Mini Q+A with Veronica Dang

Veronica Dang is an award-winning director/actor/writer and comedian. You may have seen her on TV or teaching people about Yellow Fever at comedy clubs around NYC. Check out her webseries Subway: The Series, which is on Marie Claire’s list of “Webseries You’ll Want to Ditch Netflix for.” She also started NYC’s 1st Asian American sketch comedy team Model Majority. Their live shows have been on Timeout NY’s list of “Best Comedy Shows in NYC.” 


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

When I do standup comedy, most people feel sorry for me so they don’t heckle. But if they did, I would just say “Mom and Dad, I’m so glad you finally came to see me!”

Describe your worst gig.

I was a costumed mascot for a famous children’s cartoon character at a public park event in 90+ degree weather. I couldn’t see, had trouble breathing and moving in a large, heavy costume with big head and feet. I wasn’t allowed to talk but had to do photo ops (where adults can be a bit handsy), play tennis with two thumbs, and dance battle while baking in my own sweat all day.

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

Eat whatever you want and keep doing comedy no matter what other people say. Comedy world doesn’t need more privileged mediocre white heterosexual males with mommy issues.

What’s your first impulse when someone says “women aren’t funny?”

Walk away. I don’t need that kind of stupidity in my life.

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

The world is messed up and I need comedy to help me deal with it. It also really helps to create your own work, that’s why I make my own films which have won awards 😉 and started NYC’s first all Asian-American sketch comedy team, Model Majority.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Always be doing comedy and you won’t actually die on stage.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

Replace all minorities and women in your script with white men.

Favorite response to “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy?”

I don’t know. What is it like to be a man in comedy? It seems like a lot of dick and pedophilia “jokes.”

Feelings about the word “comedienne?”

I prefer comedian but will accept any label that indicates I’m funny and doesn’t use racial slurs or insults.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life, either recently or when you were younger?

Helped me avoid being bullied and beat up.

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

Produce your own shows/work and make friends with people who know bookers or have own shows.

What single word always cracks you up?

manamana

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian?

Not one person, but one entity. My family inspired me to be a comedian because I needed a way to complain about them without them knowing.

 

Photo via: Leslie Hassler


Veronica Dang is an award-winning director/actor/writer and comedian. You may have seen her on TV or teaching people about Yellow Fever at comedy clubs around NYC. Check out her webseries Subway: The Series, which is on Marie Claire’s list of “Webseries You’ll Want to Ditch Netflix for.” She also started NYC’s 1st Asian American sketch comedy team Model Majority. Their live shows have been on Timeout NY’s list of “Best Comedy Shows in NYC.” 

Mini Q+A with Adrianne Chalepah

Adrianne Chalepah is a standup comedian, writer, and mother of four. Raised in Kiowa/Comanche/Apache territory in Oklahoma, she began her career in entertainment at age 20. She has been honored to open for First Lady Michelle Obama and share the stage with comedy legends such as Margaret Cho, Dane Cook, and Jarrod Carmichael. She is author of Funny Girl, an anthology of women comics and writers, and founder of the all-female indigenous comedy troupe Ladies of Native Comedy. In 2019, she was featured in the Netflix series Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy. She is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.


Describe your worst gig.

Laughlin, Nevada. Old rich retirees apparently aren’t into my jokes.

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

Be unapologetically yourself.

What’s your first impulse when someone says, “women aren’t funny”?

Your mom is funny.

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

I needed it for sanity.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Do your thang.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

Wear a tutu on stage.

Favorite response to “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy”? 

I don’t know. I’m not convinced I’m a “real” woman.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Meh.

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

Network. It don’t matter how funny you are if you don’t know the right people. Unfortunately, being an introvert, this is hard to do… Good luck!

What single word always cracks you up?

Fuddruckers

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian? If so, who, why, how?

My dad. He’s a funny guy and he schooled me in film and comedy.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life?

Humor is therapeutic. I come from inter-generational trauma as an indigenous person whose ancestors survived genocide. Comedy is ingrained in us. We survived because we never forgot to laugh.

