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A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about...



Posts tagged "comedy"

Aug 22, 2014
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Humor is an antidote to — or at least an analgesic for — a condition we’re all suffering from. I would call this condition clarity, not depression; humor and depression are two different, but not mutually exclusive, responses to it. I know we’re told to regard depression as a disease, its victims no different from people who succumb to cancer or diabetes. But because it’s a disease whose symptoms take the shape of ideas, it can get hard to parse out pathology from worldview. The Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert once told me that “there are people who have no delusions; they’re called clinically depressed.” Depression’s insights aren’t necessarily invalid; they’re just not helpful. Depression uses clarity as an instrument of torture; humor uses it as a setup. Comedy tells us, “But wait — that’s not the good part.” Depression condemns the world, and us, as hateful; laughter is a way of forgiving it, and ourselves, for being so.
— Tim Kreider on the death of Robin Williams

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Using the tools of improv to deal with Alzheimer’s

From a great This American Life segment:

Chana Joffe: Step into their world was a familiar phrase to Karen from the many nights she had spent doing improv comedy. She and her husband are actors. Step into their world is a mantra in improv. You walk on stage, another actor says something, and you step into their world, whatever world they’ve just created. You don’t ever say no. You don’t question their premise. You just say yes. And—

Karen: I didn’t even see it. I didn’t see the whole parallels of improv and Alzheimer’s. And when I did, it with just so obvious. It’s a whole “yes, and” world.

Chana Joffe: If all you’ve got is “yes, and,” you can’t say things like, but you don’t even like pickles, or, you don’t have a sister, Mom. You don’t tell someone they’re wrong, which Karen says is exactly what you always want to do. When her mom says she wants to go home, the most natural response is—

Karen: Oh, but this is your home now, Virginia. Come let me show you your room. But this woman is looking at you saying, I want to go home. And you’re telling her she lives here. So now you’re telling her she’s a liar. You’re going to see her little veins start popping out in her neck and her little fists. But if you look at her and you say— she says, I want to go home. Yes, and tell me about your home.

Chana Joffe: Now she’s not a liar anymore. Karen felt like she’d discovered an instruction manual.

Karen teaches folks how to use improv over at In The Moment.

Aug 15, 2014
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Because we are laughed at, I don’t think people really understand how essential [comedians] are to their sanity. If it weren’t for the brief respite we give the world with our foolishness, the world would see mass suicide in numbers that compare favorably with the death rate of the lemmings. I’m sure most of you have heard the story of the man who, desperately ill, goes to an analyst and tells the doctor that he has lost his desire to live and that is seriously considering suicide. The doctor listens to his tale of melancholia and then tells the patient that what he needs is a good belly laugh. He then advises the unhappy man to go to the circus that night and spend the evening laughing at Grock, the world’s funniest clown. The doctor sums it up, “After you have seen Grock, I am sure you will be much happier.” The patient rises to his feet, looks sadly at the doctor, turns and ambles toward the door. As he starts to leave the doctor says, “By the way, what is your name?” The man turns and regards the analyst with sorrowful eyes. “I am Grock.”
— Groucho Marx, Groucho And Me

Aug 12, 2014
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Robin Williams’ extraordinary friendship with Christopher Reeve


  ‘I lay on my back, frozen, unable to avoid thinking the darkest thoughts,’ wrote Reeve.
  
  ‘Then, at an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent. He announced that he was my proctologist and that he had to examine me immediately.


(via NextDraft's wonderful roundup)

Robin Williams’ extraordinary friendship with Christopher Reeve

‘I lay on my back, frozen, unable to avoid thinking the darkest thoughts,’ wrote Reeve.

‘Then, at an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent. He announced that he was my proctologist and that he had to examine me immediately.

(via NextDraft's wonderful roundup)

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From Watchmen

Aug 11, 2014
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The core of all humor, the reason for it all, is unhappiness.

