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In a city of a thousand planets, surely there has to be something better to watch.
I like Luc Besson. Problably more than I should, considering he’s kind of a creep. Luc Besson is the Woody Allen of France. I also really like weird French and Spanish sci-fi and fantasy. Those can also be kind of creepy by our American standards.
When I was growing up my friends were looking at boobs and butts in copies of Penthouse and Hustler left in the woods, while I was looking at cartoon boobs and butts in Heavy Metal Magazine. I didn’t feel as pervy because my boobs and butts at least had an interesting narrative.
So I am THE target audience for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. What went wrong?
Here’s my summation. Maybe I’ll save you $15. Hopefully this will be more entertaining than the movie….which didn’t set the bar too high.
Here’s my set from a recent Cobra Juice show at the Steve Allen Theatre. Kyle Shire brings me out and we talk about the first time we played Dungeons and Dragons together. Then I talk about how being homophobic phobic put me in a pretty gay situation. I wrap up with a recap of Catcon.
I hope you enjoy!
Here’s what’s going on…all in one convenient place!
I write best with a partner. I’ve tried a few different ones over the years before finding one who I really click with. And I found him completely by accident.
The hardest thing I found about writing with a partner is that one person is always going to be more motivated than the other. Some days you may be the motivated one, while other days it may be them. No relationship is truly 50/50 all the time.
Whenever I write something, I send it out to a bunch of people to get feedback. Very few people actually ever get back to me. DJ Dangler always does. And when he does, he’s thorough. The first thing I remember critiquing was a spec script I wrote for Bob’s Burgers. We went through it line by line picking apart dialogue that didn’t feel true to characters and moments that didn’t feel like the show. It was incredibly helpful.
I’ve been fortunate over the past year to shadow an established television writer as he works on various pitches for his own shows. He works predominately in procedurals and political dramas, while I’m mainly a comedy guy. But I knew the fundamentals I was learning were universal.
He always starts with a brief, but catchy biography about himself and why that makes him the best person to write what he’s pitching. His origin story has become like folklore. He was a Washington DC speech writer, but some of the details change a little bit here and there. Most importantly, the drama amps up in a way that always hooks you right out of the gate.
From there he goes into the teaser for his show. If you don’t know, that’s basically the thing you see before the first commercial that, if done right, keeps you from changing the channel for the next thirty or sixty minutes. My mentor is great a teasers. Political drama and procedurals are pretty much at the bottom of the list of things I like to watch, but more often than not, his teasers grab me.
Then he talks about the pilot episode while giving pertinent information about all of the key characters. He gives you enough of their backstories to get you to really know who they are as people. Sometimes if the teaser doesn’t grab me, his ability to create interesting characters does. His characters are always flawed. They feel real. Most importantly, they’re interesting. We always know what their needs are and why they need it.
After he gives a pretty detailed beat by beat run down of the pilot episode, he goes over story beats for the entire first season of his show up to the cliffhanger ending. He wraps up by touching on the themes of further seasons so that whoever he’s pitching to knows he’s thought through this entire world.
Off the top of my head, I’ve sat through seven very detailed pitches in the past year from him. He’s a work horse. In addition to learning how to pitch, I learned how to manage time and projects. I’ll write more about that in the future.
So that brings me to our pitch.
Along with comedian DJ Dangler and artist Axel Ortiz, I created an animated show. My friend Joe Apel has been working in animation for the past ten years and directed me to someone at a network who might be looking for something maybe along the lines of what we created. I sent an email and a meeting was set up pretty quickly.
DJ spends most of his time on the road making his living off of stand up, while I’m currently choosing to take a little break from the road and focus my attention on California right now. When the meeting was set, DJ decided to fly back to not only be there for the meeting, but to make sure we were prepared.
Axel is just as much of a work horse as the aforementioned television writer. He’s a veteran of the pitch meeting, but pointed out earlier that if we had a star attached to our show, that would give us an advantage. Over the past six months, I’ve been working on getting the biggest name I know attached to it. The week before our pitch, we got him. He looked at what we were going in with and said that he was happy to be part of it and if it lands, we can hammer out the details then.
