NY v. US

Pete Holmes gave me great advice a year ago.  He said “New York will make you better by beating the shit out of you, and that you need places to go to remind yourself that your funny.”  That used to be Grandma’s Basement for me, but recently the audiences have been so full of returning people (which is great!), it’s not fun to work on the jokes I would like to over and over again.

Basically, I’ve quit the Hojo’s.  Not yet, but as of January 1st, I’m done, and I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing.  I may just live in New York and spend much more time than I would like to contacting bookers to get more shows.  I may move to Washington, DC, where I could accrue some feature work before returning to New York, so I’d have other places to go to feel funny.  I may move to San Francisco, where I have a ton of college friends and believe I would have the most opportunity to perform, or maybe Chicago where I could try to do more clubs and improv.  The most fun sound like SF and Chicago, and I’m not moving to Chicago in January, so there’s a good chance it’ll be SF.  At this point I’d move to rural Mississippi if I knew I could perform a bunch and make a living, but I think my supporting myself through art stage is still years away.

I’m probably over-thinking everything, but I’d rather work food service and do several shows in front of audience members per week, than try to hustle my way through the bottom of New York.  It doesn’t seem necessary.  Plenty of people move in and get on better shows immediately.  Don’t get me wrong, if you want to pay me to do anything to stay here, I will do it.  But I’d rather travel and develop in different cities, exposing myself to different ideas, than perform in front of the same people constantly.  I never envisioned my act to be a series of one liners.  I always imagined I’d have an interweaving, borderline one-man show, with some real emotion as well as comedy, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to develop that in New York.  I think New York will be my ultimate destination now that I have an idea of what level of comedy I should be at to live here, but I’d rather do a several of feature-length spots  in another city, than infinite open mic spots in New York.  I’ve seen the people who rise quickly in this city, and they’re typically either attractive young black dudes, or sad young white men (there are plenty of exceptions, but that’s how it feels).  And I say this not meaning to take anything away from those people.  Everyone who rises quickly here is working harder than everyone, and is FUNNY.  But they’re also getting stage time in front of audiences that don’t necessary like them immediately, but there’s an affinity for them.  In the same vane, I think whatever my character represents would work well in San Francisco.  That might just be an excuse for my ego’s sake, but that’s what I’m going with for now.  Decisions soon!



New York’s kicking my butt.  It’s good for me in the long run, but it becomes harder to motivate myself to go out to opens mics.  I need to get on more shows with real audiences.  However, it’s been frustrating to see who’s getting booked on some of these shows, where bookers aren’t even returning my emails.  I’m as good or better than a lot of (some of) them, but I’m not a draw.  They don’t NEED to book me.  I’m an unknown.

But that’s the issue:  my main dream is to perform.  To work and rework jokes.  I’d get onstage 10 hours a day if I could, and write mainly from the stage.  That’s what I’ve been trying to accomplish with the improv.   More performance hours.  Getting up and doing these intensive classes from 10 AM to 4pm 4-5 days a week, was SO much fun!  If I had the money I’d do it constantly.

The writing is tougher.  That feels more like work to me.  For the past few months, I’ve only averaged a page or two a day.  I’d love to say it was from the physical exhaustion of crashing on different couches every week, doing as much improv and stand up as possible, continually trying to find new sublets at cheap prices, and so on.  But it’s more been my avoidance of failure.  My avoidance of throwing my entire self out there to be judged.  Which is a suffocating way to approach writing, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing recently, and his words have made me realize I’m being too hard on myself. Again.  Jokes, or any writing for that matter, will be edited a thousand times by strangers of varying expertise,  so why not enjoy the writing process, and sift  for gold later?  Developing an act is mostly about people telling you not to tell that one anymore, so why do it to yourself?  I’ve decided I’m doing 10 pages a day until I like it, or start breaking all my pens so I can’t write anymore.  I’ve written 30 notebook pages (one side) in the past 3 days.  I woke up this morning dreading doing it again, searched the internet for an hour, but writing here has oiled my brain a bit.


