Well slam me into a can of jam and call me spread, because I am open for business baby! Snap a cracker off and dip into my hummus. I don’t know what I’m saying. This is how I write. I think it would be fun to make everyone in the world do a stream-of-consciousness writing for five minutes and then have to walk around with it written on the back of their shirt. It would tell you so much about their personality and make things so much easier.
If you’ve ever read my blog, you know that when I start writing with no goal in sight, it usually becomes quite preposterous and random very quickly. Other people would probably just write out their grocery lists. Some people might talk about their kids. Other people might not be able to resist the temptation to do math. Or meth. I’m sure writing would make a lot of people want to do meth. Most people don’t write. I’ve met so many people who say “man I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything.” I get it. Writing is hard. You have to think and reflect. But people text all the time. That’s a form of writing.
I think most people psyche themselves out mentally when it comes to writing. It becomes this scary thing that reminds them of school or it seems too daunting because nobody is telling us what to do or where to go. “Where do I start? What am I going to even write about?” I don’t know. Beats me, Mr. Man. I hardly ever know what I’m going to write about, but if I just start writing then it will become clear on its own.
I hear a lot of comedians even say “I can’t write,” which is a pretty ridiculous thing to say to be honest. It means “I don’t write,” or “I won’t write.” Some comedians even say it with a sense of pride, almost like “Oh I don’t need to write to be funny.” There’s a lot of things we probably can’t do. We can’t morph into a tuna fish and shoot out of the water until we reach the moon. But we can write. Maybe we can’t write well, but that’s why we practice.
Most of us aren’t writers at heart and I get that. We all have to find the place where our skills meet our passions. Call it destiny, call it fate, call it a turkey sandwich, but we all have a natural affinity for success in certain areas over others. I’ve noticed that when I’m writing a lot, the world around me falls into place. I feel a calm sense of bliss, things around me happen smoothly, and it doesn’t feel like I’m fighting my own existence.
I call myself a writer and a comedian because that’s all I’ve ever been. I’ve been writing jokes since I was five. It’s one of the first things I ever remember doing on my own for fun. I would love sitting down at the computer and writing a funny story or making a cartoon. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that when I get too serious about my writing.
Anyways, I’ve been writing more jokes than I can keep up with, which is a good problem to have if you’re a comedian. Most comedians don’t have enough material, and when I’m not writing I can relate to that. Lately, I’ve been writing so much that I look at my notebook or my Word document and say “I totally forgot I even wrote this joke.”
It’s tough when you only get three to five minutes on stage at a time and often times there isn’t much of an audience present. Trying new material on a bunch of other comics can be really deflating, so I find myself telling jokes I know will work when a real audience shows up in order to maintain some sense of self-worth. I’ve found a good balance is to start off with jokes I know will hit and then try some new stuff after that. I try not to worry about other comics saying “he always opens with this joke” because it doesn’t matter. If a joke works well, why not open with it a lot? When you only have a few minutes and a passive audience, it’s important to grab their attention straight away.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of doing comedy to impress other comics rather than make an audience laugh. I’ve definitely found myself falling into it, but if your act was designed only for an open mic audience in Austin, every punch line would end with “I’m gay!” or the word “retarded.” I’m not going to lie, I do have one joke where the punch line is “retarded,” but in my defense I think it’s a clever and well-written joke.
The comedy scene has been picking up here in Austin, which has been really cool. Last week Chris Delia showed up and did a set on a Monday night at the Creek and the Cave, and this week Neil Brennan showed up and did a set. It’s cool to see well-known, established comedians up close working on new material. It helps me realize they’re not any different than the rest of us, they’ve just been at it longer and are good at what they do. They struggle on stage, too. A lot of their jokes fall flat. Some of them are great, and some of that have the potential to be great. The only way to know is to try them out, and that’s something every comedian has to go through.
Watching these very successful comedians helps me realize that I have a long way to go, but I also have what it takes. I’ve also been lucky enough to perform for the same audience after they perform, (albeit a smaller one, as half of the crowd usually leaves once they’re done) which is a fun measuring stick. The main difference between comedians at the lower level and the higher level is the amount of time they can sustain laughter and interest from the crowd. I know a lot of comedians who can be really funny for five minutes, but I don’t know many who can be funny for 45 minutes.
I watched Daniel Tosh perform at the ACL Live theatre last week, and that was someone performing comedy on a whole different planet. He did an hour and twenty minutes of new material like it was nothing, and it was tight. Punchline after punchline, he just kept going and going, hitting and hitting. A lot of people know him from his TV show Tosh.0, and if you’re not familiar with comedy you might see him as someone just being offensive, but I think he’s legitimately genius and one of the best stand-up comics of all time. His writing is incredible and he manages to hit all sides of a joke while coming back to a surprising punch line. It was one of those performances I walked away from totally awestruck. Some people set the bar really high, and that’s exactly what we should all shoot for.
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