The First Thought – Part I: Humble Beginnings

“A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching

“The journey of a hundred thousand miles begins in an airport that smells like feet.”

My friend Mike one time.

Hi, you. My name is Nathan. I have been invited to write a series of posts about my firsthand experience as a student of improvisation at Denver’s Voodoo Comedy Playhouse for you, the average human[note] I assume.[/note].

I moved to Colorado two years ago. A week after I moved I discovered the comedy scene here and dove in full force. You see, I’m a comedy nerd. I’m the sort of person who watched the Netflix making of documentary about W/ Bob and David, the Netflix series. When I was a kid, a week after I found out Weird Al was a thing, I was listening to Limewired episodes of Dr. Demento. When I found out about the alt-comedy scene that came out in the ‘90s from the Largo in California I sought out the comedians’ albums with the sort of reverent fervor other people have for rock stars. I say all this to impress upon you, dear reader, how much I care about humor. So around this same time in my life I was introduced to improv for the first time.

Now, I had some experience of improvisation from avidly watching any and all Comedy Central Presents I could get my mitts on. And I’m not talking about the semi-improvisatory delivery of an Eddie Izzard or a Paul F. Tompkins. I mean the times you could see a joke made up on the spot, that was one part reaction to the audience, one part the audience’s reaction, and one part the comedian’s sensibilities[note] A great example is Patton Oswalt’s takedown of a heckler on Track 18 of Werewolves and Lollipops[/note]. Other times comedians worked improv into their act to absolutely mind blowing results[note]For an example I would point you to the masterful Sean Cullen’s improvised song Food of Choice. Do yourself a favor and check out a few of his performances of that bit. They’re on YouTube and they’re hilarious and always improvised.[/note]. Around this point in my life I also started participating in a LARPing[note]Live Action Role Play-ing. You know, those folks with foam swords and cardboard shields that you make fun of but secretly wish you could be a part of.[/note] summer camp that focused on improvisational theater. But that is a story for another blog.

Skipping forward in time to last year, I started taking improv classes at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse to improve my stand up. I kept doing it because they are educational, worthwhile, and fun[note]Also I’ve met a lot of good friends through classes.[/note]. And when I say worthwhile, I do mean it. Getting better at improv has made me more quick-witted and empathic. The keys for good improv are trust in your fellow performers, making strong choices, and capital L Listening. In improv you learn to listen fully to someone: Listening so much that you understand both what they’re saying and what character or joke they’re trying to set up by saying it. That form of Listening is the skill I’ve learned from classes that I’ve found myself using the most in life outside improv. At work or in conversations with friends, that sort of playful empathy can really help you out.

But enough about that. Back to me. What can you expect from my next few posts? Well, in this blog I plan to document my feelings about the different forms of humor, my own experiences as a student of the improv and sketch classes, discuss notable shows I see or perform in, and talk about Denver’s comedy scene in general. Here are some ideas I’ve had for articles: a tortured sports metaphor comparing stand up, writing, and improv; my thoughts on the Voodoo as a performance space and how different shows capitalize on it; a take on how improv is an inherently community-building activity; comparing my LARP camp improv experience to the Voodoo classes; and probably more footnotes where I talk about comedians I like. I hope you stay tuned.

Listen to me ramble, though. I want to wrap this introductory post up. I’ll finish with this thought: One of the pleasures of performing for other people is the act of creation. In some performances, like stand up or music, you create something and practice, practice, practice it until you are ready to perform it spectacularly for others. In others, like writing, you are creating something with your full attention, completely engrossed in the act of creating, but the performance and consumption of your work is far removed from your creation of it. Improv is the most visceral experience of creation I’ve ever had. Not only are you creating something new but so is everyone else on stage with you and, in their way, so is the audience. Improv is created, performed, and consumed all in the same moment. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Come play sometime.

Whitney’s Wit

Whitney Cummings, classic roaster and stand up comedian, has a new special coming out in January. Can we call her a powerhouse? The special is called “I’m Your Girlfriend” and is showing on HBO on January 23rd so mark it. While we wait we can watch some clips from her last 2 specials. After that we can learn some things about Whitney that we didn’t know.

