Some mornings you just want to get up and perform a little Shakespeare in the Park. This is Bottom’s “Dream Speech” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a show I did in college.
I find that the best way to find comedy material is to catch things I find myself reacting to whether in conversation with others, conversations with myself, or even emails I write. I have a series of questions below to help you remember things that had an impact. I’m sure if you have an intense reaction to anything in your day you can make it funny. How? Write about it for ten minutes or talk about it for five. It might not be hilarious, but it might open the door to a few laughs. You might want to try writing and or talking about any of the below topics to yourself as well as to a friend (i.e. have a conversation or maybe even write a letter). I find the comedic voice comes out best when communicating.
- What made you angry today?
- Who was rude to you today?
- Who was nice to you today?
- Who was an asshole?
- Does bad language bother you? Why?
- Or if not, why is your mouth so filthy?
- What did you see today?
- Did you learn something new? If yes, tell the rest of us. If no, what were you doing all day?
- What would you have liked to say today that you didn’t have the chance?
- Did you start the day being excited about anything?
- Did you have any memorable conversations?
- How do you feel and why?
- Who are your enemies and how do you fight them?
- Did anybody catch your eye today?
- Did you talk to them? What did they say?
- Did you see anyone that looked really ugly? What made them ugly?
- Did you talk to yourself in the mirror today?
- Did you have any conversations that really bothered you?
- Did you have any conversations that got you so excited you couldn’t shut up?
- Describe the state of the world today in no more than three sentences.
- Who did something stupid today?
- Who did something amazing today?
- Who impressed you?
- Who disappointed you?
- What went flawlessly today?
- What ruined your day?
- What saved your day?
- Any songs stuck in your head?
- Any people stuck in your head?
- Any pieces of dialogue stuck in your head?
- Read anything that bothered you?
- Did you say “oh shit” at any point during the day? What was it in reference to?
I don’t know much about stand-up comedy, but I’ve been circling open-mics long enough to offer anyone interested some tips for beginners.
First of all, if you’re reading this. I bet you’re wondering if you should sign up for a stand-up comedy class. My advice? Don’t. Save your money for recording your first album, taking a bus to your first gig, or eating a decent meal and just go to open mics.
First of all if you don’t know what an open mic is: An open mic is a comedy show where comedians sign up and perform. Usually everyone has around five minutes. They’re usually at bars, restaurants, odd hours at comedy clubs, coffee houses, and sometimes black box theaters. Open mics can come in many flavors: open mics for comedians, open mics for poets, open mics for musicians, or a mixture of all three. Each one is run differently in terms of getting on the list to perform. Some open mics you can show up 90 minutes, an hour, or a half hour ahead of time to get on a list. Generally, the more popular an open mic, the earlier you have to arrive to sign up for a “decent” spot. Some open mics you can just email to get on the list. And there are open mics where you show up fifteen minutes early and put your name into a lottery to perform, not knowing when or even if you’ll hit the stage. Sometimes you’ll have to pay a cover charge (something like $5) to perform at an open mic, sometimes you’ll have to pay a cover charge and be required to buy a drink, sometimes you’ll just have to buy a drink (water, soda, beer–all usually around $5), and sometimes it’ll be completely free.
A note about drink prices: A lot of restaurants and bars have open mics to drum up business and the 1 drink minimum just makes it worthwhile for the establishment to have a comedy night. While the beer prices might be on the reasonable side ($4-5), if you order a soda or bottle of water don’t be surprised to also be paying $4-5. I’d advise against complaining about these high drink prices because it’s also buying stage time, it’s cheaper than a comedy class, and its the only reason the place is open to having you perform. Plus, it’s never good to be on a bartender’s bad side. I’ve never seen an argument over drink prices end well. And also, it’s general practice to tip the bartender a dollar for any drink. Hey. who knows, get in good enough with a bartender maybe he or she will let you use the space for a comedy show of your own.
New York vs. Los Angeles
In New York most of the open mics I went to charged both the cover charge and a drink. Often times part of the cover charge went to a raffle (something like 1 prize of $40 and 1 prize of $20) to keep comedians around for the whole show. I thought this worked well, but also meant each open mic could put you back $10. I also noticed the trend in New York was to email ahead of time to get on the list. Then a couple days before the show, the list would be emailed out. Most places also had a couple stand-by spots that you could sign up for right before the show, but they weren’t guarantees. This wasn’t the case for all open mics in NYC, but to me it seemed to be the trend when I was there (back in the day).
