I was at a small comedy show recently where a panel of eight or so comedians discussed who they thought would be on the “Mount Rushmore of Comedy.” I listened as all the comics listed their top four comics of all time and only one woman, Maria Bamford, was listed. And she was picked by the host, who went last, who might have thought “Hey, maybe I should throw a woman in there.” (and I only say that because everyone vehemently disagreed with Bamford’s right to be on the Mountain) That’s 8×4=24+ “best comedians of all time” listed and only one female comic came up. Isn’t that weird?
So I talk about Marc Maron a lot and I realized that not many people really know what he does. Even though he’s getting to be more of a household name, I bet that most people, when they heard that he interviewed Obama, went, “who?!”
Maron is a podcaster. And he’s a comic. And he’s been around forever but never really got a “big break” until WTF Podcast, which isn’t so much a “break” so much as it is something he made happen himself.
Marc is a self-described “angry dude” who somehow became the most successful comedy podcaster out there. His style is different. When I first started listening to him, I couldn’t help but find him loud, narcissistic, and yeah – angry. But the more I listened, the more I liked him. I realized that he’s a phenomenal interviewer and he has a great story. He’s “the underdog” and people like to see the underdog succeed.
This awesome article came out yesterday about how Maron rose to where he is today, and it’s a really cool read. For all the work that Maron does showcasing other people, it’s great that The Washington Post would feature his life’s work. You can read How an angry comic who had a coke habit became the Barbara Walters of podcasts here.
I came across this depressing piece a few days ago: Saying When: When is the right time to walk away from the comedy dream?. It’s a really long piece detailing when you should probably give up on comedy and do something real with your life. What fun!
Why would I want to read something like this? Well, for one, it’s good to know what to avoid. I think I’ve gotten loads better just seeing other comics do badly (not to be mean) and thinking “well I know why that didn’t work.” It’s almost as useful to see what doesn’t work as it is to see what does work and you see a lot of things not working at open mics, that’s for sure.
And for two, comics just like to talk about sad things like failing. Marc Maron has all but made a career out of it.
Positive things I took away:
- do things your own way
- don’t compare to others
- keep creating
See? It’s not all sad.
Have you ever been with a bunch of friends when one of them starts to laugh? And then she keeps laughing and laughing…and laughing. Until someone else begins to laugh at how ridiculous she is…and then suddenly everyone is starting to laugh uncontrollably?
Well that’s what happened in Tanzania in 1962, but it wasn’t just a group of friends. It was entire towns. And it didn’t stop for several months. I’m serious.
You might have heard about the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic (yes, epidemic) before, but you might not know that outbreaks of “mass hysteria” still happen there today. In fact, Radiolab did a story on contagious laughter that detailed another more recent outbreak, where one girl was actually hospitalized and repeatedly administered Valium until she finally stopped laughing when she woke up.
I first heard about contagious laughter when I was doing humor research on puns and I was like “No wayy – that’s impossible.” But, It’ real! Check it out.
I think it’s a fascinating concept and it kind of explains why stand up comedy works. If you ever ask a comic to tell you a joke one-on-one, he probably won’t do it. Why? Well, no one says, “Oh, you’re a dentist?! Pull out someone’s tooth right here at this dinner party!” Also, it’s just different performing to one person than it is performing to a crowd. Have you ever had a creepy girlfriend or boyfriend who sang love ballads to you one-on-one? It’s awkward! It’s like singing a love ballad, but with humor. Which sounds funny, but in person not so much.
Besides that, it’s just too risky. Telling a joke one-on-one, anything can happen. But I’ll tell you what usually happens: nothing. People just stand there and don’t say anything. Or worse, they say, “That was funny.” Rarely do they actually laugh, even if it’s your best joke that kills every time on stage.
Why? Well, there’s no other people around to laugh at the thing together! I think contagious laughter definitely comes into play when you’re doing a set for a crowd. And, the very best crowds are the ones who are laughing uncontrollably…one might say “bordering on mass hysteria.” Maybe I just need to play some venues in Tanzania and then I’ll be really funny.
As a comic, you’re always thinking about what sets you apart from every other comedian. You want to stand out: be different. Memorable. How are you special?
What sets me apart? Well, I’ll tell you: I say “thanks guys” at the end of every one of my sets.
Do you need some tips to help your writing stand out to agents looking for the next big thing? No? Me neither, never mind.
