Author Archives: jimbo
Festival season is in steady course for comedians and The Milwaukee Comedy Festival is gearing up for another year of great laughs! We thought it would be a great idea to talk with local great Johnny Beehner about comedy festivals!
Johnny, who recently competed in Gilda’s LaughFest Best in the Midwest Competition and returned to Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, was awesome enough to chat with us about his experiences with comedy festivals and offered some humbling advice for young comedians looking to submit to festivals.
(Milwaukee Comedy) You recently finished Laughfest and Laughing Skull…what were the most enjoyable moments that came from those experiences? What did you learn that you didn’t know before going into these events?
(Johnny) don’t know that I learned a ton that I didn’t know before going into those. I did go to a couple of seminars at the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival on the business of comedy and what industry is looking for. This was my 3rd time doing the Laughing Skull Festival and I love it every time—lots of comics, lots of opportunities to hang with comics, and lots of industry.
LaughFest was great because it is so well put together and a great cause! Gilda’s Club runs and puts on the festival and there are so many shows and it’s just great. The whole city of Grand Rapids gets behind it.
Here’s what I learned doing those festivals and talking to the higher ups: The comics that do the best are one’s that have a unique point of view and are very memorable. There were some comics that killed in their sets and didn’t advance. These judges see over 60 comics and they look for the one’s they will remember weeks after the festival.
Ya got to stick out.
There’s more to these events than winning and performing…can you explain what some of the benefits of participating or just hanging around festivals/contests?
The best part is getting to hang out with comics that you don’t get to see very often. As comics, we all work at the same time and only 2 or 3 work together on weekend shows, and if you are at the same level as each other, you never get to work together. That is why festivals are so great. Comics get to hang out and have a week of fun together.
The networking is really important. If you don’t live in NY or LA, festivals are a great opportunity to get seen and meet people in industry that can help your career. I met very important [individual] at the Laughing Skull Festival the year I didn’t even advance [who] I to this day have a pretty close relationship with.
How do (did) you typically choose which festivals/contests you enter or perform in?
The reputation of the festival based on just talking to other comics. There are a LOT of festivals that pop up that make a lot of money for the person putting it together that don’t really do much for the comics that have to pay to be in them. That’s upsetting, so I am pretty picky.
I’m not saying every festival has to have promises of boosting your career, but it needs to be well organized and provide lots of social opportunities for fun.
Laughing Skull is great about that—they have lots of parties and outings, and a kickball game, etc. I’ve kind of gone through my “submit to every festival” phase and am pretty picky now. If you have to pay to submit AND there are no accommodations included, it’d have to be really GREAT festival for me to give it a shot.b
Sometimes comedians will avoid applying to (or get upset when denied from) certain festivals and contests. What are some suggestions that may help new comedians understand the process of entering these sorts of events from your experiences?
Obviously it sucks getting rejected from a festival, but I think comics just have to understand how it goes. As long as they don’t look at the roster and feel like it was an obvious game of unfair playing favorites, then I think they understand. I usually put it out of my mind right after I submit to stuff. Waiting and hoping doesn’t change anything.
What would you say to newer comedian looking to enter contests or festivals to avoid?
Just make sure your submission video is professional and the best stuff you got. It has to have great sound quality AND it has to look great. You can be killing, but if its shot from a cell phone and a guy’s head keeps popping in front of the camera, it’s annoying to watch and nobody will care how well you’re doing.
What are things to avoid worrying about in contests?
Winning. You can hope to win, but try not to stress and worry. I know that is way easier said than done, but its true. When I feel like I need or want to win so bad, I perform way worse than when I am laid back and relaxed. Comedy is subjective.
The important thing is doing a good show and being you. Most festivals that have a contest aspect to it, the contest doesn’t mean much, it’s more of a gimmick for the audience to get excited about. They feel like they are witnessing a live reality show.
What is the atmosphere like at these events?
Some comics are chill and some are pacing. It’s fun because they are usually GREAT shows. Everyone wants to do their best and is on their game so the audience really gets a great show.
Is it best to submit with friends or alone or does it matter?
I like both. I have done it both ways. I used to do it alone and took them really seriously and got stressed if someone wanted to do something that prevented me from focusing, but now I try to go with friends. I did Laughing Skull with my good buddy, Mike Merryfield last year and this year. We both have pretty good attitudes about not caring what happens. Last year we both got knocked out right away and had a blast. This year, Mike didn’t advance and I made it to the finals and it was fine.
How often are practical jokes played between comedians during these events? What are some you’ve pulled on your fellow comedians?
Ha. Not a whole lot of pranks other than farting in someone’s face when they are sleeping and stealing each others phones to post horrible facebook status’s on each other’s fb accounts. This day in age, at these festivals, it’s a lot of incestual podcasting taking place. Everyone has a podcast. In fact, if you wanna hear what happens at comedy festivals, listen to Mike Merryfield’s Irrelevant Radio Podcast. We recorded a bunch this year and last year festivals. Some with industry, and some where we were super drunk and just making each other laugh at 3am.
