I know I’ve explained why I do comedy here before, but I had a conversation last week with a friend that made me think of deeper things that ultimately motivated me to walk this path.
One of my comedy idols was Robin Williams. He sadly succumbed to his inner demons and left this world. He was a light in my life and when he died I felt that light go out. This was a man who dedicated his life to making others laugh and feel happy. Why? Because he knew better than any of us realized what it’s like to be unhappy and he didn’t want anyone else to feel that way.
Before everybody worries about me, no I don’t suffer from depression. I know people who do and I do my best to be the best possible ally for them. The stigma around mental health in this country is completely absurd and so harmful and I look forward to helping to destroy it. However alas and as usual I digress.
Albus Dumbledore, regardless of whether your Dumbledore is Richard Harris or Michael Gambon, was admittedly a problematic character for a number of reasons, however the man was not without his wisdom. He once said that, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
I’m sure a lot of people agree that these are some pretty dark times. This has reaffirmed my decision to finally use my sarcasm powers for good. See, not everyone can remember to turn on the light for themselves, so as a comic I can do that. In fact, I actively choose to do just that. I choose to do comedy so that I can be a light in someone’s darkness. So um… Lumos!
Since it’s Father’s Day I think it’s fitting to list a few things that I am today because of my dad:
1. A deeply stubborn, obstinate woman
I was raised in a house where one did not ask for directions, reading the instructions was unnecessary, and “can’t” meant I won’t or I don’t want to. Admittedly stubbornness is not one of my better qualities, however it has its uses. I can think of many times when I could have and in fact probably should have given up on something but because I’m Lou’s kid I refused to and it actually paid off.
If we were a Wizarding family that attended Hogwarts I would’ve undoubtedly followed my father into Gryffindor. I was taught to swim in the Gulf of Mexico in Florida by my dad telling me to move my arms and kick my legs while he supported me and then he let go without telling me. I sank a little and I got water up my nose which I hated and yes it was scary, but the only time we can be brave is when we’re scared. What he didn’t realize was that he created a monster; a little monster who took off running and jumped in the deep end of a hotel pool somewhere in South Carolina because he took the fear away. I figured I survived the Gulf how hard could this be? What do you want? I was like four. Now I’m a grown woman who takes no sh*t and is unafraid to speak truth to power.
3. A bit more safety conscious around power tools and cars on ramps
My father had my stepsister-in-law’s car on ramps in the driveway. He put a smaller ramp behind the rear tire to keep it in place but neglected to apply the parking brake. Our driveway had a natural incline. When you witness your dad chasing a car down the driveway, you become aware of the importance of always applying the parking brake. He also taught me the importance of turning off the riding mower before getting off of it by rolling our riding mower into his own truck and to be aware of where the hose is in relation to the engine when operating a power washer by creating an accidental geyser in the backyard.
4. A rescue volunteer
I was raised around animals and I have every reason to believe that my dad did that on purpose. Kids who grow up taking care of animals are more responsible and less selfish than kids who don’t. I was also raised near a state forest and had a healthy respect for wildlife and conservation. I never stopped loving animals and wanting to help them. As a result, several wildlife conservation charities like WWF and Tiger Time have benefited and I didn’t choose the rescue life. The rescue life chose me.
5. A fan of Star Wars
My father sat me down in front of the TV and put on the Star Wars trilogy when I was just five years old. Honestly he was probably sick of watching the Disney princess movies so he introduced me to a woman who would become one of my childhood heroes. Leia Organa was the princess who picked up a blaster, rolled up her sleeves and handled her business. Then there was Yoda, often underestimated due to his size but still capable of lifting a freakin’ X-wing. Because of Star Wars I’m nobody’s damsel in distress and I refuse to let a weight class define me.
Last weekend I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway. The experience was beyond amazing.
Every single technical aspect was absolutely perfect. There was a turntable in the middle of the stage. The set changes were perfectly choreographed with crew in full costume. There were Dementors flying over the audience. There was a tank of water under the stage for the scene that takes place in the Black Lake. I don’t think there were any grindylows, merpeople, or giant squids, but it added to the realism of the scene. The creativity of the lighting and sound design shined the brightest during each of the time travel scenes. Without giving too much away, I don’t think you could get a better ripple effect without a Tardis.
Then there was the acting. The original Harry and Hermione came from London to Broadway, but Poppy Miller really stole the show as Ginny Potter. There is a scene where she blows her stack on Draco Malfoy and my immediate thought was “That is Molly Weasley’s daughter.”
