Is networking a dirty word?

If you're like most comics, the word networking makes you want to throw up a little. But then again, I've heard a comic who's good at meeting and greeting say, "The hang time is as important as the stage time." Along those lines: Tech guy Reid Hoffman offers up lessons on "building a truly helpful professional network."

In the next day: Look at your calendar for the past six months and identify the five people you spend the most time with -- are you happy with their influence on you?

In the next week: Introduce two people who do not know each other but ought to. Then think about a challenge you face and ask for an introduction to a connection in your network who could help.

Imagine you got laid off from your job today. Who are the 10 people you'd e-mail for advice? Don't wait -- invest in those relationships now.

In the next month: Identify a weaker tie with whom you'd like to build an alliance. Help him by giving him a small gift -- forward an article or job posting.

Create an "interesting people fund" to which you automatically funnel a certain percentage of your paycheck. Use it to pay for coffees and the occasional plane ticket to meet new people and shore up existing relationships.

I guess if you change the word networking to "making friends" something like that it makes the whole endeavor seem a little less distasteful. Still, plotting out your friendships feels a bit stiff to me. Then again, typing "lol" or "haha" during a text message makes me feel like I'm a prostitute so perhaps I'm not the best person to ask about all this.


Letting your guard down

Talking about the hive mind of crowds and how you can connect by letting your guard down...

It's from an interview I did with Erik Michielsen of Capture Your Flag. You can watch this entire interview. (And the interview we did in 2010 too.)

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David Zucker's list of things NOT to do in comedy

David Zucker, one of the creators of Airplane and The Naked Gun, offers up a list of things NOT to do in comedy.

5. That didn't happen.
Completely defying logic is bad, but something that is on and off the screen so fast that we can get away with it is OK. Example: Robert Stack in ``Airplane!`` yells to Lloyd Bridges, ``He can`t land; they`re on instruments!`` And of course we cut to the cockpit and four of the actors are playing musical instruments. Seconds later, in the next scene, the saxophone and clarinets have disappeared. If it`s done right, no one in the audience will ask where the instruments went...

10. Straw Dummy.
A hollow set-up for a joke or when the target is fabricated. Even if the joke hits the target who cares? We had an elaborate sequence written for "Naked Gun 2 and a half" involving Leslie being trapped in an oil barrel processing plant but the jokes all depended on machines we made up ourselves in an elaborate and expensive set. Fortunately, Paramount insisted on deleting the scene, saying they needed the money to pay the lawyers.

Related: Bill Hicks’s Principles of Comedy

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The Mike Daisey brouhaha and when you can get away with truthiness onstage

Charles Isherwood, the NY Times Theater Critic, examines the Mike Daisey brouhaha. He brings up an interesting perspective: Personal narratives can get away with loose truths more than outward facing social/political stories.

I also heard from a friend who is a performer of first-person comic monologues himself, who admitted that he has tweaked the truth in search of a shapely punch line now and then, and suspects most performers who traffic in the genre do much the same.

His e-mail brought up a point I didn’t have time to make in my earlier response to the controversy, namely that first-person narratives that are exclusively personal are likely to be judged by far looser standards than those that turn their gaze outward to engage with problems of larger social or political import. Would it bother me to discover that some of the stories told by Claudia Shear in her breakthrough solo piece, “Blown Sideways Through Life,” were tinkered with, or that Lisa Kron did not stick strictly to the details of her father’s and mother’s experience in her shows “2.5 Minute Ride” and “Well”? I have to confess not.

I don’t mean to suggest that they did, of course, but the confessional memoir, at least onstage, has been allowed to play by different rules.

I think it's a good point. Goes back to the audience's expectations. If you portray yourself as a documentarian reporting first-hand on a socially important issue, the crowd isn't expecting you to just make up facts. But when an audience sees Richard Pryor describing his heart attack, David Sedaris recounting working as an elf, or Birbigs detailing his sleepwalking, they probably wouldn't be shocked if they found out embellishing was going on.

This piece in EW says it well:

It is perfectly legitimate in art and theater to exaggerate and fabricate and consolidate facts and events, but only as long as the audience knows that’s what they’re getting. There’s an unspoken contract with the viewer (or listener, or reader) and when that is deliberately misrepresented, there is no way to retroactively change that original perception.

When I tell stories, I always start from the truth. But then I often combine characters, change the order of events, tweak what was actually said, and exaggerate at punchlines. To me, it's the nature of the beast. Then again, I'd never claim these stories to be journalism.

Also, there's a tone thing here. When Daisey gives his monologue, he sounds so goddamn self-important, heavyhanded, and moralistic — like a teacher tsk tsking his pupils. If you put yourself on a high horse like that, ya better not be making it all up. It's like a political comic who invents a "this guy said this offensive thing" premise and then rails against it...lame, lame, lame. Once you start pointing fingers, you raise the bar on how truthful you have to be.

Related: How honest do you feel a comedian's act should be?


