Capture Your Flag interview: Writing comedy for yourself vs. other people

Below, another clip from my recent interview with Erik Michielsen of Capture Your Flag. We discuss writing comedy for yourself vs. other people.

You can watch the entire interview here. (And the interview we did a year ago here.)

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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"

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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.

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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."

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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.


Video: My set at the Boston Comedy Festival semifinals

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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... 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.

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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

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Video: Arsenio Hall deals with gay protesters at his show

Arsenio got hot when protesters crashed his old talk show:

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[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.

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