“Guy Walks into a Bar” (a series)
A Guide for Comedians. Stories for Comedy Fans.
The Artist Journey #4
(a look at inspiration and creativity)
When last we spoke (11/8/21):
The steps in this article, if applied, and if you have the talent for this — sorry, some of you may have this as a dream, but it’s the wrong one — will teach you to do it right and keep improving and growing.
After this “textbook edition,” let’s have a little fun in the next issue (11/22/21) with, “The Artist Journey” — a look at inspiration and creativity.
“Ahhh, now he’s going to tell us about his methods for creation!” Sure, if after 32 years, I figure it out myself! In retrospect, this article probably should have preceded the last, which was on structuring your material. Thank goodness, this newsletter is not the lifesaving serum to cure our screwed-up world. I think it’s ok if it’s out of order. Whatever you are comfortable with, at a given moment in time, is your way of creating/writing/working. Then, in almost every instance, that will change dramatically when you get it up on stage. And, if you’re a proficient creator, your habits will alternate, circle back, even disappear. So, why bore you with, “this is what I do,” when it’s ART … and true art is always subjective. For fun, I’ll share some personal experiences and how they became (or can become) material. But I am a student of my own journey and therefore a chameleon when it comes to consistency.
Lately, I see society, my life, and my act, as something that I need to pack into my laptop bag (the bag makes me look professional … I’ll be using a pen and paper) and disappear with it to a mountain cabin or an NYC village loft, for six months. Living on coffee, booze, and take-out food, fleshing it all out. But only Comics with financial reserves and laurels to rely on, when they resurface, can afford such a sabbatical.
Once I decided to do this thing (in my early years), everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that I witnessed or experienced, was jotted down onto a scrap of paper for me to tell people about. I was now seeing the world through the eyes of a Comedian, or so I thought! Then, periodically, I hand-wrote multi-page “operas” on subjects that I really didn’t care much about. These dissertations, which I thought would be comedy genius, could probably have been nailed in about three jokes if structured properly. Sometimes, nowadays, in my fire hazard of a home office, I find those old slips of paper and I have one of three reactions: How stupid! This … could be great! Or What the fuck was I talking about? Quickly at times, but more likely over time, you will gravitate towards what it is that you do and the kind of things you are meant to talk about and have it become funny to strangers. I can write good material for you. Writing it for Joseph is painstaking!
The old rule that “if it’s funny to you, chances are it will be funny to others,” does apply. But that expression should be elongated; “if you can take nothing from thin air, or the very ordinary shite in life, or especially something dramatic or traumatic, to you or others, and put it through your own unique filter, and then smile to yourself because of the way you have worded it, you are certainly onto something pretty good.” Unfortunately, that’s a lot to engrave on a wristwatch! The following mini-stories are just a few examples of countless trials and errors.
The Years I Thought I Knew What Comedy Was
At 20 years of age, living at home, how do you not talk about your mother? She’s such a character — she’s “meant for stage material,” with all her annoying, yet loving habits. “YES Joseph, everyone will relate!” Comedy Umpire shouts, “foul ball!” I become an expert observer, like my predecessors. “Ok, wait, look at that guy on the bus talking to himself … that’s going in the act. Check out these women on the bus [obviously a lot seems to happen on a bus in the first few years] bitching to each other about their men. They’re very animated black women, this will make for great stage characters.” Newbie Set-Up: “Ever riding the bus and see this guy …?” Wait, it gets hackier!
“OH MY GOD, these ridiculous TV Commercials are comedy gold. The side effects of prescription meds. The apparent idiot asking you to go to a trade school because it changed their life. The list is endless!” Yes, TV commercials are overspent — and over anticipated to be effective — pieces of shit, that are as comedy-ready as a four-hour slow-cooked tomato sauce, that only needs a dash of grated cheese now to be enjoyed. Truth is, they ARE hysterical, and everyone can relate. I wrote some parodies on TV commercials in the very early 90s that were somewhat legendary. People still quote them back to me today. BUT, like it or not, it’s a growing pain and the furthest thing from YOUR VOICE! So, enjoy the Bunny Hill but you’re going to have to get off soon!
Folks, what you see and think to yourself, “this would be funny to talk about,” might just be … but it has nothing to do with you. Your identity. Your unique view. Yes, you CAN make a career out of this wet-noodle, lackluster, weak stuff — many do. But how … how do they sleep with themselves at night, never flexing, not one, creative muscle?
