Pat Dixon on walking the line

Great (audio) interview: Portrait Of A Comedian with Pat Dixon. Here he talks about being provocative and the line he walks.

I thought people wanted to hear outrageous things. My intention wasn't to provoke. It was to get laughs. To me, what's funny is something that's wildly inappropriate. There's kinda a parenthetical statement: "Wouldn't it be fucked up if someone said this?" And that is where I come from.

I got it from watching my dad make mistakes and say things he shouldn't be saying to strangers. And you see people and there's kinda like a hitch: Did he hear what he just said? Does he understand how that sounds?

And then too I had a guy throw a glass at me one time. And that sorta caused a reversal. It will begin to hurt your business. Clubs don't want to have people in who make people super angry.

Also, he talks about the duality of pain and anger and why it's important to be vulnerable onstage (something he admits he's not good at).

If you have two emotions at the same time, pain and anger. In fact, those two are kind of inseparable. Relate to the pain and it will improve your comedy. Not the anger. Because if you're relating to the anger, it's harder for people. It's a bolder thing.

Even if you are talking about the anger, the pain has to be there. That's where the vulnerability comes in. And that's what I've never been good at onstage. To be like "This hurts. This is me. This is what's wrong with me. This is what I did. This is what I brought to it." It's always just "Here's five things that I hate about these people." And that's a losing formula.

More Pat.


Hot Soup with Kurt Braunohler

The lineup for Friday (5/27) night's show:

Kurt Braunohler
Moody McCarthy
Jason Saenz
Nore Davis
Matt Ruby

David Cope is hosting.

Hot Soup!
Every Friday at 8pm
O'Hanlon's (back room)
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave. (map)
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope

You can also see me at these shows:
Fri May 27 - 9:00pm - Village Lantern
Tue May 31 - 8:30pm - Swick and Easy Comedy Show @ Sunswick (Astoria)
Wed Jun 1 - 9:00pm - And Then What Happened? @ Under St. Marks Theater
Sat Jun 4 - 8:00pm - We're All Friends Here @ The Creek (LIC)
Sun Jun 5 - 8:00pm - Sunday Night Live @ Broadway Comedy Club
More shows


The Bill Clinton speech that Louis CK calls "one of the greatest things I ever saw"

A conversation with Louis CK [thx MV] at Esquire:

One of the greatest things I ever saw was [Bill Clinton] at Coretta Scott King's funeral. Jimmy Carter, George Bush Senior, Hillary — all these people making speeches, and then Bill Clinton goes on and he says, "Let's all remember that that is a woman lying right there." And he points at her.

It was audacious. "That is a woman who had her dreams and her pain and her passions," and I think he said "lust." He said really personal shit about her and you immediately heard the black people go, "Yes!"

He says, "There's her family — think about what they're going through today, and everything that's happened to them since their daddy got shot. The burden that must have been hers."

Holy shit. I hope to have any of that skill as a comic. He just found this short circuit. You try to have this nature the way water does — finds the lowest place and spreads the fuck out. That's what he did.

Here's the part of that speech he's referring to...

There's also a story he tells about going to a Knicks game with Chris Rock a few months ago:

Carmelo's first game. We went up to that fucking suite where all these people were eating — politicians and mobsters and ChloĆ« Sevigny. There's this spread of food, and I'm like, "Let's fucking eat." Chris goes, "Nah, let's get down to the floor." I'm like, "You're taking this shit for granted, Chris. There's roast beef and a guy with a hat serving it." I wanted it so bad. I was starving and he's like, "Who needs it?" And I'm like, "Are you kidding me? I'll probably never get here again."

So we go down, and I'm watching Carmelo, and I hear the song "Louie Louie" and I look up and I see my own face on the Jumbotron. And Chris says, "You know what, man, you've got your own show, and I'm on Broadway, and we're on the floor at Madison Square Garden. How fucking great is this?" And we high-fived and we just felt so good. Both of us, we're in our 40s — this shit could disappear instantly, never to return. And it will.

