Monthly Archives: June 2011

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 8: Professionalism

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 8: Professionalism

Inline-conan-collage

You may have seen fastcompany.com's 2011 output of the 100 Most Creative People in Business back in May. That ridiculous photo of the many Conan's sure caught my attention. Though Conan O'Brien came in 8th place, the focus on his creative process is worth reiterating. Plus, he wrote a guide to creativity. Who doesn't like guides?

The man is a true professional who rides on the success of effective preparation. But key to his real success is the pressure-induced, improv decision-making that follows his good prep. "Prepare like crazy," says Conan. "But then just as you're heading out, half an hour beforehand, forget all of it. It's in your reptile brain. Go out but feel loose enough to grab opportunities as they come up."

Conan draws analogies between horse-racing, diamond-formation, cooking and surfing to the business of creative comedy. Somehow these topics have a few things in common: they are greatly impacted by the chance occurrence of the perfect elements, the presence of a ton of pressure, and the flexibility to go off course should the opportunity arise. Conan puts a lot of weight in the fun factor and maintaining a loose work environment to allow full freedom for mistakes and mishaps that may turn into the next best idea. Also, knowing what he can and cannot control has allowed Conan to tap further into his improvisation. His job is to set the tone, not to micro-manage his writers. Therefore, his tone is light and he considers the best and the worst to be on equally footing for funny material. The best material from Conan happens when he draws outside of the lines and the audience can tell that something organic is happening. Conan tells his colleagues that "the only way we can screw up is by not being bold enough." 

So what can we learn from Mr. O'Brien's guide about creativity in the business of comedy? 

1. "Creating a show is like playing the horses… No, wait-it's really like the making of a jewel." (i.e. The build up of pressure fosters a great production).

2. "Prepare like crazy so you can wing it." (i.e. Trust your 'reptile brain').

3. "Improvising is like surfing." (i.e. Be open to the whim of the current and ride out the opportunity to improvise).

4. "Creativity should be fun. Seriously." (i.e. Seriously fun).

5. " Fostering a collective comic sensibility is like cooking." (i.e. Get a rough idea, but don't overcook things with intense rehearsals because you need room to seize the moment for improv). 

6. Learn from other creative CEO's, and pep-talk your staff (i.e. Only try to control what you actually can, and create an environment where people are encouraged to be bold). 

Laughter: The “Inner Pharmacy”

Laughter: The “Inner Pharmacy”

Laughter Rx Gita Fendelman is a laughter yoga instructor and member of the Tucson Laughter Club. It's been seven years since she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and four since she started practicing laughter yoga. Since she started laughing, she's ditched conventional medication for what she calls her "inner pharmacy" – laughter. It's all she needs to feel healthy.

Though Fendelman had been practicing Hatha yoga since 1971, her illness hindered her ability to do her traditional practice. "I heard of laughter yoga, and I figured I could still laugh," she said. She also remarked that laughter can improve many disorders aside from Parkinson's such as depression, chronic pain, sleep disorders, diabetes and arthritis. Fendelman insists that the only side effects are good ones – like when you just can't stop laughing. 

 

 

 

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 7: Do Your Homework

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 7: Do Your Homework

Steven-wright There are lots of ways to study comedy. How you do it is up to you, but that you do it shouldn't be a question. The most embarrasing thing you could do would be to plagarize a joke (or think you were the first to come up with it) at your first big club gig and as you walk off stage, have someone point out that your three minute dentist bit was already done by Bill Cosby 30 years ago. That's why you gotta study comedy.

Another important part of studying comedy is studying "voice." But what's that mean, right? 

Take Steven Wright's "voice." You might say, "Well, there's a guy who's kinda depressed, and his humor comes out of being sad." Another way to view his voice would involve examining the mechanism of humor that he's using. For example, Wright uses absurdity as his main mode of humor. He is one of the greatest joke writers of all time, and his humor was continually surprising and clever and genius. It's the kind of humor that inspired me to become a comedian. I once wrote a joke about freeze-dried water, and I was telling it to a fellow comedian who said, oh, like that Steven Wright joke about dehydrated water? Good thing I didn't tell it on stage! I like to think that when that happens, it means we're on the right track. And that perhaps I have some similarities with his sense of humor. When I was younger, I was more interested in absurd humor then I am today, but I still appreciate it deeply. 

ACTION: Go to your parents' house and dust off their record player and their old comedy albums. Make sure that you are aquainted with the old comedy as well as the new and that you really have an idea of who wrote what classic bits: Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, etc. 

STAY TUNED: more tantalizing comedy secrets tomorrow! Also check out these series of How To's:

How to be a Comedian Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSix and Seven

So You Want to Write a One Person Show Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSix and Seven

 

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 6: Culture Jamming

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 6: Culture Jamming

First-date-comedy-club Continuing again from the last two posts on audience and culture, I have been discussing performing my show about traveling in India in other countries and for other audiences than my target demographic. Those who have not traveled, or who have no interest in spirituality/spiritual seeking find the shadow to be mildly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud-roll on the floor-hold-your-belly-because-your cheeks-are-hurting kind of funny. Women tend to enjoy it more than men. Older people sometimes more than younger ones. I also have performed the show in different countries. When I arrived to put it on in England, I realized there were a huge amount of references that I had no idea would be so so difficult to translate until I was on stage, telling the story. 

So not only are there differences in audiences' senses of humor with time, culture, and language, there are also differences in values and perspective. Audiences want to relate to the person on stage. And they want to be challenged at the same time. For example, people who go to see Dennis Miller are generally wanting to hear someone who is angry about things and politically conservative. People who watch Jon Stewart are generally wanting to hear the truth. Of course I'm not biased.

ACTION: Go out and do a set in a totally different venue with a totally different audience than you normally do. Figure out how to adjust your set for their sensibilities without compromising what you have to say.  Is it possible?

STAY TUNED: more tantalizing comedy secrets tomorrow! Also check out these series of How To's:

How to be a Comedian Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSix and Seven

So You Want to Write a One Person Show Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSix and Seven 

 

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 5: Wranglin’ Up Your Audience

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 5: Wranglin’ Up Your Audience

George-carlin1So this is a continuation from yesterday's post on Carlin… (read that first.) Now, imagine George Carlin's Stuff routine in front of a different audience than us. An Indian George Carlin, perhaps. He wouldn't be as funny talking about consumerism in a country where most people don't own homes. His jokes might just be offensive. Yet cross-cultural humor can work sometimes with the right adjustments.

I recently performed a one woman show about my trip to India and it's called Eat, Pray, Laugh! The show is about my travels across India from the perspective of a American female tourist. I talk about all sorts of adventures across in India, and I've found that people who have had similar experiences to mine find the show really funny. Specifically, other foreign women who have traveled in India, or traveled alone for the first time, been hit on, met other foreigners and had romantic interludes. 

ACTION: Imagine performing your act in different countries, different ethnicities, or different ages of people than normal. How would you adjust your act accordingly? What references or phrases need changing or explaining? What jokes don't work all together? Are there swears or blue material that need toning down? Ramping up? What fear comes up about adjusting your act? Are you afraid of "selling out?" Are you afraid of "dumbing things down?" Good! That fear will help you keep your artistic integrity as you consider how to make your humor accessible to more people.

STAY TUNED: more tantalizing comedy secrets tomorrow! Also check out these series of How To's:

How to be a Comedian Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSix and Seven

So You Want to Write a One Person Show Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSix and Seven