I researched the person we were pitching to. She was a guest on a comedy podcast and spent an entire hour talking about the pitching process. In that interview, I also found out that she, like DJ, is from Indiana and her wife, like me, is from Michigan. She and I both nerd out over character actors too. So I knew we had a conversation opener and I wasn’t going to have to overly explain things like if I said, “Oh this character is a little bit like Miller from the movie Repo Man, played by Tracey Walter”, she was going to know who Tracey Walter is. For the record, many of the scripts I’ve written have characters that I imagine Tracey Walter playing. I know why Jonathan Demme puts him in every movie, because Tracey Walter is a national treasure! I once told DJ that I would be more excited about meeting Tracey Walter than I would be about meeting George Lucas or Harrison Ford. I think Tracey Walter lives within a mile of me too. And if you think every time my girlfriend and I walk around the neighborhood, I’m not on a constant look out for Tracey Walter watering his plants, then you’re wrong!
Axel went in to pitch on another show three weeks prior to our meeting and told us what the executive asked from them. DJ and I wanted to make sure we were over prepared. We had a pilot script. We had ideas for story beats for our first season and I knew what I wanted to happen in the final episode of the entire series. But DJ and I detailed out episode by episode the entire first season of our show. We knew the story beats and what themes each episode would explore. A friend of mine who works in printing made us a really nice pitch packet too.
The idea of writing stories with an overall point of view or theme is something that I would accidentally sometimes hit, but other times missed completely. DJ and I have a mutual friend in comedian turned television writer Nick Anthony who really hammered into us the idea that we sometimes missed that. So when DJ and I started the conversation about each episode of our show, we started with what was the theme for that episode. It really helped us figure out where the other characters were going to be in their individual arcs.
The night before our pitch, DJ and I walked home around five miles from West Hollywood to the far eastern side of Hollywood really exploring every character we created. We knew their strengths, their weaknesses, their desires, their backgrounds, and their secrets.
So going into our pitch I knew we created something cool, timely, we have a big name attached and we were prepared.
The meeting was great. I told her that I enjoyed the podcast she was on and we found out her dad and sister both went to Purdue, same as DJ. Her wife and my girlfriend are from the same small suburb of Detroit. She asked how DJ, Axel and I knew each other. DJ and I have a fun origin story where we both showed up early at Nick Anthony’s home to go do a show in San Diego. Nick wasn’t there yet. I was parked on the street waiting. A guy pulled up on the other side of the street, got out of his car, put a large pizza on the roof and just ate the entire thing in front of me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. He was so full of unadulterated and gluttonous joy. From that moment I wish I could be that guy’s friend. That guy turned out to be DJ. We hit it off that night and have been friends ever since. Axel and I met at San Diego Comic Con last year and our origin story gave me a chance to really talk about how much I love his work and why he was the perfect person to design our show.
Then she wanted to know about our characters. DJ and I were able to speak passionately and deeply about each of them. I like writing female characters. This show features two really strong female characters. The main character is, in some ways, man boy with arrested development not completely unlike DJ or myself. One of the women in the show is his daughter, the other is basically his boss. Both are strong. Neither of them are bitchy. Both of them are just as cool and quick as he is. They’re strong women, but they’re perfect. They’re deep and rich characters. I can see how it would be an easy trap for a guy writing a woman to over compensate by trying to make her too perfect. Ours aren’t at all. They both have real human foibles. Also, I’m hoping I just used the word “foibles” correctly.
At the end of our meeting she asked us what our roles would be if the show were picked up. I explained that when Garth Ennis created the comic book Preacher he gave artist Steve Dillon co-creator credit because he felt the look of it was just as important as the story. I believe in that. When I asked Axel to draw the characters, I told him very little. And aside from changing the hair color on one of them, I didn’t have any changed. I love his art. DJ and I are great at writing jokes and character, but we still struggle with story and conflict. An analogy a script reader gave us of a screenplay that we wrote was that there’s “a lot of icing, but not much cake”. That’s fair. So I said DJ and I care a lot about our characters, but if the show were picked up, it would probably be best if we were teamed with a producer who was better at breaking stories. So I think that showed that we were flexible and going to be easy to work with.
