Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My "The Hobbit" High Frame Rate Review

This has absolutely nothing to do with comedy, but this'll take longer than a Tweet or Facebook post. There are minor spoilers mixed throughout, so proceed with some caution.

There are other articles out there, that will go more in depth about the history/differences/benefits of using 48 frames per second (fps), and you should google them. So very briefly, if you didn't know, Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" was the first big studio movie filmed not only in 3D, but at 48fps. Movies have been filmed at 24fps ever since sound was introduced, so that's what we've seen, and what we're used to.

We've actually seen plenty of movies at higher frame rates, albeit artificially. Most modern tvs have a "feature" that can convert anything it's showing to 120hz, or in a (kind of) manner, 120 frames per second. For gamers this is a must have feature, and it's visually easily apparent, so these manufacturers are eager to show it off. Go to Best Buy and see clips of Avatar. You may have noticed that it looks a little "wierd", that it moves strangely, at the very least not like you remember seeing it in the theater. This is the tv's video processor at work, some companies call it SmoothScan, some call it MotionPlus, etc. I absolutely hate it. I think it makes movies look terrible and cheap.

But, these movies were all shot in 24fps and converted after the fact. Like colorizing black and white movies, maybe it's a nifty gimmick, but not what the filmmaker intended, and never an improvement.  That's why I was very curious to see the Hobbit in both 2D "regular" and 3D High Frame Rate. How does it look when it's controlled by the director and presented in the way he intended? Does one version definitely look worse than the other?

    -First, the bad things I noticed in the 24fps version-
1) This is something that has always annoyed the heck out of me: moderate speed horizontal pans. There's motion judder that occurs with panning, and vertical panning never bothered me nearly as much as horizontal panning, not sure why. This stuttering/judder is something I noticed when I was in high school, and I wish I never had, because I can't watch a movie in the theater that has a horizontal pan without looking away from the screen. This is something I'm hoping that 48fps will address.

2) There's a glimpse of Smaug's tail as it enters the gates, partially obscured by smoke. In the 24 fps version, it jerks around slightly in a way that makes it look fake. It pops off the screen looking like it was almost hand drawn animation over the film, a la Roger Rabbit or Pete's Dragon.

3) Similarly, soon after that there's a shot of elves going over a hill. It seems a little jerky also.

4) The group meets the Great Goblin, a big gross bad guy. There are certain up close shots where I missed some detail in his design that I would have liked better if I were able to take it all in. He's well animated, but I felt like I was missing something. Something was preventing me from fully appreciating this character (more on this later).

In the prior three examples, the common element was that they were all CGI. Since this movie was filmed in 48fps, it's very possible that the animated elements were rendered/mastered to look best with that version. Certainly CGI can look good and convincing at 24fps, look at the prior trilogy, Avatar, heck, even the original Jurassic Park still holds up. Point is, I'm not faulting the lower frame rate.

    -Now, the bad things I noticed in the 48 fps version-
1) Fire. At 48fps fire looks almost too smooth, and therefore seems animated even when it's not. When we see fire in person, a flame near the top flickers, and does it so quickly that we only see a glimpse of the tip before it's replaced by a new tip of fire. In the HFR version, that flicker is less pronounced since the film is capturing more of the action. All fires looked weird in the movie. Another example was the pine cones near the end of the movie. In that scene, it wasn't until slow motion came into play that it was less offensive, because slow motion already captures more frames per second of reality (not running time). So the smoother look of fire is something that isn't unusual in the context of slow motion.

2) Small quick motions. To expand on the fire example above; go see Bruce Lee videos demonstrating his speed. He's so fast that if you look at two frames, his fist will jump from one spot to the next. This is because his punch was so fast that the camera had difficulty capturing the motion. We've been trained by watching 24fps that a jump like that means that the action is very fast. The natural world has a similar phenomenon. Look straight ahead, then quickly look to the right. Even though your eyes are taking in everything in between, your brain doesn't start to really process what you're seeing during your eye darting motion until your eyes have settled on their new point of focus. Fast quick movements work similarly in movies. At a higher frame rate, however, everything is captured, but the camera doesn't have the ability to filter out those in-between movements. So your brain is processing visual information that it normally doesn't do. It seems weird and unnatural. In "The Hobbit" this can be seen very early on in the movie. Bilbo moves a sheet of paper. This small quick movement is captured so well, that our brains are forced to process everything in between the the beginning of the movement to the settling of the paper. This momentarily took me out of the movie.

