Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Favorite Humor Pieces of 2010 (unabridged) | Splitsider

I wrote a thing about my favorite humor writing of the year for Splitsider, but it was waaaaay too long initially, so I cut a bunch of stuff out. If anyone's interested, here's the unabridged, non-proofread version. Excuse the typos, length. Also contributing their favorites of the year in the finished piece are Mike Sacks (Vanity Fair, And Here's The Kicker, Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk, Your Wildest Dreams Within Reason), Ted Travelstead (Vanity Fair, Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk), Eliot Glazer (Urlesque,, comedian Dan Telfer, Todd Hanson (The Onion), humorist Summer Block Kumar (McSweeney's), and Jack Stuef (Wonkette, The Onion).

  • A Review of the New Museum Exhibit in My Neighborhood” by Sophie-Pollitt Cohen - McSweeney’s
    • Because it begins innocuously, we’re briefly fooled into thinking Pollit-Cohen’s describing an actual exhibit - albeit in an unconventional space. Though, I’ve been to an American Indian Museum that’s next to an arcade in a mall so.... The story’s periodic ending is worth the read. The exhibit’s believably mundane subjects (because what IS art?) are eventually revealed to be her neighbor’s possessions and the result of one hell of a night out.
  • A Response By An Aspiring Screenwriter Whose Screenplay Was Turned Down Because It Was Exactly Like Robocop” by Michael Lecher - McSweeney’s
    • One of my favorite short stories of all time is Jack Lewis’s “Who’s Cribbing?” in which an author finds in a publisher’s rejection letter that his original story is plagiarized. Then things really unravel. I won’t spoil it for you. Michael Lecher’s piece is of the same ilk (minus the suggestion of the supernatural), and could be accused of solely being a recap of Robocop, but it’s much funnier than that.
  • Categories For The Meta Awards” by Curtis Retherford - McSweeney’s
    • Awards shows are notoriously masturbatory and Chris Retherford’s piece lampoons that, imagining a show with categories like “Best Feigned Humility During The Acceptance Of This Award” and the very insidery “Best Sound Editing in a Film or Documentary Short” - which is a real category. Videogum picked up on the latter in its liveblog of the Oscars with this tweet: “And a special award to anyone who knows the difference between Sound Mixing/Sound Editing.” Meta indeed!
  • A Great Opportunity!” by Kristina Loew - McSweeney’s
    • Hardly distinguishable from some of the more outrageous ads actually posted on Craigslist (sans the typos and chance you’ll be assaulted), “A Great Opportunity!” nails everything that’s ridiculous about the site’s jobs section. Expectations are too high, pay is too low - and in our current economic climate - competition is too steep, so non-opportunities like this one seem promising. Even potential employers in search of a “Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM” (No pay. As everyone knows, one has to work one's way up the golem conjuring ladder.) or, at a tempting $12/hour, someone “to listen to conspiracy theories and other outer space visitor stories” (college degree preferred) - both real posts - were probably flooded with applicants.
  • A Guide to Screen Layering in the New Screen Profuse Environment” by Beau Golwitzer - McSweeney’s
    • The first time I read this, it was on my laptop, which was in front of my desktop, next to which was my phone - all near my television. So, I felt particularly indicted by the piece’s opening line “Make a full inventory of your screens. Your screens likely include: the screen of your laptop computer; the larger screen of your desktop computer; the screen of your cell phone; and the screen of your flat-screen TV”. On a rereading, I was nearer to my flat screen. Perhaps I’d internalized the screen layering tips.
  • Orations of a Pre-Post-Colonial Oompa Loompa To His Revolutionary Brothers in Arms” by Marissa Medansky - McSweeney’s
    • I always thought the Oompa Loompas got a raw deal and probably should have unionized - even as Willy Wonka positioned himself as their great liberator. But how long was he really going to hang that over their heads? I’m getting carried away. This piece comforted me in the fact that there are other people as concerned with Oompa Loompian politics as I am. Up with the adorable orange-faced proletariat!
  • Google Docs Breaks Up With You” by Jeramey Kraatz - McSweeney’s
    • If the machines ever DO rise, the revolution will begin with Google. Jeramey Kraatz positions Google as Skynet - or worse HAL - in this piece about a Google Docs user who has no idea the program is sentient. Teddy Waynes’ 2009 McSweeney’s piece, “Yahoo's MAILER-DAEMON Automated Reply for Failed E-mail Delivery Is Getting a Little Too Intimate” and Dan Bergstein’s “Search and Annoy” (Grin & Tonic) take this technology-based paranoia to its natural end, with Google wondering in the latter “Sometimes I wonder what your kisses would feel like.Creeeepy!
  • FAQ: The ‘Snake Fight’ Portion of Your Thesis Defense” by Luke Burns - McSweeney’s
    • The antiquated traditions of academia are lampooned in Luke Burns’ invention of a new stage in thesis defense which is only slightly less terrifying than Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. Those who try to skirt the rules here don’t get stoned to death (70-year-old SPOILER ALERT!); they have to fight a huge snake.
  • Videogum’s Top Chef Recaps
    • I’ve been reading and commenting on Videogum since late 2008 and nearly everything on the site is comedy gold, but earlier this year, my mother sent me an email about hilarious Top Chef recaps she’d found - and the link was to Videogum. For that reason alone, the site’s Top Chef recaps are among my favorite humor writing of 2010. Gabe Delahaye, the great equalizer. And considering that he has to be funny every day, several times a day, I’d say that Gabe’s writing deserves a place among pieces from Shouts and Murmurs.
  • Udder Madness” by Woody Allen - Shouts & Murmurs
    • If I’m making a list of my favorite comedy ANYTHING, Woody Allen’s probably going to be on it - and not in an everyone-loves-Woody-Allen way. All hype aside, “Udder Madness” is hilarious. Though the story’s most odious character - and object of our speaker’s (a cow!) ire - is clearly some harshly envisioned incarnation of Allen himself, learning in the piece’s introduction that “20 people a year are killed by cows in the United States. . . . In 16 cases, ‘the animal was deemed to have purposefully struck the victim’” makes the consummation of the story’s inevitable tragedy more bearable. Because he's described as a “wormy little cipher”, “insufferable little nodnik”; “fatuous little suppository”, “natting little carboncle”, and a “stricken little measle”, by the story’s end we’re rooting for the cow to destroy this fellow. When our narrator ascends a staircase to enact his murderous rage, I, a cultured person of the world who discovered while watching a recent episode of Sesame Street that cows can’t go down stairs (something about their knees), figured that’s how Allen’s story would end - with the cow caught red handed. But Woody veers away from expectation and the story ends as it should - an ending I won’t reveal because everyone should read this piece.
  • Dear Type A Parent” by Bruce McCall - Shouts & Murmurs
    • Bruce McCall’s satirization of competitive parents and the placement procedures of prestigious schools almost surpassed funny-because-it’s-true terrority straight to hitting too close to home. The openings of my elementary and high schools were protested by spurned parents whose children didn’t test in - and several families of students who did attend were investigated on suspicion of nepotism. So, although McCall’s examples are exaggerated, I know for a fact that parents are willing to do WHATEVER it takes to get their kids into good schools (though I heard gifted programs recently described by a former classmate as “taking the escalator vs the stairs”.). After all the ethically questionable maneuvering Bruce McCall characterizes so well, most of the products of these schools are totally unremarkable 20-somethings right now. I laughed aloud at this story when I read in at the library. McCall gets it.
  • Remembering Justice Stevens” by Ian Frazier - Shouts & Murmurs
    • I wasn’t able to verify any details of this story. Was Ian Frazier ever really a Supreme Court clerk? Seems plausible. Did Justice Stevens ever really get attacked by bees? Not out of the realm of possibility. That’s where the feasibility ends. This maybe-true story is exactly how a raven’s like a writing desk - that I can’t make heads or tails of it and it’s completely absurd. And very funny.
  • Et Tu, Brooklyn” by Allison Silverman - Shouts & Murmurs
    • I don’t live in Brooklyn, but the culture Allison Silverman describes here exists everywhere - dickheads in London, in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and in Portlandia. Here in Chicago, it’s called Wicker Park. Each place is a sanctuary for aging h******s, clinging to a lifestyle that with every passing year becomes more difficult to maintain. Upon hearing of a close friend’s pregnancy, Silverman’s narrator is heartbroken: “We were supposed to make the world safe for babies by speaking truth to power... Pretty soon, she’d only care about stupid stuff.” Our speaker is the last woman in a world of her own creation; Allison Silverman captures the loneliness and betrayal of being marooned in Brooklyn as her friends forsake h******dom for more mainstream existences beautifully and hilariously.
  • Wit of Winston” by Gabe Durham - Yankee Pot Roast
    • Was Winston Churchill a cad? If his characterization in this piece is to believed, he wasn’t the just orator we’ve been made to believe he was. Of course, this is all made up - and reminds me of my favorite SNL impersonations, the ones that have little to do with the people they lampoon. There’s comedy in accuracy and exaggeration, but absurdity is so much more fun - The Onion’s notoriously ridiculous take on Joe Biden for example.
  • A Pledge To My Readers” by Michael Erard - The Morning News
    • This pitch-perfect marriage of etymological-speak and parody of localvores has something for wordies and champions of domestic production alike! (The Venn diagram of the two groups is probably just a circle.) Who knew there was such an overlap? The author promises he’ll only be “punctuating in season” and sourcing words from a “family-run verb operation that conjugates them in small batches”. And he creates a group of idealists he labels “literalists” who abstain from the use of metaphors, symbols, and any figurative language, that are analogous to vegans in their rigidity. Often in high-concept pieces, the execution fizzles around half-way through, but Erard’s piece works to the very last line.

