Upcoming shows: DC, Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Lucky Jack's

I'm outta town again but there's a great lineup at Hot Soup this week: Mike Lawrence, Meatsteak, Brooke Van Poppelen, and Jesse Popp. And it's Sachi's bday.

Here's where I'll be telling jokes in the near future...

June 29 - 6:00pm - Bloggers on Broadway @ Broadway Comedy Club
June 29 - 7:00pm - Our Amazing Show @ Holiday Cocktail Lounge
June 30 - 8:00pm - Topaz (DC)
July 6 - 9:00pm - Gandhi, is that You? @ Lucky Jack's
July 8 - 8:00pm - Hot Soup @ O'Hanlon's
July 10 - 6:30pm - Strawberry Hanukkah @ Coco 66


The Kaplan-Ruby Letters, Part One

This is Part One of a two-part email exchange between Myq Kaplan and myself. (Thanks to Gladwell-Simmons for the inspiration.)


I'll start with this: You've mentioned Stanhope is your favorite comic out there. This seems curious to me since you have such a different style than him. Why do you love him so much? Do you see your comedy evolving in a more Stanhope-ian (or other) direction in the future? Do you think consciously about big picture "what is my voice?" stuff like that or just take it one joke at a time?


Stanhope is indeed one of my favorites to watch and listen to. To start with, I have a difficult time saying he is number one above all others, because there are so many amazing folks out there that make it difficult to compare. Though that's the great thing about comedy, is that everyone who is great at it is great in their own way, from Stanhope to Paul F. Tompkins to Reggie Watts to Ellen DeGeneres to Steven Wright to Brian Regan to Louis CK to Sarah Silverman to Andy Kindler to Dave Chappelle to everyone else, etc. And it doesn't have to be a competition. Unless it's televised and there's prize money.

It is true that many of the comics I love do something different than I do, stylistically. But certainly, what I love about Stanhope is his content. As a human being, I care about a lot of the things that he talks about, topics like overpopulation and discrimination and the various ills facing the inhabitants of this planet (and maybe the universe if we someday screw up even bigger than ever). Additionally, the angles that he takes on these issues are usually different than 99% of the typical perspectives you hear argued out there. E.g. his take on whether there should or should not be gay marriage: there should be NO marriage, period. Things like that. A lot of people throw the word "genius" around where it might not belong, and who am I to not be like a lot of people? Great numbers of people think a like, right? Point is, he's a genius at what he does (and I'm a genius at genius-spotting). He's also super-prolific, which I love, and very hard on himself, which I don't think is necessary, but certainly serves to serve his being prolific, thus avoiding being complacent and constantly moving forward creatively. Or at least moving sideways, but at such a level that who cares which way he's moving, it's just wonderful to take in.

I don't think it would make sense to only enjoy people that are similar to yourself. If I only listened to Mitch Hedberg and Emo Philips and Demetri Martin and Brian Kiley and Steven Wright and other wonderful jokesmiths, I'd have a lovely time but would certainly be missing out on the wealth and range of comedy options out there. If you're only enjoying folks similar to yourself, then who would watch Reggie Watts?

That said, with respect to the question of my comedy vs. Stanhope's, I do also currently aim to address the woes of the world in my way. I don't do it exclusively, but I discuss social issues that I care about like homophobia, racism, sexism, animal cruelty, etc., amongst the logic play, the word tricks, the silliness, the jokes about comic books, movies, and whatever else I'm talking about at the moment.

I certainly imagine my comedy will continue to evolve, though I don't feel as though I need to be the architect of that evolution. Seinfeld said in "Comedian," I believe, something like (paraphrasing) "if you ask any comedian where he gets his joke ideas, and he can tell you, he's lying," that we all have our muses, our selves, our voices, our personas, that develop without necessary any conscious guidance. And that really makes sense to me. After all, would you ever say, "Steven Wright, I've enjoyed everything you've ever done, but could you tell us what's REALLY inside of you? What REALLY happened when you spilled spot remover on that dog?" I mean, he seems like a very interesting dude, but if he never evolves towards being a more confessional comic, I don't think it would be reasonable to slight him for it. He is a brilliant artist with the palette he has chosen, or that has chosen him, even.

