Archive for April 29, 2014

How to improve your stories like Seinfeld does

SeinfeldOne of the hardest things to do as a stand up comedian is to fine tune lines for better effect and this is not just me, it really is all comedians including the great Jerry Seinfeld. It is true he specialized in taking all of those extremely disorganized parts of life and with the mastery of comedy arrangement turn them into a perfectly ordered collection of amusing irritations. With skillfully organized wording, he manages to make the major world problems into domestic irritations.

He was constantly seeking, as we all are to improve delivery until you reach perfection. For many years Seinfeld used in his act the concept that the greatest problem facing mankind was an overflowing toilet.

No matter how extreme the emergency or problematical the occurrence it could not be as bad as a piece of fundamental plumbing being blocked. Then one night in 1991 on the Arsenio Hall Show the host pointed out that with all the wars in the world, criminal activities on the rise and economic deprivation everywhere, how could his major problem be a piece of malfunctioning plumbing.

Seinfeld was quick to point our that as great as these problems are they are “out there” not here not now where these calamities are outweighed by his fear of malfunctioning toilets the problems were all elsewhere. Using the slow, cover all approach to developing the comedy ideas is typically Seinfeld but one I aspire too, expanding and explaining the humor content in the way of a slow movement rather than a torrent, a glacier rather than an avalanche, slowly and surely constantly testing, refining and improving to reach a level which is above the norm.

One of the examples that Seinfeld used is his one liner regarding marriage, it is like a game of chess with a board made of flowing water and pieces made of smoke.

It was one of his favorites but the stumbling block for many in his audience was them trying to visualize a board of flowing water, people just did not understand and many missed the punch line whilst trying to work out the contrived wording. Also the repetition of “made of” was hindering the flow and making people think too much and missing the punch line.

As all stand up comedians he hated losing audiences and spent many hours thinking of alternatives to “made of” as away of explaining the composition of the board. His method was to try new ways, refine wording think, test and rethink. Finally he solved the problem, instead of using the line that the board was made of flowing water he merely described the shape of a chess board with his fingers and leaving out the problem “made of” phraseology sot with the hands describing the shape of the chess board the phrasing became slicker, more pointed and easier to understand the new format with the board of flowing water and pieces of smoke. Several months’ work and testing to leave out four words and increase understanding the story a hundred times easier. Some might think that’s a lucky find – but it comes from countless times of testing that joke to refine it.

The result of testing and trying out on live audiences, that is what I aspire to.

The ability to improve by rethinking every possible angle, and improving every delivery of every line. Just like Seinfeld the anticipation of facing a live audience gives me a real buzz.

I am not sure whether he was really frightened of the audience or not as he once described it as being like the last minutes of facing a firing squad when you face them, back to the wall, with a cigarette in your mouth, waiting for the bullets.

His stage act obviously had great structure but they were not scripted they just followed a similar direction.

This is evident listening to his collection of stories connected by the use of tuxedos. His underlying thread is that tuxedos clothe inherently mean the wearer is the sort of person who should not be counted on, a mini conman and the tux is their uniform. He cites the fact that they are worn by Casino personnel, Head waiters, Beauty show presenters and all these people are not deserving of trust. He admits it is a work in progress but like all his stories he will refine them so that they are timeless.

One Tuxedo story that is finished and he uses is about weddings and all male guests wearing the same suit are actually a safety feature designed by women for women. As it is well known men are not to be depended on the Tux is an identifying uniform so that if the groom decides not to go through with the service all males just move one step to the right and the next one takes over. Pure Seinfeld and a quality level to aim for. I leave you with my favorite Seinfeld one liner.

“I was the best man at the wedding. If I’m the best man, why is she marrying him?”

Laughter Makes the World Go Round

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When I need to have a good laugh, I tend to turn on the TV to watch a cheery sitcom or read the funnies section that is located in my favorite newspaper. When my need for comedy is greater, I watch the funniest movie that I can find in my DVD collection. But when all of this isn’t able to bring me the laughter I crave for, I opt to observe the so-called real world that surrounds me…and that pretty much does it for me!