If you’d like to find information for upcoming Johnny Beehner events check www.johnnybeehner.com. You can also grab Johnny’s album ‘Tiny Weiner’ on iTunes! Connect and Follow Johnny on Twitter @johnnycomic.
Don’t forget to check out information on The Milwaukee Comedy Festival!
A camera, an idea, and a method to reach an audience are the basic ingredients for sketch comedy. Success can be an instant or a result of consistently creating quality material for audiences to enjoy and share. So if creating content is an easy task today than how does a group (or an individual) become successful in comedy?
Milwaukee Comedy got the chance to ask some questions to Sketch and Stand up performer Timmy Williams (of The Whitest Kids U’ Know) about the current shape of sketch comedy in today’s culture. Williams’ provides some great information for sketch groups and/or people looking to start working on building their sketch career!
(Milwaukee Comedy)—What do you think the current state of the sketch scene in the comedy world?
(Williams)—Sketch comedy is in a great place right now. Anybody anywhere can come up with an idea and shoot it and upload it to the Internet in a matter of hours. This has changed the game considerably because Joe Schmo in Buttzville has just has much chance of accruing a million hits as a bunch of celebrities on Funny Or Die.
The ease of getting your comedy to the masses has also made comedians become jack-of-all-trades; many stand-ups make sketches on the side, and vice versa.
How does a sketch group get noticed? What worked with The Whitest Kids You Know?
If you want to get noticed, you need to make stuff all the time. With WKUK we were uploading videos online and writing new live sketches constantly for years. The more quality stuff you can put out there, the more likely someone will see you.
How does a sketch group developed characters? What makes the process fun for the group to write out a sketch? How does a sketch group (or stand up comedians) judge their work before it seen by an audience?
With Whitest Kids we never worried too much about recurring characters. We focused on our actual personalities and kind of exaggerating those and making those the characters. That's why we don't really have ‘named characters’ that show up in tons of sketches, but you know that if you see a "Darren Girl" that it will be different than a "Zach Girl" or a "Trevor Girl."
As far as judging your material, it's easier with sketch writing, because we always had four other people in the room deciding what worked. We had a general rule that anything we would release had to make all five of us laugh. That democratic process really helps control the quality. With stand-up you think you have something but don't know until you get on a stage and throw it out in front of people, so it's a little more dangerous that way.
What characters do you enjoy playing? Do you have any characters or sketches you really like, but never have aired?
We have some stuff that never aired for one reason or another, and a lot of it involved harm coming to children (oops)! There is one sketch called "Good Cop, Terrible Cop" that didn't air but may have been on a DVD, but I played this cartoonish Italian guy and it was very over-the-top and since I didn't get to do tons of accents on the show I really liked playing that guy. Other than that, I like playing the dumb innocent characters, which is kind of my niche in the group since it's an exaggerated version of myself. There are a few times I've gotten to play a jerk or an asshole and really enjoyed that too.
How does sketch writing differ from stand up writing? What's the most challenging difference between performing stand up verse sketch? Does one influence the other and vice versa? What defines a bit verse a sketch–how do they develop?
The big difference between sketch and stand-up to me is the concept of "safety in numbers." When you write with a group, you have the other people's ideas and opinions to help shape your material. When you write stand-up it's all you and anything that doesn't work is your fault. Same goes for live performance. If I forget a line onstage in a Whitest Kids show, someone else can say my line or ad-lib something else and keep things moving; if I forget a line in stand-up I just stand there looking stupid.
I think a bit and a sketch develop similarly, at least for me. They start out with a one-word or one-line idea and blossom from there, and you just hammer it and hammer it until they're perfect-ish. I have learned to write out my stand-up jokes as more of a sketch script and that has certainly made them better.
What are some of the biggest problems in the writer's room? How do they get resolved?
I have mentioned the many strengths of writing with other people, but the biggest weakness is when someone doesn't agree with something that you just know is funny. You try and try to convince them but they're just not having it. In Whitest Kids we rarely put anything through that we didn't all agree with, so sometimes that one person not being convinced has prevented ideas from happening. And that's fine, because that's why we're a group. The Whitest Kids is a sum of its parts and if we let everyone push through everything they wanted it would just seem like five separate people doing their own things under a banner. By letting the group control the quality things are more streamlined and I think our material has a unique voice that only comes from five people's brains coming together instead of fighting for dominance. There's always time to do your own stuff later.
How would a group get rid of a 'toxic' member?
I don't know how a group would get rid of a toxic member. If you find out would you let me know? I'm really sick of Sam.
What sort of advice can you offer individuals looking to put together or join a sketch group?
Just do it. Get your buddies together some time when you're all free, start writing things down and shooting them and putting them online. Being "good" takes time but it really is that easy to start. Perform live! It's really fun and makes you better. Chances are you can find somewhere to perform no matter where you live. The main thing though is to just try it.
You can catch Timmy Williams at Pony’s Bar and Grill (5132 S Packard Ave—Cudahy, WI) on Sunday, April 13th at 830pm. The show is hosted by local comedian Tyler Menz and featuring comedy from Alice Galloway and Zach Peterson. Tickets can be purchased at Pony’s during business hours (3pm-close) or by calling (414) 975 5556.
