Showing posts from June, 2017
Experience goes in, art comes out: Wants, Opinions, Emotions I have been pursuing a new style of note-taking in my comedy journal, in which I write down things other than fully written jokes. Instead, I write snippets: flashes of opinions, observations, things I want to express or convey, my visceral emotional reaction to something. The first reason I do this is because, to be frank, the process of "writing on stage" and recording it (aka fucking winging it) has proven to be more uncomfortable but more fruitful for me. But there is another reason as well. When it comes to writing material that people give a shit about, wants, perspectives, and emotions are better barometers. It is possible to write a very well crafted joke, and elicit a laugh. It is more potent, and gets more to the heart of standup, to be as honest and authentic to your experience as you can. But authentic to what? I think most comics, myself totally included, struggle to express a point of view in t
What kind of things do you keep in your notebook? Are they the right things for creativity? I listened to an interview with awesome comic Jerrod Carmichael (check out his 2014 and 2017 specials on HBO, directed by Spike Lee and Bo Burnham respectively), and he had an interesting perspective on what he keeps in his journal. I'm paraphrasing, but essentially: instead of keeping joke ideas per se, he keeps an active but non-comprehensive log of the things he wants, thinks, feels, and experiences throughout the day. It's not punchlines and act-outs and dialogue. It's only little glimpses into the story of his life, as expressed through his thoughts, wants, feelings, and opinions. I think, for a standup comic, this may be a great way to go. Most comedians, in the modern sense, are coming to the stage bringing their perspective and emotional experience of the world. If you don't have some idea of what that actually is, it makes it real hard to bring it. Journaling in th
How to Learn Anything Faster - Standup Edition In case you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of the author Tim Ferriss. Check out his stuff here . His podcast-interviews have helped me with a whole range of stuff, both creative and non-creative. One of his most interesting topics is the idea of accelerated learning. It is a fascinating topic which I won't get into here, but one of his key principles can be broken down with the acronym D.S.S.S. Deconstruction Selection Sequencing Stakes In brief (and I recommend this podcast from his website to hear him talk about it), these are steps you can take to learn something rapidly and thoroughly. With any given topic, skill, or craft: 1) First you Deconstruct it into the smallest possible components, the smallest possible building blocks of the thing. 2) Then, you Select the building blocks which are most critical to learn, using the guiding question, "which of these skills/ideas, if mastered, make the other ones
How to tell if you're an Amateur or a Professional: self-worth and time away from the Craft Heya folks! First off, sorry for going dark on you for a few days. It was a crazy little stretch for me living in New York: having experiences, composting, and generally taking some time to collect my thoughts on my progress in standup so far. I'm almost halfway through my time in New York (I'll have an official "halfway done!" post in a few days), but I wanted to take some time to evaluate my work so far, change course if necessary, and attack once again. I think most artists need time to compost. Even if your conscious mind isn't working on the craft, often times your subconscious mind is. Steven Pressfield offers two views of an artist: The Amateur and the Professional. The difference is more than just that one does it for love, and the other for money. In his view, an Amateur is an artist whose identity, personality, and day-to-day life is too intimately a
Standup Comedy on the Sidewalk I had a successful open mic last night! Hooray!!!!! It was a weird one. The space where the open mic usually takes place is a restaurant a few blocks from my airbnb. But the restaurant's back room was booked last minute by a group of 25 paying customers, so the comedians were promptly kicked the fuck out. Never to be kept down, the intrepid comedians set up the microphone and amplifier on the sidewalk, where we proceeded to accost total strangers and passersby with our dick-jokes, embarrassing stories, and racial observations.  But, in spite of all that, and going up very last, I actually had a decent set? One joke in particular went over well, in which I talk about how a subway patron started throwing up on the platform, but he had strangely wise-looking face.  The biggest take away form that success was that I did a big, but simple and fully fleshed out act-out (sort of). It only lasted a couple seconds, but it was unexpected and
