Monday, August 24, 2009

Tritone Open Mic Night

I hit up the semi-new open mic night at Tritone. I was mostly going because my good friend TJ wanted to pop his stand-up cherry tonight but he backed out at the last second. I am going to haunt him until he finally does it because he's a hilarious guy who is a huge comedy nerd. I think if he'd quickly become good and, more importantly, have a ton of fun doing so.

I went into tonight's open mic night just looking to fool around. I didn't prepare a set list like I usually do and I didn't really think too much of what I wanted to do. I'm starting to rewrite a lot of my material -- have an idea to use my current material and to make it more of a narrative -- but in the meantime, I'd just like to mess around on stage.

I did that tonight. I went first, which I've grown to actually like. A lot of times, I hate it because the crowd isn't warmed up and it makes it harder to get laughs. But tonight, I was really happy to do so; there weren't too many people there aside from other comedians, it's easier to get things done and to relax the rest of the night. And it also gives a good chance to cut out early if need be.

I decided to go to the old bag of tricks to start tonight, as opposed to going right into my baby powder toss. I asked the audience for a quarter. Someone gave it to me, and then I said I had to feed the meter. I waited about 30 seconds then came back and said that "it's after 8" which is the meter paying deadline in that part of town.

Then I did the beginning of my act. This was funny because no one bought into it aside from Luke and Aaron. The last time I saw those guys, Luke said something interesting about my "slamdancin'" catchphrase call/response. Other people have said it, too, but not as eloquently as Luke did. He said that he thinks it's even funnier when he's one of a few people to do the call/response because it's like his own private joke. I think that's really awesome -- the people in on the joke really get it, which makes it funnier when no one else has any idea what's going on.

So, since this place was dead, I decided to again do an Andy Kaufmann rip-off bit. I had this planned for a while but was hesitant to try it. I have four BoyzTown songs that I can sing. I tried out "1,000 Ft (2 Get 2 U)" tonight. The end of this song is a countdown from 1,000. So I kept on singing until the light came and made it to about 988.

The rest of the show was weird, as poorly attended open mic nights tend to be. My baby powder bit was mentioned at least 7 times by other performers, none of whom I really know all that well.

I came up with another idea when the show ended. I grabbed the mic from the host (he was in on it) and said I wanted to finish my song. So I started from where I left and kept on counting down for a few minutes.

I know a lot of comics don't like open mic nights in general. And, specifically, ones where no one pays any attention are particularly dreadful. I think I like these the most. At "real" shows where people pay money and stuff, I rehearse and "stay between the lines" with my material. But when no one gives a shit, why not really just go all out to see what I can get away with? Maybe something will stick.

Oh well. Good enough show. The two dudes who run it -- Jack and Tommy -- are really good dudes. Hope they continue it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bedtime Stories: The Rhythm of the Night

Last night was the monthly BEDTIME STORIES, the show I started up about 2.5 years ago.

Out of the shows we've done, this may have been the weirdest. And what I mean by that is not with the material (although we, naturally, had some great, weird stuff), but with the audience reactions.

My stuff didn't seem to get over well at all. As is the case a lot of times w/ Bedtime Stories, I couldn't prepare my material until close to deadline. Usually, I at least have a good idea of what I want to do pretty early on. But then w/ work, real life, booking acts, PR, etc., my own stuff gets pushed off until later.

Thankfully, I think I have about a 75% rate w/ my stuff at Bedtime Stories. I usually like to keep my stuff as brief as possible. And, if I have a second bit I really like, then I can bust that out as well. But my theory is that, while I host/produce BS, it's not about me. People don't pay $10 to see me act a fool. They pay to see the ensemble.

But hosting means I perform first. And that puts a lot of pressure on me -- I'm starting the show off, and if I do really well, the show almost always kicks ass. But if I don't do so well, then it's already at a handicap.

Thankfully, I've developed a bit of a formula for organizing the show. I always have Jon Goff "bat second." This is because he's awesome and, quite probably, the funniest act in Philly. (Hope I don't step on any toes, but a lot of people say the same thing.) He's the PowerPoint Comedian Master. He's also super high energy and extremely likable. Then after him, I'll have a live act -- a lot of times, I like to use this space for someone fairly new to the show, since I always try to book one act who has never done the show before. (Which is hard.) Then I try to alternate between videos and live bits -- can't have two videos back to back logistically.

Another bit I've learned is that the show could always use a "breather." By that, I mean I like to have a low-key act that breaks up the more manic-y things that usually go on. For that, I usually count on the assistance of "Little Miss" Jaime Fountaine, who performs a wonderful Catholic School Girl act. She usually reads a letter/diary entry to the crowd. It's really adorable and charming -- it doesn't get the robust laughter that a lot of other things get, but it always wins the crowd over. And, almost always, I've discovered, what goes on after her has about a 100% success rate of killing. I attribute this to Jaimie's likability and understated act; right after, something more outlandish happens and it's an awesome transition for the end of the show.

