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Posts tagged "comedy"

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

Feb 17, 2013
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With my stand-up now, I’ve realized there are two types of jokes. One type is me talking about miscellaneous topics and getting laughs. That would be how I feel my first two stand-up specials come off. The second type is, you get a laugh, but you also get the feeling that the audience is saying, “Thank you for saying that!” I find the second type way more satisfying.

Jan 26, 2013
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George Saunders, Tenth of December

Kevin McFarland at the Onion nailed it:


  [T]he most compelling reason why Saunders doesn’t need to bother with a novel comes not from literature, but from standup comedy. Call it the Mitch Hedberg argument: “I’m a standup comedian. I got into comedy to do comedy, which is weird, I know. But when you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say, ‘All right, you’re a standup comedian. Can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.’ They want me to do things that’s related to comedy, but not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though if I was a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, and they said, ‘All right, you’re a cook—can you farm?”


There’s a touching nod to this in the acknowledgements when Saunders thanks his agent:


  Esther Newberg, for her tireless guidance and friendship these last sixteen years, during which she has given me the great gift of making me feel that all I had to do was write as well as I could, and she would take care of the rest, which she has, with incredible discernment and energy.


Filed under: George Saunders

George Saunders, Tenth of December

Kevin McFarland at the Onion nailed it:

[T]he most compelling reason why Saunders doesn’t need to bother with a novel comes not from literature, but from standup comedy. Call it the Mitch Hedberg argument: “I’m a standup comedian. I got into comedy to do comedy, which is weird, I know. But when you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say, ‘All right, you’re a standup comedian. Can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.’ They want me to do things that’s related to comedy, but not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though if I was a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, and they said, ‘All right, you’re a cook—can you farm?”

There’s a touching nod to this in the acknowledgements when Saunders thanks his agent:

Esther Newberg, for her tireless guidance and friendship these last sixteen years, during which she has given me the great gift of making me feel that all I had to do was write as well as I could, and she would take care of the rest, which she has, with incredible discernment and energy.

Filed under: George Saunders

Dec 27, 2012
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To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With (1968)

merlin:

“We had never seen the belt…”

“…but, we had heard about it.”

To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

One of my hands-down favorite comedy albums ever.

Gave this a spin last year after seeing it as one of Chris Rock’s favorite albums that show up at the beginning of Bring The Pain. So funny.

Dec 20, 2012
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Dec 13, 2012
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On not sucking mid-career and a batch of good Chris Rock interviews

These days I find myself drawn to reading the thoughts of people who are mid-career—not at the end of their careers, and not at the beginning, but in the middle, because I feel like that’s the period where you really have to keep up your stamina, keep chugging, keep working. You’re not necessarily hungry anymore — you might have a nice house, nice wife, couple of kids, a decent fan base, etc. People are over the excitement about your rise, and people aren’t splicing together the kiss-ass retrospective clip reels, either. Your best work may be behind you, may be in front of you, but you just don’t know. (Maybe this is always true.) I do this because, being not at starting line, but a few meters down the track, I’m just looking in awe at these people who keep running the marathon without burning out. (Not sure why my lazy, non-runner ass is using a running metaphor, but hey…)

Chris Rock strikes me as a mid-career guy who has his shit together, and whenever he has an interview published, I try to read it.

Judd Apatow interviewed him for the Vanity Fair comedy issue:

Was it more fun when you first started? If so, what the fuck are we supposed to do now?

Yes, it was more fun. First of all, you had three goals: (1) To get good at comedy. (2) To make money from comedy. And (3) to get laid from comedy. What do we do now? Well, people seem to think we’re good. We have money. We’re married, so the whole working to get laid thing is over. Sad to say, but we work now to maintain our lifestyles, to not suck, and to avoid Celebrity Apprentice.

In his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, he talked about hanging out with his grandfather preacher:

I used to watch him write his sermons. He writes his sermons pretty much the same way I write my act. He would never write the exact sermon. He’d always write the bullet points, whatever would hit him, and he would write it when he was driving. And I probably come up with half of my standup when I’m driving…His preaching, it’s weird, it’s not a lot different than my style on stage…

When you grow up with a preacher, it’s almost like- it’s like seeing a magician stuff the rabbit in his side jacket. Like, I knew all the tricks… I don’t think he thought of it as tricks, but every job becomes a job, and you figure out shortcuts and you figure out, you know, ways around things…

A good sermon’s always great… these guys, they’re always - they have this task of coming up with a new - with new material every week. I like how a preacher can talk about one thing for an hour and 10 minutes. I keep trying to figure out how I can do that in stand-up. So, how I can, like, OK, how can I just be funny about, you know, jealousy? You know, a preacher will pick a topic and they’ll run with it for the whole sermon, like, and, you know, take you on a ride talking about literally one thing. And I just love that style. So I’m always - I’ve always been trying to figure out how do I do that in stand-up.

In this NYTimes Q&A, he talks about the itch to get back into comedy clubs (“I haven’t done any dirty work in a while”), but the near-impossible task of “workshopping” in the digital era:

When you’re workshopping it, a lot of stuff is bumpy and awkward. Especially when you’re working on the edge, you’re going to offend. A guy like Tosh, he’s at the Laugh Factory. He’s making no money. He’s essentially in the gym. You’re mad at Ray Leonard because he’s not in shape, in the gym? That’s what the gym’s for. The sad thing, with all this taping and stuff, no one’s going to do stand-up. And every big stand-up I talk to says: “How do I work out new material? Where can you go, if I have a half an idea and then it’s on the Internet next week?” Just look at some of my material. You can’t imagine how rough it was and how unfunny and how sexist or racist it might have seemed. “Niggas vs. Black People” probably took me six months to get that thing right. You know how racist that thing was a week in? That’s not to be seen by anybody.

Filed under: Chris Rock

Nov 24, 2012
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I really don’t want to be up here. I want to be in the back saying something funny to somebody about what a crock this whole thing is.
— Jerry Seinfeld, “All Awards Are Stupid”
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