Author Archives: Mike Bobbitt
Inspired by DJ Dangler ranking all 41 Marvel superhero movies after he and I saw Avengers 2, I decided to rank my top 20 non-superhero comic book movies. It’s not nearly as ambitious as DJ’s list, which can be found here, but I hope you enjoy it just the same.
I’ve noticed a theme in the following movies. I tend to really like stories that feature women kicking a lot of ass. At least 13 of the following 20 films have really strong and notable female leads. Thinking about the stuff I’ve written, I feel better knowing now that I’m not writing those parts out of some weird male guilt. I’m apparently writing those parts because they’re characters that have always appealed to me.
- Losers (2010): Just look at this cast! You’ve got Captain America, Gamora, Heimdall, and the Comedian. This movie, based on a Vertigo comic, out A-Teams the A-Team movie.
- Art School Confidential (2006): This is another one with a great cast. I think if I revisited this, it would probably rank much higher for me. My memory is that at least the A story is about how all the talent in the world doesn’t matter because art is subjective and it’s almost arbitrary who gets to sit at the cool kid’s table. Just looking at the cast list is blowing me away. I will revisit this soon.
- Persepolis (2007): This animated film is a pretty straight forward adaptation of the comic about the Islamic Revolution. I suppose it I was more in touch with world events, I’d probably have this one ranked much higher. I recognize that it’s an important film. It was nominated for every big award.
- V for Vendetta (2006): I begrudgingly like Alan Moore work. He’s such a curmudgeon though, that he makes it hard. Plus, he’s on record not liking film adaptations of his work. I only recently saw V. It’s long. It’s good. I know I’d probably appreciate it more if I read the comic, but Alan Moore comics can be quite laborsome.
- The Crow (1994): I don’t know if this was a thing unique to Detroit, but during my childhood Devil’s Night was the night before Halloween and it was the night that people burned the city to ground. At least that’s what the news reports led me to believe in the safety of my suburban home. Crow creator James O’Barr is from Detroit and maybe the same things scared him that scared me. So he created this Detroit vigilante. Yeah, this movie spawned a handful of sequels that I don’t remember being all that great, but this one is something good. Indie movie superstar Michael Wincott makes a great bad guy!
- Kingsmen: The Secret Service (2014): Living in Los Angeles means I get to go to a lot of test screenings. This was one of them. I knew nothing about it going in. There were no credits. I had no idea it was based on a Mark Millar comic. Millar’s comics have been hit or miss when it comes to being adapted to the screen. Wanted bears almost no resemblance to its source material, while KickAss is pretty faithful. I’ve never read The Secret Service comic, but this movie was great! It could very easily be James Bond for this new generation. Taron Edgerton makes his big screen debut and handily carries the movie. Colin Firth is delightful as always, but also kicks a shit ton of ass.
- American Splendor (2003): It seems to be tough to make a non-formulaic biopic. American Splendor manages to do that successfully by breaking the fourth wall and having the real life Harvey Pekar comment on the film about his life during the film about his life. I’m a sucker for meta and for Paul Giamatti. This movie has both. Another thing this movie has is proof that, in addition to being one of our more unique stand up comedians today, Judah Friedlander is a phenomenal actor who can disappear in a role. I saw this well after I was familiar with Friedlander, but had no idea he was even in this film.
- Sin City (2005): Sin City is a really stylized comic that I would have thought would have been nearly impossible to bring to the screen. Robert Rodriguez not only accomplished the impossible, but he did it incredibly faithfully, using the source material as story boards. Sin City is the blackest noir. It has a pretty stellar ensemble cast full of heavy hitters. And while The Wrestler is often cited as Mickey Rourke’s big comeback, it’s really Sin City.
- Ghost World (2001): I don’t know why this movie about two girls facing life after graduating high school speaks to me so much, but it does. I have a reputation among my friends to be into exactly this kind of thing, but honestly, I either don’t remember reading the comic or don’t remember liking the comic. I can get behind character studies in film, but I have a hard time doing the same in print. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson play the aforementioned girls. Steve Buscemi is really understated and great in this.
- 30 Days of Night (2007): I loved the movie. It’s such a great concept. Vampires in Alaska where you get 30 Days of Night. How terrifying is that? I enjoyed the movie so much, that I tried to read the comics, but I just couldn’t get into the art style. It’s very abstract if my memory is correct. Ben Foster plays a small, but pivotal role in this. He may be one of the best actors of our time.
- Stardust (2007): This may be a little bit of a cheat. If my memory is right, Stardust isn’t so much a comic as much as it’s an illustrated novel by Sandman creator Neil Gaiman. This movie is a lot of fun. I don’t think Robert De Niro does comedy very well. He always seems uncomfortable to me when he tries. But here, he really cuts loose and plays a comedic character who is kind of layered. I had to think about it for a second and ponder if his character (a gay pirate) is a gross stereotype, but my gut tells me it isn’t offensive. Coincidentally, I had an audition today where the casting director wanted me to play my character as gay. What does that even mean? He kept asking me to make it more over the top (i.e. swishy I guess). I wouldn’t and couldn’t. I have plenty of gay friends (too many if you ask me!) and not one of them nances around like a clown. It’s also really fun listening to a casting director try to find the least offensive way of asking you to do something pretty offensive.