3) There's a shot of hundreds of humans and dwarves moving across the plains early on in the movie. This is an example where the loss of motion judder hurts. In this shot, the panning is so smooth that it's far easier to see that all the people are actually CGI, because their movement has that controlled look that makes non-motion-captured CGI so easy to spot. People don't generally move like smooth graceful ballerinas. That's why CGI people always stick out to me. I had no prior knowledge of the fact that every storm trooper (or clone warrior) in the Star Wars prequels was animated. Yet, when I watched Attack of the Clones, I immediately noticed that they were fake because of their too smooth movements. Then later, it was "revealed" that they were animated, and I was like, yeah, I know, it was obvious. This is my only example of the HFR truly hurting the CGI, there's a mixed example later.

4) That "TV" look. I am only mentioning it because it was noticeable. However, I have to say that overall, it wasn't as terrible as I'd anticipated. It wasn't as much as seeming more "real", as proponents have argued. It also wasn't as bad as completely removing the suspension of disbelief because you feel like you're on a movie set instead of watching a movie, as critics have argued. I'd say that it was more like a new reality. It wasn't as bad as a soap opera, like so many have claimed, at least not for me. It's more about getting used to  a different normal. Some scenes might have to be shot differently, some actors might have to change their style a little, but it's because something's now different, not better or worse.

    -What was good about the 48fps-
1) Motion judder almost completely gone! Thank the Lord, it actually worked. And except for the 3) above about the CGI, I was very pleased to see this work. A good mixed example of this is a shot of Radagast the Brown using his rabbit sled at high speeds across the plain. With the HFR, it was less headache inducing to watch as the camera pans to keep up with him. And while the rabbits are clearly CGI, because of that capturing of the "in between" movements, they seem a little cartoony. However, being able to present the shot without judder makes for a more engaging scene, and it becomes a matter of refinement to ease up on the cartoony look. This is why I view even this mixed example as an overall positive.

2) Water. In Rivendell, there's a lovely gazebo-ish area that has a waterfall over its edge. I can't tell if it's CGI or not but it's beautiful. Water flows smoothly, and we're used to seeing it that way, so having it rendered more closely to reality was gratifying.

3) Where the CGI problems happened at 24fps for the earlier examples, I found them to be greatly reduced or eliminated at the higher frame rate. The best example was the Great Goblin. Some people have criticized the HFR as providing too much information, and therefore distracting the audience, but it's only distracting because you're not used to it. Otherwise, you could argue against HDTV, color, or even sound being used in movies, since all provide more information to the audience. I was able to study his pustules and crooked stained teeth, and I loved it. I love detailed character design, which is why I prefer Aughra the witch from Dark Crystal over Yoda. This gives the texture nerd in me more stuff to admire, and that's a positive thing. Gollum is also beautifully refined and rendered, but that was a house with an already very solid foundation.
Finally, the giant eagles' feet and the final shot of Smaug's eye were also fantastic at the higher frame rates, the former for the details in the skin, and the latter for the details as well as some of the subtle quick movements that were captured. It may seem like I'm contradicting my subtle quick movement criticism, but not all movements are created equally. In this case, it was a benefit.

4) Hair blowing in the wind. Don't ask me why, but the ability to see individual strands moving due to wind gave a sense of realism to me that actually sucked me into the movie further. The best example was Gandalf's beard, and while you're more easily able to pick out the fake hair and wigs, it didn't bother me at all. Maybe it's because after watching so many sketch shows, plays, etc. fake hair doesn't bother me as much when seeing a performance. Within reason, however. Nic Cage's hair in Next is a little distracting.

To put numbers on it, I'd say that 70% was different, but in neither a bad or good way, in that at worst it would just take getting used to, but that shouldn't mean it's not worth doing.  The trolls were an example of this. You could see that the troll scene was different in both versions, but one wasn't clearly better or worse. Like the two Darrens on Bewitched. 20% was actually an improvement, and 10% was a big detriment. Like 3D, however, it's a tool that can be used in good way, or as cheap gimmick to draw people in. I've always thought that morons using a tool badly shouldn't necessarily negate the tool. For 3D, ignore the Clash of the Titans watch Hugo. For CGI, ignore Twilight and watch Prometheus's landscapes. For HFR, this was just the first foray, so who knows if it'll lead anywhere worthwhile, but I came in skeptical, and left a little less so.