And one other interesting part: CK says that although Letterman is his favorite, he's been told he's "not okay there anymore" and no one will tell him why. He hasn't done the show in 15 years. Weird.


Listen to the 3rd anniversary We're All Friends Here show with Yannis Pappas, Jesse Popp, and Dan Soder

Listen to We're All Friends Here at BreakThru Radio. It's the third anniversary show with Yannis Pappas, Jesse Popp, and Dan Soder. It was pretty damn great.

00:00 Mark Normand and Matt Ruby Intro
01:02 Yannis Pappas
27:24 Mark Normand and Matt Ruby
28:44 Jesse Popp
42:15 Mark Normand and Matt Ruby
43:17 Dan Soder
78:12 Mark Normand and Matt Ruby
79:19 Finish

The next We're All Friends Here is Saturday, June 4. Details.

Previous episodes. Subscribe via iTunes or RSS feed.


The cheap way to do it

People usually think of funny/scary the same way. If it's funny, it's funny. If it's scary, it's scary. But Bridesmaids Director Paul Feig talks about how there's a cheap way to get laughs/screams or a "true" way in this A.V. Club interview:

Our editor is full of quotes. Bill Kerr. He has his whole theory called “the angry villagers.” Which is basically if the movie starts out and the jokes aren’t funny or they aren’t laughing, they become angry villagers and they want to burn the whole town down. And we’re always like, “Okay this is an ‘angry villagers’ moment” where, like, two jokes in a row didn’t work and now people are going to start losing trust in us. Because that’s all you have at the end of the day as a filmmaker, is the trust of your audience.

You think the same way when you go see a drama or a horror movie or something and the director is just letting stuff like jump out at you and scare the shit out of you in like, a cheap way, then you’re like, “Okay, I don’t trust this director anymore, so I don’t trust this movie because it’s just going do easy shit to make me jump.” Then you almost don’t want to deal with it anymore if that’s not the experience you went for, but there’s a way to scare people, truly, or just be the little kid who hides in the laundry and scares the shit out of mom. And that’s a cheap way to do it.

Seems like dick jokes, cursing, pop culture references, etc. are standup's version of the little kid in the laundry. You may get laughs with 'em, but it's not the valuable kind.


Louis CK tees off on heckler

The ol' 1) ask nicely → 2) take 'em down approach.

Loud talker. CK says, "When you talk, I hear it in my ear and it fucks up my timing and it makes my job hard. So could you not talk during my act please?"

Guy decides to go back at him. Big mistake. CK rips him. Crowd boos the guy. CK: "People that don't know you hate you. That can't feel very good."


Soupin' w/ Stuckey & Murray

The lineup for Friday (5/20) night's show:

Stuckey & Murray
George Gordon
Phil Hanley
Kate Lee
Andy Haynes

I am hosting.

Hot Soup!
Every Friday at 8pm
O'Hanlon's (back room)
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave. (map)
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope


The problem with “write what you know”

Comics aren't the only ones that talk about finding “your voice.” Below, an excerpt from author Rafael Yglesias' "There Are No Rules - Cliches for Aspiring Writers" (bold emphasis is mine).

The same caveat applies to the famous advice given to all neophyte writers, “Write what you know.” The implication is autobiography in some form: memoir, fiction in which you are the main character, stories about your family, your background, someone you know well. But the advice is too banal to be useful to a young writer without an obviously compelling story to tell.

What if you are unlucky enough not to have endured the Holocaust, witnessed Apartheid, or been sexually abused by your father? What if you feel that the world you know, although thoroughly unpleasant, is also very dull? Or has been written about so well by another that you have nothing to add?

“Write what you know.”

But what do you know? Is it compelling? I don’t mean to your readers. To you. You will keep company with your writing longer than anyone else. (Unless you’re Tolstoy and your wife copies all your manuscripts by hand seven times over.)

