Mini Q+A with Grace Holtz

Grace Holtz is a Chattanooga-based comedian and performer. She previously was a co-host for the Once a Month comedy show and helped lead GOLD Comedy’s Comedy Camp at the Chattanooga Public Library.


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

That even with a microphone and a PA system my voice will never be as loud as an arrogant man still putting his two cents in at a comedy club where he used a Groupon.

BRIEFLY describe your worst gig.

I told several anti-police force jokes before a cop approached the stage to tell me to shut up. I would’ve used the retort to that heckler but all I did was give him my license plate number.

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

Realizing no one had my voice in my city. I felt unique for one of the first times in my life.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Make your strongest joke your last.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

Wear makeup.

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

Same as a man. Just harder.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Lose it.

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

Always get to know out of town comedians in your town. Each booking could lead to a level up.

What single word always cracks you up?

Duty

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

Joan Rivers and my bff who is way funnier and never had the guts to do it.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life?

Understanding that all people have a voice. It’s not your responsibility to change their voice, but empathize and move on if they don’t deserve your ears.

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

Your talent is to turn your pain into humor and help someone else’s pain shrink a little bit. Even if your audience doesn’t like you, you’re the one walking home with a paycheck.


Grace Holtz is a Chattanooga-based comedian and performer. She previously was a co-host of the Once a Month comedy show and helped lead GOLD Comedy’s Comedy Camp at the Chattanooga Public Library.

Read Alex’s bio here.

Mini Q&A with Allison Summers

Allison Summers is an improviser, comedian, and writer based out of Nashville, TN. She has written for theBerry and has performed with the Second City, iO West, and with the Upright Citizens Brigade. Her one-woman show, Collections, is currently running at Third Coast Comedy Club.

Favorite response to a heckler?

I’m sorry you’re hurting on the inside. Which parent didn’t love you? Oh shit, was it both?

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

Fuck it and fuck them. You are enough.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

You will never be able to make everyone in the audience laugh.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

Moving to Nashville will kill my comedy career.

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

I am in the recovery community and I teach improv to recovering addicts and alcoholics. It has helped me find a way to be of service to that community and help those who are struggling learn how to laugh again.

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

I had really great teachers at The Second City who were very encouraging. My closest friends were involved in comedy as well so it was the biggest part of my life and community.

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

It’s a tie between Viki Lawrence and Damon Wayans. I loved Mama’s Family and really believed that she was this old woman and Damon Wayans put together this brilliant and edgey show that housed amazing comedians. It was my dream as a child to be on In Living Color.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

I have never heard this before, I had to google it. After knowing what it is for twenty seconds- I hate it.


Allison Summers is an actress and writer performing and working in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a graduate of The Second City Conservatory, IO West, and UCB Theatre. She has written for the female version of theChive, theBerry, and her one woman show, “Collections,”  has been performed at Out Of Bounds Comedy Festival in Austin, Women in Comedy Festival in Boston and Los Angeles. Currently, she teaches improv classes at Third Coast Comedy Club in Nashville.


CARSEN SMITH (intern, branding and content) performs standup and improv in New York City. She co-created the improvised cooking show “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” which ran at Nashville’s Third Coast Comedy Club. @carsenasmith

Mini Q&A with Abby Sher

Abby Sher is a comedian, improviser, and author currently living in New Jersey. She was a member of the celebrated Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, before moving to Brooklyn, New York, and becoming a freelance writer. Her latest book ALL THE WAYS THE WORLD CAN END is available everywhere. Not to mention she’s a friend of GOLD Comedy!

Favorite response to a heckler?

Hey, is that my rabbi?

BRIEFLY describe your worst gig.

Doing a comedy show at a country club and for our intro they announced all the members who had recently died.

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

BE LOUD!

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

Start making monkey noises and throwing things.

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

An old grumpy man who told me to stop being small.

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

Vaginas have all the fun.

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

Gilda Radner – her wild leaping into walls, her Jewess jeans and gum smacks. Her raw honesty.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Needs to come with cheese to be worthwhile.