Here’s a couple clips from her latest special entitled “I Love You”.

You can get the full version from Comedy Central.

Her first special was audio only and was called “Emotional Ninja”. Here is a hilarious clip about women’s secrets!

To fill some more time while you’re at work doing nothing, you can learn some new things about Whitney by watching the latest Joe Rogan Experience Podcast.

Hope you enjoyed!

-KJ Willy

Sweet Karmel

Once again I was browsin’ ’round the vicious candyland called the world wide web for a laugh because my co-workers just weren’t cutting it. I mean I made them laugh, why can’t I get something funny in return…? Not to worry though because I stumbled upon this some sweet Karmel. Ian that is. I found out about him from Conan of course. When a guy does great on a late night show spot it’s always good to see. Many comics have said it’s hard to get the crowd on your side in such a short period of time, but Ian didn’t seem to have a problem with it in these spots. Earlier this month Ian released his debut comedy album “9.2 on Pitchfork” which you can get on Amazon Mp3, or get in on cd or even Vinyl here! I love vinyl. Apparently he lived with the one and only Ron Funches who plays a role in this clip from Conan.There is a part 1 and 2.

Here is a hilarious bit from his new special:

I like this guy a lot. It looks like his only listed shows are in Portland. I do find it pretty awesome though that a music label is putting out comedian records: Kill Rock Stars!

TFATK!

91 episodes in, “The Fighter and The Kid” podcast, hosted by former UFC heavyweight contender Brendan Schaub and Comedian/Actor Bryan Callen, has become very popular. There are a lot of guests who are from the fight world given Schaub’s background, and Callen’s background brings in comedians. Something curious is although Bryan can’t beat Schaub in a fight, sometimes Schaub is funnier than Callen. Haha sorry Bryan. Here’s a podcast with the comedic powerhouse Russel Peters.

TFATK is now going on the road to sold out shows in comedy clubs. I don’t know what the live show entails, because they will not release them. They want to keep the mystery so heads will show, which I don’t see them having a problem with. If they come to my area I will go if I can. Right now there are only two dates and both of them are sold out!

Something that I think contributes and will definitely continue to pay dividends in views, is they are not afraid to hash things out between them on a podcast with no guest. In this one Schaub confronts Callen about being late to a meeting with FOX.

This has become one of my favorite podcasts and you should check it out. Right now.

-KJ Willy

What’s Craig Up To?

Craig Ferguson! What’s the old Scotsmans been up to? Well he’s been hosting a game show entitled “Celebrity Name Game” in which celebrities try to get people to say words. Here’s a clip:

Lucky for us all Craig has never stopped doing standup, which he explains in this interview from earlier this month:

Craig has announced an extensive stand up tour, which I am happy about. I was also sad because I saw that his only western US dates were in California. So if you live in or near any of these states he’s touring in, go check it out. Here is a clip from his Grammy nominated Album “I’m Here to Help”.

Happy to see he’s touring, maybe I’ll quit my day job and tour with him.

-KJ Willy

 

Attell

Dave Attell’s newest special has been available on Netflix for over two months! Check that S*** out! You can go to his website www.daveattell.com to check out some clips. Also if you are in or near one of these places, go see him!

Dave is now 50, and has been an active comic since 1988!

Here’s a Comedy Central half hour special from 1996.

Dave has a wild style that is unique to him, here’s some standup from 1999, there’s a couple similarities.

Here’s a recent Conan Clip, Attell Looks good!

If you are lucky enough to be able to afford real TV and can watch Comedy Central, you might have caught Dave hosting “Comedy Underground” an uncensored multiple comic stand up show. If you’re like me you have to just watch clips from the show. So you can do that here.

 

-KJ Willy

Sebastian!