Here at Milwaukee Comedy, we spend a lot of time putting on great comedy shows, but figuring out the best way to tell our fans about the fun is the real challenge.
It can be difficult to promote your own comedy show, but with a little motivation and this simple advice, you can learn How to Promote Your Comedy Show!
1. Create a unique graphic or use a photo and include all the important event info including Name, date, and time of show, the location, ticket price and some way to get more information (Like a website or phone number).
- Use your graphic when posting on social networks and on show posters or flyers. It helps create an identity people remember when your image is consistant.
2. Write a short description of the show that includes more important information, like what audiences should expect, the performers involved, directions to the venue, etc. This description should be used with the graphic when creating event pages on Facebook or other social networks.
3. Use Social media to promote the event, starting a few weeks ahead of time. You can Tweet a few times a week, Post ticket link and event links on Facebook, or talk about your show on Tumblr. Include the graphic and imformation you created in steps 1 and 2.
- Be sure to make every post unique and engaging. Don't just repeat the show information over and over. Here is one to get you started: “Don’t just sit there, check out some Stand Up!”
4. Post to online event calendars. There are hundreds of places online to post your show information. Use local event calenders and other online event sites. Include as much information as you can and include the show poster image and information on tickets and location. Start with our Comedy Event Calendar.
- Here are some examples of places you can add your event online right here in Milwaukee: jsonline.com, expressmilwaukee.com, onmilwaukee.com, milwaukee365.com and ThirdCoastDigest.com
5. Think of creative ways to promote your show. Your audience has hundreds of other entertainment options every month. Make your show stand out.
- If you have trouble filling the seats, sometimes you have to think outside the box. It's a comedy show, right? So try using humor. Don't just tell people it's happening, get people excited about your comedy show!
Trying out your stand up comedy skills for the first time can be down right terrifying. Focus on doing your best and having some fun, and take a look at these Seven Easy Tips for First Time Open Mic Comedians.
1) Prepare yourself—write some jokes, locate an open mic, and tell your friends to come enjoy some laughs.
2) Sign up—locate the sign up sheet and put your name down. Here’s a couple quick side-tips:
- Remember the name above yours
- Ask who the host of the show will be
- Introduce yourself and tell the host it’s your first time doing comedy (if you’ve got a unique name—help them learn it).
3) Rules—Ask the host about the amount of stage time each comedian gets to be on stage and how to know when you’re supposed to be done.
- Each comedian is given an allotted amount of stage time. Comedians are given a ‘light’ this indicates the comedian on stage has less than a minute to finish their jokes.
- Acknowledge ‘the light’ by giving a subtle signal to the host.
4) More rules—ask the host if there are any language or content restrictions (it’s rare, but some establishments do ask performers to reduce explicit language and content).
5) Before and after your set—remain respectful to other the performers and enjoy the show.
6) After the show—hang out and introduce yourself to other performers.
7) The last piece of advice will be—throw away your nerves and enjoy your experience!
Now check out Milwaukee Open Mic's list!
Mike Stanley is a fearless and captivating performer. He’s definitely a comedian who offers an entertaining and rewarding show for audiences; and a show all comedians can appreciate and observe his craft of storytelling.
Milwaukee Comedy had the chance to correspond with Mike Stanley before he hits the stage this weekend at The Comedy Cafe (Tickets can be found at this link or make a reservation by calling (414) 271-JOKE). He offers some valuable advice for comedians just getting their feet wet with experience.
Milwaukee Comedy: Tell us a little about your experiences starting out in Detroit; your transitionto Chicago; and life in LA.
Mike Stanley: I still consider Detroit my home. When I first started, I got lucky because a lot of really good comics also started around the same time I did. The crop of guys I came up with there have all gone on to do some really good things and have made a name for themselves in the world of comedy. They're still some of my closest friends. The "market" was very small and most of the mics were in comedy clubs and there wasn't really an "indie" scene, but you could get seven minutes once or twice a night. We would carpool and just try and get as much stage time as possible. Everybody wanted to be good. We would all hang out late after mics in diners or bars, talk about bits and premises, smoke cigarettes, drink, give each other feedback, crash on someone's couch — all the stuff you do when you're young and get hooked. I look back on it now as some of the best times of my life.
As far as moving to Chicago and then to LA, its really just a matter of reestablishing yourself. Its like coming from a shitty community college: Your credits don't transfer, no matter where you're from. If you haven't been on TV, you're benched. It's not easy being the "new comic." Those scenes are already in place and no one knows who you are. You just have to suck it up and start over. Just write and do your best with the stage time you do get. Things will happen eventually. It sucks, but it does make you a better comic. Be cool to the new guy, he might end up being one of your best friends.
You’re definitely a comedian known for his hard work as a performer on the road. Many comedians spend tons of time in the city working on their craft, but you seemed to hit the road early in your career—what drove you to the road?