In Los Angeles, a lot of the mics tend to involve either signing up an hour (or more) ahead of time or adding your name into a lottery a half hour or fifteen minutes ahead of time. I haven’t seen that many cover charges and usually just have to buy a drink (or other item depending on the menu). I have to confess I tend to only frequent open mics at The Hollywood Hotel, just because I can take the L.A. Subway and don’t have to worry about parking (and it’s a fun place). There’s a lot more out there, so my knowledge of the L.A. scene is limited.
Where do I find a list of open mics?
Badslava.com has an extensive list of open mics for both comedians and musicians all around the country. I find the reviews to be helpful, but aren’t 100% accurate. One bad night can result in quite an animated review.
In Los Angeles, I find this site offers a helpful list of open mics: www.thecomedybureau.com although Badslava also works well for L.A.
What should I prepare for an open-mic?
You should prepare around five minutes of material. For me, I notice this generally works out to 4 or 5 bits. If you don’t know what a bit is, it’s like a group of jokes on a similar theme, funny story, impression, or brief character. Sometimes bits can be longer than five minutes, although starting out for me they usually run 1-2 minutes. Some examples of famous bits include Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘You Might Be A Redneck’ jokes, Jerry Seinfeld comparing a job interview to a blind date, or Lewis Black talking about the weather in Minnesota.
Some people like to perform their material fresh on the stage, but I’d recommend rehearsing a couple times so you won’t be at a loss for words, although you can sometimes come up with some gems when you’re speechless. Don’t worry about bringing notes or a “set list” (a list of titles of your jokes) with you onstage. At open mics, that’s allowed and very common. Although, I tend to feel more confident and perform better if I don’t bring any notes with me. I think communication skills are enhanced when retrieving information from your brain as opposed to a piece of paper.
Should I try a joke I just thought of right before I go onstage?
Yes. These are often my best jokes. That’s what open mics are for, trying new material and polishing old material.
Are there crazy people at open mics?
Yes. But take a look in the mirror. Seriously, this seems to be a big fear. But I wouldn’t sweat it. Most people go to open mics to work on performing stand-up, those who use it as therapy or an outlet for whatever storms rip apart their souls are in the minority.
Wait open mics sound like just audiences of comedians, will they laugh at me?
Comedians seem to a lot tougher than performing for an audience of “normal” people, but they will laugh. Some people think if you can make an audience of comedians laugh than you have a solid bit. But sometimes comedians laugh at things other audiences would be offended by. Each open mic audience is different. Sometimes “normal” people show up. You’ll be held in high esteem if you set relatively close to the stage and laugh at others.
How do I know when to stop talking on stage?
Usually a minute before your time is up the host will flash a light at you. In today’s day and age, the light usually comes in the form of an iPhone being waved. If you continue longer than anticipated, the host will keep waving the phone and slowly approach the stage. Since there are 20 or more people waiting to perform, it’s best to stick to the time guidelines.
What bad things can happen at an open mic?
- People will talk during your set. Don’t be offended. Remember the audience is mostly comedians, many who spend a lot of time at these things and see this as an opportunity to socialize, critique sets, or chat with the bartender. If people are talking really loud, the host usually says something. But if it doesn’t stop, it’s good practice to work on performing through a distraction.
- Nobody will laugh. It seemed funny when you rehearsed in the bathroom, what the hell happened? Be prepared to get no reaction whatsoever. If you think performing over people talking is rough, try performing over silence. It’s extremely distracting and can cause you to forget jokes, falling into a pit of stammering apologies. But, hey, at least people are paying attention. You know why people are afraid of public speaking? This is it, this is bombing. Getting used to bombing will definitely help you get over any fears of performing comedy. It might help to look at it this way, everyone at an open mic has bombed or else they wouldn’t be at an open mic. Welcome to the club. Just keep your cool, stick to your act, and the five minutes will soon be over.
- You’ll be in the bathroom when you’re name is called. Or they just skipped your name on the list. Whoops! Just quietly approach the host and politely inform them what happened. Most people will be cool with popping you back in the list.
- You’ll forget your jokes. Bring your notes onstage. Write your set list on your hand. Ask the audience questions. Sometimes there’s a reason you forgot a joke.