And what about some of the great comics who HAVE undergone a drastic shift of style over the years? Paul F. Tompkins is one of my favorite, and I thoroughly enjoy both "Impersonal" AND the more personal stuff he's doing today. Same with Louis CK's absurdity of the past and his laser-like truth-gun of hilarity today. (For the record, I have a friend who prefers CK's absurdist past to his honest, everyman present, on the grounds that his previous absurdism was just as honest, because that was who he was, truly.)

This might be getting a bit far afield of your original question, so to get back to it—I imagine there are ways in which I'll never be like Stanhope, and there are ways in which I'll always be myself. Though the self is an ever-changing, ever-evolving being, and as my comedy today is certainly different than it was five years ago, I presume/hope/imagine that it will be somewhat different five/ten/fifteen years from now as well.

As to whether I have big picture goals and aspirations about my voice and the comedian I'll be, I think it makes sense to say that on a theoretical level, yes, but on a practical level, one joke/idea/riff/story/thought at a time is how it works. I read a quote about how analyzing oneself is like trying to bite one's own teeth, so while it can be a good philosophical exercise, ultimately the only thing you can do is do, or be (so, two things).

The only real conscious decision-making portion of it all might be figuring out which jokes go into a TV set, a special, a CD, a headlining set, etc. This is something that everyone faces eventually. When you start out and you only have 5 minutes of material, there is no question of which 5 minutes you share; you share everything. But eventually, choices need to be made. And on what grounds? Do the funniest stuff only? Or do stuff that goes together thematically? Stuff that says something about a particular topic that means something to you? Stuff that is more personal? Stuff that is just fun for you to do? Or stuff that audiences consistently love the most?

Ideally, it would be wonderful if all of those things were the same. But even for the best, it might not be that way. Louis CK has talked about throwing out chunks that kill because they don't fit in with everything else he wants to do. That's impressive and amazing to hear. Right now, I'm just working and writing and heading towards the next hour to record, at which point I may have to decide on how to whittle down more than an hour's worth of material that I'm happy with. Maybe I'll pick the stuff that's most meaningful even if it didn't get the most laughs (is that Stanhope-ian?), or maybe I'll pick the stuff that tickles me the most, even if it's not the most socially relevant (is that Stanhope-ian?). Or maybe some producer or editor will pick, even though they told me I would be involved in the process (that is definitely less Stanhope-ian, and I hope to evolve away from that as much as possible, for sure).


It's interesting. So many comics seem to be searching for their "voice" and yet the act of looking for it is seemingly a waste of time if it's something you can't really consciously decide upon. Like you say, the only thing you can do is be.

(Before I go further, let me acknowledge that while you're doing spots on the Tonight Show, etc., I'm still scraping by for gigs and doing mics. I don't want people to think I'm considering us on equal footing. Ok, caveat = taken care of.)

Lately I've been feeling that finding your voice is really more about eliminating things than finding them. Like you need to say: Yes, this is something I could talk about onstage and probably get a laugh from. But that is pulling me away from who I want to be and how I want the audience to see me. In that way, what you say no to feels like the key.

For a long time, I felt a sense of desperation to get laughs however possible. Only recently have I considered that maybe laughs aren't the most important thing...well, that's not right....more that there is a quality to laughs. You can get big laughs with a dick joke or mocking Sarah Palin but it is not equal to getting medium laughs with something that is actually personally revealing. The idea of taking emotional risks onstage, as I've heard Marc Maron describe it. That even if something doesn't get a huge laugh but it does show you out there being vulnerable and revealing yourself, it is worth more than something silly that does get an audience going. It's something they might actually think about a few days later after they've forgotten other stuff. And it's a way for them to remember you as a person instead of just a mask spouting off a collection of jokes.

Also, I've got a new bit I'm working on where I worked in a reverse way than I usually do. Usually I'm out there hunting for funny things and then testing it on an audience for confirmation laughs. But this new thing (about a family conversation I had) started with me going onstage and just telling a story. I felt engaged with the audience in a different way than usual. It wasn't funny that first time I did it, but I knew that it was something to stick with. (And people came up to me and told me so afterwards, which is rare for a bit that isn't really working yet.) So I've been doing it for the past few weeks and trying to force it into something funny. It's getting there but still needs some polishing, especially at the ending. But it's been interesting to start with a topic and then figure out what's funny about it instead of starting with something funny and then figuring out how to expand it.

