S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 15 July 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hit & Run CLXXXVII

 

[]

Comedy is not pretty. Most of

the time it's not even funny. If

you're an underachieving class

clown looking to punch up your

sub–Pauly Shore stylings,

take a few lessons from Steve

North, LA's own comedy coach,

and you'll be makin' 'em laugh

like Donald O'Connor in no time.

 

In a sort of paraphrase of the

old adage about there being no

such thing as a bad kid, North

assures customers that they all

have some humor in them. Which is

lucky because, while we always

figured we were doing some truly

classic comedy, we get enough of

your "Is this sucky site

supposed to be funny?" emails

that we decided to turn to North

for some comedy coaching.

 

How big is the comedy coach industry?

I'm not the only one but I'm
probably the best known. I
know of a few guys in other
cities. Originally I didn't do
this for a living. I used to
rob banks. No, just kidding.

Do you need natural born
comedians, or can you turn a
dud into a laffmaster?

Basically, my concept is that
everyone has a part of him
that's funny, so I try to do
the opposite of what a
psychiatrist does. A
psychiatrist tries to make you
act better; I try to get you
back in touch with that
lunatic inside you. I don't
turn anybody down. Well,
occasionally I'll turn
somebody down. If I get
a call from a guy who's like,
[incoherent imbecile voice]
"bluhuhuhuhuhuh," I'll say,
"Well, thanks a lot." I was
once challenged by the Los
Angeles Times
reporter Mike
Arkush
to make him funny in
three weeks. At the end of
that he did seven minutes of
stand-up and he did pretty
well.

Is it possible to be
dangerously funny?

Picture two yous: One is the
normal, logical you; the other
is the insane part you ordinarily
would try to suppress. It's
the process of bringing out
that lunatic. Bob Newhart isn't
exactly a wild and crazy guy.
Neither is Steven Wright —
you'd expect him to be a
computer programmer. With some
people, their comedic character
is so close to their normal
character that they're always
ending up in mental
institutions. Richard Pryor's
funny part was so close to his
normal character that it
caused him problems.

Have you unbalanced anybody?

Oh yeah. I've fought people's
therapists. I'm at war with
one comedian's therapist.
I'll get the comedian funny and
then the therapist will
say, "Oh no, you can't
make jokes about competing
with your mother because we're
working on that." Think about
when you get in front of a
camera. You put on this fake
smile. People do the same in
front of audiences. We get
them to stop suppressing that.
There's a lot of technology
involved.

What kind of technology?

There are a lot of zones we
concentrate on to make
people less conscious of
the audience. For example, my
character is a guy whose only
goal is to make himself as
comfortable as possible. I'll
say, "My feet are too hot in
my gym shoes," and the
audience will laugh because
that's my character. And
sometimes when I find myself
trying to impress an audience,
I'll try to get away from that
by focusing on a facet of that
character, the way Johnny
Carson used his Jack Benny
reaction. What doesn't work is
words or intellectual concepts
such as, "I'm going to be
angry," because words don't
get you focused. If you want
to be angry, you would think
about, for example, somebody
hitting your car.

Is there ever a time when
a comedian's dying to tell his
or her audience, "The only
reason you're not laughing at my
stuff is that you don't get
it,
you idiots."

Now you're into a whole other
zone. The trick with stand-up,
like a movie or a TV show, is
that the audience suspends its
disbelief. You'd never make a
reference to the fact that
you're making a joke or
entertaining people. You need
to stick to your agenda.
Rodney Dangerfield's agenda
is to convince you that he wants
respect. Or Seinfeld's is to
convince you that all the stupid
shit he talks about is really
important.

Do you get a lot of "crying
on the inside" types who
feel they have to touch
their own pain to be funny?

The first thing is to
teach people to see what's
funny about whatever's
bothering them. In comedy
there always has to be an
element of the absurd.
Sympathy kills laughter.
There's an old rule: A little
girl who slips on the ice and
cuts her knee is drama; an old
man who slips on a banana peel
and falls into a taco cart is
comedy. He might get hurt
worse, but the situation is so
absurd that the audience is
distanced from any sympathy
for him. Comedians always need
to put some distance between
themselves and the audience,
the way Sam Kinison does by
cursing out the audience.

Do you prefer newer more streety
comedy or classic comedy?

I don't care what it is as long
as there're a touch of reality
to it. The problem with 90
percent of the people you see
in the Comedy Store or on TV
is that it's all observational
humor with no reality to it. I
don't care what it is as long
as it's coming from the gut. I
believe everybody has a part
of him that's funny. I don't
see it so much in terms of how
many punch lines you have.