 

Photo via: Ceylon Grey


Adrianne Chalepah is a standup comedian, writer, and mother of four. Raised in Kiowa/Comanche/Apache territory in Oklahoma, she began her career in entertainment at age 20. She has been honored to open for First Lady Michelle Obama and share the stage with comedy legends such as Margaret Cho, Dane Cook, and Jarrod Carmichael. She is author of Funny Girl, an anthology of women comics and writers, and founder of the all-female indigenous comedy troupe Ladies of Native Comedy. In 2019, she was featured in the Netflix series Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy. She is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Mini Q+A with Brittani Nichols

Brittani Nichols is a writer, comedian, and actor living in Los Angeles. Words With Girls, a comedy pilot (based on the web series of the same name) that she created and starred in, was produced as part of Issa Rae’s Color Creative TV and premiered at HBO/BET’s Urbanworld Film Festival. She co-hosts Brand New Podcast with fellow witch and comedian Ariana Lenarsky. Suicide Kale, the feature she produced, wrote, and starred in, is currently available on SVOD after winning numerous awards including the Audience Award at Outfest and Newfest. Brittani has appeared on Transparent and Take My Wife and her writing credits include StrangersTake My Wife, MTV’s VMA’s and the celebrity rap battle show Drop the Mic. Brittani is currently writing for the recently announced A Black Lady Sketch Show for HBO.


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

You’re boring.

Describe your worst gig.

Every gig is terrible because I’d rather be at home.

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young (female/LGBTQI) comedian? 

Get comfortable with the discomfort of saying no to things.

What’s your first impulse when someone says “women aren’t funny”? 

I live a life in which I avoid this scenario.

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

My friends coming to shows. If you’re not funny, and your friends have self-respect, they will not repeatedly come watch you be unfunny.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

All you need is a beginning, middle, and end.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

You should be able to make everyone laugh.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life, either recently or when you were younger?

I’ve used humor as a comping mechanism since before I knew what a coping mechanism was. Being able to talk about things via jokes before I was in a place where I was willing to be vulnerable enough to talk about them plainly helped me make sense of myself, the world around me, and the things that happened to me.

What single word always cracks you up?

Whilst

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian? If so, who, why, how?

I don’t know that there was a period between wanting to be a comedian and becoming one. It was just the decision of, “Oh, this is what I’m doing now.” But Dave Chappelle was the reason I became invested in comedy and appreciated every aspect of it before I decided it’s what I would do.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

The only people I see use that word are men trying to be funny by putting it in their Twitter bios.

 

Photo via: Robin Roemer


Brittani Nichols is a writer, comedian, and actor living in Los Angeles. Words With Girls, a comedy pilot (based on the web series of the same name) that she created and starred in, was produced as part of Issa Rae’s Color Creative TV and premiered at HBO/BET’s Urbanworld Film Festival. She co-hosts Brand New Podcast with fellow witch and comedian Ariana Lenarsky. Suicide Kale, the feature she produced, wrote, and starred in, is currently available on SVOD after winning numerous awards including the Audience Award at Outfest and Newfest. Brittani has appeared on Transparent and Take My Wife and her writing credits include StrangersTake My Wife, MTV’s VMA’s and the celebrity rap battle show Drop the Mic. Brittani is currently writing for the recently announced A Black Lady Sketch Show for HBO.

How to write jokes: use our patented set of comedy “wrenches”

As you know, the punchline of a joke is the surprise. The switch, the twist. But what KIND of surprise? What direction is the twist?

 

Or, if you think of the shift from setup to punch as where the comedian throws a wrench into the joke, this is about what KIND Of wrench it is.

 

Let’s look at the most common wrenches that comedians have in their toolkits. I’m using one-liners for the clearest examples, but wrenches are at work in almost any type of joke.

 

OPPOSITE wrench.

  • Emika: “I love to inspire people [SETUP]. I also love to see them fail [PUNCH].”
  • “I believe that each person can make a difference [SETUP], but it’s so slight that there’s basically no point [PUNCH].” —Lauren Lapkus
    • These jokes go in the exact OPPOSITE direction from what you expected. (Inspirational/cynical; positive/negative)

 

WORDPLAY wrench.

  • “I got my hair highlighted [SETUP], because I felt some strands were more important than others [PUNCH].” — Mitch Hedberg
      • Hedberg takes a wrench to the word HIGHLIGHTED. Highlighting hair turns into highlighting like you do with a book. So it’s a good old fashioned wordplay wrench.
      • You could also call it an ABSURD wrench.

