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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!
Inspired by the sketch comedy of Milwaukee’s broadminded Comedy and Patrick Schmitz’s semi-annual Sketch 22 and encouraged by Milwaukee Comedy Festival founder Matt Kemple, a handful of Milwaukee comedy performers formed the Sketch Marks late last year.
Sketch Marks includes individuals* recognizable from other Milwaukee comedy groups such as ComedySportz, The Improvised Musical (T.I.M.), Bye Bye Liver, The Dinner Detective, Tall Boys and Racine’s Over Our Heads Players.
After two appearances in the Comedy Arcade Show, Sketch Marks is presenting its first stand-alone show.
See Sketch Marks at 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 28, in the Arcade Theatre, at the Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., lower level.
Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 at the door.
Stop missing The Onion in Milwaukee, or at least its online offshoot, A.V. Club Milwaukee.
Because Matt Wild and Tyler Maas are starting Milwaukee Record. That's why.
According to an article in the Shepherd Express and one in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and an interview with Milwaukee Magazine, Matt and Tyler are launching their Milwaukee Record website April 7 that aims to do a lot of what A.V. Club Milwaukee did before its demise in December. Matt was the former entertainment site's editor, and Tyler a writer.
As the accompanying image attests, Milwaukee Record promises plenty of amusement, sprinkled with doses of Uecker.
If it's madness you're seeking, you needn't follow the bouncing ball of the perennial basketball tournaments.
Because our friends at the Caste of Killers Comedy Collective are causing another form of insanity through a bracket-style comedy competition at Milwaukee's Karma Bar and Grill. That's why.
March Comedy Madnesss starts at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 19, at Karma, 600 E. Ogden Ave.
That's all you need to know if you want to be in the audience. That, and $2 admission.
But if you want to compete in Milwaukee's comedy equivalent of the Big Dance, here are the rules, via Facebook:
1. You can sign up by posting that you want a spot right here in the event page, or showing up the night of the show, but you have to have your submission in before 7:00 that night. We only have 32 spots so I would suggest signing up early.
2. The match ups will be drawn out of a hat, and 2 comics will match up round by round. The winners will be judged by a combination of audience participation and 3 panel judges.
Here is a breakdown of how much time a each comedian will have:
Round of 32- 90 seconds
Round of 16- 3 minutes
Round of 8- 4 minutes
"Final Four" – 5 minutes
FINALS: 10 minutes
3. NO REPEAT JOKES or GOING OVER THE TIME LIMIT or YOU WILL BE DISQUALIFIED!
4. The losing 2 in the final four will win a hosting spot in an upcoming "Milwaukee Stand-Up Comedy Showcase" show at Karma Bar and Grill on Friday nights. The loser of the finals will win a guest spot in the show, and the winner of the entire competition will get a 15 minute feature spot!
If we had the brackets ahead of time, we'd post a copy here so you could make your March Comedy Madness picks. Our money's on Cinderella.
'Tis the third week of March, which calls to mind the green of St. Patrick's Day, the green of the Spring Equinox and the very colorful The Improvised Musical (T.I.M.).
At 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 20 (the first night of spring), the cast of improvisers, musicians and theater technicians will make up a musical and perform it in about an hour. They create the show from audience suggestions of a never-before-heard-of musical title. This month, they're encouraging fans to bring ideas involving "green" and "Irish" and drinking.
"Voted by Shepherd Express reader’s in the Top 3 Theatre Companies of Milwaukee in 2012 (along side The Rep and First Stage), T.I.M. is almost 2 years old and growing larger and larger each month. T.I.M. has developed a touring company that not only provides their live shows to live audiences both in Wisconsin and in other states, but also has taught workshops and classes for Universities.
Although T.I.M. is a completely improvised show, and will make you laugh every time you come and join in the experience, T.I.M. also goes outside of the improvised show norms and also brings drama, romance, darkness, and above all a story worth seeing!"
T.I.M. performs at ComedySportz, 420 S. 1st St. Tickets are $5 (not much green), and shows have sold out, so you can reserve yours at (414) 272-8888.
The Love of Laughter Comedy Club is offering a six-session workshop on the craft of humor.
For $35, students can learn the basics of talking funny and work toward delivering a humorous speech.
The workshop will run from 6:35 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays beginning March 27 at Herzing University, 555 South Executive Drive, one block west of Brookfield Square.
