A week at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club, a lifetime of stand-up lessons

By | July 8, 2009 at 12:04 pm | 6 comments | News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I started this journal four days ago when I signed up for an intensive traveled to the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club in Los Angeles for the Kyle Cease Comedy Boot Camp. I hoped to not only learn more about the comedy industry and how to focus my comedy writing in the direction I want, but also to gain a better understanding of how today’s headlining comics think and identify what common thread they share.

My nerves are racing as I awkwardly make my way to the stage. Clenching the mic stand with my shaky palms, I attempt to adjust the height – too high. I lower it and speak into the tiny metal dome.

No sound.

Crap, I’m stepping on the mic cord and have pulled it out completely. Frank is going to yell at me. From the back of the room, one tall gangly man is yelling. “It’s okay, we’ll just start over!” It’s Chris Porter. Great, now Chris Porter thinks I suck.

If the audience decides everything they need to know about me within the first three seconds that I’m on stage, then they must think I am nervous, un-confident and afraid.

~

Heading to LA

I’m at the airport trying to avoid saying “hi” to Dartanion London – a Seattle comic who is also headed to the Boot Camp. I don’t want him to know that I’m boarding first class. I’ll feel like an asshole.

Landed safely and am now in the car with Billy Lyday and his wife. Billy is a comic I interviewed for the magazine a couple years ago. He and his wife are moving to Miami where he hopes he will have better luck booking sets in a less competitive market than Los Angeles. There is something to be said about trying to be the big fish in a little pond.

Finally, time for sleep. I am at Kevin Cease’s apartment mentally preparing myself for tomorrow. I’ve written plenty about stand-up but have never done anything like this. I’m just not sure what to expect at a comedy bootcamp. Another student, Mikey 2 Shoes, is laying in Kevin’s living room as well. I’m assuming that his moniker stems from the fact that he wears both one orange and one black colored Converse All-Star shoe. Two Shoes is like a genetic combination of Richard Lewis and Dennis Leary but who also had his talent stolen from him like Charles Barkley in Space Jam. Once he defeats an alien basketball team, 2 Shoes will be a force to be reckoned with. That aside, he might be one of the most entertaining individuals I know.

Day1

Kevin, 2 Shoes, and myself are on our way to the club. My first day in LA and it’s raining. Kevin is blasting some hip-hop. I feel like I am in the movie Training Day, only instead of going to hang with drug dealers and shady cops, we’re going to the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club to hang out with other comics.

On the set at the workshop

On the set at the workshop

Standing inside the club; it’s gorgeous. Blue Velvet curtains hang from the top of the stage and the entire seating area (including the two upper-level balconies) boast an authentic looking vaudevillian style. Plus, I can see they have Fat Tire on tap. Talking with Frank Kelly (co-owner of the club) and I’m learning that Jon Lovitz chose the Hawaiian beach theme for the stage because he wanted to design a set after the one hour special he never had.

Today the focus is on the psychology of being a headliner. Kyle Cease, our boot camp leader, is speaking to us now about shifting our thoughts from asking ourselves, “Can I do this?” to “How can I do this?” Asking the question this way forces our brain to start visualizing the answer. Courtney Cronin is dispensing some wisdom to the ladies and also shared her favorite bit of material. It’s a rape joke and it’s hil-AR-IOUS.

Lunch with Dartanion London. Still not telling about my first class ticket.

Brian Scolaro is up speaking. His frowning demeanor is ironically reinforcing this workshop’s ongoing theme of being comfortable with who you are onstage and acting natural. Listening to Frank Kelly share insider information. I’m not sure everyone here appreciates how candid this man is being. He’s addressing the importance of maintaining a high level of professionalism at clubs and not acting cocky or entitled. Also, he says a bit about the ins and outs of the club circuits and what to think of when you are submitting things to club managers and bookers.

Heading back to Kevin’s for an early bed time. Finding it hard to sleep without my wife’s back to scratch or reruns of House playing. Wondering if 2 Shoes would let me scratch his back while he runs down the differential for blurry vision, tachycardia, and failing kidneys. . . (unnecessary ellipses.)

Day 2

Wait a minute. . . ANT is gay?

