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

4th-of-July

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!

5 Reasons to Use Imitation and Emulation to Learn Stand-up Comedy

kids-imitation

From the time we are toddlers, we learn by watching and imitating. That’s how we learn to walk, to talk, to express ourselves.

Imitation is the ‘stem-cell’ of our learning ability.

So why not utilize this technique when learning how to be a comedian?

At first, it might seem like cheating, no?

And when I say, “imitate,” I don’t mean “copy.” I mean emulate.

Practice sounding like a certain comedian.

I mean, “but wait!” You might be saying. Stand-up is one of the last real “raw” performance-based art forms. Why would anyone want to imitate?

5 Reasons to Use Imitation or Emulation in your Comedy:

There are several reasons, when you are starting out, to use imitation and emulation develop. Here are a few:

  • It can get you to sounding like a comedian faster.
  • Imitation or emulation can help you discover new inspirations.
  • It can help you find the inflection to make a joke, or bit, really resonate.
  • It can help your brain to recognize the patterns and rhythms that get laughter from the audience
  • It can help you get confident in your pauses and perfect your timing.

Once you start emulating the behaviors of a comedian, you begin to ‘walk in their shoes,’ and you begin to think like one. As a result, more jokes come to you off-handedly during the normal progress of your day and you start recognizing subjects and situations that are ripe for a comedy routine.

As a tool, imitation and emulation is used all the time in life.

Famous guitar players all say that they learned by playing the riffs of the greats, then from those techniques they branched off and developed their own style.

Johnny Carson said he copied Jack Benny to learn how to perfect his timing.

Jerry Seinfeld was clearly influenced by George Carlin.

Robin Williams seemed to take his moves directly from Jonathan Winters.

When you watch Bill Burr, can’t you see a bit of Dennis Leary?

I studied Carlin, Pryor, Cosby and Seinfeld, mostly. When I first started I was very “Seinfeldian.” In fact, I remember going on stage at the Laugh Factory in L.A. one night. Jerry Seinfeld was in the room. I did my set with my jokes, but my inflections and behaviors had a definite Seinfeld feel.

After my performance—which got a decent response, from the audience—I said hello to Seinfeld and he just sort of blew me off. I said to myself, “maybe I I should tone it down a little.”

After that experience, I was lucky enough to meet with George Carlin. He gave me the best insight to comedy;

He said: “Take the stuff that drives you crazy and make it funny!”

That’s when I started to really develop as a comedian.

But it was the study and emulation of my favorite comedians that got me moving in this industry. Within my first two years as a comedian, I developed an hour of material, nailed my first audition with the legendary Bud Friedman, (owner of the Improvisation) in Los Angeles and got booked in Vegas and got my first television booking as a comedian.

After that, I used that television tape to book gigs all over the country and I never looked back.

Stand-up is a Conversation

One of my students is an actress. She’s a really, really good actress. She started doing stand-up in July. Like a lot of actors, she was having trouble eliminating that fourth wall and making the material sound like it was stand-up, rather than an actor’s monologue.

The difference between stand-up and acting is that stand-up is a conversation. It’s hopefully a one-way conversation, but it is more like a conversation. It’s like you’re talking to your friends in your living room or better yet, at a bar.

This actress-comedian was having a difficult time breaking out of the monologue mode. Then she started studying comedians like Whitney Cummings and Amy Schumer. I mean really studying them.

She listened to them for hours! (I recommend that to anyone—take your favorite comedian and listen to them for hours).

She would even repeat their lines while she was in her apartment, trying to emulate their nuances and their voices.

In a matter of a week or two, her act went to the next level. By the time she had her next appearance, she was sounding more like a comedian. Her material was resonating more with the audience. They were responding to her faster and with harder, snappier laughter.

She was becoming a comedian. It was her own material, but she emulated to get the nuance of a comedian.

4 Weeks to Being A Better Writer

To some people this seems crazy…

I get it. The comedian’s nuance and rhythm my come naturally to you. If so, then this post is not for you.

Go do your thing and continue in your own growth and brilliance.

But to you comedians with some years of experience, I still recommend listening to the really good comedians.

When I had been doing comedy for about 8 years, I was on the road for four weeks straight. In my car I had one cassette (yes, I said “cassette!” Don’t judge!). It was Dennis Miller.

One thing about Dennis, is he used to use really colorful language in his material. The writing was clever. He used a lot of analogy, simile and metaphor to add texture to his stories. In my view it made the story worth listening to.