It makes me wonder, if with digital projection making it possible, that it might be worthwhile to see what a variable frame rate movie would look like. Bump it up when you need it and take it back when you don't. That might be the dumbest idea ever, but so was killer yogurt, and The Stuff is an unmitigated classic.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Do the Digital Hustle

How does one "make it"? Obviously it's a combination of effort and talent. With a little luck sprinkled on top. Bake for 20 minutes...

Anyway, it's obviously more than just being funny. I notice that a minority of comics do stand up exclusively. By that I mean the only thing that they do in their career is to perform on stage. Nowadays, it's very easy to have your own website, blog (this one took me all of 3 minutes to set up), a YouTube Channel (30 seconds), podcast, just about any kind of outlet you want.

The content is getting easier to produce too. You can create videos and songs on a computer for a fraction of the time and cost it would have taken 20 years ago. Now, couple that with all the comics that are often creative people in their own right, and you'll find all sorts of side projects all over the internet.

Dane Cook's ingenious use of Myspace is well documented. Long story short, he used social media to help create an internet awareness that propelled him to mega-stardom. But like any innovation, it can have an ugly side:

A) Does this mean that in order to get anywhere you need to use these avenues?
B) Does/can this supersede talent?

For the first question, I hope not. On the stereotypical commodity trading floor (those guys yelling "BUY! SELL!" with pieces of paper and all the screens everywhere), the idea is that everyone gathers around and yells their orders, and that chaos is fair. If you see old videos of this, it just looked like a mass of people. Then, some people started wearing something that was striking, brightly colored, or otherwise distinctive. As I understand it, the idea behind this was that with the odd looking jacket you'd stand out more and get noticed, thus giving you an advantage over the throng of other traders. After that, more and more people started wearing silly looking jackets. Now, if you walk around the financial district, traders wearing goofy jackets are not uncommon. I'm saying that I don't want to feel like I HAVE to wear a goofy outfit now just to get noticed.

This is mostly for lazy reasons. I have this, Twitter, and a YouTube channel, but I don't use them very often. I don't have a podcast, haven't started any shows; I haven't even set up a simple web page. All I've really wanted to do is just tell jokes. I'm sure other people have many creative outlets that they want to explore, and more power to them. Point being, I hope these side projects are something that people are doing because they enjoy doing it and not because they're viewing it like a get rich quick scheme: "I don't have to be the funniest, I just have to establish a robust web presence and then the money will flow!"

Not that I'm giving advice, I'm extremely unqualified. I just think in general life terms, I hope that people are doing these things because they want to, and not because they feel that they "should be" doing them. If I was doing that, I'd probably be annoyed at the whole process, but that's me. I'm aware that I'm sounding a bit grumpy old man-ish. These kids today with their websites and podcasts, they don't know the value of REAL hard work. I can see the other side saying "That's the way the world is, and this is just another aspect of putting in time to make it."

All that being said, in the world of getting on a stage and telling jokes, I honestly feel that there is no other way to get better at it than to actually, physically do it. To get on a stage with a microphone in front of people and try to make them laugh. So I guess that's another reason why I'm mildly rebelling against the idea of creating a strong internet presence. Although, to counter myself, there's definitely a difference between using the internet to supplement/enhance your presence, instead of defining it. So I guess just go ahead and do whatever you want. But that brings me back to my prior point. Do what you WANT to do.

For the second question, I think the answer is ultimately no. I think, at most, it can create opportunities that wouldn't normally manifest, but talent wins out. But to again argue with myself, I could say "Hey, look at Hollywood. Look at the music charts. It's not about who's the most talented, it's about who's the best looking, in the right place at the right time, the best kiss ass, etc." But my counter, to myself, arguing with me, is that I'm defining "making it" as having the respect of your peers that you respect in kind. And in that case, I feel that people who just hustle a lot will get opportunities, but once they use those opportunities, it won't lead to something else unless they have the talent to back it up. It might be possible to talk yourself into getting a set at a place where you might not "deserve" to perform, but it'll be really clear, really fast, that you don't deserve it, if you don't deserve it.