- Heavy Metal (1981): This is a gem. When I was a kid, one mall theater played Rocky Horror as their midnight movie and the other played Heavy Metal. This animated movie is a collection of short stories, much like the magazine it’s based on. Each section is pretty different than the last. My favorite stories are the sci-fi noir about a cabbie, who I’m sure inspired Luc Besson considerably when creating Bruce Willis’ role in Fifth Element. There’s also the story about the white haired woman who can control dragons, who kind of reminds me a little of Game of Thrones all of a sudden. John Candy voices a nerdy kid who gets mutated into a Vin Deisel-like ass kicking machine. There’s even a horror short about war, which I believe is set to some Black Sabbath music. A lot of the old National Lampoon guys like Harold Ramis do voices in this. It’s really worth seeing.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): I’m not sure how a comic book that I remember disliking so much that it made me angry managed to become a movie that would crack my top ten comic book films. The music is good. The acting is good. The story is fine. Edgar Wright is the real star here. He managed to make a movie that is stylistically genius. Seeing how well he did this makes me sad that he bailed out on Ant Man. I think I’m going to have a hard time watching Ant Man and not thinking about how much better it would be with Edgar Wright at the helm.
- The Watchmen (2009): Okay, I wrote earlier about how Alan Moore can be tedious. With that in mind, The Watchmen is one of two things he’s written that I managed to finish. Both of those things (Top Ten is the other) are things I’ve read repeatedly. I get it. The reward for making it through Alan Moore’s work is worth it. The Watchmen is about as dense as it gets when it comes to comics. It may only be second to The Sandman series. The movie does its best to get everything in there, but it would really have to be about a four or five hour film to do that. I do own the complete edition on Blu-Ray that clocks in at a little more than 3 ½ hours. Honestly, I haven’t watched the version yet. One day I will. The opening credit sequence of this movie has never been topped in my opinion.
- Barbarella (1968): This movie is everything I imagine 1968 to be, but set in a sci-fi world. You get classic lines like “An Angel doesn’t make love. An Angel is love.” Jane Fonda “floats” around during the opening titles stripping off her space suit until she’s just in her birthday suit. There’s some pretty neat stuff here. There’s a sequence with creepy dolls with razor sharp teeth who bite away at Barbarella leotard. I think this movie is responsible for a good majority of my perversions! About a dozen years ago it was rumored that Drew Barrymore was going to star in a remake. I’m kind of bummed that didn’t happen because beneath a heavy dose of 60s hippy cheese, there’s kind of a cool thing here. Unfortunately it almost feels like the film makers ran out of money at the end because the finale really happens quickly and awkwardly. Really, nostalgia is the only reason I’m ranking this so highly.
- Dredd (2012): Sometimes we love the things we love because we were at a good point in our lives when we discovered them. I saw this movie in the Mall of America while doing a run of comedy shows with Jeff Scheen. Jeff was my favorite person to take out on the road because he could make me laugh until I cried both on stage and off. I’ve never laughed harder than I have with that weirdo. So all of that may account for why I love Dredd so much. It’s not a great movie. It’s really basically a video game pretending to be a movie. Here’s the thing though, it’s a fun movie! The story is really simple. Dredd and a rookie have to make it to the top level of a building to have a boss fight. It’s basically Kung Fu on the original Nintendo. Karl Urban made a great Dredd. He got the mouth down perfect…which is all you need to see of Dredd. This isn’t the Stallone helmetless version. Lena Headey makes a great villain as the drug lord Ma-Ma as well.
- Mystery Men (1999): The fact that the director Kinka Usher never directed another motion picture made a lot of conspiracy people think that maybe Tim Burton was really behind this film. I’m pretty sure Usher is a real person. He’s an award winning commercial director…or maybe that’s how Burton makes extra money so he can keep buying silly costumes for Johnny Depp! Mystery Men is based on a really obscure comic called The Flaming Carrot. The Carrot was one of the Mystery Men. Somehow, someone, I’m going to guess someone in Gwar (name drop) turned me on to some really cool comics like The Flaming Carrot and Reid Fleming: World’s Toughest Milkman. Mystery Men is another movie with a really great ensemble cast. You’ve got Eddie Izzard and Geoffrey Rush as the villains. And the Mystery Men are Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Hank Azaria, Paul Reubens, William H. Macy(!), and Kel Mitchell. Tom Waits plays a Tom Waits type weirdo scientist who makes non-lethal weapons and has a taste for the much older ladies. He’s also the one responsible for saying that Tim Burton made this movie. I think the reason that rumor had any legs is because this movie looks huge! It’s a fully realized world that certainly has a bit of Burton and even a little Ridley Scott in it.
