Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tips for Comedians #2

Tip 2: You need a snowball.

If you've ever tuned in to a comedian halfway through their set you might wonder why everyone is laughing. I felt this while watching a DVD of Robin Williams. I was bored but the audience was in love with him. People are in hysterics because comedians are the sum of all the jokes they have told. We're more willing to laugh at a weak joke in The Simpsons than a weak joke from an amateur. Because one has established itself as a reliable source of funny. I've experienced at this venues that I play at frequently. I can feel that people are laughing because of my reputation. They allow themselves to laugh at my weaker material because they can remember a time when I made them laugh hard.

Establish yourself as a reliable source of funny. I'm a big believer in putting the material that I believe will get a great response near the beginning of my set. When we think of a reputation we think of something established over several years. As a comedian you have to establish your reputation each performance. Whether you're playing a show to strangers or family members -immediately strive for a funny reputation. That way, you win people over and have them laughing at later, mildly funny, jokes. It's a snowball effect. You need to unlock the audience's desire to giggle. They need to trust you -the only reason to trust a comedian is laughter.

I don't strive to put "mildly funny" material in my set. But I can predict that some jokes will cause a huge belly laugh while others will inspire a smirk. Usually I put my second favourite piece near the beginning and I save my favourite piece for about 80% of the way through my set (where a more traditional climax will be).

Tips for Comedians #1

Tip1: Don't tell jokes. Tell pieces.

This is largest difference between an amateur and a professional stand-up comedian. An amateur will tell one joke and then move on to another joke. A professional tends to move from piece to piece.

For clarity, some definitions:
-A joke is anything that you expect will make the audience laugh.
-A piece is several related jokes.

For instance:
I'll use an example of something that got a great response the last time I did stand up. I've bolded each time I expect the audience to laugh.

Right after he had won Superbowl XXXI Terrel Davis looked at his championship ring and said "It's nice to be immortal." Romanowski popped another champagne bottle and patted him on the back "everyone will remember this game." And Terrel said, "No no no, I mean never dying." The locker room went silent. John Elway was the leader of the team so it was his job to break the news. "Um, Terrel... Superbowl rings don't make you live forever." Davis laughed until he realized his teammates were staring at him. Suddenly he got very serious. "Then why did I spend my whole life playing football?"

There's something about this piece that I can make funny because I love storytelling that requires me to play multiple characters. But there is also something in the structure of the piece that audiences enjoy. It keeps delivering jokes within the same piece. Even great one-liner joke comedians work in pieces.

Consider Mitch Hedberg's piece about fish:

You know on TV when they have a fishing show? They catch the fish but they let it go. They don't want to eat the fish but they do want to make it late for something. (audience laughs) Where were ya? I got caught. (audience laughs) Liar, let me see the inside of your lip.

Occasionally he tells a single joke but more often he tells a piece.

Amateur comedians are often disappointed that their material doesn't seem to have an impact. I find it frustrating when someone has a fun topic but only one joke about it. If you think of something funny, make sure you develop some additional jokes to turn it into a piece. Think in terms of how often you will get a response from the audience. Plan at least two separate lines (more commonly three) that you expect will make them laugh.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Duty to Stuffed Animals

My Great Great Grand, I have always felt a very private concern for my stuffed animals. There are two in particular, Nonny and Brown Dog, who still sit in this room.

I don't talk to them.
I don't believe that they have adventures when I am gone.
But I move them.

I feel that their lives are boring because they're forced to stare at the same section of the room. I think it's cruel to make them look at the ceiling or leave them in positions that are obviously uncomfortable. I don't believe in ghosts. I'm not writing this to be cute. I want you to know that I am a mentally healthy adult who habitually projects life onto stuffed animals.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Moral Project final thoughts

Morality is not a rational project. It's not useful to design logical rules. We cannot replace the role God/Truth played in our moral history with theory. The moral answers of Kant and Mill are a flimsy attempt to prop up God up with jargon.

Morality is a psychological project. It's about child-rearing. Not rules but perspective. Train children to see themselves in others. That's the undeniable truth to base a moral code on: other people are like me. I remember reading about Jean Piaget's work about the stages of mental development in children. We have to be trained to understand that others see the world from a different perspective (the Three Mountain Problem). I don't think all adults fully develop this mental ability.

Train people to put themselves in the shoes of others and let morality develop what it will. This psychological state causes people to:

1. Abandon rigidity. It's hard to be certain when you see multiple sides of the story.
2. Be affected. Personalize tragedy instead of being numbed by numbers.

The greatest affront to morality is the inability to see oneself reflected in the enemy. Once you remove the reflection, you become free to persecute, kill, and torture.

If people are going to kill others they should see that they're killing themselves. I don't think that this will stop killing from happening -but it will make it moral.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Is anyone interested in philosophy?