Isaac Asimov on Creativity Want to have a greater understanding of creativity? Take the extra five minutes to read this statement written by Isaac Asimov. One part that I especially like, Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected. I would say this is definitely  true of good standup premises. A comedian sees a connection which most people wouldn't. That is as simple a statement as any to describe what improv folks, comics, and writers do. Shorter post today, but that article is definitely worth a read. See you tomorrow! -Jon
Galileo Be Damned. As far as I'm concerned, THIS  is the center of the universe. Afterwards I described it to a friend as "I am white-girl excited right now." I saw Colin Quinn walking in, and I did my best impression of a person who didn't even care. Last night, I saw my first performance at the Comedy Cellar on MacDougal Street in NYC. And it was actually everything I hoped it would be. Here was the lineup: William Stephenson (MC) Phil Hanley Lynne Koplitz Colin Quinn Matt Ruby Greer Barnes And, you guys. Not a single one of these motherfuckers was bad. Like, legit funny. Crowdwork, observation, act-out, joke structure. It was crazy. I'm sitting here trying to pick a stand out, and I legitimately can't. Each comedian had such a distinct voice, such well crafted material, and such an ease with the audience. If you want some new comedy to listen to, any of these comedians would be a great choice. Maybe start with Greer Ba
Coffee? Check. Notebook? Check. Happiness? Maybe not necessary. I listened to an interview with The Office writer and actor BJ Novak last night. He says that for his writing, it's important to cultivate a state of happiness. He'll sleep as much as he needs, let his mind compost, and insert enough coffee until he's adequately happy to start writing. But opposed to that, brilliant author Paulo Coehlo says that he'll amble around uselessly all morning until enough guilt builds up in him to start writing. Examples and counter-examples of this abound: some people who need a state of joy to write/create, and others who need no such bliss. For me, I can take away a simple lesson: don't wait for everything to be just right. Not necessarily, anyway. For you, or me, or the next creative person, we may be under the misguided belief that happiness is necessary to create art. Or (and I believe this is more often the case), we may believe that misery or active pain is req
How to stop procrastinating and start making art again This has been an immeasurably helpful tool for me, picked up from Tim Ferriss' book Tools of Titans . We all know that feeling when we should be doing something. Writing lyrics or music. Writing jokes. Making progress on the narrative or play. And the last thing we want to do is actually sit down and do it. We'll do anything: Netflix, Instagram, Facebook, Naptime, Street Fight - just to keep from doing it.  Well, here's a pro tip. Just agree with yourself to do one very small, stupidly attainable goal. I encouraged a friend to write more music by giving him this provocation: Just write one bad couplet.  Want to write more music? Trying to get back into songwriting? Sit down and agree that you only have to write one bad couplet.  "I feel that the hair of the dog is inside me I wish someone would take Bey's advice and just bride me" Done. And then, see if you don't want to write m
On overcoming fear, procrastination, and (capital R) Resistance There's a great book by author Steven Pressfield called The War of Art . Pressfield is an old Marine and best-selling author/screenwriter, and this book, for me, is a great summation of a lot of the thoughts and challenges that I've been experiencing as I dive into standup. In the book, he talks about the idea of Resistance, which is a powerful internal antagonizing force that all people - but especially creative people - feel. A lot of the book is dedicated to how we think about, approach, and ultimately overcome that feeling every day we have to create.  Here are a couple favorite quotes so far: Remember our rule of thumb: the more scared we are of the work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. A professional acts in the face of fear. An amateur believes he must first overcome his fear, and then he can work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows th
I interview a New York Equity Actor who is also a Comedian! Howdy folks! So I accosted a comedian, the very funny Molly Densmore, after an open mic a few days ago. This was before going on my spirit quest in the mosh pit, so production time slowed down a bit. BUT, she's a comedian with a theater background, and I wanted to share some of the highlights from our conversation. JO: What's your relationship to jokes versus act-outs? MD: That's a basic bitch question. (laughs) No, I'm kidding. JO: It really is, it really is. MD: I think I personally like act-outs, because of the background [in theater and improv], and I have kind of a knack for it. But there are so many people who never do act outs who are phenomenal , so it really depends on your thing. JO: So that's something that comes more naturally to you, as opposed to the sit-and-write jokey stuff? MD: Definitely. I mean, Maria Bamford is one of my favs, obviously- JO: Oh GIRL. MD: She's...  Jesus .