  • JuniorHighLeaks” by Teddy Wayne - The Morning News
    • Across nearly every medium, there were commentaries on WikiLeaks - written, filmed, in earnest and in jest - so for a piece on the subject to distinguish itself, it’s got to be pretty good, right? Teddy Wayne adopts the service’s very serious tone and applies it to the insipidity of junior high life. He gets all of the details right: lining up in alphabetical order, boys getting taller over the summer, girls not being able to wear makeup. And reading silly topics handled gravely just cracks me up. Michael Lacher’s “My Tea Party Candidacy” from the Barnes and Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic similarly takes aim at the extreme stances of the Tea Party by placing them in the context of a child’s run for Gerbil Monitor.
  • And Now A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney’s Homo Erectus Ancestor” by Andy F. Bryan - The Morning News
    • Read this piece in Andy Rooney’s voice and try not to laugh. You can hear Rooney’s warm, but wooden inflection and the strange way he parses his sentences in Bryan’s style. In season one of Mad Men, Roger Sterling bets that “there were people in the Bible walking around complaining about kids today”. Andy Rooney’s progenitors may just have been among those people.
  • Scared Straight” by Simon Rich - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • Before people took to XtraNormal’s text-to-video service to parody the barriers to entry in their chosen professions, Simon Rich was crushing dreams in his humorous piece “Scared Straight”. Want to marry your high school sweetheart? Want to major in philosophy? Want to be a humorist? Bad Ideas! All!
  • Welcome to Geroge and Cindy’s Divorce Proceedings Website” by Teddy Wayne - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • Whoever wrote this in Vogue’s 1948 Book of Ettiquette would be appalled at Teddy’s Waynes’ story linked above: “Divorce is a public confession of failure, and so it is the height of bad taste to celebrate it with ‘freedom parties’ or any some such jubilation.” And definitely don’t make a website to keep your friends posted! All of the bases are covered, including a divorce podcast and Flickr account - and the domain names of each spouse’s website are perfect: and .
  • Out of Print” by Teddy Wayne - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • Teddy Wayne is going to show up on this list a few more times. He’s just that funny. You know that departure from form I mentioned in the intro? It’s employed here to great effect. Wayne’s meta handling of the demise of newspapers (ironically published online!) toys with convention to illustrate just how spendthrift print news has become. Missing paragraph indents, punctuation, and vowels - because they’re outside of the newspaper’s budget - are not just syntactical gymnastics for their own sake, but work in service of the bit.
  • Dear Mr. Thomas Pynchon” by Mike Sacks & Scott Rothman - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • Whenever I have to speak to or email someone I admire, I fear I come off delusional, megalomaniacal aspiring author Rhon (silent “h”) Penny. The piece above, by Mike Sacks (my favorite humorist at the moment) and Scott Rothman, is one of many in a series by Rhon Penny - a series in which he writes to famous authors begging for their endorsements and collaboration - in this case, a book jacket blurb. Rhon is part Kenny Powers, part Mr. Collins from Pride & Prejudice (“There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well.”) - a man in whom a lack of self-awareness is bred with the cloying flattery of a shameless sycophant - all hilarity and cringe-worthy second-hand embarrassment.
  • Self-Promotion” by Polly Frost - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • I did public relations and online marketing for recording artists for almost three years and know - first-hand - that promotion can often eclipse creativity. Everyone is expected to be a generalist instead of focusing on the talent that demands promotion. Polly Frost’s artist becomes ensnared in the full-time job of always being top-of-mind so much so that people seek him or her out, but to discuss promotion strategies. Frustrated, the artist wonders what has become of the real work and is grimly reminded, on the subject of promotion: “This is your real work.
  • Domestic Conflict, Explained by Stock Photos” by Kevin Nguyen - The Bygone Bureau
    • Stock photos are chock full of unintentional humor. And they can be oddly specific. I was writing a piece about effective thrift store shopping for a website targetted at black women and needed a few pictures of “happy black women shopping” and these are what I found. That photos of any situation, condition, or emotion are available at the click of a button is strange enough - but the models in the photos are clearly phoning it in. Any chance to mock this service is welcome.

