Category Archives: Comedy

Improvisation

This seems as good a place as any to leave myself a note for a video idea I want to pursue. If you watch my videos regularly, you’ll know AIDzee. Here are the two of us in the car as I take AIDzee to the hospital:

Most of the videos I shoot with AIDzee are largely improvised. When we do TFU Friday and WAINGAFAT Wednesday  we discuss the topics ahead of time, come up with a few jokes and plot out how we want the video to go but we almost never have a script as such.

I have an idea of doing some improvised discussions/joke riffing sessions with AIDzee but instead of using the single camera setup we normally do getting a few people to help us shoot it and then edit together the highlights with multiple viewpoints. That’s the plan.

I make lots of plans and am not always good at executing a quick follow through. I almost always make the videos eventually but sometimes it takes a couple of years. I’m not joking. Let’s see if writing this public note to myself helps.

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The future of being awesome

Inspiration is a wonderful thing. I’m not the most touchy-feely guy on the planet (surprised?) but I do look for things to inspire me to do better. I particularly like finding something that is aimed at a particular target group that is definitely not me but it still resonates with me. When someone is able to cross boundaries like that, it leads me to think they may be onto something.

I found this sort of inspiration recently when catching up with a blog I read semi-regularly – Joel on Software. Joel Spolsky runs a software development company and his primary audience is software developers but his writing is frequently applicable to a wider audience. It isn’t a huge surprise that the piece that gave me my inspiration was Joel talking about his own inspiration for the future.

He was quoting Kathy Sierra’s advice to help your users be awesome. Joel translated this into nerd-speak as: “We help $TYPE_OF_PERSON be awesome at $THING”. In his world, that becomes making software developers be awesome at making software. I’m not involved in a software development company but I am involved in a very interesting project and I realised this motto was directly applicable to our plans.

Some very clever and experienced (not to mention downright sexy) people I know are about to launch a major initiative for comedians in Melbourne and I am helping (mainly with the online component and video production). When I read the Joel On Software post I instantly realised his aims for software development were our aims for comedy. We will help comedian be awesome at doing comedy.  

The others running this project have very long history in the Australian comedy industry as working comics as well as directing comedians and running venues. I’m more of an enthusiastic amateur which is why they are running things and I am helping. So if you’re a working comedian in Melbourne (or even an aspiring comedian) you might want to stay tuned. And sorry if you’re somewhere else but this will be relevant to Melbourne only. The type of intensive work we’re talking about doesn’t work over long distance, it has to be face to face.

One of the big reasons for this project is that the comedy “industry” in Australia sucks. It sucks balls. Not good balls. Nasty, sweaty dog’s balls. Even in Melbourne, which fancies itself as being arty and cultural, it’s a constant struggle for comedians. There’s the Comedy Festival and the Fringe Festival but unless you’re already an established star it’s pretty much impossible to make a living from them. The rest of the year there are only one to three venues that actually pay performers. In other words: it’s shit.

Seriously, my meagre earnings from the YouTube partnership put me ahead of (conservatively) 90% of people who consider themselves working comics in Melbourne.  So a big part of making life awesome for comics will be to open up more opportunities to actually make a living from performing. But the backbone will be creating an environment that gives comedians both the training and the opportunity to be awesome.

There are far too many people who are creative, talented and working damn hard but still not getting anywhere or being rewarded as they deserve. And I’m one of them, dammit! This is what’s so exciting about this project – it’s about taking control and actually creating our own success. 2010 is going to be a big year for comedy in Melbourne and for me personally. I’ll be posting more updates as the plans become reality. Like all things to do with comedy, it’s all about the timing.

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It’s funny – you just don’t get it

The thing about comedy is it’s completely subjective. What’s funny to me may not be funny to you. What’s acceptable to me might not be acceptable to you. And vice versa. It’s pretty much pointless arguing these issues with someone who disagrees because it’s opinion, not objective fact. So if you disagree with my opinion, clearly you’re wrong and I’m right but I’m not going to waste time arguing opinions.