- Conan the Barbarian (1982): Arnold Schwarzenegger will always be Conan to me. And even though James Earl Jones voiced Darth Vader, whenever I hear his name, I always picture his Conan villain Thulsa Doom first. I think the first time I ever saw sex on screen was in this movie. After freeing himself from slavery, Conan stumbles on a hut in the desert. He has sex with the lady inside who turns out to be some sort of she-beast. If you think that didn’t cause psychological issues later in life for me, you’re wrong! So once you get close to a lady, she’s get weird and try to ruin your day? Got it! Lesson learned! While the comic relief of my all time favorite character actor Tracey Walter fits the spirit of the 1984 sequel perfectly, I kind of wish he was in this film too. This movie is much grittier than the PG or PG-13 sequel. I don’t think Conan works unless he’s rated R. The Basil Poledouris soundtrack is right up there with anything John Williams or Ennio Morricone have ever composed. This film is great from top to bottom. I think maybe my dad told me once that Conan in the comics and novels isn’t as dumb as Arnold plays him here, but in all fairness, the Oliver Stone/John Milius script doesn’t ask him to do much beyond spouting off macho declarations.
- Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006): I often get in conversations with friends about things like: Who are the best actors of our time? We always cover the big name people, but forget chameleons like Shea Whigham who costars here as a basically Eugene Hutz from the band Gogol Bordello. Wristcutters is basically a road trip movie through a bleak purgatory. Purgatory is described in this movie as basically the same as things here only shittier. Patrick Fugit is really great as the star, and honestly it surprises me that with this as a win, along with Almost Famous, why he hasn’t been given the chance to carry more films. Granted, Almost Famous is really an ensemble. Anyway, back to this film, based in part on a comic called Kamikaze Pizzeria. Shannyn Sossamon, another really terrific and underused actor, rounds out the starring roles. The rest of the film is filled with really great character actors playing quirky, but grounded in the strange reality of this world, roles. You’ve got Nick Offerman, Tom Waits, Abraham Benrubi, Mark Boone Junior, John Hawkes and Mary Pat Gleason. This is a really sweet movie, with a great soundtrack, about love and suicide.
- Tank Girl (1995): I love Tank Girl to the point where you should be surprised that I don’t have a Tank Girl tattoo. Why don’t I have a Tank Girl tattoo? That’s a huge oversight on my part. I read the comics way before this movie was even a thing. That’s not entirely true. I probably read the comics a couple years before this movie was a thing. I remember getting excited about the casting news, even before the internet made it super easy to get excited over such silly things. Part of me is still kind of bummed that Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton didn’t get the role. I think there’s something about the way the role is written in the comics that makes the character British. I still can’t imagine movie Tank Girl to be anyone other than Lori Petty. This movie is a good 70% of the reason I have a Lori Petty crush. Prey For Rock ‘n’ Roll, A Leauge of Their Own and Point Break each get an equal 10% of the credit. Petty makes Tank Girl her own. Director Rachel Talalay really managed to shape a really anarchic comic and shape it into a cohesive story and makes the Tank Girl character more likable through making her more three dimensional. In print, she’s all explosions and shagging. She’s all Id. But in the film, she’s on a mission. Talalay lost a bit of the film in editing to the studio, but she includes all the deleted stuff on her website. Tank Girl is unfortunately a DVD without a lot of extras. It’s a real shame that it looks like Talalay only got three chances at filmmaking and has done television ever since, because all three of her films manage to do something pretty ambitious only what I can only imagine were fairly limited budgets and I’m guessing a lot of sexism in Hollywood giving a female director a chance to do two sci-fi movies and a horror film. For a person who started as a production assistant for John Waters, she has a great body of work. I love stories about tough as nails women, and Tank Girl is definitely one of those stories both in front of and behind the camera.
In 2014 I made a huge leap of faith from my long time home in Michigan to the great unknown in California. It was and continues to be scary.
This is a place that’s much more open to helping you when you’re a visitor than it is when you’re a resident. When I would visit, I got on the best shows in town because I knew a handful of people and could say, “Hey, I’m going to be in LA the second week in June, can you put me on?” Now that I’m here, there’s no urgency. I’m just another mouse trying to get a piece of the cheese. As far as comedy goes, honestly, I’ve done more here as a visitor than I have as a resident.
For free entertainment, I managed to get myself on the list to get free movie screening passes. Recently, this has gotten me into a couple of super advance screenings of movies that aren’t due out for months and months. Contractually, I’m not allowed to say anything about the movies, but there wasn’t anything in the confidentiality agreement about talking about the screening process. So let’s cover those in the broadest terms.
After the movies everyone in the audience gets questionnaires. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. Every opinion is the same. My opinion doesn’t matter any more or less than the guy in the American flag shirt with the cut off sleeves…and yeah, that guy really exists. My opinion doesn’t matter any more or less than woman who kept misplacing her child because she was doing something else. My opinion also doesn’t matter any more or less than that child, who also gets a questionnaire! Technically, my opinion matters less than all the aforementioned people because I’m too old.