Hey, all-of-my-fans!  I’m sure you’ve been waiting these past four months with bated breath, and for that I deeply apologize for the negative health effects attributed to long-term bated breathing.  What have I been doing that’s kept me from writing?  Well, I was hoping you’d ask…

I’ve been on an improv binge.  Since July, I’ve taken UCB improv classes through level 2, PIT through level 2, and Magnet classes through level 3.  I’ve also taken the level 1 Musical Improv class, an “Accessing Emotions” workshop, and a independent class about “Getting to the Funny Faster” in scenes, all through Magnet.  Within those four months I’ve also taken two days of classes for the UCB level 3, before withdrawing because it felt like a waste of time.

All this I’ve done in New York, while continuing to commute back to Boston on weekends to bartend our Howard Johnson award-winning comedy room.  “But Tom, how could you be in Boston and New York at the same time?”  Great question again!  Since August, I’ve been subleting in New York, crashing on couches in Boston, and taking one overnight bus back to NY per week.

Has it been helpful?  Absolutely.  I’m definitely improving (no pun intended).  The improv has helped punch my brain into dealing with hecklers better.  I’m a sensitive boy, who’s only slowly starting to grasp the scope of trying to make a living at comedy.  Most of the time in Boston I avoided any room that didn’t book me immediately or would heckle me.  Even two, three years in, I would panic and almost tear up, not from being hurt so much as the intense pressure I would put on myself, to not only shut this guy up, but also show him the error of his ways so he didn’t heckle in the future, and finally, make him my friend.  I’d basically give myself an impossible task and hate myself for not achieving it.  On several occasions, an audience member has tried (and usually succeeded) to buy me a beer as an apology for hurting my delicate feelings.

Improv has helped me stay calm in the face of someone saying something stupid, because that’s mainly what you deal with in low-level classes.  Here’s a typical level one scene:  A stranger and I stand facing each other on stage, and I’ll say, “It’s great to be hunting on these hunting grounds!” and they’ll say, “My dick is a flamingo!”  And then you have to stay in character and try to work with it.  Incredibly similar to heckling.  Before improv, I’d say, “What? Um…let’s get these deer!”  Now it’d be more of a “…Trust me, it’s clear it’s a flamingo.  No one can not tell it’s a flamingo.”  And I would gesture at his crouch indicating he had a flamingo sticking out there.  Not amazing, but deals with the situation in a way where’s he’s a crazy person I’m dealing with respectfully, and we’re moving on.  I’ve listened and accepted his idea, and now it’s his responsibility to remember he lives in a reality where he has poultry genitals.  Every time he forgets he has his member gets it’s pink coloring from all the shrimp it digests, he’ll look stupid.  I’m not making him look stupid, I listened to him and respected what he was saying something necessary, and by forgetting, he’s showing he was actually just out for attention.  It’s not the best ideology for improv scenes, but it’s great for hecklers.

That’s all for now.  There’s a lot more in my brain I need to dump into this blog, and that will come over the next few months.  Expect another spurt of blog posts before I go on another long hiatus!

Pass Fail

I had my audition for Comic Strip Live yesterday.  Every year or so, the Comic Strip holds a lottery where you get a date to audition for the club.  For the audition, you do 5 minutes after the 8:30pm show ends…for the same audience.  The first show was over 2 hours long, audience members will leave over the course of the show, and then at the end the host goes, “And now, the auditions!  Did I mention there are auditions?”  The remaining patrons groan at the realization they’re now hostages.  That’s a little over-dramatic, but the point is, the audience is not excited to see you.  It’s actually a good system, because only seasoned comics with solid jokes will do well with them (unless, of course, the audience is mostly friends of a comic auditioning.”

That said, I did not pass.  I did alright, but it wasn’t a strong set.  The things that hit, hit.  The things that did not, did not.  The booker, JR, gave me the best possible feedback for not passing, I think.  He said it was obvious I was creative and had some solid jokes, but needed to be more concise with my writing and edit more.  This is what I half-expected going into it, so it was nice to get reassurance that I’m not that delusional on my comedic abilities.