- I'm flattered that you just said that I'm "known"… for anything. I have this discussion a lot. Road vs. Staying in a City. There's no right or wrong way to go about it. It's whatever feels comfortable to you. I try to maintain a balance of both a presence in a scene and performing elsewhere. I don't like being in one place for too long. It feels repetitive. Same shows with the same comics over and over again, you look at the line up and think "oh, there's probably a poster for this show in existence already, that's convenient." It's like groundhogs day. I don't work that way. That's just me. Some comedians do well in that type of setting. I don't. Scenes have a way of having their head up their own ass sometimes and I like being able to walk away from it and still do what I love. The road can be a nightmare too though, don't get me wrong but nothing is more fun than doing a string of shows, good or fucking awful, with one of your best friends. It's the best.
You’ve built up a career by sharpening your comedy skills everyday, but you also practice developing a sense of self-promotion—how has promoting yourself helped build your career? What is the importance of communicating with your audiences before and after you perform a show?
- I actually don't do much in the way of promotion these days. I recently let my website lapse. It's pretty much pointless because I'm not a big name. Maybe when something big happens with my career I'll launch another one, but right now I'm not interested in that. I'd rather spend my time writing. Trying to get people to leave Facebook and look at your website for five minutes is like trying to get them to leave the bar to do cardio. Two people have noticed its gone. I'll post where I am on Facebook, and it helps, but I'd honestly rather write jokes on there. When people share my status, I end up getting friend requests in different cities and sometimes those people end up coming out. I like that.
I post every show I do on there and usually the people interested in seeing me show up. Those "invites" people send out are the fucking worst, though. Nothing is more annoying. People go over board with that. Its just white noise. I never do that. I'm a sucker for a rad poster. I've always liked rock posters and pop art. Whenever someone takes the time to make a cool poster, I always get excited and thank them . It means they're excited about it. You know there is a sense of pride in the show you're about to do. You owe it to the people booking you to help get the word out, though. It's part of your job.
I don't usually talk to people before shows, but ill always stick around and talk after. I used to drink. I would do this thing where I'd roll into a city, and after the Wednesday show, I would find a dive bar that I liked. I'd befriend the owner or bartender then come fri/sat late show (from stage), and I would invite the entire crowd to that bar.
"WE'RE ALL GOING TO SCOOTERS!!"
People would say, "you're really going to that place? It's a shit hole! I guess we'll see you there!"
Sometimes the entire crowd would show up and it would be hilarious. The bartender/owners loved me for bringing in a shit load of business, and the crowd loved it because we were all hanging out and shit would get ridiculous.
I would never pay for a drink. Some of those nights got real rough though and I woke up in some seedy places. Those days are in my past, but they're fun to think about. At least the parts I remember. I've done some living.
What about relating to audiences while on stage?
-You have to be aware of where you are. I don't tailor my act at all, but I'm also not going to waste your time talking about something that's too specific to one thing or place.
As an audience member, you have a responsibility to do some thinking as well, so if you grab your phone 10 seconds into the set up of a joke because you have the attention span of a gold fish, and I'm not dancing around like a cartoon character for your amusement, you should probably just see a movie instead.
Networking has a lot to do with achieving a successful career in comedy. How has networking help build your career? How does networking in a city scene, like LA or Chicago, differ from networking on the road?
- There's really not much networking to be done on the road. I like to meet the local comics, and if its possible, hit their mics… but there usually isn't time. I just go in, do my job, TIP THE WAITSTAFF, thank people for coming out, and thank the owner/booker for having me.
Bigger cities (Chicago/NY/LA), yeah, it is important for you to meet people. It can be a bit uncomfortable introducing yourself, but what else do you have to do? You're there, and if you want to get booked, you're going to have to talk to some people. You would have to talk to someone to get a job at Arby's and that's just as uncomfortable, so why wouldn't you do it for something you actually care about?
What sort of advice could you offer a comedian looking to book a road tour?
-Just write. Keep writing. Keep going up and get good. All that stuff falls into place. There are companies that book road stuff if you feel like you're ready. You can submit your stuff online. Take a road trip with a few friends to a neighboring city and line up a bunch of open mics or guest spots at their club. Make friends with local comics. Help each other. There are people just like you at the same level trying to do the same thing. You're better off working together. Swap info. I would say festivals because they're a great way to meet a lot of comedians from all over (but I honestly think they're too expensive and some are a crock of shit).
You’ve got remarkable storytelling abilities; can you tell us a little about your writing process—were you always a storyteller? How do you filter your material into crisp dialogue dealing with your subject matter?
- Thanks for saying that. I appreciate it. I can't stress this enough: just put pen to paper. Even if you hate what you're writing, it's for you. No one is going to see it. Even if its just two words you think sound funny together. Write it down. All of these fragmented ideas can eventually be put to use. You'll find a home for them. It's weird talking about your own process because there is no way to not feel like a pretentious A-hole. I'll rewrite the same bit 10 times (handwritten, not on a computer, because I'm dumb and it helps me remember). Then, I'll read it into my phone and listen to it while i'm driving to see if there is a spot for another tag or if the wording sounds a little off. I'll do the joke that night, try and tag it while I'm on stage, tape it, then listen to it back in my hotel. I'll throw out the part that doesn't work, then add something else. This will happen for weeks with the same joke. I obsess over it. You'd think I'd be a better comic by now. I need to have every part of the joke memorized that way I can forget it and it comes out more naturally. Most new bits of mine are really dry at first because I just want to make sure I'm nailing all of the punchlines. I'm not looking for a reaction; I'm trying not to forget the important parts of the story or bit. Cadence plays a huge factor so I have to make sure things aren't too wordy.