Inspired by an article on Hip in Detroit about how to be a good music fan, I decided to write about what it takes to be a good comedy audience.
1. Research the comedian you’re going to see. There are a crazy number of a varieties of comedy. It’s like ice cream. Baskin Robbins sells 31 flavors because not everybody likes chocolate or vanilla. Some people love Superman…and if you’re one of those people, you’re wrong! Comedy is the same way. Maybe you like the nimble wordplay of a Myq Kaplan or the introspection of a Marc Maron or maybe you just like an angry hippy to smash a watermelon on stage. Those are just three examples of the many, many kinds of comedy out there. All are valid. Comedy clubs generally only serve one kind of ice cream each week. I love Moose Tracks. I’d hate to go to a comedy club expecting Moose Tracks and find out that week they were only serving Raspberry Sherbet. I hate Rasperries! So research your entertainment options. Most comedy clubs have a website where they list the performers. And most performers have clips of their act available online. I wouldn’t walk into a movie house and just plan on seeing “movie”. No, I’d know exactly what movie I wanted to see because I researched the product first. I should have stuck with the ice cream analogy. I’m hungry. Read the rest of this entry
Maybe it’s nerves or the adrenaline rush of doing what we’ve waited all day long to do, but many comedians tend to talk a bit too fast on stage. Comedian and owner of the Komedy Korner, Leo DuFour once suggested when I got off stage that I slow down and enjoy my time like I would a delicious meal. Maybe that was a health tip and I’m forgetting that I was scarfing down a Poutine platter at the time….it was Canada after all. Let me find another example.
One of my best friends asked me after a show why I don’t speak on stage like I speak normally off stage. He was right. I didn’t believe in my material at the time so on stage I would yell and ram my jokes down the throats of the audience as quickly as I could.
Last week I was at one of my favorite clubs, The Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin. I absolutely love this place. Gus and Mary who own it are two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good fortune of meeting. Their daughters Eve and Anna are beautiful inside and out. Joe, the room manager runs are super tight ship and is an hell of a guy too. The waitstaff is stunning. The bartenders all handsome. Both on the surface and beneath it, everything about this place is fantastic.
Originally I was supposed to be doing this week as a split week where I would headline Thursday and then Eddie Brill who used to book Letterman would come in on Friday and Saturday. Eddie got into a little trouble earlier this year for being misquoted or having his words taken out of context about female comics. So he canceled the gig. Instead I was working with Ian Edwards. Read the rest of this entry
I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin right now. Appleton is probably best known as the first American home of Harry Houdini. I went to the Houdini Museum today and it struck me how much I could take from Houdini’s life and apply it to comedy.
Erik Weisz was constantly reinventing himself. His earliest performing was as a trapeze artist. When he moved on to magic, he took the name Harry Houdini. For some comedians it’s easy to find your groove and stay in it. I think sometimes there’s little difference between a groove and a rut. I doubt anyone today would remember Houdini the trapeze artist, or Ehrich The Prince of the Air as he was calling himself at the time. I don’t know how many of us would even remember Houdini the magician. It’s that third reinvention as an escape artist that brought Houdini his fame. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend I was at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase with my friend Nate Fridson. I’ve only seen Nate once since he moved to New York about a year or so ago. He churned out a ton of new material. It was really nice watching him. I was nervous going into the weekend since it had been a good month since I did more than 15 minutes of time in one set. Maybe stand up is like riding a bike. I haven’t ridden a bike in years and I’m worried how my first attempt would be.
The shows ended up going pretty well. With the exception of about four or five minutes on being an uncle, I’m not doing any material from my CD that I released just about a year ago. I have a pretty good track record at the Showcase so I took advantage of that trust to try out some new pieces. Most of them worked.
This week marks the start of two months of road work. The boredom I feel from doing the same jokes over and over again tends to go away when I’m in new cities. I know everything will be brand new to them. This week I’ll be at the Skyline Comedy Cafe in Appleton, Wisconsin. It’s a great club and I’m really looking forward to it.
Earlier in the week I did a live episode of WTF with Marc Maron. That was pretty awesome. I know Marc has his reputation, but he’s been super cool to me. I was nervous for the interview, but it went fairly well. We dug a little more into my personal life than I would have wanted, but that’s the nature of the show. After that I went over to the UCB Theatre and did a set on Comedy Bang Bang. Zach Galifianakis closed that show. Backstage he seemed like a genuinely good guy. That made me happy. Eric Andre was there too. He was just super nice and charming. It really does seem like the only dicks you encounter in this business are the people at the bottom who are bitter being stuck there. The higher up you go, the nicer people seem to be.
I closed out my LA trip with a set on The Meltdown and Meltdown Comics. That show was simply amazing. It’s a small room, packed full of comedy super fans. The line up is always great. I was so honored that my Jonah Ray let me be part of it. Through my years I’ve met a lot of people who I don’t get to see nearly as much as I’d like. Jonah is one of those guys. He’s another guy who in addition to being a really good comedian, is also a hell of a nice person.