- The mic stand will break. This happens all the time. Just hold on to the mic and if you don’t know where to put it when you’re done, wait for the host to get to the stage. If it breaks during your set, make a joke about it or at least acknowledge it. From the audience’s perspective if something goes wrong and the person onstage doesn’t address the dilemma, the dilemma becomes more distracting.
- The mic will stop working. A lot of these old microphones have connections that are a little on the loose side. Sometimes you just need to push the wire back into the microphone. If the mic goes out and there’s no solution in sight, ask the host or anyone for help. Maybe the space is small enough for you to just project your voice. Either way, just address the problem and the audience will go along with you.
- None of the other comedians will talk to you. This might not be a bad thing. I generally have a hard time socializing at open mics and think this is a real weakness of mine. First, don’t be offended if people don’t approach you. It’s not a dance. While many comedians are never short of words on stage, some of them are quite shy off stage. If you want to connect with other comedians, be proactive: congratulate them on their sets “great set, man!” or ask them what other open mics they go to and if they have any shows coming up. Then do what I do, friend them on Facebook and never acknowledge them again. You could also bring a pal or two with you.
- You won’t know where to sign-up. It’s a safe bet you can sign up with the bartender. But otherwise just ask anybody in glasses clutching a spiral notebook.
- Everyone will leave before I get onstage. I notice this more in L.A. where the open mics tend to be longer than NYC. Some comedians will arrive shortly before their slot then leave shortly after. While others are little more generous, hardly anyone besides the host and the bartender stays for all 3 plus hours. In New York, I noticed open mics would do a cash raffle at the end of the show to keep the starving comedians in their seats. I’d say expect at least three people paying attention to you with an equal amount buzzing around during your set. Yes, many times there will be more people, but it’s a game of low expectations. If you find a good open mic you might be performing to a full house.
What should I work at an open mic?
- New material
- Polishing old material
- Getting comfortable (confident) on stage
- Keeping your cool while bombing
- Keeping your cool while being distracted
- Talking with the audience
- Being ‘present’ with your material as opposed to simply reciting it
- Socializing with other comedians
- Developing a solid 5 minute set
- Recording a video of a solid 5 minute set you could show people who book shows
Stand-Up Comedy Classes
If your still set on taking a stand-up comedy class, there are benefits but I’d say the main ones are:
- Being held to a schedule of writing material
- Networking with other students/comedians
- And depending on your teacher, learning a good technique (which may or may not be the best technique for your voice) of generating material
I went to a theater show last night which was great but I have to complain about all the crap the audience left by their seats. If a showcase, put together by hard working folks, offers you free (you don’t know how hard it is for me to refrain from typing in caps right now) food, wine, and water, why not clean up after yourself?
I wasn’t even involved in the show but somebody has to speak up against today’s lazy, zombie audiences. There were half-eaten burritos on the floor, a wine spill the size of an adult raccoon, cups scattered as if they had legs to carry themselves home, napkins everywhere except on the wine spill, empty beer bottles callously separated from the empty souls that created them, and programs (which aren’t cheap) strewn about like cigarette butts at a Phish concert.
Why do people do this? Most shows I’ve cleaned up after have a ridiculous amount of trash, even when a trash can is by the door on the way out. Movie theaters are worse. People just leave all their crap by their seats, overturned popcorn buckets and soda cup husks, confident that the cost of admission relieves them from personal responsibilty.
Does anybody else see the ramifications of this entitlement to litter? Are we that lazy? Do we expect others to clean up after ourselves? Can we work with each other instead of having a phony sense that others should work for us? Is littering cool if everyone else does it? When do the adults show up?
I have littered countless times in the past, but I’m just now getting that trash is a responsibility. We dispose of so much, why do we expect others to deal with it? It’s just us here. Sure people have jobs to pick up trash, but that doesn’t make them our babysitters. Am I nuts? Is it too much to ask for everyone to take responsibility for their own garbage?
Do you want to make a comedy album? Are you just staring at your computer, microphone, joke book, and list of album titles but have no idea what to do next? Well, I just finished making a comedy album myself. I wrote, recorded, edited, and produced live stand-up as well as “studio” recorded audio sketches. If you’re interested in putting together an album yourself, I think you can do it. Sure producing a show, polishing your material, and editing an album can be intimidating, but let me put you at ease with what I learned.