We got to watch some of the regular Comic Strip acts, too, and while watching them I realized I probably wasn’t going to pass.  I don’t think many of them were insanely better than me, but a lot of their jokes were soooooo predictable, or at least things I’ve heard variations of previously.  I got more and more depressed as I saw what the audience was laughing at, and even saw pros doing jokes I’ve thrown away because I thought they were too easy (I still think they’re too easy).

But then again, I might be too critical.  I was watching Jim Gaffigan’s new special, Mr. Universe, and he did a long bit on the Dominoe’s pasta bowls.  To me, the bit seems like a variation on Patton Oswalt’s KFC Famous Bowls joke.  Gaffigan does something different with it,  which should be fine.  Logically, both jokes are unique, but emotionally, they feel like the same thing to me.  But I’m starting to wonder if anyone would agree with that.

Perchance, to Dream…

Haven’t slept much…worked Sat and Sun at Hojo’s…took overnight Greyhound from Boston…used most of my time since arriving to plan when and where I can nap:  tomorrow.  3:30pm.  On some weathered boulders in Central Park.  I know that sounds very specific, but that’s only because I’ve done it before.  Everything’s gonna be fine (Mom).  One more week before I can rest.

It’s Getting Better!!

I’ve been taking the 201 Improv Class at UCB the past two weeks, and everything’s working out differently than I expected.  My plan was to be in New York Monday through Friday, work in Boston Saturday and Sunday, and then return to New York the following Monday through Sunday.  I’d do improv from 11-2pm Tuesday through Friday each week, and do stand up the rest of the time.  The point is, I forget that physics exist, the body gets tired, and maybe I need to rest occasionally.  Eh…did I just say, “the body,” like I’m some sorta vegan whose Wikipedia’d Buddhism?  I apologize to the universe and its potential conciousness.

I’ve barely written the last two weeks.  It’s like my pen is dry heaving on the page.  I’ve been too exhausted.  Some of the open mics I was planning go to, I’ve not done.  And yesterday, after class, I just stayed on the couch and slept periodically until it was today.  I do feel a lot better though.

I may have been unintentionally preparing for UCB’s style of improv since I was a little boy.  One of my favorite things to do since forever is for someone to assert a ridiculous premise, and then to build and justify that world together for fun.  There are multitudinous pages in old comedy notebooks, where 24 year-old Tom pines for the day he meets the women that would build worlds of words with him, and together, they would linguistically dance into alternate universes, and other stuff where you’d question his sexuality.  Some of my favorite stand up bits are ones that don’t usually work well, but I just expand a white lie into a large web of clearly untrue details.  That’s basically what improv is.  You find a thing that’s weird, and you explore how weird you can make it.

It’s too bad so many stand up’s disregard improv, because it’s such a great mental vacation from the perfectionism surrounding joke crafting.  As a stand up, you’re always tinkering with your bit (not as sexual as it sounds), trying to create new and better material.  In improv, if the scene’s done, it’s done.  And you can cherry pick the scenes that went well, and bring them back as slightly different scenes.  AND if you stink, the blame is spread throughout your whole group.  So you’re developing extremely parallel skills to stand up, while the whole experience is way less strenuous once you get a little comfortable.

Whatever improv does for you, I feel more confident about being able to handle whatever’s thrown my way when I’m not expecting it.  The improv classes are helping.  It’ll be hard to tell until I get in front of a few more audiences of non-comics, but I’m getting much more comfortable with being in situations I can’t plan or control for, which I need in stand up as much as I need in life.

Zoning It In

I hosted The Comedy Zone in Warwick, RI for the second time this past weekend.  I tend to shy away from doing clubs too often, because usually I can get paid more and have a better time by producing my own shows through Grandma’s Basement.  The Comedy Zone is located worthwhile.  It’s 3 shows Friday and Saturday, pays $50 per show, and you can see as many free movies as you want those two days INCLUDING unlimited tiny bags of popcorn and Diet Coke (you aren’t required to have Diet Coke, I just prefer to rip off Maria Bamford’s beverage selection).  I watched Men In Black, Chernobyl Diaries, The Dictator, Battleship, and part of Dark Shadows.  The Dictator and Men In Black are worth seeing.