 

ABSURD wrench.

  • “I’m a lousy cook. I burn sushi.” —Joan Rivers
    • Rivers uses an ABSURD wrench to how just how bad a cook she is, because you don’t cook sushi in the first place.
  • You could also call this an EXAGGERATION wrench.
  • “So I met my boyfriend’s parents recently, which stressed me out. Because he’s white, so his parents are white. Hate when that happens. Why can’t it just skip a generation?” —Phoebe Robinson
    • Phoebe Robinson uses an ABSURD wrench — race can’t skip a generation — to underscore how un-psyched she is to meet her boyfriend’s white parents, and generally how stressful situations like that are. “Hate when that happens” is also absurd. He’s white because his parents are. It didn’t just “happen.”

 

EXAGGERATION wrench.

  • Sasheer Zamata, hating that women are expected to be un-hairy: “I found out that Native Americans would keep all their hair long because it helped them with battle and hunting. It made them more aware of your surrounding, and if something was coming to attack you you would feel it and sense it quicker. So if that’s the case, women—of all people—should have ALL OF THE HAIR. We’re at risk of being attacked just for walking out of our house. For safety purposes, I want to be Chewbacca-level hairy.”
    • Chewbacca is as hairy as you can get. (Also a funny word.) Women will not actually get that hairy if they don’t shave, so, exaggeration.
  • Here’s GOLD student Romaissaa on her obsession with YouTube: “I  can’t breathe air without knowing my favorite YouTuber’s opinion on breathing air.”
    • Do we think that’s actually true? No. But the exaggeration effectively illustrates her obsession.

 

UNDERSTATEMENT wrench.

  • “I broke up with my girlfriend. She moved in with another guy, and I draw the line at that.” —Garry Shandling
    • He’s using an UNDERSTATEMENT wrench because for him to “draw the line” at her OBVIOUSLY breaking up with him is a tiny reaction to a huge move. What’s great here is that he uses that understatement to make fun of himself.
    • “I don’t know if you’ve ever been sad on a roller coaster. It’s doable.” — Ryan Hamilton

 

DOUBLE DOWN wrench.

  • Thea: “I am not just a nerd [SETUP]. I am also a geek [PUNCH].”
    • You thought Thea was going to say I’m more than “just” a nerd. Instead she doubles down.
  • “I get so frustrated when people think I’m trying to look like Ellen Degeneres [SETUP]. It’s so frustrating because I’m trying so hard to look like Nick Carter [PUNCH].” —Emma Willman
    • You expect Emma to to say she’s frustrated because she’s not trying to look like anyone! But she’s like, I AM trying to look like someone. Just someone ELSE. (She’s taking the wrench to “Ellen DeGeneres” rather than “trying to look like.”)
  • “It wasn’t that no one asked me to the prom. No one would tell me where it was.” —Rita Rudner
    • You think she’s going to say…LOTS of people asked me to the prom. But then she doubles down on not being asked. They hid the entire prom from her.

 

So, when you’re writing a joke, you can look at your topic or setup and ask yourself: what kind of wrench could I throw in here? Play with different ones and see what works.

 

1. TOPIC/PREMISE. What you want to talk about…PLUS

2. ATTITUDE/EMOTION. How a person with your persona would feel about it…PLUS

3. TYPE OF JOKE. Which type of joke would best match what I want to say?

4. TYPE OF WRENCH. Which type of wrench will make the joke work best?

 

5 ways to discover your comedy persona: your unique, authentic comedic voice

They say it takes a comedian ten years to develop their comedy persona. But with the head start we’ll give you here, you can totally nail it in like eight. So what are you waiting for? Let’s go! (My comedy persona is positive, high-energy, impatient.)

 

So first let’s talk about what a comedy persona is. Then we’ll talk about how to identify yours—and what to do once you have.

 

What’s a persona?

First, here’s what it’s not. For our purposes, it’s not a “character.” Some comedians do deliberately develop fictional identities or caricatures that may or may not align with their off-stage personalities—like super-ranty Lewis Black, who is much more of a marshmallow in real life, or María Elena Velasco-Fragoso, early deliberately-dim Sarah Silverman, Maria Bamford, or Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who do stand-up as their Broad City characters.

