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Little Reid Big City #21

Hello, Reiders. I feel like we’re really beginning to get close now. You treat me so good, and I really appreciate you. Look –we’re so fond of each other.

Happenings: I’m trying to get a tape ready to submit for comedy festivals. Figure it’d be a good way to get out in the comedy world a bit, gather a few more credits to my name. It’s a little more difficult here –I’m not passed at any clubs, and though I’m getting booked regularly on shows it can be hard to get a good tape. Most of the venues aren’t always the most respectable looking; despite having a good set, a coffee shop or a Thai restaurant backdrop may make it not the best choice for a submission. A few comics I know have gone outside the city to make tapes, to Boston or to their home clubs. I’ll be doing a show in Boston in December, so I’m hoping to get a good tape from that, but until then I may have to settle with what I can tape on my flipcam, though it’s no excuse not to submit. I also got head shots today, something I’d been meaning to do but had always put off. It feels good to take some necessary steps outside of writing and performing to help my career.

I talked a few weeks ago with comedian Billy Prinsell. We were getting ready to perform at a hostel in Chelsea, and sat out front discussing how humor works. Billy was a philosophy major in college, and wrote his thesis on comedy. Among other things, he stressed the importance of having a defined character. The comedic character, he said, is a character whose personality is a constant –they remain the same while events go on around them, and humor arises from how they respond to the situation. It does not change them; they maintain a point of view and comment upon each event. This differs from the dramatic character, which does not hold a consistent personality –they change with the events, and are affected deeply by what happens around them. Billy’s comedy reflects this understanding. He is himself, but a highly characterized version of himself, and what he says it not always funny in and of itself, but often is funny only in the context of his well-defined character. He’s a buff guy, a trainer at a gym, seemingly muscle-headed and bro-y, which makes even the mention of Beauty and the Beast or Greek mythology seem hilarious. It’s been giving me a lot to think about. Even the great comedians, Louis CK, Maria Bamford, Doug Stanhope, despite covering a huge breadth of subjects and ways to formulate a joke, are very consistently themselves. You know who they are, what they are, and they can be described fairly easy. This is not a bad thing; it lends a clear context to all their jokes.

On the other hand, I think it’s dangerous to look for so easy a definition. I remember seeing Bobcat Goldthwait a couple years ago at Go Bananas. He’s a big comic, and is known in stand-up for his nervous, voice-cracking, bizarre delivery. It’s a character, clear and obvious. At Go Bananas he abandoned it. He talked normally, told stories, and did a great set. Afterward he talked about how happy he was that he could do that –abandon his character, the trademark voice, just act as he acts and still do well. He said that in other cities he couldn’t get away with that, that if he doesn’t do what he is known for that the crowd won’t respond. The character helped him get to where he is in comedy, but it also eventually became something he resented.

I am trying to maintain a consistency with my humor. With getting up so much each week I find myself working on jokes that I don’t necessarily resonate with, that don’t reflect the qualities that make me a unique comedian. I’ll work on those jokes until I find something I like more that fits my style, and then drop them. I know right away for the most part if a joke is something I will hold on to, not even if it works, but if it fits. It is important to develop a clear style, to provide a context for the audience, a unity to your set. But at the same time I’m wary to define that so early in my comedy career –it will change as I go on, develop and make itself clearer, and limiting myself too early could be something I regret later. I guess it’s a balancing act in the end, between experimenting and looking outside your style to keep yourself interested, and learning to define and exude a specific personality to keep your audience invested. I used to try to guide the audience into my comedy with easier jokes that were more traditional, but changing personalities midway to do a more bizarre kind of comedy (which I enjoyed more) threw them off. By coming out strange, doing simpler but still odd humor up top, I find I gain their trust easier for the rest of the set –I won’t betray them, they trust me because even if they don’t know what to expect, they at least know to expect that.