Mini Q+A with Emily Flake

Emily is a cartoonist-writer-performer-teacher-illustrator based in Brooklyn. She makes cartoons for The New Yorker, mostly, but also sometimes MAD Magazine, the New Statesman, and other places. Emily performs a quarterly-ish show called Shitshow with NPR’s Ophira Eisenberg, and a monthly show called NIGHTMARES with comedian Kat Burdick. Emily is the writer and illustrator behind a book of cartoon essays called Mama Tried It. You can buy it here.


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

Situational. But I once got to shut it down with a “fewer” correction to his “less” (in person, not online! Felt glorious) .

Describe your worst gig.

Technically not even comedy, but still gives me chills – I’d been hired to do a cartooning event with Zach Kanin and we had no idea what we were doing; we got up and ate shit for two solid hours IN FRONT OF KIDS while I watched the project head’s face go from alarm to disappointment to anger. Oof.

What were you like as a teen? (Did you have comedy #goals? Were you already funny, or not so much?)

Pretty droopy with lots of feelings! But I did a fanzine cause I was trying to be #PunkAsFuck and I did funny (?) comics for it.

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

KNOW THYSELF (and then I’d die before attributing).

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

Flick ‘em in the nuts and laugh hysterically

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

The sweet sweet irresistible drug of making people laugh.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Comedy, life, anything – be kind and reliable.

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

Like being a dude, but moist.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

I actually kind of love it because I used it in an essay about my life goals when I was nine.

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

JANEANE GAROFOLO. I watched her on MTV’s Half-Hour Comedy Hour, and I think it was a Spring Break edition where she made fun of Gerardo and they booed her; she was a total badass about it, and I just remember watching with my heart pounding and thinking I WANT THIS


Emily is a cartoonist-writer-performer-teacher-illustrator based in Brooklyn. She makes cartoons for The New Yorker, mostly, but also sometimes MAD Magazine, the New Statesman, and other places. Emily performs a quarterly-ish show called Shitshow with NPR’s Ophira Eisenberg, and a monthly show called NIGHTMARES with comedian Kat Burdick. Emily is the writer and illustrator behind a book of cartoon essays called Mama Tried It. You can buy it here.



Laughter as medicine: How to write good jokes about bad things

5 essentials of quarantine comedy.

COVID-19: Is it funny? No. Can you write jokes about it? Yes. DEPENDING. You need to be careful. Do it wrong, and you’ll bum people out (and/or, for one thing, be racist). But do it right, and you’ll do what comedy does: bring people together (even at 6 feet apart). 

I have thought a lot about writing good jokes about bad things. I have struggled with PTSD since I was sexually assaulted as a teenager. I’m also a comedian—and I’ve talked about PTSD and assault on stage for years. Recently I recorded a podcast, hosted by two former soldiers who’d done tours in Afghanistan, where comedians talk about mental health. On the podcast, I half-joked, “The only people who get to talk about PTSD are soldiers and assault survivors.” 

Obviously, that half-joke is not 100% true, but it does highlight a few crucial things to think about when you want to tackle the tough stuff. It might seem hard, but—take it from me, Hannah Gadsby, Cameron Esposito, Adrienne Truscott, Tig Notaro, Julia Sweeney, Maria Bamford, and many more, and their fans—it’s important, cathartic, empowering, and worth it. Big picture, joking about hard topics is a delicate process, but when done right it can accomplish something very special: make comedy important

So! We are all stuck inside right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your funny stuck inside, too. Since coronavirus is top of mind, I encourage you to rise to the challenge and explore where in this terrible situation you can find some true funny. Crack up your fam or just work on your craft—and let us know how it goes (@goldcomedy)!

Here’s how to get it right:

1. Keep it personal. 

Ask yourself: Did this terrible thing happen to or affect me directly? The answer pretty much needs to be yes. Take: cancer. If you have struggled with it or someone close to you has, that makes it fair game for you. (Again: See Tig Notaro and Julia Sweeney, who have made true comic art about their own experiences with illness.) In the case of COVID, that test is easier to pass: We are all affected in one way or another by the social distancing, job loss, confusion, isolation, fear, etc. (not themselves funny, but all definitely a source of comedy).

I regularly make jokes about being a sexual assault survivor. So do other comics who are also survivors, and we always clap each other on. But when I see someone making a joke about sexual assault who is not a survivor, I get wary. It might turn out to be a good joke if it punches the right way (see below), but as a comic, it’s also your job to take care of your audience and not make them think they need to worry about how to respond to something. When Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court, I had a joke about how “all” “Bretts” are rapists. During the setup, I made clear that as a survivor I was deeply affected by the hearings—and that helped audiences know it was going to be okay to laugh at whatever came next. 

2. Punch in the right direction. 

In comedy, you punch up. That is, you make the butt of the joke something or someone with more power than you. Avoiding punching down—making fun of people with less power than you—is incredibly important when you’re joking about sensitive topics. (Read more about punching up vs. punching down here.) In today’s terms: DON’T make fun of people or families suffering because of COVID. (DON’T make fun of Chinese people, or even China, for “starting the disease.” You might think it’s punching up because China is a country, but jokes like that usually rely on racism, which is always punching down.) DO (for example) make fun of powerful people you think are NOT HELPING (hilarious example from @Adley here), or—of course—of the ridiculous ways that YOU are responding to the experience of being stuck at home. 

Making fun of yourself (punching the mirror?) is usually called self-deprecating comedy. A word of caution: You might lose the audience if they feel like you are beating yourself up too much. When I do jokes about my sexual assault on stage I don’t blame myself for getting assaulted or punch down at other survivors; I punch up towards the concept of assault, people who think it’s ok to hurt others, or the culture that allows such things to happen. This way, you’re talking about something specific to you—but everyone can relate. 

3. Know your audience.

It’s always important to read the room (an actual room or whoever’s listening to/reading/etc. your jokes), but it’s most important when your topic might alienate or trigger members of your crowd. 