It's also not just on the interwebs that people hustle, obviously. I swear, it feels like there's a new open mic/show starting up every month. That's really exciting for the city to have so many people enthused and trying to do things. It also means that there's a possibility of too much market saturation because too many people are saying "Me too! Me too!", regardless of merit. But again, I do honestly think that in the long run, talent and quality can win out.

Now, I also understand that we live in a world with bottom lines, where money and time are real factors. So sometimes good shows die and they didn't deserve it. But in a creative world like comedy, I think that when I look back on it, I'd rather have been a part of something that people felt was something special, that was important or worth while, rather than something that made a lot of money. If I had to choose only one.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Never Good Enough

A few months ago, I got into a discussion over grim personal assessments, and how they relate to trying to do this comedy stuff. Essentially, our logic went along these lines:

1) Are we funny? - Kind of, maybe not, not really, well, kind of
2) Will we ever be as funny as the people we admire? - No
3) Is somebody who isn't as funny as the people we admire worth seeing? - No

Our ultimate conclusion was that we should quit now, because we can and will never achieve what we're trying to do. A seasoned comedian that I admire overheard us and interrupted, and basically rebutted that notion. His reasoning (I'm big-time paraphrasing) was that you will never be good enough, but that's precisely why you should keep doing this.

That's what stuck in my craw. If you're not good enough, how can you feel comfortable going out on stage and doing this in front of an audience? But that phrase -good enough- is relative. Good enough for whom?

For an audience? I'd say that our sights were too lofty. The people that we were comparing ourselves to, they're no slouches, they're headliners, people who've been doing this for a long time. A couple of posts ago I talked about how I saw only the people that were getting shows, not the many more who weren't. In a similar vein, we were primarily looking at the cream of our local crop, but not at the next levels down. Go check out some of the openers at shows. Am I as funny as them? Probably not. Do I have the capability of being as funny as them? Probably.

But getting back to -good enough-. I've noticed something. For the most part, I haven't seen anybody that never got at least one laugh. Sure, on a given night there might be nothing, and there are extreme cases in any subject. But, in general, over the course of several performances, whether at open mics or shows, I haven't seen anybody never ever never never get a laugh.  Assuming one's willing to put forth the effort to continue to develop, write more, get out there more, it's absolutely possible to put together at least 6-8 decent minutes. Point being, if you really keep at it, there will come a time where you'll be at least good enough to perform for an audience. Now, it's true that you won't be as good as the best, won't be able to go too long without boring people, etc. But you will be able to squeeze out some laughs from people for a few minutes. And that's a starting point.

Which leads to the next meaning of good enough. I've done a few shows now, and that's not much, not anything, really, but again, it's a start. And the thing I've noticed is that I've gotten better at self critiquing and writing for "me". I'll talk about that more in another thing. The problem is that I'm throwing away about 90% of everything I've written so far, for multiple reasons, but ultimately, I'm throwing it out because it's not good enough for me. And I'm not taking the attitude of "if it's not good enough then forget it", but that I can do better. That's the difference I didn't fully "get" at the time.

Even in hindsight, though, I don't feel too naive for taking that original stance. I had to cross, or at least get close to, that threshold before I could truly constructively critique myself. Otherwise, I'm just throwing everything against the wall and making a mess. Which is fine, but don't delude yourself into thinking that's art. So, I'd say it's a good thing to not be too in love with yourself all the time. Love yourself, but not unconditionally, because you'll never be good enough, and that's exactly where you want to be.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My First Show: The Big Comedown

I recently got to do my first couple of shows. One was as the opening act (I don't know what the various spots are officially called) for a showcase in the suburbs hosted by Marcos Lupara. I even was on the poster. There was a poster! And then a couple of days later I got invited to do a charity event hosted by Priscilla Farina. That's awesome, because it's pretty much exactly what I wanted, I've stated that my goal was to perform for a non-comic audience. It's a big deal on a personal level when it's your first show, but it quickly fades.

First off, it's not at all like losing your virginity. If we're going to stick with the relationship analogy, I'd say it's like going from asking someone out, to leaving the house to meet up with them, on a first date. In other words, it's not a huge deal. I went through jokes that I've done at least a few times before. So, once I was up there, it didn't feel significantly different from doing a well attended open mic. Something that was different was that some jokes that did well at open mics didn't do as well at the show. That could be for a bunch of reasons, though.

