The Improv Life: It All Starts with Having Good Taste

The Improv Life: It All Starts with Having Good Taste

In an earlier blog post I stated that Norm Macdonald was my first comedy teacher because I just mimicked a bunch of stuff he did.

I knew Norm was funny on an instinctual level; I just couldn’t explain why.

What that means is that I had good taste. I knew what I liked, and I knew what I liked was funny.

So much of being a comedian begins with being a fan.

I loved comedy as a kid. Everything I watched growing up was comedy. The Simpsons, Married with Children, SNL reruns on Comedy Central, Wayne’s World, anything Jim Carrey did, Heavyweights, Clueless, Dirty Work, Mr. Show, Rocko’s Modern Life, random standup; you know just like anything and everything comedy (I was lucky to have cable as a kid).

I would ingest so much comedy and just repeat catch phrases and random snippets non-stop.

The point is I had good taste, and that is what eventually led me to wanting to be a comedian

And this is what “This American Life” host Ira Glass says in his famous “The Gap” speech: “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.”

The rest of the speech goes onto state that it will take a long time to become a good artist, the kind that creates quality stuff you’re proud of. Basically, you’re going to suck for a long time before you get good, but don’t quit, keep creating, and keep setting big goals that forces your skills to meet them.

It’s really inspiring, especially when it feels like you’re not growing. But it all comes down to having good taste.

When you feel like quitting, remember why you started in the first place – to create comedy on the same level as the comedians who inspired you.

To become the artist you want to be is a worthy goal, and you owe it to yourself to pursue it with everything you have. Don’t give up on yourself, and when you do, go read “The Gap” by Ira Glass.

#improv #sketch #comedy #gap #talent #resilience #iraglass #artist #creative #thisamericanlife

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The Improv Life: My First Comedy Teacher, Norm Macdonald

The Improv Life: My First Comedy Teacher, Norm Macdonald

You learn comedy by mimicking the people you look up to, the people who make you laugh the most.

In my early forays into comedy as a teenager, I was just ripping off Norm Macdonald bits and tried to pass them off as my own.

I learned to say outrageous things, just flat out lies, in the most straight man way possible, just like he did in Weekend Update.

I guess you would call it deadpan, but I never leaned into the punchline, or hinted that I was doing a bit. I just said bizarre, absurd things in a very matter of fact way to whoever was around.

My friends knew I was doing a bit, but other people would just continue talking to me as normal with me being an emotionless ass.

I would always say, “Note to Self,” pantomime a tape recorder, and record some absurd sentence that I thought was funny. “Note to Self: create secret language for my friends and I to talk about that thing we all do in private when no one is watching, but people know what we’re doing.”

I always used “Note to Self” to make a zinger about whatever was happening around me while the thing was still relevant. I guess I was learning timing from Norm.

Or even now, I still do his fake shock. In Dirty Work, or Weekend Update, he would say a joke with some surprising piece of information, act a wee bit shocked (but not really) to drive home how insane or absurd is the joke he just delivered.

Like he would say a joke with a little bit of shock, expect the audience to get it, hold for a moment, and then either address if the person got it or moved on.

Dirty Work taught me how to fish for funny people in life. If you’re working with someone and you softball them a joke with a light delivery, and wait for them to get it or not, their response (going along with your bit or going over their head) will reveal if they’re cool or not.

Out in the wild comedians have to sniff each other out. Bits are a way for us to find each other and seek refuge in each other’s company.

You always gave me refuge, Norm. And you taught me more than I ever knew. RIP, brother.

#normmacdonald #weekendupdate
#snl #dirtywork

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The Improv Life: Resting to Be Creative

The Improv Life: Resting to Be Creative

This blog post will be antithetical to the goal of this larger writing project (30 blog posts about comedy in 30 days).

Basically, you have to rest if you want to be creative.

I know sounds crazy, especially in our work obsessed, production focused, rinse and repeat comedy *entrepreneur culture.

*Like basically you got to be out there hustling, doing as many shows and side projects as possible. That’s why I use this term.

Don’t get me wrong; I encourage everyone to go out there and get it because no one is going to give it to you.

But you also have to rest. Sometimes it feels like if I’m not consuming content, creating it, or thinking about it, I’m not doing anything else, and that’s not healthy.

And here’s why that’s bad: my best ideas come to me when I’m not thinking. My mind is at ease, and I’m open and vulnerable to whatever my subconscious wants to present me.

This is a proven thing (I wish I had some sources right now).

Go wash some dishes and see if you get any cool ideas. Or like go for a walk and relax, and then see what comes up from that.