Barely able to contain his own tears, ANT is sharing a gut wrenching story with us about the loss of his lifelong partner less than a year ago. Also, about a season of his life when he lived under a bridge strung out on heroin. He doesn’t have to share this much personal information about his life with us. The only reason I can think that he does this, is because ANT genuinely wants to help others succeed. He says that once the audience sees you, they are going to put you in a box. We need to know what that box is and LIVE in that box. You need to put yourself into your jokes and put yourself on that stage. Don’t act like something you aren’t.  Now he is hitting Kevin a lot. Apparently, at Comedy Bootcamp, don’t ask don’t tell does not apply. He’s finishing up and there is not one dry eye in this place. Would it be weird to give a speaker a standing ovation?

Listening to Joey and Kate Edmonds. Next to corporate events, it sounds like working the college circuit is the way to go. It also sounds like having a killer set at the NACA convention is like winning the lottery. I’ll also be hearing from Kent Emmons (an enormously popular radio guy) and some agents today.

David Lew and Julie Kline

David Lew and Julie Kline

Getting to know some of the students in the workshop. A handful I have spoken to online before, like Jim Shaw, Dartanion, and Stu Baker. David Lew is from San Francisco and is Kyle’s first student. He is now on the verge of becoming a headliner and is focused on paving his own way to success. Julie Kline, who was recently accepted into the Groundlings, breaks the stereotypical mold that goes along with being a female comic. Her sharp wit and quiet allure makes her a fierce competitor in this male dominated industry.

Tonight, I am sans my air mattress and Mikey 2 Shoes and instead am crashing on Kyle’s couch (nice illiteration!); I still can’t sleep but this time it is due to excitement and exhilaration and some other “ex” word as our Tuesday night showcase grows nearer. Tomorrow morning, we’ll be showing up before 5 am to meet with Allie Mac Kay from KTLA morning news for a shoot. (click here to watch some hilarious Kyle Cease Comedy Bootcamp clips from KTLA) Students who arrive first get their pick of where they place in the showcase lineup.

Day 3

Bret Ernst takes some extra time for a Q&A

Bret Ernst takes some extra time for a Q&A

It’s the day before the showcase. I’m thinking a lot about what everyone has been saying about being yourself and not “performing” your material. Bret Ernst is speaking now. First, I’m learning that there are a lot of sports metaphors in comedy. For instance, Bret says it is vital for a comic to know how to stay in the pocket. Tell a joke and be able to sit in silence for a minute versus the hit and run method. Other Ernst words of wisdom: “Comedy is in the conversation, not in the presentation.” He also recommended having three solid sets: a clean set for TV, an Industry set that is a little dirty or at least walks the line, and a Club set that can be whatever you want. Bret reinforced the importance of not thinking that people owe you anything in this business.

Chris Porter is up next. This guy is sharp and pretty damn cool. To summarize:

  • Make the rehearsed look improvised.
  • Find the emotion when you wrote your joke.
  • Structure is key. Brevity is key.
  • Failing is ok.
  • Funniest joke is your closer and second funniest joke is your opener.

Guy Torry and Steve Wilson are strolling into the club. After listening in for a few minutes, they both decide to help out. For the rest of the day and tomorrow leading up to the showcase, us students will break into groups and rotate through each headliner. By the time we go up for the showcase, we’ll all have worked our material and stage presence through with a very successful headlining comic. I am excited and terrified. I won’t expect to sleep again.

Showcase Day

Bret, Kyle, Guy, and Steve coaching Chet Wild

Bret, Kyle, Guy, and Steve coaching Chet Wild

I’m working with Steve Wilson, who I’m told resembles Warren G. Volunteering to go first, I grab the mic out of the stand and for the first time ever, I utter my comedy writing into a microphone in a comedy club. I get some laughs from my group and Steve gives me some positive feedback. He says I look comfortable on stage and have good material. Also, that I need to decide what “type” of comic I am. For example, the Christian Dad who does clean work but maybe drops an occasional F-bom on accident. He could tell that I didn’t know this about myself yet. Overall, this did boost my esteem and I’m glad I’m here.

Chris Porter is arriving and some of us are breaking off to join him in the kitchen– a place that I can assure you is not conducive to comedy.  Still riding my high from earlier, I choose to go first again. I deliver my material almost exactly as I did before with the exception that now I am holding a water bottle. Apparently, being able to drink water while doing stand-up is too advanced for me. Chris suggests that if I bring water on stage, I should be sure to have already removed the cap because he was a little freaked out by how much I fidgeted with the cap of that bottle.