Abby Sher is a writer and performer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times,Self, Jane, Elle, and Redbook. She is also the author of Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery, Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying, and Kissing Snowflakes. Abby has written and performed for the Second City in Chicago and the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and Magnet Theater in New York. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

Twitter: @abbysher


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CARSEN SMITH (intern, branding and content) performs standup and improv in New York City. She co-created the improvised cooking show “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” which ran at Nashville’s Third Coast Comedy Club. @carsenasmith

Mini Q&A with Cathy Ladman

Cathy Ladman’s show is a self-probing vehicle which draws laughter from exposing personal neuroses. She has not only appeared on “The Tonight Show” nine times, but was also the only female comic to appear on the last two of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show Anniversary” shows. She’s made four appearances, thus far, on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” did her own HBO “One Night Stand” comedy special, and was awarded the American Comedy Award for Best Female Stand Up Comic.

Favorite response to a heckler?

It seems like you don’t get enough attention in your life. I think I know why.

BRIEFLY describe your worst gig (noting that you survived).

About a year into my doing standup, I was onstage, the audience chattering got louder and louder, and finally, people began throwing things onstage. I said, “Thank you,” and left the stage. Note: NEVER say, “Thank you,” to an audience that throws things at you!!!!!

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

“Wow. You’re still saying that? Poor you.”

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

My mentor, who told me that tenacity was 99% of everything.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Don’t worry about who you are onstage for the first year or more. Just get as much stage time as you can.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

You need to get dirty for certain crowds. “Throw in a few ‘fucks.'”

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

People are always attracted to funny people. You can get your message across so much more easily when it’s funny and entertaining.

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

Mike Nichols & Elaine May’s album, “Nichols & May Examine Doctors.” I was drawn to it at about 8 years of age. It was an innate response. I just got it. And I watched all the standup comics on Ed Sullivan and decided that that was what I wanted to do. Robert Klein and George Carlin. Thinking comedians all.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

HATE it. We’re not the diminutive version of a comic. We’re comedians, or comics.


Cathy Ladman is an acclaimed television and film actor. Her film credits include “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Aristocrats,” and “White Oleander.” Her TV appearances include “Mad Men,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She’s done several TV pilots, including “Caroline in the City,” in which she had a recurring role, and a bunch of others that barely saw the light of day (or night). She also appeared regularly on ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” and Comedy Central’s “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist.”

Website: www.cathyladman.com

Twitter: CathyLadman

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CARSEN SMITH (intern, branding and content) performs standup and improv in New York City. She co-created the improvised cooking show “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” which ran at Nashville’s Third Coast Comedy Club. @carsenasmith

20 things to worry about instead of that thing you’re worried about

Hey, I get it. It’s the season for worrying – meaning it’s between January and December, inclusive, of any calendar year. Fretting is a national sport lately, and for women, there’s often lots more to fret about: Will health care cover me, even though I have the preexisting condition of lacking testes? Do I make as much as a man for doing the same work? Are my kids okay? Am I pregnant? Am I infertile? Do I want kids? WHY ARE BOOBS?

Put down that chamomile tea! It’s nasty! Instead, peruse this list of alternate things you could worry about to distract yourself from your perfectly reasonable, but possibly obsessive, perturbation.

  • What if, one day, you go to pull off your sock and it’s a bag of toes because they all just fell off unexpectedly?
  • What if dogs are judging us?
  • What if autism causes vaccines?
  • Does the cheese want to stand alone?
  • Why is the middle finger the troublemaker? Is it proud of this or is it a source of shame? Does the ring finger act all sanctimonious?  
  • What if boobs are actually full of snot and every time you blow your nose you’re making them smaller?
  • What if your middle name is a lie?
  • What if Taylor Swift runs for office?
  • What if the astronauts left something important on the moon, like their credit cards or that sandwich they brought for lunch?
  • Dust mites!
  • Why is it wedge heels, not wedge toes?
  • What if Corey Feldman does a whole album?
  • Does anybody remember laughter?
  • Am I supposed to care if things make my butt look fat?
  • Why does Sam care so much whether someone likes Green Eggs and Ham? Like what’s his deal?
  • Why do spice bottles have holes too small for the spice to get through?
  • At what point do I just give up on my pinky toenail?
  • Sidewalk grates!
  • If the pointy part of a fork is a tine, and the pointy part of a knife is a blade, what is the spoony part of a spoon?
  • How did anyone figure out how to eat artichokes?