Let’s say (rule 1, above) you’re making a joke about your struggle with a death in the family. You’re punching up (rule 2) by making the joke about the U.S. healthcare system. But the joke bombs. Why? Maybe your joke reminded too many people of someone they miss. Maybe your crowd thinks the healthcare system is awesome. No matter what: It happens.

Of course,  bombing with material that is personal and difficult can hurt a lot more.  I have a joke about when I told an ex-boyfriend I was a survivor. He said, “Like CSI,” and I said, “No, like SVU.” That joke works EVERY TIME, except…that one time. That one time made me feel worse than any other bomb in my life. Make sure you are ready to share these jokes, and try to find an audience that will support you. 

4. Be open to (most) feedback. 

Audience members (in real life or online) are often VERY HAPPY to share their opinions on your jokes. Maybe especially jokes about hard topics. When I started doing jokes about sexual assault, it was before #MeToo had reached full force. We weren’t talking as much about assault as a culture. I had a lot of male comedians tell me to stop. I had other comedians go on stage after me and riff at my expense with their own terrible “rape jokes.” Those…aren’t the opinions to be listening to. 

DO: Listen to people who have been affected by the same bad things as you. If your joke is good, they will often be your biggest supporters. They will be much more valuable to your writing process than simply listening to those who say, “You can’t talk about that.” 

5. Make sure YOU are ready. 

Even if you follow all these steps, the most important thing about making these types of jokes is making sure you are ready. Not as a comedian, but as a person. These jokes are extremely personal if done right. You open yourself up on stage with these jokes—and that is hard. Some wounds are just too fresh for jokes, so don’t push or rush yourself. Not everything in your life has to be fodder for performance. Once you are ready, don’t be discouraged, if you stick to your story in a respectful and thoughtful way, no one can tell you you’re wrong. 


Rosa Escandón is a New York-based writer and comedian. She’s been seen on Buzzfeed Video, DAZN, Seriously.TV, and other silly internet videos that you can watch here. She is a contributor to Forbes and has been an editor at the Tusk and a writer for Laughspin.

Rosa has served on the board of Cinder Block Comedy Festival and is a proud alumna of Bloomers: All Female Sketch Comedy. She joined the board of the Black Women in Comedy Festival for its inaugural year. She is a member of the sketch troupe Infinite Sketch. 



How to network your way into the comedy business: the top 6 secrets

I almost walked right into Stephen Colbert. The Late Show had just finished taping for the day and we audience wranglers (technically CBS pages) had ushered everyone out. A few of us walked through the door leading the theater just as he was coming in from the other direction. A fellow page stumbled right into him. A step behind, I nearly crashed into him, too. I took a step backward at the last second, looked up at Stephen, and daintily curtseyed as if to say, “Do pardon me, sir.” He chuckled and we went our separate ways. I contend to this day that Stephen’s was genuine laughter. (Yes, we are now on a first-name basis. Not.)


I had just turned 23. Even though I knew I wanted to work in comedy programming, this moment–despite being a literal stumble–made me sure I was headed in the right direction (a rare feeling in showbiz). How did I get there? I worked hard, and I NETWORKED hard.


I studied creative writing and film in college, and interned one summer for Brillstein Entertainment Partners. The next I was able to intern for CONAN in Los Angeles, which also led to a PA gig for Conan’s week at the iconic Apollo Theater in the fall of 2017. Since graduating, I’ve worked as a CBS page, which landed me on some incredible sets: The Late Show, Last Week Tonight, Full Frontal, The Rundown, and several more. I’ve also worked for an upcoming Apple TV comedy about Emily Dickinson (!), and I’m starting my next gig at a Sony Pictures superhero movie next week.


Landing those gigs was never easy, and it still isn’t. But listen: when people say they “stumbled” into a job—like that page and Colbert—it’s almost never true. Networking is KEY. And you can do it starting with next to nothing! Here are 6 tricks I’ve learned that I’m happy to share.

1. Build your own network!

Most of the time you have to build your network from your unique experiences and interactions, that only one person on this earth has had (you!).

One day, sit down and write as many relevant names as you can think of. Don’t worry for now if some people don’t work in exactly the same field as the one you want (i.e. if you want to work in movies, but they only worked on stage shows, still write them down).

You don’t have to email all of them right away, or ever — but get those names on paper. Who knows what direction your career will take in two years, and you don’t want to miss out on any potential connections.

Examples from my world:

  • Old bosses/coworkers from any showbiz internships/sets/media offices
  • teachers/professors/mentors you’ve had who were/are in entertainment
  • the teachers of any performance/showbiz classes you’ve taken (they know people!)
  • relevant friends of [insert anyone important to you]
  • (that means parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends, friends’ parents, etc.)
  • Industry adults you’ve met through non-entertainment jobs or interactions (you babysat for them, shoveled snow off their driveways, anything!)

2. Your network may be larger than it appears.

You will find yourself frustrated that people with showbiz connections can find success much easier than you; that’s normal – it is unfair!

But try not to hold resentments against your fellow emerging comedians/peers of unfair privilege. Some of them will know so many people right off the bat (they usually have at least one parent in showbiz). It constantly seems like everything falls into their laps.

Frustration towards these people is definitely justified, but it won’t lead to anything good. Trust me! Hating them won’t get you a job any faster!

Remember you have a more diverse collection of connections to the biz than might first meet the eye.

It is all a spectrum. There will always be people with more connections than you, just like there will always be people with way fewer. Getting angry about how unfair it is won’t solve anything. Just work on building your own network bigger and bigger until one day, it will be the network everyone wants to have!

3. Early in your career, make the most out of all opportunities—which includes making friends!

At most of these ‘starter jobs,’ your actual tasks may not be the most thrilling or informative about comedy/showbiz. They’re still worth it for two reasons – exposure and friends. You get exposed to the whole world, even if you can’t participate (I think of it as watching the parts of a machine work together to create one perfect product).