I'll bullet point premises on paper with different punchline ideas and tack them up my walls in my apartment. I live alone. My place looks like a detective lives there. There's scraps of paper tacked all over place. In all honesty, it looks a little crazy. It's a little embarrassing, but I don't care. I like it. It keeps me focused. I don't ever have company. This is what I do, I like being buried in my own ideas.
And last question, why did you choose to pursue a career in comedy and do you have encouraging advice for young comedians taking their first steps onto the stage?
For me it was a no brainier. I remember telling my guidance counselor in high school that it's what I wanted to do. He just laughed and thought I was crazy. I just never had any guidance as far as what it took to do it. I'm glad I did.
Guidance for new comedians… Write. Like I said earlier, do it for you. Don't write what you think the crowd is going to like. Write about the things you think are funny. Know what you're going to say before you go up there. The most insulting thing you can do is waste someone’s time. If you're not putting the work in before you get on stage you're going to annoy a lot of people. Hang around other comics and talk about comedy. Help each other out.
Whether you’re a comedian or comedy lover, Mike Stanley is a must see this Thursday through Saturday at The Comedy Café (with Matty Ryan and Shawn Shelnutt). Tickets can be found at this link or make a reservation by calling (414) 271-JOKE.
If you think back to 2010, It may not seem that long ago. But when you look at where the comedy scene was 4 years ago versus now, you may notice a big difference. One of those reasons is Jason Hillman and the Caste of Killers Comedy Collective. They just so happen to be celebrating the 4 year anniversary this week: April 2nd , 8pm at Karma Bar and Grill. The show title is about as long as the list of comics they have worked with over the years: Caste of Killers presents: Anniversary Part IV: The Reckoning:The Remix: Unplugged.
Jason Hillman had a few words on the subject of the last few years. Enjoy!
"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."
I will never forget those words. They came from a comic immediately following my explanation of what this fledgling organization was going to attempt.
"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."
The phrase I used in our first interview, and one that my partner would taunt me with for years to come, was "socialist utopian paradise." Though, in hindsight, that is a bit hyperbolic, I stand by it. We envisioned a scene that wasn't filled with random pockets of people trying to make a buck in a wasteland, all separated by a competitive desire to be more, have more, make sure that the guy across town had less people at his show. Taking that to mean more people would come to yours. Take the money and fund another singular show with singular desire and singular payout.
"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."
That is not a sustainable model for something as delicate as stand up comedy. There is a distinct vulnerability that drives the raging soul to take the stage in the first place, to grasp the microphone and let loose their insecurities, their secrets, their lives, splayed for the world to see. But that cannot be used to try and plant a lone flag of intention.
One must seek out the like minded and create an army.
Our goal was to unite the city's talent under one banner so that we may, as an assembled contingent, make ourselves known. If we could, together, raise the profile of stand up in Milwaukee, then opportunities would spring forth like an Eden born spring. We could stop being Chicago's sad bipolar little brother, trying hard but ultimately being consumed by its own self loathing and inability to look in the mirror.
"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."
It was a struggle. The road was harder, more laced with obstacles than we could have ever anticipated. Shaking this city to its core, attempting to get it to WAKE UP and see that there was worth in shining a light on those that toiled in its shadows with their brilliance, bright and ignored, shuffling about on its streets, waiting patiently, was a labor. Seeing flyers tossed or ripped down. Dealing with bar owners that treated us like shtick up men, a bunch of jokey hobos. Leaving the TVs on. Not telling anyone there was a show. Trying to shirk off the obligations they took on. It was a demoralizing thing. The line up changed. The parameters shifted. The goals seemed to be liquid for a minute there. We almost made a prophet out of that doubting comic.
"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."
But we realigned. We were, luckily enough, supported by a rather steady number of Chicago comics. Our out of town shows were successful. We made the right connections. More importantly, we created an environment where new comics wouldn't feel as though they are being judged. That their material and their presence was important. Where ideas were shared and goals were achieved. A place to call home instead of a place to be while you think about going to some other city.
Through these efforts, a new wave of young comics emerged. Driven, talented, motivated in the same way that we were. Some joined our group. Some didn't. It didn't matter.
Everyone supported each other's efforts.
In the end, all that mattered was the jokes. Not the egos. Not the money. Not the brief promise of a moment's minor metropolitan area fame.
We had become the cliche. A fully functioning ecosystem wherein all were welcome and all were given their due time and respect. There was inspiration. Independent shows began to dot the landscape. Mics appeared. Instead of having to try and convince bar owners that comedy was a good idea, the bar owners now seek out comics. Now find themselves wondering why they didn't jump on this opportunity sooner. Milwaukee is beginning to understand what is going on. It is beginning to open its eyes.