 

If that comes naturally to you, great (and consider exploring sketch comedy and/or being YouTube-funny). But generally, that’s an advanced move because it’s actually very challenging to sustain. And what we want to get at here, first, is authenticity.

 

So a persona is not a character, it’s your character. It comes from your personality, your take, your attitude, your bearing, your point of view, your general lens on life.

 

Your persona is what makes your jokes your jokes. Anyone can write a joke about parents or dogs vs. cats or homework or taxes or gentrification or doughnuts. But only you can write a joke about your unique take on those topics.

 

Example: Take this joke from Lauren Lapkus. You can get a sense of her persona without seeing or hearing her—just by reading these 18 words:

 

“I believe that each person can make a difference. But it’s so slight that there’s basically no point.”

 

From this (superb) joke, we can surmise that her persona is perhaps cynical, maybe glass-half-empty—at any rate, not the Pollyanna peppiest.

 

Of course, neither Lauren nor you are just one thing all the time. In real life, you shift somewhat according to context and mood. Your industry-standard five minute comedy set—and your persona in general—will not be all one-note either. Not every joke will be angry, not every joke will be bubbly. You can have one pretty constant persona in one set, but lots of different attitudes and emotions can come from it.

 

Where do you find your persona?

To find your authentic comedy persona, we are going to start with your original factory settings.

 

#SPOILER: Your persona is who you already are. At least that’s where it starts.

 

This is TOTALLY NOT AS BORING AS IT SOUNDS. In fact, it is GREAT NEWS.

 

Why is this not boring? Because, nerds, we get to do some MATH! Because when you do comedy, you are not acting, but you are performing. That means your persona isn’t you just wisecracking at your locker or water cooler or Instagram, it’s you standing on stage with a mic (and, on a good day, a crowd!). So your performance persona is a slightly exaggerated version of you. Here’s the equation:  

 

PERSONA = REAL YOU x 1.3

 

And why is it great news? Well, let’s say you’re reading this thinking: “But I don’t haaaave a ‘persona’! I’m boooooring.” Guess what? Are you ready? THAT’S YOUR PERSONA.

 

I’m not saying you’re boring. I’m just saying you don’t have to work that hard, or go into analysis, to know what the kernel of your persona is. Even if it’s something you think might be negative or unappealing about you, FINE! That’s FUNNY! Don’t apologize for it or try to hide or fix it; instead, double down. Embrace it and take control of it and let that flag FLY. Own it. PWN it. That’s how BORING can become INTERESTING, say, or being a loner can be loveable, or being a downer can crack people UP.

 

OK then! What is your persona?

So let’s see. Are you cynical? Sarcastic? Shy? Super-trusting? Lazy? Nervous about everything? ANGRY ABOUT EVERYTHING? Shy? Puppy-dog positive? Generally just confused? Scornful? Tightly wound? Awkward? A rebel or rule breaker? The eternal teacher’s pet? An insider? An outsider? An outsider who only looks like an insider? A nerd? Also a geek?

 

Your goal here is to find ONE WORD that describes your persona. Maybe two words, maximum three, if one of them is a really short word.

 

If you’re not sure yet, start by answering these questions. Do them sort of quick. Don’t overthink. NOTE: If you can’t help but overthink, then perhaps OVERTHINKER is your persona!

 

1) What would be your high school yearbook superlative? As in “Most likely to…”.

 

2) Which one are you: Winner, or (and I say this with love) loser?

 

3) Fill in the blanks:

1. “Dear Diary, I wish I were less/more [BLANK].”

2. “Dear Diary, The thing I love/hate most about myself is [BLANK].”

 

4) If you were one of these comedians/comic performers, which one would you be? Not which one do you WANT to be, or which one do you most LOOK like—which one’s personality is most like yours? Don’t overthink it!

1. Janeane Garofalo

2. Ellen DeGeneres

3. Leslie Jones

4. Steve Martin

5. Joan Rivers

6. Lucille Ball

7. Margaret Cho

8. Issa Rae

9. George Carlin

10. Chris Rock

11. INSERT YOUR CHOICE HERE

5) Locate yourself on the Axis of Attitude. Are you generally positive in your attitude, calm in your presentation? Highly critical and super spazzy? Literally point to the screen to the spot on this image where you imagine yourself.