Now, there’s no one way to make an album. With free audio editing software (Audacity), a little bit of patience as you use Google and YouTube to teach yourself editing, a hundred dollar mic, and someone who knows how to plug a soundboard feed into a laptop, and maybe some blankets to make a home sound booth you could bang out a low-frills album. I made a couple upgrades to that set-up, here are my tips:
1. Decide you want to make a comedy album.
My brain shoots out ideas like buckshot: stand-up bits, sketch ideas, kooky characters. Having done improv, sketch, and stand-up over the last several years, I felt that creatively I had a lot of loose ends. Most creative types I know have a common problem: lack of focus. Grouping everything into one goal was really liberating and made me more relaxed. But maybe you want to make a movie or write a novel.
Here’s why I wanted to make a comedy album out of all my zany ideas:
- I’ve always been a fan of podcasts, audio books, comedy albums, and radio sketches.
- Audio is easy to enjoy, you can do something else while listening (commuting, wasting away the hours at your boring temp job, scouring pots, playing with the cat).
- It’s easier to record yourself playing multiple characters on audio than on video.
- Sound effects are cool.
- Live Stand-Up seems more intimate recorded as audio compared to watching some awkward man walk back and forth on stage.
- Making a movie would take like a year or something (Whoops! That’s how long my album took).
2. Raise support for your project.
Whether just spreading the word to all your friends to gather a little moral support, asking for money, or both–telling people about your project will help define what exactly you want to do.
3. Gather material.
- I put together 45 minutes of stand-up for my “live recordings.” Overall, I had around an hour of stand-up bits (not all of them gems) from doing open mics for around a year and a half. Having more than you need will help you in the editing phase, but don’t overdo it. There’s nothing better than recording a tight set.
- For the “studio recorded sketches,” I went through my files checking out sketches I wrote for old National Sketch Writing Months, sketch writing classes, and old shows/videos. I also wrote a few new ones and improvised a couple while recording.
- Hit the open mics, comedy shows, and whatever other outlet you have. Record your sets. You might notice some sets work better in five minute sets as opposed to part of a 45 minute show. I sure did.
- Don’t think you have enough stage experience to make a comedian album? Neither did Bob Newhart but the Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart was a huge success in the early 1960s.
4. Gather Equipment
Recording live stand-up and making a studio at home to record things requires a few items. Some don’t have much flexibility (microphone) and some you can get a little creative (Sound Booths).
If you’re shopping around and reading reviews of mics, interfaces, recorders, etc. you’ll notice the overall consensus is the more expensive the better the quality. I bought a couple mics on the “low-end” of quality and they each ran about $100-$200. If you record in a space that already has a recording set-up or have a pal, I’d make use of some friendly favors. If you’re new to audio, don’t be intimidated. You might want to start off by noticing the brand-name of mics at open mics and listening to how they sound. For “studio recorded sketches,” you might want to check out some podcasts. If you hear one with a good sound, ask the podcaster about their mic and set up.
Eqipment for Recording Live Stand-Up:
- Stage Mic (I used a Shure SM58 which could also double as a studio mic for the budget conscious). You can probably get a bargain SM58 on Craigslist. I chose the SM58 because I had heard it was a good, durable mic.
- Windscreen/Pop Filter for stage mic to reduce loud popping sounds from plosives (The SM58 has a metal windscreen as part of the mic, but I noticed I was still popping plosives, so I put another screen over it).
- 2 (or more) Mics on the audience. I used a couple of condenser mics.
- Multitrack recorder (I used a BOSS BR-800) to record the stage mic and audience mic as separate tracks. This item is very important, recording the different mics on different tracks will produce a better recording and give you much more flexibility when editing. You may be tempted just to record straight on to your laptop. You could use a line from the soundboard for the stage mic, a USB interface such as the M-Audio Mobilepre hooked up to audience mics, and an audio editing program such as Audacity to record the whole show. But what happens if your computer crashes? What happens if your computer crashes during your best joke? What if you’re only recording one show?! I say use a device dedicated to recording.
- Monitor head phones – Whoever does the actual recording needs to have a decent pair of over the ear headphones. These also come in handy during editing. This is the set I got: Audio-Technica ATH-M30. They work great and are much more comfortable than earbuds.