Reading the weird news section of any newspaper or portal website is always able to crack me up like there is no tomorrow! I’ve read some crazy and unbelievable news that could make anybody’s mouth drop opened in disbelief, such as when a person claimed that her cat dialed 911, as well as when a man tried dialing 911 but gave up when he wasn’t able to find the “eleven” button, or the fearless robber who decided to wear a motor bike helmet that had his name prominently labeled across it–on the same day he decided to rob a bank. The fact that these types of scenarios are really happening around the globe makes it even funnier! One tends to have a basic expectation of common sense from people, but the word ‘common’ is often misleading!

Honestly, I used to think that these types of news were made up–until I finally had the opportunity of meeting some of the people in these real world snafus. It’s a great source of new stories for me to use in my stand-up comedy routines–especially, if I can reach out to the person in the story and interview them. So, when you feel bored or sad…just look around. Do not bother to read a joke book—instead, opt to read a newspaper. Knowing what happened to the duck that went to a bar and asked for a drink can only be funny the first time your
hear it. Responding to the ‘knock-knock joke’ can make you chuckle at first but will become boring soon after. But analyzing the real world and the funny things that people do is always able to fill your life with laughter.

It is no wonder why moviemakers spend so much time, energy and money in including bloopers at the end of movies. Many people claim that these bloopers are more exciting to watch than the actual films!

Just like the very well-known American author Ernest Hemingway who liked watching the world walk by, I tend to do the same—except that it seems that I am more entertained than Hemingway was, as I do not just see the world walk by but also make a fool of it all along the way.

Jerry Seinfeld on Writing a Joke

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Jerry Seinfeld is considered a god of comedy and rightfully so. He’s known for his well balanced and excellently orchestrated jokes. Most of all, which is one of his more admirable feats if you ask me, his wit. Jerry Seinfeld knew what would make himself laugh and how to deliver that to someone else who may have either shared his experience or has an understanding of what he means. Either way, he told his own jokes. He did everything the way he wanted to and followed his own system.

At the end of the day, if you aren’t making something that you would enjoy, why even bother doing it? That concept really sticks with me and it applies to comedy as well. My jokes center around things that I have experienced and found to be absolutely stomach turning because of the punch line. They were ironic and I found that hilarious.

Moments that were a good slap in the face where I couldn’t help but find myself chuckling, asking “Really!? Of all things, really?” Because that is just how life works. When I relay my jokes and stories to the audience, I’m putting out there material that I would find humorous if told to me. If I enjoy it and think it’s funny, that will definitely show when I talk about it to the audience. I am talking about what has meaning to me. One of the most important things Jerry Seinfeld stresses about comedy is to begin with something hilarious right off the bat. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just needs to be something that will hook in your audience and catch their attention.

Something funny will introduce them to the joke and kind of make them perk up their ears in curiosity. This happened, you say? Tell me more. It kind of works like that. Almost as if you were telling and story and trying to capture their interest with the first page. Your starting line of the joke is the page one of your
book. Make sure you choose wisely. It’s all about the wording in the joke. Such as key words or phrases that are going to stand out and resonate with the listener. As the comedian is talking about the story and trying to emphasize the emotional aspects of the situation, key words will be stressed to dig for an even bigger funny.

Use specific words that the audience is more likely to find funny in the first place. As for the design of it, make sure it sounds like a story. People naturally gravitate towards storytelling and it will gain their interest. They will be absorbed in it and want to know more. You have their attention. But make sure not to drag it out too much. If the story is much too lengthy, it’ll feel like the joke is being dragged out. Lastly, end that joke with a bang! The conclusion has to end with the biggest laugh that way it really sticks with the audience.

Stand Up Comedy in the YouTube Era

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This day and age is all about technology. No matter what, we are glued to our phones, tablets, laptops, you name it. We’re attached at the hip to something technological and are always involved with the network.

People are always talking to someone far away from them through a screen or watching other people’s lives. I’m not criticizing! I’m no exception to this, I am completely absorbed in my phone the majority of the time. But this is the kind of world we live in.