Sean Patton from New Orleans closed the Meltdown show and was simply amazing. I worked with Sean here in Michigan and thought he was great. Earlier this week though, that greatness was on a whole new level. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, another super awesome person too. Hopefully Sean and I will be able to do some shows together in 2013. He’s going to be on Maron’s television show for IFC next year. I have a feeling that’s about the time that he’s going to blow up and become a household name at least with comedy nerds.
From start to finish, last week was a blast! Enjoy some clips from Nate, Jonah and Sean.
When Lesley and I initially started writing our script, we were writing it with the intent to find a local production company to shoot it for us with us in the leads. Once we changed our minds on that, we dream cast it so that we’d both be writing towards the same vision.
I know a lot of writers say they don’t do this, but it helped me a lot. Like with writing jokes, most of it happens for me while I’m lying in bed at night unable to sleep. I’ll just lay there with ideas racing through my head until I have to jump up and find a notebook. Sometimes ideas hit me first thing in the morning, which honestly, beating the alarm to jump out of bed with some creative inspiration is a great way to start the day!
Writing with someone in mind helped me find the character’s voice fairly easily. Final Draft has a profile on Facebook where every day they have some sort of writing tip or question. Recently they posed a question asking if you were to block out the names of the characters in your script, would you still be able to tell who they are?
Once we hammered out our first draft, we assigned each other characters and we went through the script focusing on each piece of those lines trying to make sure there was a flow. One thing that came from this that I liked was I had one of the characters often times refer to another by a nickname. I think this was a nice little touch to show that they had some sort of history. The unfortunately short lived television show The Middle Man did this too. The lead was named Wendy Watson. Her partner called her Dub Dub. A little touch like that was nice because it not only showed a little bit of familiarity, but it was so out of character for the straight laced Middle Man to use a nickname that it really humanized him. It gave his character a little more depth.
Another thing Lesley and I did that helped was we had our friends over to read through the script assigning them different roles. Some lines didn’t flow as smoothly out of other mouths, so as we did the readthru I took notes on how the actor initially wanted to read a line.
I tend to flip sentences. Not like Yoda, but a little bit like that. Right now, I’m totally blanking on an example. Hmm. I guess that was an example in itself. Where a lot of people may have said “I’m totally blanking on an example right now.” I lead with the “right now”. I think I’m better at that now. A long time ago a friend asked me where I originally hail from because he found my sentence structure so foreign.
So there you go. That’s a little insight in our process in trying to give our characters unique voices. Does anyone else have any tips?
I mentioned before that Final Draft is the most important tool and screenwriter can use. Another, almost as important, tool is this great book called Writing Movies for Fun and Profit.
I’ve read a lot…a few…books on writing scripts. This one by far is my favorite. It’s written by Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon who are most visibly known for Reno 911. What you may not know is that they’ve also written pretty much ever third comedy made since 2000. They don’t write giant award winning masterpieces, but they do write extremely marketable and successful comedies like the Night at the Museum movies and Herbie Fully Loaded. They’ve also done a literal shit ton of punch ups on movies they’re not credited for.
In their book, Ben and Thomas take you through every step of the career as a screenwriter. They go in depth about the different kinds of writing jobs you can get and really dive into the business side of writing. It’s also a really practical writing guide too. They cover everything form pitching your script to dealing with the Hollywood powers that be once it’s in development.
It’s a really quick and light read that’s full of humor and really great information. I can’t recommend this book enough. In fact, if you’re a screen writer and you don’t own this….then you’re probably and asshole.
I’m in LA right now as you’re reading this. Unless of course you’re reading this sometime other than August 2012. Chapter 22 will tell me what I need to know now that I’m here. Okay, I’m not supposed to write in public because everyone will assume I’m a douchebag. Okay, there’s a list of all the In-N-Out Burger locations as well as a guide to their secret menu. I’m going to grab a bite to eat and go write in private.
I get flack sometimes for being friends with the Yoder family, but that’s how it’s been with every job I’ve had. When I managed a Gamestop, I regularly hung out with district managers outside of work. When I worked in a call center, my boss not only became a friend, but he became one of my closest friends and even stood up in my wedding. It’s not that I’m an ass kisser, I’m just a hard worker. I’ve been in situations too where I hung out with employees and became friends. The only way friendships like that can start and last is if the lines are clearly drawn between work and play and no one takes advantage of the other.
My friendship with the Yoders gives me a unique perspective on the business side of comedy. I feel lucky to get that behind the scenes point of view sometimes. I think about this season of Breaking Bad. Last season, Walter White thought it was all about him. As comedians, we tend to do that a lot. Now that Walter is running the show, he’s seeing how much work goes into the business. He was just one piece in the puzzle. Yes, like a comic, you could argue that he’s just about the most important piece, but there are still lots and lots of other pieces.
