Everyone’s a critic (including the comic)

Every comedian at one point or another will deal with criticism whether it’s from other comedians, audience members, or even armchair psychiatrists trying to analyze them, diagnose, and “fix” them. What a lot of people don’t really understand is that comedians are also critics. John Cleese once said that the very nature of humor is critical. If we’re making you laugh, odds are we’re doing it by criticizing, commenting on, or poking fun at something. We may even be doing it by criticizing ourselves.

I’ve seen loads of comics comment on screwing up their own jokes during a set. That’s what we refer to as a moment call. I open nearly every set criticizing the fact that I’m short and I look like I’m twelve, but I’m not sure if I can call that a moment call since it’s a permanent condition with me. Nevertheless it’s the most obvious thing about me and I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t call attention to it. Besides, if I don’t someone else probably will and there’s 50/50 odds that the person will be a heckler. If I call it out from the beginning, I’ve successfully stolen my thunder and now they have less ammunition to derail my set.

Whether your laughing at a pithy observation of everyday life, some relevant social commentary, or yet another one of my short jokes you’re laughing at criticism and that’s completely okay. After all, it is funny.

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When it’s not “Just a joke”

So I’m at an open mic with my dear comedy friends and a flock of douchebros from Staten Island decided to come down and give the room a try. Ok, cool new faces. Then this shithead makes a joke about beating his girlfriend. I can’t remember his name, but we’ll call him Nick because it rhymes with dick because only a dick would think it’s funny to make a joke about beating his girlfriend. So now that my white-hot rage has subsided a bit, let’s talk about this shall we?

Folks, I know I’ve said that in comedy nothing is sacred, however there are certain things that you don’t joke about and domestic violence is one of them. Three woman die in the United States every day as a result of domestic violence (you may fact-check me here). According to the CDC, more than half of female homicide victims are killed by a current or former intimate partner (you my fact-check me here). I don’t know about you, but I think something that in and of itself kills people is not fucking funny. For the record, neither is sexual assault, rape, or any type of violence against any group.

I’m not one of those politically correct bitches that want to ruin your fun. I am however, familiar with the concept of normalization and how it works. The comedian who made the joke was a dick. However, those of you who laughed at it even if it was nervous laughter are no better. Congratulations, assholes! You just normalized domestic violence! By laughing you told that bastard that it’s okay for him and others like him to beat up his girlfriend. You told me and every other woman in that room that it’s okay for men to hurt us because after all, it’s just a joke. Imagine that this guy is dating your daughter or your sister. Is it still funny? Is it still just a joke to you?

The Joke Writing Process

I’ve been asked how I come up with and write my jokes. The truth is, it’s really hard to explain this process without sounding like I’m being a smartass. Some of my jokes just come to me as I go about my day. That’s why the notebook in the featured image above looks like it’s seen a war. I never know when a joke is going to come to me, so my notebook is with me at all times.

IMG_2427.JPGThen there are the jokes that took a bit of work. For example, after sitting in a business meeting I thought to myself there’s a joke here, yet try as I might the joke didn’t come. So I brainstormed and wrote down reasons why people don’t really like going to business meetings and from that list, the joke was born.

 

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Some of the jokes that have come easy to me only appeared that way. Sometimes it took a bit of trial and error and some were more error. There’s a lot of crossing out and scribbling in my notebook from jokes I started writing before deciding to take them in a completely different direction.

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This joke was mostly error

There are a few that pages where jokes may appear unfinished, but they’re not. While writing the beginning of the joke I may have stopped to Google something, gotten sidetracked, got distracted by a shiny object, or I may have been drunk while writing and fallen asleep. However, I always go back and finish it. I just do so on a different page.

Some comics will tell you that you need to follow a formula to write your jokes.

Premise + Act-out + punchline = joke

I tried following that formula and I just felt like it didn’t work for me. My writing felt forced like I was trying to be funny instead of just being funny. There’s a passage in the Tao Te Ching that tells us the more we sharpen a knife the duller it will become. We get so caught up in the rat race we call life that we forget how to just be. The same applied to me with my joke writing. I got so caught up in a formula that my writing came across as hackneyed and contrived, so I tossed the formula and just allowed myself to be funny. I’m not knocking the formula. If you use it and it works for you, great! The point is to find what works for you and keep writing.

