Category Archives: Standup Comedy

The chapter in which I profess about my profession.

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 3: Your Relevance

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 3: Your Relevance

Twain So: is it more important for you to feel that your comedy will be relevant for a long time or rather that you are totally hip and cutting edge?

Some topics in comedy can go from ripe to rotten. If your act used racist or sexist stereotypes, it was probably pretty funny to people in the 50's and even 60's.  But eventually, those jokes stopped being funny… to people on the West Coast and the East Coast.  I hear that you can take jokes to the heartland that would have you boo'd off stage in San Francisco.  This is the "Men are.. and women are…" comedy.. the "black people are.. whereas white people are.."  It's also a very "You people are.." kind of feel.

Or you can take Tina Fey's stance when she became the youngest person ever (age 40 at the time) to win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Upon winning she declared, "I hope that, like Mark Twain, people will see my work 100 years from now and say, 'Wow, that is actually pretty racist.' " She came in 39th place for the 100 Most Creative People in Business this year, perhaps because she has a handle on both universally relevant topics and taking risks with potentially ripe to rotten humor. 

But what else is there?  Well, we can use humor to be self-deprecating, to talk about our own feelings… It's likely that it'll continue to be funny for a long time. 

ACTION: Write yourself a list of priorities or do some free writing about what's most important to you to convey so you can know for sure, "Yes, I want to be awesomely hip, and I don't care what people think about how I was in the future." or "No, I want my comedy to be a legacy for all of humanity for the next seven generations and to offend no one."

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 2: Humor is Evolving

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 2: Humor is Evolving

Funny-cat Humor is evolving, because culture is evolving. There is a continual stream of new cultural references and lexicon, new current social and political events, new media formats and uses, and shifts in social mores that change what we find funny.

Some comedians from the 1950s are still hilarious today, for example, Sid Caesar; and the ones who stand that test of time are worth studying. On the other hand, it's also interesting to look at the ones who didn't last and understand why they didn't. And thanks to the internet, we can actually watch comedy that didn't survive. It's like Jurassic Park.

ACTION: Do some contemplation: consider the reasons that made these extinct comics not so funny any more. Consider their cultural and political references. Decide whether you think that it is important for your comedy to stand the test of time and to be perhaps slightly more universal and have less cultural and stylistic preferences–or whether it is more important for you to feel really current and hip. It's a personal preference you'll need to be clear about more and more as you climb the comedy ladder.

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 1: Joke Inflation

How to be a Really Funny Comedian, Part 1: Joke Inflation

1124_jim_short In my last series, I talked about how to be a comedian.  So this is Level Two.  It's not just about taking the leap into comedianhood, but taking the leap into being a skilled jokeslinger (which is also the title of an album by Jim Short, who is a very talented comedian.)

The first step way to be a really funny comedian is to check out what other comedians are up to.  Having a really clearly defined awareness of what comedians are doing today and what they did in the past will help you learn how to write jokes–and what jokes have already been written–and who wrote them. People who were funny 20 years ago are less funny today. 

In the comedy world, we call it (ok, I call it): Joke Inflation.  Tomorrow, I'll explain Joke Inflation in depth.

ACTION: Find and watch three comics from the 1960's who are still hilarious today, and do the same for comics who are no longer funny.  Figure out why and why not.

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

How to be a Comedian Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven

So You Want to Write a One Person Show Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven

Laugh Factory Therapist

Laugh Factory Therapist

Kevin-nealon National Public Radio interview with Clinical Psychologist ILDIKO TABORI and comedian KEVIN NEALON. 

In acknowledging that personal anguish is at the heart of many stand-up routines, Hollywood's legendary comedy club, The Laugh Factory, recently took on Dr. Ildiko Tabori as in-house clinical psychologist to treat the club's comics. Free therapy will be available to performers four nights per week in a soundproof, private office in the upstairs of the club building. NPR's interview with Dr. Tabori and Saturday Night Live alumnus Kevin Nealon explores the need for therapy in the entertainment industry, but especially in stand up comedy. 

Nealon describes on stage performance as an "escape" from emotional issues, or in other words, "going to Disneyland". The ability to laugh off and transform neurosis into comedy on stage provides a platform for forgetting the emotional reality of life. The offstage come-down, that Nealon refers to as sometimes hitting him like "a ton of bricks", is what Dr. Tabori will be available to treat. 

Dr. Tabori explains the difficulty in recognizing psychological symptoms in comedians because of the variable nature of their work. Aside from this, therapy has been stigmatized as inhibiting to the punch-line humor found through pain. Some comedians don't want help because they fear coming out of the therapy office un-funny. Yet Tabori assures that funny is a personality trait and not necessarily a product of emotional pain. Besides, a comedian's funny can't be sequestered by a psychologist.

How to Become a Comedian, Part 7: The Well

How to Become a Comedian, Part 7: The Well

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If you haven't already, look back at what we've already covered.

Ok, here's where we get spiritual.  So you've done all the writing and stuff, but it's time for me to let you in on a new secret.  The ideas that come from you aren't yours.  Especially the really good ones.  That's good news.  It means you're off the hook.  It means you're off the hook to "figure it out" and to "do it right."  You' dont' have to worry about whether your jokes are "funny enough" or "good enough" because they're not coming from you anyway.  They're coming from Source.  From something greater.  Some source outside yourelf.  Even this idea isn't mine!  (Thank you, Guides!)  

ACTION: Sit with a new blank piece of notebook paper and light a candle.  Send a wish, prayer, or invocation out, calling for your muses.  Ask them to help you go to the Source, the Well, to pick out some really genius ideas, and to be their champion to bring them back to the world.  Set a timer for at least 10 minutes and just wait.  Then start writing.  Don't worry about what comes, just write.  Do this for at least a week.  

Next up: What to do with it all…