comedy

Podcast sharing time – Put Your Hands Together

Quick public service announcement:

I’ve been looking for a (free) podcast of various comedians’ stand-up routines for a while. I found one: Put Your Hands Together. It’s live weekly standup recorded at UCB-LA. There are big names, medium names, names I don’t recognize. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for, and I hope maybe you will like it too.

CLAP DAMMIT CLAP

 

Pre-game rituals

get over yourself and just get goofy, idiot

For my pre-practice rituals (and I guess pre-show rituals, tho’ I haven’t had a show in a while), in addition to ½ cup coffee, 3-5 min of Mind Games on the train, and 3-5 min of Dada Monologue as I walk from the station to the studio, I’ve added “be funny for a few hours beforehand” to the list of things to help put my mind in a peak improv mood.

…Which sounds a little weird when I type it out, not gonna lie. I believe that trying to be funny is a recipe for automatically not being funny. More accurately, I am trying to let myself be funny. Permission granted, go ahead, do it.

Here’s the thing: one of the reasons I started getting into improv in the first place was to learn how to be funny without alcohol.

The reason I think it’s easier to be funny with alcohol is because alcohol allows my carefully constructed wall of social propriety to fall to the ground. More succinctly: lowered inhibitions.

And one of the things I’ve learned from doing improv is that it’s hard to be funny if you’re inhibited. Inhibitions = fear = not taking risks, avoiding bold moves, doing cautious improv = bad comedy.

And the inhibitions that stop me from being a goof in everyday conversations are pretty much the same inhibitions that make me freeze up when I improvise.

So: I’m trying to practice being a goof in everyday conversations. I do characters and voices, I break into small silly dances, I crack jokes without second-guessing how funny they are. (A lot of it is in the delivery, I’ve found. And shrugging off the failures. And having an appreciative audience. My coworkers, thankfully, chuckle politely anytime they identify a joke as a joke, which is enough for me.)

My point: in my estimation, as an anxious performer, learning to be loose and goofy in front of one person… is a precursor to learning to be loose and goofy in front of seven people… is a precursor for learning to be loose and goofy in front of a thousand people.

Can I maintain this playful persona all the time? Fuck no. I can’t force playfulness if I’m not feeling it, but— I guess in the school of CBT— I can focus on little concrete goals, like finding reasons to insert silly voices into my conversations. And over time, “silly voices” can lead to “silly” can lead to “less inhibited improv.”

My own probably-ignorant two-cent ramblings, as ever.

 

P.S. Text images are dumb! Don’t care, using them anyway, fuck you.

Self-identity – What’s in a word?

“Funny.”

“Jokester.”

“Comedian.”

These are words that, outside of an improv crowd, have never been used to describe me.

…..

Inside an improv crowd, the terms are aimed at me either as reassurance for my insecurities (“I’m not funny, boo hoo!”/”Yes you are, you’re funny, shut up”) or part of a collective referral— the coach/teacher will say something like “You’re all jokesters, but…”

…And I tune out the rest of the sentence, because I’m busy thinking, “Wait, what? I’m part of this group. Am I a jokester? Me? No way. Really?”

It’s jarring to hear the term associated with me, even indirectly, because it is not part of my self-identity yet.

…..

This is kind of how I felt when I started running, too. After three years, I finally began referring to myself as “a runner” this past year. It took three age group race awards before I decided I had earned some rights.

Adulthood, too. Nobody feels like “an adult” when they turn 18, and I think most of us spend the next 10 years coming to terms with that word. “Adult.” Ick.

Or it’s like the fat kid who got skinny and still thinks of himself as “fat.”

You get my point.

Things take a while to mentally readjust, I guess.

Writing vs. Improvising

Just thinkin’— I’ve mentioned that I don’t get much out of written comedy— and I can appreciate the intelligence and humor and comedic-rule-following of the people who crafted the script, but it usually feels overworked to me. It’s too precious, too perfectly crafted, trying too hard.

