Seth Meyers vs. groans

Fun to watch Seth Meyers test out jokes in front of a not amped-up/giddy crowd.


How jokes are like magic tricks

The Honor System is a really interesting look at Teller and the thief who tried to steal this trick from him:

The article mentions how Jim Steinmeyer, one of the greatest inventors of magic, compares jokes and tricks in his book Hiding the Elephant.

In it, he writes that the best tricks are a "collection of tiny lies, in words and deeds, that are stacked and arranged ingeniously." Like jokes, tricks should have little plots with a twist at the end that's both implausible and yet logical. You shouldn't see the punchline coming, but when you do see it, it makes sense. The secret to a great trick isn't really its method; the method behind most tricks is ugly and disappointing, something blunt and mechanical...The value of a trick lies mostly in how much it stokes that battle between your head and your heart, and how badly it makes you want for your heart to win.

I like the "implausible yet logical" concept. I often think of a great joke as being the hard-to-find combination of truthful yet surprising.

It was also interesting to hear Teller discuss how hard it is to hone a trick:

The real point of magic, Teller said during those lectures, is "telling a beautiful lie. It lets you see what the world would be like if cause and effect weren't bound by physics." It's the collision between what you know and what you see that provides magic's greatest spark.

So Teller rigged a thread in his home library, and he put Abbott's ancient instructions on a music stand — pages that had been miraculously saved from a trash fire years before — and he went to work on making the impossible seem real. Eventually, he decided that the ball shouldn't float but roll. That would look simpler, but it would be harder. He practiced some more at a mirrored dance studio in Toronto, and at a cabin deep in the woods, and on the empty stage in Penn & Teller's theater. After every show for eighteen months, he would spend at least an hour, by himself, trying to make the Red Ball obey. ("Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect," Teller says.)

"I have to screw around," he told those four audiences, "to sniff the scent of an idea and track it down like a wild boar in the forest.

"It's still the hardest-to-execute piece of magic I've ever tried. In six months or a year, it will start to settle into my bones. In ten years, it'll be perfect.

Telling a beautiful lie, eh? Reminds me of a tweet I wrote a while back: Comedy is the most beautiful way to complain.

Btw, Nate Bargatze talked a lot about how his dad was a magician during his great WTF interview. Here's a clip of Nate's dad performing. Funny guy!

Teller and the magic of surprise
The brotherhood of magic and comedy


Photos from the SF Comedy Contest

I'm back from doing shows in SF. Here's what that looked like:

Marin Center, San Rafael (Taken with Instagram)

Marin Center, San Rafael

Montbleu Casino (Stateline, NV) (Taken with Instagram)

Montbleu Casino (Stateline, NV)

Crow’s Nest (Santa Cruz, CA) (Taken with Instagram)

Crow’s Nest (Santa Cruz, CA)

The Purple Onion (San Francisco, CA) (Taken with Instagram)

The Purple Onion (San Francisco, CA)


New video: Amish Cop Hasidic Cop

Two New York City detectives, one Amish and one Hasidic, lose their partners and are forced to work together to catch a bank robber. Make haste!

Detective Singer - Matt Ruby
Detective Fisher - Mark Normand

Police chief - Dan Soder
Robbery Victim - Victoria Harrington
Gorilla - Robert Dean
Costume shop employee - Erik Bergstrom
Cop #1 - Nick Maritato
Cop #2 - Sean Donnelly

Director - Matt Lawrence
Editor - John Schlirf
Cameraman - Robertino Zambrano


"A few things in common"

Sometimes aspiring comics read this blog and then send me emails about doing standup. Here's an excerpt from one:

I'm writing to you because you seem like a good guy who genuinely would like to help new comedians and I have a few things in common with you. For example, I'm 30 and have already lost a lot of hair, I can't go out in the sun either, because I get a new permanent mole every 15 minutes, and I have a Jewish stepfather. I'm not Jewish and I don't have any jokes about Jews, but I've been racking my brains to think of one.

Nice to know we've got a lot in common! I told him there's no way to make it in standup without jokes about Jews.