When I interned at Conan, one part of the machine was getting to watch rehearsal. Conan would pluck his guitar while he, Andy and the writers worked through jokes. We could only observe but it was still great. Once we are real people on set, we won’t get to sit back and enjoy anymore.

The other great thing about the bottom of the totem pole is the camaraderie. You will make your closest friends in these circumstances.

At Conan, it was sheer number of hours the interns spent together. We bonded. For example, during downtime, I taught two other interns how to solve a Rubik’s cube. Even though we are still all in our early- to mid-twenties, some of those fellow interns are now Fallon writers, MSNBC producers, etc.

What I found as a CBS page was an already-existent network that constantly ebbed and flowed. I was simply woven into the fabric of it. I started as the newbie, then the regular, then the seasoned pro, then the one who finally gets their big kid job and moves on. It is the circle of the page program.

We were a group that got along because besides all loving showbiz, we had the shared misery of getting yelled at by people for things we did not control. We would often go out to eat or drink as large groups after our shifts. Many of us are still close friends. If you stumble across a group like this, make yourself indispensable to it.

I got my job working on the Apple TV show because the person who’d previously had the position quit unexpectedly. A friend of mine who I’d met at the page program (who already worked on the show) immediately recommended me for the job. I was hired later that day!


So be nice to everyone!! Everyone, okay? Yes, that includes tolerating the tools. Sorry.

4. Don’t judge!

Not only because you’re often wrong, but because people can sense it. They will know if you were looking down on them. The beautiful girl who seems like she has the easiest life is probably just as bright, determined and troubled as anyone else.

There is no room for assumptions or prejudice. I originally thought that one of the first pages I spoke to on the job was a bit of a… well, tool. He is now one of my best friends in the entire city! It turns out we grew up 10 minutes apart and had been living semi-parallel lives. What I initially read as cockiness was actually just confidence.

Because I was so green (new), I thought his security must have been a sign of pompousness. But he was just secure! I found myself saying things within similar certainty within a month there.


Obviously, if you see someone be cruel, it’s different. But this is about initial impressions and how wrong we often are.

5. Know that you will get conflicting advice.

This is natural because success in showbiz can come in so many ways, and seasoned pros like to share their stories. (If they don’t share, ask!)

Don’t get too stuck on their specifics; what worked for someone might not be what you will need! For example, after talking to two different pros, I heard:

“Take only relevant jobs. Don’t work in tangential lanes… if you want to be on the creative side, apply for those jobs. Don’t accept any old job just because it’s on a TV set or about entertainment. You will get stuck in those lanes.”

AND

“Get your hands on any showbiz job you can! You will meet people there; who knows who will walk into your office? Soak it all up, even if it isn’t an exact fit! Just grow your network!”


Both these people are successful. Neither is wrong. It comes down to what feels best to you and excites you more. At a certain point you just have to go with your gut. I went with my gut for the Apple TV show and it was an amazing decision. It was a clerk job in accounting!

Don’t feel guilty for not taking the advice of someone successful – it’s not an insult to them (someone may be very cool and definitely successful, but their method is just one way). I wouldn’t ignore EVERYONE’s advice, but again, if it feels like something good is brewing, go for it.

6. Every day you are continuing to forge your own path. Keep on it!

But do learn to curtsy. Just in case.

Photo via: Lauren C. Jones


Nina Lerner considers herself a lifelong New Yorker despite growing up in the suburbs. Her passions include the golden age of TV (now), rainy days and Paul McCartney. 


How to not to worry (much) about people stealing your jokes

“How do I make sure nobody steals my jokes?”

It’s a common question, and there’s only one totally foolproof answer: NEVER TELL ANY JOKES.

Look, I don’t mean to just be sassy and unhelpful. It’s just sort of similar to the only foolproof way for someone to never steal your purse, or your look, i.e., never leave your house! Point is: In comedy, as in life, you have to get out there—and while there are always risks, the rewards are worth it.

That said, of course joke-stealing can be a thing, or certainly an allegation that you don’t want to get into. Even top-tier talent like Conan O’Brien and Amy Schumer have has accusations thrown their way. (Schumer, for her part, vehemently denies any thievery, as does O’Brien.)

So here are four things you need to know about getting yourself and your original jokes out there—and not worrying about who hears ‘em!

   

1. Joke stealing may happen, but it’s just not DONE. It is, arguably (now that we are talking about sexism and harassment), the second least cool thing you could possibly do in comedy, and, likewise, the second-best way to ruin your own reputation. If you’re the one whose joke gets obviously stolen, in karma terms, you’re actually the one who comes out ahead.

   

2. Sometimes two comics make the same jokes! Naturally, with so many comics making observations about the world around them, similarities are bound to exist between one guy’s airplane food joke and another’s. If you see a joke similar to yours our there, it may just be the laws of probability and comedy coming together.

   

3. Generally, people want to write original material. They’re just like you! A great rule of thumb: write jokes no one can steal. What does that mean? It means that even if you talk about the same topics as others (homework, let’s say), and even if you have a take similar to others (homework is annoying, let’s say), there’s going to be something unique, at least around the edges, about YOUR take: the word choice, the wrench you apply, the details particular to your world (your teachers, the topics, what it’s like in YOUR house when you try to get homework done, etc, etc.).

   

4. It’s in the GOLD Code!

   

So yes, the thought of someone stealing your jokes can be scary, but the reality of it happening is small enough that it’s not worth stressing out about. And it CERTAINLY should not stop you from writing and sharing! Write the jokes you want to write that are original and uniquely YOU, and you’ll be the one stealing…the show! (<<<GROAN. Also, TRUE.)


How to survive working in the male-dominated comedy industry without losing your sense of humor

I often think about that time when a male peer—someone I’d wanted to learn from and exchange ideas with—told me, to my face, these exact words: “You aren’t funny because your comedy is too queer and might offend some people.”