John Yoder founded Funny Business years and years before many of us ever picked up a microphone. Now he’s taken more of a back seat approach to the family business and turned the reigns over to his three sons Jamison, Eric and Michael. I got a chance to bounce some questions off of the two elder brothers (because Michael’s dashing good looks are too hypnotic) to give you a behind the scenes look at the company that employs so many of us. I hope you enjoy.
I was surprised when I found out how long the Yoder family had been involved in show business booking and the fact that it sort of started with music. Can you tell me about the history of Funny Business?
Eric: Well, to keep it short and simple – my dad, John Yoder, started out in college booking bands for some of the bigger local music venues. Later he also begin running a foreign film arts theater here while continuing booking bands. An opportunity came up for him to break into comedy right before the boom hit and became a major player in the years to come as somewhat of a pioneer in the comedy club world. When club business slowed down a bit, he made the wise decision to diversify into the college and corporate markets and we have continually been building off of all these over the last many years.
A lot of comedians are quick to want to move to New York or LA, but it seems to me like a bulk of the paying work in comedy is in the Midwest. Have you noticed a trend for where some of the cities where comedians are coming from besides New York and LA?
Eric: I would say that it really depends on what you are looking to do, and which direction you want to head in your comedy career. I see some incredible acts coming out of the Minneapolis and Chicago areas over the last couple years. The Detroit scene has been steadily rising as well, and I can see it returning to its former glory as a comedy and arts hotbed.
NYC and LA have always been the cities to be in for TV, Movies and for acts looking at specific careers in comedy. They both have their ups and downs. I believe the Midwest has some of the best club crowds for comedy, and for those just breaking into forming longer, full feature and headliner sets, there are more opportunities to do this, and more stages that provide the necessary stage time. In NYC and LA – it’s a lot of places providing 5 or 10 min. sets, which is great for building that short tv set , but not so much building a full 30 or 55 min. set that almost all clubs require.
With the internet and all the opportunities on it, there are so many things you can do to gain exposure and build your “brand” now despite where you are based out of. But of course a time will always come where you need to decide what you plan to do with your career and if living in a city like LA or NYC is going to provide you with more resources for that goal.
Funny Business has had much more of a presence in a lot of the festivals in North America. What do you look for when you go to these?
Eric: Festivals are a huge part of my role as a club booker, and they are great because you are able to see so much talent over the course of a couple days, that are all already hand-picked acts – thus giving you the opportunity to see some of the top talent all in the same venue(s). It’s also a chance to have face time with a lot of acts you may deal with regularly but don’t always get to meet face to face. I look at each act in comparison to the clubs I book, and what markets I seem them being the best fit for. I look for all the usual things, unique – well written material, confidence, stage presence and experience, etc. and a lot of time it’s a no-brainer who stands out to you as someone you want to get on the books right away.
Very successfully, Funny Business has helped out a lot with Gilda’s Laugh Fest in Grand Rapids. How did that union begin?
Jamison: I think they originally got in touch with us through the owner of The Bob. Knowing that we book Dr. Grins here in town as well as several corporate events and our roots here in the community was what got us started. From there it’s been a great marriage with a great organization and group of people we really support and work very well with.
The first two years of Laugh Fest have been humongous! I know you can’t really say much now, but I know planning for the following year pretty much begins as soon as one year wraps. What can people expect in 2013?
Jamison: You’re right…Can’t say much. Suffice to say that people can expect the same caliber and diversity of talent as the past years. Our hope is that each year builds on the next and support and visibility for Gilda’s Club continues to grow along with it.
So we’re getting ready to go back into the busy season of comedy when you’ll be booking emcees again. For people looking at transitioning from open mic to emceeing, what’s the best way to get noticed by you?
Eric: Performing at open mics in clubs we book and asking the club owners for referrals are a quick way to get on my radar. We speak with them frequently and they always mention the acts they see consistently improving and who they would like to see given a chance to host a weekend – sometimes we don’t always agree, but it definitely will put them at the top of the pile for review. Having quality tape, with minimum 10 mins of CLEAN material, suitable for an emcee set is important and almost ALL bookers require this.
Another important thing is being prepared. Have all necessary items before emailing bookers. Know what they will want/expect from you. Come across as a professional, it is essentially a job interview when applying to work at a professional level. Check your references, I’ve had guys use references, probably assuming we won’t check – then those references have no idea who the act is that used their name. That automatically puts a bad taste in my mouth, personally. Their also a handful of acts that work regularly for us that have consistently introduced us to high quality acts, so names they bring us we tend to take notice of quickly.
What do you and the clubs look for in a good emcee?
Eric: Clean material, confidence and good energy. An act open to feedback and willing to be taught. They need to recognize their role as an emcee. You are NOT the star of the show. Your job is to warm up the audience, promote the venue and the acts on the bill – not yourself. Being humble and recognizing your position on the bill is important. Hosting is not an open mic – and not the time to try out new material. The audience paid for this show, and deserves your top performance.
Eric was surprised when I told him I thought it was easier for me to go from middle to headliner than it was to go from emcee to middle. The reason was that I felt I didn’t have to ask for it. The clubs where I started closing the shows at first were the ones that requested me to do so. Generally speaking, how do you decide to move people up to the next spot?