I'm doing an unpretentious introduction to Western Philosophy. Socrates, Foucault. Plato, Descartes, Kant, Wittgenstein, Hobbes and more. A simple summary of why we study them, a couple details, practical examples, and encouragement to investigate your favourites. If you're curious about philosophy and want to be entertained -this is for you. I don't use fancy bullshit jargon. I speak to be understood no intimidate. I have five years of experience teaching senior high school students. A brief glimpse of my style:

-Machiavelli is easily explained by talking about steroid use in the Olympics.
-What Sigmund Freud has to do with perfume commercials.
-Socrates cracking a joke with his life on the line.
-Darwin riding a tortoise.

Give me 90 minutes and get a $40,000 University education. Demand more from your entertainment. Stop waiting for TV to get good. I make philosophy relevant and entertaining and if I don't you can beat the shit out of me. I will awaken your passion for philosophy and then satisfy that passion. The trade-off is I'm no good in bed. I get nervous and "fumbly". The KnowMore Lectures now offers free lecture notes. Come for the cheat sheet, stay for the lecture.

Thursday, December 11th, 2008
Unit 102 Theater
46 Noble Street

Friday, December 5, 2008

We've Got to Show Respect for the Dead

The words of Robert Fisk:
(Conversations with History. Text. Video.)

We desemanticize and make war more lethal in the same way as television, for example, will not show you the worst scenes that we see. I remember once a crew coming back from Basra in the Iraqi/American war, not embedded -- they were on the Iraqi side of the line -- and they came back to Baghdad with terrible pictures. A kid had its hand blown off, a woman is shrieking with shrapnel sticking out of her stomach, and they sent these pictures across to London, to the Reuters bureau, and I remember this haughty voice coming back, "We can't show these pictures. Don't even bother to send anymore." You know: "We're going to have people puking at breakfast time. We -- we -- this is pornography!" You see? And then the worst quote of all. He said -- and I remember his words, I read about it from Baghdad during the war -- he said, "You know, we've got to show respect for the dead." And I thought, "You bloody well don't show any respect for them when they're alive, but when they're in bits we've got to respect their bodies." Heaven spare me.

I always say to people -- on the road, Basra in '91, I saw women, as well as soldiers and civilians, old men, torn apart by British bombs as well as American. And dogs were tearing them to pieces to eat, it was lunchtime in the desert. I tell you, if you saw what I saw you'd never support a war again. But you won't show that on television. And by not showing that on television we present the world with a bloodless sand pit. We pretend war is not that bad. It's "surgical," always "surgical strikes." Surgery's a place where you're cured in the hospital, not where you're murdered or killed or torn apart. Thus, we make it easier for our leaders -- our generals, our prime ministers, our presidents -- to sell us war, and for us to buy into war and go along with that. That makes us lethally culpable and potentially war criminals in a very moral sense of the word -- or immoral sense, I should say.

Really, would anyone support war if they saw it?

Is it immoral to look away?

(the image is from the Vietnam War '68 -not Basra in '91)

The Moral Project

So far, Jonathan Glover's Humanity has inspired me to think about morality (an excellent book recommendation from Ashleigh and Brian).

I'm halfway through the book and, secretly, I enjoy it because it makes me feel smart. I have a background in everything discussed. I recommend this book as a concise yet detailed summary of modern world history. These are the events that are worth thinking about (The World Wars, Stalin's Soviet Union, Vietnam and the My Lai massacre, the Rwanadan genocide, the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and other definitive atrocities of the 20th Century).

I keep expecting Glover to make his move and explain how we can restore a strong moral identity in our culture. He certainly admires individuals who stand against the current (those who opposed civilian bombing, fighting in war, etc). The whole book is presented as an answer to Nietzsche who foresaw that trust in God was declining and that we should admit there is no moral standard.

A Quick History of "The Moral Project" in Europe

Phase I. Obey God because He is Truth.
Phase II. Use our rationality to discover God's Truth.
Phase III. There's no truth. Do what you want.

For instance: let's look at what prevents us from taking candy from a child.

Phase I. Good people don't steal. Besides, God would see it and send me to hell.
Phase II. Good people don't steal. Think rationally: would I want to live in a society where everyone stole all of the time?
Phase III. I might get caught.

In the modern shift (Phase III) we have less of an objective sense of what a good person is. Thus, we don't often take principled stances. A principled stance is when you stand up for something because you have a definite rule of what it should be (as opposed to a changing opinion). It might seem worth arguing how we can define, for everyone, what a good person is. But that approach is only useful if it comes from a universally accepted source. And no one agrees on what the source should be (God doesn't do it for some, rationality doesn't do it for others). That's where we're at.

I propose a different way to look at morality.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'd be a teenage dad mathmatician traveler

If I could do it all again I'd be a teenage dad. I've felt, since 18, that I would be in the top three percentile of quality dads.

If I could do it all again I'd model my life after Paul Erdos -the eccentric mathematician whose name is on the most published papers. He carried his life in his suitcase and would arrive unannounced to stay on your couch and collaborate on a paper.

If I could do it all again I'd try my mind at crime. Large and small. To see how much I could take.

If I could do it all again I would join the army, rise as an officer, and shake my head at civvies.

If I could do it all again I would cover my body with tattoos. Permanent embarrassing reminders of past passions. (Tim Brown #81, StratoViper, and Erik Larson's version of Spiderman).