“Comic Insights” Quotes

I recently finished reading “Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-Up Comedy” by Franklyn Ajaye.

I can’t recommend this book enough if you’re at all interested in stand up comedy. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. Since part of this book is in interview format, I put in bold the person being quoted above their quotes.

Franklyn Ajaye Quotes:

“You must study their deliveries, their use of their bodies, their timing, and their use of audio and vocal effects.” (3)

“An aspiring comedian must be determined to get to his or her true feelings on a subject and convey that to the audience. Figure out what you’re feeling or interested in because the goal is to get the audience interested in what you’re interested in. Good stand up comedy is drawing people into your head.” (11)

“Originality is never embraced as quickly as the commonplace.” (12)

“Don’t try to give a funny opinion; give your opinion in a way that will be funny.” (12)

“When you take a pause before delivering your punch line, you will be using silence as a creative entity in itself.” (14)

“You must not be afraid of small bits of silence. To use it well is the height of confidence and skill for a comedian. It increases the tension in a good way and adds contrast like a curveball complements the fastball of a good pitcher.” (14)

“You can’t wait forever for an audience to get the joke, but you should give them at least two seconds to join in before you go on to the next one.” (15)

“Walking back and forth also helps by creating the illusion that you are thinking of the routines on the spot, giving your performance a more spontaneous feeling.” (15)

“Ideally, you want to be in a fifty-fifty power-sharing arrangement with the audience – both of you are there for a mutually enjoyable experience.” (17)

“Obviously the audience has veto power signified by whether they laugh or not, but you-not them-retain the ultimate power to decide what they’re going to get the opportunity to laugh at.” (18)

“A technique I developed quite naturally to help me make smooth transitions was to use a word or phrase from the next routine in the preceding one.” (18)

“Being a professional comedian is doing it right and good, when you don’t feel like it.” (37)

“Note the “quality” – not just the quantity – of the laugh that you’re getting. This is just as important – if not more – than just getting laughs. Cheap laughs are just that. Your jokes’ll be treated just like Chinese food. In an hour, people’ll be hungry for another comedian.” (38)

“In addition to listening to the audience’s laugh, you want to listen to their silence. Is it bored or interested silence? The silence is quieter and filled with energy when they’re interested. You can hear a pin drop. When they’re bored, you can always hear it.” (38)

“Bombing teaches you how badly you want to become a comedian. Because unless it’s a burning desire, you’ll quit when the consistent bombing becomes too much to take.” (40)

“Evaluate every performance on: stage presence, concentration, delivery, material and lessons learned.” (41)

“I wasn’t able to showcase myself to my satisfaction on television until I did one very important thing: I started treating television as though it were just another night at a club. I stopped ruminating continuously over my television set and thinking about its potential significance. This started with my last few shots with Johnny Carson when I realized why my spots hadn’t seemed as funny to me as my club sets. I realized that the extra thought and preparation actually worked against me. Once I adopted this new attitude, I started doing television spots that I was happy with. But let me stress that this was just my approach.” (44)

“I advise treating the studio audience like a nightclub audience because that’s the reason you’re doing television – to get them to come see you in a nightclub.” (45)

“If you do stories, or material with a lot of tags, or afterthought lines, you’ll probably have to cut those out. In other words, you’ll have to strip-mine your material and “lean” it up for time constraints.” (45)

“Be prepared to cut your little extra lines that come after a big punchline and move on to the next joke or routine to give your set more punch and crispness. You can keep them in your set, but if the audience applauds your big line, don’t do your tag when it dies down, just move on.” (45)

“Doing panel well is actually more important than doing a good stand-up spot because it’s when the audience observes you in a more “conversational” mode and decides if they like your personality – which is one of the real keys to popularity.” (46)

“It’s better to play to the host as though in a real conversation and let the audience listen in- which they are.” (47)

Louie Anderson quotes:

“Whatever kind of person you are, that’s the kind of comedy that comes out.” (54)

“One services the gift of creativity by always taking a bigger chance. No matter if you fail or not.” (55)

“The secret behind timing is to hold whatever you’re going ot say until you absolutely have to say it.” (57)

“On television you can wait a little longer and you won’t lose ‘em. If you rush it, you’ll fuck it up.” (57)