One thing that was very different was time. My only comedy experience is open mics, so I've been conditioned to get everything out in 4-5 minutes. At an open mic, I go right into it. At a show, I found that I let things breathe a lot more. So, jokes that should have taken 8 1/2 minutes to tell, ended up translating to 11 1/2 minutes. Thankfully, it was a laid back show with a nice producer, so I didn't get any flack about it, but still, that's a big difference. I learned that I should underestimate how much time a certain amount of jokes will take, time-wise.

As far as how I did, I think it went fine. Not great, but not terrible. I got a some laughs, and that's all I could really ask for, really. Bottom line, the shows came and went. I learned a few things, but overall, it was pretty underwhelming. And it should be. One show doesn't make or break you. It's a long journey, so this was that single step that starts it. But, looking back, it wasn't even the first step. The first step started 30 years ago, when I listened to Bill Cosby albums, and stayed up until 1 am on Saturday nights to tape this stand up comedy clip show on AM radio hosted by Len Belzer (Richard's brother). There are some finite moments, but they're inconsequential when taken in context. It's about trends, going out, keep going out, keep working.
Along those lines, Peter Byrnes, a comic I know (who incidentally, has a podcast that I was privileged to be a guest on) said something to me that took away a lot of the anxiety that I would have otherwise had about doing my first show. The first show is just that, the FIRST one. If you want to do a show (and most of us do), then at some point you can get on a show, so you might as well just do it. You'll suck and then it'll be over.
I don't want to sound like I'm apathetic or ungrateful for the opportunities. Far from it. I just consciously didn't want to put too much stock in the first shows or make it a bigger deal than it needed to be. I had enough nerves just trying to figure out what I was going to do, let alone any of the other issues that could creep up on top of that.

This whole thing reminds me about my last post, which talked about the jealously/self pity issues that spring up sometimes, and how I dealt with them.  Without sounding too "Chicken Soup for the Soul", I'd say that understanding those ugly feelings, and getting rid of them, was key, in my mind, to people being more willing to ask me to do a show. To repeat myself, those ugly feelings are a stink that sticks to you. Nobody wants to be around someone like that. Not that you have to pretend that you never have those feelings, but you don't want to get to a point where that defines who you are, and how you act. Getting over those feelings means that there's less stuff in your brain that could impede what you're trying to do; get funnier. That's all that matters. I think, maybe.

Anyways, yeah, first shows. Done, moving on.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Ugly Monster

I'm going to try to share the nasty negative feelings that sprang up sometimes. They're feelings that most comics would probably understand, and would advise keep to yourself. They're right, for obvious reasons, which I'll get into. But to continue my comedy chronicles, and share what a newbie goes through, I should probably acknowledge them. Also, for me, knowing what it is that bothers me allows me to think about why that is, and that understanding can help one to get over it. Maybe.

When I started this, I gave myself a clear goal; to perform in front of an audience. Not an open mic with a large "civilian" population, but a show. I, sort of, got to do that with the 42 second show that I wrote about in an earlier post, but as of yet I don't really feel that I've reached my goal. And that's problem number one. By giving myself that predefined goal, any time I remind myself that I haven't achieved it, then I can't help but feel like somewhat of a failure. And that's because in the highly social world of comedy, you'll compare yourself to others. The thoughts and feelings for me go something like this:

---XXX got on a show? Why not me? Look, I'm not saying that I'm funnier than them, but I'm at least as funny as they are. Wait, what? YYY got a show?! Ok, now I know something's up, I'm definitely funnier than them. I must have pissed somebody off. Maybe I'm not funny. Ugh, it's ironic, I'm probably a big joke to everyone. No, eff that, I've been doing this long enough. I've been doing it longer than tons of people. But, if they're getting shows, then that's proof, concrete PROOF, that other people don't think that I'm funny, at least the people that matter. But I've gotten laughs, I swear I did! Screw this, I quit and I hate myself.---

It's easy, it's really easy, to fall into that spiral, to compare yourself to others and only focus on the negative. People are always looking up, i.e. what other people are getting that they aren't. But people almost never look down. What I mean is that you look at the people who get shows, and not the dozens, if not hundreds, of others who don't get on shows. Yeah, but they're losers, you might tell yourself, and you don't want to think of yourself as a loser. But it's not about winners or losers. At the risk of sounding like a cliched inspirational quote, I'll try to explain.

