By staff writer E.E. Southerby
July 18, 2004
“Comedy for Comedians, Those Who Want to Be, and Their Moms”
Now Playing: “The Tide is High” by Atomic Kitten
So you've always dreamed of one day becoming a stand-up comedian like Jerry Seinfeld or Gallagher, but you just don't know where to begin? Fear not, dear reader! As anexperienced veteran amateur comedian, I have prepared this guide to walk you through every step of your burgeoning comedy career, from the moment you step on stage to the moment, 13 seconds later, when you're ushered off-stage by well-trained security personnel who just “don't get it” and insist you wear pants at all times and also stay away from the children's hospital. Keep this column close by at all times; it might save your life someday. Here's what happened:
-Your road to comedy stardom will most likely begin at an amateur, or “open-mike” night. If God is as compassionate as Billy Graham would have you believe, your road will end there as well. But this is no time to dwell on the negative. Instead, think about all the perks this amateur comedy night affords you. First, you get to spend an evening speaking to other amateur comedians, all of whom should be on Letterman any day now. Then you get to sweat under bright lights for five minutes, telling jokes to an audience of UP TO 25 people, all of them relatives of someone else on the show, who therefore will not be listening to you while you perform and will simply be waiting impatiently for their guy to get on-stage so they can cheer him on regardless of how terrible he happens to be. Sometimes you'll even get a free non-alcoholic beverage. It's pretty keen.
-When writing up your “set-list” (the jokes you will be telling), be sure not to go overboard. Many first-timers mistakenly think they can cram fifty jokes into a five minute window, forgetting to allow time for laughter or pauses of abject silence and horror. If you do happen to stay on longer than the time allowed, the MC will probably blink a red light indicating that it's time for you to get off stage. Do not be fooled. The MC is just upset that you're doing better than he is, and the jealous bastard wants to put a crimp in your mirth. Stay on as long as you possibly can, even if you run out of material. Stand up there and make high-pitched yelping noises if you have to. But whatever you do DON'T BE FOOLED BY THE LIGHT. By doing 20 minutes of amateur stand-up comedy when you were only asked to do 5, talent agents (who swarm to amateur comedy nights in droves) will see that you have the take-charge attitude required for your own NBC sitcom. Don't let a stupid light stand in your way.
-Many people will tell you that it's difficult to write jokes that are actually funny. Although it is clear judging from this article that I don't have that ability, I can tell you with certainty that nothing is farther from the truth, except perhaps the movies of Michael Moore. Writing jokes is hella easy. The trick is to exploit anything that makes you different from an average Caucasian male. If you're black, do jokes about how hard it is to be black (or how big your penis is, I don't care). If you're a woman, talk exclusively about your period. An old Jewish or obesity joke never hurt either, particularly one you stole from an email forward. If you happen to be an average Caucasian male, don't fret. Just keep cursing and making lewd sexual references. Nobody is tired of those at all.
-At some point you might actually generate enough “material” about how you're black/female/overweight to get on stage without making a complete fool out of yourself. Youmight even have total strangers come up to you and tell you how talented you are. It will be tempting to rest on your laurels (whatever that means) and keep repeating the same jokes again and again, never modifying your act, for fear that it won't be as good as it once was. This is a great idea. If you ever get to this stage I urge you to never write another joke. Just keep going up there and doing the same shit over and over and over and over so that people know when they can safely go to the bathroom without missing a goddamn thing. I've actually heard “comedians” who perform no more than twice a month say they “don't have time” to write new material. I write 2000 words of original comedy every fucking week. I'm just saying…
-Let's face it. As sure as the sun sets in the west or possibly the east (wikipedia doesn't seem to be working right now), you're going to steal material. The trick is notto get caught. Some people use the “he stole it from me” excuse, wherein you accuse a professional of plagiarizing YOUR material, rather than the other way around. Some people use the “parallel universe theorem” wherein you suggest that both you and the professional comedian must have independently thought up the exact same joke at the exact same time. There is also the rarely-employed “no, that was me” syllogism. That's when someone accuses you of using a joke they saw on TV, and you say: “No. That person you saw on television was me.” It doesn't matter if you've never been on TV before, or if the person whom you're saying you are is of an entirely different ethnicity, gender or species. All that matters is, as far as anybody's concerned, you didn't steal the joke.
-Over the course of your illustrious amateur stand-up comedy career, you will be faced with the prospect of hecklers. If you're like the comedians I know, you will be faced with hecklers an awful lot. Dealing with hecklers is an art in itself, as we see from the following example: (Option A) HECKLER: “You suck!” COMEDIAN: “No, YOU suck, asshole! I had sex with your mom and then dumped her body by the side of the road! (comedian walks off stage and punches heckler in the kidney)” (Option B) HECKLER: “Boo! You suck!” COMEDIAN: “That's ok. We already got your money. (Audience laughs uproariously.) The old kidney-punch is considered a risky move, and should only be attempted by a seasoned veteran amateur comedian on a blow-by-blow basis.
-Some comedians (the funny ones) are nice, friendly people who make good drinking buddies and are generally people I would not be embarrassed to be seen with in a public place like a bar or elementary school playground. These cool people are sadly overshadowed by the majority of comedians (the not funny ones). You can instantly tell if a comedian is funny or not, before even hearing his act, based on several determining factors and telltale signs: 1) He won't stop talking to youeven after you've made it painfully clear (sometimes with mace) that you're not interested in conversing. 2) All he ever talks about is comedy, either praising his own, belittling the person currently on-stage, or criticizing yours. 3) He displays at least two of these qualities: bad breath, sweaty palms, male pattern baldness, alcohol/substance abuse, hilarious speech impediment, poor fashion sense, sub-par oral hygiene, uses a stage name (particularly a single-name moniker like he's “Madonna” or “Cher”), or recounts stories of performing at various prestigious but unverifiable comedy shows.
-Quote of the Moment: One of the profoundly terrible amateur comedians, on another profoundly terrible amateur comedian: “Oh, now he's doing jokes about the weather. You know somebody's out of ideas when they start doing jokes about the weather. God, I wish he'd quit complaining about how hot it is. Maybe he should be performing in a cooler place, like the Sahara desert or the center of the sun.” That's great, dude. Except you stole that line from me. I didn't call him on it, though, because then he'd just say that I in fact stole it from him, or possibly that we were
both the same person, like in Fight Club.
-Every amateur comedian yearns for the day when he will no longer be an amateur comedian, but rather a professional. Comedians are always looking for their next big break, and are never satisfied with what they have. Contrast this with strippers, and you'll see why it's a problem. Strippers don't care about “making it big.” I don't thinkthere's a single stripper out there who comes in to work every day hoping some talent scout will pick her out from the virtually indistinguishable pack of hotties and offer her a lucrative contract in porn. Amateur comedians could learn a whole lot from watching more strippers, and yet so few ever do. Strippers, by the way, could learn a lot from comedians on the subject of stage names. Like anybody believes your parents named you “Raven.”
-Well, there you have it. That's everything there is to know about comedy. So get out there, tell your clichéd self-deprecating lines, converse with high-school dropouts who think they're Ray Romano, ignore that blinking red light, get in un-hilarious fights with hecklers, keep telling the same jokes until your audience finds them as funny as you do, and give your ego a boost by leaving out the word “amateur” when you tell people what you do as you enjoy your complimentary non-alcoholic beverage. And stop stealing jokes from my goddamn newsletters.