The Hardest Working Man in Show Business in action

Audience members climbing onstage is about as bad as it gets for a performer. So imagine how James Brown felt while performing in Boston in 1968 on the night after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the rest of the country's inner cities were burning and the city of Boston decided to use his concert to try to prevent the same thing happening there by broadcasting it live and then his fans started rushing the stage and cops began roughly shoving them off.

Brown dealt with it by keeping his cool, pushing the cops back, and gently persuading his fans to get down so the show could continue: "You're not being fair to yourselves or me either or your race...Now are we together or we ain't?" Watch below (from "The Night James Brown Saved Boston"):

And btw, this is how you get the title of Hardest Working Man in Show Business (from the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964):

Love the cape routine. According to Wikipedia, Keith Richards claimed that choosing to follow Brown on this show was the biggest mistake in the Stones' career. And Rick Rubin said that when he was visiting Prince's offices, this performance was looped on a lobby television. Rubin says it "may be the single greatest rock & roll performance ever captured on film."

How Leonard Cohen soothed the savage beasts at the Isle of Wight in 1970
Thom Yorke dealing with a passed out crowd member

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Promo tweets to media folks

So I see lotsa folks promoting shows by tweeting them out to @amNewYork, @villagevoice, @nycgo, etc. My question: Does this really help at all? For example...


Premise sketches and character sketches

"What is Sketch Comedy?" is a good intro to sketch. Here it offers a look at the difference between premise sketches and character sketches.

The famous “Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker” (Van Down by the River) sketch is a classic character sketch.* Chris Farley’s performance is the only reason that sketch is funny. It’s a relatively mundane situation made interesting by the addition of a wacky character. These are a staple of SNL sketches. From John Belushi’s Samurai Tailor to Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella to Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri’s Spartan Cheerleaders, SNL has made the character sketch its bread and butter. This is a great sketch to have if you have the actors to pull it off. SNL draws from some of the best comedic improvisers and actors in the world, many of whom are looking to show off so they can land better jobs, so character sketches are a natural fit. In general, British shows tend to have few pure character sketches, instead inserting funny characters into premise sketches...

A premise sketch is a sketch in which the situation is funny, rather than one character. Both characters can be totally normal people doing something weird...Sometimes, premise sketches have silly characters, although this is more common in England than the U.S. For example, Monty Python’s “Dirty Fork.” This why sometimes people say the two types of sketches are “one funny person” or “many funny people.”

See the full piece and accompanying videos.

P.S. Speaking of sketch, I loved this Soul Food clip from Key & Peele.


Bill Maher: "Standup is the last bastion of free speech"

On the last episode of Real Time, Bill Maher explained why he thinks his calling Palin a cunt is different than Rush Limbaugh's calling Fluke a slut.

It was in my standup act, which I consider the last bastion of free speech. There's a reason people compare me to George Carlin — because we're standup comedians. Rush Limbaugh likes to say he's a comedian. You know what Rush? When you can stand up in front of an audience of 3,000 people all the time like I do and make them spill their fucking guts out and laugh their asses off for 90 minutes, then you're a comedian. But you're not a comedian. And when you do that, my rule is you get a little extra leeway.

Reminds me of the whole Tracy Morgan conversation from a little while back.


St. Patty's Day We're All Friends Here

Saturday night: We're All Friends Here returns to The Creek for a St. Patty's Day edition. The lineup:

Luis Gomez
Greg Stone
Tim Warner

Sat, Mar 17 - 9:30pm
The Creek and The Cave
10-93 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY

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Why I carry a notebook vs. sitting down to write

From an interview I did with Erik Michielsen of Capture Your Flag. You can watch this entire interview. (And the interview we did in 2010 too.)

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The most surprising thing about Woody Allen: “He’s a fake”

In "The Zen of Woody Allen," Robert B. Weide talks about how much of Woody's persona is invented.

I’ve often been asked to share the most surprising thing I’ve learned about Woody Allen after spending two years making “Woody Allen: A Documentary.” My stock answer can be distilled to this: “He’s a fake.”

What I mean is that the public persona we’ve come to know as the “Woody Allen character” is just that — a character. The three N’s so often used to describe the public Allen are nebbishy, nervous and neurotic. But the contrast between the Woody character and the “real” Allen is never more in focus than when he’s on the set, directing.

Because any director must have the confidence to think on his or her feet and answer about 20 questions every minute, it’s hard to imagine that anyone as anxious as “classic” Allen would survive in the midst of all that chaos. But the “real” Allen does more than survive. He displays a remarkable sense of calm when at work, a confidence and security that are the antithesis of his public image, and both the crew and the actors take their cues from him.

Being cool, calm, and collected onstage isn't as funny as being nebbishy, nervous and neurotic though.

Figuring out how "real" to be onstage is a challenge. Being a cartoon is funnier and helps give you a more distinct point of view. But constantly pretending to be something you're not seems like it could get old real fast. And maybe that's why Woody (or Steve Martin or Bobcat Goldthwait) eventually soured on standup and moved on to movies.