So setups and punch lines
aren't important?

Well, if you do it right
there're headers and leaders.
If you just do setups and
punch lines you sound like
Henny Youngman — "Guy goes
to the doctor. The doctor
says, ..." You're just doing
jokes.

I thought Henny Youngman
was pretty funny.

Yeah, but you can do a setup
that's not so mechanical. You
could phrase it
conversationally — "I've
got a doctor's appointment
tomorrow but I'm kind of
nervous. I'm afraid I might
test positive for DNA."

What is the right amount of
time to wait between setup and
punch line?

That's like asking how long
you should wait between
notes if you're a singer. The
real key is attitude. I have
one attitude that works for
me; somebody else would have a
different attitude.

Is the picture of you with
the captain's hat part of your
"comfortable" persona?

Yeah, the captain's hat is
really stupid isn't it? I wear
it because I hope it'll make
people do what I tell them to.
My wife and I are TV producers,
and I used to wear a captain's
hat in the '80s. Eventually I
became known as the guy in the
captain's hat, and it became
something that helped me get
work. So sometimes I'll get
somebody in the audience
saying, "You're doing The
Captain & Tennille."
And I'll
say, "Screw you, I was wearing
it before he was."

So you do flip out at the
audiences sometimes?

No, because that reaction
belongs to the character
I'm in. But again, you
can't break that suspension
of disbelief.

Our site is called Suck.com.
Is there any point in our trying
to "work clean?"

I kinda like the name. But of
course, it means you're going to
attract people who are sort
of, [leering moron voice] "Oh,
let's go see Suck.com." It
depends on how well the name
fits your attitude. What do
you do? What's your attitude?

I don't know. Mostly we do a
lot of half-assed commentary.
We do a lot of media
commentary. Speaking of which,
who do you think is a better
bet for comedy: Dan Rather or
Peter Jennings?

Oh God. Jesus. You've picked two
people who have nothing funny
about them at all. I mean, Dan
Rather — can you picture
him getting naked and yelling,
"Yahoo!"?

Well no, but if he did,
it would be pretty damn
funny.

I have to pick one of
them? I hate tests like this —
"Would you rather be burned
alive or die slowly of
cancer?" I'll go with Dan
Rather.

Are Jews definitely
funnier than Gentiles?

Yeah, except for Steve Martin.
But then Steve Martin's not
funny anymore.

Are Canadians funnier
than Americans?

The first thing they've got
to do is finish their country
and then we'll talk. Nice people
though.

Who's the least funny
person in America right now?

Dan Quayle.

Does he have any
value as a comedy target
anymore?

No, he's just the annoying
kid you want to beat up in
school, who sucks up to the
teacher, wants to hang
around you when you don't want
him around, and threatens to
have his big brother beat you up.

Are there any ethnic
groups it's still cool to make
fun of?

You can always get away
with it if you stay within
the pecking order. If
you're a white male, you're at
the top of the pecking order
and can only get away with
making fun of other white
males. If you're Jewish, you
can get away with making fun
of other Jews and white males.
If you're black, you can get
away with making fun of pretty
much anybody. Think of it this
way: The student can make fun
of the teacher, the teacher
can make fun of the principal,
and the principal can maybe
make fun of the school board.
But it can't go the other way.
The unempowered can make fun
of the empowered.

In Punchline, did you believe for
one second that Tom Hanks was
this tormented comedy genius?

Good question, but that's what
I call a setup so strong that I
would just ruin it with a
punch line.

We've been talking for a
couple of minutes now. Do you
have any sense of what I
could do to funny myself up?

Struggle harder to be
meaningful so it becomes
clear that being meaningful is
futile. See, a lot of times
your comedic character is just
your strengths running out. If
you pretend everything has
this big meaning it becomes
funnier because it's clear it
doesn't have some big meaning.

 

[]

Forget Tina Brown — the real

queen of talk, Oprah Winfrey,

will soon join the ranks of Jake

Steinfeld, Martha Stewart, and Aaron

Cometbus to establish her own

vanity magazine. While it's not

exactly clear how Winfrey will

contribute to the Hearst

Magazines project other than

lending her name to it — the

search for an editor is underway —

the doyenne of daytime

discourse convincingly

demonstrated her literary

convictions by exclaiming, "I

love the printed word" in a

recently printed press release.