"It's a good idea but just so you know, these things never last more than a year."
Caste of Killers are proud to have contributed to this movement, to the expansion of this scene. We now have some of the best comedy showcases and open mics in the Midwest. Our reach has expanded to spots all over Wisconsin and our comics have made their way all over the US. Ours is a name that has become synonymous with great talent and warm receptions.
This is all well and good.
But what I see around me makes me even prouder. When I see people raise each other up, contribute to each other's projects and shows and mics and whatever is happening. This moves me the most. This makes me heave a bit in those steely heart parts of mine
A drunken 3 am phone call. A spiteful friend. Some willing volunteers. Guinea pigs for a movement. A curious bar owner. These are the ingredients of a new era in Milwaukee comedy.
There are too many names to name and thank in this kind of fashion. You know you helped if you did. You know you didn't if you didn't. For those that did, it cannot be expressed how grateful I am for your assistance. For those that didn't, I hope it was because you were too busy producing your own contributions to this city's legacy. And if not that, I hope you at least enjoy the shows.
Here's to another year of great shows, great blows to the idea that comics have to burn and bite and claw over each other to make an impact.
Joke writing can be a daunting task. It’s hard to come up with an original premise, and make it work on stage. Sure, your co workers may say you are the funniest person in your office, or you were voted “Class Clown” in your high school. Congratulations. The translation from what works in a group of your peers, to what makes an audience that has no idea who you are laugh, is something that requires meticulous work and hours of dedication. You also need to know how to deal with failure, a lot of failure.
So, how do you make that transition? Some people are just born with a lot of stage presence, storytelling ability, and are great public speakers. For the rest of us, it requires writing and practice! There is a certain “science” of writing a perfect joke. It requires going over and over what to say, and how to say it. It requires practicing in front of a mirror every calculated facial twist and perfect pause. It requires carrying around a notebook and getting awkward glances while waiting in line at the DMV laughing to yourself.
Eric Thorson had the chance to sit down with the winner of the Caste of Killers Battle Royale competition and co-creator of the Writer’s Block writing group, Ryan Lowe to look into some of these questions.
Eric: What exactly is the Writer’ Block writing group?
Ryan: “I would describe Writers Block as the study of the science of comedy writing. It’s important to take writing seriously. It can give you a different perspective on things, and can give you more tools in your toolbox.”
Eric: What do you do personally to overcome writers block?
Ryan: “To be honest, it’s something that I struggle with. That’s why we created Writers Block. Personally, I write about random things, or make lists, just things that are low risk. It doesn’t have to be good; it can be about watermelons, or whatever. It is just an exercise to take the pressure off. It’s easier to turn something bad into something good, than to get something good from nothing.”
For some, writing with a group can be very advantageous. Getting someone else’s opinion is a good way to gauge if what is funny to you is in fact funny to someone else. Bouncing jokes off a friend is also a good way to get an outside opinion, and an alternative angle that you might have overlooked that could add or subtract to the joke. I asked Ryan about the pros and cons of a writing group versus writing alone.
“One of the pros of writing in a group would be the energy. If you throw out an idea, it might just be a passing thought, but then people start riffing on it. It can spark an idea, or go a different direction that you maybe hadn’t thought of.”
“Sometimes it can also be difficult. I know personally I get hesitant to use other people’s ideas. If someone contributes a lot to a joke, then whose joke is it, really? That’s why it’s important to establish guidelines when working in a group. Say, “OK, now we are working on your joke.” I am kind of a control freak about writing my own material, guess.”
Writer’s Block takes place at the Underground Collaborative on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month.
You can catch Ryan Headlining comedy shows all over the Midwest, and you can also check out Ryan’s Puppet rendition of Moby Dick.
Thank you Ryan Lowe for being so awesome, and for taking to time to chat with us about comedy and “the process”!
Nick Vatterott has to be one of the more unique comedians in today’s world of comedy! Vatterott made his way onto late night appearance on shows like Fallon and Conan. He’s also aired his own Comedy Central Half Hour Special. He currently lives in New York and tours all over the country at comedy venues bringing his delightful comedy styling to the stage.
Vatterott—who will be performing at The Comedy Café with CJ Sullivan (Chicago) and local Jason Hillman—was kind enough to take some time to respond to an email conversation with Milwaukee Comedy about developing a comedic voice, life on the road, and the business side of comedy!
MC: You got your start in Chicago with a number of other notable performers in today’s comedy world—what was your experience like in Chicago? How did you begin to build your comedic voice?
Vatterott: I went up and did a new 5 minutes every week for many years. A LOT of it was stuff I can't believe I did—it was so unbearable. But when you have to do 5 new minutes every week, there was a lot of stuff that you try just to fill time, so you wind up trying stuff that's unconventional I'd say, and that was the type of stuff I enjoyed doing the most and think set a foundation for my sensibility for the absurd.
MC: You have a wide range of comedy experience including improv, sketch, and stand up. How have these comedy styles influenced your act as a comedian?