Btw, back to the voice thing. Do you think you've found your voice? When I think about your comedy in this way, I wonder how much of "Myq Kaplan's voice" is the rhythm and style which you speak about things as opposed to the content of what you're saying. Do you ever think about this? That maybe you can talk about anything now because you've got a distinct delivery/tone and it will still sound like you. I feel like pace is more important to you than it is to a lot of comics. Like if you talked slowly (like, say, Todd Barry), you'd be an entirely different comic.

Also, I never saw you in your early years doing standup. When do you think you started getting good? Were there pivotal stages in your development that you look back on as "awakenings"? (By that, I mean were you in a coma and did Robin Williams help you get out of it.)

And while I'm piling on the questions: Do you think there are different "requirements" for a newer comic than an established one? Is it silly for a comic who is, say, four years in to try to do what Stanhope or CK is doing right now? Do you think you have to establish your short game (presumably with tighter, quicker jokes) before you can shoot for the moon with long game bits that really dive deep like Stanhope's "fuck the Jews" or CK's "everything's amazing, nobody's happy"?


One problem with a newer comic trying to do what someone great is doing is just that—trying isn't doing. I don't mean to get all Buddhist or Yoda up in here, but what I mean is, a lot of people starting out will see Pryor and then just swear a lot, or see Stanhope and then just talk about horrible things that they've done. And when they're not also bringing the poise, talent, and years of experience that those geniuses bring, it will very often just come off as crazy yelling or aggression with no point. And while some new folks may see Steven Wright and then just start out being weird by emulating him (which will require shedding from one's act to eventually find oneself, just as the Stanhope wannabe must), at least the Steven Wright wannabe won't immediately turn off or shut down the audience in a way that the misguided swears and horrible truths can (when not accompanied by craft/skill/humor).

And of course I'm not advocating censorship. Anyone starting out can say whatever they want. But saying certain things might lead towards the path of finding oneself more quickly than others, at least initially. And this isn't just about the practical notion that if you're always walking the room, you might have trouble getting bookings (which provide the stagetime necessary to gain the experience to stop doing the bad thing). There's a Patton Oswalt interview where he compares getting great at comedy to becoming a great chef, wherein the chefs start off just cooking rice until they can make the best rice, and that some aspiring comics want to skip the part where they learn how to cook rice.

I'm sure there are exceptions. I don't know what Chappelle was like when he started as a teenager, but he's a guy who seems like he might have been ready to go very early on. It's hard to imagine a Chappelle who doesn't just exude funny. But if you're a new comic, think about the odds that you might not be a one-in-a-million genius, at least not at the get-go, and do the work.

And one might ask who am I to make this assessment? Good question, because I am someone who started out writing one-liners because they're what came most naturally to me. What if they don't come most naturally to you? Well, look at amazing story-tellers like Mike Birbiglia, or raw truth-tellers like Marc Maron... And then look at them do a late-night set where they are also extremely capable short-form joke-tellers. They know rice, as well as great poignant stories about rice.

As far as my start in standup, and when I started "getting good"... This should all be taken with as many grains of salt as necessary, because I know there are folks 25 years in that think they just started getting good 23 years in. It's an ongoing process, and when Seinfeld and Chris Rock are 50 years in, they'll still be having insights about how good you get in your comedy 40s.

But comparing where I am now to 8-9 years ago... I think my writing was closer to where it is now than my performance was. I look back at tapes from my first few years and I'm horrified by the stiltedness of my delivery, the unnaturalness. And this isn't to say anything about how I feel about my performance now. I honestly don't think about it consciously that much all the time (other than the occasional consideration about speed), but the general advice to "just keep doing it and you'll get better" has been paying off, I think. And hopefully it will continue to do so.

As far as my writing goes, there are things that I wrote that were good years ago that I didn't even know were good until more recently, or that I couldn't MAKE good until more recently. And there were hundreds of things that weren't good. And today I'm still coming up with hundreds of things that will never see the light of day more than one or two times, until maybe 10 years from now when I look back and figure out how to make THESE things good. What I do think I've gotten better at is knowing how to prioritize, figuring out what jokes have the most potential more quickly, or what jokes I'm more interested in making have more potential. I also do a lot more writing/riffing on stage now than I ever did when I was starting out, and I'm not really sure when that started.

