Friday, December 31, 2010

Learning Comedy Part 2 - Dissecting Richard Pryor and Steve Martin

Here are my third and fourth favorite comics. Like Carlin and Kinison yesterday, I'm continuing with the masters.

3) Richard Pryor
I went to Zimbabwe. I know how white people feel in America now; relaxed! Cause when I heard the police car I knew they weren't coming after me!

Subject/Target: Race in America

Why it's funny: Pryor was a master at presenting race relations in a humorous way. In this joke, he pokes fun at the perspective of whites in America. He attacks "white privilege" in a way that is sharp, yet anti-establishment. He also makes white people laugh at themselves by revealing things about race that they take for granted or might not think are race related.

Bonus discovery: Richard Pryor from 1964 doing 5 minutes of stand-up:

  4) Steve Martin
"I believe you should place a woman on a pedestal high enough so you can look up her dress."
Subject/Target: Male-Female relationships. Why it's funny: Martin took a normal idea - that a man should hold a woman he is with in higher regard or put her on a "pedestal" - and made it literal with the insertion of a mischievous touch that also negated the original idea. The humor is that someone would be so flattering to a woman in order to get an advantage that is perverted or worse, demeaning.
Bonus discovery: Steve Martin on sex


  Number 5 and 6 tomorrow!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Learning Comedy Part 1 - Dissecting George Carlin and Sam Kinison

As I have mentioned a few times before, I've been recently dipping my toes in the comic world. So far, so good on stage and in the classroom. Unfortunately however, it has come at the expense of this blog. My posting rate has gone down approximately 33% since I started doing the comedy thing. Instead of reading my wit and wisdom nearly every other day, you have only had roughly two posts a week of my pointed and powerful prose.

So in an effort to leverage my synergy, fully exploit my processes, and migrate completely out-of-the-box, I've decided to use this blog for some of my comic endeavors. Specifically, as I read and go through the highly recommended book "Comedy Writing Secrets" by Mel Helitzer, I'll be posting the exercises here.

Lesson 1: List my 10 favorite comedians and find a joke or quote from each. Then dissect the joke: find the subject/target and explain why it is funny.

#1) George Carlin

"Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

Subject/Target: Society

Why it is funny: Carlin takes an excepted saying, "the average person", and analyzes it. By accepting the truth that the "average person" exists, he posits that this "average" should be at the 50% point. Hence, 50% are smarter and 50% are stupider. Carlin also bonds with his audience by deriding this average person. He says "them", which assumes that his audience is "we", and that they must be above the average because the audience is there with him.

#2) Sam Kinison

"If you want to stop world hunger, stop sending them food. Don't send these people another bit folks. You want to send them something, you want to help? Send them U-hauls. Send them U-hauls, some luggage, and send them a guy that goes 'Hey, we've been driving out here every day with your food for the last thirty or forty years, and we were driving out here, through the desert and it occurred to us that there wouldn't be world hunger if you people lived where the food is! Get out of the desert! You live in a fucking desert! Nothing grows out here! Nothings gonna grow out here! Come here you see this huh? This is sand. You know what it's going to be in another hundred years from now? It's gonna be sand!' 'Get your kids, get your shit... We'll take you to where the food is! We have deserts in America, we just don't live in them ass hole!'"

(YouTube here.)

Subject/Target: Starving Africans

Why it's funny: Kinison took the idea of starving people and flipped it. He first brought the crowd down by taking a controversial stance - that we should not help someone. Then he proposed an alternate solution, one that while funny, makes perfect sense. He looked at the situation from a different, non-conventional angle. Kinison also employed the us vs. them idea. That they must be fools for their current predicament and that since we must help them, we might as well do it to avoid future problems.

Numbers 3 & 4 tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Keep writing, People will find you

In my seemingly endless effort to rid my apartment of unread magazines, I stumbled upon an article in an August 2007 Forbes on writer W. Watts Biggers, creator of the legendary Underdog character.