Or sometime you just need to sleep. Like a lot. Or just need to cruise with some good music on. Whatever rest means for you, do that.

It’s a parodox. If you want to do a lot, do nothing. Bear with me on this one. Your mind needs to process things. To do that, it needs time and space. You give it time and space by not constantly being busy. Being busy clouds your mind, blocking ideas from getting through.

So don’t be busy and your mind will process things. And as rest, ideas, insights, and revelations will arrive. And at that point, it’s up to you what to do with them. But at least you set the stage for them to show themselves.

#improv #writer #artist #creativity #growthhacking #comedy #subconsciousmind #think #rest

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The Improv Life: I Miss Going to Canter’s After Shows

This Pastrami Rueben was amazing.

The Improv Life: I Miss Going to Canter’s After Shows

That post show come down is a doozy, man.

The better the show, the hotter the crowd, the tighter the set, the bigger the high.

It’s like you got energy for days.

Like I don’t need to do drugs because I do shows. The high of a great show is unmatched by anything else.

I want to say it’s adrenaline, but if I was an adrenaline junkie I would put myself in unnecessary dangerous situations just for a whiff of a high.

Nah, man, the stage is its own drug. When you’re in a fire improv set in front of a packed house, or your sketch is landing with the audience exactly how you wanted it to, or you’re doing some crazy clown bit that is pushing your limits and the crowd is with you every single step of the way, you’ll feel higher than you’ve ever been.

So how do you cool down? Well, me, I’m going to a diner* with some friends (or sometimes solo).

*For the purpose of this essay I consider Del Taco a diner.

I’m going to sit down, order some coffee, get some good food, and chat with some buds.

And one of my favorite places to do that is the world famous Canter’s Deli in Hollywood. My good friend from Cal, Alan J. Miller, introduced me to Canter’s just before I started going to LA to do comedy.

We saw a great show at UCB Franklin with his cousin, and then we went to Canter’s, and I loved it. Place just radiated good vibes with it’s awesome food and stuck-in-a-time-capsule ambiance.

I didn’t know it then, But Alan was introducing me to a place I would fall in love with. Once I started coming up to LA more to do shows, especially at the Pack Theater, Canter’s became a frequent stop. I even got my OC team to go with me once, and it was amazing.

Not going to Canter’s for over a year and a half was hard because of a). The amazing food, company, and ambiance, and b). I didn’t have a reason to go because I wasn’t doing shows, and that broke my heart.

I just want to get back to a place where performing in LA every week is normal, with the occasional visit to Canter’s peppered in to cap a great night of LA comedy.

#improv #sketch #food #losangeles #canters #pastramiruben #show #performer #theater #packtheater

Love you Canter’s.
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The Improv Life: Be a Cool Person That People Want to Work with

The Improv Life: Be a Cool Person That People Want to Work with

I got one piece of advice that had been taught to me by experience and repeated by lots of my teachers: be a cool person. People want to work with people who bring a chill vibe. 

Basically, don’t be a dick, jerk, asshole; in general, a person people would prefer to not spend time with because of the energy you bring and the reputation that follows you.

Not that you have to be fun 24/7 (although that helps) but people have to feel safe to be themselves around you. If you got that, than collaboration will be a lot easier.

Also, it’s emotionally draining to have to deal with an asshole who might not be aware their an asshole.

Maybe asshole is too strong of a word. What I mean is someone who is not considerate of others, puts their needs first, judges others harshly, isn’t aware of how their energy and behavior can affect a social ecosystem – just someone people wouldn’t want to hang out with.

Okay, Fernando, enough! I know how not to be an asshole! How do I become a cool person?

That’s a good question! I don’t know?
I guess be nice, kind, considerate, giving, listen, be a friend, try to do good when you can, etc. I’m not saying you have to be some goody two shoes trying to save the world.

You just have to be someone people want to spend time with because of the energy you bring, the vibe you maintain, and the contributions you make.

And by the way: I’ve been an asshole too. I’m pretty sure I’ve turned people away from working with me because I was selfish, lacking empathy, asked for too much, didn’t trust enough, projected onto to people, came off insensitive, unsympathetic, and arrogant without realizing how I was making other people feel – I’ve made mistakes.

But I’m learning from every experience. I’m not trying to be a cool person because I want to be liked; I’m trying to be a cool person because I want to work with people who excite me creatively, and I want to see what we can bring into the world when we collaborate.

#improv #people #cool #networking #empathy #eq #emotionalintelligence #safe #mistakes #grow #comedy #producer

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