I mean, I don’t hate sketch. I grew up on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It has a place in my heart. ‘Sall good.

When I started watching Comedy Central in high school, I discovered stand-up comedians, whose piercing comments on the absurdity of our lives felt a little more honest and relatable than, say, giant blancmanges playing Wimbledon. I appreciated that, too.

But it wasn’t until I discovered Whose Line Is It Anyway? that I realized comedy even had the ability to make me laugh out loud in a room by myself. If comedy could do THIS to me, why would I watch anything else?

When comedians come up with funny material on the spot, it… doesn’t feel overly precious. It’s raw, and spur-of-the-moment, and very “this is the best I could come up with right now, in this moment, and if it’s not good enough for you, fuck you.” I love that.

But mostly I get such a kick out of the unplanned hiccups (which I wrote about a while ago). I mean, watching a comedian crash and burn is no fun, but watching someone stumble and recover is… I don’t know. Human. Honest. Exposed. It tugs at my heartstrings. It’s fucking hilarious.

—–

I bring this up ‘cos I’ve been surrounded by comedy nerds lately, and my apathy for written comedy feels increasingly embarrassing.

But maybe I just haven’t been watching the best shows, right? So I’ve been trying to expand my repertoire. And it feels like an obligation. It’s not fun. Some of ’em are all right, but after I power through a couple episodes, I have no interest in seeing any more. I’ve watched some live shows. Same thing. Eh.

I guess it’s like sex. Some folks like vanilla, some folks have their kinks and fetishes. Whatever gets you off, well, there you are.

How to be funny

WARNING: I have zero right giving advice about this shit. ‘Sall just my $0.02.

 

I’ve heard from multiple sources that you can’t teach someone how to be funny. You can teach them comedic structure until their eyeballs fall out, but if they’re not funny, then they’re just not funny, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

I agree that endowing a sense of humor onto someone is (probably) impossible, but if YOU consider yourself unfunny and just want to be funnier… maybe hold off on the dreams of being a professional comedian for the moment, but I see no reason why you can’t successfully self-direct your own comedic journey.

  1. Everyone has a sense of humor. If you don’t, then yeah, you’re probably screwed, I’m sorry. But let’s assume that something has made you laugh, ever.
  2. Immerse yourself in funny things. Watch comedy. Listen to stand-up albums. Read humorists. Surround yourself with funny people.
  3. What makes you laugh out loud? (You probably don’t need to overanalyze it the way I have, but it might help direct your particular brand of humor.)
    • Speaking as a person with a history of slipping into depressive episodes, there have been periods in my life where I haven’t laughed for weeks. So when I do laugh during these periods, it startles me. I can easily identify the stimulus & response as unusual, and immediately analyze the situation (‘cos that’s how I do). What was so funny about this thing? Why did it make me laugh?
    • In my personal case, I find the most effective qualities to be:
      1. Surprises and unexpected twists, especially when I don’t notice the set up. (And the twist must have some logic; i.e. “Ah, this water is refreshing. OH MY GOD THIS ISN’T WATER, IT’S CLEAR TABASCO SAUCE” is stupid.)
      2. Physical comedy (as long as it isn’t too slapsticky or buffoonish; see below, “trying too hard”)
      3. Smart people just being their witty selves
    • I find “trying too hard” (i.e. basically anytime I perceive someone trying to be funny) to be unfunny. Because of this, I have difficulty appreciating most written comedy (including sketch). (This is just me. Most comedy nerds will disagree.)
  4. Stop being shy, and second-guessing yourself, and just make the damn joke that’s on the tip of your tongue. If it fails, chill out. Even great professional comedians fall flat sometimes. One bad joke is not the end of the world.
  5. Surrounding yourself with funny people helps a lot. They tend to be more forgiving of your bad jokes, and their good jokes can inspire you and motivate you and propel you to take more comedic risks. And, as with every skill, the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably funnier than I am. What’s your take?