The first time I did The Comedy Zone, I ate it to the point where I hid in the green room after each show.  The headliner and feature would sell their refrigerator magnets and t-shirts that say “Fuck off” when you hold them a certain way, and I’d cower next to the half-eaten, half-price movie theater cheese steak we’re afforded–just staring into my notebook, searching for any material where I treated homosexuality like a disease (while smoking weed).  Many noted comedians refer to Rhode Island as “the state where comedy goes to die.”  From the few shows I’ve done, most of the audiences really want to laugh, you just have to be very very clear when they should.  They don’t appreciate some smart turn-a-phrase, or your subtle reference–it just needs to be clear.  I like doing it on occasion.

This was Memorial Day weekend, so the biggest audience we got in this 300 seat theatre was 22 people.  However, I nailed it.  After every show, at least a couple people went out of their way to tell me how well I did, compliment me, etc.  It was soooo rewarding compared to the last time.  Also, it was just nice to see the development from my first time at “The Zone.”

For the first time in a while, I feel like I’m developing a voice.  I see so many of these road comics do the same basic style of simplistic joke followed by simplistic joke, broken up by some crowd work and maybe some sort of interactive bit or prop humor.  I feel like I’m finally starting to be a performer instead of just a guy who tells jokes.  I’m starting to figure out, almost four years in, how jokes go in some of these rooms doesn’t matter, you just move on.  You move on to the next joke, or start doing crowd work, or whatever.  Not all of your jokes will hit.  Either because of you, or the audience.  The trick is just to act like whatever happens is supposed to happen.  Because they have no idea how comedy is supposed to be.  A lot of road rooms seem to have people who are worried about looking stupid, so as long as you act like they’re supposed to laugh and throw in some sort of trigger word or action, they’ll laugh whether they get it or not.

Basically, I’m slowly approaching the point where I’m not desperate for the audiences approval–which is huge.  The next beast for me to tackle to be less desperate for my fellow comedians’ approval, which is tougher because I want them to accept me as a friend/equal at times, and then other times I’m trying to live up to some standard I’ve imagined they have for me.  Either way, I’m seeing results from all the work.

I Wrote This Two Weeks Ago!

(I wrote this May 14th and forgot to post it.)

Well I’m standing next to a mountain,
I chop it down with the edge of my hand.
Well, I pick up all the pieces and make an island,
Out of tiny grains of little sand.

Worker’s high.  It’s a term I made up based on “runner’s high.”  I’ve had both.  It’s a thing that happens when you push your mind past what you thought you were capable of.  When you put so much work into a something and you see it start to work out.

This past week I’ve performed stand-up ten times, taken eight three-hour improv classes, watched seven awesome stand up shows, seen two solid improv shows, and performed in my own improv grad show.  It’s the best week ever!  Seriously, someone give me infinite money so I can do this all the time (or like, $20,000 a year and I can cover the rest).  The whole week I’ve been happy, furious, frustrated, sad, exhausted, sick, and yet…best week ever.  Being good at anything seems like raising a decent kid.  You’re gonna be pissed off a lot of the time from all the work it is, but man, is it rewarding when you realize what you’ve put yourself through so your baby could be something worthwhile.  Jimi would know what I mean.


No, but…

I was too quick to judge this improv class.  In a oddly positive way, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this terrible at improv before.  In all these classes, there’s at least one dude who negates everything, never gets it, and ruins the scenes for everyone.  I’m worried I’ve been that guy.  This is probably me overreacting, but it seemed like a lot of the examples of people doing something wrong were things I did.  If that’s true, it’s humbling to think of all the previous negators I’ve witnessed, and subsequently thought, “When is this guy gonna get it through his thick skull that he ruins everything?”  Apparently right after the last class.