I've also had really great luck in getting a great concluding act. A few times, we've been able to pull off a "SNL Ending" where the entire cast emerges on stage, which I absolutely love doing. But you always want the last act to be one of, if not the, strongest bit of the night. Somehow, just by lucky guesses, this usually happens. Case in point: Secret Pants' "Three Minute Prom" for The Prom show; they came together with it at the last minute, were worried about it, but did what might be my favorite sketch they've ever done. It left on such a high note, it was awesome.

But back to last night's show -- I certainly didn't win the crowd over to start. Jon tried to do "AV Mad Libs" last night. It's an awesome idea and I hope he does it again -- the regulars who go to the show really enjoyed it. One stand-out video that I loved was by The Feeko Brothers, who did an act that was something that really challenged the crowd, which is my favorite style of performing. I have no idea how their video didn't kill; it was incredibly well done, spot-on and hilarious.

Charles Rosen also nearly stole the show with his performance as "Ballsack," the ex-lead singer of a punk band he grew up listening to. During the week, he asked if he could literally set himself on fire on stage. I didn't think this was the best idea safety-wise, but I'm kicking myself now about that. If he did that, and we made sure that it was safe, it would have been absolutely brilliant. But I don't want Bedtime Stories to go down as "The Great White of Alternative Comedy" either. But I think I should have let him.

But still, it was just a weird crowd. Also, there were more videos than live last night, which is logistically a pain. But the last third of the show was one of my favorite stretches we've ever done. Meg and Rob kicked things off with a video that was brilliant; lately, anytime I've seen them do videos or perform, I walk away saying, "that's the best thing they've ever done." The crowd was blown away by it.

Then afterwards was a new group called Camp Woods making their second public appearance. They had a really elaborate set that I thought might take some time to set-up, so I figured they should go next-to-last. As with any new group, it's always interesting to see how they'll perform -- first sketches tend to go over wonderfully and have a great energy to them. And they followed suit with a completely unique piece. I really loved them -- their sketch had a bit of a "twee" feel to it that juxtaposed incredibly well w/ the darkness of the bit. Also, they're completely committed and two dudes made out on stage. Just an A+ debut.

Finally, the show wrapped up w/ music guest Jose El Rey. He's a friend of mine who lives in Miami who has become pretty popular in S. Florida. I knew he was going to absolutely rule. He's a complete professional and knew how to read the crowd perfectly. He hit a home run and it was quite possibly the best single act we've ever had at the show.

Overall, I'd give the show a good B+. It wasn't going so well at first, for reasons I'll never be able to figure out. But it really clicked at the end and people left on a super high note.

If I could go back and change it, I'd do the following:

A) Have a briefer personal act, or at least rehearse the shit out of what I ended up doing.

B) Have Camp Woods go right after Jon.

C) Have Meg and Rob go right after that.

Then I think everyone else would have gone on superbly well from there. And I would have loved to have the next-to-last act be Charles setting his genitalia on fire, followed by Jose El Rey.

I'm pretty convinced if all of those changes were made, it would have come off as one of the two or three best shows yet.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Filming w/ Emily and Rob

I filmed a bit for Bedtime Stories last night w/ Emily and Rob. It's a piece called "Positive Heckling" that I hope to show on Wednesday. I'm not sure if that will happen yet because it's going to take time to edit, but we'll definitely use it.

I'm a huge fan of "reality comedy" like Sasha Baron Cohen, Jackass and the like. (But not that dumb shit with Ashton Kuchar or whatever his name is.)

I've done some stuff with it before but it has never worked out. The first time I tried was a few years back at "Match Day" which is when med students find out where they will do their residencies. I had to operate a camera AND ask questions. I learned right then that won't work. I also learned that, when you go into a reality type of thing, you have to go in with an outline in your mind how you want the bit to work. Obviously, you can't script it, but you definitely have to plan out a bit of a narrative. If you don't do that, then you just end up with a dumb home movie.

I filmed something a while back with my friend Laura and old 6B comrade Jason. This was for the "Hipsters" Bedtime Stories. Laura is a natural who is completely fearless and a lover of pranks. We came up with a plot/characters. I was a "TA" in TV production at a local college who was somewhat hip. Jason was the tech dork camera guy. And Laura was the on-air talent who was a suburban sorority girl. The assignment was to do a piece on a sub-culture outside of your social group, so I got Laura to go to a hipster bar to interview cool kids.

Laura was absolutely amazing. She had absolutely no shame asking people questions like "How are your pants so skinny? Are you a bike messenger or cocaine addict?" and "Are you going to vote for Obama? I think I'm going to because he reminds me of the guy from the Black Eyed Peas. Do you listen to them?"