  • Whim Quarterly’s Conversation Pieces by Matt Passet
    • What do you know about Frank Capra? Or Michaelangelo (both!)? Probably no more than Matt Passett, who imagines conversations between people about whom he possesses only the most common knowledge. The premise is so simple and so funny that when I read the series’ first incarnation in McSweeney’s a few years ago, I wished I’d thought of it myself.
  • Trouble” by Summer Block - The Nervous Breakdown
    • Maybe it’s because of my disruptive youthful rebellion, but I go out of my way not to stir the pot these days. I’m all gratitude and contrition - to a fault. Summer Block Kumar seems to be the same way, but she skipped a few of the more difficult steps. Her aversion to conflict arises innately and gets her into more trouble than the trouble she avoids - chiefly an alley dumpster behind a nail salon. Read it. It’s great.
  • I Tried to Be A Toilet Blogger” by Daniel Roberts - The Nervous Breakdown
    • The Nervous Breakdown’s non-fiction humor pieces are usually pretty funny, but this one is phenomenal. Toilet Blogger is apparently a real job people can have - not only that, but apparently a job people would line up in the cold to get. This recounting of the Charmin Ambassador (official title) interview prices makes me think that it wouldn’t be outrageous to get myself in ridiculous situations just for the story.

There were tons of pieces from The Onion this year that were soooo good - and I wanted to include them all, but by the time I'd started to write them up, my piece was already twice as long as it should have been. But I cheated and put 4 pieces into one write-up. When you think about the fact that they put out an issue EVERY WEEK - and that there are 3-4 stand out pieces every week, it's not hard to understand why I've chosen so many or how difficult it was to narrow them down to 4. So here are my favorite Onion pieces of the year with a few words (literally) about why I liked each:

Kids, Your Mother Is Ready To Start Fucking Again - Oh man. My parents are divorced and if I'd read this when it happened (I was a teenager), I'd have probably lost my shit.

New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don't Love Each Other - Topical. Servicey. Turning the real issue on its ear. Sanctity of marriage... Spanktity of carraige.... etc etc

Autistic Child Ruins Marriage He Was Born To Save - It's no secret that I love comedy than may bum people out, but this is just heartbreaking. Imagine how much this must ACTUALLY HAPPEN. UGH!

New David Simon Project To Investigate Happy, Upper-Middle-Class Streets Of Wilmette, IL | The Onion & 'This American Life' Completes Documentation Of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence & Ira Glass Tries To Explain 'This American Life' At High School Reunion - Look, I love This American Life, but we all know they cover a very thin sliver of ACTUAL American life. And I have friends from Wilmette. Nothing urban or gritty happens there. David Simon would HATE IT!

Adderall Receives Honorary Degree From Harvard - This piece by the talented Molly Young in n+1 deals with Adderall in the Ivies: And of course, The Onion kicks it up a notch.

