topics&videoId=585315b9-6ca3-4511-bec5-ca178b6af3c5' target='_new' title='LAUGH AT: NYC COLLEGES' >Video: LAUGH AT: NYC COLLEGES</a>


Nick Vatterott on tapping into the stream

Slava Yaryshkin interviews Nick Vatterott and asks him, "Do you have a favorite topic to talk about on stage?"

My favorite topic to talk about on stage is whatever stream of conscious is happening. But sometimes, something hits you while you're on stage. Every day we have a thousand thoughts, and some of those thoughts we feel would be worth exploring on stage. And every once in awhile, we have one of those thoughts, WHILE we're on stage. And exploring those ideas in that moment, whatever the topic is, are my favorite to talk about.

I was at an outdoor show recently at a food festival. The type of show you roll your eyes at as a comic. Two in the afternoon, on the hottest day of the year. The whole point of the festival was for people to try foods they never had before, and I was supposed to perform in this comedy tent, for people to take a break from food. I asked everyone if they enjoyed all the unique foods, they all said 'YEAH!!!' What's been your favorite so far? And this very sweet old man in the front row, in complete honestly yelled, "Corn!"

And that killed me, that this guy had never had corn before. Every tent had funnel cakes, and pate, and sushimi, and this guy was blown away by the corn. And there is, for the next ten minutes I just get to riff about a guy who is blown away by corn, amazed by water, and was scared of the future technology of forks...those moments feel like you're just joking around with your buddies, as opposed to being on stage telling a joke that 'you're working on', or a joke that doesn't work because you can't recreate the moment when its circumstances occurred. And those spontaneous topics are my favorite.

A well crafted joke gets told over and over in front of lots of audiences. But a spontaneous one can only be shared by the people in that room at that time. I think that's a big part of why audiences respond so strongly to in-the-moment riffs.


The "mutual tolerance" of Charles Grodin and Johnny Carson

Charles Grodin and Johnny Carson doing the whole awkward tension interview thing decades before Between Two Ferns.


Free promo code to see me at Caroline's "Comics To Watch" show

I'll be performing at Caroline's on Tuesday's (9/27) Comics To Watch showcase. Call up the box office (212.757.4100) and mention promo code "CTW" and you will receive complimentary admission. (2 drink minimum still applies though.) More about the show:



COMEDY CENTRAL, the preeminent brand in comedy, is teaming up with the New York Comedy Festival, to produce ‘Comics To Watch,’ a live show featuring the best up-and-coming young comedians from across the country. The comedians, selected by the all-comedy network and the festival organizers, will be chosen for their unique strengths including writing, delivery to stage persona. The showcase will take place at the famed comedy venue Carolines on Broadway during the 2011 New York Comedy Festival, which runs November 9 – 13.

I've also got shows in Seattle and Victoria, BC next week in case you're a PacNWer. Full show calendar here.

And though I won't be doing a spot at it, there's a great lineup at Hot Soup on Sunday at UCB East with James Adomian, Nick Vatterott, and Michael Che (Facebook event).


Comedians' affinity for shockingly toxic ideas

Just Like That but Funny by Conan writer Todd Levin.

If there were a late-night comedy show completely run by comedy writers, without any interference from a host, producer, or network, that show would probably be called The Darkest and Most Impossibly Horrible Things You Can Imagine, Presented as Comedy. Every sketch would end with a gunshot or an infant’s stroller engulfed in flames, and the show would be canceled halfway through its opening titles. That’s because most comedy writers are so inured by humor that only the most shockingly toxic ideas can achieve the proper velocity to penetrate their indifference.

It's why using mics (or comics in the back of the room) as an arbiter of whether something is funny can be dangerous. What's funny to us ain't always the way the rest of the world sees it.


Human iPhone (silent movie starring Nick Vatterott, Matt Ruby, and Alice Wetterlund)

A Sandpaper Suit production — A hobo breaks an iPhone and has to make up for it. Starring Nick Vatterott, Alice Wetterlund, and yours truly. Written and directed by me. Shot and edited by Lars Rasmussen. Music by Kevin MacLeod.


Carlin on NYC vs. LA

I lived in Chicago before moving to NYC. When people ask me about how the two cities compare, I tell 'em it depends if you prefer boring nice people or interesting assholes.

So I said that onstage the other night and afterwards someone mentioned to me George Carlin's comparison of NYC and LA (from Brain Droppings):

The problem most New Yorkers have with Los Angeles is that it is fragmented and lacks a vital center. The people have no common experience. Instead, they exude a kind of bemused detachment that renders them intensely uninteresting. the West Coast experience is soft and peripheral, New York is hard and concentrated. California is a small woman saying, "Fuck me." New York is a large man saying, "Fuck you!"...

Most outsiders can't handle New York, so they wind up back in Big Loins, Arkansas, badmouthing The City for the rest of their lives. Actually, most of the people who run New York down have never been there. And if they ever went, we would destroy them in nine minutes. People hate New York, because that's where the action is, and they know it's passing them by. Most of the decisions that control people's lives are made in New York City. Not in Washington, not on Pennsylvania Avenue. In New York City! Madison Avenue and Wall Street. People can't handle that. Pisses 'em off. Fuck 'em!...

Concerning L.A. versus New York: I have now lived half my life in each of America's two most hated, feared, and envied cities, and you want to know something? There's no comparison. New York even has a better class of assholes. Even the lames in New York have a certain appealing, dangerous quality.

So why did Carlin live in LA? "Because the sun goes down a block from my house," he wrote.


John Mulaney on his career path

Mulaney talks about working at SNL, writing for Demetri Martin's show, working with Nick Kroll, etc. [via MN]


Larry David on why he started doing standup

From Larry David's WGA Awards acceptance speech:

One night I went to The Improv and saw a bunch of comedians and I thought, "Jesus these people seem just like me." They're complete losers who get up and do nothing but talk about how miserable they are. Are you kidding? I can do that.

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