One of the things that you're constantly told is to work hard, keep doing it, be funny, etc. It's all nose to the grindstone talk, and the unspoken ending to that thought is that success will come. But that's not true; success MIGHT come, or it might not. There are countless words of advice to this effect. Marc Maron recently had a keynote at the Just For Laughs Festival last year that said these things better than I could. "This is not a meritocracy. Get over yourself." Drew Michael, a local for-real comedian, also did a post that speaks to these self pitying feelings, or at least the issues that these feelings are coming from. "Comedy owes you nothing" is his starting point, and it's something that any sad sack, myself included, should tell themselves. These are just a couple of examples that more eloquently explain why these feelings are misguided, worthless, etc.

But besides the addressing of the underlying issues, there's also the practical consequence of those feelings bubbling to the surface. Read that above ranty paragraph again. Would you want to be anywhere near a person who talks or thinks that way? That person is a buzzkill and a whiny baby. If you had a show, would you want to put them on? If you were a girl, and some guy was begging, on his knees, for a date, are you more, or less, likely to go out with him? Desperation and self pity is a stinky stink that's hard to wash off. So, keep it to yourself, or God, or whatever you want, but don't go proclaiming your sadness to the world. No one in this game is going to feel sorry for you, and it will only hurt you.

I know it's hard, it is, but just like bombing, it's something that you'll go through. Once you do, you'll realize that those feelings are silly. Very very silly. THAT's why they tell you keep working. It's not because of the "reward", which may never come, but because getting out there and continuing to try to get better is the only thing that matters. What that nose to grindstone stuff really means is "Shaddup wit you." It's like something that I've told other comics in the past when they've expressed these feelings: Nobody cares about you. When you're not around, you are never in their thoughts. You're not unique, and if you stopped coming around, no one would notice. You are a worthless cog in a broken machine. Keep that in your heart, and if you can fully know that and keep going, then you're on the right track, because then it's truly about you, and not what anybody else thinks of you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Toolkit

Something that you'll see most every comic carry around is a notebook. Obviously, this is to facilitate the writing down of spontaneous ideas, fleshing those ideas out, set lists, notes, etc. There's the moleskine style:
Three things I like about these are a) bookmark b) stretch band keeps it closed c) it's pretty. What I don't like about these is that you can't open them all the way around, like a spiral notebook can.

There's also the composition notebook:
These have classic styling, and are generally cheap, but what I don't like is that they're often full sized pages.  The reason I don't like that is because of portability. You either have to keep it in a backpack and carry that around, or you have to roll it up, old-school comic book style, to fit in your pocket. I suppose you can just carry it around, but who wants to do that? Not me, that's who.

Here's my notebook. It's kind of like a reporter's notepad:
I like that it can fit in your pocket, and that it's a spiral book. This way, when you're writing notes, you can flip it back on itself and it doesn't take up any more space than it already does. I have a few issues with this one, however. That's why I've now moved to this:

It's slightly larger, but not so much that it can't fit in a large-ish pants pocket, or an inside jacket pocket. I also like that the spiral can fit a pen inside of it. I lose pens all the time, and I'm hoping that keeping it in the spiral would allow me to hold on to it a little longer. The other improvement is that the front is plastic. Comedy and alcohol regularly coexist, and it's common for tables to get wet and drinks spilled. With the plastic front, the cover is less likely to warp, not to mention more likely to protect the comedy gold held on the paper within. It's also thicker than my prior notebook.
I've filled about 2 notebooks already, so this one should hopefully last longer than the others.

Another paranoid thing that I do is that I keep every joke, story, etc, on a spreadsheet online. I'll have just a brief description of the joke, how long it is in seconds, where I've done it, and how well it's done (in my opinion). Before I did it to organize my material for potential setlists, but the other benefit is that if I lose a notebook, at least it's not all lost. This is something that I haven't really heard other comics do, but it makes me feel better.

Speaking of notebooks, Nick Rouley's a comic who has a neat website called Scholastic Jive. It shows the insides of a lot of comics' notebooks. If you go through some of the prior entries, you'll even get a glimpse of the inside of my notebook.

