I watched people like Marc Maron and Doug Stanhope, and other confessional comedians who I admired. Also, my first manager was this guy named Lucien Hold, who has since passed away. He was the original talent booker for The Comic Strip on the Upper East Side, so he passed [i.e. let onstage—ed.] Jerry Seinfeld and Larry Miller and Chris Rock, and Eddie Murphy used to play there when he was 18 years old. He took me under his wing, and one of the things he said at one point was, “You should really write about yourself, because no one can take that away from you. No one can steal it.” That was very instructive toward where I went.
If you talk about something that only happened to you, no one can ever accuse ya of being hack.
One challenge of going personal is that it's tough to get people to identify with what you're talking about. Gay marriage or the differences between men/women or fast food are topics ripe for joking. Playing basketball in a Jewish youth league? Not so much. Here's how Gary Gulman deftly manages that...
...Below, Birbigs talks about how to take something personal and make it relatable.
When you’re writing something, no matter how specific and personal it is to you, you need the audience to feel it’s about them. That is the balancing act of writing something personal, is that you need to get really specific with yourself and somehow make that feel really specific to the audience. I’ll give you an example of that. I’m trying to come up with an analogy right now for the stage. Last night I performed at Union Hall, and I’m doing so many talk shows and personal appearances that I want to be able to say things in a comedic way about making the film that people will understand, that’s relatable. But making a film is actually entirely unrelatable. There’s nothing relatable about it, it’s nothing like anything anyone has ever done, except like, 100 people in the world. You need a million dollars to do it. Not only do you need a million dollars, you need to be willing to blow a million dollars. It’s a small subset of the world, and fortunately it wasn’t my own million dollars.
So I came up with an analogy this week that I think is going to work, and it worked last night onstage. Directing your first film is like showing up to the field trip in seventh grade, getting on the bus, and making an announcement, “So today I’m driving the bus.” And everybody’s like, “What?” And you’re like, “I’m gonna drive the bus.” And they’re like, “But you don’t know how to drive the bus.” And you’re like, “Well, I’ve been watching the bus driver, and I’ve been playing close attention. I’ve been watching other people’s bus rides. I know what I like, I know when I think a bus ride is good, and I have a notebook of things that I’ve written down that I’ve observed about other bus rides.” Sometimes you drive the bus to the location, sometimes you drive off a cliff. That can happen. So it feels very risky, but then if you get to your destination, it feels like it pays off in such a big way.
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