People completely bought into her act and not one person batted an eye at her. The story arc of the piece was to basically expose hipster superficiality and superiority. These people were trying to be "open" but were so predictably condescending.

My favorite part -- these two girls, on camera, kept on saying to Laura "Oh, you're great! You should totally come hang out with us some more!" As soon as Laura's back was turned, they talked a ridiculous amount of shit on her.

Alas, the sound and lighting for the piece was screwed. It would have been an absolutely gold mine of comedy.

I can't wait until I finally get a reality piece together that's awesome. I think last night's stuff has potential (especially since I think Emily is the funniest person that I know); however, we filmed all of it from a moving vehicle.

We'll see.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Johnny Goodtimes' Back Yard Mon. Aug. 17

My friend Chip sent out an e-mail talking about a spur-of-the-moment open mic show in local legend Johnny Goodtimes' back yard. This was right up my alley and I was super happy to get there.

I knew all but five of the people in attendance. But it was completely loose and awesome; everyone was trying out new material and having a great time on stage.

I got up there and had to improv some stuff because there was no mic stand and I needed Johnny to hold the mic for my intro. I also talked about the many illustrious venues I've played at through my years as a famous comic -- especially an open mic night at the TGI Friday's on City Line Ave. -- and how playing in a dude's backyard was the pinnacle.

Since I knew everyone there, the whole "Slamdancin'" part got over without any problems. I then tried the hypnosis thing again. My friend Pat volunteered for it. The set-up got a good response and Pat was super awkward (which is good) when I knelt before him under his control. He ended the bit quickly but this was actually an awesome read on his part -- the bit got laughs and he reeled it back in so I could move on to the next part while in the flow.

I ended it with the slingshot again. Obviously, I can't afford to print a t-shirt and fire it into the crowd every time. Instead, I fired a "diploma" from The Greggulation Nation Community College.

I loved messing around with my material. I didn't do the "jokes" at the end, which was fine because everyone there has heard me do it 50,000 times already. But I think that, at a real show, I might be able to actually get close to doing an okay 10 minutes. Anytime I've gone that long before, it really starts to drag about halfway into the set. And now I have the slingshot which will be a pretty good ending, I think.

Boston, Mon. Aug. 3rd

I've never done my stand-up act outside of Philly. We were going up to Boston to visit our old stomping grounds. I did a show a few months back w/ some Boston folks who came to Philly. I shot one of them a Facebook message and got on his open mic schedule.

I was really eager to do this show. And, especially, I wanted to try out a new bit I've been working on in private.

I did my baby powder/intro. It didn't get the response I like and I had to yell at the audience to do the hand gesture thing. I also flubbed the timing of the "Slamdancin'" call/response part. And, since no one knew who I was there, no one knew what I was doing at all and had no trust in me.

But for some reason, I forgot to check my set-list and skipped a bunch of bits that usually work. And then I rushed too quickly into my new bit. With this, I ask an audience member to come up on stage. I talk about how hypnosis saved my life from an addiction to cough drops (which I have to work on, the set-up sucks), and I wanted to show the audience how hypnosis works. So I got someone in the crowd and, as I dangled a necklace in his face, I told the audience how I would be under HIS complete control.

I was really excited to try this out. I really like crowd participation stuff. Usually, comedy is about the comic having control over the audience. But I figured why not let the audience, at least for a few moments, have control over me? The Helium show really inspired me to see what else I could get away with on stage -- why not do something like that as a big experiment? I'm not a big fan of improv, but I really love it (and at UCB they're awesome at this) when something looks like it's completely heywire but gets reeled back in.

The set-up line got a laugh, but the guy didn't buy in at all and, in fact, was a dick on stage. The bit ended within seconds.

Also, the whole "non-stop introduction to a really anti-climactic ending" thing didn't work because of how flustered I was.

It was the worst I've performed (and not just in stand-up) in at least six months. But I still got one of the better reactions of the night. I don't think it's because my material is so insanely strong (because it certainly isn't) that if my delivery sucks it will still get laughs. A lot of the stand-ups at this night weren't so good (most likely because they're just getting started), so I think that I've performed at least a little bit and have a novelty to my act helps a lot.

I at least took some satisfaction knowing that I was about 100 times better than the asshole who did the hypnosis with me. Wow. He was horrid.

Helium, Sat. Aug. 1

I entered Helium's annual Philly's Phunniest Person contest. On my night, 15 people performed. I went going in thinking I had absolutely no chance of advancing to the semi-finals; I haven't performed stand-up for that long, and I thought the crowd was going to be more into the type of comedy I don't really like -- ethnic stereotypes, shocking language/sex jokes, etc.