 *               *                *

The other thing that you'll notice about many comics is that they'll bring their phone or some small electronic device with them on stage. This a recorder. My phone has a terrible microphone for recording, so I ended up getting this little guy. It's about the size of half a pack of cigarettes.
It'll last about 40 hours with 2 AAA batteries, and it records MP3's on a microSD card. I like the large record and play buttons; one is recessed and one has a little dot on it. This makes it very easy to use in a dark room, since you can find and identify the buttons by touch. It has noise cancellation, but more importantly, it has some pretty high quality microphones. Even in a relatively noisy room, the audio quality is on par with a decent CD quality recording.  I'll usually have this stashed somewhere on me while I do a set. My favorite place is to put it in my chest shirt pocket. Many comics (and me) will record their sets to analyze it for both their own performance as well as audience reaction. Hearing a joke that does really well definitely gives me a thrill even after hearing multiple times.

I will take my notebook and my recorder with me to every open mic that I do. On the occasion that I forget them I'll feel anxious. Some comics will bring their notebooks on stage, usually because they'll write their set lists on it and refer to it if need be. Generally, though, you'll want to rely on your notebook as little as possible, because you don't want to give off the impression that you're reading off of a script.

While my notebook and recorder are always in my toolbox, I'll sometimes bring a little camcorder (Panasonic HDC-TM90) and tripod. It's a nice HD camcorder that does fairly well in low light. I've only recently started to film myself, and even then only sporadically. It's not that I want to see myself, far from it, but it's good to have at least a couple of clips of yourself. A video is like your business card. A producer won't take your word for it that you're funny, they'll want to see you in action.

These things, and my wits, are my weapons of war. And my charisma, I got loads o' that.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mini-bombs, and How to Love Them

You're going through your set, and one of your jokes gets no response. I'll call it a mini-bomb, which is a term I made up about 30 seconds ago.  The idea behind that being that it's not your whole set that went badly, but just that one joke. It can be for all sorts of reasons. Is it a new, untested joke? Did you flub it and say the punchline during the setup? Did you do your veal one-liner at the PETA convention?

Whatever the cause of the mini-bombs, the question arises, "What do I do?" You can ignore it and move on. However, rather than just continue like nothing happened, often times a comic will try to save themselves. I've seen all sorts of ways to do this, some that I've employed myself.

You can blame the audience, and do it explicitly. It can be done with anger, "What's wrong with you!?" or with some cheekiness "That was hilarious, and if you don't think so, I feel sorry for you." The old one liner "Is this an audience or an oil painting?" is in this vein.

You can brush the audience off, again either angrily "Screw you guys!" or cheeky "I love that joke, I'll keep doing it, I don't care about you guys, I'm here for me." That last one is a direct quote from me. It worked for me, the audience actually laughed pretty hard at that. I'll get into that in a bit.

You can blame the joke. Johnny Carson would notoriously remark on a bad joke if it didn't go over well. "Ok, THAT one's no good", kind of a thing. Many times comics will try to explain that it's a new joke. I think this is so common because they almost try distance themselves from the joke. "It's not me, I swear!"

You can fake ignore it. By this I mean that you don't address the situation directly, but you take a beat before going on to the next bit. Maybe it's a silent pause, and sometimes that awkwardness can yield a laugh. Or you can just say "moving on...." or "let's keep it rolling...." something along those lines. I suppose it's like trying to wipe the slate clean, so that your next stuff isn't "tainted" by that mini-bomb.

There are others, but this isn't meant to be comprehensive. It's to highlight something. From what I've seen, in my limited experience, what works most often can be tied to a specific trait; confidence. If you look like you're panicking, that's not good. And being angry "at" the audience, generally doesn't work either. It looks like you're a whiny baby. I'm not saying that being whiny and angry doesn't work. For some people, that's actually their act. I'm saying that it's very difficult to pull off and not alienate people. But at the same time, there are ways of confidently blaming and being angry at an audience vs. whiny blame and anger. And I think that's what makes the difference.

But that's also why so many people are afraid of public speaking. Speaking to a group of people, by yourself, can make someone feel at their most vulnerable. Getting past that, and not letting that vulnerability come to the surface, is key to not only getting up there in the first place, but to persevere in spite of one of those mini-bombs.

I think. Maybe.