Comedy and Your Significant Other

Comedy is a tough beast.  It’s even tougher when you are in a relationship.  I know comedians that have been with their spouse for decades and I know comedians that are on spouse three or four. This article will discuss ways to at least attempt to have a successful relationship.  I am not a marriage counselor so if you and your love are having issues, please seek one out.  I am just a guy that has seen and been through stuff.

I think it is important to sit your significant other down and have a discussion.  Let them know what to expect.  If you are a person that isn’t pursuing comedy that hard, then just let them know that it is a hobby of yours and you will be out on certain days.  If this is your dream and you are chasing it hard, you have to set them up for a lot of stuff.  It’s important to let them know what comedy entails. We as comedians, just assume that everyone knows what we do.  They don’t.  A lot of the time, laymen assume we walk on stage and just produce these organic dick jokes.  This is why you have to approach your mate, and tell them the truth, those dick jokes take a lot of writing and performing.  That means late nights at comedy clubs and bars.  It seems like a no brainier, but I can tell you of many instances where comedians were surprised that their lover didn’t know what dating a comedian meant.  If you are actually performing and making money, you have to let them know that the pay is low and the travel is aplenty (at least over on the west side of the country).  What this does is prime them.  They can then make the decision to continue a relationship with you if it means that you may not be around a lot.

Another big thing, I feel, is letting them know comedy show etiquette.  I have seen comedians come in with their spouse and they will raid the green room of all the consumables.  You have to be the one to tell them how to act (not everyone was raised right).  You should tell them that just because you are on stage or on the show, that they should not be causing a disruption to the show.  That free booze for you, the comedian, does not usually extend to free booze for your significant other as well.  I haven’t had an issue with this.  I have had an issue where my girlfriend at the time thought it was weird that I was in the green room before the show instead of chilling out in the audience with her.  What I did, was I sat her down, and told her that it may seem like I am making things up as I go, but I have actually plotted the course for the show (sometimes, I never said I was a great comedian), and I need the time to gather these thoughts.  See to your love one, it may be a night out, but to you it is your job.  Letting them know how you work before a show also keeps them from thinking that you get weird whenever you are about to perform.  Some comedians can just hang out right until they have to get up on stage.  Some need to be in a pit and raised by a series of ropes and pulleys unto the stage. Whatever it is let them know.

I travel a lot as a comedian, and I think a lot of people can not handle this aspect of comedy life.  You have to know if your mate is fine with being alone a lot of weekends out of the year.  Social media also gets in the way a lot as well.  If they can not handle you having your photo taken with a bunch of random people then you may need to go your separate ways.  I was dating one young lady that assumed I was just a party animal.  I am not, but if people pay to see you sling dick jokes, you better at least appreciate them.  So, when she saw a photo of me and some lady smiling, she assumed it was something nefarious when all it was was someone who gave me 10 bucks for a CD that they were probably never going to play.

Comedians are weird creatures.  We have a weird sense of humor and we tend to analyze a lot.  That is our make up.  If your significant other can’t handle these things, then it may be best for you two to call it.  I have told every lady I have been in a relationship with since starting comedy, that this is my first love.  I love writing and performing and since I do it to pay the bills, they have to understand that I will not cancel a show because it is on a Saturday and we were going to go to the beach, or because it’s your grandparent’s anniversary.  If you are going to treat it like a job then that means you may not be there for everything.  Being open and clear is the best way to have a happy, healthy relationship…I should have just written that instead of all this.

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A Letter To The Heckler

Dear Heckler,

 

I kinda get it.  I kinda know why you do what you do, but I am here to tell you that all the reasons you have piled in your head are wrong.

You may think you are helping the comedian.  You are not.  Being a comedian usually involves writing and rewriting and performing and rewriting and crying and rewriting a joke until it is nice and shiny. That comedian that you paid between nothing and $20 to see has been working on that material for so long that they know it front to back.  The last thing they need is someone yelling in between the joke. Why?  Because it throws off their timing.  Timing is important to comedians because it helps then know when they should do things like continue with the material or wait for the thunderous applause to end (one can hope). You screaming things does not help the comedian.  You hurt them.