- Extra Cables and adapters – XLR cables for the mics and RCA stereo cables, 1/4 inch stereo cables, and miniplug (3.5 mm) cables and adapters for connecting to pre-amps and multitrack recorder. Possible adapters include miniplug (3.5 mm) to 1/4 inch for headphones to your multitrack recorder, 1/4 inch to RCA stereo plugs for connecting soundboards, pre-amps, and whatever else you got. Figure out the equipment you’re going to use, then get the cables. There’s a million ways to connect everything.
- Mic Stand – Most venues will have one of these and they’re fairly easy to find in stores, on the internet, and even on the curb when people throw away their dreams.
- Bottle of Water – Take a sip of water during your show. I forgot to do this and started to sound like a parched chain smoking Tina Yothers by the end of my set.
- Portable Recorder to record open mic sets and to use in home “studio” recording. I used a Zoom H4N. The Zoom H4N also works as a multitrack recorder. In theory you should be able to hook a mic via a stereo miniplug jack and two xlr-1/4 inch jacks. I couldn’t get the miniplug jack or the 1/4 inch jacks to work right for this purpose. But the Zoom has two great condenser mics that could work if you just plugged the stage mic into one of the XLR jacks (it might be a tight squeeze).
Equipment for Recording ”Studio” Sketches:
- 1 or More Condenser Mics (depending on whether you’ll be recording with other performers)
I mostly used an AT3035 condenser mic but I also got a used AT2020 for back-up (it was missing the shock mount, so I got a Samson SP01 Spider Mount which worked fine for both the AT3035 or AT2020). Eeveryone told me condensers are better for recording the voice. Condensers are very sensitive to ambient sounds and probably won’t be good for live performance and recording out of a sound booth.
- A Sound Booth
- Your booth doesn’t have to eliminate all outside sound, but should eliminate any reverb or any other indicators that your recording in a room. I used two “booths”, Sound Booth 1, a mattress fort, and Sound Booth 2, a closet with a bunch of blankets lining the walls. You’ll find various (many hilarious) tutorials on how to build sound booths on the web. Use your imagination. Couch cushions and blankets might do the job. You probably already have stuff at home that you can repurpose to make the walls a little softer so the sound doesn’t bounce off as hard. The type of sound booth you need might also depend on what kind of microphone you use. Expensive condenser mics can pick up a lot of room noise, whereas dynamic mics like the popular SM58 are a little more focussed.
- Here are the sound booths I made:
- 5 Twin Mattresses/box springs/bed sized pieces of wood or foam
- 4 mattresses/similar items made 4 walls
- Drape a fleece blanket over the top
- Plop the fifth bed shaped item on top as a roof
- Place another blanket on the “roof”
- Hang a comforter or blanket against the “walls”
- Hang a light. I used one of those utility lights with a clamp.
- Fleece Blankets
- Clamps to hold together blankets and mattresses if need be.
- Extension cord
- mic stand
Sound Booth 2
- Find a closet, preferably one in the middle of a floor, not near stairs or windows.
- Hang a a series of blankets until all walls are covered with blankets
- I tied a bunch of extenstion cords around the closet, via coat hangers that were on the wall, and hung the blankets with clothespins and clamps.
- Put a piece of carpeting on the floor
- You might need some kind of soft material dampen reverb from the ceiling. I clamped a stretched out towel overhead, kind of like a second roof.
Other Sound Booth Ideas:
- A closet full of clothes can muffle the reverb of walls as well as dampen any outside noise.
- The inside of a parked car – The soft interior of a car can also make a good sound and keep out unwanted noise.
- Just record from under a blanket – The cheapest and easiest solution, just find a nice fluffy comforter.
- I’ve heard some people like the Port-a-Booth, essentially a box in which you stick your head an microphone.
5. How to record your live Stand-Up Show
- Rent a space to record – I used UNDER St. Marks, a black box theater that was in the basement of a building. For recording a live show you want some ambient sounds to give it that “comedy club” feel, but I was looking for a space without any noise from other shows, loud music next door, and bar patrons playing pool.
- Recruit an audience – When does it get easy? I emailed everyone I knew individually, gave away tickets, free drinks, and flyered on the street. I was skeptical about flyering but it brought in two people who laughed (before they left half way through). I think a shotgun blast of strategies works best for gathering an audience. It probably pays to hire someone to promote your show. And remember you’re not trying to make money from show tickets, you want people laughing on your comedy album.
- Hire a crew – What better way to guarantee an audience than to have a large crew? That was my theory. I had an audio tech to record the show, a stage manager to communicate to me when to start the show, someone working box office, a videographer, and a fire guard (required by the theater).