You’re free to disagree but I won’t engage with anyone who wants to argue via comments because it’s pointless. It’s pointless because it’s the wrong medium for a discussion, I don’t have the time to keep replying to people who just go on and on and on and can’t just make their point and be done with it. These people who simply will not shut the fuck up. And they have no real interest in discussion they just want to grind people down by droning on and on and on because they think getting the last word is equivalent to winning and they will not shut the fuck up, why won’t they shut the fuck up? If there really was a god he would strike these fuckers down with lightning that’s what I want to happen I want them dead I want them to die painfully and horribly that is not a figure of speech I want them to DIE like something out of Happy Tree Friends, I want them to slip in their own drool and smash their face into their keyboard so hard the keys pop out and burst their eyeballs and the keys get driven right into their brain AND THEY DIE!

OK, that went off track. A little. The point is, I’m used to people who don’t want to debate, they just want to be shouting the loudest. I refuse to waste time with these people. You want to say your piece then say it and move on. Don’t expect any tolerance from me if you won’t shut the fuck up. In fact, if you want to engage with me you have to put in as much effort as me. If you think you’re right and I’m wrong you have to make a video going into at least as much depth as I do or I DON’T FUCKING CARE!

So… the theory of comedy. There are many forms of comedy. My favourite form is satire of the type that dates back to the European Medieval tradition of the fool or the court jester. The fool was the stupidest person, the lowest rank so he could say anything without fear of retribution. The job of the jester is to entertain but what the jester can do that nobody else can do is speak truth to power. He can point out the king is an idiot because what harm is there is someone so low insulting someone so high? You could argue that the idea of playing dumb to expose someone who thinks they are smarter goes back further. For instance, Sascha Baron Cohen is basically using Socratic Irony (oh yes, I’m bringing up Socrates and ancient Greek philosophy), particularly with characters like Ali G and Borat, to get people to expose their inconsistencies and prejudices. But I prefer the tradition of the fool that you often see in Shakespeare plays.

You see that? I’m a fucking intellectual. Don’t fuck with me.

Essentially, this sort of satire is making fun of things. Rather than making up jokes, the satirist is looking at people, or things, or situations, or social conventions and saying “OK, here’s what I think is stupid about that.” Now you might have noticed I’m not into playing it safe. I like to push people’s buttons. I don’t think there’s any topic that is off limits if you’re funny enough. For me, funny enough means having enough skill as a comedian, actually having a point to what you’re doing and hitting a target that deserves to be hit.

This is why the tradition of the fool is meaningful because to me the difference between being funny and being a prick is who’s telling the joke and who’s the target? The little guy gets away with ripping on the big guy because that’s all the little guy has and how does it really hurt the big guy? At the end of the day, the fool is still a fool and the king is still a king. But when the one in power is making jokes at the expense of someone weaker than them, that’s being a prick.

This is why I’m stunned by white people who will say things like a black person doing white face is the same as a white person doing black face. Do you not see the power imbalance there? Do you not get the difference between implicitly saying “stay in your place darkie” and trying to challenge the power structure? And do you not get that ignorance of a long history of racism that you’ve never been on the receiving end of is not a fucking excuse?

Another reason I feel it’s important to think about these sorts of things is for personal integrity. First, I think it simply makes this sort of joke funnier if you’ve put some thought into it. Second, not everyone’s going to agree with you, not everyone’s going to get it. If you’re comfortable in yourself with what you’re doing then it isn’t going to matter as much when people attack you (and people will, inevitably, attack you.) Let’s be honest, saying “aw, c’mon, it’s a fucking joke, lighten up” is a pretty fucking lame defence.