How to Manage the Pre-show Jitters

Even people who have been doing stand-up comedy for decades still get nervous and jittery before a show. It’s normal and by no means unexpected. It doesn’t mean you’re not funny or that you should give up the mic for good. It’s completely okay. However, it can be a road block to you performing at the top of your comedic game, so it’s important that you learn to manage your pre-show nervousness.

I’m by no means claiming to be any kind of expert what with the fact that I’m a comedy toddler. I have certain things that I do that help me and if telling people about them helps one person, I’ll be happy just like if I go up and I make one person laugh I’m happy.

  1. Breathe. I know it sounds ridiculous to the point of being annoying but it actually does help. Close your eyes and take a few long, slow, and deep breaths in for your nose and out through your mouth. People tend to breathe in short, shallow breaths so breathing this way will get more oxygen to your brain and that can help you feel more relaxed and think more clearly.
  2. Prepare. I come up with my set list at least five days before a show. Why so far in advance? To give me time to memorize it so that I can go up without notes. I prefer to go up without notes because it looks more professional. It’s also more comfortable for me because I can connect with the audience better because I’m making eye contact with them instead of a notebook sitting on a table or stool behind me.
  3. Rehearse. This makes performing less intimidating for me. That big scary thing you want to do isn’t so big or scary if you’ve done it before, so I rehearse my set at least once if not twice. There was a time when I was rehearsing up to five times, but I started to sound robotic in my delivery. There’s a balance and you need to find what works for you. I’ve found my first rehearsal is always a hot mess, so it feels good to get all that out before you actually take the stage.
  4. Hydrate. Yeah this is pretty common-sense-y, but when your mind is traveling in several different directions at one time it’s easy to forget the simple things. If you’re dehydrated you’re not going to feel your best and if you don’t feel your best you’re not going to perform your best.
  5. Eat something. A lot of people have issues with their stomachs when they get nervous. I know someone who absolutely refuses to eat before he’s finished performing. This isn’t a good idea. The last thing you want to do is have your blood sugar crash and end up either puking or passing out in the middle of your set. If you don’t want to eat a big meal, that’s fine but eat something even if it’s something small and light.
  6. Remember that the audience is rooting for you. Nobody comes out to a comedy show determined not to laugh. Most people don’t like to see others fail. When your mind races and you imagine every possible way you could fail, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of that. The audience wants to see you succeed and they want to laugh. Don’t forget that.

The People You Meet Doing Stand-up

You meet some incredible people doing stand-up. For better or worse, when you do stand-up you become part of a community. Like any good community, we all come together to help each other. I met my comedy mentor when I joined Eastern Star (if you want to know more about Eastern Star and Masonic organizations, read My Life: Built by Masonry here.). Through him, I met my comedy cohorts and the family that runs hamiltonradio.net. I’ve met published authors, talented musicians, and a lot of damn nice people.

As much as I enjoy meeting other comics, I enjoy connecting with the crowd. We have a group of regulars that come to the shows at Take 5 and I always enjoy talking to them before, during, and after the show. When I meet people who tell me they’ve been thinking of trying stand-up for ages, I always tell them the same thing: do it! I say that not just because of the experiences I’ve had or the places I’ve been on this stand-up journey. My biggest reason for telling people who want to try comedy to do it, is the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and the community I’m blessed to be a part of.

Oh the Places You’ll Go…To Do Stand-up

Almost any time you have a group of stand-up comics talking the subject of the weirdest place you’ve performed comes up. There are more comics than there are stages, so if you offer us minutes, there’s a decent chance that we’ll say yes without sparing a second thought to logistics. We comics don’t tend to be terribly logical beings.

I’ve performed at a banquet hall near Bridgewater, a coffee shop in Robbinsville, a restaurant in East Windsor, a hotel on Roosevelt Blvd in Northeast Philly, the basement of the Hyatt Regency on Route 1 in Princeton, a grill and bar in Naples, Florida, and a barn in Basking Ridge. I spend Wednesday evenings on the second floor of an insurance agent’s office broadcasting on The Robbinsville Trainwreck.

