Why Did They “Boo” Bill Maher on Letterman?

Bill Maher Gets ‘Boo’d’ on Letterman

 

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One of my students sent me an email that asked if I could do an analysis on this video of Bill Maher getting “Boo’d” on Letterman.

I love walking through these things. It gives us a chance to understand the fickle behavior of an audience.

Bill Maher is no stranger to controversial material. Remember he got canned by ABC in 2002 when he was doing ‘Politically Incorrect.’

I’m a huge fan of Bill Maher. I love his take on most things and even when I might disagree with him on some things, I still give props for the not only the courage to say what he says, but also the way he organizes his thoughts and researches what he talks about.

Comedy Central has Bill Maher ranked 38 among the best stand up comics of all time.

So when I heard that Bill was boo’d on Letterman. I was quick to review the video.

Let’s look at it together and try to figure out why they “boo’d”

After reviewing the clip, I don’t think they “boo’d” him as much as they “ooo’ed” him.

We have to consider the nature of  the audience dynamic in today’s political environment. The immediate perception from most audiences is that every joke is an attack.

“Not as bad as being a minority in Florida…”

This particular line is layered.

The audience has an immediate reaction to the surface of it: ‘not as bad as being a minority in Florida.’ I believe that they perceived the comment initially as a general negative attack on minorities. This happens in the first second after the comment, which results in the “Ooh.”

Remember the comment was a play on the previous sentence when he uses the term ‘minority owner.’

When Maher said ‘minority owner.’  His comic brain saw an opportunity to do a double-entendre play on the word ‘minority.’

Given a few seconds to ponder and process, the audience then sorts it out in their heads as to what Maher meant exactly by that comment:

‘Is he just making fun of minorities or is he doing a play on the word ‘minority?’

I believe his intention was that Trayvon being a young, black man, got a bad deal in Florida. Also, since Zimmerman is also a minority and living in Florida, he could be saying that both of them have been or will be treated poorly.

Problem was, his intention of the joke was misunderstood, because it had a vagueness to it. It lacked specificity. So the audience did what all overtly politically correct audiences do, they reacted that the joke was an attack on minorities, so they “ooo’ed.”

You’ll notice that once some people had a moment to process the underlying meaning of the joke or what the intended target was (Florida, the jury, unfairness of the process, etc.), there was a smattering of applause indicating that they ‘got’ it.

Assessment

So what do we learn from this? Sometimes, being specific is crucial for the audience to understand the immediate meaning of the joke so that we get the audience to respond the way we intended them to.

Immediacy is not necessary for all styles of jokes, but  jokes that have a perceived meaning that could be taken as racist, sexist, or an attack on anomalic sensitivity (person with a wheelchair in the room, dwarf or little person), while on T.V. with limited time to explain, specificity is crucial. 

Possible Solution

What if Bill clarified the joke by saying, “Better than being a minority in a Florida court these days.” Or “With the raw deal Trayvon got, it’s better than being a minority in Florida these days.”

With that simple clarification, he could’ve turned the “ooh” into an applause.

But with a live audience, you never know.

NOTE: How sensitive can an audience be?

I remember a friend of mine was appearing on The Tonight Show. Previous to his appearance, the band had a musical featured on the piano who was a ‘midget,’ (or little person–just to stay P.C.). While my friend was in the greenroom prepping for his set, the midget was playing the piano. The audience loved the midget. Then my friend comes on for his set, unaware that the pianist tearing it up on the piano was a midget. The comedian opened with two midget jokes…

He couldn’t recover from there and wasn’t invited back to Tonight.

Have you ever had any situations where you stepped in it? Let us know!

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Patton Oswalt: “I stole a Joke. Not consciously.”

patton-oswaltIn a recent blog post about joke-thieving, I posted that Howie Mandel allegedly caught a comedian named Greg Wilson “stealing” a joke on America’s Got Talent.

It generated a lot of comments; some agreeing, some disagreeing with my post, some attacked, some complimented. Some people sent private emails to avoid getting into it in the comment thread.

The piece was written in a heightened way to draw attention to a dilemma we always face as writers and comedians; intellectual property theft.

Whether it’s a joke or a movie script or a television pilot idea, I’ve experienced it personally at several levels. And I expect to experience it more.

But the questions remain:

What do you do about it when it happens to you?

How do you keep from doing it yourself?

Who cares if I use someone else’s material?

I think the best advice I got on joke-stealing is from Jay Leno. He said, “Just write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

He also says to people that accuse him of stealing a joke, “You keep it. I’ll write more.” Great advice. I highly recommend not only following it, but making it your code.

My Irish temper sometimes impedes my ability to make sound and reasonable decisions in a lot of situations. It can especially get in the way when someone steals a joke.

Temper can manifest itself in many ways. It once manifested in the Comedy Store parking lot with another comedian’s bloody head bouncing off the hood of a Trans Am.

Some of you might be saying, “Oh my God, Jerry! I can’t believe you would do such a thing to a Trans Am!”

Why not? It was the nineties and Trans Ams were so previous decade!

Despite the fact that I’m no longer the guy who reacts like that, I still like to defer to people who are smarter when it comes to trying to sort out an answer to a popular problem…

Patton Oswalt is smart, funny involved and completely dedicated to the business of comedy. I follow his tweets (when I can) and read his “Spew.

I think it’s always a good idea to follow people who are smarter than you, funnier than you and ultimately more successful than you so that you can continue your journey to be the best you can be.