Eric: Typically at the time you are prepared to move up to the next level, we are already hearing that you should be. Sometimes mentioning or making your case to be moved up is what needs to be done, but at that point most of the time we’ve already begun to get that type of feedback. We closely check progress, and monitor feedback and new clips, performances, etc. The biggest mistake some comedians make is pushing to move up before they are ready. It’s important to be honest with yourself about where you are at. Asking for honest feedback from club owners and comedians you work with is important.
The business side of comedy is so incredibly important. Is there one thing you think all performers, in general, could do in order to be better business people?
Eric: Ask for advice, take the time to learn and soak up knowledge about how the other side works. I see all the time that the acts that are consistently working on writing, building content, contacting venues/bookers and actually putting in full days of work to build their career tend to genuinely reap what they sow. The comedy business isn’t just writing and performing, it’s learning, promoting, building and growing your own business – and you are your own business as a comedian. Balancing working on your act and learning the business side of comedy is incredibly important.
If a bar or a club are looking to either start comedy or have someone help them with booking, how do they get in touch with you?
Eric: They can check us out online at www.funny-business.com for more info and to request quotes – and we are also always available to discuss further via phone at (888) 593-7387.
I’m in Vegas right now. Even though I’m writing this on Sunday, the 12th, I can assure you I’m not having a good time. I’ve only had a good time once in Vegas and that was when I was trying not to cry in the hotel room of a man I met earlier that month.
During the day I work part-time doing marketing for an entertainment company. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, so I’ll leave it at that. Every year we have our conference in Vegas. I don’t generally enjoy it. Yeah, the conference itself is fine. It does what it’s supposed to. It gets you pumped up for the coming busy season. It’s also great to see in person the people who also work for the company across the country. There are a handful that I have a lot in common with so it’s nice to see them outside of Facebook. I don’t gamble, so Vegas holds no appeal for me there. I generally don’t party either. Although last year a ton of little things piled on top of each other and just caused me so much stress and anger that I ended up drinking way too much Scotch, much to the dismay of the guy with whom I was sharing a room. I coated the bathroom from both ends.
I’ve been to Vegas to perform at Trooperfest, the first Star Wars convention specifically for the 501st. I got to hang out with all sorts of nice and wonderful people. Every time something cool happened, I felt like I was verbally and emotionally punched in the face when I wanted to share that with the person I was closest to at the time. It was years ago, but my overall memory that festival wasn’t a happy one.
Last year I was in Vegas for the World Series of Comedy. Again, trouble in my personal life kept me from enjoying this potentially awesome networking opportunity. My head wasn’t in the game and I was out in the first round. I remember getting ready to go out on stage and just deciding to wing it and riff with the crowd even though everyone in that situation should know that the last thing a judge wants to see is how well you do crowd work. Yeah? Well, my crowd work is right up there with the masters like Pardo and Iott. Mike…you idiot! I got off stage and Eric Yoder from Funny Business just gave me a look like, “What the hell was that?” Technically, I was doing my Bear Calendar joke, which isn’t really crowd work. It’s my magic trick. It’s a slight of hand. It looks like crowd work, but it’s mostly scripted….or at the very least flow charted.
So, I was in Vegas after having crapped out in the first round of The World Series of Comedy and I still had a couple nights left until my return flight. Earlier that month I worked with Carl LaBove in Grand Rapids at Dr. Grin’s. Words can not explain how great I think Carl is. He’s like Yoda and the Dude from Big Lebowski rolled up into one. He’s wise and care free. He’s a master story teller…and what’s great about his stories is that after you’ve enjoyed them and you’ve had time to reflect, you see that his story that he picked to tell you at that moment was serving a point.
Early the second morning of the World Series of Comedy, I was sitting in the hotel lobby trying to decide if I wanted to walk to the casino where Carl and I were to meet for lunch or if I wanted to take a cab. I was trying to use Google map on my phone, but Vegas is deceptively large. Comedian Brad Tassell stopped in and we started talking. We worked together years and years ago and his comedy group Hoosier Daddy was kind of the inspiration for me forming the Desperate Houseguys. Brad had a rental car and offered to drive me to the Riviera for my lunch appointment.
I called Carl when I got there to let him know I was downstairs. Minutes later he burst out of the elevator as upbeat and cheerful as ever. We took off for lunch, and without giving any details in where or how he did it, Carl managed to scam both of us free meals.
If you’re not a huge comedy nerd, then you may not know that along with Sam Kinison, was one of the founding members of the Outlaws of Comedy. Carl was Sam’s best friend and they worked together through Sam’s entire, albeit short lived, career. Carl has seen it all. He was there in Los Angeles during the comedy boom. This morning, the wild man who partied with rock stars and porn legends was working a grift to get us breaded fish and mac & cheese! For dessert, stolen ice cream!