 

Top left: Ali Wong. Top right: Leslie Jones. Bottom left: Tig Notaro. Bottom right: Ellen Degeneres

OK! You should start to see some consistency emerge. If you don’t, your persona is “All over the place!” or at least “indecisive.” Voila.

 

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO. Now that you’ve chosen a word or two that capture your persona, you know that as you write and perform material, it should generally come from that place. Not rigidly or across the board, as we said above. Not every joke needs to be crafted as sarcasm, not everything you say has to come out of the mouth of a rebel or teacher’s pet. But do think of it as a lightly tinted lens that colors your jokes, or at least your overall point of view.

 

So, wearing that pretend lens like a spiffy monocle, NOW you’re ready to write some jokes or longer bits —or even to practice refining that persona on stage. Or, if your persona is CAUTIOUS, start with some exercises to get you going.

 

Did you discover your comedy persona? Even if it’s not OVERSHARER, let us know! Tweet @goldcmdy!

6 reasons why shy people are great at comedy

So many people say, “Oh, I would do comedy, but I’m too shy.

 

Sorry, but that excuse is made of NOPE. Comedians ARE shy. Why do you think they like to talk on stage, or wear giant funny mustaches? So they don’t have to talk TO PEOPLE. Carol Burnett, who describes herself as shy, has said she can perform only when she’s in character. Joan Rivers–yes, Joan Rivers—has described feeling uncomfortable chatting in real life, one on one.

 

“Even though standup and comedy seem like mediums that lend themselves to the extroverted, most comedians are actually shy or grapple with some form of social anxiety,” writes self-described shy comedian Scarlet Meyer. “Just because we have confidence on stage doesn’t mean it follows us off stage.”

 

Anthropologists at the University of New Mexico studying the evolutionary value of humor found that professional comedians are very likely to fit the definition of introvert. Makes sense when you recall that if you’re a comic, the biggest slices of the pie chart of your life are probably being (alone) on the road and writing jokes.  

 

So being shy isn’t an excuse not to do comedy. Being shy is a reason to do comedy. Comedy is about being who you are. And if who you are is shy, then shy is part of your funny.

 

More reasons why you, our shy friend in the corner, should do comedy:

 

Shy people may have more to say.

As Judy Carter says in her iconic Standup Comedy: The Book: “Most standups are very shy in their personal lives, and going on stage is a great outlet. The stage gives you an arena to vent your repressed criticisms of the world. I find that the quieter the person is offstage, the more he or she has to say onstage. Once they get the chance to be heard, my shy students are the ones I can’t get to stop talking.”

 

Shyness itself is funny.

Your comedy can be ABOUT how shy you are. Comic Daniel Simonsen, for example, says (around 7:00 here), “One of the hardest things about being shy is that you don’t have anywhere to live. Because all of the ads for [apartment] shares are for ‘outgoing’ people.”

40% of teens and adults consider themselves shy. That’s a lot of people who will directly relate to your “I’m shy” material and persona. And not come up and tell you that afterwards! HA!

 

A lot of comedy happens in your head.

“I didn’t talk to anybody in school,” says New York comedian Carly Aquilino. “Maybe I started doing comedy because I talked to myself for a really long time.” Think of comedy like a funnel: the big top part is the observing and thinking you have to do, which you then narrow down, and then—only then—do you get on stage and tell people what you’ve been thinking. The capacity to hang back and observe and cogitate can only work in your favor.

 

Shy people are super observant.

If you tend toward introversion, you may excel at empathy and reflection—both essential for writing authentic jokes that truly land. That’s because you’re both self-aware and aware of others’ vibes, and you’re also able to learn from what worked and what didn’t.

What’s more, the things you notice because you feel awkward can lead directly to nuanced, personal) jokes. “A simple reflection like, “‘Why did they make that face when I said x?’ might lead to an amazing bit about being awkward,” notes comedy and creativity coach Jared Volle, M.S. “Introverts love asking themselves these types of questions, which can be a powerful ally in their comedy career.”

 

Shy people know how to listen.

“Shy people are often gifted listeners,” write shyness experts Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D. and Philip G. Zimbardo. That means you’re more likely to be noticing what people say (or what they avoid saying) and how they say it—all of which is potential material.

