Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 137 - Toddy and Avoidance

December 23rd, 2009

Last night I was sitting at a local bar with a hot toddy and taking notes in my ghetto spiral notebook. It occurred to me that I’ve been spending more time writing these days than getting on stage. I need to shift that. Immediately. I love hosting and performing at the clubs but every comic knows that the open mics are where you improve, grow and sometimes suffer in order to perfect your work. For my take on open mics, feel free to peruse, Day 104 - The Mic That is Open:

4 ½ out of 5 people (some are indeed dentists) ask me how I can do something as frightening, gut wrenching and vulnerable as stand-up comedy. The truth is, I ask myself the same thing. Sure, there is the “If I can do this I can do anything” element. But I feel most comics simply don’t have a choice. It’s the medium we need to air our grievances, make sense of the nonsensical and just to be heard. We’re a sensitive and complicated breed.

The book “Comic Insights, The Art of Stand-up Comedy” is my comedy bible. Jazz musician/comic/writer/actor, Franklyn Ajaye conducts truthful and often profound interviews with legendary comedians who candidly reveal what they do and why they do it. I was so engulfed in this book when I was reading it on the subway last year that I might have gotten mugged and didn’t notice. Or care.

Below are some passages that I resonated with and read over and over to remind myself why I partake in a craft that sometimes makes me want to vomit...then tends to remind me that I’m alive.

Louie Anderson on Richard Pryor: “This guy is hiding absolutely nothing from me, and he’s being completely honest, but yet he’s funny and he’s right and he’s making me think but he’s not making me feel guilty about what I am.”

Richard Belzer: “The tragedy that visits most great artists was not consciously sought out by them, but introduced into their lives. Creativity’s a blessing and a curse. If you don’t tend to it, it can do other things to you. That’s why we feel so good when we’re being creative – because we’re doing the right thing.”

Jay Leno on excessive profanity: “’Def Comedy Jam’ shows, I’m not shocked or offended, I’m just bored.”

Jay Leno on staying grounded- “The thing about comedy is that you don’t wield any power with comedy, you just reinforce what people already believe.”

Paul Reiser: “Most people, myself included, watch comedians on TV and go, ‘I could do that.’ Watching a mediocre comedian will trigger you. You’re not inspired by greatness, you’re inspired by mediocrity.”

Rosanne: “That’s what we comedians do- organize the world according to what we feel is right.”

Gary Shandling: “I just started talking as the audience was a shrink.” “I had a bad break-up with a woman…and went up on stage and said, ‘I broke up with my girlfriend because she moved in with another guy.’”

Gary Shandling on how to be free on stage: “I think you can only be on stage what you are in life.”

Jerry Seinfeld on the goal of comedy: “To become yourself.”

So the above generally do serve the purpose of putting some wind in my sails when I’m sitting in bars with a hot toddy when I should be in front of an audience. During the times when I have an intense disinterest in getting myself on stage, I must resort to "Bill Hicks's Principles of Comedy". Along with enlightening people to think for themselves, he basically says the same things as these other comics.…just with a little more sass. Sometimes I need tough love.

• The Bill Hicks Principles of Comedy

1. If you can be yourself on stage nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.
2. The act is something you fall back on if you can't think of anything else to say.
3. Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it's not that funny to you.
4. Never ask them is this funny - you tell them this is funny.
5. You are not married to any of this shit - if something happens, taking you off on a tangent, NEVER go back and finish a bit, just move on.
6. NEVER ask the audience "How You Doing?". People who do that can't think of an opening line. They came to see you to tell them how they're doing, asking that stupid question up front just digs a whole. This is The Most Common Mistake made by performers. I want to leave as soon as they say that.
7. Write what entertains you. If you can't be funny, be interesting. You haven't lost the crowd. Have something to say and then do it in a funny way.
8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that's where I start, Honest.
9. Listen to what you are saying, ask yourself, "Why am I saying it and is it Necessary?" (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words)
10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the room. There aren't any bad crowds, just wrong choices.
11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this you can do anything.
12. I love my cracker roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them.

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