You may be thinking, “Emily, did you punch that doofus in the face?” No, I did not. I’m not a connoisseur of confrontation. And if I want to get on stage and workshop some jokes about queer dating in the greater NYC area, then SO HELP ME OPRAH I WILL! 

But that doesn’t solve the problem back at work. Being told you’re not funny because of who you are: it’s maddening, but not uncommon. Especially if you’re someone other than a dude.  And it’s no secret that the comedy industry is heavily male-dominated. It’s hard to remember when you’re deep into the utopia that is this website, but even today, only about 10% of comedians are women. The wage gap is still prevalent with women making less money hustling just as hard as men, it’s no wonder that we have A LOT to say. All jokes aside, it just isn’t fair! We’re so freakin’ hilarious!

While it’s not on us to fix everything for everyone, we do have to find ways to do our part—to get seen and heard, to make the most of opportunities to collaborate with everyone, and even just to survive. After many discussions with my female colleagues and friends was that I certainly could find ways to handle those doofus situations. And I did start to learn how—which is good, because in the comedy industry, stupid stuff like that happens on the daily. It’s so easy to lose your sense of humor, but guess what? I SURVIVED/ AM SURVIVING, and you can too! We have to!

Here are some of the sexist/anti-queer things that I experienced and—once I got the hang of it—how I dealt with them.

THAT TIME WHEN… I was asked to separate the male and female comedians for a show lineup by my superior.

Here is a quintessential example where I knew I had a voice and was entitled to use it. Confused as to why this seemed to be an issue with my boss, I retorted with, “Separating comedians based on gender doesn’t showcase anything but ignorance.” (YASSSSS. Crowd goes wild.) If you plant the seed for conversation in this type of situation, it prompts a discussion and may even slowly shift the framework in individuals who feel there is still a definite distinction of what’s funny between men and women. (#SPOILER: There isn’t.) In the end, my boss kept the lineup the way he wanted it. Sometimes your superior listens and that’s a start, but even if they do not, know that you tried to make an effort. You can’t win every battle!

THAT TIME WHEN… someone asked for my opinion and someone else immediately someone started talking over me.

OMG SO RUDE. You have every right to be up front and honest with the person that cuts you off. In a collaboration, all ideas are welcome, but there is a time and a place for contributing your own ideas. I made a point to wait for my colleague to finish talking, proving that I was not going to cut him off as well. I then politely, yet assertively let him know that cutting me off mid sentence was rude (in front of the entire group) and carried on leading the discussion. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting them in person, speaking to them privately about how it made you feel is 100% acceptable as well.

THAT TIME WHEN… I was told to “tone down” my sketch material because it was “too gay.”

Yup, this crappy lightning struck twice. Never ever get into a situation where a cisgender man tells you that your comedy is “too gay.” It’s sacrilegious! Knowing your audience before a show can immensely change the reception of your material. So that’s exactly what I did. Heeding those biased words with a grain of salt, I sought out more queer and female audiences that would better understand the jokes I was trying to make. They loved it, and in return I felt proud of my sketch baby who initially wasn’t receiving the proper love and care they needed. Always be proud of your metaphorical sketch baby!

THAT TIME WHEN… a coworker in a professional setting said, about a colleague, “Forgive me, but she’s too cute.”

Hard PASS. Anything you experience, or know of someone who has experienced this, REPORT IT. Inappropriate behavior is inexcusable in any sense. I sent an email to my superior’s superior, detailing the interaction we had, making it known that this was the behavior taking place and how uncomfortable it made me. Even though it wasn’t directed toward me, we have an obligation as women to have each other’s backs; to support each other no matter what!

THAT TIME WHEN… someone stole my jokes!

I mentioned a joke of mine to a guy friend of mine in private. Cut to: I see him perform THAT EXACT JOKE, to a crowd that ate up the LIES. People believe that women are vulnerable, naive beings and that’s just not true! (That, or he steals jokes from EVERYONE.) Never let someone else take advantage of your sense of humor and label it as their original joke. And wait until you hear the super clever and withering way I dealt with it! Well, we’ll all be waiting a while because I wussed out and avoided it. Basically (for some reason), I feared losing his friendship. It took me a long time to realize it’s okay to cut someone out of your circle if you can’t agree or at least compromise on the ground rules.

It was my best friend, Cher, who said in her 2013 contemporary hit Woman’s World, “Said I’m stronger, strong enough to rise above, this is a WOMAN’S WORLD…” and ain’t that the damn truth! It’s 2019 and women are funnier than ever. You never really believe that you’ll come across such adversaries in your career, but when it does happen, you now have the tools to combat the murky male-dominated waters! It’s a symbiotic relationship between your confidence and your comedy, and no dudeor anyone for that mattercan take that away from you.

How have you dealt with THAT TIME WHENs like these? Let us know @goldcomedy!

Photo via: Babbletop


Read Emily’s bio here. 

How to start your own comedy YouTube channel

Picture it. The date: Spring, 2015. The challenge: Fresh off a firing, I told myself to do something I enjoyed, even if it was not for money. The result: I launched “Stay Golden,” a YouTube channel of weekly original videos inspired by The Golden Girls. We’re talking mashups, interviews, rankings, lists and original scripted comedy (and more).

In the three years since that first video, I’ve produced over 90 videos, gained over 9,200 subscribers, started turning a profit, became a certified YouTube content creator, branched out to hosting Golden Girls Bingo in NYC, and got paying creative work. All of this came out of the channel that I still run today.

YouTube is a valuable platform for comedians at every stage in their career and should be in your creative arsenal. From showcasing your gigs to making your own content, YouTube will be a spotlight on all things you! With no money down, I’m going to give you the inside scoop on how to launch your channel in an hour or less. These are the basics to get rolling on YouTube.