One of the suggestions he gives in his “Closed Letter To Myself about Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes,” is to let the joke thief steal. Eventually he’ll reach that point of no return, where the thief will—with the help of other comedians’ material—reach the level of network T.V. as a performer or a writer, then crash and burn because they didn’t get to that level by developing their own creativity.

Because at that level when it’s all on them to ‘create,’ their creative well is a dust bowl. They become the reason for their own demise.

So take some time (it’s a long piece so grab some coffee), and give Patton’s article a read. I think he’s got a better solution to understanding the thievery dilemma than I.

I mean, unless you really hate Trans Ams.

Inspiring Your Creative Muse with a Regular Routine

the-thinker Having trouble getting inspiration for material?

Of all the questions I get from the writers and comedians I work with, by far the most common relates to inspiration.

“I haven’t ‘felt’ like writing.” or “Sometimes I feel it and sometimes I don’t.”

Do you fit into this category? Do you have trouble finding the inspiration to write?

When is the last time you wrote something and felt satisfied? When is the last time you wrote something fulfilling?

When is the last time you wrote something at all?

It happens to all of us. There were times that I would go weeks without writing a new joke. It felt miserable.

One day I purchased a book called “The Writer’s Way,” and it was part of my all-out plan to never have writers’ block again. And you know what?

It worked!

One of the things I learned in that book and from reading about guys like George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld is to write everyday. EVERYDAY. Non-negotiable.

Whether I write a paragraph or a joke or two. I make time every day to sit down and write something. Anything.

Some writers wait for an inspiration to hit them. Other writers summon their muse by developing a regular routine to work by thereby following the philosophy of:

[gn_quote style=”1″]A Routine for writing, creates a routine for inspiration.[/gn_quote]

But it’s up to you. First you have to start with a decision to do it, then you need to plan your day, your week and set up a specific time (an appointment with yourself) that you block out in your daily calendar that is designated for your writing time and then STICK to that routine.

You’ll be amazed that when you stick to the routine, your inspiration will find it’s way to you.

It’s like working both sides of the creative equation.

Sometimes inspiration just happens and other times you have to coax it along by doing cliche exercises or writing 50 random lines from the news, ad-copy or editorials.

Here’s a great article on creativity. I read it and it inspired me to write this blog post.

Maybe it will help you to set up your own regular writing routine and get more creative!

Do you have certain techniques you use to get yourself inspired? Share them in the comments section!

Comedy Clinic Student Wins CA Funniest Female!

pauline-yasuda

You know it’s a beautiful Memorial Day weekend in Burbank, California when the smell of barbecue overpowers and masks the usual combined Burbank stench of of smog and Glendale.

And while most people were enjoying food and drink in their backyards, (or stuck in traffic on the nearby I-5 because of a car fire in the center lane), comedians at Flappers Comedy Club were engaged in the battle of funny.

It wasn’t your usual fare of comedians; bitter, mostly white men sporting jackets on their torsos and five-o’clocks on their cheeks, flinging jokes about their ex’s, smoking too much weed or being broke.

This was a special breed of comic; a women’s-only club of comics, all competing for the prize of “California’s Funniest Female.”

I’ve argued that I think women can be feminine while still being funny in this business.

That’s why I am so proud to announce that one of my top students—Pauline Yasuda—just won the California’s Funniest Female Comedy Competition (www.funniestfemale.com)  last night at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, CA!

California’s Funniest Female Competition is produced by Bill Word, a veteran comedian and comedy producer in Orange County and boasts a line up of over 90 female comedians who compete for cash and prizes.

Even though the competition has the word “California” in it, there are no residential requirements so comedians have come from as far away as Ireland and Australia to compete.

One of the mantras I express in my classes is “Do the work.” I say that a lot.

If you have a grasp of the concept of structure and an understanding of the psychological laughter triggers, you can fill your writing—whether it be jokes, stories or your entire set—with triggered laugh points and engaging content, thus making your act not only laugh-filled but memorable as well.

And most of these competitions, where real judges are present, (as with this one), are not only about funny, but also about memorability.

If you’re a smart comic (and I know you are if you’re one of the 4 people who read my blog), then you will write that down, (“funny and memorability”).

Because, in her act, Pauline applies both.

Pauline is one of those comedians that gets it. She writes, re-writes, tests and re-writes again. Her work paid off and she took this competition by storm.

One of the judges commented to Pauline afterward and said, “To me, you were the clear winner! Great job!” Then he said to me, “Her comedy is unique, risky and memorable, without being crass or relying on profanity or pure shock to get laughs.”pauline-yasuda-jerry-corley

That’s because Pauline understands that comedy is about surprise and recognition. She applies that in her writing while still staying true to herself and the ultimate understanding of the concept that the audience needs to identify and empathize with the comedian and his or HER comedic persona.

Those of you who have followed my blog and have been in my seminars, you know that I’m a big fan of women in comedy. This business craves funny women and the trend has proved that to be true with funny females now being scooped up to star in sitcoms and movies.

Bridesmaids is a perfect example of this as being one of the first all-female cast comedy hits to hit the big screen and have enduring allure in video and streaming video.

The business is ripe.

So ladies, if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines because you don’t think you’re cut out for comedy or that women are not accepted in comedy, think again and jump in.

Pauline did and she’s now the Funniest Female in California!

Congratulations Pauline!

If you’ve thought about doing comedy or are interested in investigating the concepts of comedy and human laughter with a smarter and completely unique approach, then sign up for my free newsletter. You’ll receive free tips and lessons on creating material that gets response and hell, may even help you to win your next competition.