How Robin Williams Saved My Life

Robin-Williams

The Lessons; In Life and in Comedy

The life and comedy lessons that I learned from the brief encounters I had with Robin Williams came flooding back to me since I got the news of his death.

It was 4:00PM Monday August 11th, and I was sitting at the computer writing jokes; ironically, only nineteen hours after we wrapped an Anti-Suicide Benefit Show at the Hollywood Improv to raise awareness for Depression and Suicide. That’s when I got the call from a friend and fellow comedian.

He simply said: “Robin Williams is Dead.”

There was that long silence that follows that kind of message. Longer than normal. That kind of silence that seems to stretch forever. The kind of silence that would make you really uncomfortable on stage.

I did what I usually do when I hear news that I can’t totally process emotionally; I went to jokes: “Leave it to Robin to do this right after the Anti-Suicide Benefit. Ha! If the benefit didn’t raise awareness, this sure will.”

Then I cried.

I didn’t plan it. I didn’t feel it coming on. It was just one of those things that happened spontaneously, you know?

I didn’t cry when Carlin died. That news seriously bummed me out, but I didn’t cry… and Carlin mentored me.

At first I refused to believe it. Like a lot of comedians, I had worked with Robin several times. I even drove him in a limousine every day for a couple of weeks early in my career, when I was cutting down my road work to try to save my marriage.

I remember Robin said to me, “Save your marriage? F*@k your marriage. Save your life!”

Then in a character voice, almost disgustedly, he said, “You’re a comedian. A chauffeur YOU ARE NOT!”

“You think?”

He said, “Yeah Bitterman, you missed the turn about a half-mile back!” Then he launched into a Dudley Moore laugh from the movie “Arthur.”

It was a good laugh. But, that sunk in deep. And later that week after I dropped him off at his jet, I quit the limo and went right back out on the road for good.

I worked with him a couple of times after that. We weren’t buddies. We didn’t call each other or anything. The time I spent with the man was minuscule in a chronological sense, but his impact is eternal.  And each time I bumped into him or had the honor of working with him, he was always, ALWAYS kind.

That’s one of the things he taught me. That in this business, where sometimes people can be so back-stabbing, angry, resentful and use their success to try to diminish you, he was just Robin, all the time.

He taught me that synergy works better than enemy and that being kind to your fellow comedian, your fellow human doesn’t ever hurt your career. It always helps.

Robin Breathed Life Into Comedy

Robin’s career was, in a word, stellar. From the time he was picked up to do “Mork and Mindy,” he was off and running. He was a comedian, but a comedian who had goals beyond just doing stand-up. He started as a comedian in the Bay Area in the seventies, then went off to “study” at the The Julliard School of Drama in New York.

When he went back to the Bay Area, he was a different comedian. He was doing characters on stage. Characters were not new in comedy, Carlin did characters, but it was the way he was doing the characters; BIG, BOLD COMMITTED. He was blowing the doors off the clubs!

He was a pure entertainer. I know, he had a bit of a reputation for stealing jokes. Hell, he stole a couple of mine. But somehow that was different. He was “Robin.” He breathed life into comedy. I could always write new jokes.

He taught me the power of incongruous act-outs in comedy, (a version of solo-sketch comedy), that if you give the audience a clear premise: Like in this video, where he does his version of American soccer and South American soccer, then segues into American Football referees. The set up is clear cut. He sets up the characters, then just brings them to life.

You watch Robin Williams do comedy and you can’t help but feel a bit manic. Because, from the moment he takes the stage, that’s the way he performed and there’s a theory in theater science that the audience is in whatever state the performer is in. When you saw Robin perform, you had no choice but to leave that experience, charged up.

Depression and Suicide

Early reports coming in from the news is that his death was an apparent suicide. Now I think I understand why I cried when my friend called. The sheer dichotomy. In a weird way, Robin, who struggled with addiction and depression and was open about it, represented a certain hope for many.

I have never experienced addiction or depression. The closest I’ve been to that is drunk and tired.

Then it kind of hit me why Robin’s death made me cry when Carlin’s didn’t. Carlin died of so-called natural causes; a heart-related issue. Robin’s death was mired in a more profound tragedy. He died of something seemingly treatable, but obviously misunderstood.