- Book a host and another act - Not only will having other performers give your show a little polish, maybe they’ll draw an audience. However, don’t let your show go too long. People don’t really laugh as much after 90 minutes.
- Get comfortable with your set – Don’t overdo it, but get it on its legs before you record.
- Practice using the microphone that you are planning to record the show(s) – Get a feel for how far you need to hold the mic to get a good sound, if plosives pop, and if the connection goes in and out (as do many old comedy club mics).
- Record more than one show.
- Record in stereo, using a multi-track recorder: use one track for the stage mic, and two tracks on the audience. I mentioned this above but it can really make your recording sound nice if all the mics are on separate tracks and not mixed on the spot.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I reveal my editing secrets and more! Have any questions? Feel free to drop a comment below. If you want to check out my finished album, ALL THAT IS HOLY, check it out here.
With the success of the Avengers taking the country by storm, I thought I’d share the two audition tapes I submitted: one for Dr. Bruce Banner and another for Giant-Man. I guess the Avengers movies was too big for Giant-Man. Perhaps you’ll see me in the sequel?
I’m starting this story in what I hope to be close to the end, but it might also be the middle, or much to my chagrin, nearing the finale of the first chapter.
One day, I checked out kickstarter.com after I kept hearing people talk about how it was a great way to fund projects. There were all the fun things people were raising money to produce. I wanted to make something too! There were a lot of short films, movies, Fringe Festival shows, and novels. I wanted to do something different. I had been doing open mics for around a year or more. I had been doing improv and sketch for quite a bit more than that. I had a bunch of audio equipment that I had been gathering for some sort of unproduced podcast. I thought, I’ve always enjoyed listening to comedy albums, why not make one of my own? I could use some of my stand-up, sketches, and kooky characters.
A year has passed. My Kickstarter campaign* was a success, thanks to a generous conglomerate of friends, parents, and college professors. I have produced two live stand-up shows which were recorded on a multi-track recorder (thanks Bro), capturing both the stage mic and two mics on the audience which creates a cool stereo effect. I’ve also recorded a bunch of sketches, which is basically me talking to myself in a couple of make-shift home studios: one in a mattress fort on Staten Island and the other in a blanket lined closet (it dampens the echo-y sound–or reverb–of the close space) located in sunny Los Angeles. I’ve scoured the internet for low cost sound effects (thanks soundsnap.com) to dress up my sketches in some sort of cinematic soundscape. I’m getting close to completing this thing.
All that remains is the editing. And mixing.
I hate it so.
I’ve been editing and mixing (messing up) the tracks for a while. Maybe since June. In between, recording sketches, and getting adjusted to Los Angeles. I am just now starting over after I realized I didn’t know what I was doing and doing more harm than comedy. It’s not that bad, just time consuming and tedious. Basically, I was overdoing things. Adding too much compression, playing with too many plugins. I noticed this hum in one of the tracks and all my playing around had made things worse. I had meant to go back to my ”source file” which was just an edited version of the tracks before anything was “made amazing” by my self teaching a skill others take years to master. But I realized I had played with the source file I cut the clips out of before I edited them. Furthermore, my “source file” had been corrupted and huge chunks were missing (thanks, Audacity).
So now, its back to the original recordings of the two shows (and maybe the sketches–that is going to be a pain) and re-editing. It’s all part of the learning curve, but its frustrating learning the less you do and more subtly you do it, the better the result. I do think this “second pass” will make the album better. I’m noticing smoother ways to edit things than I did the first time as well as couple “hilarious gems” that I excluded. And I could always take it to a mastering house or some dude, but its fun putting it all together myself.
The big thing I am learning is that you can look at all the settings and set them according to things you read but the main tools you should use when working on audio are your ears. Which seems obvious but when you’re working with a computer screen the whole time you kind of forget which sense should remain in charge. Stay tuned!
*If you have questions on how to run a Kickstarter Campaign, feel free to ask. I’ll give this advice: A lot of people send mass e-mails. I realized that I don’t really read these when people send them to me. So, my strategy was to write up a mass e-mail blurb but I personalized each email with a note. Each email was sent individually with the program Email Merge X which I had hoped made my “campaign” seem less impersonal as 99.5% of my emails seem these days.
