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.

Top 3 Things You Should Be Doing As a Writer Right Now

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If things weren’t interesting enough in the Late Night world, Chelsea Handler of “Chelsea Lately” has just signed to do a Late Night Show on Netflix.

Huh?

This immediately made me wonder: What is Netflix thinking?!

I think this can work, and if it does, what does it mean for you?

Netflix is on the cutting edge in original content with the super-successful House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and Orange Is The New Black starring Taylor Schilling and a full cast of excellent actors.

Now they are taking on the world of Late Night, offering a show to the sassy and very funny, Chelsea Handler.

Kind of an interesting setting: “Late Night” on Demand. Not sure how it will do in this content delivery setting but considering the success DVRs, Amazon, Hulu and other content providers, and their ability to let viewers watch their favorite shows whenever they want really not only opens up almost endless possibilities for viewers but for writers as well!

Maybe that’s something that Conan O’Brien should’ve thought about, especially considering multi-million dollar disappearing act he seems to be doing over at TBS.

I don’t even know what channel TBS is on my DirecTV or even if it’s on their lineup at all. I just don’t pay that much attention any more. With 500+ channels on my DirecTV, nothing really stands out. Am I the only one?

The sad part is that I like Conan.

However, I know I go to Netflix all the time looking for something to watch at night when I’m having a cocktail or three.

But enough about my alcohol problem…

What Does This Mean For You?

There has never been this kind of movement in Late Night programming in television history. This means that there will be staff shake-ups and new staff hirings for shows.

Consider what’s happening in the next few months: Not only is Chelsea Handler starting a new show soon, Craig Ferguson is leaving CBS and David Letterman will be swapped with Steven Colbert. That’s three Late Night shows that are starting and staffing!

Makes you want to say HOLY CRAP! How do YOU spell “OPPORTUNITY?”

As a person who has been around this business for years as an actor, a comedian and a writer, I see this as a golden opportunity. This is the closest thing to pilot season a writer of Late Night can ask for.

Top 3 Things you should be doing right now:

  1. Creating or Refreshing a Submission Packet for Late Night
  2. Contacting The New Shows To Find Out Exactly What They are Looking for in a Packet
  3. Sharpening Your Skills to Write Sketches, Monologues, Desk Pieces, and Drop-Ins

Writing for Late Night is one of the few jobs in this town you can get without an agent or much prior television experience. In fact, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the highest rated Late Night Show on TV right now, recently scooped up an IT Professional based on what he was posting on his Twitter feed.

Getting your stuff seen by the right people at Late Night is not that difficult.

The Head Writer is Looking For You

The Head Writer at any of these shows has a specific job. He has to make sure the writing team is producing the best content that fits the show and is right for the Host. At the same time, turnover in the Late Night world is big, so the Head Writer is always looking for talented writers who can produce material for his show.

So who do you think you need to contact to get your writing packet seen?

You guessed it; The Head Writer.

So get out there and get your stuff seen!


How Do You Do This?

There’s a specific set of skills you need to get into Late Night Comedy Writing.

  1. You can learn those skills by trial and error. Not a bad thing. The more you write the more you learn. You can test your jokes against Late Night Shows to see how they compare to the writers who are on the shows you are targeting.
  2. You can acquire knowledge & develop your skill by attending workshops: Joe Toplyn teaches an excellent workshop in New York City. I teach an excellent LIVE workshop in Burbank this Tuesday night and I have an online video course. (P.S. I don’t get any commission or kick-backs or anything from pimping Joe’s workshops. I just think he’s a talented guy who has a ton of experience).
  3. You can acquire the knowledge by reading books on the subject. Again Joe Toplyn has an excellent book, “Comedy Writing For Late Night T.V.,” available on Amazon.

Remember classes are not mandatory, but they will help you acquire knowledge from experienced professionals and help you develop your writing chops a lot faster. Workshops also help you light a fire under that writer’s butt and fill your head with new inspiration, goals and creativity.

So what are you waiting for?

Hit me back if you have any questions or if I can help you in any way to venture into the Late Night Comedy Writing world. I will give you my all to help you reach your goals.

Best if you leave a comment below and start a conversation. Maybe we can get Mr. Toplyn in to join us too!

Hey Comedy Writers! Join the Conversation!

5 Of My Best Comedy Writing Tutorials Online

5 Of My Best Comedy Writing Tools

Let’s get right to it!

I’ve been posting and blogging about comedy writing tools for several years now, giving you the best tools that I use to write comedy. I’m loving every minute of it!george-carlin_98_percent

In this post I’m sharing with you my 5 favorite writing tools online. It’s a combination of tools I’ve already posted, but you may have forgotten they were there or missed them because you didn’t see the post.

