NEW YORK TIMES: LONG ISLAND JOURNAL; Teaching the Fine Art of Stand-Up Comedy
By MARCELLE S. FISCHLER
Published: Sunday, January 17, 1999
LEARNING to be a stand-up comic is serious business. It takes courage. It takes chutzpah. It takes a sense of humor.
Standing on the stage at the Governor's Comedy Cabaret and Restaurant in Levittown, a microphone in her hand, Maureen Kessler Fried was poking fun at her own life. Joking about her successful daughter, living on her own in the city, who brings home her laundry and her shopping list. And her husband of 33 years, a television sports addict, whom she has asked to accompany her to the opera sometime between now and death.
Only no one was laughing.
''Starting out in comedy is one of the most difficult, awkward things that a person can do,'' said Peter Bales, her comedy coach.
Mrs. Fried, a grandmother from East Meadow, had a great sense of irony, he said, but in order to be funny, she had to add a twist to reality. A punchline.
''Stand-up comedians go one step further than being funny at a party,'' Dr. Bales said. ''You go with your relatives and you tell that joke and everybody would laugh because they all know you're family. Strangers need more. You need to go to another level.''
It was ''Stand-Up University'' night at the half-darkened comedy club. Fortunately, there was no audience. Most of the chairs were still on top of the tables. Dr. Bales, an adjunct professor of history at Nassau Community College and C. W. Post, who was a comic before he earned a Ph.D. and still performs stand-up at local clubs several nights a week, was trying to teach Mrs. Fried and seven other would-be Jerry Seinfelds how not to bomb onstage. How to treasure subtlety and avoid being too crude, too angry and just plain not funny. How to churn out the thigh slappers, deliver one-liners and spread the gift of laughter in six easy lessons.
''A comedian is a very intelligent person working at the height of his intelligence,'' Dr. Bales said. ''It's hard work. It's very difficult. The Spanish writer Cervantes said the most difficult character in drama is that of the fool, and he must be no fool who plays that part. In medieval times, the court jester was the smartest person in the cast. Comedians are very intelligent and very insecure.''
Traditionally, stand-up comics get their start at open microphone nights at local clubs. Although Long Island has been known as a breeding ground -- Rosie O'Donnell, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal and Ray Romano all started here -- it's nearly impossible to break in. Stage time is precious. And a five-minute routine can make or break a career.
Honing their performance skills, helping find their stage characters and figuring out ahead of time what works and what doesn't saves months and months of frustration and, sometimes, embarrassment.
Being nervous is absolutely normal, the professor continued. The trick, he said, is to harness that anxiety about getting up on stage, and use it to generate comedy. And then open with the most hilarious piece of material possible.
''The audience is judging you,'' Dr. Bales told his charges. ''The most important period of time for any comedian is his first 45 seconds when the audience is deciding whether or not they like you and whether or not you are going to be funny.''
Like most of his classmates, Gary Hamanjian, 43, said folks are always telling him that he cracks them up. That he tells a good joke. Yearning for glory, the bartender from Lindenhurst took center stage and hesitantly pulled from his past as a professional boxer and wrestler on the small-town circuit.
''I had a perfect record, seven knockouts,'' he said. '''Every time I hit the canvas perfectly.'' Eyes rolled.
He said he also tried his hand at ultimate fighting, where anything goes inside the cage -- kickboxing, biting, screaming, pulling hair. ''But then my wife left me,'' he deadpanned.
''You have to open up and be truthful,'' Dr. Bales said. ''If you're not, the audience will sense it. You have to let down your walls, let down your guard. The actual jokes may not be literal truths. You have to exaggerate it for a punchline or a laugh, but the fundamental truth has to be there. You have to be honest. If not the audience will smell it.''
Long Island's only comedy school was hatched last April by Dr. Bales and two other professional comedians, Rich Walker and Steve Lazarus, while they were eating french fries at a diner at three in the morning after a gig. To date, 69 students have taken the course. While Dr. Bales teaches, Mr. Walker and Mr. Lazarus pitch in with tips and criticisms. Graduation requires performing a routine at a show for family and friends. Invitations go only to those close enough to the participants to lie to them about how well they did. Or to laugh out loud.
''We're getting these students to open up and talk about issues,'' Dr. Bales said later. He concentrates first on premises and punchlines, then timing, voice and delivery.
Chris Christensen, 40, an automobile transmissions specialist from Massapequa who was repeating the class, was looking to head off a midlife crisis with a new career. Richie Mann, an assistant in the physics department at SUNY Stony Brook, said he wanted to polish his humor before telling his wife where he was really spending his evenings. He said she thought he was taking out the trash.
And Kim Poulos, a graphics designer and mother of two young children from Levittown, who claimed to be so busy she can't even afford to watch the road while driving, was trying out a comedy routine about her overpacked schedule.
Evan Weiss climbed onstage with the front grille from his car. On the way to class, he had an accident. The waiter, who does a weekly gig at a bar in Centereach, figured it would make a good prop for his routine.