But I still wanted to at least stand out for the night. I rehearsed my act a ton in the weeks ahead of time in the shower and while walking my dog. And I started to think up of other ideas to stand out. I came up with the idea of my fan club ("The Greggulation Nation") holding up signs with my "Slamdancin'" catchphrase. Then, after talked with my comic friends Dave and Aaron, we came up with an idea of a t-shirt cannon firing t-shirts with my face on it to the crowd.

That got changed a little bit; my friend Bryce made a t-shirt with the phrase "Greggulation Nation" on it. And I looked into building some sort of potato gun, but it looked way too hard for me to build, since I've never really built anything before. So that got changed into a slingshot comprised of a funnel and two bungee cords that I made with my friend Mike.

I was really nervous the day of the show and had a lot of manic energy. Being that I get like that a lot, I've learned ways to counter that when I get too up. I got to downtown really early and meditated for a while in Rittenhouse. My head became really clear and I headed to the show.

I distributed my signs and recruited Jon and Rob to join me on stage to help prompt the crowd with a few of my bits. I was really worried about time, since I have no concept of it, and if you go over the six minute time limit you would be disqualified from the contest.

I think it was actually the best I've ever performed this material. I really trimmed my set down a lot. I think the baby powder bit really worked and it got the crowd really interested. They also seemed to really buy into the catchphrase call/response part which I do second.

I also nailed something I have problems with. A few months back, I did a show my friend Luke used to run at Drexel. And I stumbled into a line where I said, "Now I'm going to tell some jokes" that got a great, unexpected response, since I had no ideas of saying it. I decided to tailor a lot of my set towards that one line -- doing almost a set of introduction until I got to that line, and then afterwards I tell a really stupid joke. (In his book, Steve Martin talks about how punchlines are simply a release of the tension created by a set-up of a joke. And he wanted to know what would happen if the release of the joke was the exact opposite of how it was usually released. It worked for him, so why not just steal that?)

But once I got to that part of the act, I realize I still had some time to kill. The 4:30 light hadn't come on yet, and I kind of froze since my bit wasn't ended yet. I started to get a "Slamdancin'" chant again since it was the first thing to came to mind, but I should have told a few other corny jokes as well.

Finally the light came on. And I set up the slingshot with Jon and Rob. I got the crowd to make some "nooooissse!" and launched a t-shirt into the crowd.

My brother (a professional comedian) came to the show. He said he loved what I did and that I actually created a bit of chaos in the crowd. I loved that he said I got that kind of response -- everyone else got the usual "if it was funny, we laughed. If it wasn't, we didn't." But I think I came off as anarchic and like I was out of control, which is awesome.

I didn't make it on to the next round, however. I was later told that I may have been disqualified because baby powder ruined at least seven drinks and one plate of nachos.

My Stand-Up Act

A little over a year ago, I decided to start doing stand-up comedy. As indicated on my appearance on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in 8th grade, I always had a dream of doing stand-up comedy. I did a few stand-up type of things in college but didn't pursue it after school since I found work in journalism, which took up nearly all of my time.

But I always wanted to do comedy. I ended up in a sketch comedy group (The Sixth Borough) and doing some storytelling/bizarre stuff at Bedtime Stories, the theme night comedy/variety show I started in Philly. But I started to meet a lot of the local stand-ups and got the bug to try that out.

I hit up a few open mic nights. I got some good reactions, but I started to like my act less and less. I was doing a really awkward act, complete with stretching routines before hand and a monotone delivery. Mostly, I was ripping off Dave Hill, who is my favorite comedian in the world.

So I started to change up my act. I wasn't sure where to go with it, but then one day while watching hoops I saw LeBron James do his traditional pre-game ritual of tossing baby powder in the air. I thought that would be a great way to start my act, since I couldn't remember anyone else doing anything like that.

I am actually one of the few people with good comedy tastes who enjoys the work of Dane Cook. His material is pretty bleh, but I love the way he moves on stage. And I also read Steve Martin's awesome "Born Standing Up," which talks about his stand-up career. I took from the book that Steve Martin wanted to try to do the exact opposite of what everyone else was doing.

I know a ton of amazing stand-up comics here in Philly. And there's no way I could do what they do in terms of observational comedy and things like that. So, I figured that for me to stand out, I'd have to try and do the exact opposite of what a lot of other people were doing.

So why not ape an act like Dane Cook's? He has catchphrases, hand gestures and crowds yelling punchlines of his jokes at him. I don't know anyone else who has any of that, so why not develop something around that?

So, I developed the persona of "The Greggulator" (my self-inflicted and unfortunate nickname in college). I thought it would be funny to see some guy no one has ever heard of at some open mic acting like he has a fan club and a popular catchphrase/hand gesture combination.

And that's where it stands.
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