Amazing Original Thing To Become Hated Cliché In 6 Months & Man Who Enjoys Thing Informed He Is Wrong - Outside of my taste in comedy and MAYBE vintage fashion, I like all the wrong things. I hardly listen to any music that's currently out. But who's deciding what the right things are anyway?

Smart, Qualified People Behind the Scenes Keeping America Safe: 'We Don't Exist' - Think of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when we find out the wizard's fake. BUMMER. (Or in The Wiz when we find out it was Richard Pryor all along.)

Sorry, I'm Just Really Bad With Names And Faces Of People Who Are Not Attractive And Can't Help Advance My Career ...... This is the person we all try not to be. BUT WE'RE ALL HORRIBLE OPPORTUNISTS!

Tea Party Plans To Recruit More Coloreds This Fall - The Tea Party is this tone deaf in real life.

Pop Culture Expert Surprisingly Not Ashamed Of Self - This could be about any blogger, but hey... I like pop culture bloggers!

Man Lives In Futuristic Sci-Fi World Where All His Interactions Take Place In Cyberspace - During really bad depressive episodes, this is basically my life. Paypal and Twitter and the whole internet in general are basically The Depression Concierge Service.

Census Finds Enough Homeless People Living In Public Library To Warrant Congressional District - I spend a lot of time at libraries and there's one in particular here in Chicago - The Harold Washington branch downtown - that this article could be about.

There were also pieces in Opium, Hobo Pancakes, Defenestration, BananaFish, The Big Jewel, Swink, Feathertale, Mental Floss, Cavalier Literary Couture and countless other pubs that I remember bookmarking over the year, but just couldn't fit in. That's the sad part about making lists. You have to leave SO MUCH OUT!

(General update: I'll TENTATIVELY - because I haven't started to write it yet - have a post on The Hairpin about free product samples. It's funnier/more exciting than it sounds, hopefully.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Interviews I did with some comedians I like

(These interviews are supplementing a thing I wrote for Splitsider - will be posted week of December 20, 2010 -.... just to give my three readers some context.)


Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?

Uh oh, here's my big reveal. I do actually sprinkle one-liners and topical material throughout my set. I like to include some longer jokes and some shorter ones just to keep the audience enraptured. "This girl can change the length of her jokes? Now I've seen it all!" In fact, I think sometimes a one-liner can still be very revealing about someone's backstory. That's something I'd love to see more of: a one-liner comedian with the pathos of a Marc Maron.

But enough about other people, I do have grand intentions to mine even more personal material until I become a giant emotional Voltron. In the meantime though, I have an introverted, overthinky (technical term) filter that I use to put a spin on things I see or experience. People like it if you talk about yourself directly, but my stage voice, no matter what I talk about, is mainly derived from my inner monologue, ramped up with an inhuman amount of wordplay. I like to make light of things like depression, alienation, loneliness, rejection, anxiety, and disappointment because my neuroticism isn't too proud to laugh at itself, not to brag or anything. Well, a little bragging.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?

Pass. Just kidding. I think in taking dark and uncomfortable subjects, my intent is either being self-deprecating or taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to what I'm saying. But I am super sensitive so I tend to feel sorry for fake people or objects in my jokes, and tell some jokes with a lot of guilt. That can be tricky. I never set out to be edgy, but I do tend to look at things in a very cerebral way, so many times, I can distance myself from the raw emotions associated with a bit. Then again, the biggest problem with personal material is when people don't laugh, it's hard not to take it even more personally, and the tears of a clown don't pay the bills (believe me, I've tried).

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?

Not really, I think sometimes I shy away from doing my personal material because I feel like people won't get it. But honestly, the stage sometimes feels like a safe place to talk about things because people have to at least hear you out. Sometimes I will get an "Awwwwww" instead of a laugh, and I ask that person to be escorted out of the venue. I don't need your pity!

Apart from stand up, I also do a lot of longform improv, and you learn that being truthful and grounded can be eminently more watchable than being a hollow straw man held together by shtick. I've found that to be very true, but sometimes my overanalytical mind is afraid to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so I hide behind puns, plus being silly onstage is addictive so ideally, I like a mix of the two. Get really heavy, and then two rapid-fire poop jokes to regain equilibrium.

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?

Blogging in the shadows of more successful bloggers, and filling out online surveys to break up the day. Plus all my peers in a psych class I took in college told me I use humor as a defense mechanism so there's no escaping it entirely for this lady (pointing to myself, but not with my thumbs).

I haven't seen the bit myself, but I read on The Comic's Comic that you're a self-proclaimed introvert. How has this personality type affected/influenced your introspective comic style?

I think it's wholely defined my style. I'm a pretty quiet person, and it takes me awhile to open up to people. I'm working on manufacturing a more social personality that I can use to make new frenemies and influence strangers, but in the meantime, I'm in my head a lot, and it makes for a lot of ideas through the filter of feeling uncomfortable and awkward.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).

I have a website coming out in a few weeks. I don't think you're supposed to pre-announce websites, but it will live at In the meantime, I'm on Facebook and Twitter.


Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?

I guess I could say that it's just the way I'm wired, but I haven't always been that way. I have done topical humor and one-liners, but since I started doing comedy I've gone through my share of emotional rites of passage, and after all that, it turns out that I find reward in getting personal on stage.

It's easy to feel alone, and it's easy to think that no one gets you. But I've found that when I dig through my life and take it to the stage -- I've found that people respond in a way that lets me know that not only am I not alone, but there are people in the crowd who needed the kind of laugh I go for. And the more people laugh, the less they feel alone and the more of a communal thing the whole show can become. I've had people come up to me after a show and say something along the lines of, "I don't like how much I could relate to what you were saying." That's when I know I did something good.