Read Amy’s bio here. 

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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!

Read Lynn’s bio here.

Mini Q&A with Carole Montgomery

Carole Montgomery is a longtime standup comedian based out of Brooklyn, NY. Since starring in two Las Vegas shows, Carole founded the National Mom Comedy Tour, a series of standup comedy shows that brings laughs to VFW posts, American legions, and military bases.

Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

You should have been a blow job.

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

There was nothing else I wanted to be, I had no choice but to stick with it.

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

Don’t take anything personal and just keep pushing through the barriers.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Don’t worry about people stealing your jokes, they can’t steal you. Sinbad told me that.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

You shouldn’t be dirty, you’re too pretty for that.

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

It’s helped me in times of grief too many times to count. In tragedy you have to laugh.

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

Yawn.

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

Harpo, Groucho, Freddie Prinze, Richard Pryor & George Carlin all had something to do with why I became a comic. And my dad, he was the one who could walk into a room and light up a crowd.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

I was always considered a comedian by my peers, probably cause they knew I’d kick their ass if they called me anything else.


Carole Montgomery, with over 2 dozen television credits to her name, is a respected veteran of the standup comedy scene nationwide. In addition to her numerous TV appearances, she has headlined clubs & colleges across the USA and starred in 2 different Las Vegas production shows. In her ten years as a Las Vegas star, it is estimated that she has been seen by over 5 million audience members. Besides being a comedian and writer, Carole is a wife and mother. She’s been married for 30 years and has a 23 year old son, Layne. She was Vice-President of her son’s school PTA and helped coach his Little League team for 7 years. She is now dealing with an adult son leaving home, her Peter Pan husband and living with her mother-in-law. The jokes write themselves.

Website: http://www.carolemontgomery.com/

Twitter: @nationalmom

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CARSEN SMITH (intern, branding and content) performs standup and improv in New York City. She co-created the improvised cooking show “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” which ran at Nashville’s Third Coast Comedy Club. @carsenasmith

How to level up from mics to shows

As a stand-up comedy newcomer, it can sometimes feel like a gargantuan task to move from open mics to booked shows. What’s more, mics can feel like a masochistic exercise of, “how much of a beating can my self-esteem take before I pull a KONY 2012 meltdown?” After swimming up stream crafting your material, shows are a sought after reward validating your hard work. There’s no linear path towards getting booked, but there are tangible steps you can take to move in that direction.  

1.  Be friendly and ‘find your people.’

When you’re starting out, the people who are going to book you on shows are your friends and mentors.

When you’re at open mics, don’t just do your set and skedaddle; hang around and reach out to people. If you like someone’s joke, tell them. If you think someone is funny and/or enjoy being around them, make an effort to see that comic outside of mics.

Many comedy shows are like hangs and everybody wants to spend time with those they love most. Be someone people want to be around. It sounds political, which sometimes it is, but if you make a genuine effort to surround yourself with comedians/comedy you like and treat everyone with kindness and respect, the give and take is all sincere.  

I think the only thing you shouldn’t do is try to create your comedy in a vacuum. If you try to work alone, or be above it all – and you don’t meet or connect with people, I think a lot of people get lost there. You have to find your people. These are the people you’re going to be with for years, it’s like your graduating class, and there’s a bond and a closeness there with the people you did mics with that, for me, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of comedy. Seeing people grow and growing closer with people over the years.” – Marcia Belsky

2.  Have your own show.

DIY, baby! If you do the work to properly promote it, producing your own show is an excellent way to ensure yourself stage time. What’s more, producing your own show can be used as a credit to promote yourself. Plus, you can use it as leverage for spots on another comedian’s show.