There’s another show, which I can’t name, where the creators were fired because they were way too difficult and had very unrealistic expectations of what they were entitled to. Hollywood is a city built on collaborative art. Nothing here is a single vision. You have to be willing to trust others to help you create the best product possible.
According to the podcast our executive was on, because she sees so many people, her pitch meetings rarely go more than thirty minutes. Ours went 45. She laughed a lot and seemed engaged. There’s nothing I would have done differently about our meeting. We gave her our book with the character art and descriptions as well as additional information about the show. We’ll know more in a couple weeks.
Yes, at this stage a hundred things would have to happen for this to be a show any of us would ever get to see. We’re going to move forward and continue pitching to other places too. But on the flipside of this meeting, I thought it would be nice to share some of the tips that I learned.
- Know as much about the person you’re pitching as you can. As they say, “knowledge is power”.
- Be prepared to explain why what you’re pitching is important to you personally and why you’re the best person to write it.
- Television is a medium based on characters. Make sure you have interesting ones and you can talk about them.
- As with any speech writing, pepper in a joke or two if it suits the mood. I don’t think I’d try to make anyone laugh if I were pitching Schindler’s List: The Series.
- Keep it pithy, punk. Metallica songs are like three hours long and feel like they include every idea that everyone in the band had. In the time it takes to listen to two Metallica songs, you could listen to seventeen Ramones songs. Be a Ramone. Leave them wanting more.
- Don’t just talk. Listen. We were prepared to talk nonstop for 15-20 minutes, but were totally able to let our exec lead the pitch in a much more conversational and informal manner.
- Television is a flexible art. We didn’t get any notes in this first meeting, but my mentor has. He digests them all and if he has complaints, he does it later to his manager, not in the room.
- Know what you’re talking about inside and out. DJ and I know every in and out of our show where it stands right now. And if you had a question for us that we didn’t know the answer to, we’d make something up. We have an alien character who is the last of his kind. What planet is he from? Zaphodbrock. He’s a Zaphoid from the planet Zaphodbrock. I just made that up. It’s one part Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and one part late singer of Gwar. If you wanted me to talk about Zaphodbrock, I could. And DJ could jump in and we’d piggy back on each other’s ideas. Executives want to feel safe. The words, “I don’t know”, has never instilled security in anyone.
- If you can’t come up with ten items, don’t just make stuff up to fill time or space. See #5.
So there you go. I’m far from an expert, but I know a week or two ago I’d love to have this information compiled in one place. I hope this helps or at least makes for some interesting reading.
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.
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.
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.
These photos were taken at the 10:30PM Show at Joey’s Comedy Club on Sept. 25, 2011. The performers for the evening included the following:
Michael Malone, Headliner.
Ricarlo Flanagan, Feature.
Bill Bushart, MC.
Jeff Scheen, Special Guest.
On Sept. 18, 2011, the stand-up community shared their thoughts on their fellow comedians and its honoree, Nate Fridson. Nate has made the move to New York City to further his stand-up pursuits. Best of luck, Nate!
As some of you know, I have insomnia. It totally blows. I sleep at intervals of somewhere between 1 and 4 hours with gaping holes of late night awake time where there isn’t even anything on tv that isn’t an infomercial or 2 & 1/2 Men.
I get asked a lot, “Hey Allyson, what do you do when you can’t sleep?” and while I usually answer, “I just lay there and try to sleep,” what I really mean is, “I do a whole bunch of weird shit that I don’t want to tell you about because we don’t really know each other well enough for me to tell you about it and you not feel like you should probably leave the room whenever you see me because you’re afraid my weirdness will rub off on you.” It won’t, so pull yourself together and get ready for a strange journey into what I do when I cannot sleep in the middle of the night.
