Mini Q+A with Mary Beth Barone

Mary Beth Barone is a Manhattan-based comedian, writer, and actor. She was recently named one of Comedy Central’s Up Next and performed at their Clusterfest showcase in June 2019. Mary Beth can be seen hosting her monthly stand-up show at Peppi’s Cellar with Benito Skinner or at PUBLIC hotel in New York City, where she has a stand-up residency. She also hosts Drag His Ass: A F*ckboy Treatment Program, a show she feels very strongly about. Mary Beth currently hosts/produces the podcast Mildly Offensive. Check out her upcoming appearances here, and follow her!


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

Can you shut up?

Describe your worst gig.

I did survive a terrible set in Bushwick. The host brought me up as “the person who caused 9/11” and then the microphone broke in the middle of my set. I bombed HARD!

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

Do the work, speak your truth, and f*ck everything else!

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

The unconditional support of my friends and family.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Try to learn one thing from every performance.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

A random audience member once followed me outside of a club after my set to tell me he really enjoyed my comedy but then proceeded to give me notes on some of my jokes. He said “you should be writing this down.” Mhm sure thing.

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

I love it except when I’m the only girl on a lineup and I need a hair-tie.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

We don’t use that word in my house 🙂

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

Flirting is easier now to be honest! It’s always been good to bring a levity to certain situations but I’ve definitely had many moments of putting my foot in my mouth.

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

Get a great tape you are proud of and don’t be shy about sharing it.

What single word always cracks you up?

Smegma. I’m disgusting.

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

My journey in comedy started because of a few different people and circumstances. Watching Broad City inspired me to take improv at UCB and watching Inside Amy Schumer was the kick I needed to try stand-up. So I guess you could say without Comedy Central, I wouldn’t be here!


Mary Beth Barone is a Manhattan-based comedian, writer, and actor. She was recently named one of Comedy Central’s Up Next and performed at their Clusterfest showcase in June 2019. Mary Beth can be seen hosting her monthly stand-up show at Peppi’s Cellar with Benito Skinner or at PUBLIC hotel in New York City, where she has a stand-up residency. She also hosts Drag His Ass: A F*ckboy Treatment Program, a show she feels very strongly about. Mary Beth currently hosts/produces the podcast Mildly Offensive. Check out her upcoming appearances here, and follow her!

Mini Q+A with Rebecca Caplan

Rebecca Caplan is a sketch and satire writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently a staff writer for CollegeHumor, and the director and writer of the short film Show Off. You can listen to her on Caught in The Web, and find her contributions to the Shouts & Murmurs section of The New Yorker. Rebecca was named one of New York’s top comedians to look out for in 2018. Follow her!

Best comedy advice you ever got?

“Do your thing and don’t care if they like it,” from Tina Fey’s book (by way of a story about Amy Poehler, I believe).

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

“You should try improv.” I’m bad at improv and should not pursue it.

Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

Muting them.

Describe your worst gig.

I gave a bad speech at my dad’s 60th birthday party. In my defense, there was an open bar. I’m still in comedy to this day.

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

Knowing my parents were paying for me to get a degree in “Television-Radio”, there’s not much to go off there.

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

I’ve never felt like being the “funny friend “was the hand I was lucky to be dealt because I wasn’t smart/pretty/cool enough to be the smart/pretty/cool friend. I just felt like it was the person I liked being. I liked that my humor was the quality that attracted people to me. Growing up, it felt good to have my self esteem bolstered with a quality I liked about myself. It gave me confidence growing up when other areas of my self-image might have been shaky.

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

I haven’t hung out with a person who says stuff like that since I was in high school. And that wasn’t really a choice; it was just, you know, homeroom.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Not using that word is important to some people and using that word is important to some people! Some women or non-binary people might want to move away from what they perceive to be a gendered word. Others might feel empowered by having a title associated with femininity. I think both are valid approaches. As with anything regarding identity, the most important part is respecting the person you’re attaching something like this to. If you’re a person who thinks one way is right over another based on what makes yourself the most comfortable, as opposed to the person it might affect, then you’re coming at it from the wrong way.

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

I don’t like to respond to that question too often. The quota has been met on cis white women in comedy answering that question. Cis white women are not the Lorax for all women in comedy. Women in comedy, as with women in all industries, are not a monolith.

A standup’s experience is different from a screenwriter’s. To a larger point, a black woman’s experience is different from a white woman’s. Identities make up different experiences that can’t be summed up by one privileged person’s experience. And I often feel as if that is the point of this question, to wrap up the problems ALL women face in comedy in a neat little bow.

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

I genuinely hope I’m not spending my precious deathbed time doling out free advice to 20-year-old comedians instead of like, spending time with my great-great-great grandson. (I intend to live until I am very old.) My advice would be stop hanging out with old dying comedians and go do some comedy stuff. Also stop checking your Twitter follower count.

