Thursday, 29 December 2016

Working on new material 12/29/16

Working on new material, writing jokes, trying them on stage, listening back to the recordings, it can fucking suck. But it's one of the aspects of comedy I've come to enjoy and respect the most.

At the beginning, it's not so bad. If only because you don't have a choice. You don't know what works, so you just write anything you can think of, and hope it sticks when you go on stage and throw it against the wall. Eventually (hopefully sooner than later!), something does. And now you have the premise for your first "bit". The goal then is to keep telling it, but a little differently each time, and shape it into something to be proud of. A polished bit that you can take up there and be confident that more often than not, it'll get a laugh.

I gained a TREMENDOUS amount of confidence once I came up with a bit that consistently got a positive reaction (my lazy eye stuff). I worked on (and still polish it now), that bit for months; adding a line here, taking something out. Listening back to recordings of it to see what got a laugh, what didn't. Maybe I approach it too seriously, but I time how long I go between laughs, and if it's more than 20 seconds, I work to come up with a way to either shorten what I'm saying, or find a way to make it funnier. One of the things I enjoy least when I watch a comedian is when there is just too much fluff between jokes. A punchline that misses the mark is excusable (especially when working on new stuff), but when it's just rambling for 30, 40, 50+ seconds, I have a tendency to tune out. By the time you get to the punchline, I've forgotten where you were going.

In my eyes, stand up comedy is an art. As a joke writer, we're artists. I love the freedom that comes with creating art. When you write a joke, you can write anything you want. One of the things I like thinking about is that every single killer bit that hasn't been written or told yet is just sitting out there in space, waiting for someone to come along, write it down, and make it their own. When I sit down to work on new material, I don't go into it with the mentality of, "if I don't come up with a new closer today, it was a waste of time". I just start letting the pen move, scribbling anything I can think of about a particular topic. I try not to get frustrated if nothing good comes of it. It's the thrill of the hunt. It's like fishing. You aren't going to catch a fish every single time you cast your line, (or rod, or whatever the term is. I don't know, I don't fish.) But you keep doing it, because you know eventually you'll get one. The thrill of the hunt.

I totally understand how comedians develop some jokes that work, and then just keep telling them. It's just easier to go up there and use the stuff you know is safe. I've been working on forcing myself to get out of that comfort zone. If I have a 5 minute spot, I use 60-90 seconds to tell an abbreviated version of a joke I know works, and then I try to experiment with the rest of my time. Either trying a new approach to an old joke, or a new premise altogether. Once I get bored of something, I struggle to keep any interest in it. Doing the same thing every night is boring. I want to hit a point where no matter how much time I'm expected to do that night, I have enough material that I can plug and play with my set list. Keep it fresh and exciting.

I don't have a lot of shows over the holiday season. Some open mic are shut down until January, and I just want to take a little time to hang out with family and friends, and focus on my writing. I can't wait to hit the stage in the new year with some new stuff. I told someone the other day; "I write for an hour, to come up with 5 minutes to take on stage, to find out 20 seconds of that 5 minutes of material is any good."

Louis CK once told a story about how he had a really strong closing joke. So when he would do an hour, he would coast on stuff that was OK at best for 15 minutes toward the end of his set, because he knew he had a bit that was so strong, he could end with it, and nobody would remember that the previous 15 minutes weren't that good. It wasn't making him a better comedian. So, he moved that really good joke to the FRONT of his set. He would start his hour with it, and it forced him to not only beef up that 15 minutes, but write an even better joke to close with. When he did it, he would move THAT joke to the front of his set. It constantly forced him to write more, and get better. That's the stuff that I find fascinating about the art of writing jokes.

I'm trying to employ that method of writing myself. Jokes I told in March, I look back on now, and think they're terrible. I'll never tell them again. If all goes to plan, I'll hit a point where I feel that way about every joke I have in my arsenal right now, too.

Force yourself to get better, and enjoy the thrill of the hunt.


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

From 5 minutes to 30 12/14/16

As I type this, it's 5:50 pm on Wednesday, December 14th, 2016. I'm laying in my hotel room in Grande Prairie, and in 2 hours I'm going to perform my first 30 minute set of comedy.

I hope that a year from now, I can look back on this post and think, "30 minutes? That's nothing!"

January 21st of this year, I did my first set. It was 5 minutes long, and I memorized every word I was going to say. 5 minutes seemed like forever. Then a few months later, I did a 10 minute spot. I wrote every single joke I had down on my arm, just in case. It felt like half an hour. And now, almost 11 months after my first set, I'm actually going to do half an hour.