3.  Support your friends’ shows.

It’s all about that quid pro quo. The first time I went to a more established friend’s show, I was given a guest spot. I didn’t realize this was common practice amongst comedians, but if you hang around and support your buddies, they’ll sometimes give you that sweet, sweet stage time.

4. Bark.

If you are an introverted sweet pea who’s exhausted by the idea of all of this “friend-making,” barking may be for you! You don’t need to engage with anyone beyond shouting, “Comedy show inside! Five dollar beers! AC! Please love me!”

When you’re starting, barking is one of the easier paths to stage time in front of a room of non-comedians. It can be an unpleasant experience, but worth it if it’s getting you on a quality show.

5.  Bringers.

Do you have rich alcoholic pals that want nothing more than to see YOU tell jokes? Wow, you do? Please, hook me up because your girl is trying to get on a bringer.

As with barking, there’s a stigma attached to Bringers. Mostly because comics are salty about not having several friends who can shell out $40 dollars to see their comedy, but ALSO because some of them are unethical. The booker may not care about the quality of the showcase so it becomes an exploitation newcomers for money. What’s more, many beginners get stuck doing bringers. They’ll go to an open mic, bomb, and run back to the comfort of an easy laugh (because you’re performing for family and friends), never learning how to properly write a joke.

Nevertheless, if you do your homework, some of them are a doorway into clubs. Plus, If you have a 5-7 minute set you’d really like to record, bringers are a great place to acquire a high quality tape.

6.     Make art.

Are you an ARTEEST? Does Michaelangelo swoon 4 u? Did you attend art school, but when you entered the workforce you were like, “nah,” and have yet to use your degree in any meaningful way? Then poster-making is for you.

Comedians all want a super fly poster for their comedy show. However, we’re all poor lil’ babies working with pennies. Notice a show doesn’t have a poster (or if they have one, it’s trash)? Offer up your poster making services for free in exchange for a spot. They get a dope flyer and you get an opportunity to show off your sillies. Everybody wins!

7.  Get credits.

How do you acquire a credit when you’re struggling to get on bar shows? Get creative!

“There are always other avenues to get credits,” says Brandon Scott Wolf. “I was an SNL Weekend Update freelance contributor before moving to New York. Develop a social media presence that’s undeniable, write for a comedy publication like The Onion or Clickhole, or figure out a way to go viral. It’s all about standing out!”

Also, if you have a video you like of your stand-up (or any type of comedy), submit to comedy festivals. Festivals are a great way for newcomers to be seen, legitimized and receive a credit.

8. Ask.

Heck yeah, it’s uncomfortable! But if you send an unassuming message to the producer of a show along with a video, no one will fault you. Your messages will most certainly be ignored, but some of them won’t. Asking for spots is how a lot of comedians get booked. The person who’s booking a show is more likely giving a spot to a friend who has asked, as opposed to someone who has not.

Owner of the world-famous Comedy Cellar in New York, Noam Dworman, told GOLD this exact same thing during a recording of The Comedy Cellar Radio Show.

9. Put in time and be funny.

If you’re not getting booked, there maaaaay be a valid reason why. Maybe you’re just not quiiiiiiite ready. Keep writing, keep going to mics, and reach out to other comedians. As long as you’re funny and not a creepy or mean magoo, it’ll eventually happen.

10.  There’s no “one size fits all” path.

There are no right or wrong way to do comedy. 

I used to always stress about whether or not I was doing enough mics. I’d do two-three a night, four-five times a week and worry it wasn’t enough until a comic I loved told me she would just do one mic, every other night or so, and only do a second set if she felt she really wanted to try something specific again,” Marcia Belsky says. “Otherwise, she’d go home and write. It made me realize that for some comics, you can get distracted by doing so many mics that it almost becomes counterproductive. So, what works for one person might not work for you.”