(main photo via: Hannah Grant)


Rebecca Caplan is a sketch and satire writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently a staff writer for CollegeHumor, and the director and writer of the short film Show Off.  You can listen to her on Caught in The Web, and find her contributions to the Shouts & Murmurs section of The New Yorker. Rebecca was named one of New York’s top comedians to look out for in 2018. Follow her!


Read Cassandra’s bio here.

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Five steps to ace your improv audition

So you wanna be on an improv team? Great! Being on a team is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Why? For one thing, the key tenets of improv—listening, being a supportive team member, building on what’s given — apply to pretty much everything else. “One of the sayings of my improv group was, ‘Take improv off the stage and into life,’” says Abigail Schneider, former director of the Yale Ex!t Players. Also, you’ll make lifelong friends, and “group mind”—that zone you get into with a good team on a good night—is its own magical nirvana for comedy nerds.

Improv classes at UCB helped me to find my voice as an actor, a writer, and a sketch comedian. Improv for many is their passion and chosen art form, but for me it was a jumping off point to a deeper understanding of other forms of comedy. The improv teams that I joined while I was training allowed me to latch on to funny patterns and spot material more easily out in the real world, which has helped with writing in all the forms I do: essay, standup, sketch, and script-writing. As an actor, improv taught me about responding truthfully and listening. More important than all those things: improv gave me a shared language that I use to this day when I collaborate with other comedy writers.

Before you get in that audition room, here’s what you need to do.

Take a class.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, and the teacher does not have to be famous. Read class reviews and look for important comments like, “I felt safe to make lots of mistakes,” “I had FUN,” “I met great people,” and “My confidence is higher after taking this class.” Conversely, avoid classes that prompt comments like, “I lost a finger in this class,” “I hate myself more than ever upon graduation,” or “Turns out I’m not funny.” Improv is, at its core, empowering when it’s taught correctly.

If you can’t take a class, read Truth in Comedy by Chana Halpern and Del Close and Impro by Keith Johnstone. Actually, read those in addition to the class. (Skim the Johnstone. It’s the definitive text, but it’s ponderous.) (Abigail also recommends Improvisation at the Speed of Life:TJ and Dave’s Book.)

See a lot of improv — especially by the team you want to join.

Remember that your special voice will make you an asset to the team, but it doesn’t hurt at all to know the existing style of the team before you join it. Every comedy group, sketch or improv, has its own voice, and it pays to be familiar with the one you want to join.

Introduce yourself to the team.

Networking can be scary, but that improv class taught you fearlessness (or began the journey toward it), and you are on a mission to bring laughter to the world—a journey that begins with a single step. March right up after a show and say, “Hello! Your team is awesome! I’m auditioning soon! See you there!” (But make that your own, maybe with fewer exclamation points, ya know?)

I just noticed that I basically told you to stalk the team. Don’t stalk the team. Just be familiar with them and become a familiar face to them. Without night-vision goggles or grappling hooks.

Get your head in the game.

Get lots of sleep the night before. Take care of your precious brain, because that’s what makes you a funny human. Then the best thing you can do is “stop thinking about improv,” says Carsen Smith, GOLD’s 2017 summer intern and director of Vanderbilt University’s Tongue ‘n’ Cheek.

What to do instead? Before you go into the room, sit in a quiet spot with your hand on your heart and BREATHE. Soften your sternum and say “Thank you, self, for showing up today! This is gonna be a special opportunity to share my superpowers with fun people!”

Okay, maybe you’re thinking, “Wowww, this listicle just took a turn for the truly woo-woo.Fair point. But remember that comedy is about finding the truth. If you want to make people laugh, you must be grounded, relaxed, and ready to listen and say what’s true for you. This starts with your heart.

A friend of mine took an improv workshop with the actor Alan Arkin, who was part of the Chicago community that created improvisational theater in the 1950s. He talked about “the zone,” and how addictive it can be, and how chasing that feeling can actually kill your comedy dead. For him, letting go of that chase, being self-aware and in touch with his truth; and physically taking his hand from his head to his heart to remind himself where the truth is—that’s his secret to great improv, as well as a good life. Sometimes woo-woo is good, folks. Don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it.

Side note: you can also get your head in the game by being like, “Head, this is a game.” GOLD workshop alum Tessa Abedon, who just got into Cheap Sox in her first year at Tufts, says: “What works for me is to think of it not as an audition, but as a game. I always remember how the games I used to play with my sisters included making up characters and really believing we were who we said, simply because it was fun. Embrace the chance to play, even as an adult.”

Listen to your scene partners.

Okay! Good, you’re still reading! We got through the witchy part together. The next step is to NOT PANIC. Whenever you are onstage, and even when you’re off, stay in the moment, and don’t try to make yourself shine by out-yukking everyone else. That’s standup. This is improv.