The New Jersey Turnpike and I have a love-hate relationship and I’m actively contemplating installing  a dash cam in my car to capture what I’m told are my funny road rage-fueled rants and my ridiculous facial expressions while parallel parking. Until recently I had only parallel parked successfully once: when I was 17 and taking my drivers test. I grew up in rural South Jersey, so being a country bumpkin I had no real use for fancy city parallel parking until after college. Road rage and parallel parking challenges aside, if you offer me minutes and a mic there’s a good chance you’ll probably get me there. No matter how bad the ride there was, I’ll forget all about it the second that mic’s in my hand.

Picking Up the Mic

As we all while away the final hour until Game of Thrones premieres, I thought I might give you all something to entertain yourselves. I’ve been asked before how I get the courage to pick up the mic. The truth is that other than the fact that I’m a Gryffindor, I have absolutely no idea. What I can tell you is exactly what it feels like to pick up the mic.

My urge to do stand-up grew out of me being bored with constantly having to filter every word that comes out of my mouth because adulthood. Basically I write jokes based on all the things I’m actually thinking but don’t dare say because again, adulthood. My urge to stop having a filter is what got me to the stage with a good shove from my friend and comedy Mr. Miyagi Kurt Zimmerman. But what keeps me coming back?

Well, I can tell you it sure as hell isn’t the money. My day job feeds my wallet. Comedy, martial arts, and my work in rescue feed my soul. There’s just something about inspiring laughter in others that just makes my soul feel good. That feeling is enough to make me forget about my nerves, walk up onto the stage, pick up the mic, and start talking to a room full of strangers and bare at least a piece of my soul while I’m up there.

I don’t do it because I’m some sort of narcissist obsessed with the sound of my own voice. I do it because I know what it’s like to be unhappy. I know what it’s like to find this world we live in absolutely terrifying. I’ve been ridiculed, pushed around, and I’ve lost things that you will never understand. I also know what it’s like to come home from an absolutely shitty day, hear a joke, and laugh so hard that I forget all about the absolutely shitty day I just had. Others have done that for me, so I want to pay it forward and do it for others. It’s not really about me at all.

This is my second year in stand up and I’m still getting used to being referred to as a professional comic. Honestly, the joke’s on all of you because I have little to no idea what I’m actually doing up there. I actually think being called a professional comic is hysterical.

When I hear the host start saying all the nice things they do about me I immediately get the giggles like I’m about to play the funniest prank on everyone in the room. The air feels electric because I know as well as anyone does that any show could be THE show and I know I need to come up big. I take a deep breath as I walk up and pull myself together. I shake the host’s hand as he or she steps down leaving me alone with the stage. I HAVE to own it. Everything kind of slows down like time’s hanging in the air. I feel like Quicksilver in X-Men Apocalypse or Fry in Futurama after he drank 100 cups of coffee. I adjust the mic down; always down because 99.9% of my fellow comics are taller than me as are most 14 year olds. I start with it in the stand, but we all know I can’t stand still to save my life, so I take it out. By this point I’ve already cracked a joke about my size since it’s the most obvious thing about me and think to myself, “Suck it, would-be hecklers! Consider your thunder stolen!” I let the laughs hang, feel the weight of the mic in my hand and remember it’s only a conversation and I like conversations.

That’s what stand-up is, folks: A pleasant conversation between a comic and an audience. I really quite enjoy our little chats. Every time I get a little more comfortable. Every time I get a little more confident in how I’ve managed to feel out the audience so I know what I can get away with and what I should probably save for another night. Picking up that mic inspires me to connect with another room of people. The moment I touch it I go from being an unassuming nerd to someone and something else entirely.

 

 

Farmstead Arts Center: One Year Later

Friday night I returned to the English Barn at the Farmstead Arts Center to host the graduation show of my comedy Mr. Miyagi Kurt Zimmerman’s stand up comedy class. I affectionately refer to it as the barn my mother raised me in and the birthplace of the horse I rode in on.

I learned my lesson from last year and came prepared with a crapton of water and my cooling towel. Thankfully, it wasn’t on the hottest freakin’ day of the year like it was last year. I got up and did 10 minutes of my best material to warm up the crowd then before I got the show really started, I told the graduates how I got my start.