''I want to make it real,'' said the 24-year-old from Coram. ''Everybody's humor comes out of their life, their experience. Pain is universal. That's where real comedy comes from.'' He wisecracked about his car, his high school days in special education class, his gay brother and his Jewish mother.
''Ever since I was a kid, I've been known to say the most ridiculous things,'' said Patrick Cashin, 20, of Baldwin, launching into a fantasy about going back to high school. ''I'd rather be on stage than anywhere else.'' Mr. Cashin, who spends his days going to auditions, always figured he'd be a star by now.
It hasn't happened.
''You're trying too hard,'' Dr. Bales told him. Some people have a natural wit, Dr. Bales said. Some don't. Which makes it his job to help them be funny rather than teach them how to be. And some people, no matter how many guffaws they elicit, just can't cut it as stand-up comics. Usually, he can tell right away.
Dr. Bales became a comic after starring in a high school play. ''It was the happiest, most exciting feeling I ever had,'' he said. ''I wanted to try and prolong that feeling, to recreate that feeling every night if I could. There's no better feeling in the world -- the attention, the power of having an audience in the palm of your hand. It's all about ego.''
Even if fame is only a dream.
''We're not taking ourselves too seriously,'' he said. ''The bottom line is comedy should be fun and you should be having a great time when you are doing it. If you're not, you are doing it wrong.''
The Attic Lounge
For those of you who are comedy lovers, the Attic Lounge located in Douglaston is quickly becoming the hotspot for comedy on Thursday nights, and the best thing is that it's absolutely free! Nestled just north of Douglaston in the hilly, wooded areas of Queens north shore, the entering patron will be greeted by a well illuminated pool table, two very comfortable leather sofas on the right side, more tables and chairs and the back, and of course, the bar where they will have the pleasure of conversing with the bartender with the pretty smile and friendly "hello".
This writer had the pleasure of viewing the show on Thursday 6/28/12 which was hosted by John Consoli (AKA "Johnny Balls") who is from Wantagh or as he called it "Whitagh". As it was a very hot night, he talked about the beach and watching kids having jelly fish fights which consisted of scooping up the jelly fish and throwing them at each other. Mr.Consoli is a U.S.M.C veteran said that boot camp was like "ice skating" compared to life at home with his sister, mother, and grandmother. His dad served as a "moral compass" and he learned by doing exactly the opposite of his father.
Mr.Tim Dillon, a charismatic young man who speaks from his pain, spent a little time busting the chops of Stavros, the DJ whom Mr.Dillon referred to as a "Greek Gangster" "Shouldn't you be out killing people?" His comedy was self depriciatory, talked about being gay yet not marching in the gay pride parade, that his friends teased him for lacking the courage to do so and he admitted that he was a little scared, stating "I'd be the float" Mr.Dillon also revealed his distaste for people over the age of 40 who read Harry Potter novels, and continued to pick on poor Stavros.
Angry Bob, a formerly obese gentleman who has recently lost a lot of weight, said "I feel like an Albino Etheopinian compared to others now" And discussed how due to the increasing Asian population, "we are the last of the white people here in Queens, we gotta stick together."
Adam Suzan, another comic with a self depriciatory style with his own brand of uniqueness, talked about his full figure; "I look like a pregnant ape, fat Cat Stevens, walking human pastrami, If a girl told me I was attractive I would dump her for having bad standards" Mr.Suzan also mentioned his dislike for car bumper stickers that state "Honk if you love an Autistic Person" he noted the irony to this, as Autistic people often are adverse to loud noises. Mr.Suzan is also a man of the truth "There's a reason they put pot in Brownies and not salads" and proposed a new website called "How about We" (ie; "how about we post pictures after we have gained the 60 lbs?")
Jimmy Britt, talked about the Star Trek series and how Italians were not represented amongst the cast of the show. He also said that if a pizza delivery guy every calls the cops on a person smoking weed, then that is a a sign of the apocalypse. Obviously being from Long Island, Mr.Britt complained about News 12 being the absolute worst, recording 4 hours of current information and playing it over and over again.
Eddie Faicco, who's theme is "I got Issues" complained about sensors in the toilets and sinks in restauraunts, he also talked about the lady in front of him at Dunkin Donuts yapping on the phone about the results to her pap smeak "Lady I just want some Munchkins" Eddie also has an issue with large women who order Caramel Mocha latte with skim milk "lady, the skim milk ain't gonna do it for you" Mr.Faicco is up to 500 friends on facebook, "last week I needed help moving a couch, I could't find one friend"
During intermission time, the audience was treated to some music by "The Locksmiths" of Bayside, consisting of Krissy Kaplan and Robert Bock, both on acoustic guitar. They had a very strong beat as they played "Barton Hollow" by the Civil Wars followed by "No Reply" by The Beatles. Female voice has a very soulful, folksy sound which sings in harmony with the male part along with the strumming of the guitars. Another Beatles song played was "I've Just Seen a Face" followed by a Locksmith's original "Push and Pull." The Locksmiths can be found on reverbnation.com/the Locksmiths band.