1:30pm: I scroll through LACasting.com searching for work. This website offers a number of typically low-budget acting work such as non-union commercials, background (or “extra work”), and independent feature films. I see a posting for a “paid audience members,” fifty bucks in cash to sit and be enthusiastic all day. It doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch from my last job at a New York City hedge fund, only this job sounds like less sitting.
4:45pm: I receive an email from the casting director asking me to confirm a couple details then receive another email telling me to call a voicemail number for instructions.
5:00pm: The secret voicemail message tells me to be in Van Nuys, CA by 8:15am, ready to go. It also tells me to look my best. No t-shirts, no jeans, no “tennis shoes.” I am told that this person doesn’t care what I’ve worn to previous jobs, I’m getting paid to look my best, this means khakis, this means an ironed shirt, this means blazer. I don’t have an iron.
5:05pm: I imagine what sort of person still uses the phrase “tennis shoes.”
5:20pm: I finally figure out where Van Nuys is. It will take an hour and fifteen to get there. Or 22 minutes by car, Google Maps tells me this will turn into 50 minutes in traffic. The voicemail instructions say that only street parking is available, which possibly means parking meters, which means at least $6 in quarters and a parking ticket if the show goes longer than expected. 50 minutes in stop and go traffic, having to find a spot on the street, and stress over parking tickets? I decide to take the train and two buses. An hour and fifteen commute doesn’t bother me after commuting from Staten Island to Manhattan for a year.
10:00pm: I go to bed to wake up at 5:00am to leave by 6:30am.
5:30am: I get up and hang my clothes in the bathroom so the steam from the shower can take out any wrinkles.
6:45am: I leave my apartment and head out for the Los Angeles Metro. Unlike New York City where you get a free transfer from bus to bus or train to bus, in Los Angeles you have to pay a fare for each transfer, $1.50. Well, you’re supposed to, it is incredibly easy to dodge paying a fair, the system involves either swiping a turnstile with your “tapcard” or holding on to a paper ticket to show the marshals who patrol the transit system. But the turnstiles will open up for you if you don’t tap (to allow people with paper tickets entry). With buses, you have to pay your fair or tap your tapcard when you enter. Since it’s a $1.50 for each leg of my trip, I buy a day pass which is $6.00, otherwise I’d pay $4.50 each way.
7:04am: My train arrives to take me to North Hollywood.
7:07am: I realize I am on the wrong train.
7:14am: I am on the correct train.
7:30am: I arrive in North Hollywood and transfer to the Orange Line. The Orange Line is my favorite public transportation line in Los Angeles so far. It’s a bus that has its own roads, like a makeshift trolley.
7:50am: I think I’m in Encino. I transfer to the final bus.
8:11am: I arrive at the studio. All the other “extras” are waiting outside in the drizzling rain. I don’t think most Angelinos own umbrellas. We stand in line and fill out our soggy paperwork.
8:12am: There are no parking meters on the street! I could have taken the car.
8:15am: People keep talking about how they thought the weather would be different in the valley.
8:30am: We are examined by security and told to leave our cell phones in our cars. My car is two buses and a train away. I tell the security I took the train.
“No trains stop out here!”
“I took the bus, the 236 bus.”
“I took the Red Line to the Orange Line to the bus on the corner over there.”
“OK, I just wanted to make sure, remove the battery from your phone. please.”
8:40am: We take our seats. The show, which I don’t think I’m allowed to name is a dating game type show. There’s a warm-up comedian who’s in charge of the audience. He keeps us occupied with jokes, games, his ipod, and free candy. It looks like a fun job. He orchestrates us with broad facial expressions, expressive hand gestures, and initiatory laughs. We are instructed to clap with our faces as well as our hands.
9:00am: The host of the show enters. He’s a pretty recognizable dude. Applause and cheers! As he gets ready, his assistant rushes to the stage with an opened can of diet soda. He takes one sip and returns the can to the assistant. She runs off. He is now ready.
9:05am: An assistant with a big solo cup walks around making everyone in the audience spit their gum in it.
9:15am: OK, when the host is speaking we can applaud enthusiastically but we can not make “Woo!” sounds, only after he finishes speaking. Are we cool?
9:30am: I notice that the host is reading lines off a teleprompter and can see the text. But I also notice that the jokes and asides he’s making aren’t in the script. If he’s just making these little bits of commentary up on the spot, he’s pretty funny.