I like looking back on this past year, and the ride that has been stand up comedy. I've had my ups and downs, (luckily the ups WAY outnumber the downs), but it's been one of the most exciting years of my life. I think about comedy all the time. More than I want to, to be honest. When I wake up, I feel energized and excited. "Maybe I'll think of a killer new joke today". I (usually) can't wait to get on stage that night. Comedy feels like this thing inside of me, and it's taking over my brain. Some days I want to shut it out and get rid of it, but I can't.

I don't know if I believe in destiny. I think that for the most part, life is kind of meaningless. We don't really know why we're here, what we're supposed to do. 200 years from now, I think 99.9999% of people won't even be a footnote in the history of the world. I like that mentality. It's helped me control my temper, stay calm, and just enjoy life. There's no pressure. Just be happy, be a good person, and do whatever you want to do. Destiny means that something is supposed to happen. I don't like the idea that anyone's road through life is already mapped out. I think people decide their own fate, and how they're going to get there. You decide what the meaning of your life is. I don't know if comedy is my destiny, but even when I try to get away from it, it makes me feel better than anything else does.

It makes me happy. Even when it isn't going well, I feel like that's where I'm supposed to be. Being on stage is just comfortable. And when I combine that mentality with looking back on this ride, and how far I've come in 11 months, it makes me feel incredible. I can't wait to see what comes next. The universe lined up perfectly for me to try this, with my job, my lifestyle, where I live. I have the single most supportive girlfriend anyone could ever ask for.

I still don't know why I'm here. Or why anyone is here. But when you find the one thing you want to do with your life, the thing you can't stop thinking about, it changes the way you see the world. I'm a different person than I was 12 months ago.

January 21, 2016, I did 5 minutes of horrendous stand up comedy. I've worked really hard, and received a ton of help from people. December 14, 2016, I get to do 30 minutes of horrendous stand up comedy. I can't wait to see what I'm doing 11 months from now.

Thanks for reading my self-indulgent blog, and listening to my dumb jokes. I say it on here all the time, but you get one shot at life. Spend it doing what you want. And Shaley, I love you. Thanks for being so supportive of me :)

I have to go tell some jokes.


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Struggling to find my focus 12/7/16

I've been trying to figure out how to word this blog for a few days.

I haven't been as focused on my comedy lately, and I don't know why. I've missed some shows, haven't written very much. Spent some nights hibernating and playing video games instead of grinding. And it wasn't even a grind. Going to a different open mic or two every night was fun. I felt like I was chasing a dream, and it made me look at life an entirely different away. I've never felt that focused or motivated.

Then about three weeks ago, it started to go away. I'm not sure why it did. There are aspects of stand up comedy that I don't enjoy. I think that, combined with a few other things, made up the perfect storm. Luckily (and thankfully), that feeling is disappearing. I've done some shows the last couple weeks, talked to some people, re-evaluated what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it. I wrote down some goals, which I'll get to in an upcoming blog, and as cheesy as it sounds, I feel like "I'm back".

I'm about 6 weeks away from my 1 year anniversary as a comedian, and over the next 7 days, I get to open for three very talented comedians that I respect and genuinely like in Shawn Gramiak, Lars Callieou, and Mike Dambra. I'm looking forward to working with, and picking the brain, of all three of them. I get to MC a show at the Comic Strip in West Edmonton Mall. And I'm going to make money to tell jokes. These are all things I thought would be cool to do someday when I started this in January, and now I'm doing them. It's some luck, and some older comedians being courteous enough to throw an opportunity at a new guy, but I like to think part of the reason I'm getting the chance to do this stuff is because I've spent a vast majority of 2016 focusing on comedy, and working really hard. When I step back and look at the adventure I've been on over the past year, and where some hard work and focus has gotten me, it really motivates me to work even harder.

I don't say that stuff to brag or try to make myself seem like a big deal. I'm not. An open mic comedian that walked away from a potential career to make fun of himself for $25 in front of 10 people at the age of 33 isn't anything to brag about. But in my opinion, it's something to be proud of.

I often beat myself up for not starting earlier. Some of the best comedians in the city right now are in their early 20's. I'm jealous of how good they'll be at my age. But at the same time, part of me is grateful I didn't start until I was 32. I don't think I was mature enough to tackle this 10 years ago. I wouldn't have appreciated the opportunities I've had. (I'm not saying the 20 year old comedians in the scene today are like that. Most of them are pretty awesome)

I'm not going to force myself to do stand up if I don't want to anymore. If I ever hit a point where it isn't fun, I'll quit. No hesitation. I thought maybe I had reached that point last month, but I haven't. I don't know what exactly it is I like about stand up comedy. I don't make a lot of money, I don't know if I really care that much about trying to get rich and famous. There's just something about being on stage and making people laugh, it's the sickest feeling. I figure I have 45, 50 years left. I just want to be happy for them. And as much as I resent it sometimes, comedy makes me happy.

Thanks for reading. And do what makes you happy.