A joke as a complete thought; or, why some bits don't work The venerable and irritable inventer of observational humor, Jerry Seinfeld, said that a joke is like jumping a ravine. I'll paraphrase a bit here, but:  You have to give the audience enough information on one side to give them air, and enough information on the other side for them to land.  If you give them too much on either end, the jump won't be exciting, there's not much of a "leap" for the audience to make. In other words, the joke won't be funny.  On the other hand, if you don't give enough of a ramp or a landing, however, the audience won't have enough context or information to get what you're saying. The idea is incomplete, and once again, no funny.  I say all of this to say what? Your joke has to be a complete idea. A lot of open mic comics get caught up in trying to be surprising, or trying to introduce a new perspective, but the through line of thought has
Overcoming the "Ivory Tower" in art and Trolling a Bartender How do you make people give a shit about art? Put more delicately: In making art, especially anything performative, it can be all too easy to get locked into the echo chamber of your community. How can you break out of this? How can you engage the "civilian" community? I can only speak to my experience in a 4-year conservatory-style theater program, BUT: when you only make work that is for your community, or presented to your community, it creates a kind of safety net. In the context of a school, where the point is to learn, this is generally a good thing. To get better at art (or most things, I imagine) you need to risk failing, and overcome your fear of failure. However, this can also become your Achilles Heel, because over time you begin to make assumptions about what an audience knows about the form/craft/culture of the art, and also about the world in general. That's why actors can pour th
Jonah in the Belly of the Moshpit & indulging your voyeur nature Do you ever notice how you feel like you don't have something to write about? I experience that all the time. Here's a quote from Buck Henry, an old-school comedy writer, that I got form Mike Sacks' book And Here's the Kicker , "I think all writers should have a voyeur nature. You have to look and listen. That's why some writers might run out of material. They're not looking, they're not listening." I think that's very true. It reminds me of a conversation with some good friends during the comedy studies program with Second City in Chicago. We concluded that the people who were all comedy all the time lacked a certain something when it came to their writing. All they knew was comedy, so all they could do or talk about was comedy. In the words of Anne Libera, it eventually devolves into "an endless series of Monty Python references." So these are some thought
Stand-Up Theory. (yikes) Had a great discussion with the aforementioned psycho Jordan Nevins yesterday. He's a smart cookie. A crazy, crazy, intelligent cookie. I wanted to get his opinion of an idea I had re: the structure of most stand-up. It seems to me that most of every modern (!) stand up act can be broken down into different proportions of the following three crafts/skills/structures, with a bonus fourth I'll talk about in a second. 1) Jokes 2) Debate 3) Cartoonism Here's what I mean by each of those three, because I'm using the terms fairly specifically. 1) Jokes A joke, as I talked about in an earlier blog-post, is a discrete verbally or physically expressed broken expectation. If you've heard of Henny Youngman before, he was an old sexist who popularized stand-up as a joke-based form. His most famous line is, "Take my wife - please!" That's not a funny joke anymore, but it illustrates a point. In the first par
Getting in touch with the roots - Absurdism Heya folks! I played with fire yesterday and got BURNED. Aka I only scheduled one open mic, and it got cancelled. So, I'm feeling a bit sheepish. Fortunately, the free time did give me an opportunity to reconnect with some comedic roots. I'm talking absurdism. Early Louis, Ernie Kovacs, Rory Scovel, Reggie Watts #CornishRepresent, the weird shit. It's the  kind of comedy that acknowledges that it's  comedy, and does things arbitrarily to build tension. Especially in a world where EVERY COMEDIAN IS A SKINNY WHITE GUY TALKING ABOUT HIS LIFE, it's important for me to remember that my story is unique, authentic, and full of dignity. But also nobody gives a fuck about it. You know, artistically. But can I play with the form? Can I generate legitimate surprises? Can I create original thought? Absolutely. I'm starting to think that the way forward for me in this is absurdism. Short post today, but I've got some
Ever written a song? Thinking about writing some stand-up? Here are two pro-tips! (idiot) There are some interesting similarities and differences between those who create music and those who create comedy. Qualities like discipline to practice, earnestness of expression, and attention to dynamics hold true across both forms.  It's been a challenge to transition from songwriter to joke-writer, but here are two pro-tips I would have given myself starting out: 1) You have to get specific with meaning. Lyrics are closer to poetry, in that the meaning of any given line (or sometimes the piece as a whole) is subjective, ie. you don't have to know exactly what the songwriter meant for the song to be meaningful or pleasant. See any of ABBA's music for a good example. They didn't even fucking speak English. #MAGA #NotMyEuroVision. But knowing exactly what they meant isn't necessary to enjoy the song. You can transfer your own feelings and storyline to the music
