The 9th annual Milwaukee Comedy Festival has crossed the road. It is hysterical history. However, we have collected spontaneous exhibitions of comedy from some of the dozens of performers and comedian volunteers who participated in Wisconsin’s largest comedy event. Because it has become our tradition. That’s why.
This year, we handed folks a rubber chicken and asked for a brief comedy bit.
Among the contributors to the video above are:
- Ryan Lowe
- Jon Waldbauer
- Patrick Schmitz
- Becca Segal
- Miguel Browne
- Kristin Althoff
- Keenan Gibson
- Jason Hillman
- Mary Zee
- Hakim Collins
- Amanda Sinko
- James Boland
On the third episode of the Milwaukee Comedy Podcast, Greg sits down with local and national comedian Johnny Beehner, talking comedy, an amazing family charity and the perils in working for a company that destroyed America. If you’re an up and coming standup, Johnny gives some tips and talks about his experience with bookers.
Thanks for listening and enjoy!!
We gotta say thanks to the brains and brawn of the podcast: comedian Greg Bach! Check out gregbach.com for his upcoming comedy shenanigans!
Moving right along into the second recorded podcast for Milwaukee Comedy with host Greg Bach! This one is chock full of fun – so fun it available to you in two parts!
Greg Interviews the Lone Wolf of comedy – Ryan Lowe (Part 2)
We gotta say thanks to the brains and brawn of the podcast: comedian Greg Bach! Check out gregbach.com for his upcoming comedy shenanigans!
It’s simple. Do what you love because you love doing it. Keep doing what you love, even if you’re not making money or gaining fame. The simple desire to pursue something based on passion and enjoyment can lead you to greater places, but it will always make you feel greater no matter where you end up.
Kyle Kinane is doing what he enjoys and he’s made his enjoyment into a job. Comedy is a profession of passion because many of the individuals pursuing a career in entertainment will continue to absorb any opportunity—regardless of where it may take someone. It’s better to focus on building the quality of your efforts rather than worrying about success. The reality of success is achieving happiness—and if greater opportunities come forth, well, that’s cool too.
This is exactly how Milwaukee Comedy was created and why it continues to exist today. We’re devoted to create a community for comedians and comedy lovers to connect and share a similar passion for comedy. Our interview with Kyle was definitely a refreshing reminder of where we began; where we are; and where we’re going!
Milwaukee Comedy: You’re a comedian that rolls off the tongue of many comedy fans and aspiring young comedians. Lots of people follow your career closely, but what do you do when you’re not on stage? Enjoying an active lifestyle helps generate more to talk about on stage—what are things you’ve done to maintain your creative process?
Kyle Kinane: Oof, the creative process. I don't know what that is. I just try to say "yes" to as many things as possible. It's not a creative process as much as it's just a more interesting way to live life. And if the byproduct happens to be some new material, then that works out. But I don't try to do stuff just for material. I think that cheapens the experience. I try to have the experience for the sake of enrichment, and then worry later if it can work on stage.
(MC): I’ve read you studied creative writing in college. Who are some of your favorite writers? Do you notice any influence they may have on your style of comedy?
(KK): My favorite writer is Poe Ballantine. I don't know if he's influenced my comedy, but his nonfiction writing isn't of any epic tale–just a guy wandering through a mundane existence but communicating his feelings on in beautiful. So I guess that's the influence–any random day can be beautiful, or comedic, or emotional.
(MC): When you’re working on your new material how do you typically go about creating it? Do you write it out; walk around and go other it in your head? Talk to strangers?
(KK): I just take the idea on the stage, ramble around with it, and try to remember which parts people laugh at.
(MC): How much of your off stage time goes into pushing your comedy career to the next level? How would you explain and define the balance between creating new content and the business aspects of comedy?
(KK): Standup is my job. Everything else (voice over, writing, etc) is a bonus side job that came from comedy. But standup brought me to this dance, so that's what I'll fret over more than anything else. The only way I really try to push my "career" is to be as good as I can at standup. I don't stress the business stuff too much. I have agents and managers and various handlers who all get a cut of my income. So it's their business to worry about that stuff.
(MC): You’re currently on The Great, Plain Tour working some clubs and bars…these short road tours are growing in popularity; they resemble van tours local bands would book. Can you tell us a little bit about this current tour and the influence behind it?
(KK)—The past few years I've been doing driving tours. All the bands I admired did it this way. And I wanted to start playing venues other than just comedy clubs.
(MC): What do you think of the current state of comedy in our culture? Do you think it’s become an art form that more people try to relate with similar to music?
(KK): Bearded white dudes talking about midnight pizza will soon become the rolled up blazer sleeves talking about the in-laws. I see the dirt coming down on my casket soon. But there's still a bunch of people who are doing standup because they want to be good at standup. As long as that's going on, it won't go away.
(MC): You’re originally from Chicago—did you venture into Milwaukee for comedy when you lived in Illinois? Is there anything you are particularly excited to visit or experience when you’re back in Milwaukee?
(KK): I'd been up there once or twice for comedy, yes. I'm sure it's touristy and old hat for the locals, but I always enjoy the Safe House.
(MC): When you decided to head to a bigger comedy market how did you make that decision? Did you plan it out or just go for it with whatever means you had at the time?
(KK): I didn't decide. I just do the jokes. If enough people like the jokes that I need to move to a bigger venue, cool. But I don't seek it out. It's quality control. I just try and to the best job I can and let the market dictate the next move.
(MC): Most people would classify comedy as an unconventional career choice…can you reflect on your experiences of letting people know you were pursuing a career in comedy?
(KK): I was never pursuing it. It was the thing I was going to do, no matter what, because it kept me from sinking into suburban Midwest depression. If I got money from it—great. If I didn't, fine. This has gone farther than I could've ever imagined.
(MC): And for the last, and most typical questions—what sort of advice would you offer a new comedian looking for some advice? Also, what was a piece of advice you received that helped you early in your career?
(KK): When people ask, all I ask is "Do you love standup enough to do it for free forever?" That's it. Because that's what's going to happen. You're going to do it for free for a long time. It's not a career. It's an obsession with a puzzle that can never be completed.
This show will also have local support from comedian and producer of The Goodnight Milwaukee Show–Jake Kornely!
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.
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.
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!