You are also not making the show better.  There is a reason you are not on the bill.  You are not a comedian.  You may think you are funny, but that is the alcohol and ego talking.  You don’t know what it takes to get up on stage and tell really personal things about your penis or vagina.  These comedians have given their lives to try to make a room full (hopefully) of people laugh.  You have not.  As a matter of fact, you are actually making the show worse.  To you left and right, are people that paid between nothing and $20 to see a comedian.  They did not come to hear you yell at a comedian from the shadows.  They want what the comedian has to offer, not you musings.

Like I said earlier I kinda get it.  You are usually called the funny person at the shop or office, but you don’t have the balls to get on stage and give it a try, so when you get a couple in you, you feel a need to give it a try now.  Maybe that isn’t you.  Maybe you are the cool guy in the group and now the group is laughing at the comedian instead of commenting on the crease in your slacks.  Maybe you are the lady that has never had people not stare at them and now they are staring at the comedian and that bothers you.  Maybe you are just a loud drunk.  No matter where you fall, you are not needed or wanted at a comedy show. These comedians have gone through enough.  Let them entertain you. That is why you paid between nothing and $20 bucks.  Thanks.

 

Not really sincerely,

Harry J. Riley IV

P.S.  We also don’t want to hear your racist jokes after the show.

Writing Jokes In The Stream Of Consciousness Style

Stream of consciousness, or free writing, is a style in which you are more or less trying to apply thoughts and ideas to a more concrete form.  This can be a useful tool for those that feel as though they are not writing enough in that it separates the need to come up with material there on the spot and handles all ideas as equal. Stream of consciousness can be really good in that distractions like word correction and punctuation is not important.

When talking about this subject, I want you to take into consideration that this will be slightly modified from what authors like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce did.  Mainly because the purpose of joke writing is to get a joke.  Thoughts and feelings can be taking into account, but the entire idea is to create something that is funny.  The purpose of using this writing style is to get the idea out, not to recite the finished product immediately after writing it.  So lets go into the steps, and remember, modify these to your liking.

In order to get the most of this style, you will likely have to set aside a time (and probably a place) in which you can sit down and focus on writing for a set period of time.  When I am looking to do this, I sit down for about 20-30 minutes a day for say, a week.  Then the first thing that comes to mind you start writing.  This can be hard because most of us write in a way that we close out parts that are either too weird or not in our usual style of joke telling.  It will take some getting used to, but once you get over that mental obstacle, you can then freely write.

The next part is taking this funny ore, if you will, and turn it into funny gold (and yes, I am proud of that turn there).  After you are done writing, it is time to start going through and seeing if there is anything you can turn into a joke.  This sounds hard, but after the first few times, you will get good and seeing where you brain popped out something funny.  Once you have found that thing, you can now try to shape it into a joke.  It may be best to try it out on stage.  That way you can see the extra you can shave off of the material to get a stronger joke.  I like to read it a couple of times and then cut pieces that may not be all that important to getting the joke.  I will then get on a stage and try it a few times.  This is to see if it is consistently funny or something that is very situational.

Before ending, I want to say that this isn’t to replace other ways you go about writing material.  This is a tool that should be used when you feel stuck, or haven’t written in awhile.  There will also be times when even this may not help generate jokes.  That is natural, but your job as a joke writer is to write.  So get to it, and I hope you come up with your next great joke!

Is Political Correctness Ruining Comedy?

Not really.

Oh, you wanted a more detailed answer than that?  You probably want to know why someone who pays his bills with comedy would say something so silly.  Well, ok.  I will try to explain why I believe political correctness (PC) isn’t entirely to blame for the downfall of comedy (that was a tad heavy, but you understand).

PC came about as a result of groups of people getting fed up with being ostracized by the society in which they found themselves.  For instance:  The term “Native American” came about because natives didn’t want to be called Indian.  Why?  Because it was geographically wrong and it was used as a derogatory term.  The same goes for midget, colored, nigger, negro, retarded, lame, gay and I am pretty sure about 70 others I missed.  And not just words, but policies and actions taken to take your rights away.  Like higher interest rates for non whites, or not being allowed to rent an apartment.  This was used to downgrade another’s humanity to make them less then human.  So these groups took charge and decided this is what they wanted.  Then a problem arose.

