Teaching Comedy in Russia

russia

Today is the day! I leave for Moscow to teach a master class in American-style comedy to 25 Russian actors who want to learn that brand of stand-up.

I’ve never seen Russian stand-up. In fact, I’ve never seen a Russian smile, so this will be interesting. Of course I’m joking about the smile. I know a lot of Russian-Americans and there are two things they know how to do: laugh and drink vodka!

I’m sure while I’m there, I will be doing plenty of both.

I’ll be there five days. Think about it five days of caviar, vodka and comedy. What could be better?

Flight & Weather

It’s a 10-hour flight to Munich, then a layover and 3 more hours to Moscow. I arrive at 11pm Tuesday night.

It’s gonna be like 90 degrees here today, and when I arrive in Moscow, the low will be 15. Bring on the vodka!

I’ll be updating several times daily, here on my facebook and twitter pages, so come join. Give me some feeback, give me shit give me your thoughts and prayers that my comedy translates well and doesn’t somehow wind up insulting an entire nation and put me in the gulags somewhere in Siberia! So if you don’t see an update, you know I’m rotting in a Russian prison.

Here we go!

3 Vital Things To Remember When Performing Stand-up Comedy

3-things-to-remember-when-performing-stand-up-comedy

  1. Comedy is a Veiled Attack

    You’re attacking someone or something. Even yourself. The basic rule about attacking is: Always attack up. What this means is that in our society an audience roots for the underdog. If you are a white male and you are making jokes about a minority, it is technically attacking “down.” Because the white male still dominates in our society. If you are a male and you are attacking a female (for no understandable reason), you are also attacking “down,” because we still see women as the fairer sex. If you are anyone and you are attacking Special Olympics kids, you are technically attacking “down,” because Special Olympics kids are seen as people that can’t take care of themselves and they need our help. This is a general rule and can be broken from time to time, but I think you get the idea.

    However, this is not to be misunderstood. If you can set the person up (who is “beneath” you) as an antagonist that needs retaliation, then the audience will root for you to get back at them and make fun of them. Don’t be afraid to attack “down,” just make sure there is just cause.

    I missed out on a Letterman audition because the talent coordinator told me that I was attacking my ex-wife for no reason. For time sake, I had cut the set-up to the joke which was how she cheated on me. If the audience had that information, the joke would’ve been more effective.

  2. Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone

    If someone gets offended because you use the word pee or if you curse, GOOD! Maybe they are NOT your audience. You cannot be all things to everyone. Be YOU! Unless you are doing corporates or kids’ shows or doing warm-up for studio audiences, don’t worry about being all things to everyone. In comedy people love to hear a unique perspective. George Carlin said “there’s nothing wrong with fluff. Sometimes the audience needs it, but do comedy that says something.” If you’re doing comedy that “walks” some of the room that could be a good thing. Out of those people who stayed, there could be a percentage that wind up being die-hard fans; You know, people who will follow you anywhere!

  3. Be Funny

    It may seem simple to understand. But what is funny? I run into people all the time (sometimes in my classes) that say, “I just want to express myself. I don’t want to write it down.” “When I write it down it doesn’t come out funny.”  I understand this dilemma. It makes total sense. Sometimes when you try to hard to stick to a script, it can feel awkward or unnatural. In doing stand-up comedy, there is a fine line between doing the material as written and “free-styling.”

    Here’s the key to understanding comedy: Every time the audience laughs, there is a stimulus present in the material or the action. In other words, SOMETHING triggered the audience’s laughter. Part of the science of comedy is learning what those triggers are and then how to exploit them whenever you want so that you can repeat them, almost at will.

    Those laughter triggers are hidden within the structure of comedy. So whether it’s Jerry Seinfeld using recognition triggers and incongruity or it’s Bill Burr using compare and contrast, incongruity and incongruity act-outs, driven by a strong emotional point of view, their structures are very strong and very present in their material. In other words they are NOT just riffing at will. If you have read my book “Breaking Comedy’s D.N.A.,” you will learn those structures and you will begin to be able to identify them in all comedians. When you do that you can then start to plug them in to your material and you will find that the laughs start increasing exponentially.

    Without the structure in your material, it simply becomes a story or an opinion that you’re sharing with the audience. All the while the audience is thinking: That’s nice, but I’m here to laugh.”

    In other words, be natural. Sound conversational, but your structure is going to get the laughs.

How Developing Habits Makes You A Better Comedy Writer

image How do you start your day?

How do you end your day?

I bet that if you walk through the motions, step-by-step, you can pretty much rubber-stamp habits like preparing for bed or waking up to go to work.

Like, for me, going to bed might be mapped out in steps like this:

  • Check the doors to make sure they are locked
  • Turn out the porch light and the light in the Foyer
  • Tell Fairchild (our Butler), that I will have tea in the library prior to turning in.
  • Set the thermostat
  • Get undressed
  • Use the bathroom
  • Brush my teeth, etc.

