I’m going to be the guest on Guy MacPherson’s radio show “What’s So Funny?” on Sunday, December 14th, 11 PM to midnight. Listen on CFRO 102.7 FM in Vancouver, or online here. You can call in while the show’s airing to talk to us at 604-684-7561.
I record all my comedy sets obsessively. I’ve done over 340 sets and I’ve recorded all but a handful. A few days ago, I listened to my first set on a whim. It was, shall we say, “interesting”. I definitely sounded like one of those new comics I’ve heard so many of since then. But once in a while, a flash of brilliance peeked through which made me happy (although you might have had to have been me to know what they were, since most people don’t such direct insight into my brain).
I decided to come up to Vancouver for a while and because I have more time than income these days, I drove. It’s about a thousand miles in fifteen hours. Because I hate wasted time and doing just one thing at a time, I was trying to figure out what else I could do while I drive.
I think you see where I’m going with this. I decided I would take advantage of my obsessive recording of my sets and listen to them as I drove.
Any comic will tell you that listening to yourself is torture. It turns out though that after a few sets, you become numb, and it become a lot easier. All in all, I listened to show 17 (my first few shows were WAV files and iPod wouldn’t play them) to around show 102 in about fourteen hours. I heard a few jokes and tags I’d forgotten about and thought of a few new twists. I brought my voice recorder with me and made about 30 or 40 notes to self. And it actually helped the time go faster by keeping my brain occupied.
I reviewed my first year of comedy (I started in November 2004, although I suppose technically I did maybe three or four shows at UCLA in the early 90s that I am quite certain were terrible). A lot of these shows were simply awful. My set-ups were often too long. I was incoherent and rambly. There were premises with no punch lines. My diction was poor. My speech was peppered with useless “Ums” and way too many “So…” transitions.
My set-ups were filled with lies. For example, in my very first show, I had a set-up that talked about something that happened when I was married. But I’ve never been married, so when I listened, I just sounded like a lying idiot. I guess I couldn’t figure out any other way to set it up, but I mean, come on, that’s just lazy.
I was surprised how many jokes I still use were in these early eras, although many have been improved beyond recognition after going through quite a few iterations.
I also talked quite frankly about the shoulder surgery I went through in August of 2005, and it was really interesting to hear what I had to say both before and after the surgery. It was almost like I was doing it more for me than for anyone else.
Early on, I’d leave my voice recorder on a table when I went up, and I often ended up in the background. Once in a while someone sitting near my recorder would make a comment about a joke or something that I’d strain to evaluate. Or other comics would see the recorder and leave a cute message for me. I don’t know if they realized I wouldn’t hear it until 2008.
I would really strongly recommend recording all your shows. Bring the recorder up to stage with you, and just put it on the stool with any notes you might have. It might seem weird, but if you don’t make a big deal out of it, no one cares. You don’t have to listen to it, but if record all your shows, you at least have the option.
Near the end of my trip, I fast forwarded to listen to some sets I have done in the past few weeks. I was so relieved to hear how much better they are. I really have improved noticeably. I mean, this is no surprise; you would expect that practicing something several times a week years would yield improvement. But it was a relief to actually have some evidence.
I suppose I’ll review my second year of comedy on the drive back. Fourteen more hours of torturous self-realization. I can’t wait!
I have been back in California for a few weeks now after packing up my Vancouver apartment at UBC. The weather has been perfect here, as usual. How dull. I took a cruise on the Norwegian Sun from Vancouver to San Francisco. You can move via car, plane, train, but me, I moved via ship.
I did a set in front of a large, lukewarm audience in the talent show on the last day. Probably my biggest, lukewarmiest audience yet. I feel like they hated me, but I’m too scared to listen to the tape. I record all my shows, but am generally too scared to listen to them. I think that’s a pretty common reaction.
Cruises are fun, relaxing and nice. I recommend them. On the last day, I always have this feeling of sadness about it ending too soon. The staff is generally wonderful and upbeat, but there is something inescapably weird about it. It’s all too much fun, too nicely orchestrated, everything subtly controlled, like Disneyland, or like how Las Vegas allegedly pumps oxygen into the casinos to help keep people awake. There must be gallons of marketing and behavioral research at corporate headquarters. All this neat stuff is happening â€“ great food, activities, music, entertainment â€“ and you see the people directly providing all this. But what’s missing is the man behind the curtain. Obviously someone must be planning all this, but you never see who. It’s almost eerie.
But hey, that’s what vacations are all about: being manipulated into having a good time.
My super-talented comedy friend Mary Van Note has, at the request of the Independent Film Channel, put together ten episodes of a series called “Gavin Really Wants Me”. Three episodes have been released as of this writing, and they are being released one a day. The released episodes are all between three and four minutes each, so… check it out!