Kurt invited me to a comedy show at Take 5 Gourmet in Robbinsville, NJ. I thought I was going to be watching the show, but he offered me time, handed me the mic, and said have at it. I got laughs and applause, fell in love with it and never looked back.

I watched three brand new comics get their feet wet for the first time and had a blast doing it. When you think graduation, you think pomp and circumstance, but this was not that kind of party. Everyone did a phenomenal job and the crowd was very supportive and into it. It was a great show and I can’t wait to watch the video.

My Dad: Also my first heckler

I don’t really include a lot of jokes about my dad in my act. He died on December 12, 2012. Yes, that’s correct 12/12/12 in case I ever wanted to try to forget the worst day of my life. Regardless of the date I assure you that every second of it would be firmly burned into my mind like a brand from a hot iron. When I started doing stand up at the end of 2015, almost three years to the day later, I initially shied away from writing material about him, not because I don’t have positive things to say about him but more because I felt disrespectful poking fun at him. However, I’ve learned that in comedy nothing is sacred and limiting yourself in terms of material is a mistake, so I started slowly but surely adding jokes about my dad into my act. After all comedy is in part telling my story and the man isn’t just 50% of my DNA he’s also a massive character in my story.

Before he became my father, he was first a son who tried to smuggle a puppy into his parents’ house. His friend at school had a bulldog and she had puppies and her parents wouldn’t let her keep them all, so he took a young male who has brown in color and named him Rusty. The game was up when my grandfather heard Rusty crying in the basement, but he couldn’t bring himself to make my dad give the dog back. In exchange for this, the dog was solely my dad’s responsibility and one that he shouldered well. My dad was a sucker for animals and I clearly inherited this trait from him. Fast forward a few decades and long car trips involved many stops for our husky Trina but my sister and I had to hold it, “We’re not getting a damn cat,” turned into “Who’s Daddy’s kitty?,” and there are more pictures of Bob the Pug in the house than there are of his children or stepchildren. Just saying.

IMG_0882After successfully smuggling a dog into his parents’ house, he went on to high school then enlisted in the United States Army. He was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. That means he jumped out of a fully operational aircraft consensually. He didn’t fall. Nobody pushed him. All the respect in the world to our service people, but HOLY CRAP ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! God bless y’all because there’s no way in hell I’d do that. He also crawled under barbed wire while being shot at by machine guns with every third round being a tracer round. Nothing says keep your butt down like watching a tracer round go whizzing by less than an inch above it. I think about that every time I do push-ups. The first joke I wrote about him had to do with this very topic because if I jumped out of a plane you’d have to shove me out and do it far from the ears of the enemy because my screaming would surely give away our position.

After his Honorable Discharge, he went to college and became a teacher. As it turns out, my dad liked kids as much as he liked animals and he helped lots of them and ended up having two of his own.

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I’m going to apologize to my sister now and politely ask her not to punch me in the face for including this photo.

My father was a stubborn man and at some point in his life, my grandfather told him that he hoped he had a kid who was just like him. He thought he dodged that bullet with my sister. Four years later, ta-daaaaaaaaaa! My paternal grandfather died before my sister and I were born, but on July 6, 1982 somewhere in Heaven he was laughing his ass off and he laughed even harder when I became a teenager. There were many times in my childhood when I’m sure my grandfather’s words came back to haunt him. I remember more than once seeing him look at me and just knowing that he wanted so badly to be mad but he couldn’t be because he saw so much of himself in me. That may very well be the only reason I survived to adulthood. I’m actually terrified of having children because my father said the very same thing to me and I’m like the Highlander. In the end there can be only one.

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Yes, those are honor cords and yes he pushed me so that I would earn them.

On his honeymoon with my mom, Dad had a few too many Mai Tais at a Don Ho concert and proceeded to heckle him. Were my father still around to watch me perform, I absolutely believe that he would heckle the crap out of me, no Mai Tais required. Why do I say this? Because every B I brought home should’ve been an A and would’ve been if I had just put my mind to it and studied harder. If I got a C I failed the class. It may have taught me to be hard on myself and hold myself to a high standard and reach for perfection that I know damn right well is not attainable in everything I do, but it also gave me more drive, ambition, and a strong work ethic.