If your subject doesn’t involve emotions, ideas, truths and lies that delight, frighten, soothe and enrage you, how can you expect it to fascinate a stranger? Whether you want to entertain or to provoke, to break hearts or reassure them, what you bring to your writing must consist of your longings and disappointments...

Don’t write what you know.

Don’t write what you love to read.

Don’t write what publishers are looking for.

Don’t write what critics are hailing.

Don’t write what your creative writing teacher claims is the only form of literature that is still dynamic.

Write what horrifies you, write what charms you, write what repels you, write what you love, write, to be aphoristic, what you cannot stop yourself from writing.

Yes, you will have to find “your voice,” and yes, you will have to learn the craft of writing, which is endlessly demanding and so varied that you will probably never feel you are more than a clumsy student. And don’t limit yourself to study only the craft necessary to produce your particular kind of writing. Also learn how the writers you have contempt for do what they do; you may discover something useful for your work.

But all of those necessary skills are servants to your Lord and Master: write what you cannot stop yourself from thinking about, even if it disgusts everyone you know. Readers read to subsume their consciousness, for a profound but limited time, into another’s. Some want reassurance, some want challenge. Some want pleasant lies, some painful realities. You may be unlucky and be fated to have a small audience. That’s too bad. (By the way, it is the fate of almost every writer.)

Over time, if you work hard and write what obsesses you, there will be readers who will want to live in your peculiar universe, and precisely because what you have provided is rare they will be all the more grateful for your creation.

"Write what you cannot stop yourself from thinking about, even if it disgusts everyone you know." Tough to argue with. If it obsesses you, it shows. And vice versa too.

I've heard Howard Stern say something similar too. Something along the lines of: Whatever makes you feel most uncomfortable talking about is the thing you most need to be talking about. Because that's what people want to hear.

And btw, I looked up the definition of subsume: "to include or place within something larger or more comprehensive." So that's what an audience wants to do to your consciousness with theirs. Freaks.


Hot Soup with Kaplan & Vatterot

The lineup for Friday (5/13) night's show:

Myq Kaplan (The Tonight Show, Last Comic Standing finalist)
Nick Vatterot (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
Adrienne Iapalucci (Last Comic Standing)
Tim Dimond (Comcast Comedy Spotlight on Demand)
Cameron Esposito (from Chicago)
Beth Stelling (from Chicago)
Mark Normand

I am hosting.

Hot Soup!
Every Friday at 8pm
O'Hanlon's (back room)
349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave. (map)
Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope

You can also see me at these shows:
Thu May 12 - 9:00pm - Sugar Laughs Comedy @ Sugar Lounge (Brooklyn)
Sat May 14 - 8:00pm - The Royal Oak Comedy Show @ Royal Oak (Brooklyn)
Wed May 18 - 8:00pm - The Ministry of Secret Jokes (Philadelphia, PA)
More shows


You're the one making it weird

Did a show earlier this week that was less than ideal setup. First show at this venue and the audience was in one long wide row. 20 people or so just lined up horizontally down the bar, like a receiving line or something.

Needless to say, every comic went up and commented about the setup and how weird it was and how they felt uncomfortable, etc. Show was fine but it never got hot.

After, I had an interesting convo with a gal at the show. She's not a comedy savvy person, just someone who showed up to see a show. And to her, it was strange that every comic kept talking about how weird it was. Because to her, it didn't feel weird at all. She was enjoying it. So was the person next to her. She just didn't get why each comic would go up there and talk about it being a shitty setup. If it wasn't for that, she never would have known anything bad was going on.

That was an interesting reminder to me of how much you lead the audience when you're onstage. If you keep talking about how weird it is, it will be weird. You're basically doubling down on the unpleasantness. On the other hand, you can ignore it and just keep going as if it's a great show.

It's a balance. You don't want to seem tone deaf while ignoring a shitty situation. But then again, you're prob not helping much if you dwell on it over and over.