What kind of channel do you want to be?: YouTube channels, like movies, tend to fall into categories. Stay Golden is a combination of comedy, entertainment, and vlogging inspired by the show. I make videos ranking every episode, mashups where “The Golden Girls” meet shows like “Game of Thrones,” and one epic five-hour loop of Dorothy Zbornak screaming “Condoms, Rose!”

The idea of a channel is to showcase your funny, your way. You could do comedic monologues, write and star in sketches on trending topics, develop a full-on web series based on your own life, or use the channel to upload videos of your live performances. And there’s so much more!

You can be one of these things or all of these things. The key here is to have a clear vision, at launch, of what you want to do that makes you feel confident and excited for your new channel.

Setting up your channel: We can get this done in under five minutes.

    • Already have a gmail account? Congratulations, you are 50% done with this part already. Log into YouTube using your gmail address. Visit your account settings to change the name of your channel.
    • Don’t have a gmail, or want to make a new one for your channel? Go to YouTube.com and click “create new account.” Fill out all required information. Your email is not your channel name; the “first and last” name fields make up your YouTube handle.

The key here is your channel name as a part of the setup. If the channel is about you, whether it is vlogs or videos of performances, consider making it your name. If it is sketches, scripted shows, or other comedy, make it your show’s name. Pro tip: Be sure to search the name in YouTube first to see if its already in use. If you need to change it, you can do this anytime in Google+.

HOW TO DO COMEDY: AN ONLINE WORKSHOP FOR GIRLS + “OTHERS”

LIKE SCHOOL, ONLY FUNNY

Channel art: These will be the first two images viewers associate with your channel. There is your banner and thumbnail. Think of these two items as your visual business card. They work together to tell the story of you and your channel.

  • Thumbnail: Also known as your logo. When thinking about your channel, what is the image that comes to mind? “Stay Golden” uses our name and a picture of a slice of cheesecake. If the channel is all your stand-up material, use your face as the thumbnail.
  • Banner: I talk about Golden Girls all day. My banner is their faces with information about my show. Banners are larger than thumbnails and take up the top of the channel page. Use bold colors and uncluttered images to catch viewer’s eyes. Relate it to what you do. And keep it simple. If your comedy is all about kittens, don’t put your dogs in there too. It doesn’t make sense.

Remember more than half of viewers watch YouTube on their phone. Your art needs to be clear enough to look good on smaller devices. Pro tip: You can use free services like canva.com or snappa.com to make these graphics in a snap. They come with drag-and-drop templates, fonts, and styles.

Uploading your videos: Whether it is original content or a recording from your last five-minute standup set, the process is the same. After clicking the camera icon in the top right corner to upload your video and hit these four hot spots:

  • Video title: You have to call it something. No video will ever get published on YouTube without one. Titles range from the silly to the straightforward. I like to number my videos so viewers know there are more out there to watch. Pro tip: Keep titles under 70 characters so they show up in searches without getting cut off.
  • Description: This is your area to chat it up! Tell people what the video is about. Plaster it with all your social media links and your website; tell people where they can find your next show.
  • Tags: These are search keywords related to this video and your channel. They help you show up in searches. Fun Fact: Don’t add too many tags a single video. If a video has more than 15 hashtags, it may get automatically left out or searches. We don’t want that.
  • End screens: People are loving your videos. Laughing it up. Wanting more! Use end screens to give them what they want: More of your awesome content! End screens link directly to your other videos and encourage viewers to subscribe.

Promotion: Launching a channel will expose you to a brand-new audience you might not otherwise be in front of. To broaden your exposure, you should promote your channel across other social media platforms. Share your links on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (if you’re on them). Don’t overlook other options like Tumblr, Buzzfeed, and Reddit. For example, I post every new video in the Golden Girls subreddit and get tons of views. Pro tip: Remind people to subscribe to your channel whenever you link to it.

Why YouTube is important: Comedy is a hustle. I am constantly submitting to shows, pitching producers and trying to get writing published. Let’s be real. It can often leave you feel lonely, stranded, and rejected.

With Stay Golden, I don’t have to wait for acceptance. If I have an idea, I make it. YouTube means creating without permission. You don’t have to be booked to tell jokes or commissioned for a sketch. You set up a camera or your phone, do your thing, upload it, and make your own audience. You take control and power of your voice by making your own opportunities.

Stay Golden has over 1 million views, 99% coming from total strangers. I think about the shows where I’ve performed for an audience of nine people or how hard it can be to get friends to come out for a show on Tuesday at 11 pm. YouTube breaks down the barriers of time, location, and space.


COURTNEY ANTONIOLI is a performer and storyteller who She produces Stay Golden, a YouTube channel of original content inspired by The Golden Girls. @stolafprod

How to collaborate in comedy with literally anyone ever

Sure, I do solo comedy. But I’ve been collaborating in one form or another for the majority of my life: sketch, improv, choreography, directing, producing, and working in writers’ rooms. I like both ways of working, and I think the best thing you can do for yourself is know how to do either one.

Finding a great writing partner, producing partner, or any other sort of comedy collaborator is a worthy goal. Working with someone else can make your creative life so much richer.

It can also make it a lot more complicated because now, instead of only navigating your own hang-ups, craziness, bad moods and assorted mishegas, you’ve also got someone else’s to contend with.

Add to that, there’s no playbook for a working relationship with your funny friends.

So I’ve written a little primer for you, replete with tips and tricks to remember as you bring collaborators into your (previously solo) process—and alphabetized for maximum adorableness.

Always encourage your collaborators and let them know when they’re doing a good job.

Between you and me” — Or maybe not. Gossip is toxic and will always come back to haunt you.

Constantly check in on deadlines to make sure that your partner knows what is due, when.

Deadlines are the only way. Create them for yourself. Little ones and big ones all along your path.

Everyone you meet is a potential collaborator. Treat people with respect (until they really blow it and then GTFO).

Forgive small mistakes. We are all learning. Learn and move forward and help your collaborators to do the same.

Give all of yourself to your projects or don’t bother doing them. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Have fun working together with your friends. When it stops being fun, notice — and make changes.

