March 16, 2009 by vongsundara · 1 Comment
I’ll be examining the ins and outs of stand-up comedy in my new series of articles titled How To Stand-Up Comedy (and yes, I’m aware the title is grammatically incorrect).
For this opening article, I decided to dissect Margaret Cho’s first feature, I’m The One That I Want, to try and gauge what it is that makes Margaret Cho so damn successful and applying those elements to my own comedy.
I first saw I’m The One That I Want during its initial run through independent theatres across North America. I was instantly drawn to Margaret Cho’s brand of humour, as I was a huge fan of her network television show, All-American Girl. If you haven’t already seen “I’m The One That I Want,” then you need to go down to your local video store and rent it immediately. If it’s not at the major video stores then try the video store in the gay village, I guarantee they’ll have a copy.
March 15, 2009 by vongsundara · Leave a Comment
As a hardcore advocate for stand-up comedy, it took me a little while to warm up to the idea of improv comedy. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I took the Level A class at Second City (which was great by the way).
I really enjoyed the class, and it made me want to look deeper into the world of improv. Despite this, I didn’t quite understand what it was about improv that appealed to me. At first, I thought improv would be a great outlet for me to help improve my stage presence and allow me to add extra dimensions (such as characters) to my stand-up act.
I still feel the same way for the most part, as stand-up comedy will always be my first love, but now I’m beginning to take improv comedy more seriously.
Thinking about it some more, I figured out why I so enjoyed my time with improv: creative collaboration. Now, this is somewhat contradictory for a stand-up comedian to believe, as the best part about stand-up comedy is the lack of collaboration. The entire stand-up piece is the comedian’s alone, no censors or network writers to get in the way. After getting over that initial mental hurdle, I came to realise that I rather enjoy collaborating with others.
I’ll always have my stand-up comedy as my primary form of expression, a place where I can express myself and my views on the world as a whole without dilution, but I must admit that I am going to have to make some room in my life for improv.
I’m still a ways off from forming an improv troupe or anything like that, but I am definitely going to work toward that goal. Stand-up comedy is necessarily a lonely process, but I’m happy to know that I can make some room in my life for some collaboration.
March 14, 2009 by vongsundara · Leave a Comment
I’m back in Toronto after a week-long trip to Las Vegas. It’s my second time visiting Las Vegas, though it’s my first time there without my parents and minus the wheelchair I was in last time.
To me, Las Vegas is all about freedom. I found myself singing while walking down the streets. When at home, I sing all the time, but I usually don’t sing on the streets of Toronto. It’s kind of like Las Vegas is great for getting rid of mental blocks and worrying about what other people think.
The best part of Las Vegas are the shows. This is especially true for me since I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs (plus I’m celebate), so there’s not much sinning for me to do in Sin City. Las Vegas is completely dominated by Cirque du Soleil, which is amazing since that outfit started and it run out of Montreal, PQ. There are also a variety of music concerts and magic shows available.
What impressed me the most, though, was the abundance of stand-up comedy acts being featured on the Las Vegas Boulevard strip. Rita Rudner and Louie Anderson’s faces were plastered on billboards and buses across town. It’s great to see that stand-up comedy can stand toe-to-toe with music and theatre. It shows me that audiences find great value in laughter and are willing to pay to see great comedy. The best part is that of all the different types of shows, comedy has the least overheard as far as production costs.
The only downside I saw was that the comedy acts being featured weren’t exactly current. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Louie Anderson, but it would have been nice to see some comedians from this past decade performing. I suppose it’s a Las Vegas thing since the big musical acts are also decades old like Donnie and Marie.
All in all, I had a fantastic time in Las Vegas. I’ve come back with several new ideas for my writing.
February 25, 2009 by vongsundara · 2 Comments
One of the great parts about moving to Greektown, Toronto, is that I’m right around the corner from Eton House, home of one of the best open mic comedy nights in Toronto. Standing at the Danforth, as the show is called, is one of two fantastic weekly shows produced by long-time comedy pro JoAnna Downey.
Standing at the Danforth is the second show I ever performed at when I moved to Toronto last year, so it will always have a special place in my heart. I wish I had recorded that performance, as it was one of my favourites. In fact, all my top performances in Toronto so far have coincidentally been hosted by JoAnna Downey.
Yesterday’s show was a special show produced for Mike McQueen, and his dad was in town. I was lucky enough to get to see three of my favourite Toronto comedians: Ted Morris, Nikki Payne and Debra DiGiovanni.
Ted Morris is incredibly likable on stage, and I hope to see a full set of his sometime soon. I’d love to see where his comedy goes when he has more time to expand his stories on stage. Nikki Payne, well, what can I say? Her aggression and energy on stage are absolutely unmatched.