During lunch I brought Carl up to speed on where I was personally. It always seems like when things are going well professionally, they’re hurting personally. When they’re going well personally, professionally they’re suffering. This was one of those times where both personally and professionally things weren’t going well at all. I was down and I needed my happy sage to pick me up.
We went back up to his hotel room before his show and he opened his iTunes. He started playing me song after song and telling me the story of how he found the song and what it meant to him. Those songs spoke to me at that moment and speak to me now as the best memory of have of Las Vegas. Here are a couple of them.
I sat there listening to the lyrics of about a half a dozen songs and felt like they were written just for me. I knew I was experiencing a profound and beautiful moment that would last with me for the rest of my life and I had the foresight to know and appreciate that. It was a perfect moment. I tried to fight back the tears. Carl took a break from getting ready for his show and sat down next to me smiling and seemingly pleased that this moment he orchestrated didn’t fall on deaf ears.
We jumped on Youtube and he showed me a couple things he was working on. We talked about great guitar players and shared our love of music. He shared with me some of his guitar playing. This is a song he wrote about his life. I love it a lot. I hope he records it…or someone helps me lift the audio from this so I can put it on my iPod. Even through the turbulent moments of this song, I feel a peaceful and soothing rhythm. The song has momentum and makes me feel like things are going to move forward no matter what you do about it. Check out Carl’s playing.
I’m in Vegas now. I’m not having any profound moments, but things are moving forward no matter what I do about it. And that’s okay.
The first few things I wrote years ago were done with a regular old word processor. It was a pain in the ass. Every time I went to do a new draft, I’d have to manual go in and change the “continued” and all that stuff. Setting the tabs was awful. Making sure everything was formatted correctly caused me so much panic.
I was never able to full jump into just the creative part of screenwriting because the mechanics were always in the back of my mind. Well, truthfully, they were front and center.
A year or so ago I got Final Draft. It’s the industry standard for screenwriting and I totally see why. It’s basically a word processor program specifically designed to write scripts. I don’t have to think about anything other than the story when I use it. When you hit Enter to go on to a next section, it asks you if you want this to start with a character, dialogue, scene header, whatever. With a click, you can be back on track. It becomes second nature and it makes the whole process so much quicker and easier.
Here’s something else I just found out about Final Draft. Okay, I mentioned before that Lesley and I are going to start on a spec script to show that we can write television as well. I Googled Modern Family scripts and found a link to a template that plugs right into Final Draft! There are plug ins for pretty much every popular show out there. And if you’re writing a spec script, the best idea is to do it for a popular show. As much as I loved The Middleman, writing a script for that would make little to no sense!
Yes, the software is a little expensive, but if you’re serious about writing, I can not recommend it enough. Here’s a link if you want more information.
In our last episode, after a few attempts at screenwriting, I found a great writing partner in Lesley Braden.
Lesley’s idea (and the script is already registered with the WGA so just try and steal it, buster) was about a woman in her mid to late 30s who was tired of people either harassing her or taking advantage of her time because she was single. She creates a fake guy on Facebook and puts herself in a relationship with said guy. It’s Bridesmaids meets The Social Network. Both movies just came out. Both movies were successful. Kristen Wiig changed Hollywood overnight and showed the women can open a comedy and make a ton of money. Lesley’s idea was original, fun and hugely marketable. I was hooked!
Initially we started writing it with the two of us in mind to play the lead character and her slacker roommate. I have friends who have production companies in Michigan, so it seemed like something we could potentially try to raise money and make. As it went on, we realized how this script would be a really great calling card for us if we wanted to try to get writing jobs. So we stopped limiting ourselves with set pieces that we could possibly pull off if we were to raise enough money through a Kickstarter campaign of whatever and we decided to shoot for the stars.
When we cracked the story, we didn’t do a traditional outline. We knew key comedy moments that we wanted to happen and then from there we figured out how to get there. Using a basic three act structure, we knew too when certain beats had to happen. As we fleshed out the secondary characters more, our secondary story lines and conflicts started to become clearer too. We were both on the same page that we didn’t want this to necessarily be a joke based comedy. We wanted the humor to come from the characters. We both do comedy though, so naturally the jokes found their way into it.
The crazy thing was that every idea either of us had, the other either found a way to build on it or tweak it into something different. We never pitched a story element to have the other one say, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard”. I think that’s the key to a strong writing partnership. You can’t shoot down someone else’s idea without anything of your own to add. I’m sure it helps that from the beginning we were both really on the same page.
Okay, I’m going to jump ahead in time to the present day. We’re going to start working on a spec script for a television show. It’s an idea that I had rattling in my brain for awhile. I bounced it off of Lesley the other night and instead of shooting down my idea, she said, “That’s great, we could do that or maybe make it this slightly different thing too.” Okay, that’s not technically a quote, but you know what I mean. While her idea was slightly different than mine, it also opened itself up for a neat spin on the ideas I already had. I think the most exciting part of writing a story is not knowing what’s going to happen next. Changing a small detail, or even a large one, can definitely do that! I’m looking forward to cracking another story with her.