Hey. I’m Matt Ruby (email@example.com). I live in Brooklyn and I'm a standup comedian and the creator of Vooza, a video comic strip about the tech world. This is Sandpaper Suit, a comedy blog about standup, filmmaking, and whatever else I feel like talking about. Established 2006. Phew, that's a while.
Louis CK talked about his breakthrough moment on Unmasked a while back. He says it was when he started talking about his daughter being an asshole...
...It went well and that changed his approach. on Unmasked he explained:
I decided I'm not gonna come up with jokes anymore. I'm not going to try to think of funny things to say. I'm going to say the things that are gnawing at my head. Any thought that I've been having a lot, I'm just gonna say it. And all of a sudden, a huge amount of lifelong fear was just gone. I just didn't care.
I get away with it for some reason. Some of it is just because I'm very convicted about it. I just felt impervious to criticism because I wasn't making jokes, I was just talking. I was just saying how I felt for once. So that was huge for me.
Moth founder George Dawes Green was asked, "What’s the key to a really great story?" His answer:
Vulnerability. Great storytellers really never tell about triumphs — they always focus on weakness and loss, and their own humanity, their own clownishness. So, anytime a storyteller really opens up and is really vulnerable, the audience immediately responds.
Here's an animation of Ira Glass talking about taste, the challenges beginners face, and why they need to do a lot of work:
The mantra John Lasseter ascribes to all of Pixar’s successes, from Toy Story to Up: “It’s gotta be about how the main character changes for the better.” Of course, that'd be the opposite of Curb/Office/Seinfeld approach where main characters just stay awful.
Update: In this comment, Matteson says, "I think the big difference there is that Pixar makes movies, while the counter examples you mentioned are all TV shows." He also talks about this idea in the world of storytelling/standup: "Audiences in particular HATE when someone talks about doing something bad and doesn't indicate remorse or a lesson learned. You can tell audiences all sorts of horrible things about yourself, and have them still like you, as long as you learn something and are at least trying 'to change for the better.'"
Allen’s monologue consisted of telling the story of his life. It was the life of a chronic loser, told in a rapid salvo of jokes: “As a boy I was ashamed to wear glasses. I memorized the eye chart and then on the test they asked essay questions.” “I won two weeks at an interfaith camp, where I was sadistically beaten by boys of all races.” The jokes, though simple, were unfailingly funny, and beneath the humor they were doing serious work as autobiography. This was a champion nebbish, one that every underdog in America could – and soon would – identify with. Allen had invented a perfect formula for an anxious new age: therapy made hilarious.
The rest of the piece discusses Zinsser's role in Allen's flick "Stardust Memories."
Here's some early Woody. It's like an avalanche of punchlines.
At the NBC presentation at Radio City Music Hall on Monday, a capuchin monkey shared the spotlight with the human stars of the network’s new and returning prime-time series. The monkey, named Crystal, is being billed as a co-star of a new Wednesday sitcom, “Animal Practice,” about a New York veterinarian. Preview clips featured Crystal — named Dr. Zaius in the show, after a simian from “Planet of the Apes” — as much as its human cast members.
Jennifer Salke, president of the NBC Entertainment division of NBCUniversal, lauded the monkey as a “bundle of mischief” and said it tested the highest of any character in the series. As a video screen in the theater displayed Crystal seated next to Justin Kirk, who plays the veterinarian, Ms. Salke told Mr. Kirk, “Don’t worry, you tested right behind him.” The look on Mr. Kirk’s face suggested the humor might have escaped him.
Let's just put on a show that's all monkeys. Think how high that would test.
In this outtake (via SM), Drew Carey gets choked up talking about his first Tonight Show set...
...and here's the set.
Neat to see how much mileage he gets out of each joke. Just when you think he's wrung the towel dry, he throws in one more tag. And loved this: "I just don't think looking like this is worth that one joke."
Comedian turned Director Bobcat Goldthwait's advice: Quit.
Most people in showbiz are either bitter that they aren’t huge stars or unhappy that they are. From the Starbucks barista to Oscar winners, almost everyone thinks that they’re getting a raw deal. Here’s my advice to them and to all of you: Quit.
Quitting is how my life changed. After years of going to auditions and pitching and writing scripts for shit commercial hits, I came to a realization. I realized that I would never watch any of the fucking things I was doing. So I quit. I always joke that I retired from acting at the same time they stopped hiring me, but it’s true...