It was all a gradual process, with little milestones along the way. Getting to different rounds of different contests and festivals, having college friends that didn't think I was that funny when I started change their minds, having other comedians I respect respond positively to what I was doing more and more, just getting to work for certain bookers and venues in the Boston area, ... when the booker of the Comedy Connection saw me do well at the Boston Comedy Festival one year, and then a few months later booked me for my first weekend opening for a national headliner there, that was a moment where I saw the results of the gradual changes that had been slowly coming into being. That was probably around 2005 or 2006, 3 or 4 years in? Everything was happening gradually up until that point, and then after it, but that was when I noticed more people noticing and caring what I was doing, when previously it seemed like no one was noticing (but in fact people might have been noticing and not caring).

As I type that last part, I realize that might not have been what you were asking, because that was about external stuff rather than the internal stuff you might have been after... so here's the answer to that, I think... you never really know if what you're doing is any good. Or maybe not never. But let's start with never. You take a joke to an audience. You think it's a good idea. They don't. When you're starting out, you might give up. Now, if I still think it's a good idea, or if one out of ten audiences tells me it is, maybe I know better how to use what that one good audience told me, in order to make it nine out of ten audiences liking it. At some point along the way, I learned a certain kind of confidence that seemed more justified than the delusional confidence that a lot of us start with (which is often necessary). I don't know when that happened, if there was a lightbulb or if it was also gradual. But eventually I reached a place where I knew that I could make things work, creatively. Not for every crowd, but for myself (most importantly), and for my crowds, and for most crowds, even.

This is getting long (that's what Pinnocchio said! which would be a lie if he said it, and then it wouldn't... Pinnocchio really could have done some paradox testing), so I'll try to wrap it up, with the topic of my voice. Have I found it? Does it pertain to my pacing? What is a voice?

I do consider how fast I speak sometimes. I've gotten notes about it before, from varying sources and types who give notes. A goal of mine is obviously to be understandable, and also to be myself. My self does speak more quickly than a lot of people, so on stage it's not that different all the time. Though there are times when I consciously make an effort to slow down, at which point I don't believe my persona or self or voice gets lost or distorted in any way. One of the best shows I ever had, the audience was laughing so much that I had no choice but to slow down, wait for them, and move forward. And that's the thing—like with tennis where some people play up to the level of any opponent, I find that often my pace will match the audience. If a joke makes them laugh this much, the next line comes that much sooner. Some of the jokes are built to roll, keep moving forward, and so it becomes a conversation (like has been said of standup before), as opposed to me just saying what I want to say at the rate I want to say it.

It's possible that I just speak quickly because I have a lot that I want to say. Life is short, and I want to cram in as much living and talking and idea-sharing and joke-telling as possible. I think that that mindset definitely informs the style that I've grown into. Maybe it will change at some point. Maybe I'll change it.

So, I wouldn't say that I've found my voice, because I was never explicitly looking for it. Maybe someone would say (in their voice) that my current voice found me. Maybe someone else would say that that's splitting semantic hairs. Maybe a further person would say that splitting semantic hairs IS my voice, or at least one thing that my voice is good at saying. Maybe all of these people are me.

I'll leave off going back into whether I think getting to know someone with fewer laughs is more or less valuable than laughing tons at silliness. I will say that some of my biggest laughs have come from Brian Regan's silliness and Louis CK's absurdities, in addition to Stanhope's truths (which, in truth, sometimes make my brain marvel more than laugh uproariously, though they do both... but that might be why I love him, because of how he makes my brain feel, and I love feeling with my brain).

Questions for you: when you started comedy, were you confident? Should you have been? Did you think you were funny? Did you know that you weren't? Were you? Do you like confident performers? Is that a weird/vague question?

Go to Part Two.


The importance of smiling

Good interview with Neal Brennan. He talks about smiling and laughing onstage and how that makes you more likable.

I focus on performance. And being more dynamic as a performer. I used to do a thing, and I did it on my Lopez set, where when I was going onstage, I would give a friend of mine 200 bucks and for every time I smile onstage, you have to give me 20 bucks back. So I knew that if I wanted to get my money back, I would have to smile onstage.

It's like one of these things that's such a good practice. Because the first time I did it, I lost 120 bucks. But when I did it on Lopez, Lopez is easier, I did it and smiling helps. And I got my money back. So I do that, and I've been doing something recently where I watch the audience laughing, which I never did before. Laughing at my jokes, which makes you then laugh, and when you laugh you're more likable, and you're having more of a conversation with them. You're in the moment with them. Instead of just, "I am performing, we're having 2 totally different experiences now. You're having fun, but I'm working." No, it's like, "We're both having fun." So that's one thing.