“I like to believe that the audience is smart, and I refuse to hit people over the head with my lines.” (57)

“I found out that a lot of movement was better than a lot of words. A lot of expressions would get me a lot more mileage than any word, ‘cause if I just give the expression, then you have to make up the word and your word will be stronger than mine ever could be.” (58)

Richard Beltzer quotes:

Creativity’s a blessing and a curse. If you don’t tend to it, it can do other things to you. That’s why we feel so good when we’re being creative – because we’re doing the right thing.” (65)

Elayne Boosler quotes:

“Whatever city I’m in, I read their paper because I think it’s just great if you can go up and bounce off ten or twenty minutes of local news because you’re an outsider coming in and looking at them.” (73)

“I had a friend once tell me, if you can’t write anything on a particular day, take three extraneous word out of an existing joke, and that’ll be your day’s work.” (75)

“No personal checks, no cashier’s checks, only certified checks, only bank checks always paid before the last performance. Never performing with any monies outstanding. Round-trip tickets so you’re not left, mandatory deposit at least thirty days ahead, guarantee that they’ll spend “x” amount of dollars on advertising for my appearance. You get no comps, the tickets belong to me – if you want to have guests, you pay me for them. Your club, my tickets. It’s hardball and it’s ugly and it’s horrible every time. It never gets better.” (75)

George Carlin quotes:

“You have to start with where your true attitudes and beliefs start.” (84)

“When I read or think of something, I don’t immediately think it’s funny, but I become aware that it has a potential for what I call “comic distortion.” (85)

“The artist and the scientist parts of the brain have to work together. One side is point out to you all these ironies, and the other side has to sort them out and organize them into patterns.” (86)

“You have to find the patterns of your thinking. Like I have thoughts about social concerns, thoughts about little funny wordplay things thoughts about values that I feel are important in life, and once a month I go through them and read them, and sort them into piles based on their patterns or topics. I find that when I do this sorting out, it helps me see the possibilities for connections. I can see something that relates to something that I might’ve done the week before.” (86)

“If it’s important enough for you to think of, and important enough for you to drive someplace, stand up, and tell people to be quiet so you can tell them about it, that’s gotta be in your voice and your delivery.” (87)

Ellen Degeneres Quotes:

“The audience came to see you, and you don’t let them dictate the pace of the show. You set the pace and then they can go along with it. Sometimes you have drunk people who want to yell out when you have those pauses, and that’s really aggravating, but the more you stick to it, the people who enjoy that will keep coming back to see you. So you crate your own audience and eliminate those with short attention spans.” (95)

“You have to look at everything as though it’s getting you ready. And you’re getting closer and closer each time.” (101)

Richard Jeni quotes:

“I don’t know if it’s so much instinctive as it was a result of noticing how much the audience likes it when you physicalize it, because really what you’re doing when you do comedy is you’re trying to paint a picture in somebody’s mind. And the more vivid the picture is, the better chance you have of getting them to laugh at your idea. It’s like the difference between a book and a movie.” (104)

“When you’re trying to be experimental at the beginning, it’s almost the worst time to do that because the audiences you have are terrible. They’re small, drunk, hostile, and they have no respect for the show because it’s usually someplace that doesn’t inspire respect.” (106)

“I feel if you establish that you don’t have to go low, then you can go low for a couple of minutes just as a fun thing.” (109)

“”One of the most productive times to write, if you can keep from chasing the local women, is after the show. Because everything is charged in that direction. All those comedy switches are on.” (111)

“I didn’t start out as a guy doing a lot of voices and sounds. The thing that is really interesting: I couldn’t do a lot of these things when I first started out, and one of the reasons I couldn’t do them was because I didn’t believe that I could do them. But as time went on, I started to be able to do them, and as I started to get more confident that I could, I started to try more, and started to succeed – to where I end up today where you’re asking me how I do all these voices and sounds.” (113)

“I always felt that whatever success I’ve had as a comedian is because I don’t do any one thing great. But I do a lot of things pretty good, and it adds up to a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.” (113)

“I don’t talk about politics that much because the stuff that people laugh at the most are things they relate to on an emotional level.” (114)

Jay Leno Quotes:

“The one thing I learned very quickly was that your material will ascend or descend to the level of the room that you are playing.” (120)

“I’ve always told comedians that if you can do this for seven years, I mean physically make it to the stage for seven years, you’ll always make a living. If you’ve been in the business longer than seven years and you’re not successful, there’s probably another reason.” (125)

“When I got on stage, that was the first time that I did something where I did and thought about it at the same time. That was the only time that I was ever focused, and it’s still true today.” (126)

“”If you asked me if I’d rather be a comedian or The Tonight Show host, I’d be out of here tomorrow if I had to make a choice.” (126)

“If you try to change their mind, you’re no longer a comedian, then you’re a humorist, then you’re a satirist, then you’re out of show business.” (127)

“The good comedians always put the jokes above anything else. To me, the ideal joke is when you’ve got your stupid redneck over here and your college professor over here, and they both laugh at the same joke for different reasons. The professor is laughing because it’s clever and sees that you might mean something else, and the redneck is laughing at the obvious.” (128)

Richard Lewis Quotes:

“David Brenner told me that if you do a joke in front of 20,000 people and you just hear a titter, get it out of the act.” (142)

“I decided to charge a higher cover price and see if Richard Lewis fans will actually come to the nightclubs to get the room mainly filled with people who would come to see me in a concert hall. And it worked… I wanted to know if my material would work with my fans, not just with anybody who would come to any nightclub.” (144-145)

Bill Maher Quotes:

“As a comedian, you want to be in touch with as much as you can with everyday life, and the more successful you get, the more you become removed.” (160)

Paul Reiser Quotes:

“When you’re performing, your adrenaline will probably kick in and make you want to go faster, so slow down, and if you think you’re going too slow, slow down even more. Because your gauge is off. What you think is happening isn’t really happening because you’re so charged.” (167)

“Watching a mediocre comic will trigger you. You’re not inspired by greatness, you’re inspired by mediocrity.” (168)

“Getting on The Tonight Show is the easiest job in the world because all they look for is good comics. If you’re a good comic, there is no challenge, you’ll be on. The hard thing is getting good enough to be there.” (169)

“Cosby said that very often the most personal will turn out to be the most universal.” (170)

“How do I adapt to different arenas? One piece of advice given to me early on was just to put the room where you are most comfortable in your head. Like I know how to do the Catch a Rising Star club at two in the morning, but I don’t know how to do this theater, so when I’m at the theater I pretend it’s two in the morning at Catch a Rising Star. I know where I feel comfortable, and I know I feel funnier around certain people than others. So I get into the mindset, “Okay, where do I feel comfortable? I feel funny with these people in this situation and these circumstances.” So put yourself there and that will bring you out in your best light.” (173)

Chris Rock Quotes:

“Just be a big sponge and listen to people who you want to ignore. Really listen to them, because they’re going to say some little thing you can use. They can’t help it.” (177)

“Even though I know the jokes, I’m still looking for that ad-lib. I’m wondering, is it there, is it here?” (178)

“There’s definitely a jump from clubs to doing concerts. A concert is like a movie, like a play. It really should all tie together. It really should be a show, not just a collection of jokes.” (179)

“I felt that even if you don’t think it’s funny, I don’t want you to think it’s boring.” (182)

“I’d see guys getting mad ‘cause their career wasn’t moving, and I’d say, “Well write some new jokes.” Every new batch of jokes took me where it was gonna take me. When I stopped writing, the career stayed right there.” (182)

“I was aware I’d taken my career to another level when I got to the point where I wasn’t really competing with other comedians.” (183)

Roseanne Quotes:

“Everything has a message whether you think it does or doesn’t.” (192)

Jerry Seinfeld Quotes:

“I say, “I’m going to sit for an hour.” I always consider sitting the accomplishment.” (197)

“If people can get a quick sense of who you are, they relax. The worst I did was bomb every other show – which was tolerable.” (198)

“Bill Cosby once told me, “When you’re the pilot of the plane, you can’t come on the P.A. system and go, ‘Well, I’m gonna try and take her up.’”” (201)

Garry Shandling Quotes:

“You have to not give a shit in the best possible sense.” (211)