I’ve been called everything from a soft, uptight PC liberal to a white supremacist. In the last week. About the same video. I know stupid. I deal with stupid every day. The secret to not giving a fuck about stupid people is having enough integrity in what you’re doing that stupid people don’t matter. People are always going to find different things funny and be offended by different things but if you’re telling someone they don’t get it and the truth is you’re being an ignorant prick, the real truth is, you’re the one who doesn’t get it.

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You can joke about anything if you’re good enough

One of the challenges you face if you try to entertain people with humour is deciding on what is an “appropriate” topic for comedy or satire.  Clearly, I don’t mind if I piss people off and frequently set out to do it on purpose.  By the same token, I do have an internal censor of sorts but it leans more towards “is that funny enough to get away with it?” than “am I allowed to say that?”

I was reminded of this conundrum when reading about how Ricky Gervais has upset a few people this week by picking on fat people in a podcast.  I’d seen his DVD “Fame” recently where he also ripped on fat people (“not a disease”) so I had a fair feeling for the tone of his podcast when I saw a partial transcript.  Suffice to say that he thinks fat people shouldn’t be treated gently. 

I have all three standup DVDs he’s released and one thing that was a real eye-opener for me in all of them was how aggressively he went for what could be regarded as soft targets.  I know he isn’t to everyone’s taste but anyone who can make me laugh at jokes at the expense of kids with cancer is all right by me. 

Gervais (to me at least) is a classic example of it isn’t what you make jokes about that matters, it’s how good you are.  The fact that some people are confronted and upset by some of his jokes isn’t in and of itself a measure of their quality.  After all, I doubt that the initial publication of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was greeted with universal acclaim as a masterpiece of satire (“He’s saying we should eat Irish babies – he’s a very bad man!”)

The world is, of course, littered with the putrid corpses of jokes that died horrible public deaths when the comedian in question was simply trying to be offensive for shock value and failed to remember the “be funny” part of the equation (doubtless I’ve committed this humourcide many times).  The best recent example for me is still when Michael Richards (Seinfeld’s “Kramer”) imploded on stage and repeatedly brayed “nigger” at an audience member. You don’t try that shit unless you’re really, really good.

But if you’re good, and daring, you can go right out there and make jokes about paedophilia:

To be accurate, the target of the satire in that video from Britain’s “Brass Eye” is actually the hysteria that was surrounding paedophilia at the time rather than saying paedophilia itself is funny.  The first time I saw that I almost couldn’t believe someone would take the risk of going that far.  I don’t know how many death threats the makers of the show received but they won’t be getting invited to tea at Buckingham Palace any time soon.

Which is something else that not enough people consider before they do something (and I’m not limiting this to attempts at comedy): be prepared for the consequences.  To white guys who say they should be able to say nigger because it’s free speech I say sure you should.  Just be prepared for people to decide they don’t want to be around someone who spouts racist crap.  I know a lot of what I’ve done, particularly on YouTube, could have an adverse affect on some people’s opinion of me.  It could mean I don’t get a particular job at some point.  I made a conscious choice in that regard:

Fuck it.

I’ve never taken a video down and I stand by everything I’ve ever done on YouTube.  It may not all be comedy gold but it’s all me.

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The luckiest people in Australia

There is a “satirical news programme” in Australia known as The Chaser (technically, they have gone through a few names for different series – their latest was called “The Chaser’s War on Everything” but let’s keep things simple and call them The Chaser.)  They specialise in doing public stunts designed to make someone look silly.
 
The closest approximation I can think of that would make sense for an international audience are the characters of Sascha Baron-Cohen (namely Ali G and Borat).  They don’t do character based comedy like Baron Cohen, they mostly do something very public and see what reaction they get. So maybe they’re closer to Candid Camera than they are to Kazakhstan’s finest.
 
Last year there was a big talk fest in Sydney known as APEC – the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.  This was attended mainly by leaders from the Asia/Pacific area (big surprise) but perhaps the highest profile guest was US President George W Bush.  In these nervous times, security was particularly high.  Supposedly.  Much of Sydney went into total lockdown.  Which really pissed off Sydneysiders.
 
