Calendar | Video: tips | Endorsements: tips | Coaching & Co-Writing | Coaching order form | About Us
Lessons 1-35: Descriptions | Register: Lessons 1-4 | Register: Lessons 5-8 | FAQ | Contact Us

Sub Headings: even more tips!
Studying Comics | Comedy Roots | Comeback? | Defense | Character mask | Robin | Censorship
Writer's block | Camcorder Coaching | Memorizing | Remembering | Stage Movement: setting a bit
Business | Business Cards | Your Web Site | Open Mics | Evil "Bringer Shows" | Audition | MC tips
Promo Packet | Contact media | Interviews | How to get BIG-$ Gig$ | Agents vs. Managers
Newsletter | Goodies | Auditioning: TV & Movie parts | Site Map: more tips
Improvisation: Thinking on Your Feet | Jonthan Winters | Joan Rivers | Hecklers


Character in Stand-Up Comedy:
A Sly Way to "Copyright" Your Original Jokes?


Nowadays, comics attempt to protect their material by copyrighting it as a one-man-show; i.e., as a play.

History lesson:
Back in the radio days, Jacky Benny's show was on at night.
Hacks would listen during the show, and write down Benny's jokes.
Then, these joke thieves would try to sell Benny's jokes to comics who were performing onstage when the show aired.
As this was before radio shows could easily be audio recorded, said comics would not know that these were Benny's jokes.

Benny put a stop to having his jokes thus stolen by marrying his jokes to his character,
especially his well-know character trait of being stingy.

Thus, the hacks could not steal Benny's jokes
as the comics would instantly know that they were being offered Benny jokes.

Robin Williams was one of the first modern comics to perform his act without an identifiable narrative character.
On February 25, 1983, I interviewed Robin after he performed a guest set at a club I booked,
and asked him about this strategy:


Robin Williams drops in

Reprinted from "GOOD DELIVERY: Unabashed House Organ of the North Bay Stand-Up Comics," Volume 1, issue i, April-May, 1983.

Saturday, May 14, Robin Williams dropped in at the weekly Jeremiah's Comedy Night in Santa Rosa, California, north of San Francisco. Williams did an impromptu hour-long performance for the crowd. He agreed to allow producer Jim Richardson to video tape the improvised performance for analysis by Richardson's Stand-Up Comedy Workshop. When asked if there were many such videos of him playing in small clubs, Williams shook his head with an adamant, "No. It really freaks me out, even when it's done for my TV specials."

Williams sprinkled his performance with many local references. Referring to the basement room where the comics perform between red carpeted walls, he commented in a nasal voice, "Thank you. It's a privilege to perform in a former discotheque. Now a car wash.
     "I live somewhere near here. I can't exactly tell you where because some people from the hospital are here tonight."
Williams then smiled madly, and made a hand gesture like slowly hacking the air with a knife. "Some man in the back going, 'No, tell us.'"
(The comedy king has a ranch near the city of Napa which is also home to a state mental hospital.)

"This does feel like home. 'Honey, I'm back.'" Williams bounced a couple of times off the rear wall of the stage like it was a padded cell. He looked deadpan at the audience. "I'm beyond jaded: I'm turquoise."
     "There may be cockroaches in this club 5 years from now going, 'Hi, it's nice to have you all here.'" While the crowd laughed, Williams used his forefingers for wiggling antennas. "'Hey, Bob, how many get stoned and use a human clip? Come on, now.'
     "Well, this has been fun. It's always a good place to know to come down the hill. I won't have to drive all the way to the city."

For Richardson, who started producing shows at Jeremiah's October 23, 1982, it was a dream come true. "I have wanted all the headliners to regard the club as a 'comedian's retreat' where they can try out new material and experiment with different ways to play off the audience. Hopefully, Robin has signaled the way -- that it's okay to do crazy stuff here. His appearance at the club is like giving the ultimate comedian's blessing to this stage, and what we hope it will mean to stand-up comedy."
# # #

Update: so far, Williams remains the only major comic to do surprise drop-in performances at Jeremiah's. We never know when he's going to show up. But, since so many of you have asked, here's the history of his appearances:
     May 14, 1983 with Jim Giovanni headlining, Williams made his debut hour-long performance.
     November 5 with Doug Ferrari headlining, Williams did a 90 minute set.
     February 25 with James Wesley Jackson headlining, Williams watched Jackson's set, let the audience leave, then did 50 minutes with Jackson as straight man. He performed for Jeremiah's staff, my comedy students who opened the show, and a few audience members who drifted back in.
     March 10 with Doug Ferrari headlining, Williams did a 40 minute set.
     So far, he has just shown up on Saturdays and gone on after the headliner at the late show.

Richardson says, "I liked the show with Jackson best. It was done off stage in the back of the house. Robin adopted a more conversational tone and a less hostile attitude toward the audience. He asked questions sincerely and listened seriously before going for the laughs. When he would wander, Jackson got him back on track fast with a gentle qualifying statement or an almost invisibly introduced change of theme.
     "Since Robin was closer to being himself, the question of character came to mind. When he came in two weeks later, I asked him if he had any comment on Lawrence Christon's statement in the Datebook entertainment section of the San Francisco Sunday Chronicle, 'There's no persona to Williams's act.'"

          
Robin replied, "I don't have a character. The clubs in San Francisco didn't require us to have one the way clubs in New York used to. . . . Phil Foster? Sure. Comics had to have a character then. If you wanted to grow up in those New York neighborhoods, you'd better have a consistent character. Otherwise, . . .. I guess I hide behind a lot of characters.'"


Page last updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013, 1:15 pm PST
Copyright © 1997-2014
Calendar | Video: tips | Endorsements: tips | Coaching & Co-Writing | Coaching order form | About Us
Lessons 1-35: Descriptions | Register: Lessons 1-4 | Register: Lessons 5-8 | FAQ | Contact Us

Sub Headings: even more tips!
Studying Comics | Comedy Roots | Comeback? | Defense | Character mask | Robin | Censorship
Writer's block | Camcorder Coaching | Memorizing | Remembering | Stage Movement: setting a bit
Business | Business Cards | Your Web Site | Open Mics | Evil "Bringer Shows" | Audition | MC tips
Promo Packet | Contact media | Interviews | How to get BIG-$ Gig$ | Agents vs. Managers
Newsletter | Goodies | Auditioning: TV & Movie parts | Site Map: more tips
Improvisation: Thinking on Your Feet | Jonthan Winters | Joan Rivers | Hecklers