I don't like crowds that know how to behave at a comedy club because then it's like preaching to the choir and the laughter feels cheap. It feels too manufactured and false. My favorite sets are the ones where people love one bit, and then recoil at the next. It's more honest.

And, I guess...I like the bits that don't always get laughs because they challenge me to be better on stage. Jokes will come and go, at the end of the day, I'm the constant. So I'm what needs to be good.

Sometimes it's not such a good way to think.

Sometimes I wonder if I see the crowd as that girl I loved who said she loved me, but she couldn't be with me because I couldn't provide the stability she needed. I am a 31 year old man who stands on stages and tells jokes for little-to-no money. It's not enough for the crowd to like me, it's that I have to get inside of them and make them fundamentally second guess their idea of stability. I want to reverse engineer their brains. I want to deprogram what they think is funny. If they're laughing so readily, it's not fun. Where's the challenge? Of course, when I say it like that, it sounds somewhat delusional and even spiteful.

Eh. I'm in a good place though.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?

When you get into uncomfortable subjects, people really have to trust that you're not doing something for the sake of getting a laugh. Realistically, getting the laugh has to become subordinate to the topic itself, which can be counter intuitive for a comedian. There are knee jerk laughs, the kind that you laugh at as a reaction, but they don't really leave a long term feeling in someone. I try to swing for the gut when I'm on stage. Once you open up a crowd at that level, they are more willing to go along with something that may not be traditionally funny because they trust you more. The problem with that is that once you hit for the gut, you gotta keep it at that level because the people can smell when you're going for a cheap laugh. If you get a crowd to trust you and you violate that trust, it can really reveal just how little you deserve to have their time.

I wrote this on my website not too long ago, but these days, being on stage is about building a tension in the crowd and then finding the way to relieve it at the end of what you say. That doesn't mean there's necessarily a punchline at the end, it just means people laugh because I relieved that tension correctly. If you can't relieve that tension, then the people get bloated with a sort of existential gas that they didn't want inside of them in the first place -- that's when the show takes a downward spiral.

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?

I've been talking about my mom recently. That's tricky because on the one hand she's such a fucking train wreck and talking about it on stage is therapy, but the flip side -- maybe if I stepped back from this moment and tried to gain a better perspective on what was going on, I might be able to help her deal with what she's going through. I think she's bipolar, but it's definitely co-morbid with something that's unknown. She's a very draining person, but when she drains you she refills you with a sort of dread or sadness. It's that kind of sadness that gets inside of you and coats your insides like an oil spill, and all your good emotions line the beach like dead fish and birds covered in anxiety-laced oil.

I dunno if that makes sense.

When I'm talking about her, my emotion at that point is fear. I don't like to write with fear as my motivation.

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?

I don't know. When I stopped doing comedy for over a year, I wrote a lot of short stories. I know that I have always had that nagging feeling of, "there's something wrong with everything." Writing allows me to intellectualize that basic feeling. In the last four years, I have probably filled up at least 30 of those 70-page notebooks. So if I didn't have comedy, I'd probably have one of those jobs where I eventually go crazy and kill co-workers, and when the authorities searched my apartment, they'd find all of the journals filled with the ramblings of a mad man.

I read this quote in an Austin360 profile of you: "One of my earliest jokes was that I wanted to be a philosopher, but I got into comedy so people would take me seriously." How has that attitude shaped your comic voice?

I like jokes that are so true that they transcend political affiliation and prejudice and social standing and etc.. and have no agenda other than the truth. I like the jokes that are based in a truths that everyone experiences. I like a joke that violates a persons ability to think they're different from everyone else. Whenever I hear someone say something along those lines, I think, "why didn't I think of that." And that makes me happy because (a) I like to be surprised by a good joke, and (b) it makes me think to myself, "how much of life is happening right in front of my eyes that I don't even see?"

I love a good truth-joke. At it's best, that's what philosophy is to me: comedy.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).

Well, there's:

Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?

as far as the types of jokes I do, I guess I find more comedic fodder in personal anecdotes but I'll never shy away from a good one-liner or topical bit... it's just that topical bits often have an expiration date whereas a good abortion joke can last a lifetime.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?

making dark, uncomfortable subjects funny can be a challenge.

e.g. there was this awesome leukemia joke I used to tell that never really got the laughs I thought it deserved... it made me want to become a scientist and discover a cure for leukemia so that other people would find it funny, too.

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?

yeah, absolutely... I'd give you examples but I censor my writing even more

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?

teaching English as a second language to terrorists

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).

Photo: Ralph Arend

Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?

Well, it happened accidentally. I auditioned at the Comic Strip in NYC in my second year of comedy and their one note for my comedy was I needed to be more autobiographical. I used to just write jokes about pop culture and fake observations. I was 20 and I took their word as comedy canon (it is not!) and I have pretty much only written these personal bits since. It started as a way to be accepted and now I really don't know how to write the other stuff anymore. I guess I use that in my other writing. Man, I wish I could have a killer Miley Cyrus chunk. Maybe I'll date her and have the ability to write about her.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?
I had a nervous breakdown about two years ago, left NY, went home to NJ. I still did stand-up and I kept trying to articulate what I was going through and I couldn't make it funny because I found none of it funny myself. I essentially was using stand-up as a platform to talk about how much I hated myself, audiences very rarely enjoy watching a guy be self-loathing with no humor behind it. That was a big deal for me and it made my other jokes stronger because I had to dig myself out of holes for about a 3 month period.