We’re not doing things the way our parents used to them or their parents before them. We communicate differently, navigate around differently, and view things in a different way. If you want to get anyone to notice anything you do, you’ll need to be Internet savvy and involved in multiple social networks. It’s the same way for filmmakers, music lovers, artists, and even comedians.

You can still rely on word of mouth and communicating without people in person, those techniques will work. But if you want to really draw some attention to yourself, you’ll need the glories of the Internet on your side. Many comedians I’ve met and heard of got their start on YouTube. You wouldn’t expect comedy to have such a strong connection to YouTube, but I swear, it’s a godsend and it works. Many started by posting videos of their routine and the occasional video blog to show people what their everyday life was like.

But the part of that caught the most attention was the clips of their comedy act. I noticed a similarity in them all, they were roughly three minutes in length. Three minutes is considered just long enough to deliver a couple jokes to get the viewers interested and satisfied with what they are viewing. Just a joke or two is thrown in there but never more. If they just posted the entire video of the comedy act, the viewers won’t be eager for more.

If it’s rather small in length, it’ll really pester the viewers. They’ll love the joke but only so much material is offered to them in that teeny, tiny video. Naturally, they’ll want more. The viewer will be eager to find another joke and get more familiar with the comedian’s material. If this comedian has this video posted, surely there are more! And so the process begins. They start scanning the Internet for more comedic material from this person. Exactly as if you just discovered a band and wanted to find every bit of music they’ve ever created and now.

It won’t just be YouTube that they will be scanning. Facebook, Tumblr, you name it. Google will be their best friend through this process. The more videos you have posted on your YouTube account, the better. The views will stack up as will the subscribers as do the Facebook likes, Tumblr followings, etc. Suddenly, this comedian has established a community of followers. He/she has solidified that cluster of interest. Their comedy has gained more interest

The Thrill of Stand up Comedy

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I don’t know which part is more invigorating for me but I can tell you deep down that I love this trade. Laughter is considered the best medicine out there and there’s nothing I love more than delivering that cure to the audience. I believe Comedy can fix just about anything weighing down on your shoulders so why not get a higher dose of it?

There’s no such thing as an overdose of laughter and joy, so why not chase after it a bit more? Comedy is all about the presence and impression you make.

When I step out onto that stage, I have to be ready. I have to be prepared to make an impression on these people. Whatever I am going to be saying, whether it’s a story or a one-liner, it has to stick. There needs to be something about it that the listener can attach to, look over at the person next to them, and laugh maniacally (well, maybe not that much!) because I get it.

They get it.

It’s something they understand and went through. Airplane food, what’s up with that? Everyone dislikes the airplane food, it’s notorious for being unpleasant. Anyone who has taken a flight anywhere would understand. Because I bring up something they know and can relate to, it’s a laugh. Pitch the joke. Let it sink it. Everyone relates. Everybody laughs. Everyone feels better. Now we’re cookin’!

That’s what is so thrilling about the comedic experience for me, I can make everyone feel better. The laughs keep coming, the jokes keep flowing, and the laughter just increases left and right. We’re all friends, we’re experiencing something great together. Suddenly, I’ve created a memory with these people. They’ll go back and reflect upon this awesome time I gave them and fantastic things I made them feel. And it’s just magic.

Seeing those smiling faces, tears streaming, and stomach’s being held tight is nothing less than rewarding and amazing. I feel full of a life and energy that no other experience could match. I am the supplier of wonderful feelings. I am the doctor feel good. That is my favorite part of the experience as a whole.

But it doesn’t end there, oh no, no. When the audience starts to communicate with me it just becomes an even bigger event. The interaction between comedian and audience is absolutely crucial, in my eyes, and I try my best to optimize that feature of the gig. I say something they find hilarious and suddenly they are talking back to me. Shouting out questions or just trying to joke back at me, you name it.

That conversation and interaction is made by my comedic routine. By interacting with the audience, I have room for improvisation and can make a more personal connection with them. The wall between performer and viewer is broken and suddenly we’re all just people again. And here I am, standing tall with my microphone and sense of humor, trying to make these people smile and forget about their troubles. It’s great.