And when I was in New York, I was working a lot with Aziz Ansari, and he has a really, really great work ethic when it comes to stand up. He listens to every single set he does. He'll write notes in his notebook about it, he'll change punch lines, he'll alter tags, and he's really really dogged, to the point of it being kind of weird to people. Because he'll be sitting at a table with a bunch of comedians, with his headphones on, just listening to his own stand up, but it really improves your (set). I remember when I was kid, I remember my brother Kevin and (Dave) Attell would tape their sets, and then when I was doing it I wasn't, and now I started, and I just know it makes you better. So I've been listening to all my sets. It's just also more positive reinforcement when you're listening to yourself get laughs right before you go on. So that's helpful also.

The other thing is you just need the flight hours. You just need the 10,000 hours, you need the reps. You have to do it, and do it, and do it, and do it. That's the thing with TV, you don't know how your body's going to react, you know. When I did Fallon, I wasn't as engaging as I was on Lopez because I didn't know what my body was going to do. My body tended to get a little small. Whereas on Lopez, I knew, "Hey, just so you know, Neal, you're body may get a little tight and small. So you have to counteract that." Which is why I did the smiling, 200 bucks thing.

Here's Brennan's Lopez set:

Interviewer Scott King also did a bunch of other good pieces with Attell, Burr, and Norton for their JFL Chicago shows.

Related: Malcolm Gladwell on what makes a great performer: 10,000 hours


Hot Soup with Dixon, Miller, and Hamilton

I'm in Boston doing shows tonight (6/24) but there's a stellar Hot Soup lineup...

Pat Dixon
TJ Miller
Ryan Hamilton
Dan Soder
Justy Dodge
Jeff Wesselschmidt

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


Show photos: Kabin, Broadway Comedy Club, etc.

Photos I've recently taken at comedy shows/mics in NYC:

Stone Mill Theater (Little Falls, NY) (Taken with instagram)

Stone Mill Theater (Little Falls, NY)

Village Lantern (Taken with instagram)

Village Lantern

Kabin 4-Year Anniversary  (Taken with instagram)

Kabin 4-Year Anniversary



Freddy’s Back Room (Taken with instagram)

Freddy’s Back Room

Broadway Comedy Club (Taken with instagram)

Broadway Comedy Club

Hog Pit

Hog Pit

FYI: I'm using Instagram to edit/upload these shots and I've been collecting them online at SandpaperSuit.tumblr.com if you want to follow along.


Tracy Morgan's comments and what civilians will never totally understand about doing standup comedy

The Tracy Morgan conversation has folks arguing about just how much the comedy stage should be a "safe space." When I hear civilians lashing out at words said onstage, I think there's something they miss. Until you've actually performed standup comedy and talked extemporaneously to a crowd, you'll never know what it's really like. Once you do, you can't help but empathize at least a little bit with someone who takes that chance and fucks up.

Improvising or writing onstage is a tightrope walk. And if you're talking about edgy/provocative topics, it can be even more dangerous. That's part of what makes it so thrilling to watch. Make it to the other side and it can be magical. Fall off and you wind up in a shark pit. (Is that a thing?)

Comics defend other comics for the same reason that cops defend other cops; We've been there before. When a civilian hears about an innocent suspect that gets gunned down, he's outraged: "How could this happen?" When a cop hears about it, he'll say something about the stress of being in the line of fire: "You'll never know what it's like to approach a suspect and not be sure if he's reaching for a wallet or a gun." Luckily for us, we don't actually kill when we "kill."

Personally, I take anything that is improvised on a comedy stage with a huge grain of salt. Because I've said plenty of in-the-moment things onstage I later regretted. As bad as Morgan or Michael Richards? Probably not. But there has definitely been plenty of stuff I'd have to apologize for if everything I said was reported by the media. Take chances onstage and you're bound to misstep occasionally. And once in a while, you may misstep badly. That's part of the deal.

(Note: I'd be more likely to condemn a written/planned joke than a riff. Malice aforethought, etc. But I'd still probably be way more lenient on that than an ordinary person. Also worth keeping in mind: I don't understand being offended.)

The conversation reminds me of Dave Chappelle's thoughts on Richards' meltdown at The Laugh Factory. While performing on the same stage, Chappelle explained how watching the whole thing made him realize he's "20% black and 80% comedian."

The black dude in me is like "Kramer, you motherfucker." I was hurt. And the comedian in me was just like "Whoa, nigger's having a bad set. Hang in there, Kramer. Don't let 'em break you, Kramer!"