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?
Oh yes! I revealed on stage about this religious retreat I went on in high school. I went in hopes of getting TOTALLY LAID! But what happened is I was sideswiped by people at my high school to make me a good person. I was a bit of a bully, I've always been really quick-witted and able to tear down people's self-esteem....a perfect sign that I must have really high self-esteem. (sarcasm) Anyway, this group of students who I knew all told me how bad I made them feel for an entire weekend. If that wasn't bad enough, the end of it, they read a letter my parents wrote to me out loud in front of 70 people I went to high school with, that talked about all of my secrets. Like my little brother dying when I was 10. So, I talked about this on stage and it was really weird. I didn't intend to tell this story or anything, it just came out. My brain does whatever it wants and I just go along with it.

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?
I originally wanted to work in music in some capacity. I don't have any real musical ability, but I got ears! I worked for this record label 'Tuxedo Park Records', that my friends owned and got fired for drinking two medium sized bottles of Peppermint Schnapps and ruining one of our bands showcase set. I wish that wasn't true, but it is. I can joke about that because it wasn't me who did that, it was drunk me!

I heard this quote from you on an episode of We're All Friends Here: "I live a hyperbolic lifestyle. Everything has to not be real." How has this philosophy influenced your comic voice?
That's my brain getting me in trouble. I like doing We're All Friends Here because I like just talking and being funny. I mean all of my jokes are based on Truth, but at the end they are mostly just the truth (lowercase T.) I've always been focused on keeping a shield around who I really am. I never really liked my friends meeting my parents or talking about where I grew up. So, even if my dad and mom don't understand me, they don't have to. I like them a lot, but people don't need to know about that. I feel like people who watch my stand-up have a better understanding of who I am than my family does. Is that weird? It sounds weird saying it. This question was not about my parents.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).
I like people following me on twitter. They can do that at
My best friend Julian McCullough and I have a webseries at called "Sean & Julian" :
Then on Monday Nov 1, my webseries "Sean and Meghan" comes out. It was produced by Fremantle Media (they do American Idol) and it's about a couple who move in together to save money rather than love. It stars myself and Allison Williams (who just got cast as a lead in the new Judd Apatow HBO show.) It was written by Ralph Arend and Sean O'Connor (me), It was Directed by Ralph Arend. You can find that at!


It was always a lot easier initially to tackle personal topics for comedy. You want to seem like an authority without coming across like a clueless, out of touch douche bag. That's my worst fear, so I excavated material from a topic I knew well: me and my heeee-larious flaws. In the process it really became a cathartic experience and I can honestly say I don't need any sort of therapy outside of AA and colon cleansing.

When I get a little too bleak with my relationship woes, some very odd suitors will approach me after a show with the intent of turning my frown upside down. (sex). These individuals include dock workers and graveyard shift gas station attendants or other people who've seen me on American Chopper. As much as I enjoy strange encounters devoid of respect, I was totally joking on stage.

Well, I have a bit I love to tell about needing to use Smooth Move Tea every once in awhile and how the name of the product is pretty much false advertising. It gets this great, gut reaction laugh from people but after a show, everyone knows I suffer from IBS. On the bright side, my colon therapist, Sharon Stone, gets a lot of business because for some reason people remember her name.

Comedy is slowly moving over for some of my other passions which have inadvertently been ignored for roughly 8 years. Working on screenplays, music, macrame, and listening to Led Zeppelin are rapidly shifting back into focus in a very bizarre conglomeration. I also really, really, really love Bahn-Mi sandwiches and Tom Waits.

Please look out for me on truTV's Dumb as a Blog, and my website. Facebook and Twitter can suck it.

(, )


Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?
I'd say it's because I'm no good at writing one liners and writing topical material has never appealed to me. One month later, if that, the joke is done. I like creating something that could become timeless. If it's a huge story or event, I will filter it through myself and talk about the experience I had while experience that story or event. We're all people. I like hearing about what people go through, so I choose to share with people what I go through.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?
Many difficulties. The one thing about being 100% myself onstage is that it taken a long time to get to the point where I'm comfortable being 100% onstage, and I don't think that I'm 100% there yet. The harder you strive to be original, The longer your path will be, but it will also be a more rewarding journey. The subject matter that I choose isn't because I want to shock or frighten an audience, I talk about what I talk about because I want to challenge the audience. The one thing every human being has in common is flaw. We are all flawed. It is our essence. My subject matter may at times be "dark" or "uncomfortable", but I believe they are things we all go through. Laughing at these things is accepting them, and accepting is progressing. Relationships, politicians, I phones, movies, bands, reality TV shows, sex scandals, controversial forms of meat, wars, candy, these things come and go. It's an ever revolving cycle of life. What does it revolve around? Human flaw. The one thing about us all that is constant. We will always make mistakes and as a result of these mistakes we will have experiences. Why do this if you aren't going to make an audience laugh in a way they've never laughed before? I want to make my audience laugh at something they never expected to laugh at. We are funny. I want to forever expose the beauty of human flaw.

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?
Yes! I'm a deep cauldron of secrets. Everyone needs a secret or 2000. I have a lot of suppressed information. This is a huge flaw of mine that I intend on addressing soon. Probably onstage. Sorry Skeletons o' mine!