Plastic surgery, TLC, red flags, stilettos, and more from my Twitter feed

Follow me on Twitter and you'll bathe in thoughts like these:

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Tips on making funny online videos

I'm working on a series of online videos. I showed the scripts to a comedy director I respect and he gave me some really helpful notes. Here's some of what I wrote down during our meeting:

Every line should either 1) be a punchline, 2) push the story forward, or 3) explain the character.

Skip the explanation and start with the action.

Go to a ridiculous level. Keep heightening.

Define the characters. You should be able to put your finger over the person's name on script and still be able to tell who's talking just from the line.

Make reactions extreme, not just medium.

Define power structures. Clothes can help with this. Who is in charge? Who is in need?

Write short, funny conversations. Not jokes.

Grab people fast. They should laugh or be confused (in an intrigued way) within the first five seconds.

Character should mimic audience's confusion and be catching up to what's happening.

Slowly reveal info and have it get a little funnier each time. And then have a big joke at the end.

Spread out your jokes instead of having them come in one burst.

Define the conflict. Who wants what? Deny them and explore where it goes. Have someone who gets caught red-handed back out of it. Etc.

Use the punchline as the premise.

Have strong emotions. Hate. Jealousy. Fear. Defensiveness. That's what grabs people.

Define characters immediately in first line.

Heighten, heighten, heighten.

Define the game of each scene. Actually write it out so you know what the scene is about.

Internet audiences need to be hooked fast. You have 10 seconds to get 'em. Start funny and get funnier.

Edit out anything that's not needed. Cut out the chatter!

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Hot Soup moves to Friday night monthly slot

Changes afoot in Hot Soup land. We'll now be doing the show the second Friday of each month at UCB-East. First show in the new slot was packed so let's keep it going this Friday. The lineup:

Jerrod Carmichael
Dan St Germaine
Jeff Wesselschmidt
John Flynn
Mark Normand
Matt Ruby
Host: David Cope

Friday, Mar 9
155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Doors at 8:45pm, showtime at 9pm. $10 tickets.
Produced by David Cope, Mark Normand, and Matt Ruby.
Make a reservation.

Some other upcoming shows I'm doing:
Wed March 7 - 7pm - Final Four @ Caroline's
Thu March 8 - 9pm - Pant Hoot @ Lincoln Park Tavern
Fri March 9 - 11pm - Village Lantern
Sun March 11 - 8pm - Verisign event @ SXSW (Austin, TX)
Tue March 13 - 8:30pm - Afterlife @ Sidewalk Cafe
More shows at my Calendar.

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Myq's joke writing process profiled by the New York TImes

"A Stand-Up Joke Is Born" takes a look at how Myq Kaplan developed this bit from nothing to Conan-ready in two months.

The most underestimated quality of successful stand-up comedians is how hard-working they are, which became clear as this joke evolved over two months. Stand-up is the rare form that usually requires test driving in public. [He] has since tried variations of his chivalry joke at about 80 performances. Almost every time, he tapes it, studies the results and jots down new ideas. That’s the job, he said, one he can’t imagine ever not doing.

Everyone talks about taping sets. But I'd say only 30% of comedians I see actually tape every set. And I'm guessing only 30% of those ever actually listen to the tapes. (I know when I'm done performing, the last thing I want to do is sit down and listen to myself.) Myq's work ethic to actually review all those performances is probably one of the things that helps him succeed.

Also, it's interesting how distilled the final joke is considering all the work and variations that went into it. It's as if a comedian builds an entire house just so he can present one window.

P.S. Myq is the only comic I know who will pull out his recorder in mid-conversation and speak into it in order to capture an idea. Trying to catch lightning in a bot-, er, recorder.


Make too much stuff, assume it will suck, and then edit severely

From an interview I did with Erik Michielsen of Capture Your Flag. You can watch this entire interview. (And the interview we did in 2010 too.)

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The comedic polymath

Wired: The Humor Code: Neal Brennan on ‘Comedic Polymaths’ and the Future of Funny.

Wired: How will comedy be different five years from now? Who, or what, is the future of comedy?

Brennan: I don’t know where it will be in five years, though I’m pleased with where it is now. I think the future belongs to the comedic polymath. It belongs to the person who can generate the most good material in the biggest variety of ways, whether it’s sketches or stand-up or songs or tweets or television or films. The audience is a baby. The future belongs to whoever can provide the most material to feed that baby.

Wired: What, for you, is the toughest kind of audience to make laugh?

Brennan: Black audiences are probably the toughest for me to make laugh. I’ve gotten pretty good at performing for them, but it’s still a challenge. The level of performance has to be higher. “Dry” doesn’t really work for them. They demand energy. I do racial material, so it needs to be nuanced and smart and true. And they will eat you up if they smell that you’re nervous.

More from this series at Wired.

Related: Bill Burr talks about why he loves doing black rooms (and hates alt rooms) on a recent YMIW episode. Good stuff.