My movies are far from mainstream, and I like it that way. I have no interest in making R-rated studio comedies with the sole purpose of entertaining teenagers. I hate teenagers. I think most of them are fucking idiots. Christ, I hated teenagers when I WAS a teenager. Besides, I will be 50 this year, so how the hell would I know what teenagers like? I make movies that me and my friends like, with actors I like working with, and on shoestring budgets far outside the system. I have found producers who support me and who also are, unimaginably, not even a little bit douche-y...
My point is this—if you want to be happy in showbiz (or any creative field), listen to that voice inside you. Even if it says “Fuck it” sometimes. Work with your friends. Avoid chasing fame or money. Just do what you want to do, when and how you want to do it. And if it’s not making you happy, quit. Quit hard, and quit often. Eventually you’ll end up somewhere that you never want to leave.
Interesting take. "Quit" is more provocative, but it sounds like the real message is it's ok to have modest goals. It's ok to do shoestring projects that make a profit and build a career that's modest yet sustainable (as opposed to going for huge mainstream success). Reminds me of Kevin Kelly's advice to find 1,000 True Fans.
While out in Seattle, I got to do a few shows with James Adomian and it was really great to watch him stretch out and do longer sets. I've seen him kill before but it was a different thing watching him do a full hour. One of the coolest things about it: He's doing a really "high degree of difficulty dive" with how he talks about homosexuality.
The idea that gay people have, in the past, been presented almost exclusively as villains in the media was an eye opener for me. Yet that lesson is presented in a super funny way. I appreciate that whatever his agenda might be, James always leads with funny instead of seeming preachy. And though he's amazing at doing impressions and characters, he uses those skills to take people on a ride to challenging places instead of just using them to get cheap laughs.
Also, it's fascinating to watch how he talks about being gay. He does it in a straight-forward, honest, non-stereotypical way. He makes it seem like not a big deal and just another part of his act. It's just another subject to examine. It's like when Barack talks about race in that it feels like a step forward in the conversation.
Even the way he drop it in as a "no big deal" part of his act (usually about 10-20 minutes in) feels pretty radical compared to how many gay comics out themselves right from the start (or never come out). I imagine it's a bit of a tightrope walk and he deserves credit for pulling it off in a smart, funny way.
There's a new crop of gay male comics coming up. Guys who talk about being gay but don't rely on the usual stereotypes about homosexuality to get laughs (e.g. Brent Sullivan, Gabe Liedman, etc.). There's a great feature article waiting to happen about that. Get on it New York Magazine.
N: When you’re doing an hour-long set like Laboring Under Delusions that has more of a thematic tie throughout, is the writing process different than it would be for a more conventional hour? What’s the process of creating that for you?
PFT: It’s the same in a lot of ways because the joke-writing approach for more conceptual stuff is asking, “How do I get the most out of this concept?” You know, really thinking about it and examining it and asking, “Where will it lead?” A lot of comedians certainly go through this — I did when I was younger — you’re so excited to get a laugh that you sort of set up the premise, you get one joke out, then you move on to the next thing, because you get nervous that if you wait too long, people aren’t going to laugh, they’re going to get mad at me; you feel that if you have a variety of things to talk about — I remember seeing Chris Rock’s first special Bring the Pain, the material that he did, he really examined all the different facets of a given topic. Sure, he had longer stuff that he trimmed down, got it down to the best stuff, but he was using every part of the buffalo, if you know what I mean. It’s a similar thing with these stories where 90% is done because it happened to me. There’s your premise. Then I have to fill in, get to the bottom of “what was I feeling when I went through this? What feels unusual or amusing to me?” or whatever, and then begin the translation process from my brain to a group of total strangers in order to have it all make sense.
I thought his description of the mindset of a younger comic was interesting. I certainly feel that way about pauses between laughs. It's as if the air starts leaking out of the tire and there's a desperate need to plug it up with more laughs as soon as possible.
There are even jokes that I really dig but that I won't do in a short set for precisely that reason. They're stories that require patience from the crowd and I'm too scared to let that much air out of the room.