The problem is that there are just people that don’t care what you want to be called, or how you feel about your 22% interest on that car loan. They want to call you what they feel like for many reasons.  They are lazy.  They are stubborn.  Or they may actually just hate that group of people and want to degrade them every which way.  See, political correctness is a bigger problem if you are ignorant.  If you don’t understand why someone with Down Syndrome doesn’t want to be called retarded then you are ignorant to their plight, or you don’t see why there is a law that forbids you to discriminate against someone because they have one leg, then you don’t understand why this is needed.  This is especially the case with comedians. See, there are comics out there that will use non PC language because it is the easiest route to a joke.  If I just called someone retarded that gets a laugh on two different levels.  One on just the punchline and then because of the perceived balls I have for saying retarded in front of people. I have seen white comics do that with the word nigger.  They know that there is a shock factor that will get them a reaction even more so then the punchline.

This sounds like I am all for PC language and culture.  I am.  Until it gets out of hand.  That is why at the start I said not really.  The thing with being PC is that because there are so many groups and things are constantly changing you don’t know if you are up to date on what a group of people want to be called. And you don’t even know if all people in that group want to be called that in the first place.  I don’t want to be called African American. That takes forever to say.  Just call me the black guy or better yet, Harry.  I used to do a joke and I would talk about a midget.  I learned that they wanted to be referred to as “little people”  I started using that.  Until I met a little person at a casino and they were pissed that I said that instead of midget.

Political correctness gets out of hand because of the internet.  I know it seems easy to blame the internet, but hear me out.  The internet makes even the most minute thing bigger than it already is.  Add to the fact that millions of people in a group want to be recognized differently and you have a problem.  There are some groups of feminist that won’t like certain language that shows a male dominated society.  While others are even more strict and will get mad that you would even call them a woman (there is man in there).  So if need be a small group of people can make enough noise on the internet and it makes everything seem crazy in retrospect (I hope this is coming off clear).

This is what you actually came to read.  How does this matter to comedy.  It matters because you have a mix of people in a collective with only one person’s life and view point being expressed.  The same goes for movies and music.  If a movie has a rape scene in it and it is a movie that takes place in a world where this may happen then we have to understand that the artist’s viewpoint, not ours, is what is shaping this.  The same for comedy.  I have seen a guy get in an argument with a lady because he used the word autistic.  He didn’t make fun of autistic people.  That is when PC gets out of control. Everyone from all walks of life come to a show and they all want to be entertained personally because the internet has made it so.  You can go watch an episode of your favorite show on your terms.  You can check out the new viral video while you sit on the toilet.  So when people come to a comedy show they have an expectation (a false one) that their views are the ones that will be the focus.  It is not.  The comedian is the narrator of events.

As comedians, our first job is to make people laugh.  That is your first job.  If you can’t do that then you are just talking…like a politician.  The problem is we are people and we have different fears and thoughts and beliefs and they might not always jive with the gathered collective.  It might not be up to date with the beliefs that out there.  Some comedians might have a different view of what it takes to get that laugh. We still have to remember out job though.  That is to make people laugh.  If you are on stage making everyone uncomfortable while you talk about stealing from a handicapped person then you are not doing your job. So how do you solve this problem?  You have to work with the majority of the audience.  What that means is that if you took a gig at a lesbian retreat they probably don’t want to hear your vagina licking puns all night.  That is why you watch the host to see the temperature of the crowd.  Are they into an edgier show?  Is the show happening at a church?  These things you have to take into account.

I hope there is not a comedian that is reading this and saying, “So, I’m not supposed to be myself?  I thought I was supposed to be able to say what I want?”  No one is saying you can’t.  If you want you can read this.  You are allowed to say whatever it is you want.  Just don’t expect people to accept it anymore. People act as though this is a entirely new thing.  It isn’t.  It’s just that now people have the power to talk about it to a vast number of people.  In the 80s you could say messed up things about handicapped people because they probably couldn’t get in the club if it were down some stairs.  Now, people have access to you and your shitty jokes and they don’t want that.  On the flip side, we are are suppose to pick at the scabs that cover society.  Those awkward social barriers that keep people separated.  We are supposed to look at that and make light of it.  We are jesters.  We push on issues until the puss comes oozing out.