Obviously Chappelle hates what Richards said. But he's been in the trenches too and can't help but identify with a guy who's losing it onstage while dealing with a non-receptive crowd. That's the empathy you get from walking in a comedian's shoes.

I'm not saying Morgan should have said what he said. I get why gay folks are especially pissed. I know the goal of those criticizing him is a noble one. But the road to neutered standup is paved with good intentions.

I believe the standup stage is a sacred space; It's one of the few places left where people are allowed to experiment, confront, and dance with ideas that society generally tiptoes around or avoids completely. That won't always go well. But if you try to take away the shitty part of that, you're likely to sacrifice the wonderful part of it too.


Road shows

Late start (9:30pm) this week at Hot Soup. I won't be there though. I'll be upstate tonight, Boston next week.

June 17 - 8:00pm - Stone Mill Theater (Little Falls, NY)
June 21 - 8:30pm - Gotham Comedy Club (Vintage Lounge)
June 22 - 8:00pm - Mottley's (Boston, MA)
June 22 - 9:30pm - Lilypad (Boston, MA)
June 23 - 8:00pm - Mottley's (Boston, MA)
June 24 - 8:00pm - The Comedy Studio (Boston, MA)
June 24 - 11:30pm - Nightcap @ ImprovBoston (Boston, MA)



Was talking about this with a couple other comics last night: How much are you putting on the line when you're onstage? If you're taking a risk or admitting something you shouldn't admit or showing vulnerability or laying it out in some other way, the audience can sense it. You're putting more chips on the table. If it pays off, the audience will give you back that much more. And the opposite is true too: If your jokes are low stakes, there's a ceiling to the kind of emotional connection you can make with a crowd. Of course, all that's easier said than done.


Getting the flame

Seth Meyers on doing bits with Fred Armisen:

When Fred Armisen is doing an Update bit that's not going well, that's probably the hardest to not laugh because he is the most fearless performer. Once he did his Native American stand-up comedian character, and the audience just wasn't going for it. But it's this great thing — you don't worry because he couldn't care less. I feel stressed when other people's [bits] don't go well, but with Fred, I've been trained to just go with it and know that for certain people, it's gonna be their favorite thing.

Two things interesting there: 1) The idea of associating commitment and fearlessness. In a way, really committing to a bit is actually just letting go of fear. 2) Enjoying when a bit doesn't go well. As long as most of your stuff works, it can be fun to soak in the occasional misfire.

Here's Armisen in "couldn't care less" mode:


Fung Wah and fedoras

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

Coldplay's new single is called "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall." It's almost as if they are mocking themselves at this point.

You can tell how badly a woman wants to have children by how many pillows she has on her bed. More than five = the nesting process has begun.

Gonna start a Kickstarter page. Raising funds to support my new project: "I know how to spend your money better than you."

Philly-NYC Chinatown bus is a great way to get up to speed on race relations between Asian & Black people. Update: It's not going well.

No one loves having children more than boring people.

Obama won't release OBL photo: "We don't need to spike the football." Good point. When you kill someone, act like you've been there before.

The worst way to handle going bald: Becoming a hat guy. "Yeah, I'm just really into fedoras now."

Some men call it their "junk." Other men call it "the family jewels." Just goes to show: One man's trash is another man's treasure.


Good Katz Hot Soup and upcoming Boston shows

The lineup for Friday (6/9) night's show:

Louis Katz
Karl Hess
Jason Good
David Smithyman
Andy Haynes
Matt Ruby

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:

June 9 - 9:00pm - CSL Anniversary Show @ Kabin
June 9 - 10:00pm - Comedy Death Match @ The Creek
June 10 - 8:00pm - Hot Soup @ O'Hanlon's
June 11 - 9:00pm - SOS @ Village Lantern
June 11 - 11:00pm - SOS @ Village Lantern
June 14 - 8:00pm - See You Next Tuesday @ Simply Fondue
June 17 - 8:00pm - Stone Mill Theater (Little Falls, NY)
June 21 - 8:30pm - Gotham Comedy Club (Vintage Lounge)
June 22 - 8:00pm - Mottley's (Boston, MA)
June 22 - 9:30pm - Lilypad (Boston, MA)
June 23 - 8:00pm - Mottley's (Boston, MA)
June 24 - 8:00pm - The Comedy Studio (Boston, MA)
June 26 - 8:00pm - Cold Soda @ The PIT