Although Underdog was a smash hit in the 1960s and early 1970s and Biggers published his novel "The Man Inside" in 1968, from the late 1970s to the 1990s Biggers was a man forgotten. He did freelance work, penned several novels that drew little publishing interest, and lived on inheritance.

Then in the 2000s, a live action movie was made from the Underdog cartoon and "The Man Inside" was adapted to screenplay. When asked to sum up the sudden re-awakening in his work, Biggers said this great quote:
"You've got to believe that if you work hard and have hope, people will eventually love your stuff."

I've been blogging for only four years and I've been doing stand-up comedy for barely six months. I am still a rookie in either game. Getting concerned about page views and other wild metrics is a fool's folly. My goal should be to write and create, whether here, on other sites, or on stage at a stand-up venue.

If I do that long enough, maybe, just maybe someone will like me. They'll really, really like me.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Difference between Old, Throwback, Vintage, Antique, Retro, Classic, Instant Classic, Passe, and Current

The other day I was talking to a friend and they asked, “With information moving as fast as it does, how do we determine what is old versus what is vintage, retro, or anything else"?

I was stumped.

Sure there are a few sites that kinda help, like this one that covers “Vintage vs. Retro vs. Antique” or this one that discusses “Vintage vs Antique vs Classic", but what about other terms like “throwback” or “passé” or "instant classic"?

So not seeing all the terms on a list, I decided to create my own handy-dandy online guide.

I call it “The Scale of Old”.

Newest to Oldest:

Current – Happening now. The present. Very Zen.

Pass̩ РNot yet old, but so last year.

Instant Classic - Not yet old, but should hold up

Classic – Old and out of vogue, but still admirable. Something you would see with an older generation and both of you would still enjoy.

Retro - Old and campy. Never museum worthy, but culturally relevant.

Antique - Old and pretentious. Worth showing off at home.

Vintage - Old with a modern use.

Throwback - Old with a modern fix.

Old - History book or museum only. Not worth showing off at home.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flying with Jimi Hendrix

I don't know if I have ever told this story before, but I've had a few brews and am trying to unwind for the evening, and I don't feel like working on any major projects. So it's story time.

Many years ago, in 1995 or so, I was flying from Tuscon, Arizona to Tampa on a flight to see my family for the holidays. Back then, being young and completely unwise to the ways of booking travel, I found the cheapest flight I could from Arizona back to Florida, one that meant flying all night and arriving at a God-awful hour of the morning. Which also meant someone had to drive two and half hours to the airport to get me and then drive two and a half hours back to my parents' house with me.

The teenage mind thinks not of these things.

Anyway, as I was flying in this late-night flight, for whatever reason I could not sleep. All the people around me fell asleep the moment the plane took off, but I couldn't doze off for more than 15 minutes at a time. After waking up for the 18th or so time, I figured I would find something to do. I plugged in the headphones from my walkman into the armrest post and immediately heard one of the most miraculous songs I have ever heard. It was seven minutes of amazing blues guitar soaring over a groovingly soulful rhythm section. There were no words, just passionate playing.

I had never heard such an impressive song. And because as far as I could tell I was the only one awake, it was like the song was playing just for me.

After it was over, the DJ - whoever he was, he could have been the voice of God for all I knew - said the song was Jimi Hendrix playing Albert King and Booker T & the MG's "Born Under a  Bad Sign". Then, as if that was the signal my brain needed, I closed my eyes and slept for the duration of the flight.

For months after hearing "Born Under a Bad Sign", I searched for whatever album it was on. In those days before the internet, that meant going to every record store in town and perusing their Jimi Hendrix selections until I finally found it: Jimi Hendrix Blues - a posthumous collection of Jimi's best blues recordings.

Fifteen years later, Jimi Hendrix's cover of "Born Under a Bad Sign" is still one of my favorite songs. The fact that I still enjoy the song makes me think that maybe I was supposed to tune in to that particular station on that particular flight at that particular moment for a reason.

Like it was a sign.