In a perfect world, those people would just not come out.  If you are afraid that someone is gonna say something you might find insensitive you may want to stay home.  The thing is we live in this world, and people go to comedy shows and for the majority of shows going on, the audience doesn’t really know what the comedian is going to talk about.  The comedian may not have a built in audience and everyone there just wants to laugh. They go up and tell a joke about punching an old person and you don’t like it…well…

I predict that with everyone being able to voice their disapproval of things said on stage that the number of people going to shows will dwindle even further.  Shows will get pushed out of the bars and into the theaters where it seems like the people on the show has been “vetted” by someone.  There will still be an audience for the “edgy” stuff, but it will be really small and the comics that are working in that capacity will be getting crazier with their material. I think PG-13 comedy is going to be the future of comedy because the clubs are not what they used to be (because people don’t want to hear 100 fucks before 11pm) and the real money will be in being able to go anywhere and tell comedy.

What I find sad about this is that Jerry Seinfeld, who has made his career of not cursing and stuff, is saying this is a problem.  If Seinfeld doesn’t want to do a show because he doesn’t want to deal with the PC, then someone like me has no future in comedy.

The 1st Amendment

In my almost 10 years of doing this, I inevitably come across a comedian that thinks they can get up on stage, say what they want and have nothing happen to them.  They like to parade around about their 1st amendment rights.  For those that don’t know, the 1st amendment to the United States Constitution gives citizens the right to freedom of speech (among other things).  This is true, but it is not so easy.  You can’t just jump up on stage say whatever you want and think it is alright.  It is an important concept to learn and I will attempt to dispel some common held beliefs.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now.  Your right to freedom of speech goes as far as the government not being able to throw you in jail for saying stuff.  It doesn’t really apply when you step on a stage.  Think about it.  Most of the time, we are in someone else’s building getting paid by them.  Your right to say what you want does not trump their rights.  The owner of the club has a right to the pursuit of happiness.  In this case let’s just say that what would make him happy is to have customers enjoy themselves.  Here is an example. Some one graffitis someones building.  They can’t then hide behind the 1st amendment saying it is their freedom of speech (freedom of expression…I am really trying to keep this simple) to deface someone’s property.  I hope this example help explain what I was trying to say.

As comedians I think we are in a unique position.  We already get to play around with a lot of taboos.  We can talk about abduction, murder, racism, everything.  So, sometimes I think people mix that up with them being untouchable because of the 1st amendment.  The reason we are in this position is because we are supposed to be able to tackle these topics and make them more palatable.  We are supposed to be the experts in taking stuff most people can’t make fun of and make fun of it.

The thing comics have to remember is that you are doing a job, and with any job there are rules.  I have done shows where they didn’t want me to talk about Native Americans or casinos.  It is well within their right, as a private entity, to request that from me.  And, as a private contractor, it is within my rights to not take the show.  You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take the money and then bitch that you can’t tell your Natives drink a lot jokes.  If your material means that much to you, or you can’t do the rest of your show without that piece in it then you need not apply to those spots.

This always comes up when someone tells a terrible rape joke or calls someone a racial slur on stage.  Then the place putting on the shows say stop calling people nigger and everyone gets bent out of shape.  Guess what?  If you need nigger to make your jokes funny then it isn’t really funny.  You fail as a comedian.

Someone who describes themselves as edgy, loves to hide behind the 1st amendment when they are either asked not to say certain things or they get called out for their BS.  Look, the first amendment may give you a right to say stupid shit, but it also gives everyone else the right to call you out on it.  The 1st amendment isn’t your say stuff without repercussions card.  You have to own up to the bs you are dropping.  If you say hurtful things about women and then after the show no woman buys your merch, you can’t say, “Well, I am just exercising my rights!”.  Well, they are exercising their rights to not buy your shit.

I hope this helped explain the 1st amendment as it applies to comedians.  The constitution interest me a lot, but I haven’t really been into since I got out of school.  If you notice anything wrong with it please let me know.  I don’t want to tell people wrong stuff.  I just want other comics to know that basically your rights don’t tump other’s rights.  My advice is that if you don’t like the rules put forth to do a show then don’t do it.  I have turned down shows (and some pretty good money) because they wanted something that I felt I could not deliver.  I am not a dirty comic per say, but sometimes when I am feeling like it, I will go down that path.  They also wanted a Christian show and I had no idea what that meant.  So instead of taking the show, saying something about spilling my seed and then getting into this thing, I just said I could not do it and told them about someone that I thought that could.