Know thyself and push forward accordingly.


BLAIR DAWSON (intern, workshops) is a standup comic and improvisor who produces and co-hosts a monthly storytelling and stand-up show sponsored by Babeland called  “U Up?” @UrGirlBlair

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Mini Q&A with Kerry Coddett

Kerry Coddett [Cah-dit] is a New York- based comedian, actress, and writer. Born and raised in Brooklyn to Caribbean parents, Kerry draws comedic inspiration from her colorful surroundings and offers a uniquely unapologetic perspective that is both irreverent and insightful.

Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

“Let me do my job. I don’t come to the grocery store and tell you how to pack bags, do I?”

BRIEFLY describe your worst gig (noting that you survived).

One time I was telling jokes at a bar in Brooklyn and I was destroying a heckler. He then got up from his seat and walked onto the stage, and which point we almost got into a physical altercation. It took way too long for the host and the other male comics to come to my rescue!

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

Don’t be a hack. Find your truth and speak to it. And the closer your jokes are to you and your life experiences, the better you’ll become.

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

I say people aren’t funny. Comedy is hard no matter what sits in between your legs.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

If you are undeniable, you will not be denied.

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

I get away with murder in real life. I’m brutally honest to strangers and family members, and because I’m funny—I can get away with saying things that most people would never dare to.

Favorite response to “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy”? (If applicable.)

It’s like being a woman anywhere.

For standups: what advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

Making “friends,” networking, asking for spots and including tape to those who are unfamiliar with you. Hang out at shows that you think you can get booked on. Show face and support. Be seen around the scene, and ASK for spots. Closed mouths don’t get fed!

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

I hate it. There’s no need to feminize that word. I don’t tell jokes from my vagina. I love being a woman, and I love doing comedy—but unless I’m doing something that is specifically targeted or geared towards being a woman, there’s no need for people to have to infer what gender I am from my job title. It’s irrelevant.


CARSEN SMITH (intern, branding and content) performs standup and improv in New York City. She co-created the improvised cooking show “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” which ran at Nashville’s Third Coast Comedy Club. @carsenasmith

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How to write stand up comedy material

When I first started pursuing comedy, I was a complete newb. I had very little experience on stage, and even less experience in writing. And by less I mean zero. Until that point, the funniest thing I had written started with “yo mamma” and ended with a pun about Walmart. However, through MUCH trial and error (bombing over and over and OVER), I eventually learned that writing solid material isn’t just about stringing silly phrases together for the sake of a laugh. It’s a musical flow; a comedic symphony of relatable experiences and observations bonded together through transitional phrases. And fortunately, it’s a lot easier than you might think.

Step 1: Establish a funny concept

To start, come up with a funny concept based around your own personal experiences or observations. This could be something as simple as your insecurities at the gym, or getting licked by a passenger on the subway, or how your boyfriend’s obsession with fidget spinners is causing you to rethink… everything. If the thought genuinely makes you laugh, then it’s worth trying out.

VERY IMPORTANT: Don’t overthink in this stage! If something makes you laugh, run with it. Don’t convince yourself that something “is stupid” or “isn’t funny enough.” Some of the best comedic bits of all time come from seemingly insignificant thoughts—and develop into genius only with time, practice, and out-of-nowhere inspiration.

Step 2: Make a list

Once you’ve got your concept in place, make a list of the important characteristics or funny elements that you could potentially turn into a joke. For example, one of my most popular sets is focused around the contrast between my sister—a drop-dead-gorgeous beauty queen—and me: her shadow on a bad hair day.

Here’s the list I made when initially coming up with the material:

  • I was a sweaty, chubby kid with a big nose / sister looked like jessica simpson
  • Treated as involuntary wingman for 10yr old boys
  • Mom told me that she used to get nervous about taking us out together due to strangers always complimenting my sister + ignoring me
  • Sister started making bad choices as she got older, which made me feel better
  • Enjoyed reveling in her misfortunes
  • Got pregnant at 16 (16 and pregnant TV show)
  • Underdog wins

What’s also important here is that I’m not just sitting here making fun of my sister. I’m riffing about MY experience with, point of view about, and emotional response to my sister. If you think about it, I’m actually the main character here. Anyone can have a gorgeous sister, though I don’t recommend it. But only I have my own take on my gorgeous sister, which is what will make this comedy mine.