It kills me inside to think I’ve been guilty of that the past week.  Granted, I’ve had some moments where I was funny, but my gut instinct is always to get to the punchline.  Punchline!  Punchline!  Need a punchline!  Beyond improv or stand up, I think that’s my attitude for life.  Be interesting!  Just be interesting!  Don’t be one of these boring people!  But it’s annoying to force punchlines.  The guy who tries to turn everything into a joke is annoying.  The guy who’s desperate to please you is annoying–and not fun for anyone.  Those are the main ideas I pulled from the class.  People enjoy confident people because it allows them to relax in their presence.  Nervous, anxious people often make others nervous and anxious.  You’re relaxed onstage, the audience relaxes.  People want to have a good time and want those they are interacting with to have a good time as well.  Audiences want to have fun, and want the performer to be having a fun with them.

Finding out I’m not great at any thing stinks, but it motivates me to get better.  I’m more locked in.  My senses are more attuned.  Because I hate failure.  I can’t stand it.  And I’ll do whatever it takes to minimize it’s occurrence.  No one likes faiiling, but when I do something I realize is a no-no in a scene or whatever, it takes me a solid 20 seconds to stop telling myself how awful I am.  It’s just my natural thought process.  The first second is, “Man, you’re horrible at comedy.”  And then the next 19 seconds are , “Noooo.  You’re being too hard on yourself.  You’re still new at improv, it’s just one scene, you’re still funny at stand up, it’s just a learning experience, no one will remember in 2 minutes…”  Then I’ll get mad at myself for getting mad at myself, “Man, you’re upset about improv class?  What a worthless, privileged, piece of…nooooo.  You’re being too hard on yourself.  No one’s perfect, you’re just human…uh.  Did I just remind myself that I’m human?  What a worthless, privileged…”  Finally, I’ll get a hold of myself, and I’ve missed a chunk of class/life because I had to convince myself making a mistake in improv 101 was okay.  What a worthless…

My point is I may need a nap.  I’ve slept less than 5 hours each of the past 5 nights.  I’ve been leaving my friend’s apartment at 10am and returning at 1 or 2am each night, basically only eating, doing comedy, and traveling between venues.  I don’t know why I thought 13 hour-a-day comedy excursions with 5 hours sleep wouldn’t be tiring, but I’m often proven wrong about how super-human I am.  The big grad show is tomorrow at noon on Mother’s Day.  You’re welcome, Mom!

Flying Low

I’m finally in NY again for the first time since March, to take the Intensive Level 1 improv class at Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB).  The class goes from 11am-6pm Monday-Friday with a one hour lunch break, and a grad show on Sunday.  Here’s what the last few days have been like: I’ve been sick since Friday, skipped out on a couple comedy things in Boston to try to rest and regain my strength, left my house at 5AM Monday morning instead of late Sunday night to try to get a little extra sleep, and tried to get on the 6 AM Mega Bus, but they don’t sell tickets before 7 AM.  Then I catch the 6:30 AM Fung Wah bus scheduled to arrive at 10 AM.  It arrives at 11 AM.  On the way there, I procure two seats to sleep my decrepid immune system in.  Twenty minutes into the trip–as soon as I fall asleep–an Asian man awakens me and takes the seat next to me because his back-of-the-bus seat didn’t recline.  I had to wait in a long line to get my subway card and arrived half-an-hour late to my improv class–at which point one of my new classmates informed me my fly was down.  It’s been a great day other than that.

I’m enjoying improv more and more, and it seems like a lot of the comics I’d like to emulate have significant improv experience.  After one day of the UCB classes, I’d say the most helpful class I’ve ever had still happenned at Improv Asylum, specifically because of Patty Barrett–a wonderful improviser in Boston.  Level 1 people have no clue how to do improv.  Patty is the only instructor I’ve ever had who, as early as the first line of a scene, would say, “Stop.  Don’t do [unhelpful thing].  Do [helpful thing].”  Too many of these classes let people do horrible scenes for two long minutes, then give 12 overwhelming and confusing reasons why it was unfunny, and we all get bored and learn less because level 1 people have no clue how to do improv.  Basically, there wouldn’t be 12 wrong descisions to list off if these instructions would just stop the scene when the foundation proved terrible.  UCB has been decent, but it pales in comparison to that Asylum class (granted, it is only day one).

I’ll have more for you guys soon!  Or not.  But hopefully so!