My first Interview with a Comedian! If a comic gets a laugh at a mic, but he doesn't record it on his phone, does it still get a laugh? I'm not sure, but mark it on your calendars folks! Last night, the 6th of June in the year 2017, I got a laugh on purpose! Two, in fact! (I think) At my first mic, I opened with an absurd, mostly wordplay bit about almost joining the military that played really well for some reason. And at both mics, I ended the set with a joke about ghosts. And at both mics, the ghost joke got a laugh! Cannot overstate how ecstatic I am. Something that most achievement- or creativity-driven types such as myself can tell you is that we rarely take time to pause and appreciate victories. This can make the slog to improvement seem a little more rough than it actually is, as the daily failures are more common and more present than the intermittent successes.  So chalk one up to victory! We told a stupid joke about ghosts and it got a pop of
Fly-by-night proposition #damnmyeggs So yesterday I got a crazy idea. I woke up and wrote a bunch of jokes. Last night at a couple open mics, I did those new jokes. And do you know what happened? I got about the same amount of laughs with this material as with the old material! Maybe a little better. Do you know what this means? Means I GOTTA STEP UP 2 THA STRAYTS ON DIS SHIT. I mean I have to write more. I was holding onto the idea of the material that I had too closely. To think about it in terms of songwriting, it's like I was playing shitty songs I wrote in high school for my college recital. It's time to write new stuff so that A) I can practice writing jokes on-demand, and B) I can improve my odds of writing a great joke. Because, to quote Mike Birbiglia in an interview with Tim Ferris, "'s not about being good; it's about being great. Because what I find, the older I get, is that a lot of people are good, and a lot of people are smart, and a
All of Old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. That's some classic theater-school inspiration for you. Another couple open mics last night, and another two mediocre performances from me. I should take a moment to admit and appreciate that I am not bombing, in the traditional sense: I am not performing to silence. I am getting polite titters throughout my sets, which is what most of every open mic is all about. But god dammit if that is not frustrating as hell. Heard a theory of stand-up, that there are two kinds of comics: 1) Joke-based, and 2) Charisma-based. Examples of the first might be Demetri Martin, Mitch Headburg, or Steven Wright. Examples of the latter may be Dane Cook, Robin Williams, or even Doug Stanhope. I think that the joke-based versus charisma (or performance) -based dichotomy is really just two ends of a spectrum. Most comics fall somewhere in the middle. My guess is that most comics also start at on
Self-doubt is an intrinsic part of creative work. This is how New York Comics get past it. Being a Seattle Comic in New York is like being a guy with a cold in the hospital. It's like, "Oh... I should have been way more serious before I came here." Last night, I had a sophomoric attack of consciousness. I thought to myself, "I'm in New York, dammit. I don't have to go to open mics every night . I should go to this party with my friends! Yeah! YEAH!" No, no. Not at all. For example, at the party, I had a conversation with a girl who just quit her job the day before, and it wasn't even a good story. How do you fuck up the story of quitting your job? To quell my guilt of not hitting any mics, I binge-listened to three episodes of the aformentioned Lets Talk About Sets podcast. I'm definitely coming up against my first psychological challenge when it comes to self-doubt, loneliness, and generally realizing how bad I am. This podcast is essent
When it comes to the arts: writing, performing, creativity, I believe in cross-pollination. You know, bees and shit. That's why I'll probably be quoting artist and craftsperson Jordan Nevins (he goes by "Jevins") a lot in this blog. He's a total psycho and a wonderful creative mind, and he always seems to stumble onto soundbites worth thinking about. Last night, he was hypothesizing that it can be just as valuable to stay and watch an open mic or a mid-level feature show as it is to watch a Netflix or HBO special, because the successes of not-legend-status comics will be more similar to mine. If I watch "2017" by Louis CK, "it's going to be entertaining to [me] for reasons that I don't recognize make it good. I'm not going to pick up on the magic that puts it together." It'll just be all slap-farts and lizard brain for me, while CK works on a different level. Sometimes you have a stupid simple realization. Of course this i
And so it happened. My first time on stage in New York, at the Ange Noir Cafe. Nothing but four minutes of glory. It went pretty spectacularly average. Did four minutes of material to a house where maybe three people were looking at the stage. Oh open mics, how I love thee! The throngs of disenfranchised comedians swiping and tweeting and tumbling, the fresh smell of beer and covfefe in the air... I was happy to perform there for two reasons 1) it had a notably "Seattle-like" vibe. Progressive. Jean-Jackets. Button-ups with ironic prints. And 2) it was free. No cover, no purchase minimum. More interesting than the set/material was my total lack of commitment to talking to any of the regulars afterwards. What do real human people talk about? Can anybody tell me? Weather, apps, PBR, places with "awesome deals on Wednesdays"? Is there a way I can conceal my obsessive ambition towards craft and theory? Should an artist have to conceal that? Fuck: are comedians