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?
Journeyman. Just journeying around being a man. Helping old ladies cross the street in Seattle, Working on a fishing barge off the coast of France, Helping a small village in Slovakia defend itself from the Russian mob, Making love to a lonely widow in Nepal after re shingling the roof of her villa and showing her 5 year old boy how to score a goal from midfield, Stealing the crown jewels back from the cat burgular who stole them from the tower of London...That sort of thing.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).
I don't put clips on youtube much at the moment, so please do follow me on twitter @mrseanpatton. My website will be up very soon and I will tweet about it! [UPDATE:]


Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?
Well, to be honest, I've always done what felt comfortable because I'm too lazy and scared to try anything else. Other than that, I'm not really invested in topical issues and have never been able to pull off one-liners very well. I have yet to try prop comedy -- which you forgot to mention -- so perhaps that's what I'll ultimately end up doing. (fingers crossed)
But basically, I've always just let myself vomit up words and what's come of it is the comedy you see on stage today.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?
Unfortunately, no matter how well you've personally dealt with dark issues, people aren't always going to laugh at them. The only thing that can smooth rough subjects out is honesty, because somewhere, somewhere in that honesty there is humor. That humor can be buried too deeply for stand up sometimes.
Outside of a teeny tiny bit of exaggeration, most of my material is true. I have this old rape whistle bit that makes fun of rape whistles, not rape itself, but people hear the word "rape" and freak out. They tense up. Because they're stupid. But also because it's a scary word -- too scary for most people. I only do that bit if the crowd isn't a bunch of wimps.

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?
I second guess everything; I'm neurotic. Sometimes I sound lonelier or more pathetic than I mean to. I have a great life and great family and friends, but talking about how happy you are isn't that funny. I'm okay with things that are sad, because that's how I deal with them: I make fun of them. People don't always assume I'm okay in real life though. Some sets will include one too many sad bits and the audience will turn on me and really think I'm this sad sack of a human. Like, "listen, you were funny, and now you're just sad, why is this happening, etc., etc." I don't realize it until it's too late ...and then I go home and cry and cut myself. Kidding! I don't do that. Just the crying.

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?
I think I'd still be in Chicago, married to some fat dude and popping out children in a dumpy suburb. I'd be the funniest mom at Gymboree and have a taco night at my house, but still probably drink way too much. Like the lady on Intervention that would chug airplane-sized bottles of booze in her minivan while going about her day-- that'd be me, but funnier and not as depressing.
And maybe I'd have a fun sewing blog on the side.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).
All I care about in life, ever, is that you follow me on Twitter. So there's that, and my own site that's kind of boring and braggy. I've got a YouTube page too. Just follow me on Twitter, PLEASE GOD PLEASE I NEED FOLLOWERS BECAUSE THEY VALIDATE MY SELF WORTH!!!


Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?
My material is personal because it's natural for me to write what I know. I've written a few topical jokes here and there but it's my own stories and perspective that never go out of date.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?
I'm still trying to figure this out. There are times when crowds love that I've chosen to take a tragedy from my own life and find the humor in it. It's a great way to live life, to a lot of people. Others find it to be uncomfortable and perhaps disrespectful to those who experienced that tragedy with me, or say, those who caused it. And they can become more uncomfortable as my set unfolds. I find this to happen more often (but not always) with older crowds. They might even go as far as to say, "Lighten up!" Or, "I think you really have problems." I DID have problems. Then I told thousands of people about it and I feel better. It's rare that you're alone in an experience in this life. This concept is further proved to me every time I tell a seemingly personal/ individual or unique thought/ experience to a crowd of people laughing. Their laughter and comments tell me that they, too, have thought what I thought or experienced a similar moment. It's just that not everyone feels the need to say it in a mic, but I think they appreciate when I do it for them.

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?
What's done is done! haha

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?
I always wanted to be a veterinarian or doctor. But the fact that I couldn't keep interest or attention in my high school AP Bio class is just one indicator of many that I am not fit for the medical profession. My bedside manner would be terrific however. I think I would like to be a secretary of a cool company or a personal assistant. I love answering phones, writing notes, collating papers, getting people coffee. Staples would give me a boner if I were capable of getting one. There are just endless opportunities for organization there. Oh and The Container Store. Holy shit. I love it.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).
Twitter: @BethStelling

Photo: Elizabeth McQuern

Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?
I do a little of all. Anything I find funny really, but the personal stuff seems to last longer, and frankly, it's easier to remember because it's already in my brain. I'm not very smart. Also, comedy as therapy blah blah blah.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?
Well, sometimes club audiences have a little trouble going there with you and you have to hold their hand a bit, but usually there's no problem if there's enough jokes in there. But I just talk about what's interesting to me. I get bored pretty easily. It's never been a conscious thought like, "Oh, I need some more 'dark' material here, or an uncomfortable story there."

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?
Oh, all the time. But that usually means I'm going somewhere interesting, for me, and hopefully the audience too. And I've given up on ever letting my parents hear my comedy. It would kill the poor souls.

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?
Dying in a cubicle somewhere. Or street preaching about aliens in my stomach.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).


1) Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?

I’ve always preferred personal material. A part of me believes I’ll get a sitcom that much faster. Hahahhaahhaaaa.

I just want all of us to get along. Which means we should all be able to talk about anything, right? But some of the uncomfortable stuff is just easier to talk to with strangers than say, my parents.

It’s just very liberating to get my personal thoughts out of my head and into yours. And the more personal the better. I thought that would change (getting so personal) once I went to a therapist, but it’s only gotten worse. Maybe talking about myself makes me self-absorbed, but I have to make sure I’m up there being interesting for myself too, and not just for you, and that only seems to work with the stuff that’s mostly about me and what’s in my head. And with the personal stuff I can dig deep – that kind of material never seems to have an end in terms of how far you can dig. I’ve never been one to talk much about politics or topical stuff. And as I become a more experienced performer, my style changes, but my joke material doesn’t have to. Maybe the way I tell that joke changes, which means I get to keep that joke for a longer period of time than say if I talked about Snookie. Also, I don’t want to talk about subways.

I enjoy telling the truth on stage, and stretching that truth out as far as I can. When people approach me and ask if I’m the comedian with scoliosis or with the Bolivian child, it feels good, like they know me a little. And by the way I still do one-liners.