I really hope you enjoy reading these post.  I really enjoy writing them.  Writing was something I used to do a lot. I haven’t done it as much, but thanks to this I can do it and at the same time give information to those that may be looking for it.  Like always these are not the thoughts of someone that is a millionaire from comedy.  I just had to learn it the hard way and just thought I should write down what it was from my point of view.  You might not like my thoughts on certain things, but if you do go out and do it your way!  You may find a better way of going about it.  A way that will make you happier as a comic and a person.

 

The Rape Joke

This is a very touchy subject.  The last couple of years have had high profile comics getting in trouble for their jokes about rape.  I am of the school of thought that anything can be made funny if you take the time to find the funny in it.  Rape is no exception.  Now, there is nothing funny about someone getting raped.  That is a terrible thing that should not be joked about.  But their are some aspects of rape, like rape culture, that can be made fun of.  There are a couple of things we need to go over about how to make a rape joke.

I think it takes a skilled comedian to write a rape joke that isn’t making light of a person being victimized.  I also think there are double standards that exist that you can exploit if you are going to make a rape joke.  First, you trying to make fun of you raping a person rarely works.  I said rarely.  This is where the double standard comes into play.  You can talk about fantasy characters raping each other (Like that skunk in the old cartoons always trying to have sex with that painted cat).  You can talk about raping a terrible person (Hitler, Pol Pot), but you can not talk about raping a person in the audience (Daniel Tosh learned that lesson), or how you would like to rape someone.

Personally, I have not found a way to make rape funny.  I have a joke about how apocalyptic movies always have cannibals and rapist and I rarely say the rape part because I am afraid that I will lose the audience with just the word rape.  There are however, two comedians in Spokane that have really well put together rape jokes.  The thing that make these jokes work is that it is not focusing on raping anyone.  They bother go after the way society perceives rape and I think they both work really well.  Mike Evens and Steve Johnson have found a way to talk about rape and not focus on the hurtful, disgusting parts, but what society has done to rapist and to victims.  I think this is a very important thing to say.  They found a very great way to dissect this topic without making people feel uncomfortable.

That is not to say they can go and tell these jokes on Fallon!  The word rape is right up there with Nigger and Kike in the eyes of many.  Whenever that word is uttered on stage, people will coil up and defend themselves without hearing what else you have to say.  This is something you have to understand about trying to do material of this ilk.  That is why so many people fail as well.  They go into it thinking they can just break through people’s preconceived notions on that topic.  You can’t.  That is like going up and telling a room full of Catholics that god doesn’t exist and expect them to laugh at the punchline.  You will lose a majority of people.  Mike and Steve found a way to do it that works.  I have seen them do it in front of different crowds and they get a great response.  The reason is because first, they don’t make it a big deal.  That is what kills me about white comics that want to say nigger in their jokes.  Don’t linger on the words.  It brings attention to it.  Just do the bit like you are talking to your friends.  Because trust me, a lot of people talk about this stuff.  It is also a great ideal if the joke isn’t really about rape.  Rape may be a component of the joke, but not the main focus.  For example, Mike’s rape joke is really about how we handle rapist.  How we put them in jails were that is a common thing.  Second, it has to be good.  I have heard other comics talk about rape and it is not well handled.  If the joke is not good it is not good…and you just talked about rape.  That is double bads!  Third, move on.  Don’t deliver the end of the story or the punchline and then talk about how you took the audience through the rape swamp.  It is over and done with.  Don’t make the audience think that you have somehow done the impossible.  They expect that from you already!  You are a comedian.  You are supposed to make them laugh on command.  Don’t be so impressed with yourself.  That is probably why both Mike and Steve’s bits are so great.  They do the bit and then move on.  Not to another rape joke (why are you writing so many rape jokes), but to something that brings the crowds buttholes to a nice calm level.

If I haven’t made it clear in the beginning let me make it clear now.  Rape is not a common topic to make light of.  Neither is cancer (I have done a cancer joke early in my career that got a pretty good response…it wasn’t really about cancer though, it was about my fear of doctors) or AIDS (no AIDS jokes here) or child abductions( I do have a child abduction joke, but I am the one getting abducted).  You are a comedian.  You are suppose to take the subjects that are hard to digest and make them palatable.  We do it with drivers, and loud people, and assholes, and creeps, and craigslist.  We find a unique spin on a subject and make fun of it.  Just remember that unlike getting cut off there are people that have been hurt and have had their lives changed forever.  Don’t hurt them more.