Here’s the schedule:
- March 27 – speech construction and types of humor
- April 10 – thirteen rules of humor
- April 24 – rules of speech structure and writing jokes
- May 8 – polish up your speech and how to deliver it funny
- May 22 – how to deliver a humorous speech, importance of conclusions, student speeches, class feedback and evaluations
- May 29 – where you can use humorous speeches, final speeches and evaluations
Space is limited to the first 10 people who register and pay. Contact Tom McFarlin, founder of the Love of Laughter Comedy Club, if you’re interested. Love of Laughter is an offshoot of Toastmasters and meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month at Herzing’s Brookfield site.
The previous performance of the Sketch Marks comedy troupe was the last day before winter. Now the next show of Sketch Marks is the second day of spring. Talk about fair-weather performers!
The Sketch Marks are just part of the next Comedy Arcade Show, the monthly variety show that features standup, improv and sketch talent. The first spring show is 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 21, at Milwaukee's Arcade Theatre, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., lower level.
Steve Breese will be the host.
Milwaukee Comedy also recently opened its application process for the 9th annual Milwaukee Comedy Festival, which runs Aug. 7-10. Click here for details.
Wisconsin high school basketball tournaments are a perennial sign of winter ending and spring warming up. They offer a chance to exert local pride while admiring the talent from elsewhere.
Somewhat similarly (except for the athletics and the competition and many other details), that's what Milwaukee Comedy is presenting on Friday, March 14.
The Grand Comedy Hour showcases comedy performers from three Wisconsin hotspots. Namely:
From Madison – Heather Hanford, standup.
"A manic weirdo who spent far too much of her adolescence fending off rebellious tendencies, Heather Hanford isn't necessarily equipped to handle adulthood. Comedy is her outlet for coming to terms with her transition from an awkward nerd to a smug asshole, with the hopes of bringing some sort of gratification to someone other than herself."
From Eau Claire – Glassworks Improv, aka Alex Raney, Elliot Heinz and Mack Hastings.
From their website:
"There’s a reason bands are drawn to playing with Glassworks. Like the best bands and improv groups, they bring both a frantic energy and a focused poise to every performance. Like Philip Glass (their namesake), they can find energy and new life in repetition, in variation. They walk these lines without fear, as friends. The fun that they have on stage is palpable. Yes, every performance is different, but they are linked by a common bond, one forged through years of playing together, whether as friends or as serious improvisors. It is beautiful and youthful and fragile and perfect."
From Milwaukee – Greg Bach, standup.
From Greg's website:
"I’m a comedian. I have been performing since 2007 in various formats including (but not limited to) improv, sketch comedy and standup. As a writer I have worked with the broadminded sketch group, Sketch 22 and I was a contributor to the Committee of Five political blog. I’m also a student at The Second City Training Center for Writing."
The Grand Comedy Hour is in the Arcade Theatre of the Grand Avenue mall, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., lower level. Tickets are $10 online here or $15 at the door. Go ahead. Take pride in these Wisconsin treasures. Admire their performances. Spring is right around the corner.
Milwaukee Comedy also recently opened its application process for the 9th annual Milwaukee Comedy Festival, which runs Aug. 7-10. Click here for details.
If someone asks if you want to stay in Monday night, just answer, "No Dice."
That's the name of the improvised comedy show led by Milwaukee's James Boland at the Riverwest Public House Cooperative. In No Dice, James adapts the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game to improvise audience-involved comedy. From Facebook:
"Nationally performing comedian James Boland will get some volunteers from the audience and some suggestions of Monsters and Dungeon Location for the adventure, and will then lead the volunteers through a DnD adventure based on the wacky suggestions. You don't need to know anything about DnD to have the best time ever at this."
No Dice begins begins at 7:30 p.m., Monday, March 10, at the Pub House, 815 E. Locust St. Admission is $2.
Speaking of Riverwest…
At 8:30 p.m. Monday, March 10, the weekly Comedy Show Comedy Show Open Mic showcases up-and-coming as well as established standup comedy talent. It's free, and it's at the Bremen Cafe, 901 E. Clarke St. (Arrive at 8, if you want to perform.)
Speaking of Improv…
No Dice offers a chance to enjoy and participate in improv, or you could take an intro-to-improv class presented by Milwaukee Comedy and taught by Amanda Eaton. That's at 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 10, at the Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., lower level. The two-hour workshop is $10, but you have to enroll in advance. Click here for more information.
(Coincidentally, Amanda and James both perform in the Comedy Arcade Show, 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 21, also at the Underground Collaborative. Amanda is part of Sketch Marks comedy. James is a member of the Tall Boys improv quartet, which includes Robby McGhee, Erik Koconis and Lee Rowley, who also is a member of Sketch Marks. For more information on the Comedy Arcade Show, click here.)