Debra DiGiovanni is an interesting one. It took me a while to warm up to her style, but in the long run I think that’s a good thing as I appreciate her more for it. Debra is very wordy on stage and speaks very quickly. She also leaves no pauses for audiences to applaud. In fact, she’ll talk straight through laughter in a way that I’ve never seen before.
Now that I’ve gotten used to it, though, I think it’s quite amazing. With the speed that Debra speaks, she has to write probably double or triple the material to cover the same amount of time. I also quite enjoy her material.
Anyhow, that was my week at the Eton House. I can’t wait to be back on the stage, probably sometime in April. I’ll post the date once it’s confirmed.
February 5, 2009 by vongsundara · 7 Comments
Today I was able to overcome my short writer’s block from yesterday to put together a really solid stand-up comedy set that I’m really excited to debut. As I mentioned yesterday, I decided to write about my sister, as I feel the best and most balanced comedy version of me to present on stage is the one that is brought out when I hang out with my sister Anne.
Yesterday I tried my best to write but ended up with nothing more than half-page of unusable nonsense. I suppose I should have expected it after not writing for half a year. It took me until about four hours into my writing process today that it finally all clicked.
You see, I have a unique way of writing which doesn’t really follow the usual rules of comedy writing: set-up, punchline, tag, tag, tag. My style doesn’t completely follow classical literary narrative structure either, though I do try to work that in. When I first started writing comedy a couple of years back, I was able to develop a unique style that worked for the way that I think, which tends to be a little differently. Yesterday I completely forgot what the style was.
I started out by trying to speak the words and form my routine off of that. When that failed miserably, I tried more traditional free-form writing. I don’t know why it finally clicked later on, but boy am I happy that it did. I won’t go into detail over how I write (sorry, I have to keep some things secret still).
After getting together a rough draft composed of about ten short lines of text, I then tried sounding out the routine to my roommate and improvised a lot of it. Now I have to go back and write down some of the new ideas that came during the spoken improvisation.
I’ve submitted for time at a bunch of the open mics in town, so hopefully you’ll be seeing this new routine very shortly.
February 4, 2009 by vongsundara · 1 Comment
Today was the first full day I’ve spent writing comedy in the past six months, and boy was it rough going. For all my hard work, I ended up with half a page of mostly unusable material. There may be a few reasons for this, though.
The first being that I decided to write about my sister and my life back in Winnipeg. I may actually have to shelve all my Winnipeg material for a while until I spend some good hard time in Winnipeg and get reacquainted with how life used to be for me.
The second reason could be that I’ve forgotten how to write. Now, I definitely don’t want to over-analyse it, as that could lead down to an even bigger mental roadblock, but I think six months is definitely enough time to forget some very important fundamentals of writing, especially comedy writing, especially when I was using techniques unique to myself since I combined my knowledge of comedy with my previous knowledge of classical narrative structure. It’s difficult to find that combination again after so long. So basically all the dangers I was worried about have come true. There are, however, some positive effects that I’m hoping will kick in shortly.
A part of my writing that I did purposely want to purge from my comedic style was my bitter viewpoint from my Calgary days. When I tried to write after moving to Toronto, I found my jokes were still too bitter, and it wasn’t the direction I wanted my comedy to take. This is a huge part of the reason why I wanted to absorb myself in Toronto life before writing any further. Considering that I couldn’t put anything on to paper at all, I would say that I have successfully purged my old viewpoints.
So here I am, starting with basically a blank slate. It’s both scary and exciting to think where my comedy will go from here. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely proud of the writing I have accomplished in my year in Calgary, but now I’m in a totally different space emotionally. I’m going to workshop my material some more, but I should be ready to debut my new material in the next couple of weeks or so.
February 3, 2009 by vongsundara · Leave a Comment
I took this week off of work to get some comedy writing done. I’ve been working on my one-hour one-man show for a few months now, and I’m hoping to have it completed before the summer festival season, though I won’t debut the actual show until end of the year at the earliest. I haven’t been making a lot of progress lately, so I was hoping the focus off of my dayjob for a week would help me get a jump start.
This being my debut long-form show, I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I want to present and who I want to be on stage. After some careful consideration, I’ve decided to go back to my roots, the ghettos of Winnipeg. I already have a bit of material written about my life in Winnipeg, but now I want to really dig in deep.
I’m a bit of a chameleon when it comes to my personality. I’m very much different depending on whether I’m with my parents or my family or my friends or at work. Part of this comes from my upbringing, as there were definitely rules applied to how I should act depending on who was in the room (more respect, for instance, is paid to elders and people of authority and so on). The other side of this, though, is perhaps a bit of my comedic playfulness.
Different people bring out different parts of me. I’m more gay with my gay friends; I’m more ghetto with my ghetto friends. This is all common in most people of course, but I think with me it’s a little more pronounced. With individual friends, I tend to almost absorb a bit of their personality and reflect it back in an enhanced way. I didn’t realize this until recently moving in with a co-worker, and I found myself acting differently.