Bill Clinton riffs a lot

What Bill Clinton Wrote vs. What Bill Clinton Said looks at Clinton's convention speech and shows how much he went off script (a lot) from his prepared remarks.

Most experienced public speakers know how to deviate and alter and add flourishes to their prepared remarks on the fly, but few do it as well as Clinton. (Even if you disagree with what he's saying.) As you can see below, from a purely rhetorical standpoint nearly all of his changes enhanced the text in some way and brought added emphasis to arguments. Notice his frequent changing of "should vote for Barack Obama" to "must vote." And his even more frequent use of "Now" and "Look" when beginning a point. Many of his best lines — like his "bloodsport" quote — were either ad-libbed or added in back in at the last moment.

The Bill Clinton speech that Louis CK calls "one of the greatest things I ever saw"
How Bill Clinton handled a heckler back in the day


Unfunny success

In a piece on slow comedy, Matt Shafeek relays some advice UCB instructor Michael Delaney once gave him.

“If you create a world with ridiculous characters, you may discover something funny in your scene. But I believe the stronger decision is to play real, grounded characters that are vulnerable and affected by the world around them. You take your time, perform at the top of your intelligence, and react realistically to what happens. Now, this won’t always lead to a hilarious scene. Sometimes you’ll have a scene that won’t be funny at all. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful. Sometimes you’ve just made some interesting theater. And if that sounds awful, know that the audience will not hate you like they will if you try to force something funny on them and it falls flat.”

Sometimes as a standup, I feel like laughter is holding me hostage. Like there's stuff I want to be talking about but I can't because it doesn't get laughs that are as big/frequent as stuff that I don't want to talk about. Should I talk about my mom's illness which can get tense or should I talk about sex stuff which hits hard? Your job is to get laughs and things can go south if you try to get to deep so it's tempting to take the path of least resistance.

Finding that balance between "interesting theater" and big laughs is a challenge. I guess it also depends on how you define success. Is it by laughs per minute or is it how engaged an audience is or is it how much they remember what you said afterwards or something else?

The ideal is to have it all. To create funny and interesting stuff that's deep, soulful, or whatever your ideal is. But if you do fail, it feels a lot better to fail talking about what you really want to talk about. There's nothing worse than selling out without ever actually selling anything.


See me at Comics to Watch, CSL, We're All Friends Here, SF/Boston fests, etc.

Comics to Watch
Tonight (Sep 5) I'll be performing at Caroline's on the “Comics to Watch” show.
Tickets are free and available here.

“Comics to Watch” is a live stand-up showcase featuring the very best new talent from across the country, hand selected by Comedy Central and the festival producers. This show was created to launch the careers of the next generation of comedians by putting them in front of industry executives and comedy fans.

Tomorrow (Sep 6) I'll be doing the CSL show at Kabin. Always one of my fave shows to do. Starts 9:30ish.

We're All Friends Here
Then on Saturday (Sep 8), We're All Friends Here returns...

Mad Dog Mattern
Jono Zalay
& Special Guest

Sat, Sep 8 - 8pm
The Creek and The Cave
10-93 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY

Past episodes of the show available at iTunes.

After that, I'll be at the San Francisco Comedy Contest and Boston Comedy Festival...

9/5 - 8:00pm - Comics to Watch @ Caroline's
9/6 - 9:00pm - CSL @ Kabin
9/8 - 8:00pm - We're All Friends Here @ The Creek
9/8 - 11:59pm - Underground Americana @ UCB Chelsea
9/11 - 7:00pm - New York’s Funniest Stand-up Competition Audition @ Caroline's
9/14 - 8:30pm - Marin Showcase Theatre - San Rafael, CA
9/15 - Time TBA - Montbleu Resort Casino - Stateline, NV
9/16 - 9:00pm - Crows Nest - Santa Cruz, CA
9/17 - 8:00pm - Purple Onion - San Francisco, CA
9/18 - 9:00pm - Boston Comedy Fest @ Davis Sq Theatre - Boston, MA
9/20 - 9:00pm - Fresh Out @ UCB-East

All shows listed here. I also send out updates to my email list if you wanna sign up.

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