There are close to 15 million people in the U.S. that suffer from depression. And if a man who had the resources to afford and access all the help he needed to deal with it can’t find a way out, what are the other 14 million nine-hundred and ninety-nine thousand going to do?

We need you back, Robin.

Today I’m going to Amazon to buy every Robin Williams comedy video I can get my hands on. Maybe Robin can still help play away the pain and give others hope.

Robin Williams affected us all in one way or another. For me, he was partly responsible for where I am today. One marriage down but still making a living doing comedy.

Save your life, indeed.

You’ll be missed.

What Louis C.K. Sarah Silverman and Others Did BEFORE They Were Famous

Louis C.K.

Save This Article! Share it with Others!

Take a look at Emily Zemler’s article in Esquire on Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and others on how and what they did before they became famous.

I always love reading about this stuff!

Most of us get acquainted with notable comedians only after they hit it big. The challenge and the mystery of their success can be so ominous and make us feel like we could never do it.

Early in our careers, every show seems so crucial. In the article Louis C.K. talks about his first time on stage and how he couldn’t fill five minutes and then didn’t do stand up for another two years!

He also talks about other failures.

This should instill in all of us how important the journey is. That not every or ANY show is a “do-or-die” moment, that mistakes can happen and they can be BIG. I mean how many of us even knew that C.K. made a movie, let alone a couple?

There Are No SINGLE Opportunities

Every career has its ups and downs. Some of us put so much faith in that ONE opportunity we had and blew.

There are no ‘single’ opportunities.

There is the journey of ups and downs. Some ‘downs’ feel catastrophic when they happen, but none except death can keep you down forever.

If I were you; which I’m not—Thank God—because I’ve seen the way you dress and that deep v-neck shirt does not look good on me—but if I were you, I would link that article, screenshot it, save it and use it for a reference each time you feel that you’ve failed or that your career is going nowhere.

Read the article, understand that the great ones failed too. Then get out, get up and do your funny.

And if they don’t laugh, rewrite, get up and do your funny again!

Great article Emily Zemler! Thanks for instilling hope in all comedians who are pounding it out.

P.S. This article was shared with me by Rick Olson; follow him on Facebook or Twitter . Dude’s always finding good stuff!

CBS Blew It! – Craig Ferguson Announces He’s Leaving ‘Late Late Show’

Craig Ferguson announces he'll be leaving the Late, Late Show

The field is totally opening up!

Craig Ferguson announced Monday night that he’ll be leaving the Late, Late Show at the end of this year.  There is a lot of speculation that Ferguson was mistreated and completely overlooked, when CBS passed over him to replace David Letterman who will be retiring at the end of this year.

This after a 10-year run!

He was like a second string quarterback waiting his turn to take over the team.

Imagine if the Green Bay Packers overlooked Aaron Rogers after Brett Favre left the team?

Tragic!

CBS Blew It!

I think CBS completely blew it with this decision. They instead went with Stephen Colbert.

Colbert is very talented, but unproven and untested as a host in a non-satirical, non-character-based environment.

Ferguson is fresh, unique and extremely talented.

The execs who made this decision have ABSOLUTELY NO CONCEPT of the level of talent it takes to go off-script like Ferguson does and riff on a subject and get consistently great laughs. The guy is a genius.

*But Jerry, tell us how you really feel!*

He has an ability to detach from the show and actually make you feel like he’s in your living room; all the while still engaging the studio audience.

Who else does that?!

Answer: Nobody!

I don’t understand their reasoning for this decision. The only thing I can hypothesize on is that they are looking to target the 18-34 male demographic; the demo that is so coveted by advertisers and and already targeted by Comedy Central, Colbert’s current home.

But if that’s the case they blew it, as Ferguson and Colbert are virtually the same age!

Writing Positions Are Opening Up

But what does this mean for my readers, (all 3 of you)?

I know that some of you are really into looking to nail a job on a Late Night Show as a writer. This is a truly historic time with the shake-ups that are happening all around late night. Never in my life time have there been so many changes in the late night line up. in the same year.