It’s okay to put yourself first. Make sure that you are not giving too much and getting nothing back. This should be an equal exchange.

Just say no to people who make you feel like garbage. You don’t need a collaborator who belittles you. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

Kick butt. Celebrate. Relax. Repeat.

Lone writing is not a bad thing. It’s great to take a break from collaborators sometimes and do it all on your own. You’ll learn a lot. See which way you prefer.

Make friends with people whose energy and work ethic you admire. Talent is nice, but over time, work ethic and positive energy will take you further. Seek out people who are talented and have an indefatigable spirit.

Nobody knows you better than yourself. Speak up about your needs creatively, financially, and in terms of time management. Don’t let alpha personalities silence you, and don’t step on the voices of others either.

Open yourself up to your writing partner’s ideas. Accept notes. They will make your work better.

Put yourself in the shoes of your collaborator. How is s/he seeing this situation?

Quality over quantity when it comes to rehearsal and writing time. You can get a lot done in a short, focused period of time and surprisingly little done when you’re unfocused or your team is too chatty to do any writing.

Read. It makes you a better writer.

Stop comparing yourself to your collaborators. Their strengths complete your weaknesses and vice versa. You had the good sense to work with them, and that’s a skill unto itself.

Take care of your body. Don’t rehearse and write till all hours of the night. Sleep makes you more awake and therefore more talented and more FANCY.

Untangle complicated social problems as soon as you can. Don’t let bad energy fester in your group. Talk it out and get rid of it. Put the work first.

Vent your grievances to your journal or practice role-playing with another trusted friend before having a difficult conversation to your collaborator. Words matter.

Wait until the show is over to celebrate. It’s not over till it’s over. Stay focused. Eyes on the prize.

Xerox your scripts well before your rehearsal so that everyone has copies and you’re not scrambling for a Staples. By Xerox, I mean print. (Work with me here, people. X is a tough one.)

You are always learning, even though you’re already a superstar. Stay humble.

Zip Zap Zop is still a fantastic warm up for your sketch or improv group. Don’t knock it. You’ll never outgrow a game that’s all about focus.

And those are the ABC’s of Collaboration!

Tell us: Do any of these tips remind you of a good story? Let us know (keeping people anonymous, though. See the Gossip note above….) Failure and success stories welcomed!


Read Emma’s bio.


How to handle rejection (in comedy): the top 5 ways

As you ponder the path that will help you become a successful comedian, you’re going to have to get used to a few things. One of these is being an unsuccessful comedian, at least for a little while — a subject I covered with a delightful article about how I inadvertently terrified a roomful of Youngs with a simple herpes mention at the mic. Another challenging reality will be rejections. Lots of rejections. So here’s my take on how to handle all those times when you don’t book the gig.

Get a life

I’m not trying to be shady! I mean this quite sincerely and with great love. Is comedy the only thing you think about, or do you have a community surrounding you that is rich enough and nurturing enough to help you sustain these rough ups and downs? If you find yourself obsessing about a recent rejection, reach out to a friend who will understand.

If you don’t have such a friend, get one. Get three. Everyone (your teacher, your aunt, your bank teller) understands rejection in one way or another, but you will find that your circle of artist buddies really gets, better than anyone, what it feels like to put your heart on the line and then not book something. Rejection in comedy can be particularly shaming because you make yourself really vulnerable when you’re trying to make people laugh. So when someone tells you they’re not feeling it, it feels somehow personal.

Make sure that your actor/artist/comedian/poet/musician friends know you have their back. Support your friend when she doesn’t get the role she wanted or when she is rejected for the second time from Jazz Choir. Be there for your squad and they will be there for you.

Comedy may look like a solo endeavor when you’re watching somebody’s Netflix standup special, but a quick Google search will reveal the enormous team and community behind every comedian.

Look for a pattern  

Are the yesses and nos you’re getting early in your early career starting to show a pattern?

I studied theater in college. After being roundly rejected from nearly all my auditions in my first two years of school, I unexpectedly booked a wonderful paid show that called for actors who could write, sing, dance, and act. I marveled at this opportunity, because so many of the things I’d auditioned for that year called for me to do only one of those things.

In the years to come, I’d consistently get rejected from shows and opportunities, but whenever writing was in the mix, I’d book the show, the sketch group, the workshop. Once I had the presence of mind to reflect, the pattern became pretty obvious: Writing comedy was the thing that separated me from other aspiring artists; performing the comedy I had written was a close second. Those were the skills that booked me the jobs.

Take a look at your recent yesses and nos. Does a pattern emerge? Can you look at that pattern with a little bit of detachment (I promise, you can be bitter as you want when you’re done reading this article, but just indulge me for a sec)? Let the rejections fall away and take a look at where you are getting those yesses.

Now, to contradict myself. If you are very new to the comedy game, don’t read into your rejections at all. Notice that I was reflecting on my first two years of college when I began to trace this pattern. It may be too soon for you to do that. If that’s the case, just keep on trucking. Your rejections, though they may sting, are basically irrelevant information for you, young squire;  right now your job is to build up your endurance and keep getting back in the saddle of the comedy horse that keeps throwing you off. Yes, you can!

Have a ritual

When you work out, you do a warm-up and a cooldown. (Or you should, anyway.) The warm-up is to get your muscles ready, and the cooldown is to return your muscles to normal. Your emotional muscles work in much the same way.

When you prepare for a big audition, for instance, you get your brain and heart working at full capacity. You warm up, prepare for that moment, and give it all you’ve got. One thing I learned recently from a quick interview (aka phone call) with Peak Performance Coach Rae Tattenbaum (aka my mom!) is that after a big show or audition, you need to have a come-down ritual to bring your brain and heart back to a neutral state.

