About a year before his first television show Lucky Louie premiered on HBO, Louis C.K.’s career was enviable— albeit not what it is today. And before the entire world knew who he was, us comedy nerds were already basking in his brilliance. So, it was quite the thrill for then-18-year-old comedian C.J. Toledano to get advice from the veteran comedian. And we’re not just talking, ‘Hey, kid, go get’em.’ C.K. took the time to respond in writing in a Google newsgroup to Toledano’s request for guidance.
The reason Toledano decided to share this info now on Chicago comedy blog The Steamroller is simple. “At the tail end of the interview on Conan last Thursday, there was a very sincere moment where Louis thanked Conan for giving him a chance back in ’93,” he explains. “At the time he was really desperate and was seriously going to quit comedy the night before. In a past interview, he actually even said he was about to “empty his brains out into a bathtub” until Robert Smigel, the first head writer on Late Night, called to hire him, thus obviously preventing him from doing so. For me, watching him take that moment to thank Conan was so beautiful and it reminded me to be grateful for all the help and advice that I’ve received so far in my short and not nearly as successful career.”
Toledano’s initial question is below:
Subject: Advice for an 18 year old aspiring comedian…
My name is C.J. and I’m an aspiring comedian. I started back in May at a room here in Erie, PA called Jr.s Last Laugh. I’m in love with comedy and since then I’ve done open mics everywhere I can. Since then I’ve auditioned for the Cleveland Improv (got it, but they’re not too picky), did an open mic at the Comix Cafe, and I’m moving to Pittsburgh on the 25th of this month and got a spot in an open mic at The Improv there on the 31st. What I really wanted to ask was if any of you experienced comics have any advice, pointers, tips, tricks etc that you’d be willing to share. Being that I just started I love looking for inspiration wherever I can find it. I’d love to hear about anything, from how the business works, what to look for and even horror stories.
Thanks in advance!”
C.K.’s response went like this:
i started when i was 17. i got a good head start, skill-building wise, but I sometimes think I missed out on a lot of “Life” that I could be drawing from now. Try to go to college and get some knowlege. If you don’t do that, make a deliberate attempt to read a lot and educate yourself, so that you don’t just becauase a siv for American pop culture. If you spend all your time on stage talking about the cover of People magazine, you won’t go far, you won’t last, and you’ll be bored before you get good.
Take advantage of the head start you’re giving yourself by stopping as often as possible to live your life, explore America and grow as a person. When you go to some shit town to do a one-nighter, get there early and walk around before the show. Watch people. Observe and remember.
Go on stage as often as possible. Any stage anywhere. Don’t listen to anyone about anything. Just keep getting up there and try to be funny, honest and original.
Know that it’s not going to be easy. Know that it’s going to take a long time to be good or great. Don’t focus on the career climbing.
Focus on the getting funnier. The second you are bitching about what another comic is getting you are going in the completely wrong direction. No one is getting your gig or your money.
Keep in mind that you are in for a looooong haul of ups and downs and nothing and something. It takes at least 15 years, usually more, to make a great comic. most flame out before they get there.
And yes, be polite and courteous to every single person you deal with. Not because that will make you a better comedian, but because you’re supposed to do that.
As far as how to get funny or write jokes, no one can teach you that. Just make sure you know what you’re trying to do and that you’re doing it in a way no one else is doing.
If anyone tells you they can teach you how to do comedy, they are lying.
I agree with Bent that you should fill yourself with the history of standup. Watch Richard Pryor Live in Concert, Bill Cosby himself, and listen to all of their albums as well as any other comedy cd you can get your hands on.
Warms the soul, right? A Chicago native, Toledano has written for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and The Onion News Network. There’s a bit more to the story, so you should check out the full post here.