Chris Porter coaching Matt Parker in the kitchen

Chris Porter coaching Matt Parker in the kitchen

The rest of his notes are very good. He’s an expert at trimming the fat from your material and remembering only what you need to get the point across to the audience. In all, I feel that Chris is not too impressed with my stuff, so naturally I hate myself and want on the next plane back to Seattle as soon before the showcase as possible. He didn’t even say he doesn’t like it; that just goes to show how quickly us creative types can come with creative ways to sabotage ourselves.

We all rotated into Kyle Cease’s group and I just witnessed Shawna Whitlock ditch her prepared material in an effort to trust this process and try instead to be more herself on stage. The result is incredible and hilarious. Man, this girl has bigger comedy balls then me. I still don’t understand what box I’m supposed to live in. I’m up now.

Kyle keeps stopping me mid sentence to help me find my “voice” and be more conversational and “in the moment.” I’m having a hard time with this. I’m being pegged as the clean, unoffensive, respectful, nice, married father but that isn’t how I feel when I write my material. I’m remembering Chris Porter’s advice to find the emotion when you wrote the joke.

I’m starting over from the top again, then, interrupted again. I tell the group that my goof ups and Kyle’s coaching are all part of my set,  just so they don’t think I’m doing poorly. I’m realizing that it would be really funny if I did make the audience think I’m doing horribly and instead have Kyle “coach” me through my set (hand positioning, dealing with a heckler, etc). Wait a minute.

~

I breath heavily into microphone.

“Here’s the thing everybody. I’m in this class and I tried my material out at home and it just isn’t as good as when Kyle is here coaching me. Kyle? Where’s Kyle?”

“I’m right here buddy.” As he gets up on the stage.

“They don’t think I’m funny. I blew it, they don’t like me.”

“It’s ok. You can do this.”

“Would it be ok if you just stay up here and kind of coach me through this?”

“Of course, man.”

The audience rallies behind me with cheers of support and encouragement. I’m biting a small piece of my tongue to keep from breaking due to my enthusiasm over how well I sold them on my fear and anxiety.  It isn’t until Bret Ernst shows up to help coach a heckler we planted (fellow student, Chet Wild) that they begin to realize they’ve been had. Now it’s as though we’re all in on the same joke and just enjoying the hell out of every second of it.

Thanks, Comedy Bootcamp, I think I’ve found my box.

When I started out at this boot camp, I had a pre-conceived idea about what I would learn about comedy and being a headliner. I ended up learning more about myself and my own potential than I did anything about the industry. I met a group of like-minded individuals whom I now call my friends and realized that being a headlining comic is a state of mind more than a tangible skill. Armed with my new frame of mind, fantastic new peer group, and insane motivation, I am ready to get home and begin a new career as a comedy writer/stand-up comic.

About the Author

Chase Roper

Chase Roper is the Internet’s only comedy writing, podcasting, stay at home dad (maybe). His comedic sensibility has been described as bitingly sarcastic. He’s not sure if he agrees with that but is pretty sure that “bitingly” isn’t a real word. You can check out his show, The Stay at Home Dadcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.

  • Grahnasaurus

    I just realized that the button underneith this textbox says “say it”. When I clicked the button, i didn’t actually say anything.

    I’m glad this website doesn’t have mind control powers.

  • Grahnasaurus

    Nice Chase. Good job.

  • courtney

    Nicely done Chase.
    Very nice.

  • http://www.chaseroper.com Chase Roper

    The woman I mentioned, Shawna Whitlock, who ditched her entire set and killed all the comics in the room, proved to me that trusting the process works.

    She just got her clip from that showcase and I wanted to post it in the comments here. From an objective point of view, I’ll say that I’m interested to see how she develops and refines this. Because dammit, she’s on to something.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPtcFNMvwkI

  • http://www.KevinCease.com Kevin Cease

    Hi Chase!

  • http://myspace.com/officialslowjoe Joseph Simmons (Slow Joe)

    Great story, bro. Love reading stuff like this. One of these days, I’m going to that damn school. Maybe by then you’ll be an instructor! :-)

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