More shows


Character-driven vs. joke-driven

From ‘The Hangover’ and the Age of the Jokeless Comedy:

All modern movie comedies can be divided roughly into two categories: character-driven and joke-driven. The first category includes movies like “Beverly Hills Cop, ” “Meet the Parents, ” “Manhattan” and “The Hangover”; the second includes movies like “Austin Powers, ” “Blazing Saddles, ” “Bananas” and “Airplane!” The primary distinction lies in their respective relationship to reality. In character-driven comedies, funny people say funny things and fall into funny situations, but it’s all contained within the realm of plausible realism; nothing absurd or unbelievable occurs. Joke-driven comedies, by contrast, start with the absurd and unbelievable and go from there. Their jokes burst the boundaries of realism; in fact, they’re often about bursting the boundaries of realism. Character-driven comedy is Meg Ryan loudly faking an orgasm in a deli and an old woman saying, “I’ll have what she’s having”; joke-driven comedy is a woman (in “Top Secret”) being asked to translate a conversation and saying, “I know a little German, ” then turning and waving at a midget in lederhosen.

Interesting idea. I first wondered if you can translate this to standup too. Like that great standup comedy is either character-driven/reality-based (Pryor, Birbigs, Patrice, Shillue) or joke-driven/absurdist (Hedberg, Demetri, Galifianakis, Steve Martin).

But that seems a bit too tidy to me. Especially since character-driven stuff still requires jokes in the mix. Also, punchlines often involve straining reality and heightening to absurdity. That's why they're surprising/funny.

Actually, it feels like a lot of great standup involves a hybrid of the two categories. Like how PFT starts off real and then voices a migrant laborer on "Impersonal." Or how Dangerfield is a defined character who tells reality bursting jokes about his parents/wife/doctor treating him like shit. Or how Bill Burr is a real dude who fantasizes about what it would be like to plow over 30 pedestrians in his car.


Every joke has a target

I hear a lot of jokes about homeless people. And I always think to myself, "Wow, you really showed them!" Because what the hell is the point of going after someone who has already been kicked around plenty?

Every joke has a victim. Someone is the target. (Well, maybe not in absurdist stuff. But anyway...) So, in a way, jokes are weapons. Use them to attack the powerful/majority/deserving and you're Robin Hood. (Huzzah!) Use them to attack the helpless/weak/undeserving and you're a bully. (Jerk!)

Paul F. Tompkins talks about his "personal comedy code" and wrestling with how mean to be in Judging ‘Idol,’ a look at his American Idol recaps.

Early on, I took swipes at Tyler’s appearance; I made jokes about a chubby 16-year-old’s chubbiness. A friend reviewed one of these early recaps thusly: “Hilariously mean!” That struck me. I realized I was headed down a bad road. I long ago vowed, as Batman did before me, never to make fun of stuff that people couldn’t help. Because it’s (1) easy and (2) not fair. There are plenty of things that people have complete control over that are worthy of ridicule. So I concentrated on what people wore, how they mangled common phrases and idioms, and how they treated each other...

So from then on, I considered what I was writing more carefully, soon realizing that the hardest thing to do is make fun of contestants without being nasty. I eventually figured out the way in: Most of the contestants believed that they were excellent singers. Therefore, if they weren’t, I could totally make fun of them! Fantastic! I felt within my rights taking shots at people who crave the validation of strangers, since I’m a stranger-validation craver myself! (Take my very low opinion of recently ousted James Durbin’s parenting skills: His sob story included having no money for food and diapers—was entering a singing contest really the most responsible solution?)

That approach worked with everyone except the youngest contestants. Too young! Why did I get dealt the season where they let essentially children enter, to be judged by an entire nation? What is this, Charles Dickens tymes? I am a gentleman of the old school, and I consider it unsporting to ridicule children unless it’s in private and with good friends. How do I criticize them without being a bully? By turning on a more appropriate target (which, in my personal comedy code, is always the most powerful): the glorified sweatshop owners exploiting the dreams of these kids, the producers of this bloated cash cow. So as the weeks wore on, my jokes became less about the performances and more about the situation in which the contestants were placed.

It's neat to see this level of self-examination from PFT. And a good reminder to every comic to think about whom you're attacking and how much they truly deserve it.