10:00am: A woman in the audience falls asleep. The warm-up comedian employs olympic class miming to try to get her to hold her head up.
10:45am: The first episode has completed taping. A woman comes out and says she saw some of us yawning and putting our heads down. She’s going to let it go this once but if it happens again, she’s going to have to get nasty.
11:00am: We are allowed a bathroom break, but told only if its an emergency. The bathrooms are fancy portable johns in the parking lot. They have electricity and the finest plastic seats.
11:05am: When we return to our seats, the producers are shifting audience members around. Some audience are being questioned, they have been spotted talking on a cell phone and have two choices: surrender the cell phone or leave.
11:30am: I notice that when the contestants say something funny (offensive) or long winded, production stops and a producer rushes out and coaches them on what to say with whispers and broad gestures. If the audience is laughing before a take and the contestant doesn’t look too serious, the director comes on the studio mic to say, “Quiet everyone, now big ‘reality’ moment.”
11:35am: I start to wonder if the audience is fake, what’s real about the rest of the show? Are these contestants just actors trying to make a car payment? I ask the guy next to me about this, he assures me, “It’s just a show! If love happens, love happens. They check to see if they’re married or have a boyfriend or girlfriend.”
12:00pm: The host makes a joke in reference about him considering botox: “I have more lines in my face than I have in this show!”
12:30pm: We are excused for an hour. The warm-up comedian says that they have “Lunchables” for all of us, then admits he’s joking. I find a lot of my fellow castmates are heading across the street to Del Taco, which is like a cross between Taco Bell and Dairy Queen. I see a lot of people getting meals for $7-$8 which seems like a feast compared compared to how much we’re being paid and that we’re just going to be sitting all day. I splurge and get two “fat tacos” and a bottle of water for $5. The cashier goes away for five minutes to find me a bottle of water. The fat tacos are delicious.
1:30pm: We have to go through security again. I meet another dude who has his battery removed from his cell phone. I ask him if he also took the bus. He does not want to talk about it too loudly but eventually tells me that I live in a very hip part of town.
1:40pm: New seats. New episode. New hope.
3:15pm: Taping has finished.
3:30pm: We are paid in cash.
3:50pm: The bus finally arrives.
4:20pm: On the Orange Line, my theory that the most interesting things in Los Angeles happen on the bus is proven again, as I eavesdrop on a conversation about a guy from African talking about his studying for the bar. He’s a lawyer in an African country but wants to work in the U.S. He’s talking about Miranda rights, how they came from Miranda vs. Arizona. He then mentions that Arizona doesn’t like people’s rights. This peaks the interest of another guy on the bus. “Arizona? What about California? There are 33 prisons in California…” Then the conversation is alive, people started talking about police brutality, how the Hispanic and Black communities are in conflict, “If they join together, who knows what we could do?” The “33 prisons” Guy then says he had a friend who fled from police when they asked for his ID and was shot in the back. The bus then detours into Conspiracy-Land, with people accusing police of staging drive-by’s and other shenanigan’s to fuel hatred between and amongst the communities. Then a woman says we have to deal with ourselves before we confront people about outside influence.
5:00pm: I blow my salary at Ralph’s on fruit and potato chips.
Ever start an improv scene where you and your scene partner don’t quite connect and you both start a scene talking over each other? You both say something that’s totally different and you have no idea what to do next? Do you feel bad about yourself because you broke some improv rule and destroyed a scene? Don’t. Come on. There are no rules in improv. It’s making stuff up. Second, a scene that seems hopeless can always be saved with a simple solution. In this case, you can pretend that you were just talking on your cell phone, apologize to your scene partner, and ask them to repeat themselves. Boom.
Don’t forget to end the cell phone conversation.
I noticed a lot of people find my blog looking for improv tips. So, I thought I’d give a little tip here and there.
If you’re scared of having to say something in an imrpov scene… If you feel on the spot, speechless, or worried that once you open your mouth without a script it won’t close, embrace your hesitation. Don’t say anything. Experience being in a scene without saying a word and exploring other options for communication. Perhaps the other person is speaking and you’re not, how do you respond? How many times in life do you have scenes with people that don’t involve words? We spend a lot of time waiting around these days: waiting in line, waiting for the work day to end, waiting for what’s next, etc. How often do you talk when you’re waiting? How do you interact with others when you wait? If you’re not talking what are you doing? How can you establish who you are without speaking?
Enjoy the silence.