Vatterott: They all help. Improv helps you stay in the moment, get out of your head, and explore a premise on stage and know when to get out of it. Stand up has fueled my disdain for "patient" a.k.a. BORING improv. Nothing more unbearable than watching a polite "patient" improv scene where 2 people spend 10 minutes trying to figure out what the scene is about. I like to cut to what the scene is about ASAP and then explore it, heighten till it can't be heightened any more, and then get on to the next idea. Also I have had a lot of sketch that I've turned into stand up bits and vice versa.
MC: Do you think social media is an important feature to maintain a connection with your audiences? How often do you use social media to stay connected with your fans? Do you have a preference for social networking (facebook, twitter, youtube)?
Vatterott: They're all a huge waste of time. Till you get someone who comes out to a show and says, "I came because I follow you on Twitter" and you're like, "What? It actually worked? Weird." I get sort of annoyed when a tweet gets some sweet tweet heat, and then nothing happens. Like the other day I tweeted "club soda gets out stains. Add vodka and it gets out sadness". It got about hundred retweets, but almost none of those people that retweeted followed me. I felt so used, like some one-night stand with this tweet, where I wake up the next morning and there is just a note that said, "I like what you had to say last night, but not enough to include you in the ten thousand people that I follow."
MC: When you’re on the road what do you to occupy your time?
Vatterott: I’ve adopted a new addiction to pinball. It’s making a huge resurgence and I've been super nerding out about it. I even have a pinball locator app that tells me where all the pinball machines are in every town I go to. In fact because of the app, last time I was in Wisconis I got to hail a cab and said the words, "Funset Boulevard PLEASE!" It was the happiest/saddest moment of my life.
MC: What sort of activities do you enjoy doing when you perform in the cities you’re visiting for the weekend? Do you enjoy doing anything specifically in Milwaukee?
Vatterott: I love [The Safe House] I’m sure locals are over it, but I think it’s one of the coolest bars in the country. Last time I was there the people behind me got caught asking each other the password. I got in okay, got to the inside of the bar and there were the people behind me on all the tv's in the bar walking around like penguins to try to get in. I think every bar should be Spy Bar.
MC: Comedy is a tough business to break into—what sort of advice can you offer to comedians just beginning to experience the world of comedy?
Vatterott: Don't compare your path with anyone else's. So many people are super into concentrating on why they aren't farther along in their career than concentrating on their comedy. Be funny. That's the only thing you have control over. There's nothing that I've accomplished as a comedian that I could have ever designed the path it took to get there. Just be funny, it's the only thing in the business that you have any sort of control over. And be honest with yourself. I get real tired of people who I always see have just okay sets, complain why some club won't book them or why they don't have representation or blah blah cry me a forty. Dude, you've been doing the same gross dog turd joke for a year, I've never seen it do GREAT. Be aware of how well, and consistent you've been doing before worrying about getting into some festival. One word: Crush. Get on stage and leave no reason for people not to notice. I worked with a guy at a club once who struggled to get laughs all week, then at the end of the week he asked me how to get into the Montreal Comedy Festival, if I could help him get in etc.. I sorta got mad he asked. I had to clean up his mess all week, and he's more concerned about getting into some fest he's not ready for, than he was concerned about his act. He didn't change anything all week, same exact jokes, got the same mediocre responses and he never adjusted. Comedy is often more frustrating than rewarding, but do the work, write new stuff constantly, get stage time anywhere you can, don't think you're above a gig or show or open mic until you don't have the time to go to those place you don't like because you're so busy. And be honest with your self assessment. Is this the funniest these jokes can be? Am I getting as many laughs in my 5 minutes sets as I possibly can? Am I setting myself apart from the pack by either having an original point of view, style or simply just crushing harder than everyone else? Anyone I know that has great sets, eventually gets noticed. It takes longer for some than others, but anyone who does the work, is self aware, and has consistently great stand up sets; eventually someone notices and leads you into an opportunity you could have never planned for.
MC: If a comedian is considering moving into a bigger market, like LA or New York, how should he/she prepare to make that transition?
Vatterott: Get ready for 6 months of agony. For myself and anyone I've talked to, no matter how much a guns a blaz'n you think you're going to be coming to town with, you're one of probably a dozen comics that moved there just that day. After 6 months then hopefully you've met some people, you've gotten to perform and people have enjoyed your act enough to talk to you afterwords. But no matter how B.M.O.C. you were in your town, LA and NYC get big fish from small ponds every day. Time is the only way to get inundated in the big city scenes. People say "UG! I HATE networking with other comics!" It's not really networking, it’s just the natural process of people getting to know you and familiar with you and whatever. I'd also say come to these cities with scripts, TV spec, pilot, screenplay. Smaller cities are better for creativity and support, bigger cities have the opportunity. So when you sit down with that guy who says he's an agent, they often want to know what ELSE you do. Have some scripts in your back pocket, or a reel that show off your acting chops, or something to push them over the edge to want to work with you.
MC: And last question, many comedians are always striving to challenge themselves to achieve their next goal—what do you have planned for the future?