This also may mean that you’re good at listening to your audience—an essential skill for connecting to the vibe in the room and the only way to perfect your sense of timing.

 

Outside your comfort zone lies comedy gold.

“A lot of comedians are very introverted, very shy, very sensitive to humiliation,” says Patton Oswalt. “The only way to combat it is to go to the one place where you are stripped bare.”

Arguably, anyone who has more at stake and more to fight in order to get up on stage is going to have more of a raw, vulnerable comedy edge. And letting yourself be vulnerable is actually the bravest, most assertive—and funniest—thing you can do.

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Vital comedy writing exercises to get you started

Heard the one about how sitting still will kill you? The same is true of comedy. In comedy as in life, exercise is vital. Repetition, frequent workouts, even a little sweat: they will all keep your comedy healthy and your head in the game. Whether you want to do standup, become a comedy writer, or just be 30% funnier in general, comedy exercises are key for generating original ideas and finding the funny in them. They’re not just for noobs; pros do them too. (Jerry Seinfeld, famously, wrote something every single day.) But they are essential to getting started. Here, friends of GOLD and other skilled comedy coaches share their favorite exercises for getting yourself into comedy shape. Just please make sure to get up and walk around every 20 minutes, k?

Prompts

This one is a classic. (We use it as homework before our workshops). It’s the perfect starting place because it helps you not just churn out random detached jokey-jokes that anyone could write, but jokes that could come only from you.

Fill in answers to the following:

I hate…

I love…

I’m annoyed by…

The best is when…

I’m proud that…

I’m terrified of…

I’m embarrassed by…

I’m obsessed with…

You should totally be my friend because…

  1. Round 1: Don’t try to be funny. Don’t overthink. Be truthful. One-word answers are fine, to start. You can list as many responses as you want for each prompt, and you can skip any that don’t inspire. (Bonus: If you happen to gravitate more toward one “mood” of prompt—negative vs. positive, mainly—you may start to get a sense of your natural comedy voice or persona.)
  2. Round 2: If you haven’t already, go back and add “because…”.
  3. Extra credit: Switch them up. Move the things you love to things you hate, and so on. Be sure to add the “because.” See how sarcasm serves you.
  4. Extra-extra credit: Pick one prompt. Write as many short answers as you can. The results could become a list joke.

Free association

This one’s from Elsa Waithe. Pick a topic or even a small item—anything from “being a twin” to “gum”—(pro tip: use something you wrote about above). Get some blank paper (or a blank screen), a pen (if applicable), a timer, and GO. Write down everything you can think of about that thing, for 15 minutes, without stopping. EVERYTHING. Every damn thing. Don’t try to be funny. The results will be roughly 80% filler or nonsense. But without that, you won’t get to the 20% potential gold: weird stuff you forgot about, words that are just funny (“Bazooka”). This one’s a great one to do when you’re just plain stuck. It’s also good practice for letting your mind roam and explore all the possible shapes a joke can take or directions it can go in.

Twitter fitter

This one’s inspired by Kerri Louise.

  1. Pick a short personal anecdote you like to tell or—extra credit—an anecdote that came out of one of the above two exercises.
  2. Write/type it out on one page (about 250 words double-spaced).
  3. Now write the same story in 100 words.
  4. Now write the same story in 50 words.
  5. Now write the same story in 25 words. (You GOT THIS. Hemingway, legend has it, did it in 6 words. Yes, he is Hemingway, but it also wasn’t funny.)
  6. Now write the same story in 140 characters. WHAT? Yes.

Whether or not you ever use this joke, this exercise is useful because:

  • Rookie comics almost always use too much setup. This helps you pare that part down, for one thing, showing you exactly how little context, premise, and information you need to get the audience on the same page as you.
  • Concise is better.
  • It helps you literally choose your words carefully. Shorter words are generally stronger, so you’ll thesaurus your way down to those with the most punch.
  • It forces you to identify the ONE CORE IDEA that makes this thing funny.
  • Advanced move: Many comics try out their jokes on Twitter. Get good at this, and that could be a great testing ground for you, too.  

News you can use

This one’s from GOLD advisory board member Eddie Sarfaty. Open up today’s newspaper. Rip something from the headlines and make it personal using a formula like this:

X thing happened. If that happened to me/in my life OR if I did that…

Example: [Wily politician or powerful person of choice] lies and no one punishes him. If my mother found out I lied about something like that [she would/I would]…”.