After only a month on Broadway Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been nominated for 10 Tony Awards. It’s not just a play. It’s an experience. Yes, the tickets are expensive and yes, it’s done in two parts each of which runs two and a half hours but I would absolutely do it again.
When I was five years old, my dad sat me down in front of the TV and introduced me to a little-known film called Star Wars. I won’t bore you with the details since I already did here, but he started a love affair with a franchise that has lasted for the past thirty years and will continue to last and he also introduced me to my childhood hero, Carrie Fisher.
She was my favorite childhood princess and is now my favorite general. She bravely shared her struggles with addiction and mental illness and shared a candid picture of her experience filming the original Star Wars film. She was brilliant, funny, honest, and brave. I grew up idolizing her. The Gryffindor in me recognized the Gryffindor in her. It was like a namaste moment only with house alignment. It was Gryffmaste!
But alas and as usual I digress. A few weeks ago, I received the biggest compliment on my comedy from a teacher from my grade school days. She said that my humor reminded her of Carrie Fisher. I wasn’t crying. The room was dusty and someone was chopping onions. She was a huge fan of body glitter and now to honor her, I wear some form of glitter for every show. As she has passed the torch of the Star Wars franchise to a new generation, I now see it as my duty to pass her memory on to a new generation also known as my niece and nephew. I’ll apologize to my sister now.
So a lot of my friends work in the creative fields. I have friends who are graphic designers, artists, sculptors, etc and they are outstanding and talented professionals. I often see them post on social media about people approaching them to work on a project for them and then uttering the phrase “I can’t pay you, but it’ll be such great exposure.” My reaction to this can be best described by Kristin Wiig’s facial expression below:
I’m a professional stand-up comic which makes me a performance artist and I’m really just dumbfounded at this. Exposure? Exposure to what exactly? An asshat that doesn’t want to pay a creative PROFESSIONAL for their work, that’s what. See last time I checked, you can’t pay your bills with “exposure.” I’m also fairly certain that you can’t eat exposure either. Most people wouldn’t dream of treating other professionals that way. You wouldn’t walk into an accountant’s office and ask them to do your taxes for exposure, so why would you ever think it’s okay to do that to someone who works in a creative field? And just to add insult to injury most of these people then get offended when the creative professionals tell them that they can’t do work unpaid. It’s like they clutch their pearls and say “How dare you! I’m trying to do you a favor and you’re throwing it back in my face!” Right because the professional who wants to be compensated for their time and energy is totally the bad guy in this equation. Give me a break!
I think the factors at play here are:
The ridiculous and antiquated perception that creative work like art and music is not actual work.
The fact that most creative fields are extremely competitive and difficult to get into.
Let me go ahead and address those here and now:
Using my stand up comedy as an example: For every minute of material I do at a show, an hour of WORK goes into it. How? Let me break it down for you. There’s:
The time I spent writing the joke
The time I spent refining the joke
The time I spent rehearsing the joke
The time I spent at an open mic testing the joke in front of a live audience
The time I spent further refining the joke
The time I spent talking to the booker to get an opportunity to tell my joke at their show
The time I spent promoting the show
The time I spent coming up with a set list for the show
The time I spent memorizing and rehearsing that set list
The time I spent traveling to and from the show (not to mention the gas)
The time I spent actually doing the show
The time I spent editing video from the show
The time I spent uploading the video to my YouTube channel
The time I spent sharing the video on my social media platforms in an effort to book more shows
So when you ask a creative to do a project for you, you’re asking them for their TIME and TIME IS MONEY and what we do is ACTUAL work. So when you ask a creative for their time but don’t offer them any actual compensation, don’t be surprised if you get this as a response:
2. Yes, the creative fields are extremely competitive. Yes, there are more comics than stages, more filmmakers than studios willing to pay them, more graphic designers than organizations that need them, etc. Yes, exposure is a great thing to creative professionals, but let’s go back to the fact that they are creative PROFESSIONALS and PROFESSIONALS GET PAID. Art, music, comedy, and entertainment are all businesses. You know what moves through businesses? MONEY! Honestly, if you’re using the fact that a business is cutthroat competitive to get out of paying someone to do their work, you’re just taking advantage of someone who’s in a tough position. That’s a d*ck move so I’ll just leave this here for you to refer back to:
Now let’s talk attitude: If you went to an accountant to get your taxes done and offered him exposure in return, they’d probably tell you to come back when you can pay. You’re not entitled. If you can’t pay to have your taxes done by a professional, you ain’t getting your taxes done by a professional. You wouldn’t take that as a personal affront. Likewise if you can’t pay for a special effects sculptor to work on your film, you don’t get to make your film. Why is your reaction to this any different from your reaction to the accountant? Seriously, not cool. Maybe if you hustle and grind the way creative professionals do every day and perhaps get a Kickstarter going, you can make enough money to pay the creative professionals you’re trying get to work for free.