We're All Friends Here on Saturday (6/4) with Good, Dale, and Sanni

The lineup:
Jason Good
Thomas Dale
Rae Sanni

Saturday, June 4 - 8:00pm
The Creek and The Cave
10-93 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY
Facebook invite


Here's why I don't want to hear about your ADD

I posted this at Twitter: "A lot of people claim to have ADD. But I bet if they were starving and had to hunt for a meal, they'd be able to concentrate for a while." Must have struck a nerve; It was retweeted almost 100 times, way more than anything else I've ever posted there.

Some ADD folks fought back. One replied: "people with ADD can 'hyperfocus' if their brain chooses to. So yes." Another responded: "Re: ADD We don't focus, we *hyperfocus*. Have you read Thom Hartmann's 'Hunter vs. Farmer' theory?"

Hyperfocus! That sounds great. I didn't know ADD folks actually had a superpower. It's like you were exposed to radiation at a nuclear factory as a kid and now you get to yell things like "Quick, to the Ritalin Cave! It's time to hyperfocus!"

I guess I didn't know about it because I've never heard anyone say, "I've got ADD. That's why I'm so hyperfocused on what you're talking about right now! Tell me more. I'm fascinated with what you are saying and I can't wait to pay more attention to you."

That's not the ADD I ever see. The one I tend to encounter: "I've got ADD. That's why I can't do my homework, sit still, listen to anything you say, or...wait, what was I talking about?"

See, I have this crazy theory: When you have a hard time paying attention to things that aren't interesting to you, that's not a disease. That's actually totally normal. (OK, maybe a few people out there have a brain chemistry issue that needs correcting. I'm guessing that's a tiny percentage of the people who claim ADD though.)

The real problem is society and what we surround ourselves with: smartphones, Facebook updates, Twitter posts, YouTube videos, emails, IM messages, texts, Foursquare check-ins, iPods, iPads, laptops, TVs in bars, TVs in backs of cabs, TVs in elevators. Elevators! We can't even go five floors without a goddamn TV.

I was on the Q train the other day and as soon as the train got out of the tunnel and went over the Manhattan Bridge (cell service then becomes available), every single person in that car immediately went to check their phone. We looked like a bunch of jonesing addicts that were finally given access to a pile of glistening needles.

Labelling this a disease is a lie. First off, it should be a red flag when everyone has the same disease. Also, a disease is when your body isn't functioning correctly. That's not what's going on. Our bodies are doing exactly what they should do: freaking the fuck out because they are being attacked by information and don't know how to process it all.

So let's stop blaming our bodies. We, as individuals and as a society, are making choices. We're continually choosing to stick our faces in front of this information-spewing fire hydrant.

Yet instead of accepting responsibility for our behavior, we choose to disease-ify everything. We let Merck, Pfizer, and the rest of the pharmaceutical industrial complex sign us (and our children) up for their neverending subscription programs that pick our pockets on a monthly basis while we tell ourselves we're the poor victims here instead of admitting we're junkies.

And while we're on the subject, let's settle down with everyone being "depressed" too. Depressed is just what we call people who understand what's happening. Look around. If you're not at least a little depressed, that's when you should be worried something's wrong with you.

And don't take a pill to forget about your "depression" either. You feel pain for a reason; It's your body trying to tell you something's wrong. Listen to it, don't numb it. The solution to touching a scalding hot pan is to stop touching the damn pan, not to take some pill that makes you forget your flesh is melting.

Oh, and while I'm addressing disease inflation, I suggest we rename "Type 2 Diabetes" to "You ate too much poison that laboratories in New Jersey disguised as food."

Ever notice how rarely these things exist in third world countries? Starving people who are desperate for a meal don't have ADD, Type 2 Diabetes, or depression. They have real problems. The prevalence of these "diseases" here are a sign of our society's excessive wealth and free time. Malaria, now there's a disease. Being bored and checking Facebook a lot? That's a choice.

Listen, I'm as guilty as the next guy. I raced to check my phone on that train. A 500+ page book? Uh, no thank you. Read your screenplay? Doubtful. When my phone vibrates, I stop caring about what someone is telling me because I just want to look at my phone. Because my phone wants to tell me something about me! And there is no more fascinating topic to me than me.

But I do not have a disease. It's my fault. I'm making choices. I spend too much time staring at screens. And when you constantly bask in the glow of pixels that are customized to your every whim, almost everything else, including actual human beings, starts to pale in comparison.

So ADD people, let's all just be honest and admit that the real problem...ah, who am I kidding? There's no way they made it this far.

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