You Know WHAT you want... But do you have the right TOOLS to achieve it? HumorMall is dedicated to helping YOU achieve your dream.
One TV program I always try to watch (not small praise from a guy who didn't have a TV until Nicolina moved in - but then, I love "Bonanza" reruns too so I guess I'm not a good source) is "Inside the Actor's Studio" on Bravo. Having spent years in comedy clubs, I am fascinated by performing arts and behind-the-scene observations (e.g., I used to tell beginning comics, "I don't care if you bomb, I don't care if you freeze on stage, I don't care if you forget your lines - but if you ignore my cue to get off, I will kill you." Few people in the audience even knows the comedian is being cued to get off stage.
Usually it's an hour long. The last one was two hours, and it wasn't an actor. It was Billy Joel, under the pretext of using the voice (which all actors must do and oh god wasn't that a stretch).
I don't like Billy Joel's music. I don't dislike it, it's just that to me, it's boring. I know maybe a handful of his songs, and the only one I like, I'm embarrassed about - "Uptown Girl." It didn't hurt that the video for it which I accidentally caught because my ex-wife had a TV and loved MTV... well, the video featured his then-wife, Christie Brinkley, and she didn't exactly assault the eyes.
It was intriguing to hear someone talking about creating, because it's a mystery to me. I tell Nicole, "I don't write what I do. I start it, but then somebody else finishes. I just type it." and she looks at me as if to say, "You NEVER told me you're supposed to be taking medication!"
The host, Lipton, asked Joel how he writes the lyrics for his songs. (Joel writes the music first.) He answered, "I agree with Keith Richards [of the Stones]. When you write lyrics, you have to go with your Vowel Movements." Joel demonstrated it on piano, which I cannot do on screen, but it was how the sound of vowels in rock and roll songs dictate the choice of words. The example he gave was the (to my mind) great Stones song, "Start Me Up!" He said, "Imagine it instead as 'Pizza Pie!'" And he's right. It's flat. He said, "It's the vowels that drive your choice of words."
I know from writing, at least with the writing I'm pleased with, that rhythm is more important than the words. If it comes down to choosing between a more accurate word, and a word where the rhythm is better, go with incorrectitude. (That "somebody else finishes" person I referred to earlier wrote "incorrectitude." I didn't.)
Oh, I've been informed that "incorrectitude" is a combination of "incorrect" and "attitude," which is the self-righteous state I get in when I tell people, "All right, so I'm wrong and being a jerk about it! Do you want to try to disprove that!" and nobody ever does, recognizing the formidable weight of my argument.
Final notes on MTV: a very, very good comic, Milt Abel, had the line about watching MTV - you have the remote in hand, wanting to change the channel but think, "The next one will be good... well, the next one will be good."
And thank god, in the 6 years we've had cable, I've never seen Nicolina put on MTV. When she wants music videos, it's strictly "Namaste America." Over-the-top, unintentional camp Indian videos - that girl is in hog heaven. We had a cab driver from the Punjab the other night and Nicole - who at times can be emotive - was telling him, "Namaste America is THE GREATEST! Oh, oh! It is SO COOL!" She never told me, either, that she's supposed to be on medication.
"cued to get off stage" Cantu note: Bob Rubin has told comedian friends, "My first time on stage at the 'Zoo' you were officially allowed five minutes. I did seven, maybe seven and a half minutes and killed. Just absolutely destroyed!
"I was getting off the stage, I saw Cantu rushing over to me, and I sort of beamed inside 'cause I figured he was gonna say something like. 'Hey way to go!' or 'Killer set, Rubin."
"Instead, when he got up to me, he got right in my face and said: "Don't you EVER f****** ignore your 'Get-off-the-stage!' cue again." And then Cantu turned and simply walked away."
But Rubin and most other comic don't understand they are simply one SMALL part of a larger whole. It is so damn important to learn to respect cues and time limits. A friend told me about his first performance at Vegas nightclub. He was doing so well, he ignored the stage manager's frantic signals to wrap up his set and he did an extra five minutes.
While he was pleased with himself at his laugh filled set, the stage manage was enraged. "Listen, you little dumb schmuck - don't ever do that again. Union rules say NOW we've got to pay the band members a full hour's pay because of your "just a little bit over time" stunt - and it's coming out of your pay!"
"choice of words" Cantu note: I have been astounded at how true this is in creativity across the board. The artistic form you are working in and the artistic goal you want to accomplished are often restricted because of certain overt or covert restraints innate in the artistic medium.