I usually try to go to sleep at a reasonable time. And by reasonable, I mean, before midnight. I watch Conan, then I try to fall asleep on my own. Sometimes this works, but usually it doesn’t. I just lie there like a slug while my cat grooms herself on my chest. It’s disgusting.
So I do a quick run through of all the things that are supposed to make normal people sleepy. Here they are in no particular order:
-Drink sleepy time tea
-Read a boring book. Like, basically anything by Dean Koontz
-Count backwards from 100
-Close my eyes and hope sleep will come all over my face.
When that shit doesn’t work, because it practically never does, I move on to the weird stuff. Get ready folks. Here, in no particular order are the weird things I do to bring sleep.
-Hard boil eggs. Seriously, when the threat of burning my house down is looming, I become exhausted waiting for these fucking eggs to finish cooking so I can lie down. There are also constantly hard boiled eggs in my house, which is only awesome around Easter.
-Facebook stalk people from high school and feel better or worse about myself depending on how much better or worse they look.
-Jog around my neighborhood and hope coyotes don’t eat me. Seriously, there are coyotes in my neighborhood and it turns out you can run pretty fast when you feel like you’re trapped in a horror movie that involves coyotes tearing you limb from limb.
-Try and sell stuff on eBay. I’m broke as shit, so as long as I’m up I might as well be productive and try and make some money.
-Play airplane with my cats until they start biting too hard.
-Take a bath, but first I have to clean the bathtub. Like, every time I want to take a bath, I have to scrub down the bathtub because I don’t want athlete’s foot in my asshole. I then end up cleaning the entire bathroom. Then I take a bath and about 5 minutes in I get bored so I get out and get my iPod, then the water is cold, so I have to drain a little then add more hot water. THEN I start to panic that I might fall asleep and drown so I have to get out of the bathtub and grab my inflatable airplane pillow, which I have to blow up, so I have to sit like a a nob on the edge of the tub blowing it up. Then I get back in and the water is too cold again, so ONCE AGAIN I have to drain a little bit of the water and the refill it with the hot. Then after about 20 minutes I start to get all pruned and I’m not even halfway through whatever podcast I’m listening to.
-I listen to the rest of whatever podcast on my bedroom floor with my feet in the air while I focus on trying to spread my toes as far apart as possible. It’s called yoga toes folks, it’s a real thing. And I can do it really well with my left foot, but my right foot isn’t as good at it which pisses me off. I hate my right foot.
-Go into elaborate fantasies about one day writing my memoir and then being interviewed by Conan O’Brien.
-Try on outfits that I would possibly wear on Conan.
-Try on all the shoes in my closest and then wonder why I own so many high heels that I never fucking wear because I can’t walk in them anyway and I almost always fall over in them.
-Consider selling my shoes on eBay.
-Re-consider selling my shoes on eBay because what if I need them for a wedding or something, because seriously, all of my friends are getting fucking married and I don’t want to have to buy a new pair of shoes every time I have to go to some wedding.
-Go back on facebook to see who the fuck else I know is getting married.
-Consider joining eHarmony.
-Realize I’m a disaster of a person and I would be one of those people who gets rejected from the eHarmony site and decide that I can’t handle that kind of electronic rejection.
-Go back on facebook, drink half a bottle of wine, and decide I’m better off than all those fuckers.
-Realize I’m too drunk for the internet.
And finally, friends, I fall asleep around 6:30 in the morning. Which gives me about 1-2 hours before I must be awake for the day. Huzzah!
So that’s what I do when I cannot sleep and sleep deprived mania washes over me. I hope you enjoyed the glimpse into my weird ass life as an insomniac. Please don’t avoid me forever now.
It’s a podcast that can buy cigarettes and lottery tickets! Legally! And this episode is with the ever awesome Dan Currie. We talk about the Michigan Comic Network, stupid girls who can’t pick the right door, and the peculiar nature of what was Lansing comedy politics. Check out more great content at JeffreyConolly.com or email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org