Look at them now because soon I am going to be locking them in the vault and only using them for online courses.

These tools work whether you are a one-and-two-liner comedian or whether you are a story-teller.

These tools work for coming up with jokes for Clubs , Corporate, Late Night, Sketches, Screenwriting, or novel writing.

The structure of comedy is as important to the laugh as hitting the right notes in the right key is important to the music.

In other words, without the structures, there is little or no laughter.

Every comedian who’s made you laugh from Jerry Seinfeld to Kevin Hart; from Jim Jefferies to Bill Burr; from Louis CK to Amy Schumer, they all utilize the structures I teach in my courses and in my eBook writing system. They all use them, even if they don’t know it!

George Carlin said to me, “I know 98-percent of the time that a joke is funny before I get it on stage.” I asked him how he knew and he said, “because I know they contain all the elements necessary for a joke to be funny.”

So here we go!

 

1. Joke Writing 1-2-3

This was the second one I shared with the public when I first started writing my blog. It’s a simple method I use when I am staring at a blank page or computer screen saying, “I got nothin!” I just run this scenario through my head and I always wind up with something; usually about 5 minutes of new material! The good thing is I can use it starting from complete scratch!


2.How To Write Jokes [Video Tutorial]

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This video tutorial was the first of its kind ever put on the internet. May still be the only one of its kind. Where I start with a simple headline from the news and I walk you through the procedure as you look at my computer screen. It’s like you’re looking over my shoulder while I write jokes and show you one of my processes for generating material. This technique has helped me to write thousands of jokes over the years. 

3. How To Write Jokes For Corporate [Video Tutorial]

title-insuranceAnother first of its kind as far as the viewer being able to watch joke writing in a certain niche in a real-time environment. In this video I will take the corporate subject matter of “Title Insurance” and walk through my process as I basically write 10 minutes of Title Insurance jokes. Inspired from a phone call I received from National Title asking me how much I charge to perform at one of their events doing at least five minutes of Title Insurance humor. After I quoted them my fee I knew I better be able to write some title insurance jokes. So I start from scratch and write 10 minutes in less than an hour. Take a look at the process if you want to learn how to write comedy for corporate engagements. Definitely worth a look!

4. Comedy Writing Quick & Simple

Most people I run into who are trying to write comedy, think that comedy writing is a mystery. They think it’s got to be really clever and difficult. Some of the best comedy is the simplest comedy. Much of it comes in the form of opposites. One of the easiest ways to get to the punch is NOT to think of something FUNNY but to think in opposites. This exercise gets you there fast. It may seem simple, but it’s powerful. I’ve used this in sketch writing, screenwriting and in stand-up. Always effective!

 

5. How To Write Comedy Like Bill Burr

2013-07-07 21_25_30-Bill Burr - Epidemic of gold digging whores - YouTubeI love Bill Burr! He’s a terrific and expressive comedian, who loves to take the alternate point of view on popular social opinions. His technique is masterful, but when someone told me that Bill doesn’t use any comedy structure, I just had to show them not only that he does, but how he does and exactly where he uses it. Take a look at this Bill Burr video and then watch as line-by-line, you get to see where he places the key elements that trigger the laughs!

 

So there you have it

Five of my best tools for writing jokes. But here’s the thing: This barely scratches the surface of the tools I use on a regular basis to write jokes. In my classes and with my online courses, I teach 23 different approaches to writing comedy. Remember, there’s no single way to approaching comedy writing.

But these tools will give you a process to make it easier. I still use the old-school method of getting an inspiration and talking it out on stage until it develops into a solid routine, but I prefer to use the George Carlin method: write it funny so you know it’s funny before you take the stage!

I hope you enjoy this list of tools. Remember they won’t stay online long, so use them, share them with others and please feel free to leave a comment below and let me know how you’re doing!

10 Ways Lady Gaga Can Help You Turbo Charge Your Comedy Career

10 Ways Lady Gaga Can Turbo Charge Your Comedy Career

Are You Serious?

I can hear it now… the voices saying what the f*@k?!

What do you mean, Lady Gaga?

It seems difficult to believe, after all, we’re comedians.

Haven’t we all made fun of Lady Gaga?

I know I’ve done some jokes about her; A meat-suit, really?

But here’s the point: Comedians love to talk smack about people. In one way it’s our job. Isn’t that what we do; make fun of stuff?

But we also have to realize that we can learn from those very same people that we make fun of.

Lady Gaga has built an incredible career. She has tens of millions of followers on social media and her fans don’t just tolerate her, they LOVE her!