Getting back to the comedy line up, first comic was the one and only Mo Diggs, who's beard is back and lamented on his former moustachioed appearance by stating that he looked like a pedophile with the dreams of becoming a dictator. Mr.Diggs, who is not undernourished, stated that he has the uniform of a slacker..."The fat", "Even when I'm fat I'm slacking off" As it was a very hot night, Mr.Diggs briefly took off his shirt proclaming "I am a man of the people", he then stated that he forgot that he lives in a "big brother state" where his actions could be filmed and said "forget about facebook, more like 'fatbook' :.
Mort Barry, graced the stage after a two month absence from comedy, talked about his battle to overcome stage fright and shared a voice application that he listens to in order to help him bolster his confidence to speaking in front of audiences. Mr.Barry also talked about his son who is gay, and how he is a supportive father. "I'm supportive but sometimes I am too supporitve, I took him to a gay nightclub and wound up getting more numbers than he did."
Jessica Stern, "Pretend you're on drugs, just sweat it out' (referring to the heat). Talked about her extracurricular activities with her former boyfriend, and how difficult it is for her to jog being well-endowed, her upper extremities knock her out when jogging. She hates dating "not because you guys pretend to be gentlemen, but because you're really not."
Scott Schendlinger, talked about women who get a tattoo on their lower back, particularly his younger sister who has a tattoo that says "Carpe-Diem"(Seize the day), gave advice on the best way to call out from a job, to always use vulgar excuses so that the boss will reply "I completely understand."
Sean Singer, went to a strip club and said that he was 12, the dancer did not laugh, she just kept dancing and taking his money. "Right now someone is getting raped and you are all my witnesses that it wasn't me."
Evan Weiss, a very sad individual who brings his personal torment alive on the stage, his father gave him the inspiration to do comedy, he gave him the gas money to come here. Mr.Weiss further lamented how he had written to 40 women on Plenty of Fish Dating Website and none of them had the decency to write back. Being in a fiscally tight situation at this time, and living in a basement apartment, Mr.Weiss' ideal date would be bringing a woman back to his apartment where he would share some luke warm tap water with her. Being unemployed for three years, Mr.Weiss watched a lot of reality shows, he actually spent more time watching people work rather than working himself, so he started to put the names of the jobs (he saw on tv) on his resume, stating that he was the supervisor. On his girlfriend who broke up with him "Evan it's not you, it's just you" and how he would send her love letters and she would send back restraining orders.
In these financially tight times, you dear reader are encouraged to come on down to the Attic on Thursday nights, were you will be humored by the talents of passing comics through the night, baring their souls or shirts to you, so that you may get a free laugh. Just buy a drink and tip the bartender, and let the evening flow, so what if you have to get up for work the next day? it's Thursday night! Live it up!
Evan Weiss, Comedy Warrior
Posted by Stevie GB , December 26, 2013 at 02:02 PM
Evan Weiss hails from Holtsville, and is certainly one of the hardest working producers of comedy shows on Long Island. He co-produces with Kathy Arnold regularly at The Brokerage in Bellmore. Evan also runs shows at Governors, McGuires and even branches out in the NYC club scene. In the comedy business since 1996, Evan’s self-deprecating humor comes from real-life. Growing up on a steady diet of classic sitcoms and Mel Brooks movies, Evan became an avid fan of stand-up comedy when he saw Andrew Dice Clay’s one hour special.
Aside from growing his own act through constant stage time, Evan enjoys watching his comedy friends do well on stage. Great experiences in comedy for Evan come from things so small as getting a laugh at an open mic to opening for Rev. Bob Levy.
Evan remembers going completely blank on stage as being one of his worst experiences. (this is a fear of many comedians)
Having been through a series of awful jobs, it was stand-up comedy that made a bad day disappear.
Evan’s advice to new comics is be yourself, write, take improv classes, etc. You have to find your voice. People always want to give you advice and jokes, but you have to listen to yourself.
Evan is working hard to build longer comedy sets and you can see him perform all around Long Island and in NYC. Check his website at www.evanweisscomedy.com for his schedule and his social media accounts.
In closing, Evan would like to mention some of his funny friends in the local scene that he enjoys having on his shows. He calls them some of the funniest and hardest working comedians in the business: Mo Diggs, Syed Masroor, Mike Abrusci, Tim Thomson, Jessica Collozo, Jessica Stern, Jackie Cheng, Kathy Arnold,Christian Z'ee, James O'Donnell , and last but not least the funniest guy in the Country Danny Lofaro.
Evan has opened for Rain Pryor, Chris Monty, Rich Walker, Irene Bremis and so many more..too many to name. In his words, “If I left anybody out I apologize. It's been a fun journey and I am not finished”
more about the author at www.steviegb.com
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