As a high school softball pitcher I heard “Throw strikes!!!,” being shouted from the stands. The second joke I wrote about him had to do with his efforts to teach me how to play golf. I maintain that there are certain things that no father should ever attempt to teach his daughter and golf is most definitely on that list. If it’s not item #1, it’s definitely in the top 5. His sage advice included gems like “Hit the ball straight.” Thank God he pointed that out to me BECAUSE I HAD NO IDEA!!!! It truly is a small miracle that neither of us came home with golf club-shaped bruises.

Dad + Me age 5My first words to him when he was in the hospital were “I’m sorry, Dad. I should’ve been a better kid.” Yes, the Girl Scout, the honor student, the choir girl, the quintessential high school nerd that every teacher loved stood there and wished she’d been a better kid. My sister also pointed out how ridiculous that sounds. Sure, we drove each other crazy. Every kid drives their parents a bit crazy. Every parent drives their kids a bit crazy. My dad pushed my buttons so well because he installed half of them. He also made me driven, stubborn, hard-working, and funny.

 

Wonder Woman: I Wonder what happened to the promotional campaign?

Okay I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that there weren’t very many ads for the Wonder Woman movie until about six weeks before the premiere date. That’s odd right?

Could it be because the idea for a Wonder Woman movie met with resistance from the folks at DC because they felt that they could not make a profitable movie from the Wonder Woman comic franchise? I know, I think it sounds crazy, too. Marvel made Guardians of the Galaxy. The original grossed $773.3 million and Vol. 2 grossed $145 million during its opening weekend. So just to review over $900 million has been made on a movie featuring an anthropomorphic, genetically engineered, cybernetic raccoon and a talking, infantilized tree (Baby Groot is life!). But oh no, DC please continue to tell me how a Wonder Woman movie couldn’t possibly be profitable.

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We are Groot!

Is it sexism? Joss Whedon was once asked to work on the Wonder Woman comic for a particular story arc, but he turned it down because folks at DC wanted to portray Wonder Woman as a bumbling damsel in distress. I guess they weren’t aware that Joss Whedon is also the guy who made Buffy. Someone didn’t do their research. Then again, this is the same publisher who edited out Batwoman’s same sex wedding due to what I can only assume to be lack of intestinal fortitude. However sexism claim is shaky at best.

 

Is it poor logic? Some people seem to follow antiquated logic when it comes to female comic book characters. They seem to think that a movie about a female character couldn’t possibly be successful but nothing could be further from the truth. I can think of three female characters off the top of my head that have made comic publishers millions in book sales: Red Sonya, Black Widow, and Harley Quinn. Let’s think about this: if people are willing to pay to read the comics then maybe, just maybe, THEY’LL PAY TO SEE THE FREAKIN’ MOVIE! So maybe just maybe you should ADVERTISE THE FREAKIN’ THING!

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Is it too much to ask for this to be an actual scene in the movie?

After all, how can people pay to see a movie when they don’t know it exists or when it premieres? Oh I know what you’re thinking: the true fans will know. Yes, but what about the casual fans? What about people who might be new to the franchise? Why would you those two markets untapped? It just doesn’t make business sense especially in a Hollywood that judges the profitability of a movie or movie franchise based solely on opening weekend domestic ticket sales. And yes, I am completely aware of exactly how stupid that sounds but sadly, it is the truth. Movies live and die by opening weekend domestic sales even though it’s been proven time and again that a movie that flopped in its opening weekend domestically generated millions of dollars in foreign markets and that’s not even factoring in Blu-ray sales or On-Demand and RedBox rentals. It kind of makes you think that maybe, someone doesn’t want the Wonder Woman movie to be successful.

Speculation and conjecture aside, what little I’ve seen of the trailers gives me hope that the movie will actually do the character Justice (pun absolutely intended). My niece is six and really likes Wonder Woman as do thousands of other little girls. It would really be a shame to subject them and the rest of us to a movie where she’s nothing more than arm candy to a male character. In the meantime I’ll continue looking forward to the various Marvel properties coming out, a Harley Quinn spin-off, and of course Justice League.