By the end of the tour, my comedy also had more compelling language. It was better written and it was getting better response. I kept it in my own voice, but that four weeks with Dennis Miller made me a far better writer!

This particular post is for beginners who are having a hard time getting out of the habit of sounding like they are reciting material and getting more in the habit of sounding like a comedian; like a conversationalist.

For you, if you are struggling with this concept. Try emulating or imitating. It might make you sound like a comedian faster.

Then again, you might already be emulating.

Tenacious D Is Putting On a Comedy Festival in L.A.

Great News!
Fresh from the wire over at Technology Tell’s entertainment blog:
Tenacious D is planning the Festival Supreme, a music and comedy festival of the like Los Angeles has never seen. It’s the first of it’s kind in my memory. It will be featuring top comedians and performers like Zach Galifianakis, Adam Sandler, The Mr. Show Experience (featuring David Cross and Bob Odenkirk), and Reggie Watts.
Sarah Silverman is also slated to perform.

The great news is that this is a real comedy festival with real stars!

It’ll be interesting to see how L.A. supports an event like this. Considering you can usually get a pretty decent lineup of top comics almost any night of the week at any one of  the top comedy clubs in L.A. But it’s usually a surprise, as opposed to a scheduled festival.

What’s the schedule? Glad you asked! Keep Saturday, October 19th open and save your pennies; ninety-nine thousand of them to be exact, because the tickets to this bad boy are starting at $99.

Not too bad a price considering there are going to be four stages all at, or around, the Santa Monica pier.

Sounds like fun! In fact I’m gonna head over to the festival’s website right now and get a couple of tix!

BUSTED! Comedian Caught Stealing Another Comic’s Material During ‘America’s Got Talent’ Taping?

America's Got Talent

The Greg Wilson is Accused of Stealing Another Comedian’s Material while recording America’s Got Talent

According to the story that I first read on Slashfilm.com, comedian-contestant, The Greg Wilson, was performing on “America’s Got Talent.” He went to his closing bit which was an act-out of a mimed argument of a couple arguing in a car.

The crowd loved it, the first two judges loved it. When they got to Howie, he asked the contestant, (The Greg Wilson), “Did you write this, or are you performing someone else’s material?”

OUCH!

Right there in front of the audience and the cameras at the Pantages in Los Angeles, he gets asked if he stole material!

DOUBLE OUCH!

To top it all off, Howie says that he knows the comic that does the bit in question. Then he reveals the name of the comic: “Frank Nicotero.” Some of you may say, “Who the hell is Frank Nicotero?” Well, Frank is a comic who has been around for quite a while. He’s smart and funny… and he also just happens to be the warm-up comedian for… (drum-roll please)…

AMERICA’S GOT TALENT!

So The Greg Wilson is being accused of stealing a bit from a comedian who (unbeknownst to him) is in the SAME ROOM!

DOUBLE OUCH with an “OH SNAP!”

Being accused of stealing material is a big deal in this business. It’s scummy. It’s pathetic. And it can ruin a reputation and possibly a career… isn’t that right Carlos Mencia?

But to be snagged while doing it for a television show that gets to broadcast out to tens of millions is epic!

Here’s where it gets a little gritty:

I watched both comedians performing the bit:

Here’s Frank Nicotero:

Here’s The Greg Wilson: (The Bit starts at 3:43)

See The Differences?

When I watched both of the videos my initial reaction was this:

This bit is a high concept bit that could easily be performed by two different comedians. We’ve all seen couples fighting in a car and I could see that two comedians could come up with similar bits on that concept.

Based on the two versions, I thought that Greg Wilson did a more concise job defining the different characters and acting them out, but…

Jay Leno said to me: “There are no ethics in this business. You have to write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

[gn_quote style="1"]Your reputation will precede you…[/gn_quote]

That’s where this conflict begins to sort itself out; and we can begin to answer the question of if the idea was stolen.

If we consider the fact that Frank Nicotero is a seasoned professional who has hosted a television show called “Street Smarts” for 5 years and has had additional success and has a reputation that is super solid in this business, the origination of the bit in question starts to become clear.

But this is what settled it for me…

According to people who know both guys, It’s said that The Greg Wilson KNOWS Frank and Greg has SEEN FRANK PERFORM THAT BIT for years. I mean the bit goes back to 1993 for Frank Nicotero. It has been Frank’s closing piece for a very long time.

That’s where it’s No Bueno.