The media were given a briefing that included a warning about how serious the whole affair was.  People should not make the mistake of making light of proceedings or causing trouble.  Pranks would not be tolerated.  The Chaser team were looked at very sternly and pointedly during this lecture.  There was an “exclusion zone” into which unauthorised persons were most definitely not allowed.  Any protesters or pranksters who broke the exclusion zone would find themselves in a metric shitload of trouble.
 
And so the inevitable happened.  The Chaser team set up a fake motorcade (flying Canadian flags for those who are interested) and drove into the exclusion zone.  They got through two of the “security” checkpoints.  When they were arrested it looked to me like they were seriously fucked.  It didn’t seem likely to me that the then in power Federal Government who were responsible for the event would take kindly to being made look like such fools.
 
Eleven people were arrested, two of them were stars and the others were faceless nobodies who I kind of felt sorry for.  I figured the least they were going to get was being totally unable to fly internationally for the rest of their lives.  And I suspected they weren’t being paid enough to suffer that punishment.  I would not have been surprised if some jail terms were handed out.
 
Anyway, I figure these are the luckiest people in Australia because today the charges were dropped.  This link gives a few details and also has a link to a video of the actual prank.  They got off on what could be described as a technicality.  It wasn’t found that breaching the exclusion zone wasn’t breaking the law, it’s more that it wasn’t their fault they got into the exclusion zone.
 
At the time, I found it very hard to understand why they thought the prank was a good idea.  After all, they drove into the middle of some very heavily armed men who were probably very nervous and were unlikely to spend a lot of time figuring out the difference between a prank and a terrorist threat.
 
Oh yeah, and one of the cast was dressed up in an Osama Bin Laden costume.  A really shit Osama costume but there was no doubt who he was meant to be.  This action looked like a death wish personified.
 
As it turns out, they had checked out the first checkpoint the day before and decided there was no way they would get through.  And that’s why the charges were dropped.  Something was different when they actually pulled the prank which is why they got through.  But the court decided it was never their intention to breach the exclusion zone and so they got off.
 
The big joke was to be that when they were refused entry, “Osama” would step out of his limo and say “Why can’t I go in?”  Hilarity would ensue.  But some idiot waved them through.  So they drove in.  A different idiot waved them through the second checkpoint.  They kept driving. 
 
At some point The Chaser team themselves decided “this is a bad fucking situation.”  Who knows, maybe it was Osama himself who said “Stop driving me toward more guys with machine guns!”  They turned their motorcade around and told the security forces something along the lines of “ummmm, fellahs… we really don’t want to be here any more.  Please don’t shoot us.”
 
How do you start a conversation like that?
 
It’s hard to imagine pushing the envelope more than that.  A representative has said that just because they got away with this they won’t try anything even more outlandish.
 
Yeah, riiiiiight.