Write 10 of these a day. Don’t try to be funny. Let them be funny when it happens, which it will about 1 percent of the time. The practice is what matters. As you do it more and more, you’ll see the funny and make associations faster, and your percentage will go up.

This is a great way of

  • Training yourself to riff
  • Exploring what’s funny TO YOU about the news AND about your life at the same time.
  • Keeping up with current events!

 

When you did one of these exercises, did something crack you up? Doesn’t have to be a fully-formed joke. An embarrassing moment, or just a funny word? Tweet it @GOLDcomdy and let us know!
OR… sign up for emails to spin what you’ve learned here into more GOLD!

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Mini Q&A with Naomi Ekperigin

 

Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

I have the talking stick, sir!

 

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

The small victories, the 5- and 6-minute sets where I got laughs. Or when the crowd wasn’t so into it, but one or two people would approach me afterwards and say, “you were so funny!” or “I loved such-and-such joke.” It let me know I was connecting with someone, even if it was just a couple of people.

 

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

Don’t date any fellow stand ups in your early years. It’ll distract you from the work and add more drama/anxiety to what’s already a tough job to pursue.

 

What’s your first impulse when someone says “women aren’t funny”?

Ugh, go away.

 

Worst gig?

A bar in New Orleans where the five locals in attendance were just there to drink, not see comedy. Me and the other comics had to really fight to win their laughs.

 

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life, either recently or when you were younger?

Humor was crucial to me fitting in at my predominantly white, wealthy private school. It’s where I learned to find the common ground among disparate groups and use jokes to make connections. Now it helps me navigate the business. Making contacts can be easier when you have humor to grease the wheels.

 

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

I think hosting your own show can help you get your name out there among fellow comics. Not only do you provide yourself with a weekly or monthly venue for working out material, you also put yourself in the position to trade spots with other comics. I also think that bringer shows should be used sparingly, only when you have a great set you want to have filmed in a nice setting, or if there really is going to be powerful industry in the crowd (and again, you know the set you’ll do is killer). It can be so exciting to perform in a club, but to go up there in front of that audience when you’ve barely strung a set together does yourself a disservice and doesn’t gain you any favor in the eyes of the club booker or show producer.

 

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian?

No, no one in particular. I’ve always loved Chris Rock, but it never occurred to me that I could do what “the people on the TV” were doing. It wasn’t until I tried it in college (a pretty easy space) that I thought I might be able to do standup.

 

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

It’s very antiquated. Am I Shirley Temple?

 


naomiekperigin.weebly.com

Twitter @blacktress

Instagram @blacktresscomedy

Naomi Ekperigin is a New York City-based actor, stand-up comedian and writer who has appeared on VH1, MTV, and FX‘s “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” and been published in TheHairpin.com, The Huffington Post and VanityFair.com. Most recently Naomi worked as a staff writer on season 3 of Comedy Central’s hit show“Broad City” and “Difficult People,” starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner.  In 2013, she was listed as one of “7 Reasons Why SNL Should Hire a Black Woman” on Buzzfeed.com and one of “8 Black Comediennes Who are Ready for SNL” by Essence Magazine.

 

Photo Credit: Ben Esner

 

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Mini Q&A with El Sanchez

 

Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

“I’m sorry, you’re right, I interrupted you. Go on?”

 

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

I want to say determination, love of the craft or a strong work ethic, but honestly it’s just my competitive nature. I know the odds are against a fat, queer, gender non-binary, POC to be on late night TV. I’m stubborn. I want to beat those odds.

 

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

Take the mic out of the mic stand.

 

What’s your first impulse when someone says “women aren’t funny”?

To stop talking to that person.

 

Worst gig?

I once drove 30 minutes out of town with a friend to do 15 minutes at a hookah lounge to 8 bored 18 year olds. The “stage” was a milk crate you stood on in the middle of the room while holding a microphone attached to a tiny speaker. A DJ played loud hip-hop the whole time so you had to shout over the music. I found out at the end of the night that our payment was free strawberry hookah to smoke and a beer from the bar across the street. I learned at that point you don’t have to say yes to every gig.

 

Favorite response to “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy?”