All of these—except for the smart-ass and fictitious ‘Butler’ comment—I don’t really have to think about.

I do them automatically, and I bet if you mapped out your morning or evening habits, you would probably be able to say you do them automatically too.

What about your morning commute to work? Do you have to think about it? Or is it automatic?

Unless you’re like some people I know who use a G.P.S. to get everywhere, all the time, (and you know who you are), your drive to work is probably automatic. You don’t have to think of the low-level details required to get there.

How does this happen? How to we train our brains to utilize ‘automaticity’ with certain tasks or behaviors?

PRACTICE

That’s right, practice. The behavior of repetition. Repeating a task over and over will help you train your brain to do it automatically.

Without thinking about it.

That makes sense to most of us. But how do you change a habit or better yet, develop a solid habit?

Willpower is a Finite Resource

Relying on sheer willpower to develop a new habit is not necessarily a good idea. Willpower, according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is a finite resource and it suffers depletion after use.

A study actually done on this phenomenon called “ego-depletion,” shows that after willpower is exerted in one area, it becomes harder for an individual to exert it in another.

Have you experienced this?

With the understanding of this new knowledge of “ego-depletion,” it would seem wise to slow down your habit changing and apply it in a more focused way.

If you’re like most people, you probably come up with more than one New Years resolution, right?

Then you try to apply these new behaviors all at once.

“I’m gonna go to the gym everyday…”

“I’m gonna eat more salads.”

“I’m gonna stop drinking, smoking and drugs.”

“I’m gonna write some clean comedy.”

That seems like a small list, but according to the behavior studies, most people have 10 or more resolutions and those who tried to implement and develop these habits all at once, would soon fail miserably at all of them.

Focus on One Task at a Time

One way to really ensure that you will have a high rate of success on developing a new habit is to focus developing only one at a time.

If you slow down and take one habit at a time and give it your complete focus and attention your odds of experiencing ‘ego-depletion’ are drastically reduced.

So if you want to “wake up earlier” or “write some clean comedy,” then try doing only one of those for a month. That’s right 30 days of only one habit.

Although some studies say it takes 60 days to fully develop a new habit, other studies say habits can be developed in 20 days and since we are focusing on one habit at a time, 30 days seems practical.

If you actually applied this and did it for a year, you could make a lot of changes in your comedy writing and in your life, overall.

Start ‘Habitualizing’ Right Now to be Funnier

Today or tomorrow, write down the 10-12 new habits you want to apply to your comedy or your life.

Choose which one is most important to you or most needed.

Then spend the next 30 days implementing it by writing it in your daily calendar and making it an appointment.

Really map it out!

Say for example I want to be funnier in my everyday life. I know through experience, that one of the easiest ways to be funnier is to utilize the Double-entendre comedy structure. Simply put, using the secondary meaning of a word to respond to a comment from someone. They say something with an intended meaning and you respond with the comedic meaning of the word or meaning of the phrase in its entirety.

If I decide that I’m going to sharpen that sense or strengthen that muscle in my comedy, I would practice with random sentences, then find a word in that sentence that could have multiple meanings.

Then I would write a few lines in response to the original line using the comedic interpretation of the word.

For example, if I was in the grocery store and the clerk said, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

I might respond with, “Well, I found the wine and some candles, but I couldn’t find a soul-mate… you had Mahi-Mahi, but I’m not into twins…”

Or try to write another line in response to “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

“Everything? Can you tell me where I could find a hot chick who digs bald guys who jerk-off and eat hot pockets?”

If I did this every day for a month, with five random lines, without fail, I would be a sharper, faster, funnier writer in no time. Plus I would have a habit developed to do it everyday.

With 12 months in the year and 12 Major comedic joke structures, applying habits each month could make you one Hell of a writer in a year.

Get to Work

So what are you waiting for? Now that you have a process and an understanding, select those habits you want to change. Implement your focus and start changing the way you work, by developing new habits to become a better comedy writer.

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You know the difference between a chuckle and a triggered laugh. You’ve experienced it either by receiving it from your friends, family or an audience. You’ve had your own laugh reflex push out the laugh when something funny triggered your laughter. comedy seminar photo1

 

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How To Be Funny (Pt. 1) | A Non-Comedian’s Guide

man_laughing_with_friendsOkay, okay, you’ve talked me into it.

After all the emails, I’m now going to start to dedicate some of the space on this blog for non-comedians; a place where the ‘everyday’ person can get a dose of insight into how to be funny.

Before we get started with the tips, please be advised that being funny is subjective. What one person thinks is funny may draw, from another person, a blank stare or worse a snarl, or a punch in the throat. (It hasn’t happened to me yet, but there’s still hope!).

Despite the subjectiveness of ‘funny,’ there are certain strategies and techniques that you can apply to your daily conversation that will drastically increase your ability to be recognized as “funny.”