Improv has no script, props, stage design, or costumes. So, the only thing you have is your scene partner, which is terrifying, but also great. You guys are in it together and you have to work together, by listening, to create a great scene,” notes Abigail Schneider. “And listening doesn’t just mean aurally, but physically and emotionally as well.”

I get it: Auditions are nerve-racking. That’s what’s exciting and/or vomitous, or both, depending on how you frame it. But whether you’re a thrill-seeker or an introvert who likes to make people giggle, you’ll be best served by keeping your knees lightly bent, breathing, feeling your feet on the floor. Your body will help you listen. Remember these physical things, and you will be able to apply everything you learned in class: Yes-and-ing, listening, and building relationships with your scene partners.

BONUS STEP!

Right after your audition, write down one thing you did fantastically well. Your brain will naturally be more aware of ways that you screwed up, and that’s okay. Brains are dicks like that. But if you want to make yourself a better improviser, force yourself to consciously note what you did well. That way you’ll be sure to grow that skill and CRUSH IT again next time you audition. Because you’re going to have many auditions. This is only one, not the only one.

Congrats! You’ve begun the marathon! Here’s to many more scary and wonderful comedy experiences.

Got any improv-related audition stories? Successes and failures equally welcome — it’s all part of the journey. Share with us @GOLDcmdy!


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Mini Q+A with…X Mayo

X Mayo is a comedy writer, and the founding member of an independent all-black, 11-person improv/sketch comedy team My Momma’s Biscuits. X and co-host Shenovia will be hosting Unsung Heroes Of Black History, the only Black History Month show premiering at Upright Citizens Brigade. You do not want to miss the show  featuring character bits and sketches written and performed by black comics you might have seen on Comedy Central, the CBS Diversity Showcase, Netflix, TV Land, MTV, Upright Citizen’s Brigade and more. It’s on February 22! Get your tickets now!


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

Be kind to yourself and protect your energy. Have clear boundaries. Boundaries aren’t walls to keep people out, they’re parameters to keep YOU safe!

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

Tell ’em, “BOY BYE!”

Best comedy advice you ever got?

“Ay yo X! Be YOU! People will love it!”

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

You can’t do more than one project at a time.

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

It’s helped me get out of a lotttttttt of traffic tickets!

Single word that always cracks you up?

Alopecia.

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

There are multiple comedians who inspired me (Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Eddie Murphy, Lucille Ball and more) but when I saw Queen Latifah in Living Single, that was the first time I saw myself on screen. She looked like me, talked like me, walked like me — she inspires me to be a household name and pursue all of my dreams! In my mind I am Khadijah James.

 


X Mayo is a performer, writer, and the founding member of an independent all-black, 11-person improv/sketch comedy team My Momma’s Biscuits.

Photo via: Bijan Mejia

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Mini Q+A…with Erika Abdelatif

Erika Abdelatif is an activist, editor for Bustle, and the creator and host of ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallopian Tubes’ at UCBTLA. Follow her.


What has helped you stick with all the challenges of comedy? 

1. Spending intentional time building meaningful friendships and spending time with my family. They’ll remind you of your worth when you feel like you’re failing, or not living up to what you’re capable of.

2. Remembering that there is SO much suffering and pain in the world right now. It’s really a gift to make people laugh, and if you’re not going to do it — who will?

3. If you quit now, do you really have a backup that would make you as happy?

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

I feel pity for the fact that they lead such small lives.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

REWRITE. One thing I don’t feel people say enough: get notes, but ultimately, you know your project best. Don’t feel pressured to implement every note. Really mull over and weigh your notes and only use the stuff you believe in.

Worst comedy advice you ever got? 

Hm, I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten directly bad advice (oh no, maybe I have and I’ve been implementing it into my life!).

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

Two things stand out: I was a non-white kid growing up in an almost all-white neighborhood. I don’t think I realized it until later, but being silly really helped me find my way in school, in a place where I’d probably be viewed as “different” had I not developed those skills.

Before I came back to comedy, I worked in the non-profit world. I think humor helped me make sense of some of the really challenging things I witnessed, as well as lighten the load for people who were suffering.

Single word that always cracks you up?

Weenis.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Gross.

Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

I try not to respond to trolls anymore. They don’t have the right to steal my joy. If it’s something I’m really considering responding to, I’ll try to step away for an hour or two to cool down, so I can make sure I’m responding with a clear head and not out of pure rage. 🙂

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

Don’t be afraid to ask: ask for what you want, ask for help, ask if you can work with people. You’re probably missing out on opportunities simply because you’re too afraid of hearing no. (But hearing no isn’t that bad, to be honest.)

Photo of Erika via: Amanda Christine Studio


 

Erika Abdelatif is an activist, editor for Bustle, and the creator and host of ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallopian Tubes’ at UCBTLA. Follow her.

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