Here are some ideas to get you thinking about scriptwriting in a different way. Although it bills itself as a “for getting an agent” thing, this is really a useful read for learning about screenwriting in general. I mean, if you think about it, writing that will impress an agent is darn close to the same writing that will impress producers and other writers. So these are pretty good writing tips for any screenwriter.
I really need to set aside more time for screenwriting. I guess I’ll do that.
The featured picture shows the intersection of Macdougal and 3rd Streets in the West Village. Ben’s Pizzeria can be seen in the opening credits of the show Louie, where Louis CK grabs a bite of pizza and a passer-by flips him off. It’s also the scene for a first date in the pilot episode. The pizza is pretty good.
As a lot of conversations among comedians start, I was on the train with my friend Mark. I asked him if he’d seen Master of None (MoN) on Netflix yet. He said, “Yeah! I thought it was awful – I couldn’t watch past the first episode.” And of course I was like, “What?! That’s crazy! I think it’s awesome!”
I lied: his real name isn’t Mark. Way to lose the reader’s trust 15 seconds in.
Hey, remember that summer blockbuster Trainwreck that Amy Schumer wrote and starred in? That happened because Judd Apatow went up to Amy Schumer and was all, “We should do a movie together” and she was like, “Yeah defs, Judd.” That’s the kind of power Apatow has.
For people who don’t really care about behind-the-camera stuff much are probably like “I don’t know who that guy is,” but you should. Before I knew anything about movies or television (now I know a few things, maybe), I never really thought too much about writers or directors. Most people, me included, only focus on the actors because that’s who is there. That’s who you see. They’re usually the ones credited with the roles rather than the people who really invented the parts.
Apatow is one of the best comedy screenwriter/producer/directors out there and he came from comedy. Which means that he started by doing stand up. I think that’s a really unique point that most people don’t notice or pick up on. A lot of “humor” screenwriters have never actually done stand up before: they’re just writers. Apatow is also a performer, so it’s cool to see him come back to stand up again and come full circle, in a way.
This reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian documentary, which was about his comeback to stand up after Seinfeld. Maybe it’s not quite the same thing, but it has reminded me to post about that documentary at some point, so that’s good!
I got roped into this Apatow stuff by listening to the Todd Barry Podcast, on which Apatow was a guest this week. You can read about Apatow’s comeback here and listen to the podcast episode here (Ep. 111).
One other side thing that I heard about in the podcast was a pilot that Apatow is working on with Pete Holmes. It’s called Crashing and it’s a semi-autobiographical, single-camera comedy that has Holmes crashing on the couches of NYC comics. It sounds awesome and I’m hoping that it gets picked up by HBO because I want to see it. Who is Pete Holmes? He hosted The Pete Holmes Show, which ran on TBS from 2013 to 2014. Also, he purchased like 5 breakfast bars in front of me at the Denver airport once. You can find out more about that project here.
Once in a while I’ll look to share a cool stand up set from a comic I find cool or interesting. This is one of those times. Right, now. It’s happening, people!
This set that Randy Liedtke did on Conan was not your typical late night set, which I think makes it really cool. For part of it, he grabs his iPad and plays his “audiobook.”
Not your typical stuff. Check it out! Liedtke recently recorded his Comedy Central album. You can learn more about Liedtke here.
Remember how awesome story time was? Wasn’t it the coolest? Chilling in the classroom after recess, kicking back and hearing a fable or a yarn performed by your teacher just for you, with all the acting prowess of a Hollywood superstar like Keanu Reeves.
Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a place where people would come and tell stories to crowds of people? Like really, really awesome stories. Like, the best stories in the world. The kind of stories you only hear once every few years and they make you think, “Whoa, that was an amazing story.” (How often does your friend actually tell you an interesting story? Let’s be honest: never.)
Well, that fantastical fantasy actually happens at The Moth in New York City. It’s like story time for adults and it’s awesome.
In this video, Louis CK accepts some storytelling award at The Moth and starts his speech by humorously characterizing the storytelling organization as follows:
It’s nice to know you can reliably cry by listening to something.
Well, apparently there are a lot of sad stories told there. CK goes on to share a brief word about how awesome storytelling is before sharing his own story about a visit to Russia. The story is fantastic. It’s a great glimpse into Louis doing material that isn’t all punch lines, but is still hilariously fun.
You can also listen to The Moth on the radio, on iTunes, or on their website.
Shout out to a friend for sharing this great video with me!