Step 3: Write your first draft

So choose your topic (gorgeous sister), and your point of view (sweaty underdog), and start writing.

It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how good your material seems at first, it will likely be very different from the final product, as you won’t know what works/doesn’t work until you try it out on stage. So—just as you shouldn’t overthink your raw idea— don’t overthink your first draft. To give you an idea, here’s a breakdown of the material I wrote about my sister after going through 5-6 rounds of changes:

JOKE 1:

Establishing the concept: I grew up with a really beautiful sister.

Emphasizing concept + creating a build up: And I’m not just talking conventional beauty; I’m talking like if I were to bring her into this room right now, you would all just miraculously become single…

Punch: Including the ladies.

This intro works well for making an audience connection—when I say “including the ladies”, I generally try to make eye contact with one specific female who looks to be on a date or married, as it creates an air of light tension and mild discomfort, leading to lots of laughs.

JOKE 2:

Build up: When we were kids, people used to say that she looked like a young Jessica Simpson.

Punch: I, on the other hand, kinda looked more like a Jewish Honey Boo Boo.

Emphasis: I’m just sorta sweating in all of my childhood photos.

This is probably the only joke of mine that gets a roar every single time I’ve told it. The “Jewish Honey Boo Boo” creates a funny visual and is also a funny-sounding word, so even if audiences aren’t familiar with Honey Boo Boo (the reality TV star), they still feel inclined to laugh.

JOKE 3:

Build up: I was talking to my mom about it recentlythis contrast between my sister and me. And she actually wound up telling me that she used to get nervous about bringing my sister and me out in public together

Punch: …because she didn’t want people to think we had different fathers. (Pause.)

Emphasis: Thanks, Mom! Did you really need to tell me that?

This is actually not true at all, but is believable enough to work, and it gets laughs due to the shock factor. It’s almost always followed by an “ooooohhhhhh” from the audience.

Bonus tip: Create opportunities to pivot

All right, so I’ve established the premise, sprinkled in a few sillys, and then added the shock factorso now I have to decide; do I switch to a new concept or keep going with it? It’s 100% dependent on the audience response. If they seem bored or antsy, I shift to a new concept. If they really seem to be digging the “ugly duckling, underdog” thing, I add this bit to round it out and ensure that it ends on a positive note:

Fortunately, I did develop some good coping mechanisms as I got older, such as celebrating my sister’s misfortunes. It’s like when a coworker gets a promotion you want, and then the next day they get in a car accident, and on the outside you’re like ‘Ohh nooo…’ but on the inside you’re like ‘Ohhh yeahhhh’… same thing.

My sister got pregnant at the age of 16. Which, we’re from Texas and teen pregnancy is actually pretty normal down there—in fact, it’s kind of a rite of passage. But my family wasn’t having it. They were so upset and thought she was ruining her life…, even wanted her to get an abortion. I, on the other hand was like brinnnng onnnn the stretch marks… the babyyyy weight.. in fact, let’s just throw this sh*t up on “16 and Pregnant.” I’ll even fill out the submission packet. (pause) Which I did. I submitted my sister to “16 and Pregnant.” But apparently there’s a certain level of trashy you have to be to get on the show, and my sister fell just below the cusp.

Now start writing!

When it comes down to it, the only way to get really good at writing material is to consistently work at it every single day. I personally use the Werdsmith app for writing down silly concepts and organizing each of my sets, and I know a lot of comics who carry around a notebook. Whichever writing method you prefer, the most important thing is to get started and stick with it. So go write some jokes!


BRANDY THOMAS is a standup comic and co-host of the podcast Comedians For Hire. @brandyyythomas