It boils down to this: Having a reputation for being a solid writer and comedian with fresh ideas by actually doing the work and writing on a regular basis is crucial in developing your reputation.

By doing a comedy bit that is known to be a signature bit of another comedian, The Greg Wilson has created a dilemma for himself that he now needs to overcome. He has seriously tainted his reputation and that is now being spread via the internet and social media.

If this story continues to have legs, it could really have an impact on his career and what other people in this business think of him.

Also consider this: America’s Got Talent is a reality show. It stays on the air as long as the ratings stay high. Much of the ratings are driven by conflict and drama on the show and although Frank was told that The Greg Wilson’s bit will never be aired…

A decision might be made by the show’s producers to air the segment just for the sheer drama and conflict. It’s bound to drive ratings and new blog posts, shares on Facebook and tweets on Twitter.

This story doesn’t die here. It reanimates when the show airs in about 6 weeks for potentially tens of millions of viewers watching on T.V. and potentially millions in the blogosphere and social media all pointing to the headline of The Greg Wilson allegedly stealing Frank Nicotero’s routine and performing it on Television.

Your reputation precedes you, indeed.

Love to hear your thoughts on this situation pro or con…

“This Audience is Mostly Mormon”

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mormon-note

So one of my favorite students Skyped with me today.

He was upset about a comedy show he did.

It was a show he produced.

It was a show he emceed.

And it was a show that he didn’t do as well as he wanted.

“It was especially rough because I put the show together and I didn’t go over as well as I would’ve expected.

What gives?”

There’s no ‘magic’ solution to knowing how an audience will respond but it helps if you understand a little bit about comedian/audience dynamic.

There are a lot of reasons to why an audience doesn’t respond well to certain jokes.

In front of one audience one night a joke might rock, the next night, in front of a different audience, that very same joke might get groans or nothing.

That’s not uncommon and it happens for a reason.

Fortunately we can get a handle on the reasoning.

We might not be able to solve the problem all the time but we can at least understand why so we can make an adjustment, either during the show or at another show.

Sometimes the reasons are right in front of us. Sometimes the reasons are not visible.

Indulge me with a quick scenario:

In the middle nineties, I was doing a gig in Utah for a little known company called Hewlett Packard. We were at a restaurant, upstairs. The audience was well-dressed, some were keeping the bartender at the open bar busy, so I figured, This is going to be fun!

I started my show and I figured since we were in Utah I did a riff of jokes about Mormons that culminated with…

[gn_quote style="1"]…for years I thought RV’s that had those bikes on the front of them… were Mormon hunters… is that wrong?”[/gn_quote]

It received a mediocre laughter at best, but it was nervous laughter and that was only from a select group of people– If you guessed, the ones who were drinking… you’re right!

I couldn’t understand why the audience wasn’t laughing. I mean I just did this round of jokes the night before and got screams and applause!

In the eighth minute, someone in the audience handed me a note.

It said: “This crowd is mostly Mormon.”

That explained it!

They had a background, experiences and an understanding about being Mormon that wasn’t going to allow them to look at my point of view about Mormons and see it as “funny.”

According to Dan O’Shannon in his book, “What Are You Laughing At, these are called “Reception Factors.”

Other ‘Reception Factors” might include:

  • Physical Health
  • Social Situation
  • Feelings about source
  • Method of Communication

There are others, of course but this spreads a vast umbrella over the “Reception Factors” of an audience.

Once I received that note, I was able to adjust. But I don’t just adjust, I acknowledge. I’m about transparency on the stage.

One of the things I learned is that complete candor can save you in moments of discomfort–like this one.

So I read the note out loud and then said, “Wow did I just step in sh–” then I stopped short of saying “shit,” giggled, looked at them as coyly as I could, and said “Poop,” in an overly cute way.

And although that doesn’t sound funny, the situation was funny.

In fact, the audience didn’t just laugh, they applauded…and for different reasons…

The people who were Mormon laughed at my embarrassment and candor, while the people with the cocktails laughed, because the way I delivered it could have been read as a sardonic mocking of the Mormons’ strict adherence to not using profanity.

Or I’m pretty sure that’s what was going on…

Bottom line is this. Use the simple formula of M.A.P. Material-Audience-Performer. The material should suit the audience and should suit the performer.

And when you don’t know what’s going on acknowledge then… ask…then…

Make a joke about yourself, switch gears and do some material that’s not designed to insult the intelligence of that particular audience’s “Reception Factors.”

What are some of your worst experiences with material and audience?