An analysis of "breaking"

An analysis of "breaking" character in comedy, from SNL to this Dean Martin/Bob Newhart sketch:

"More Cowbell" is the one that always comes to mind for me. According to the piece, the conventional wisdom on breaking: You might get a laugh, but it's a cheap one. However: “You’re allowed to break if the audience would never expect you to break.” Also interesting: It's known as corpsing in Britain.


HOT SOUP tonight (Tue) with Soder, Glaser, and more

Fun lineup at HOT SOUP tonight:

Dan Soder (MTV's Guy Code)
Nikki Glaser (MTV, Conan)
Louis Katz (Comedy Central)
Greg Warren (Comedy Central)
Mike Drucker (Fallon)
Kevin Barnett (Comedy Central)
Matt Ruby (MTV)
Gary Vider (AXS TV)

Full event info here. We can't always reveal entire lineup but surprise guests in recent weeks included Aziz Ansari, Nick Kroll, Wyatt Cenac, and Judah Friedlander.


Candor as bond between artist and audience

Lena Dunham profile in Vogue. Get past the pics hubbub and it's an interesting piece for Girls fans.

She came to regard candor as a powerful inventive tool: one that offered the energetic release of an uncorked bottle but also created a bond between artist and audience...

She thinks about an observation Antonoff made one day when she was feeling low.. “He’s like, ‘You know what’s hard? People want the person who wants to share it all.. But they want the person who wants to share it all minus foibles and mistakes and fuckups.. They want cute mistakes.. They don’t want real mistakes.’ If I placed that many censors on myself, I wouldn’t be able to continue to make the kinds of things that I make.. And so I just sort of know there are going to be moments where I take it one step too far.”

The candor-as-bond thing reminds me of Howard Stern's approach ("the secret to my show is honesty") and how he's gotten his legions of admirers.


Bill Burr on Jerry Seinfeld

Bill Burr goes onstage at a charity event right before Seinfeld. Burr apologizes for cursing so much to Jerry. Jerry couldn't care less...

Burr on Seinfeld's act: "There's not a line of fat." [Thx MN]


This just in: Comedians are kinda crazy

In a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers analyzed comedians and found they score higher than normal people on traits like being impulsive, anti-social behavior, and a tendency to avoid intimacy.

"The creative elements needed to produce humor are strikingly similar to those characterizing the cognitive style of people with psychosis - both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder," said Gordon Claridge of the University of Oxford's department of experimental psychology, who led the study...

"Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humor, in its lesser form it can increase people's ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think 'outside the box'," he said.

"Equally, manic thinking - which is common in people with bipolar disorder - may help people combine ideas to form new, original and humorous connections."

So basically: If you want to be funny, it's good to be schizophrenic but not TOO schizophrenic.


George Burns on Johnny Carson: “When it comes to saving a bad line, he is the master”

Fifteen Years of the Salto Mortale is a fascinating 1978 profile of Johnny Carson. In it, director Billy Wilder gives this eloquent explanation of why Carson was so good.

“By the simple law of survival, Carson is the best,” he said.. “He enchants the invalids and the insomniacs as well as the people who have to get up at dawn. He is the Valium and the Nembutal of a nation.. No matter what kind of dead-asses are on the show, he has to make them funny and exciting. He has to be their nurse and their surgeon.. He has no conceit.. He does his work and he comes prepared. If he’s talking to an author, he has read the book.. Even his rehearsed routines sound improvised.. He’s the cream of middle-class elegance, yet he’s not a mannequin. He has captivated the American bourgeoisie without ever offending the highbrows, and he has never said anything that wasn’t liberal or progressive. Every night, in front of millions of people, he has to do the salto mortale”—circus parlance for an aerial somersault performed on the tightrope. “What’s more”—and here Wilder leaned forward, tapping my knee for emphasis—”he does it without a net. No rewrites. No retakes. The jokes must work tonight.”

The author also talks about Carson's great way with savers. He could dig himself out of any hole.

The unexpected impromptus with which he rescues himself from gags that bomb, thereby plucking triumph from disaster, are also part of the expected pleasure. “When it comes to saving a bad line, he is the master”—to quote a tribute paid in my presence by George Burns. Carson registers a gag’s impact with instant, seismographical finesse. If the laugh is five per cent less than he counted on, he notes the failure and reacts to it (“Did they clear the hall? Did they have a drill?”) before any critic could, usually garnering a double-strength guffaw as reward. Whatever spoils a line—ambiguous phrasing, botched timing, faulty enunciation—he is the first to expose it. Nobody spots flaws in his own work more swiftly than Carson, or capitalizes on them more effectively.


Seinfeld, the Heckle Therapist

How does Seinfeld handle hecklers? He turns into the Heckle Therapist:

Very early on in my career, I hit upon this idea of being the Heckle Therapist.. So that when people would say something nasty, I would immediately become very sympathetic to them and try to help them with their problem and try to work out what was upsetting them, and try to be very understanding with their anger.. It opened up this whole fun avenue for me as a comedian, and no one had ever seen that before.. Some of my comedian friends used to call me - what did they say? - that I would counsel the heckler instead of fighting them.. Instead of fighting them, I would say "You seem so upset, and I know that's not what you wanted to have happen tonight.. Let's talk about your problem" and the audience would find it funny and it would really discombobulate the heckler too, because I wouldn't go against them, I would take their side.

Reminds me of Paul F. Tompkins' advice on dealing with hecklers: "It's worth talking to hecklers to see if they are just goons who are trying to ruin your set or if they are just enthusiastic folks who want to get in on the fun."

Seinfeld's quote is from his recent AMA at Reddit. Another interesting bit is how he claims the show Seinfeld wasn't actually about nothing.

Yeah, I'm always annoyed by people who describe Seinfeld as a show about nothing.. Even in the later years when you guys strayed from the "how a comedian gets his material" formula, it was still about social faux pas and ridiculous social customs.

Seinfeld: FINALLY I have met someone that understands the show.. Thank you for your rare and perceptive analysis.

Here's a good summary of other interesting bits from it.


Big guests tonight (Tue) at HOT SOUP

TWO huge guests tonight (Tue) at HOT SOUP. These guys normally sell out theaters so we can't name names but there are hints here.

Wyatt Cenac (Daily Show)
Michael Che (SNL)
Christian Finnegan (Conan)
Nikki Glaser (MTV)
Will Miles (Chicago)
Mark Normand (Conan)
Matt Ruby (MTV)
...and more!

Facebook event has more info.


Why Seinfeld works clean

Jerry Seinfeld on how to be funny without sex and swearing:

Keeping his act sex- and swear-free, the way he sees it, is part of this athletic challenge, since it denies him the easiest laughs: "A person who can defend themselves with a gun is just not very interesting.. But a person who defends themselves through aikido or tai chi? Very interesting." Likewise his focus on minutiae.. "It's so much easier when you're talking about something that really is important.. You've already got a better foundation than someone who's bringing up something that does not need to be discussed." Such as? "I do a lot of material about the chair.. I find the chair very funny.. That excites me.. No one's really interested in that – but I'm going to get you interested! That, to me, is just a fun game to play.. And it's the entire basis of my career."

Interesting perspective. Not sure I agree with the idea that it's easier to talk about important things. So it's easier for Carlin or Stanhope than it is for Seinfeld? Important stuff gets people tense and stiff. Observational stuff doesn't do that. And no one walks out on your set because they disagree with your opinion on chairs.

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