Which of course gives us hope

that Oprah! will boldly buck

current magazine-world

conventions and include some

actual text along with all the

provocative photos, pithy

charticles, and buzz-inducing

white space. On the other hand,

the magazine's proposed purview

— Oprah, advice, health,

fashion, beauty, Oprah, family,

work, fitness, Oprah, etc. —

doesn't exactly have us

envisioning muckraking

exposés or brainy

examinations of contemporary

intellectual currents. For that

we suppose we'll have to wait

for Mandel's Content or

Springer's Review of Books.

 

[]

Big Apple teenyboppers got a

lesson in efficient market

theory this week, as tickets to

an October Ricky Martin concert

at The Garden sold out so quickly

that even those devoted souls

who camped out at the front of

the line were unable to score a

decent seat. Griping about not

getting a ticket, of course, is

almost as old as griping about

getting one, but the somewhat

new wrinkle here is that in less

time than it takes to play the

"Vida Loca" dance mix, tickets

were selling in the secondary

market at US$1,000 a pop. If

that ROI suggests

Rickymartin.com should go public

tomorrow, consider the way the

legitimate ticketing industry

has worked out its own version

of the Dutch Auction.

 

According to Pollstar, the trade

paper that tracks such stuff compulsively,

the average concert ticket —

before the scalpers get a hold of

it — now costs $38.56, up $5

since last year and $13 since 1996.

And though we must all concede that

Ricky Martin kicks ass, his mere

$95 factory list price makes him

a piker compared to such bloated

popsters as The Stones ($109.62)

and Pavarotti ($130.77). Bob

Dylan and Paul Simon's Mutt 'n'

Jeff act — which costs a

whopping $125 — has scandalized

moribund coffeehouse

revolutionaries. About

the only good news comes at the

far end of Pollstar's list,

where tickets to a Poison and

Ratt double bill can be had for a

modest $18.09. And we understand

Foghat and Thin Lizzie continue

to rock hard at reasonable rates.

 

[]

NASA's site seems a fave of

newer and hardened stoners —

it's either nostalgia for the

'60s or escapists tending to

hang together. So it's no

surprise that Congress made the

agency tell visitors up front

to "avoid black holes and

drugs." Those who want to

read about undocumented

pharmaceuticals instead of just

saying no can even follow the

government warning label to a

fun and informative drug-bashing

site.

 

The dangers of drugs aren't

alien to NASA. In 1995, for example,

its researchers monitored

the work of strung

out spiders after dosing

them. The arachnids on

reefer did great, although some

got the munchies and wandered off

before they were done. The

group that got sleeping pills

simply dozed off, making for a

model section of a scientific

paper. The worst news:

Caffeinated crawlers failed

miserably at spinning webs and

zipping up their flies. In addition

to rhetoric, the NASA-approved

antidrug site also features hearty

amusements such as the action

game Peer Pressure. Its pace is

a bit frenetic, but surfers

should love unscrambling words

with the Career Decoder applet.

It becomes particularly fun and

challenging after a fat one.

 

[]

It's part of our "comedic

characters" to avoid commenting

on zany spams, but this week's

GET YOUR DIPLOMA!!! offer really

deserved a response. And our

call to the message's 212 phone

number was returned with a

punctuality that suggests an

almost total lack of collegiate

sloth, not to mention the most

authentic-looking credentials

money can buy.

 

Diploma miller "Pat McFadden"

helpfully explained how our

nonaccredited sheepskin from

Palmers Green University in the

United Kingdom — conferring

bachelor's, master's, MBA, and

PhD bragging rights for a mere

$1,400 — would help us get a

raise, a promotion, or just a

job. Our inquiry about

practicing medicine with a

Palmers Green MD was initially

discouraged but later

reconsidered. "You might be able

to use it if you go to Guatemala

or somewhere," McFadden said.

Really? "No, I don't want you

chopping somebody up on my

account. I've never been to

Guatemala." A few minutes'

further thought suggested an

answer to even this dilemma: "If

you're interested in practicing

a form of medicine and making

money, homeopathic medicine

would be the way to go, and you

could do that with this degree.

You get a lot of mentals in that

field anyway, to be honest."

Sounds tough. How about

practicing law? "I sold a degree

to a guy in Oklahoma the other

day who said in Oklahoma you can

take the bar exam with one of

these. And I hear you can in

Michigan too." And why shouldn't

you? The Palmers Green diploma

comes with a summa cum laude

transcript and two letters of

recommendation that — in an

eerie echo of our own résumés —

describe the candidate as

"knowledgeable, independent, and

skilled at interpersonal

relations." Are they real

letters of recommendation? "As

real as Palmers Green

University." How real is that?

"It's all relevant," came the

cryptic reply.

 
courtesy of the Sucksters
 
 
 
 
 
 



[Purchase the Suck Book here]