How improv gets the imagined typer out of the way

Long piece on Steve Carell and the meticulous art of spontaneity:

Most comedy directors now believe that even an expertly written script can’t reliably elicit belly laughs. Nicholas Stoller, the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, both of which were substantially improvised, said, “The movies we’re trying to make, which have a hard laugh every minute, could not be made without improv.” Traditional comedies have a sleekness that calls to mind the typewriter. Consider the moment in the 1980 film Airplane! when two passengers chat before takeoff: “Nervous?” “Yes.” “First time?” “No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.” The point of improv, Apatow told me, is to make scenes feel fresh and unstudied—“to get the imagined typer out of the way.” When an improv really works, it has a skewed specificity that bears the stamp of an actor’s subconscious. In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, it’s the scene where a vexed Mike Myers, as Dr.. Evil, stifles his son, Scott, with a whole run of shushes: “Let me tell you a little story about a man named Sh!” Scott opens his mouth—“Sh! even before you start.” Tiny pause. “That was a preëmptive Sh!” Scott opens his mouth again—“Just know I have a whole bag of Sh! with your name on it.”


Getting the script outta the way and replacing it with the performer's subconscious makes an entirely different cake.

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Rick Rubin on opening people up

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5 things I love about Ted Alexandro

5 things I love about Ted Alexandro:

1) His energy onstage. So many comics rely on being high energy – practically yelling toward the crowd. Ted takes the opposite approach. He leans back. He draws you in to his worldview. There's a zen calm to his approach. Yet he still manages to be hilarious.

2) And I dig the way he's political. See, there's the kind of comedian who preaches and lectures about his political views. Ted doesn't do that. He's a "be the change you want to see in the world" kinda guy. He's super involved in the Occupy movement without being in your face about it. And he seems to constantly be doing things like making calls for Obama or cleaning up after Sandy or volunteering somewhere in Astoria.

3) He also founded the New York Comedians Coalition which got clubs in the city to raise spot pay for comics. I can only imagine how hard it was to bring together a group as lone wolf-ish as NYC comedians in any sort of organized way. But Ted managed to pull it off.

4) Then there's his most recent standup special. Most comics tape specials in a big room in front of a juiced up crowd. Ted taped his at The Creek in front of a few dozen people. It's a special about the reality of doing standup, not the "on steroids" version that's usually released. (And he was able to put it out without lining the pockets of a big corporation.)

5) A lot of big name comedians look down on comics who are less experienced. They ignore them or do the ball busting/hierarchy thing. I've never seen Ted do that. He's always been patient and kind in conversations with me and other less-experienced comics. No wonder he gets so much respect from his peers.

It's easy to measure the wrong things in this business – to look at who's got industry heat or a pilot deal or a high iTunes ranking. But sometimes the person who's really winning is the one who redefines success. When I look at how well Ted does both onstage and off, I see true success. I see someone who is an example of how you can make people laugh and be an artist and a nice, authentic human being.

If you feel the same (or want to take my word for it), Ted is now raising money on Kickstarter for his "Teacher's Lounge" web series. It's created & written by Ted and Hollis James and stars lots of comics you know. There's less than 70 hours to go in the campaign and they're close but still need some more funds. I just pitched in some cash and I encourage you to do the same.

Related: Ted Alexandro on letting jokes breathe

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How large a part of your life is it?

In Being a comic and a punchline, Cameron Esposito talks about when she hears comics doing “I’m for gay marriage but…” jokes.

When I hear comics tell those jokes, I wonder what other, more personal experiences they might have to talk about.. You say you worry that people think you look like a lesbian and you aren’t one? Okay, sure. How large a part of your life is that fear? The audience you are in front of tonight might never see you again, so is it a crucial enough aspect of your life that you’d want to it be the only topic an audience ever hears you discuss? If not, talk about something that is. If so, why is that? What are you so afraid of?


I think that's an interesting frame: If an audience is only going to see you once and hear you talk about one thing, what would you want it to be?

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Bob Dylan on the supernatural artist

Bob Dylan's system for rating artists (according to author Robert Hilburn):

Artists fit into one of three categories-the natural performer, who does the best they can within their limits on stage; the superficial performer, who shouldn't be on stage in the first place because they've got nothing original to tell you; and the supernatural artist, who, in Bob's words, 'is the kind that digs deep and the deeper they go, the more gods they'll find."


It's like artistic limbo. How low can you go? Also brings to mind another question: What happens if you find demons in the depths alongside those gods?

Assume you have to make it yourself

Oren Brimer on Producing 'The Pete Holmes Show'.

I’m not saying it’s everyone’s path, but my path was being really good at everything. I can write something, I can direct it, I can edit it, I can produce it, because at the end of the day you have to assume no one’s going to make anything for you. Assume you have to make it yourself and then whenever someone will help you or you get money for it, that will only be a bonus as opposed to being an expectation. I feel like people get bogged down by feeling like they need someone to validate their idea before making it as opposed to just making it.


Good thinking. Waiting around for the industry to "discover" you puts your fate in the hands of others. Not to mention, a lot of industry folks operate from a place of fear and not wanting to get fired as opposed to caring about what's good or not (if they even know what's good). Make something you think is great and prove it's worthwhile. Even if it gets you nowhere, at least you made something. Makers make stuff. Complainers complain about stuff.

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TMZ vs. Satan


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The college scam


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The lesson Norm MacDonald learned from Steve Martin

From Normcore: Norm MacDonald's Quest to Host 'The Late Late Show':

The one thing you don't want to do is say, "I'm going to be different than anyone else — I'm wearing jeans!"...Steve Martin told me when he started out he was dressed as a hippie, and that shocked me. He was like, "Well, I was doing avant-garde stuff. Then suddenly I realized avant-garde comes out better from a guy in a white suit." I thought that's pretty fucking smart.


People laugh at odd combos. High-low, skinny-fat, smart-dumb. Comedy is in the contrast.

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Took my chances on a big jet plane, never let them tell you that they're all the same

Los Angeles friends: I'll be in your city next week. If you want to see me tell jokes, I'll be performing on the following shows...

Jun 10 - 8:00pm - Put Your Hands Together @ UCBLA
Jun 11 - 8:00pm - Pints & Puns @ Angel City Brewery & Public House
Jun 12 - 8:30pm - Josh and Josh Show @ Bar Lubitsch
Jun 13 - 8:00pm - Peachy Keen @ Bar Lubitsch
Jun 15 - 9:00pm - Neal Brennan and Friends @ Mi's Westside Comedy Theater
Jun 15 - 9:45pm - French Toast @ Le Taix

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