Now, while sometimes you can break the rules and get away with it, day in and day out what separates the hacks from the artists is not so much the ability to thumb one's nose at the restraints of the artistic form, but rather the ability to create WITHIN the strictures of a given discipline.
"rhythm" Cantu note: The piece below excerpted and edited from CAVETT by Dick Cavett & C. Porterfield (a book now out of print according to Amazon). It is probably the most concise and yet complete writing on rhythm I have ever encountered:
DC: There's a sense in which, say, three comedians wouldn't do the same joke. Their style or form being different, and form and content being inseparable, they would each require a different content. But let's try it with some incident that might give rise to various jokes - say, a newspaper item about a woman walking down Fifth Avenue with no clothes on.
Groucho Marx might say, "Well, it's certainly a way of beating the heat. It's also a way of creating it." It would mean the same if he said, "I guess its a way to beat the heat - and to create it too." But if your ear is good it will tell you that Groucho would be incapable of wording it that way, incapable of delivering it if worded that way. (Underline for emphasis added) I grew up on his voice and phrasing, and I can just hear the line in his voice. I know I hear it right, because he never changed a word of the lines I wrote for him when he was an interim host of the "Tonight Show."
Bob Hope would start out, "Hey, how about that lady on Fifth Avenue?" Then he would go on to something like, "One manhole cover turned to the other and said, 'This is better than Social Security.'" That's almost not a joke, which is part of the point. The sound of the line is as important as the joke it contains, at least with the great comics, (Underline for emphasis added) whose style is in our collective ear.
Of course, if Hope weren't on television he might say, "I'm so innocent that when they said, 'Did you hear about the snatch on Fifth Avenue?,' I thought they meant a robbery, but I wanta tell ya..." (Long laugh then shifts weight to other leg to start next line.)
Jack Benny would tell a story, giving his peculiar emphasis to certain words: "I wanna say something about that woman who walked down Fifth Avenue the other day with no clothes on...I'll tell you something about that that will surprise you...It made me jealous. (Laugh) I'm serious about that, and I'll tell you what I mean. I've been a big star for fifty years, I'm known all over the world, and I came to town that day and there was no mention of it in any of the papers.
But an unknown woman, who's never made a picture, takes off her clothes and walks down Fifth Avenue, and she hits the front pages. It made me sore. You know what I did? The next day , I took off my clothes, left my hotel, and started to walk down Fifth Avenue... and do you know what happened? Nothing! Not a DAMN THING! I walked for five blocks...nobody batted an eye...and finally a cop came over and said, 'Aren't you afraid you might catch a cold, lady?'"
Believe me, I wouldn't hand in anything like this to these comedians. I'm just trying to get at what you asked.
CP: You keep emphasizing the sound and rhythm over the substance, or idea, of the joke.
DC: Well, you need funny ideas, of course, but I think there is something about the great comics' voices...
One day a well-known columnist had, as usual, mangled one of Groucho's jokes in his column. I laughingly told Groucho about it, amazed that it was possible to get a line wrong that was so perfectly constructed. Groucho said, "I know. In order to get him to print a joke right, you have to tell it to him wrong"...
I remember one of his lines on my morning show that was widely quoted, and stolen by unknown comedians and by one or two well-known ones. We had discussed the musical Hair for a moment. It had just opened, and because it contained Broadway's first frontal nude scene with both sexes there was a lot of talk about it. I asked Groucho if he had seen it, and I knew he did not have a prepared answer.
I saw the machinery whir for a split second, and he said, "No. I was going to see it, but I went to home, took off my clothes, looked at myself in the mirror, and saved seven dollars." The audience roared, and the line sped round the country and into several night-club acts.
Sitting that close, I could see that the suddenness of the line and the laugh surprised him for a tenth of a second. Then he calmly put his cigar in his mouth and waited out the laugh. The figure he chose for the price of an orchestra seat was of course not the correct figure, but it had the right number of syllables for the joke.
CP: The right number of syllables?
DC: This goes back to what I was saying about the importance of rhythm in a joke. People will think an old comedian is crazy when he tells a young writer to change a line from "There are twelve chickens on the lawn" to "There are fifteen chickens on the lawn," but he's right. Because of the rhythm, fifteen is a funny number and twelve is not.
Cantu says: If you are a hip 20 something comic, please do not discount this very important information under a dismissive attitude of "Oh, there's Cantu quoting some old dead white male." This essay is about one of the subtleties that separate the wannabes from the great ones.
Just listen to your inner ear and if you got rhythm you will hear Hope's voice and you will hear Benny's voice. As Louis Armstrong once said, "It don't mean a thing unless its got that swing."