I know what you’re thinking but Useful Tools is not a series of articles about those guys who become obsessed with girls who already have boyfriends (and probably wouldn’t be with them anyway) so they kind of mutate into that girls purse holding chump. They think they are in the “on deck circle” of the friend zone, but in reality they are just a very convenient person who’s willing to take the girls car to get detailed while she and her boyfriend have brunch. Sexy, sexy brunch. No, this article is about useful resources for Stand-Up comedians (and armchair funny makers) to better their craft and rock funnier stages.
Editors Note: If you know one of those guys that’s basically become some girls human sized pet chihuahua, please stage an intervention. Immediately. Contrary to the occasionally romantic movie, it’s not going to work out. Ever.
Today’s useful tool is the book “Comedy At the Edge” by Richard Zoglin. Yes, it’s a book. I know you’re probably asking yourself: “A book? Why doesn’t he just recommend something on stone tablets?!”. Seriously, this is a must for every comedian’s book shelf, and even if it is a low-tech choice, at least it gives you something to do on the toilet that benefits your career other than writing another dozen poop jokes.
This book chronicles the major innovations in Stand-up comedy from the birth of the artform (at least in its modern interpretation) until recent day. It functions as both a history, but also a collection of biographies, as it details the career arcs of comedians like Carlin and Pryor and all the rest of the greats up to Seinfeld and beyond. It profiles men like Albert Brooks who some modern comedians might not know (but should!), and it details the early stand-up careers of men like Robin Williams which happened at a time in his career people may have forgotten. The book gives due reverence to comedies great heroes, starting with full chapters on the foundation setters like Lenny Bruce, Carlin, Pryor etc, and then slightly smaller looks at the comics who consciously or otherwise stood on the backs of those giants. (Kinnison, Seinfeld, Boosler)
He's in here too.
If the book teaches one lesson it’s that the real legends of comedy were innovators. Each major name comedian re-invented the whole world of comedy just so he could do his act. The next big name did the same thing for himself. This is the most important thing a young comedian that really wants to leave his or her mark will has to learn. If you want to be great, you can’t be doing it like everyone else. Hollywood sends the opposite message, and it’s very confusing. Hollywood would be happy with clones of the legends that came before, but that’s the path to obscurity.
The book also contains the history surrounding the biggest clubs in the business, the comedy boom(s), and the famous Comedy Store “strike”. This is information serious comedians must know, just as painters or writers have to look at the artists before them. Salvador Dali in his work “The Pamphlet for Young Artists” said (to paraphrase) “You are not allowed to call yourself an artist until you have mastered all the styles that came before you.” So the marching orders from Zoglin’s book are really to learn the story of these great men, and when that knowledge lights a fire in your belly to follow them in greatness, do so on your own terms.
The two chapters in this book that changed me more than I anticipated were about Richard Lewis and Robert Klein. These chapters spoke to my style in a way that mattered to me artistically and the secondary research (i.e. watching dozens of these guys’ clips online) got me going to hit stages again like comedy was going out of style (ironically). There is a chapter in this book for every young comedian, and even for people who simply enjoy comedy. If you think the next comedy frontier is on Twitter, read this book. Why? Because people in this book had the same feeling, only they replaced the word twitter with television. Just as Dane Cook (who would have been in this book had it be a longer work, I’m quite sure) mastered MySpace to become a household name, so too did everyone else develop the mediums of their time. So yes Twitter jokester, this ones for you as well. By now some of you are wishing this article was in 140 characters or less.
While on the subject of books… and how often will I have your ear on that, here are 3 other books that I think belong on any comedians shelf:
Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s by 60s by
Gerald Nachman (available here) is a must read of anyone whose comedy is “edgy”. Before you claim that title, you best read what people like Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Mort Sahl and Jonathan Winters went through just so you can say “schmuck” on stage and not get arrested..
Mixed Nuts: America's Love Affair with Comedy Teams from Burns and Allen to Belushi and Aykroyd by Lawrence J. Epstein (available here) details the lost art of the duo/trio. If you even think you and a buddy might hit stages together, read this first.
I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America's Top Comics by Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff (available here) is a great bit on inspiration for hitting the road, even if the book is full of stories of comedians getting shot at on stage and worse!
Stay tuned to CraveOnline.com for more Useful Tools… boom!