Vatterott: My next goal is to figure out the unsolved cosmic problem of Supersymmetry. Basicly Is spacetime supersymmetry realized at TeV scale? If so, what is the mechanism of supersymmetry breaking? Does supersymmetry stabilize the electroweak scale, preventing high quantum corrections? And does the lightest supersummetric particle comprise dark matter? I do think this will be quite a challenge since I know absolutely nothing about physics, nor most of the words I just said.
You can catch Nick Vatterott performance at the Comedy Café (615 E Brady Street) tonight through Saturday! Ticket and show information can be found on the Milwaukee’s Comedy Café website or call (414) 271-JOKE to make a reservation. Find more great interviews and articles from Milwaukee Comedy in our Comedy News!
Milwaukee’s getting ready to grab a beer and toss back some laughs with Austrailian Jim Jefferies! Jefferies current tour, ‘Day Streaming’, will make its way to The Pabst Theater on March 22 (Tickets here ). Milwaukee Comedy got the chance to speak with Jefferies about his experiences in our town, his current tour, and offer a bit of suggestion for aspiring comedians. Jim Jefferies has a loyal fan base dedicated to his unique and engaging style of storytelling.
“The audiences in Milwaukee have always provided me with solid shows” Jefferies’ said, “I have never had to kick anyone out or manage any disturbances during a gig in Milwaukee. They have always been very memorable and sold out shows.”
Milwaukeeans often have shared information about great brewery selections and restaurants with Jefferies to enjoy some of Milwaukee’s exceptional food and beverage culture.
“I don’t usually get much of a chance to experience the cities I’ve perform in since usually I‘m only there for one day.” Jefferies said, ”I have visited the iconic ‘Bronze Fonz’ since it has a meaningful tie to men my age.”
When asked what audiences can expect out of this tour, Jefferies’ mentioned-Day Streaming-is loosely based off the idea of “wanking it in the middle of the day” to porn on the internet. Although, this performance is not a long series of crude and outlandish masturbation material—rather Jefferies will maintain his prolific style of storytelling comedy on this tour with topics including the second amendment, religion, and material based around his television show ‘LEGIT’ as he prepares to tape his next comedy special.
Jefferies’ comedy appeals to audiences because he offers an honest scrutiny without restriction towards any subject matter he may be tackling in a particular joke. Jefferies pointed out that his comedy is often “labeled as a ‘dirty’ or ‘dark’ humored comedian”. However, he doesn’t agree with this label since his storytelling approach to comedy comes directly from his personal point of view and sensitivity towards his environment.
Milwaukee Comedy asked Jefferies about getting his start in comedy and if he could share some advice for young comedians.
“It’s a but of a crap shoot; when you get good enough, head out to New York or LA. I’ve noticed American comedians often work on their ‘tight 5’ to work towards getting a late night spot for television.”
This directly corresponds with the general identity and function of many open mic scenes. Open mics usually provide short amounts of stage time for aspiring comedians to work on material for 3-5 minutes nightly.
Jefferies had a rare opportunity when starting comedy.
“In Australia”, He said, “I started doing 40 minute sets in mining towns, so I really learned how to stretch my jokes and work on telling stories.”
He then added a tip on keeping fresh material:
“Try to write at least one new minute of material a week and that’ll give you about one new hour a year. More than half of it may be crap, but at least your giving the audiences something new to hear and a reason to come back to see you’
You can see Jim Jefferies on Saturday, March 22 at The Pabst Theater! Tickets are available now on The Pabst website. You can keep up with Jim on Facebook and Twitter. Also you can catch Jim Jefferies’ new television series ‘LEGIT’ Wednesday nights on FXX.
It’s the Holidays if you haven’t noticed! Since December is all about giving, Milwaukee Comedy is giving away prizes, give-a-ways and free stuff at every show this month! You could win some awesome swag like t-shirts, buttons, candy, even a beer or FREE tickets and more! Yippee! Free Stuff! All you have to do is see a comedy show this month at our venue, The UC!
Every show will have chances for free tickets to upcoming comedy shows or fun stuff like buttons and candy. Here is your complete guide to Free Stuff December:
Friday, Dec. 13th
7:30pm – Crouch Comedy
Candy, buttons and free tickets to comedy shows, don’t miss this show!
Saturday, Dec. 14th – Double Feature!
7:30pm – Retro Comedy Night
ANCHORMAN 2 Super special giveaway! We will have tickets to see the movie and lots of fun Anchorman 2 swag to give away!
9:00pm – Goodnight Milwaukee
Free Beer with ticket purchase OR see the show for free if you go to Retro Comedy Night!
Friday, Dec. 20th
7:30pm – Comedy Arcade Show
Get a FREE beer with each ticket purchased 21+. And who we kidding? We’ll give out some tickets too!
Friday, Dec. 27th
7:30pm – Variety Hour Happy Hour
What ever is left from this month of give-a-ways could be yours! And don’t worry, we will have some other fun stuff too like tickets to comedy shows and maybe some t-shirts.
Get tickets to any and all of our shows here: http://milwaukeecomedy.com/see-comedy/tickets/
All shows at The Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave.,
Lower Level below TJ Maxx in the Grand Ave Mall!