I identified as a woman for the first six years of my comedy career. My response to that question would be: basically what it’s like to be a comedian, a roller coaster of frustration and elation with the expected amount of sexual harassment and underestimation.

 

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life, either recently or when you were younger?

I used to be kind of shy and introverted and very insecure. I am still insecure, but now I’m real outspoken and extroverted about it.

 

Best comedy advice you ever got?

“The only person you are competing against is yourself.”

 

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

“Don’t do any jokes about your p***y”

 

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

Be undeniably funny at as many mics as you can. Producers will take notice and you’ll get booked.

 

Single word that always cracks you up?

Butt.

 

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian? If so, who, why, how?

Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. I loved watching Movie Macabre and her straight-to-video hosted horror movies as a kid. I rented Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for every Halloween party I had. Cassandra was in the Groundlings and is VERY underrated as a comedian. I LOVE her sense of humor. It’s a perfect mix of self-awareness, self-deprecation, confidence, goofiness, and puns.  She knew she was a sex symbol, but you felt like she was in total control of it. I loved that confidence and don’t f**ck with me attitude.  I’m a legit card-holding member of her fan club.

 

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

UGH.

 


A Seattle-based comedian, writer and comic book reader, El Sanchez has been performing all over the country since 2010. Their conversationally cynical, yet upbeat comedic style weaves together a unique mix of embarrassing personal stories, nerdy obsessions, social politics and possible overshares, making light of their own instances of social incompetence while also skewering oppressive social norms. They have been called “fearless” by City Arts Magazine, “a grumpy nugget of delight,” by writer/activist Lindy West, “a local favorite,” by Seattle alt weekly The Stranger and “a brilliant new voice everyone should know,” by comedian Hari Kondabolu. Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson (The Moldy Peaches, Juno) has cited Sanchez as her ‘favorite underground Northwest comedian’ while W. Kamau Bell, comedian and host of CNN’s United Shades of America, once said, “El Sanchez is the truth.”

www.eliciasanchez.com

Twitter @el_sanchovilla

Instagram @elsanchovilla

 

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5 times online comedy instruction was sexist

 

There are lots of comedy resources online: how to be funnier, how to write a joke, how to effectively use the rule of three (SEE HOW I DID THAT?) That’s great.

Less great: In many instances, you are not so much the target customer as…the target of the joke. Like, the sample jokes they are presenting and analyzing—and I don’t mean “analyzing” in a bell hooks way—are straight up garden-variety dumb and sexist.

Whatever, brah. It’s not worth my comedy outrage. (And I’m not here to slam the particular instructors below; they’re just the ones I happened across, and their basic comedy guidance is sound.) For me the most telling thing is the obvious assumption that ONLY OTHER DUDES are reading/watching, which is not only THE WHOLE ENTIRE PROBLEM, but also questionable customer acquisition strategy.

See what I mean…

  1. To explain basic joke structure, this guy says: “Consider this joke from Jimmy Carr: My girlfriend said she wanted me to tease her. I said “alright, fatty”. Carr creates an assumption (that his girlfriend wants to be teased playfully) then subverts it (by teasing her maliciously.) It’s a classic setup/punch joke; the first sentence (setup) leads us in one direction, the next sentence (punch) reframes the setup revealing an unexpected twist.”
  2. Of ALL THE JOKES in the world that he could possibly deconstruct, this guy picks a blonde joke.
  3. Describing the vital comedy tool of surprise, this guy offers this example: “I woke up in the hotel this morning and the housekeeper was banging on the door, just banging. Finally, I had to get up and let her out.” In a later joke, he calls his ex a “chick,” which is not altogether surprising.
  4. This guy teaches the rule of threes with a dose of hacky transphobia: “Expected Trait/Expected Trait/Unexpected Trait (She was pretty, she was shapely, she was a man).”
  5. This guy, who is an adult, refers to the women he dates as “girls.”
  6. Same guy, explaining the logic of a Seinfeld joke, says, “You’d think more women wouldn’t wax their legs, but since they need to in order to look attractive to men, they do it anyway.”
  7. Comedy articles and lectures are full of examples. Almost every single sample joke? Written by a dude. Almost every single example of a comedian with a particular style? A dude. Often they’re great jokes/comics! But come on. Google harder.

 

Find an example like the above? Tweet it at @goldcmdy!

 

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