2) What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?

I don’t appreciate the judgmental stares. They make me sweaty on stage and I probably just showered.

Working out those dark and uncomfortable subjects can be tricky. Some stuff works immediately just because it is so personal and awkward, and people can’t deny that they relate in some way. But some material, equally uncomfortable, may not work and now I’ve just shared something personal that didn’t get a laugh. But that’s just a sweet challenge (I try to look at it that way) that can make things a little more interesting, in terms of figuring out “how can I make this work?” Like maybe it does really suck (the joke, not me) or maybe I just need to go further and make it that much more uncomfortable to make it funny.

I love tackling dark or uncomfortable subjects. I never looked at myself as being that kind of comedian (so thanks for acknowledging that). There’s a part of you that feels cool or brave for just going “there.” But you need a kind of “self-checking system”. Like, I went through a phase where every “uncomfortable” joke I wrote ended in sex or poop (or both -- don’t ask). You don’t want to do that, especially if you want to get on a late night talk show. Also, I find that it’s always easier in New York to talk about dark or personal subjects, where, for example, most people are in therapy or have been to one or are considering going to one. In some parts of this country people just don’t get the therapy material. They still think I’m psycho for seeing one, so I have to go back to talking about being tall. Or four-wheeling (I’ve only done it once, but I’m ready to do it again.)

So when you get only three people in the audience laughing, it just makes you really appreciate those three people (and #&%@ everyone else). But sometimes I just wish people would relax. If I’m telling you that I’m not having kids because I’m afraid I’ll have them and still like my sister’s kids better, that just means I really like my sister’s kids. It doesn’t mean I’m going to beat mine.

I still can’t believe you don’t think I write one-liners.

3) Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?

Telling people I’ll like my sister’s kids better than mine?
No, not yet. I’m still pretty careful about what I share on stage. But that could change one day. And wouldn’t you like to know.

4) If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?

That makes me sound so adult-like. Weird.

Possibly running marathons. That seems like a great outlet. And you don’t have to hit any kids to do that.

5) Where can fans find you and your work online?
I started a blog about a year and a half ago, and so far I’ve written one entry. So check it out!

It’s on my website,, where you can watch some of my videos. And check out my schedule there too. You can also find me on twitter or facebook

Photo: by Anya Garret -

Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?

A lot of that has to do with evolution, doing what it takes to survive comedically in New York. I started and Florida and was doing well enough there, but came to New York to get better. The only thing was, a lot of my stuff bombed. Then I''d be talking to comics before and after mics and shows I'd bomb it and talk about my life with other comics, realizing that stuff was way more interesting than what I was saying onstage. I was delivering it better too.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?

It can be a hard sell in the shorter sets where you don't get to really build stuff up. When you jump into a joke about being molested four minutes into a five minute set in front of a bunch of people that don't know you it can be a little daunting. There are certain things I tend to leave out of shorter set that I can put in a longer set. I thin a lot of times, with dark subject matter it's all about how you sell it. I try to put some energy into it, show that I'm still affected by what I talk about, try to make an honest connection. There are a lot of comics that use "rape aids" as a punchline, talk about starving Africans and abortions and poop without any emotional investment. That stuff can hurt what I do, but it also motivates me to do what I do to the best of my ability.

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?

Absolutely. And a lot of that stuff hasn't been done at shows. I'll test anything out at an open mic, just throw the stories out there regardless of how punched up they are, and sometimes I'm either not caring enough to make it work or I feel like I'm not good enough to do certain jokes. There are things I can talk about now that I couldn't talk about two years ago. If I'm really passionate about something though, I'll always go back to it.

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?

I was a poet for eight years before starting comedy. I used to write really sad shit, way sadder than the stuff I do now (at least with humor, there's some hope). I was also studying to be an English teacher. So I'd probably be doing that, writing sad poetry and teaching other people how to write sad poetry. I'd be telling kids funny stories during class but never get the confidence to do it anywhere else.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).
www.facebook/themikelawrence, and twitter at themikelawrence.

Why have you chosen to tackle personal material rather than topical bits or one-liners?

I started with bits. Straight setup to punch bits. You need to know how to do this first. But after a while, I started to throw little stories into the act, stories that kept growing the more details I felt comfortable adding. Also, being personal on stage keeps me involved and invested in putting on a good show. If it's just a joke that doesn't work, I don't take it to heart as much as when someone doesn't like a whole story. There's more of a connection when I know I've gotten personal on stage, more of a reason for me to keep doing this. When it's just setup and punchline, it starts to feel like mathematics instead of art and I start to lose interest now. Not to say the one-liner guys aren't artists. Just a different approach. Some people like crossword puzzles and the reward of cracking a code, some people like doodling and seeing where it will lead.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered in taking dark or uncomfortable subjects and making them funny?

Trying to remember that I'm not telling these stories to close friends and figuring out how to prepare people for what's in store. Making sure my character is clear before I launch into something off-color.

Has there been anything you've second guessed revealing on stage?

I told a story about having a gay friend "check" me for a hernia while rolling on ecstasy while my parents were in the audience. At least it was a good show and people were laughing. That's the last time I can remember being truly nervous about saying something. I don't care what strangers think of me, but when it's family it's a different story.

If you didn't have comedy as an outlet, what do you think you'd be doing now?

Probably an unrewarding day job while playing music on the weekends. I always had fun playing in bands, despite being a terrible musician.

Where can fans find you and your work online? (list any websites, Twitter/Youtube accounts, Facebook fan pages).



To submit funny, depressing videos, links, essays, etc - email