I told my mom that I was having trouble focusing after I had done a big show. I told her that my mind and body still felt like I was performing. I was on edge and couldn’t relax and move on to my next projects, despite their looming deadlines. She told me that I needed to cultivate a cool-down process after shows/events/auditions so that I could bring myself back to a neutral state and start my next projects without what Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, calls “attention residue” — the feeling that you’re still kind of doing the last thing you did when you try to start the next thing.

Rejection works the same way. When you get the email or the phone call or you see the cast list posted, have a little ritual or quiet moment planned ahead of time. Honor the effort you put in with a cool-down ritual to thank yourself and just be sad for a little bit if you need to be. The day you’re expecting news, plan ahead for it, and you won’t be blindsided if it’s bad news that comes your way.

Reward the effort, if not the result

My friend had submitted a killer writing packet for a TV show and gone through multiple rounds of interviews. She was very close to booking a job that she had put many hours of work and daydreaming into. After a month of labor and back and forth emails, she called me, heartbroken, with bad news: She was not hired. She confided in me that she felt she might not get over this for a long time. What could she do to put all those lost hours in perspective? What should she do about this terrible feeling that she’d never book anything ever again?

This cuts to the heart of rejection pathos. It’s like cooking a whole meal, smelling it as it comes out of the oven, serving it to diners who get to eat it and then having nothing left for yourself. Rejection can leave you feeling cheated and dissatisfied.

Best way to solve this? Jewelry. Well, costume jewelry.

I told this sad friend what I tell you now: Go buy yourself a little present that will forever remind you of what a great job you did in pursuit of this opportunity. Celebrate what you know to be your success, even if you didn’t get the results you wanted.

My friend bought herself a little silver ring that depicts a hand making the OK signal. She wears it all the time. To her it means, “You done good, kid.” It helped her to close the chapter and, indeed, she did go on to write for a different TV show not long after — with me, no less! Lucky girl!

Follow up

Just because a gatekeeper rejects you in this moment doesn’t mean they always will. It took me three auditions to get into my college’s prestigious sketch-comedy group. Persistence pays off and, along with that, follow-ups pay off. Stay in the network of the people who reject you, if you like them and think you’ve got a future collaborating together. Sometimes you’re not quite ready, or they’re not quite ready for you. Wait it out and when the fates align, your persistence and your follow-ups will pay off.

Rejection is a temporary thing. A temporary thing you hafta go through for a long time. That’s the truth, but it’s no way to end an article! Here’s a picture of a llama with a very cool haircut. In my eyes, you are as brave and as fabulous as this llama. Go forth and make your comedy!


Read Emma’s bio.

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How to bounce back after bombing: learn from comedians

Have you heard this quote from Ira Glass?

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”

Well, now you have. The first time I read it, I bawled, but these days I just get the kind of tears that sort of stick to your eyeballs. Age and experience have toughened me.

At some point, early in your comedy journey, you will experience your first big honkin’ failure. This will stand apart from just “not being good yet,” and will instead be a true failure. Just like with heartbreak, your first will sting hardest because you don’t yet have the tools to deal with it.

I’d like to tell you how an experienced failure-ista such as myself processes, recovers from, and grows better through failure so that, when you hit your first big comedy fail, you are prepared to rebound like a champ!

My Failure Story:

I did standup one night at a bar and I failed. I’m kind of a pro at failing (true humble brag), so I want you to pay attention not just to the failure itself, but to how I reflected upon it and used it to grow.

I was doing lots of small standup shows to prepare for one big show, a Comedy Central showcase that my manager had managed to book for me. It was kind of shocking because I don’t consider myself a standup comic… like, at all. I had done years of sketch comedy, comedic acting, and essay writing, but standup is it’s own animal and I had very little experience with it. However, I said YES!… and figured, I better become a standup comedian! Fast! My wonderful friend and collaborator, director Preston Martin, would schlep out to these little shows with me to watch my work and give me notes on the writing and performance after each one.

This one night, Preston couldn’t make it. I got a little giddy and wanted to take some risks, so I opted to wing it a little.

Onstage, I waded into some subject matter that was a little taboo. I guess I have to tell you. (Facepalm emoji.) For some reason, I thought that cold sores, as in mouth herpes, would make for interesting subject matter. I feel like, statistically, since so many humans get them, and since many people would be kissing that very Saturday night, that it wasn’t the most outrageous topic to bring up. However, I immediately saw my audience stiffen. Wrong crowd. It occurred to me that these folks were very young, terrified of herpes, and also that I wasn’t funny. So I was just an unfunny person on a stage talking about a virus that frightens people. (Multiple facepalm emojis.)

Then, since the trash fire had already begun, I made a joke about book clubs, which wound up with the line “I’m never gonna join your book club, so stop asking.” Of course, the one friend I had in the audience had just invited me to join her book club, something I only realized as the super-aggro non-joke slipped out of my mouth. In a neat thirty seconds, I had alienated my one remaining ally in the audience.

My whole set was bad, not just those two unsavory moments. My hands were sweating. The small of my back was sweating. My throat was tightening. I returned to some familiar material that had worked in the past, but it was too late. I stayed onstage until I saw the emcee mercifully wave her lit phone at me, the signal that I could stop shooting this dead horse and would be allowed to exit and lick my wounds away from the public eye.

To be clear, I’ve had other nights where I went off script and improvised some gems that I’m still using. This could have gone either way. But it went down, way down. Number a billion with a bullet.

I managed to get through the aftermath and return to the stage again — and did the Comedy Central showcase to boot. Having fallen so squarely on my face in preparation for the showcase was, indeed, one of the factors that made my performance that big night so solid. For the showcase itself, I stuck to my jokes that worked. I was emboldened by having experienced the worst and gotten it out of the way a week prior. I did a great job at the showcase and was happy with all the preparation I’d put in: The successful open mics and the failed ones, too.

Nowadays I do standup in the form of hosting HQ Trivia and hosting fundraiser events and whatever else I’m asked to do. I’m no longer afraid of standup and I can confidently put it on my resume, which opens up my job opportunities.