And… it’s not as hard as you might think, because much of learning how to be funny is surprisingly scientific.

It is a scientific fact (proven through scientific case study and scientific process), that a human being laughs when they are surprised.

You should be writing that word down right now. SURPRISE. It’s key. In fact out of the 9 Major Human Laughter Triggers, if you focused on surprise alone, in a short period of time, you could be recognized as the funniest guy in your school, at your work or in your cell block. (I write that, because as it turns out a lot of inmates have been reading my blog).

I guess you can avoid being someone’s bitch if you’re making them laugh!

The problem with surprise is that it also causes us to startle or cry.

So we have to understand how to apply it so it works to help us achieve our goal—and that’s to make someone laugh.

We laugh when we are surprised in a benign way or in a way that doesn’t threaten our safety or our reputation.

So let’s start with owning the fact that the number one trigger for human laughter is surprise.

Actually there are, (at a psychological level), 9 major laugh triggers for the human being.

Since one of those triggers is tickling, there are eight which are applicable to what we are trying to do and that is to make people laugh in every day situations;

  • At work
  • At School
  • In Social situations
  • Dating
  • Giving presentations or speaking engagements
  • Teaching
  • Leadership
  • Job interviews
  • Auditions, etc.

The great thing, is that if you’re NOT a comedian, a LITTLE humor goes a LONG way! You don’t have the same requirements and expectations as a comedian does, so a small surprise in the middle of a talk can be very effective.

If you’re known for being a square or completely ‘un-funny,’ then a small joke can be hysterical because everyone is so used to your normally subdued personality and the wordplay is unexpected which creates crisp surprise and BOOM a laugh.

For example Conrad Hilton founder of Hilton Hotels was noted for being a dry and serious human being. When interviewed at a business function in January, he was asked, “What are some of your New Year’s resolutions?”

He replied, “I would just ask that people put the shower curtain INSIDE the tub.

Not incredibly funny by any means, but since Mr. Hilton is rarely ever seen saying anything that is NOT serious, it got a big laugh. It was the SURPRISE that triggered the laugh mechanism.

The eight major laughter triggers for the human being are:

  • Surprise
  • Embarrassment
  • Recognition
  • Incongruity
  • Release
  • Superiority
  • Ambivalence
  • Configurational

Some comedy writing gurus have stated that the last one, ‘configurational’ doesn’t apply to commercially accepted comedy today, but that’s completely wrong.

Configurational jokes are those that make an audience think and solve the punchline. If you think of Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg, you know that that kind of comedy is alive and well.

Well Mitch Hedberg is dead, so I guess it’s only half-alive.

Hedberg and Wright still have had such influence, many comedians are emulating their style and becoming very successful.

You can’t watch Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg without starting to think funny or incongruously yourself.

But, after watching you might ask “how’s that help me to be funny?”

I’m glad you asked.

Sometimes just seeing it in action gives you a better understanding of how to apply it.

Understanding surprise as a laughter trigger is just the first step.

The real fun comes when you apply the techniques yourself.

You can be the most boring person in the world but if you engage surprise effectively, you could easily get a laugh.

One of my favorite techniques to get a laugh in everyday situations is to use the double entendre comedy formula. It’s one of techniques I teach in my 12-Steps to How To Be Funny for the every day person.

Double entendre means ‘two meanings.’

If you really take a moment and listen to the English language, you’ll find that we have a ton of words that have multiple meanings. All you have to do is think of the alternate meaning.

If you know someone that turns everything you say into a sexual connotation, then you know someone who uses double entendre to get a laugh.

GUY #1: You gonna be able to get your haircut this weekend?

GUY #2: Yeah, Cara said she could do me, Saturday.

GUY #1: Then, when’s she gonna cut your hair?

All you have to do is think of alternate meanings for common words.

For example, say you’re at the grocery store and the clerk at the counter says, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Think in steps:

Step #1: What do they mean by that?

Step #2: Is there a word in that statement that I can change the meaning of?

Step#3: What is their intended meaning of that word?

Step#4: What’s my ‘comedic’ interpretation of the word?

CLERK: Did you find everything you were looking for?

YOU: Well, I found the wine and the candles, but I couldn’t find a soul mate. You had Mahi-mahi, but I’m not into twins.

Let’s try another one in a different joke format:

I was on the road with a comic. As he got off the phone with his girlfriend he said to me, “That’s a relief. My girlfriend got a cat to keep her company while I’m on the road.” Then I said, “Bad news is, that cat is a six-foot-two jazz musician.”

With the simple double-entendre formula, you can actually train yourself to recognize the multiple meanings of words and respond to it with a comedic or ‘alternate’ interpretation.

It’s fast. It’s easy and tons of fun… Sounds like my fat ex-girlfriend!

So use double-entendre and you’ll be on your way to learning how to be funny!