But it’s ok, go ahead and write that type of growing pains crap, because chances are (if you’re one of the good ones) you’ll write it in a way, that no one else can. We don’t invent the wheel — we keep improving upon it! Some Comics have become internet sensations, on social media, with universal themes, that the masses relate to. Truth be told, in one such case, I’d been doing a brilliant take on a common knowledge topic for 10 years. It was fun, true, and people loved it. When this other person’s video, on said subject, went viral, I had a decision to make. My joke was funnier and smarter, BUT would I now be accused of doing their material, given its new exposure? Ultimately, I said, “Fuck it — I’ve got plenty to pull from and I let it go.”
[The Power, Pitfalls, and Use of social media, DEFINITELY WILL be explored in later issues]
It’s Everywhere and Nowhere
Let’s move on. One day, (I believe, and I pray) your lightbulb over the skull moment will happen. It might be while sitting in traffic. Your divine intervention will take place at 3 am. A difficult bowel movement will lend the way to comedy brilliance. You’ll sit at your desk, take those two words that you wrote on a gum wrapper and write a brilliant closing bit. Whichever way it happens, you will (or should) have your stroke of real inspirational moments, in between the more contrived ones. Something that gets you out of your head and out of the headspace of, “this would be funny.” Rather, this is something real to me. This is something I’m good at. This is something that I need to share with the public. And now the challenge …. To make this very real thing, funny to complete strangers. An experiment worth taking, I promise. It’s not always and only the tragic or odd story that you must turn into comedy. Sometimes, it’s the magic trick, song parody, or what your puppet will spew, but either way, personalize it in a way, that basically, only YOU could pull it off!
Art Imitates Life
Here are just one of my “Ah-Ha” moments. My life was so fucked up (it’s a repetitive theme for me — especially coping with clinical depression and anxiety) somewhere in the early 2,000s. As usual, I needed to change my scenery to sort out the ten-thousand-pound weight that lay upon my ever-commenting brain. I’d been here before and I drank, and popped pills or I deflected — by starting some bad scenes, or I just ate way too many Lucky Charms and got fatter. So, this one day, I decided to take a walk near a Marina (10 miles from my home). There’s no shortage of armchair psychologists who claim that walking is a good idea for dealing with stress. They do not understand my stress level and the miles I must invest, to shed said stress! As I made my way from my car towards the pedestrian pathway I turned and noticed a van, letting mentally challenged adults into the park for their day out. Like children, these “grown people” were so happy to be there. Catching frisbees with their heads, running in circles, and failing in many other ways, EXCEPT when it came to just being! This was everything to them, at that moment, and I took notice of this. In fact, being so inside my own head, with a film that wouldn’t stop playing and talking in my brain, I began to admire them. WELL, when a supposed perfectly normal, healthy, young man, began admiring and envying the simplicity of mentally challenged people, as if they knew something that I didn’t, every creative gene in my body came alive and I ran back to my car, grabbed my pad, and wrote the draft for what would become a signature bit for me. With the punchline being, “I wish I was retarded,” it’s more of a story, than a joke. Lest you judge me for using that undesirable term, I assure you that the scenario is not without compassion. The bit has developed over time, whereas I attempt to cite my reasons for the intentional use of the word through a long setup. As someone who stood up for the afflicted in my school years, when the bullies picked on them, I now make it clear that I am not using the word or those who must live this way, as some lazy, mocking only punchline. Rather, it’s introspective of my own shortcomings and what I was dealing with at the time. These leaps of faith — aka “just hang in there for the ride with me people” — need to have hysterically poignant payoffs. Countless shows have proven, that mine does. I am neither making excuses nor defending myself. IT’S COMEDY! My moment of inspiration (which is what this article is about) made it justified, to me.
There is a YouTube link below of my first draft.
WARNING: It is pre refinement, whereas I make a clearer demonstration of why I will soon say an awful slang term in my act. You can rightly accuse me of contradicting my earlier prose, but in time I found the correct way to verbalize my just cause.
I go by the credo that I was taught in my Basic Writing course in New York City. Although I know these words existed long before I heard them — “write about what you know.” I once said, “if God stops dropping tough times in my lap, I’ll run out of material!” The constant unfolding events of my topsy turvy world are not public knowledge (like that of a famous Comic), so I’ve made it my job to turn these experiences into comedy bits and share them. Hopefully in a way that even the well-adjusted, happy-go-lucky patron, can understand, and laugh about. It’s exhausting and a part of me wants to stop working in that vein. BUT, my Comic Dreamers, that’s me — my creativity seems to be drawn from pain. I know that this is true for many artists, but it is not set in stone. What I believe is, the making of good comedy/comedians is when the creator shows you a world (theirs, ours, others), through their own individual lens (even the silly or trivial), and rather than asking you to know what they mean, they make you feel, I know what he/she/they mean!