Little Bets and Chris Rock

Years ago, I got to watch Chris Rock work out new material and wrote about it here and here. Peter Sims, author of a book on leadership, stumbled on it and wrote about it at the Harvard Business School blog.

Sims called me up a few months later and interviewed me about how Rock and other comics work on new bits. The result: I'm mentioned in the intro to Sims' new book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. Here's what the book is about...

Based on deep and extensive research, Sims discovered that productive, creative thinkers and doers—from Ludwig van Beethoven to Thomas Edison and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos—practice a set of simple but often counterintuitive experimental methods—such as failing quickly to learn fast, trying imperfect ideas, and engaging in highly immersed observation—that free their minds, opening them up to making unexpected connections and perceiving invaluable insights. These methods also unshackle them from the constraints of conventional planning, analytical thinking, and linear problem solving that our educational system overemphasizes at the expense of creativity.

...and here's the part of the intro that talks about Rock and "fellow comedians" like Jerry Seinfeld and, ahem, me. (Insert crude comment of your choice here.)

Chris Rock has become one of the most popular comedians in the world and, while there is no doubt he has great talent, his brilliance also comes from his approach to developing his ideas. the routines he rolls out on his global tours are the output of what he has learned from thousands of little bets, nearly all of which fail.

When beginning to work on a new show, Rock picks venues where he can experiment with new material in very rough fashion. in gearing up for his latest global tour, he made between forty and fifty appearances at a small comedy club, called stress Factory, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, not far from where he lives. in front of audiences of, say, fifty people, he will show up unannounced, carrying a yellow legal note pad with ideas scribbled on it. “it’s like boxing training camp,” Rock told the Orange County Register.

When people in the audience spot him, they start whispering to one another. As the waitstaff and other comedians find places to stand at the sides or back, the room quickly fills with anticipation. He won’t launch into the familiar performance mode his fans describe as “the full preacher effect,” when he uses animated body language, pitchy and sassy vocal intonations, and erupting facial expressions. instead, he will talk with the audience in an informal, conversational style with his notepad on a stool beside him. He watches the audience intently, noticing heads nodding, shifting body language, or attentive pauses, all clues as to where good ideas might reside.

In sets that run around forty-five minutes, most of the jokes fall flat. His early performances can be painful to watch. Jokes will ramble, he’ll lose his train of thought and need to refer to his notes, and some audience members sit with their arms folded, noticeably unimpressed. the audience will laugh about his flops—laughing at him, not with him. Often Rock will pause and say, “This needs to be fleshed out more if it’s gonna make it,” before scribbling some notes. He may think he has come up with the best joke ever, but if it keeps missing with audiences, that becomes his reality. Other times, a joke he thought would be a dud will bring the house down. According to fellow comedian Matt Ruby, “There are five to ten lines during the night that are just ridiculously good. Like lightning bolts. My sense is that he starts with these bolts and then writes around them.”

For a full routine, Rock tries hundreds (if not thousands) of preliminary ideas, out of which only a handful will make the final cut. A successful joke often has six or seven parts. With that level of complexity, it’s understandable that even a comedian as successful as Chris Rock wouldn’t be able to know which joke elements and which combinations will work. This is true for every stand-up comedian, including the top performers we tend to perceive as creative geniuses, like Rock or Jerry Seinfeld. it’s also true for comedy writers. The writers for the humor publication the Onion, known for its hilarious headlines, propose roughly six hundred possibilities for eighteen headlines each week, a 3 percent success rate. “You can sit down and spend hours crafting some joke that you think is perfect, but a lot of the time, that’s just a waste of time,” Ruby explains. this may seem like an obvious problem, but it’s a mistake that rookie comedians make all the time.

By the time Rock reaches a big show — say an HBO special or an appearance on David Letterman — his jokes, opening, transitions, and closing have all been tested and retested rigorously. Developing an hour-long act takes even top comedians from six months to a year. If comedians are serious about success, they get on stage every night they can, especially when developing new material. they typically do so at least five nights per week, sometimes up to seven, and sweat over every element and word. And the cycle repeats, day in, day out.