Oct 21, 2013
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Richard Pryor, Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences

Huge fan of Pryor, and had been meaning to read this for years. Finally picked it up after reading this Dave Chappelle profile in The Believer:

Another book you should buy if you can spare twenty bucks is Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences, Richard Pryor’s autobiography. In it, he tells of a dinner party thrown in his honor by Bobby Darin. Pryor is seated across from Groucho Marx, who told him “that he’d seen me on The Merv Griffin Show a few weeks earlier, when I’d guested with Jerry Lewis.”

It hadn’t been one of my better moments—Jerry and I had gotten laughs by spitting on each other, and Groucho, it turned out, had a few things to say about that.

“Young man, you’re a comic?” he asked.

“Yes,” I nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“So how do you want to end up? Have you thought about that? Do you want a career you’re proud of? Or do you want to end up a spitting wad like Jerry Lewis?”

The man was right… I could feel the stirrings of an identity crisis. It was coming on like the beginning of an acid trip. Groucho’s comments spoke to me. “Wake up, Richard. Yes, you are an ignorant jerk, pimping your talent like a cheap whore. But you don’t have to stay that way. You have a brain. Use it.”

The next sentence? “The thing was, I didn’t have to.”

Unfortunately, it’s a terrible book. Not terrible in that it’s poorly written or structured or bad, but in the fact that everything that happens inside its pages is terrible. Pryor was a really tortured man—he grew up around pimps and whores, was sexually abused at a young age, snorted and smoked insane amounts of cocaine1, and chased “pussy” his whole life like a maniac (he often uses the word “bitch” to refer to many of his half dozen wives).2

And yet, in his own terms, he was one funny motherfucker. The very best of him is in his comedy, and I highly recommend That Nigger’s Crazy (YouTube) for an introduction to his work. (Most of his stuff is out of print, though you can get it in a box set.)3


  1. A previous book borrower did the math—literally! on the last page of the book—on Pryor’s cocaine habit: comes out to $20,833 a month. 

  2. You also won’t learn anything about the craft of stand-up comedy here. For that, read Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. 

  3. There’s also a good New Yorker profile of Pryor from 1999 that’s worth reading. 

Aug 08, 2013
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Rob Delaney on workshopping via Twitter

robdelaney:

I love Twitter, as much as you can love a website. It has made me a better writer and brought me amazing career opportunities. That said, it is, for me, primarily a tool. I use it to workshop jokes for standup. On stage I tell the same jokes more than once. Why the fuck wouldn’t I? I want them to be as funny as possible, and the more you workshop them, the richer, more detailed, more economic, and more nuanced they can become. So if a tweet that I wrote a while back bubbles up in my mind again, I will often post it. Just because if it was “powerful” enough to stroll into my consciousness again, it means it’s something I might want to talk about onstage that night. I’m more likely to do that if I tweet it again, either with the same wording or, as is often the case, with different, hopefully funnier wording.

Filed under: Twitter, writing

Jun 09, 2013
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Mar 13, 2013
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Stephen Tobolowsky, The Dangerous Animals Club

Fun read. Tobolowsky talked about the collection on NPR:


  Where there’s truth, there’s life. … Aristotle talked about something called techne. … There is a little jolt that we get when we recognize the truth, and it gives us a little burst of pleasure. Aristotle said it is the basis of comedy and it is the basis of all drama, is trying to find techne. I think that’s helped me in my comedic acting, and it’s certainly helped me in writing my book, in that I have to have faith in what really happened, and I hope that techne is created in people’s brains as either they read or if they watch me on screen. … When we see truth in someone else’s story, we recognize it as part of a universal story.


Filed under: my reading year 2013

Stephen Tobolowsky, The Dangerous Animals Club

Fun read. Tobolowsky talked about the collection on NPR:

Where there’s truth, there’s life. … Aristotle talked about something called techne. … There is a little jolt that we get when we recognize the truth, and it gives us a little burst of pleasure. Aristotle said it is the basis of comedy and it is the basis of all drama, is trying to find techne. I think that’s helped me in my comedic acting, and it’s certainly helped me in writing my book, in that I have to have faith in what really happened, and I hope that techne is created in people’s brains as either they read or if they watch me on screen. … When we see truth in someone else’s story, we recognize it as part of a universal story.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

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