I’ve kept a blog on my website for quite some time now. But since most of my readers were on MySpace when I started my own-branded blog, I had to copy the posts from one blog to the next. This gets old in a hurry, so I wrote a little Python code to automatically copy posts from WordPress to MySpace. It should be easy to extend since the MySpace posting code is separated out.
I’ve made this code publicly available with the hope that others may find it useful. It’s on github. Check it out. It’s not perfect, but it works.
I went down to the Gallery Lounge on campus at UBC tonight to checkout the karaoke contest that was supposed to be going on (yeah, yeah, I know). I was surprised to see how sparsely attended it was, so I found a book and put in Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, which I do in a pretty decent croaky impression. It went over pretty well.
As the night slowly wore on, it was pretty clear not too many people were interested in singing, so I went up and asked how many songs were left. They said there was one opening left, so I pounced on it and signed myself up for “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound Gang. This song is somewhat edgy, slightly rude, and I have it memorized. I also have a little outrageous dance/act-out which is rather of amusing to watch.
I did it, and it went over pretty well too. Immediately following, the crowd voted for “Best Singer” and “Most Entertaining”. I thought I might actually have a chance since I was fresh in people’s minds. Sure enough, I was voted “Most Entertaining”, so they called me up to congratulate me.
I have never advanced in any comedy contest after over three years of doing stand-up. Yet here I won. At least I’m entertaining compared to a layman.
The DJ asked me to do my Louis Armstrong impression, so I plugged my web site in the low throaty voice. If that’s why you’re here now, well… hi. Why not sign up to be my Facebook fan?
I am on IMDB!
Earlier this year, a documentary filmmaker came to a show I was doing in a comedy contest at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton, California. He filmed my set, asked me a few questions on camera and had me fill out a waiver. Then today I found out the film is on IMDB, along with the cast.
I’m in the big time now, baby.
Yesterday was the last day of a cruise on the Norwegian Pearl with my brother and sister-in-law(ish gal). It was a lot of fun, although I did stay up too late pretty much every night. What does it mean when you come home from a vacation and need to sleep? Not to mention a weird, dizzy feeling. Inner ear overcompensation?
On Thursday night, there was a talent show, similar to the one on the Norwegian Dream last year. Just like last year, I came in second, again by one point, this time to a kid who did hip hop dancing. I did not really see his performance (I was out of the room for most of it). I do distinctly remember walking into the room while he was doing his thing and thinking to myself “If I lose to him, I am going to kill myself.” (So far, I have not followed through… I think maybe I was just kidding.)
There were two comics, but I was fifth and he ninth, so I was the first comic the audience saw, and I had to warm them up. But they were willing, and I did some tried and true material with a couple fairly new things and one new venue-specific joke (about all the hand disinfecting machines around). All in all, it was a good set. Every joke worked â€“ some better than others, but there were no duds. Five solid minutes.
Even though I did not win, I had a great set. If you’re going to take a cruise and do some comedy, Norwegian is the one to do.
I did my first “international” show in Vancouver last night. It was quite a hectic mess of a turn of events. This is kind of a boring story, but I had to write it to explain what the hell happened to curious victims who may have tried to see me.
I’ve known that I would be going to Vancouver in the first week of December, so I got hooked with a friend of a friend, Vancouver comedian Rob Kraft who emailed me the canonical list of Vancouver venues at http://www.comedycouch.com/. I was only going to be in town on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights, so the pickings were slim and there wasn’t much in the way of contact information.
Back in November, I wrote an email to Patrick Maliha who runs the Balthazar showcase on Monday nights. A week or two went by without an answer, so I wrote again. Once again, no reply, so with Rob’s counsel, I found him on MySpace and wrote him there. He wrote me back the next day saying he didn’t think he had any space on the show that night. I got the name of the fellow who ran the Monday Darby’s show by calling Darby’s; with that information, I found him on MySpace and wrote asking if I could get on while I was in town.
I didn’t hear anything from him for quite some time. Finally, just as I was calling Darby’s on a Monday night (with the expectation that he would be there running the show), I checked my MySpace mail account and found that he had replied! “Be there by 8:30 to sign up and I will make sure you get on.”
Excellent. So I sent out an email to a bunch of friends and family in the Vancouver area telling them about the show and started to become stoked about my first show in Canada.
Cut to Monday (and switch to the present tense for dramatic purposes). It’s a stormy, windy day. I get to my brother’s house where I’m staying, and the power is out, as it apparently was in many homes in the region. It’s extremely dark at the house and I’m a little antsy, so I leave early. The plan was to meet at Tim’s house (he’s the common friend of Rob and I) then go to Darby’s. But I was much earlier than I was supposed to be, so I figure I may as well swing by the venue to see what to expect.