There are many many hilarious Italian folks in comedy, and a very funny one I just discovered is a guy named Sebastian Maniscalco. He says he’s half Italian half Sicilian. I watched his whole special the other day when I should have been doing something else simply because I could not stop watching. He doesn’t really talk that much about being Italian, but everything he talks about is absolutely hilarious, got great stage presence. Here’s the special I watched:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITSuHGUTgXU

Anytime anyone sits down with the great Joey Diaz it’s always a great listen. Here’s Sebastian on an episode of “The Church of What’s Happening Now”.

Sebastian’s latest special was only released a few month’s ago in November 2014. It’s called “Aren’t You Embarassed” and was filmed in Chicago, his hometown. Here’s a snippet of it, I haven’t seen this one but I plan on buying it.

Check out his tour page and see if he’s coming to your town!

-KJ Willy

Make Me Laugh

There’s an old school show I stumbled upon while surfing the net when I was supposed to be doing something else. It was called “Make Me Laugh“. So I started sifting through the videos. The premise of the show is they bring someone up from the studio audience, and the comedians have to try to make the person laugh in a minute. For every second that they don’t laugh, they get $1. I would really like to see this show come back today, for two reasons. The high caliber group of modern comedians we have, and what they will let people get away with on tv these days. I think it would prove quite hilarious. Anywho here’s some of it to check out and see if you agree with me. One thing I noticed is when people are trying not to laugh they make some weird faces.

This video is a compilation of John DeBellis trying to make folks laugh with his stand-up.

Apparently there’s was a really old version and then a version from the 90’s on Comedy Central. Here’s a really old episode where they try to make Frank zappa laugh!

Frank is kind of creepy haha.Finally here is Howie Mandel taking a crack at it!

Well hope you enjoyed a trip back in time! Don’t you think this show with today’s comedians would be amazing?

-KJ Willy

Joey Diaz – Real s***!

Joey Diaz is a Cuban American (born in Havana) who grew up in North Bergen, New Jersey. On his website BIO, it explains how when he was in a Denver, CO correctional facility in 1988, he would do standup between the movies they would watch. That’s when he realized he had what it takes. The thing that stands out about Joey Diaz is his storytelling. The way the audience is engaged at a a Joey “Coco” Diaz show is like no other. He tells them very well and very real. There is no shortage of stories and it doesn’t seem like there ever will be. He hosts his own podcast as well entitled “The Church of What’s Happening Now”. He has had acting parts in “Grudge Match” and “Taxi”.

Comedy Central premiered a show called “This Is Not Happening” on January 22nd of this year, hosted by another stand-up comic Ari Shaffir. This show is the perfect platform for Joey Diaz: a bunch of comics telling true stories. Joey has been on the show 3 times already because of his infectious style and stories. When you listen to Joey you experience a range of emotions, not just laughter.

In this story Joey talks about his mother’s friend and life lessons.

This story is about a fight in the streets of New York.

In closing Joey talks about the effects of Heroin.

 

I sincerely hope you enjoyed these, and learned something too.

-KJ Willy

Lost Art of Silence

Everybody knows about silent films, but a lot of people have never seen a full silent film. It’s one of those things that if you stumble upon an article about it you’ll check it out, but otherwise you never take the initiative. Well here’s the article you stumbled upon so take a little time out of your day (hopefully you have an enclosed cubicle) to have a little old school laughs. These are all short films just to get you interested. Some silent films are hours long.

This film “Cook, Papa, Cook” was a lost film, all is explained in the beginning. Contrary to some people’s thoughts, old silent comedies do hold up, they still make you laugh. This film is actually pretty funny. So without further ado:

 

This next comedy starred Buster Keaton. Boy did this guy have what it took. This one made me laugh out loud several times. This is just the “most funny moments” put together in a short video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aDIcxjgWrY

 

Surprisingly, there are people who are making silent films today, seemingly more of a hobby than a money making endevour, but that does not mean they are not good. It doesn’t take much to make one, maybe you should try it? These kids didn’t do a bad job:

 

Don’t be afraid do delve into the old world of black and white silent comedy films, they used what they had, and still made it hilarious! Humans can make anything funny.

 

-KJ Willy