In a longer set, I'll go there. But when I've got only 8-10 minutes, I feel the need to grab 'em fast and not let go. I imagine you can stretch more when you get to consistently do longer sets, perform in front of crowds that know you, and can rely on years of experience to orchestrate it just so.
Tue, May 8 - 8:00pm - Chest Hair @ The Creek Tue, May 8 - 9:00pm - Giggles @ Grand Victory Thu, May 10 - 8:30pm - Abe Mixture @ Legion Bar Fri, May 11 - 8:00pm - Kings County Comedy Hour @ Vaudeville Park Thu, May 17 - 7:30pm - Hot Soup @ UCB-East Thu, May 17 - 8:00pm - Laughing Devil Comedy Festival @ Laughing Devil
Also coming up: Sat, May 26 - 8:00pm - We're All Friends Here @ The Creek
Where do creative people come from? On Beginnings, two fledgling comedians talk origins with professional creators and others just starting out, and hopefully answer their parents’ question, “What are you doing?”
We discussed comedy, hippies, trees, creativity, and more. Good convo.
If you're not familiar, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless are two fools who argue about stuff on ESPN. Basically they are the Bill O'Reilly and Nancy Grace of sports. They're taking their "we disagree with each other on everything" shtick to the next level recently – I'm talking Mean Gene interviewing Jake the Snake level.
Exhibit A is below. It's them arguing whether Tim Tebow is one of the top 100 players in the NFL. Start watching from 2:15in. While Smith talks, Bayless licks his chops and arches his eyebrows, and does some sorta shoulder shimmy as if he's about to start doing The Forbidden Dance. When Bayless talks, Smith refuses to look at him, turns to the side, sips a cup of coffee, and eventually pulls out a newspaper and starts reading it on air. Get it!???!!!??? They don't respect each other's opinions! Good times.
Y'know, Heath Ledger was pretty good as The Joker. But I've never seen anything creepier in my life than Skip Bayless licking his lips.
Dunham tells me that Girls is her least overtly autobiographical production. It’s more collaborative, with a far greater focus on the ensemble, male as well as female. Dunham praises Apatow’s “add stakes” notes, which she says emphasized the characters’ emotional lives. “He gives the note you don’t expect—not ‘What’s the funniest hand-job scene in the world?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I don’t understand what this has to do with love.’”
Laughs matter most, but stakes are what make people give a shit.
I've written before about how dating a comedian must suck. Well, a couple of relationship articles I read recently reminded me of issues that pop up when dating a comic.
Over at Quora, film director Heather Ferreira answered the question "Why do so many celebrity marriages fail?" Most comedians ain't celebs but I think her answer sheds some light on why comics (and other performers) often have a hard time sustaining a relationship.
Speaking as someone devoted to making motion pictures for a living, I will admit, and warned my current boyfriend when we started our relationship together, that I am absolutely one-hundred and ninety-nine percent married to my art. I love him but the craft of making films will come before him in every decision unless I make desperately concentrated efforts to override that inclination...
Fame is a strange business. It demands the most of you and is a jealous mistress. Faking or half-assing devotion to her will make her walk off and leave you for another; and when you're living in a world where, say, you're a good pop singer but there are equally competitive rivals like Lady Gaga in the room who won't ditch a rehearsal or songwriting session to hang out with the boyf and listen to how great he is, this realization will keep you awake at night.
A marriage takes a lot of work. It requires you to give your partner attention and emotional support, to spend quality time with them, and to take the focus off of you and instead place it on them.
After a few relationship-testing episodes, some spouses have started insisting that their partners ask for approval before posting comments and photographs that include them. Couples also are talking through rules as early as the first date (a kind of social media prenup) about what is O.K. to share. Even tweeting about something as seemingly innocent as a house repair can become a lesson in boundary-setting.
The "what is O.K. to share" issue pops up for comics too. Is anything your partner says/does fair game to be included in a bit? Or do you need to get permission first? Or do you just not even go there? If you're a comic who does personal material, you want to be able to bring up real life stuff. But if it pisses off the person you date, you've got a problem. Thorny, eh?
I remember talking to a comic's girlfriend once about this. I was talking to her about a joke that involved a gal I was dating at the time. I asked, "Will she be pissed if I talk about her onstage?" This gal's response: "She'll probably be more pissed if you don't talk about her onstage." Reminded me of the old "any PR is good PR" argument.