“You really have to be willing to bomb, and to fail, before you can be really good. If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll be bad. If you see an artist who’s really afraid to fail, it’s not someone you’re going to like, and it’s not someone who is doing real art. What they’re really doing is looking for approval.” (211)

“I remember Steve Garvey saying, “You’ve got 162 games, so you can’t ride an emotional roller coaster during a season.” So I applied that to stand up whenever I’d have a bad show.” (212)

“People don’t understand that you can’t do old material because it reflects something that you aren’t anymore. You might as well be another comedian. If you can do your old material and make it work, you’ve got a bigger problem. That means you’re stuck.” (212)

“Acceptance is a springboard to go deeper, because once the audience accepts that you’re funny, you no longer have to prove that. You’re now freer to explore.” (215)

Sinbad Quotes:

“The game I play with myself is, make it grow. Nobody else in the room has to know this. My game is to keep the waitresses looking and listening to me every night – because the waitresses that work at comedy clubs are your judge of comedy. My goal is, if you saw me twice, you got something different the next time.” (219)

“You can’t be scared to get rid of stuff, and you can’t limit yourself.” (220)

“Comics were made to be gypsies. We weren’t made to be contained. We’re not supposed to be able to come to a board meeting.” (220)

George Wallace Quotes:

“When I walk on stage, it’s basically me you’re buying. You’re not buying any particular joke, or anything like that. You’re buying George Wallace. My point of view is that I’m relaying a message that you would like to extend to yourself.” (232)

“My job is to have the antennas out. I’ve been on The Tonight Show for twenty years, but you can’t continue to do The Tonight Show for twenty years and not have the antennas out because you got to keep them with new stuff. That’s the difference in the comedians who do a lot of TV and those who don’t – new jokes.” (233)

“You have to be better doing panel than stand-up because that’s your personal moment. You’re delivering jokes in a different manner.” (234)

“Put your personality out first, ask the audience how they’re doing. ‘Cause there’s no reason for you to buy Coke over Pepsi; you’ve gotta like the salesperson who’s selling it.” (237)

“Enough people know me, and I know that I’m sharp enough after twenty years to know that now it’s my show and my stage no matter what happened before me. It might take me three minutes, but I’ll change the mood of the room.” (240)

Jonathan Winters Quotes:

“You gotta take more chances. You gotta be a gambler in your material. You’re gonna get your hands spanked every now and then, but you’re also gonna get some, “Hey, I loved what the guy said. I wonder if he said it off the top of his head.” (248)

Budd Friedman Quotes:

“More and more people are waiting now [turning down a network opportunity] because they know if they get a shot and it doesn’t work, they might get another one. Which is smart. I think you have to fight for what you know is right.” (264)

Irwin Arthur Quotes:

“He or she goes out and finds talent that they believe that they can find work for.  Sometimes you find people at the embryonic stage of their career, and you hope that you can grow with them as they develop.” (273)

“One of my secretaries in New York was a little blond lady named Joan Rivers, who I never believed would make it, but she had this perseverance that went beyond the limit.” (273)

“It certainly helps to represent people who are well known. People are calling you for them, and then we use that as a wedge to get the unknown person a job.” (273)

“You look for a likability, a stage presence, and you look for some kind of an intelligence in that there’s a beginning, middle, and end, or a potential for a beginning, middle, and end to apiece of material that a person is doing. You look for natural funniness.” (273)

“Always be compelled to do the best you can on any given night. That’s part of the discipline. Don’t ever throw a performing opportunity away. I can’t emphasize that enough.” (274)

“In the beginning, you’re looking for someone who has a stage presence to attract attention from the audience, and compel it to watch them. I firmly believe that it’s the persona first, and then the material.” (274)

“The first thing to remember is that the agent is looking for you. If you have talent, we want you as bad as you want us.” (275)

Buddy Morra Quotes:

“Someone once said to me that most performers spend most of their time waiting for the opportunity, instead of preparing for it. If you prepare for the opportunity, and you have the ability, the opportunity will come.” (282)

“Material is almost incidental. Someone once said years ago, “when the audience walks out, do they remember the joke, or do they remember the person?” If they remember the joke, you’re in trouble.” (283)

As always, if you liked the quotes, click here to buy the full book.

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