This got me thinking about which version of me I want to bring on stage. The answer is simple: I’m the best me when I’m with my older sister in Winnipeg. She brings out the me that I like best. We have a chemistry and connection that is pretty damn special. I think I’ve also suffered a bit from being away from Winnipeg too long.
Back in Winnipeg, I was able to maintain an incredibly balanced life as far as my friends go. One-third of my friends were straight guys, one-third were female, and one-third were gay. My personality back then had the versatility to appeal to all three demographics. Since leaving Winnipeg, my life has been dominated by my gay friends as well as some women from school, work and comedy. The part of me that appeals to the straight male demographic is slowly fading away.
This brings up the question of whether I am able to go back to that personality on stage while being so far removed from that place emotionally. I’m writing about a period of my life while being in a completely new life in a new city. I’m not sure how possible it will be.
I’m going to continue writing this week and see where it takes me, but I am seriously considering using my summer vacation days to go back to Winnipeg and complete my writing there. I’ll let you all know how it goes.
February 2, 2009 by vongsundara · Leave a Comment
Week three at my improv class at Toronto’s Second City training centre focused on establishing and working with environment. As with all of the A-Level classes, this week served as a nice introduction to the topic of environment, but I am looking forward to learning more in depth about environments in the later levels.
I definitely have a ways to go as far as environment work. I think I somewhat grasped the concept, but no one in the class seemed to know what I was doing in my scene. I think I tried to go for too complicated a gesture: opening a deep freezer and taking out some ice. Next time I’ll try to choose something more obvious (or I could just get better at acting it out I suppose).
We had a great exercise where we pretended to be in a hotel lobby and each person had to come in and establish a part of the environment using a character. Our class was great at establishing the characters but at times forgot about the environment part. It was definitely intimidating going through this exercise, as I was paired up with my instructor, Natasha Boomer, as one of the two desk clerks. She was so quick and witty, it was tough and intimidating to keep up, but I welcomed the challenged and tried my best. It was definitely lots of fun to be stretched in that way.
The instructor made a great comment about how I tend to enter the scene the same way. I suppose it’s my stand-up experience coming back to haunt me, as I have worked so hard to establish my likable quirkiness, and I’ve been overdoing the same type of character over and over in improv, which is a big no no. I believe Level C will help us with characters, which I seriously need, as the only character I have to play in stand-up is a slightly enhanced version of my real self.
January 19, 2009 by vongsundara · Leave a Comment
Tonight I had the chance to hang out with one of my oldest and dearest friends from the ghetto. We talked about our lives now and then, and we had a great time. I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of long-lasting friendships that still feel current. Though we talk about our history, our current friendship isn’t dependent on our past lives and is strong on its own merits.
Some of our conversation reminded me of how I was when I was younger: absolutely fearless and in my own world. I didn’t even remember that I used to carry around a butt pillow (yes, a butt pillow) around the university and would take it out of my bag and sit on it. I was so in my own reality, that I truly didn’t care what others thought. I wish I had that type of total abandon now.
The visit came at a great time, as I am delving into my past Winnipeg life as the centrepiece of my hour-long set that I hope to have completed before the end of this year. I was contemplating whether I should go back to Winnipeg for a few weeks in the spring or summer to help bring back the emotions to jump-start my writing process. I think after tonight, though, I’ve decided to hold off.
I think the best method would be to complete the writing process while I’m alone in Toronto. I would then go to Winnipeg and do a private performance to only friends and family, where I would ask for input.
I used this strategy back when I was preparing for my first ever comedy show in Calgary, Alberta. Since my family and friends know my stories by heart, seeing as how they lived through them with me, I was greatly helped by the comments last time. In fact, the whole part of my first set regarding “magical powers” came from a simple comment from my engineering friend, Erin.
January 18, 2009 by vongsundara · 18 Comments
I’m only two weeks into my improv class at Second City, and already I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Sunday night improv is starting to become a big highlight of my week.
This week, we focused on specific techniques to help flesh out an improv scene. The biggest challenge was about identifying the what, where and who of the scene. For instance, the first person up establishes what the activity is. The second person establishes where the scene takes place, and the third person establishes the relationship between the three people.
We were also given some great tips on what not to do in improv. One of the big no-no’s is entering a scene with a question.
It was funny, though, that no matter how many times I was told, it was a habit I could not shake. Whenever I came into a scene, I’d ask the person who started the scene a question instead of making a statement. I suppose it’s just human tendency.
I absolutely love how improv is pushing me in new directions creatively. It’s given me lots of ideas for my stand-up, which is why I joined the class in the first place. Unexpectedly, though, it’s also given me a love and appreciation of improv that kind of makes me want to push forward and learn more and more. I haven’t felt this excited since I first discovered stand-up.