Looking Into Yourself

The closer I get to this comedy competition the more I start looking within to evaluate my faults as a comic. Everyone has them if they look hard enough. I think that is probably one of the best skills you can learn as a comedian…hell even as a person. If you know where you are weakest, you can either strengthen or hide that weakness. Comedy competitions can expose a comic’s weakness. If you can’t do clean material to save your life then you will have a hard time in a clean comedy contest. If you take too long to set up jokes, then you will suffer when there isn’t a lot of time to do so. Here are some of my major faults and how I try to deal with them.

Performing in Spokane is a blessing and a curse. I get a lot of stage time, but I get A LOT of stage time. That doesn’t really prepare you for contest where time is a critical component to success. It might be alright to go over your time at an open mic, but it is not a good idea when you are competing. I have trouble with this. I think a lot of comics do. We like to get up there and make people laugh. If someone isn’t forcing you off the stage you will take that time! That isn’t the case in larger cities where they can have almost 50 people to do an open mic and they give you 2-3 minutes HARD. You go over by a second and they cut the mic off and ask you not to come back next week. I have lost two competitions because I went over my time. I think the best way to solve this problem is to set the timer on my phone. There are apps out there just for this purpose. Just set it and watch your time and that should hopefully solve that.

Another problem that is not just with Spokane, but a lot of places that set up in bars is material. Your material gets a lot darker when you have to perform in front of a certain group of people. I think that is because that is what gets drunken people paying attention. You get em with the hard stuff and then see if you can work in your normal material. What has happened with me though is that I get dark real fast and that can turn people off. I have to remember my situation. That is where the host is a really important piece. If they know what they are doing, a host can find out what you should be doing before you even get up on stage.

Some of my material can take a while to get to a place. I have tried chopping them down a bit, but I see that is a result of all the stage time early on. I could get on stage and waste 20 minutes setting up jokes that had a reward, but when it comes to competitions that is time that can be put to doing more jokes. That is the focus for me of this competition, to throw more jokes out there. That way when compared to the person that did one great; if you did 3 great jokes then you can be seen as a better comic. At least that is the theory.

I think my biggest fault as a comedian, is also my biggest fault when I am off the stage. My shyness. I hate using that word! I feel like a 4th grader whenever I say shy or timid. See, getting up on stage isn’t as natural for me as it may be to a lot of other comics. I was the kid that was terrified to read in class and never asked a girl out unless it was on a piece of paper. I avoid saying goodbye to people at work because I don’t want to talk to them and I don’t talk to the audience while I am performing because I don’t know if I have had enough time talking to people to come up with a proper response. I am a mess. That is why the first thing people say when they find out I am a comic is, “You? But you hardly talk!” Now, the shyness, at least for me, has a origin in my self-esteem. As such it is impossible for me to take praise. In my mind I cannot see why anyone would think I was attractive or smart or funny. Now, this is a paradox because how would I get paid to do comedy if I didn’t think I was funny enough. Hell, I don’t know! It just happened. It’s probably like when someone gets paid to bang out on camera. What I am trying to get at is that my self-esteem puts my head in places that sabotages me. Sometimes I will get on stage and my brain will say, “You are not funny!” and then I start acting like it. It has kept me from sending out my promo package and getting more dates because I get so down on myself that as a comic, I can’t function. There is no easy fix for this. This is my brain juices we are talking about here. This has been my make up for 40 some odd years. I have doubted myself out of prime opportunities. No matter how much people enjoy my comedy and me as a person, my self-esteem will not allow me to enjoy it. I have a hard time writing a Bio for myself, or telling people to come to my show because I can make them laugh. I try not to say I am funny out loud because I am afraid that the universe will make me pay for those words. I doubt my advancement in the competition because of how others did. This is no time to doubt this! I have to just believe that I am funny enough to do well in this competition. This is the chance I have been waiting for, and I do not want to be sabotaged by myself. If I lose, I want it to be because someone bested me, not me doubting myself.