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Nanna Jelly Love

The man you see in the video still above is comedian Ross Noble and this post is designed to mess with his head. Ross is a very funny performer and anyone who has seen him will tell you he has absolutely astounding improvisational skills. He’s in Australia for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the moment and he’s also hosting a comedy show in Northcote (hello vettiliveinnorthcote!) each Sunday night for the next few weeks.
The series of shows was organised by a comedian I featured in my series on last year’s Comedy Festival, Dave Bushell. Each night four or five comedians perform with Ross having a bit of a chat with the audience between each act. Usually the host of a show like this will do maybe five minutes each time they are at the microphone. They way Ross Noble tends to go off on wild improvisational tangents means that he can there for up to half an hour. Five times during the evening.
Dave asked me to come along to the shows and video the acts so they would have some footage they could use for promotional purposes. You may end up seeing some of the performances here although maybe not as they’re much funnier than me and I don’t want to be shown up. One thing I don’t do is video Ross Noble’s pieces. There’s all sorts of complicated contract issues with a performer like Ross but there’s also the fact that he doesn’t want these weird little bits he’s improvising showing up out of context on sites like YouTube.
That’s where we get to me messing with his head. He was off one of his surreal ramble in one of the shows when he started talking about “nanna jelly love”. Before I describe the act of nanna jelly love, a few definitions might be in order. First, “nanna” means grandmother. Second, “jelly” is know to Americans (and possibly others) as jello. If you are American, what you jelly is jam GODDAMMIT! get it right!
So, nanna jelly love involves having a life size mould of your nanna’s naked body, filling the mould with jelly then having sex with the jelly version of your nanna. There was a certain logic to it but you had to be there. Anyway, right at the point when Ross is headed into seriously wrong territory with this (it actually got worse than the explanation I just gave you) he pointed straight at me sitting down the front with my camera and said “This had better not end up on YouTube”.
And of course it didn’t end up on YouTube because I wasn’t shooting at the time. But if he’s ever foolish enough to type “nanna jelly love” into a search engine, hopefully the first thing he sees is that video still and he has a horrified moment when he thinks his nanna jelly love routine has escaped into the wild. Just the thought brings an evil little smile to my face.

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When insults had class

It’s stating the obvious to say that the worst thing about the internet is the horde of morons that populate it (present company excluded, of course). I will admit to antagonising these sad excuses for human beings for my own amusement in the past. What can I say? As a kid I used to stir up ant’s nests.

But no more. I’m done with these losers. I refuse to even acknowledge their pathetic attempts at insults until they make a decent effort. They may never reach the standard of the classics listed below but I’m not going to indulge people who don’t even try.

There really was a time when insults had class.

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”
Winston Churchill

“A modest little person, with much to be modest about.”
Winston Churchill

“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”
Clarence Darrow

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time in reading it.”
Moses Hadas

“He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.”
Abraham Lincoln

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” –
Groucho Marx

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
Mark Twain

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”
Oscar Wilde

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play. Bring a friend… if you have one.”
George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.”
Winston Churchill, in response

“I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.”
Irvin S. Cobb

“He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.”
Samuel Johnson

“He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.”
Paul Keating

“He had delusions of adequacy.”
Walter Kerr

“There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure.”
Jack E. Leonard

“He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.”
James Reston (about Richard Nixon)

“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?”
Mark Twain

“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.”
Mae West

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever…”
Oscar Wilde

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts… for support rather than illumination. ” –
Andrew Lang

“He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.”
Billy Wilder

UPDATE

Wow, Reddit is doing funny things to my blog again. I’m glad so many people are enjoying this post but it means it’s impractical to respond to all the comments (which is what I’d usually do). Although I will be reading all comments. Speaking of comments, are the people leaving incredibly lame insults in response to this post indulging is some through-the-looking-glass meta-irony? Or are they really, really stupid?

My favourite is the people saying this list exists somewhere else, as if that’s some huge revelation. Really? Some of the most notable people in history have been quoted before? Wow, that’s a shocker! I’ll be the first to admit that this blog post is almost no work on my part. The work is actually in the video.

As I say in the video, I saw the the collection posted to a mailing list from my old college. It happened to fit in exactly with how I was feeling about YouTube in particular. I thought I’d make a video version that would be appreciated by people I knew were constantly suffering stupid harrassment on YT.

The blog post was, in all seriousness, an afterthought. I was posting the video before I went to bed and when I checked the time I realised it was Friday morning in the US. I thought to myself “who wants to work on a Friday? – I’ll give everyone a little time waster.” It seems it was appreciated by most, which is nice. To the tools who want to whine and bitch to try and distract themselves from their own inadequacies… ah screw it, just imagine I said something as clever as one of the above to you.

SECOND UPDATE

I was asked about the music accompanying the video. This is my angryaussie theme music, done for me by another YouTuber, nsgmusic. He has his own site at www.nsg-music.com and if you really like the angryaussie theme you can actually download it for free here.

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