I find Darby’s no problem. It’s a pub with an attached cold beer and wine store. I almost leave without trying to go in, but wisely decide I may as well check it out. But the door is locked. Peering in reveals that there is NOBODY inside. There is a cryptic note on the door about Darby’s schedule changing due to some renovation or something, but even so it’s supposed to be open by 4 PM. To make things even more confusing, there is a banner on the pub inviting the public to the Sunday night open nights. Huh?!
The neighbouring beer and wine store has a hand-drawn sign that says in a scribble “Closed due to power outage.” Of course the lights are on inside, so there’s no reason to be closed, but I guess they called it a day, locked up and went home.
Not quite sure what to do, I drive to Tim’s place. I’m still early, but I need to use a phone because my mobile does not work in Canada. I borrow their phone and start calling everyone, uninviting them. Then I check out Comedy Couch on Tim’s computer with him. The Darby’s show is nowhere to be found on the list of venues. It’s still in Google’s cached version of the page, so I know I’m not completely crazy.
Tim and Rob and I go down to Darby’s again so we can be there at 8:30. Same situation — pub and store closed, empty. We go back to Tim’s.
I decide I’m going to crash the other Monday night show I’m already been turned down to, if for no other reason than to meet some local comics. I call my brother, and he’s at Darby’s with a bunch of people. So I tell him about Balthazars, and he decides to come along too.
Rob also comes along, and we find Balthazars, get decent parking. We meet Erik’s gang of five at the front door and I recognize Patrick from his photos. I ask him if there’s any space and tell him we have a large party. He suggest he may be able to get me on.
Well, long story short, I was third up at Balthazars with five minutes, which I stretched to seven. It went okay… not great, but not absolutely terrible. I was a little distracted by a gang of noisy, chatty folks off to the right that were sitting in a part of the restaurant that I didn’t even know existed until I got up on stage. That’s always a surprise to find out the audience is twice as large as you thought it was going to be. All in all, it went reasonably well considering how chaotic things were leading up to it. And “those bitches at the table in the corner” (as the waitress reluctantly described to me) bought me a drink. I never found out who it was and whether they bought it because they were so noisy or because I was so charming. Probably a combination of the two.
I also found out that the Darby’s show is no more, and last Monday was the last show. Nice. So in a way, I was lucky that the power went out because that made me (1) go to Darby’s early and (2) have Darby’s close, giving me a hint that the show would not go on (but not for the reasons that I thought!).
So to those of you that I invited, sorry it didn’t happen. And to those of you that had to find out it was canceled by going to Darby’s and having essentially no information, a double red-faced embarrassed apology. And to those of you who now wished you had known about the show that I ended up doing instead at pretty much the exact same time as the other one was scheduled, a triple apology. Next time I’m in town, I’ll keep you posted.
Lesson: the more you plan, the more that can go wrong.
Apparently, my problem is that I’m so serious.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by other comics how funny I am — except when it really counts. There are several variations.
“You are so much funnier in person than you are on stage.”
“Just keep doing shows and your real relaxed personality will show through.”
“You need to talk to the audience more.”
“You are one of the best riffers I have seen. Why don’t you do more of that?”
I have all these ideas for witty, semi-spontaneous things to say before I go up. When I go up on stage, I clam up. I freeze. My IQ drops 40 points. I turn into an Al Gore robot version of Richard. I need to be taken seriously!
The Sunnyvale Sun writes “But in Silicon Valley, jokes about computer software fly like subway jokes in New York City, and one Sunnyvale venue is harnessing that slightly awkward energy into a monthly event.” I can’t help but feel that this is directed at me. (See http://www.community-newspapers.com/archives/sunnyvalesun/20060726/cover1.shtml for quote in context.)
Now consider comedian Dan Wilson. There is something about him that inspires me… his carefree attitude, his willingness to laugh at the absurd, his dirtiness… I don’t know. He is a muse to me… showing up at Ron’s on Friday and seeing him waiting in the back (I like to think he is waiting for me) is one of my favourite things about that venue. I start talking to him, and for some reason, it just comes out.
Here’s a video he took of me.
You can see a little combination of the frozen deer-in-the-headlights Richard along with the spontaneous, scrambling, super-spaz Richard that just seems to come out of nowhere. My favourite part is at the very end, you get a few frames, a foreshadowing really, of me going back to completely serious. If you needed brakes to get from silly-to-serious, I would be changing my brake pads waaaaay too often (and getting some serious thrashings from the g forces).
It’s not quite Kubrick cinema, but it does provide some insight into my problem.
How do I reproducibly get — and stay — in that “special place”, where the free association and improv can come out and stay out?
Or, would it be best for me to admit that I am awkward — and to embrace it?
Are these even related?
Do I need to hire Dan to be in my straight man? My muse? Or just be in my entourage?