So check out the SlideShare presentation below.

It might actually help you choose a direction, give you some ideas and finally light a fire under your lazy comedy ass!

9 Stand-Up Comedy Specials Worth Streaming This 4th of July

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9 Stand-Up Comedians Worth Streaming on Netflix Now!

I love the 4th of July!

It’s another reason to eat and drink and celebrate something we don’t really get. As comedians or comedy writers, the 4th of July should provide great fodder for material, especially since so much comedy is about dichotomy and paradox. Hobby-Lobby-store-us

And the idea of a FREE America is loaded with it.

Let’s celebrate Independence Day where we are FREE! Let’s celebrate FREEDOM!

In a country where we see somewhere around 40,000 new laws introduced into the books in a single year (2010), the definition of ‘free’ certainly comes with certain (with heavy sarcasm) inverse proportionality.

Isn’t there irony in the fact that just days after the Christians celebrated the Supreme Court ruling favoring Hobby-Lobby, (stating that companies with religious compunctions don’t have to pay for medical insurance to provide female employees with birth control), we celebrate our national day of “Independence.”

It’s comedic irony!

But that’s the beauty of comedy!

Inverse proportionality, paradox, irony and dichotomy rule when it comes to writing comedy.

That’s why, with the help of the folks over at Crushable, I’m posting the 9 Stand-up Comedy Streams You Can Watch on Netflix right now:

1. Aziz AnsariBuried Alive

You might know him as Tom Haverford on the NBC show Parks and Recreation.

It’s no wonder his career got started with an MTV sketch comedy show Human Giant. His stand up is much the same with act-outs of life situations that will make you think, “How come I didn’t think of that?!”

 

2. Louis C.K. – 3 Specials

That’s right! Louis has 3 specials on Netflix as we speak; Live at The Beacon Theater, Chewed Up and Hilarious. Which one to watch? This is a no-brainer, watch them all! Louis was named best comedian alive today by Rolling Stone Magazine and there’s a reason for that. Check him out!

3. Women Who Kill – Certified Funny

It’s all in the title: This special has features 4 funny girls, Amy Schumer, Rachel Feinstein, Nikki Glaser and Marina Franklin.

Females have been making their mark in comedy and these four girls show you why. This is my kind of chick-flick!

 

 

4. Craig Ferguson – I’m Here to Help

Craig is getting his stand-up out there because he’s no longer going to be hosting his Late, Late Show. He’s also going to be hosting a new game show currently titled “Celebrity Name Game” produced by Freemantle Media.

 

 

5. Maria Bamford – The Special Special Special

To be quite honest, I don’t know how this one even made this list. I like Maria Bamford, but in this special, Maria spends 42 minutes doing comedy in her parents’ living room of their tract home in Eagle Rock, California.

Thank God my parents are already dead, because if I did that to them, it would’ve killed them—or put them to sleep—as this show did to me.

It is, however, an interesting experiment about how important an audience is to spread the energy of laughter. Is the funny getting away from Maria? Check it out and see.

 

 

6. Jim Gaffigan – Mr. Universe

Jim Gaffigan is a comedian that just makes me laugh. He’s filled with recognition and simple-truth/act-outs, (much like Aziz Ansari). Gaffigan actually has 2 specials on Netflix worth streaming. He also has Beyond the Pale.


7. Morgan Murphy – Irish Goodbye

This gal is funny! Not a lot of glam, just pure comedy genius. Originally from Portland, Oregon, this gal spent time writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. You will also get inspired by reading her tweets! @morgan_murphy.

 

 

8. Bo Burnham – What

You think comedians hate guitar comics? Bo Burnham shows that musical comedy is not dead as this 23-year-old—yes 23! (Feel like a loser yet?), plays to a packed house. Bo uses the a lot of paradox and surprise with his songs. Very entertaining. And he must be, dude has massive video downloads.

Hey! comedians who hate other comedians who do music: This guy has over 4 million views on just one YouTube video? How many hits do you have on your video about ‘Online Dating?.’

9. John Mulaney – New In Town

Mulaney was a writer for SNL, need I say more?  He’s a master of Simple Truth/Act-outs, one of my favorite comedic techniques and also usually a favorite technique of comedians who are known for writing sketch comedy. Definitely worth a look!

 

 

So this Fourth of July why not celebrate your independence by popping the top on some beers, turning on the Netflix and streaming some great comedy. And remember to drink responsibly, don’t drive drunk, don’t be drunk in public and don’t urinate in public or disturb the peace, or become a public nuisance, but aside from that go out and be FREE!