Most people are surprised that someone who has reached Chris Rock’s level of success still puts himself out there in this way, willing to fail night after night, but Rock deeply understands that ingenious ideas almost never spring into people’s minds fully formed; they emerge through a rigorous experimental discovery process. As Matt Ruby says of Rock’s performances, “I’m not sure there’s any better comedy class than watching someone that good work on material at that stage. More than anything, you see how much hard work it is. He’s grinding out this material.”

Sims recently emailed me with the news that Little Bets had a very successful release week.

To quote Yogi Berra, “We were over-whelming underdogs,” but the book is currently in the top 200 of all books on Amazon (#1 for entrepreneurship on Kindle, #5 hard copy), and has received very good reviews and mentions including in The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and The Economist.

Here's the full introduction (PDF) to the book.


Sat night = 3rd Anniversary Show for We're All Friends Here

Whoa, it's been three years of talking about sex, drugs, bad parenting, and gunshot wounds. Good times. So let's celebrate with a big anniversary show. Like past ones, we're bringing back three of our fave guests for a return trip to the hot seat. This time we've got:

Yannis Pappas
Jesse Popp
Dan Soder

If you have liver problems, this is the show for you!

Saturday, May 7 - 8:00pm
The Creek and The Cave
10-93 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY
Facebook invite


Nick Griffin and the in-between

In the comments to "The bad of cursing and the good of being conversational," ECN rails against comedians who "just go up there and talk" and praises great comics who avoid sounding conversational. "This rambling trend is a plague upon real, crafted comedy," he writes.

I know where he's coming from. Because I know when I get too conversational, I can feel the air slowly escaping the room. And I hate when others just ramble and use words as if they're free. They're not. The audience pays for them with attention.

But it feels like this is painting with broad strokes. Like there's only two paths...

There's the joke guy. With all the one-liners and quick hit bits. He's good at being clever but there's often a lack of soulfulness and depth there. He gets a chuckle but no one (including him) really cares about what he's saying in any meaningful way.

And there's the personal, conversational, in-flow guy who is organic and brings you into his world with stories and longer bits. He'll sometimes favor narrative over punches because he's trying to tell a story or get across a point of view or be a more fully fleshed out personality onstage. (Or maybe he just can't write that many great punchlines since that's, y'know, hard.)

But isn't there middle ground here? The "in-between" comic with quick jokes who still manages to bring you inside their world. They're talking about their life and what matters to them and getting across who they are as a person — but doing it with tight, quick jokes.

I think Nick Griffin is a great example of this. Exquisitely well-edited jokes. Not a wasted word. But there's also a thread through 'em.

You watch his set and you feel you know him. He's not going into long stories about his divorce or drinking. But he's dropping enough breadcrumbs along the way that when you connect the dots, he seems like an actual, fleshed out human being talking about the things that obsess him. It's dark and sad and a real thing of beauty.


Southern discomfort

I've been drinking whiskey lately. Like a grownup, ya know? And I've noticed something interesting: Cheap whiskeys are named the exact opposite of the people who drink them.

There's Old Grand-Dad. But let's be honest. If you're drinking Old Grand-Dad, you're probably a young grand-dad. You're 32 and putting a diaper on lil' Garth III.

That guy passed out on the sidewalk outside Mars Bar at 3pm on a Tuesday? He spent the day drinking Kentucky Gentleman. Hey, nothing says gentleman like a top hat, monocle, and a puddle of urine!

Canadian Club? Not a very exclusive club. Mostly you just need to be an alcoholic.

Crown Royal? Odd that it's the whiskey of both royalty and homeless people.

Booker's? Drunk almost exclusively by illiterates.

Southern Comfort? Ideal for those who take comfort in vomiting.

Old Crow? Actually, that one's pretty spot on.

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