Every comedian I know does jokes about their family. However not very many do jokes about their family in front of their family. Kurt, Mr. Miyagi himself does jokes about his wife and daughter with them in the crowd and I’ve been present for many a joke from Dawn or Katelyn at Kurt’s expense.
I have had the pleasure of making jokes about my mom in front of her. She was amused, but not nearly as amused as my aunt was. Last week, I did a joke about my phone conversations with my sister since she had the kids and they’re very different. She said that the act out I did sounded like a transcript of an actual conversation, that is when my niece doesn’t jack the phone because she wants to talk to Aunt Lynne.
Some comics think “Oh crap my family’s here. There goes half my act.” I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not one of them. They’ve seen me in states much worse than standing on a stage with a mic so I’m pretty sure they can hang. Besides it’s a lot more fun to do the jokes they inspire when they’re there to appreciate them.
I’ve been told by other comics that a groan is as good as a laugh, but this seems to be a subject of debate in the stand-up community. Some say that a groan is as good as a laugh because you’re getting a reaction. Others feel that audiences don’t come out to shows to groan, they come out to laugh. I can honestly go either way on this one, so I’m going to let this one be a debate for the ages. If you have an opinion, feel free to share it. In the meantime I’ll keep writing the jokes and bringing the laughs.
A friend of mine and I were having a conversation about dirty humor and whether or not a dirty joke could still be tasteful. My opinion on the matter is that it’s easy to use bathroom humor and while a little bathroom humor never hurt anybody, it’s also an indication of a certain lack of creativity and refinement of craft on the part of the comic.
Bathroom humor is easy. Doing it tastefully? That’s a challenge. Part of the fun of the joke writing process for me is to make a clean (well relatively anyway) joke out of dirty subject matter.
Not only do I think it can be done, but I think it must be done. Comedy is a craft and it needs to be kept sharp. Your comedy needs a challenge just like a blade needs a whetstone, so stay sharp friends.
So a friend of mine who’s also a comic got trolled recently. Apparently someone dedicated the time and energy into making a Facebook page dedicated to their hatred of him. My first thought was, why? I mean all the pressing issues life has to offer and you choose to go after a stand-up comedian that you’ve probably saw exactly once in your life? Seriously?
My second thought was raucous laughter because see the thing about stand-up comics is a) that they make jokes for a living and b) that they also hang out with other stand-up comics who also make jokes for a living. Given that tidbit of knowledge why would anyone ever think that trolling a stand-up comedian would end in anything other than their complete humiliation? I mean, duh! Right?
Now that’s not to say we comics are mean-spirited folk, far from it. We are however a community. That means we have no problem coming to the aid of one of our own when the situation calls for it. That’s why it’s not really a good idea for trolls to come for one of us. You know, so maybe follow Wil Wheaton’s rule and don’t be a dick.
I sometimes joke that every time I go home to South Jersey I’m reminded of why I left in the first place usually when I’m stuck in traffic in or around Cherry Hill. Traffic makes me punchy and sarcastic because I’m my mother’s child. Anyway, it’s all in good road rage-induced fun and I have nothing against where I came from. After all, if I didn’t come from South Jersey, I wouldn’t have this outrageous accent, so when my friend asked me to come do some comedy at a fundraiser for the Atlantic City Arts Foundation of course I said yes. Besides, the opportunity to see her was reason enough to hop on the Expressway and venture down.
The event was at Little Water Distillery. Yes, there’s a distillery in Atlantic City. They make vodka, rum, and whiskey. The drinks were good, but the company was better. It was an open mic contest. I’d met two of the other comics and I know the headliner, LaTice Klapa who is awesome. I did some catching up with people I went to school with; two of whom are opening a coffee house called Hayday and I suggest you check them out. I expected to have fun. I did not expect to WIN THE CONTEST!!!! That’s right, kids I won my first comedy contest and it was the cherry on top of an awesome evening.