With Colbert replacing Letterman and Ferguson leaving at the end of this year, new opportunities will be springing up all over the network.

Time to sharpen your pencils, freshen your pens and get your carpel tunnel wrist braces on and start re-typing and re-writing your Late Night TV submission packets.

Those of you who have taken my workshop on writing for late night know that you should be re-tooling your submission packet every 6 months and sending it in to the shows producers on a regular basis.

You should also be tweeting your daily jokes. Why?  The Late Night with Seth Meyers people plucked an I.T. worker from Peoria, and put him on the staff for the show after reading his humorous tweets.

Now the Dude is earning a $4000 minimum weekly paycheck as a staff writer on the show. Hell Yes!

So even though I’m in disagreement about the network’s decision to overlook Ferguson, I am laser-beam focused on the new opportunities available for writers.

Get writing!

Clinic Student Sascha Knopf Moves to Next Round in CA’s Funniest Female Competition

sascha-funniest-female-compQuick shout out to Stand Up Comedy Clinic student and funny girl, Sascha Knopf, who moved to the Semi-Final round in California’s Funniest Female comedy competition at the Ice House in Pasadena Wednesday night.

Sascha was in a mix of some darn good comedians too. Many of whom traveled from as far as Washington D.C. to participate in the competition.

One of the things that I really dig about teaching is watching students overcome obstacles, develop their comedic skill, hit milestones and achieve dreams… and this is no exception because the fascinating part of this share is that Sascha has only been involved in stand-up for eight months!

One of the judges said it was a blend of her structure and performance that made the judge feel like she “belonged there.”

About Sascha Knopf

Sascha is a skilled actress who has appeared in films like “Shallow Hal,” “Expiration Date”sascha-knopf-what's-the-worst-that-can-happen2 and “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?,” where she held her own comedically, playing opposite Danny Devito and Martin Lawrence. (Check out her reel on Sascha’s website.)

Sascha decided to try stand-up to compliment acting resume and give herself yet another creative outlet.

I say, “yet another,” because Knopf is one those people who exudes creativity. She’s always working on something to keep the creativity Gods happy. If she’s not acting or doing stand-up, she’s shooting pictures, because she’s also a skilled photographer. She spent some time with some of the top fashion designers shooting fashion week in New York and still shoots actors, comedians and events in L.A.

She has a keen sense of color and an intuitiveness that helps bring out the unique persona of the people she shoots. Check out some of her work, here.

I’m proud to brag that Comedy Clinic Alumn, Stephanie Blum, also moved to the next round in the competition. Stephanie is a veteran of stand-up comedy and can crank out some great material so I’m looking forward to the competition as it moves forward with two Comedy Clinic students going to the semi-finals.

Shameless Plug: Comedy Clinic Student Won in 2013

pauline-jerry-wsocOur students are no strangers to the CA Funniest Female comedy competition, as alumnus Pauline Yasuda was the winner of the competition in 2013! Pauline brought her comedy A-game to the competition last year which was held at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, CA. Pauline took first place out of a ton of comics who came from as far as Australia.

Pauline may be taking a break from comedy for a bit as she just had her first baby, but as a father of five myself (that’s right, Five!  Don’t judge!), I know Pauline will have a ton of new jokes in the coming months!

Good luck to all the comedians in this year’s California’s Funniest Female comedy competition!

About the Competition

California’s Funniest Female comedy competition is in it’s 11th year. It is produced by Bill Word and attracts comedians from all over the world and has done a lot to promote female comedians throughout its tenure. Check out their website and keep tabs so you can get into the competition next year!

Get Into The Ventura Comedy Festival

ventura comedy festival It’s that time again! The 4th Annual Ventura Comedy Festival is getting revved up for their 2014 season. Check out the website for submission opportunities.

Last year the show had over 200 comedians participating. This year the festival is even going to be bigger.

Comedian Randy Lubas is the founder of this festival and has personally reviewed all the videos that were submitted.

The submission fee is only $25, so even the most broke comic can raise that cash.

Again, they are in the earliest stages of announcement and will  be open for submissions soon. Please keep checking their website for the updates.

You know the benefits of participating in competitions, so get into this one if you can!