Since I had no guide in this particular out-of-my-comfort-zone journey, I want to provide one for yours. Here’s how I handle this kind of failure, and my advice to other temporary-failures like me.

Be gracious.

Sometimes, failure is obvious to the beholder. But other times, what feels fail-y to you looks great from the outside. Continue to be kind to those around you in the moments that follow your failure. Don’t let your self-loathing stink up the room. To my credit that night, I stuck around to socialize with the other comics and I thanked the women who had taken a risk to book me as a newbie. I thanked the friend who had come only to be made fun of for her (probably very impactful and empowering) book club. This takes wisdom and an eye toward the long game of networking and building relationships. This is just one night. It’s not a domino.

Find something you did well.

After a dumpster-fire experience, after your initial shock wears off, reflect on what did go well. One thing? Before the memory calcifies as a categorically “not good” one, see if you can salvage some tiny positive takeaway. In my case, I can say, looking back, that it was brave of me to get up and depart from my crafted jokes and try some looser, improvised stuff. It didn’t work that night, but some of it did the next time I tried it.

See how finding something good can place your failure in a larger context as part of a learning curve? No? You’re still mortified and angry about dropping your lines in the school play? Well. I’ve been there, too.

Consider how you might have misgauged your audience.

As I went home that night on the subway, replaying my failure, I saw that the audience had been younger than I’d anticipated and that some of my material on dating had freaked them out. I remembered squinting through the bar stage lights at the young couples and thinking, “Oh, this is only funny to me ’cause I’m like nine years older than they are.” This is what is meant by, “Know your audience.”

Choose one exciting point of improvement that you can’t wait to crush text time.

I felt terrible inertia after bombing that night. I didn’t want to get up and perform again, but I had the looming deadline of the Comedy Central showcase and I wanted very much to nail it.

I recommitted to my next small show being precise and tightly scripted, but bringing the feeling of improv to it. I took what felt safe in previous shows and married it with what had felt so dangerous when I failed. That next practice show was electrified by the specter of failure and my renewed commitment to clearer jokes and better writing.

This pendulum of safety and risk will be the most consistent aspect of our process. Risk will sometimes mean glory and will sometimes mean failure.

Final thoughts!

Ice cream. Can help with failure. Preferably ice cream with a friend, but ice cream alone is acceptable, under the circumstances. I like to have ice cream to celebrate both success and failure, because it reinforces this central tenet of comedy: Ice cream will still be there when you fail. Life goes on!

End of article. Now here’s some other stuff:

HERE IS THE ICE CREAM PHOTO.

I was gonna go home to sleep, but instead I decided to eat this sundae in a diner and tell you about someone special. Preston has been coming to my open mics these past two weeks in various basements to listen to some wonderful comics, but also massive quantities of homophobic and misogynistic sludge while he waited for me to go up. He has guided me with his wonderful directorial and dramaturgical insights and has helped me bridge the gap btwn skills I have and new ones I’m building. I’m so thrilled about the pathways stand up will open for me and these two weeks have left me with an enormously positive stockpile of good energy to take with me into more cruddy places where funny women are needed. Tonight’s show was awesome and I’m so happy that Preston extended this offer and his time to sit with me as I prepared. So this long post is to acknowledge him even tho all of Facebook already knows he’s the best. Duh.

(Main photo via Nikki Hampson)


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Mini Q+A with…Chanel Ali

Chanel Ali is a standup comedian who blossomed on the Philadelphia circuit before moving to New York City in 2015. Her stage presence and story teller style make her a crowd favorite as she covers her upbringing, her world view, and life as a comedian who doubles as a polite person in real life. She was recently featured on an episode of Night Train with Wyatt Cenac and performs regularly at Caroline’s on Broadway and New York Comedy Club. Follow her!


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

Right now, I’m a babysitter, just juggling babies and killing it at my job. You’re the guy, who’s bringing in mooore babies. Let me work.

Describe your worst gig.

I once had a gig at a bar that didn’t have a stage. They told us to stand near the pool table and gave us a wireless mic while the crowd was screaming watching the Super Bowl. Every comedian got one minute in before the boos took over. Afterwards, we could only laugh for having the guts to even try it.

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

Comedy is minutes, tiny bursts of opportunity on a show or a mic. Whenever you’re lost, get back on stage again, and again, and again.

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

Steve Martin has a book called Born Standing Up and I read it after the first time I bombed in front of a lot of people. He said that his goal was to be good. Consistently good. Which is a hard goal. Moments of greatness happen all the time in comedy but consistency? It sounded daunting. I committed myself to the idea and invested heavily in learning from my mistakes. I became meticulous about my sets, keeping notes, taking audio recordings, studying the good, bad or weird.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Don’t get comfortable in how that joke goes. It could change overtime, it could get better or become different. The joke isn’t done until you say so.

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

Sometimes I try to get people to laugh in business settings. I’ll make a bill collector laugh on the phone and then make a better deal. It helps drop the tension in a lot of situations and creates an energy where people feel compassion.

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

It’s that old saying, dress for the job you want. Every time you get on stage you have an opportunity to showcase yourself and your work. Sometimes you have to use an open mic to showcase a complete set, to show that you have the material organized and that you are ready to be booked. Put yourself in the mindset of a booker watching a bunch of open mic sets. If you were booking a show you would want someone who goes up on stage with a plan and executes it. You’d want someone who seems polished and fun.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Not my favorite honestly. I don’t want to be called that but I really don’t care if the next person does. I just like to be called a comedian. I think it’s gender neutral and I think it’s who I am, through and through.


Chanel Ali is a standup comedian who blossomed on the Philadelphia circuit before moving to New York City in 2015. Her stage presence and story teller style make her a crowd favorite as she covers her upbringing, her world view, and life as a comedian who doubles as a polite person in real life. She was recently featured on an episode of Night Train with Wyatt Cenac and performs regularly at Caroline’s on Broadway and New York Comedy Club. Follow her!