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    Wednesday, February 27, 2013

    By Helene "Me Gotta Go" Gresser 

    When I first tried to be “serious” about stand-up comedy, I took a comedy class with the wonderfully supportive comic Tommy Koenig through Caroline’s comedy club. The class had a disparate range of oddballs that wanted to try comedy – mostly people who had regular jobs and had never performed onstage a day in their lives.  There was a Russian guy who could barely speak English enough to be understood. Several people were extremely shy. Most could write some mildly amusing material, but had no sense of timing, stage presence, or honesty in their bits. But I admired the hell out of their bravery, because no matter how many times I have been onstage in plays and musicals and public speaking events, nothing prepared me for the overwhelming terror of holding a microphone and trying to make people laugh for a few minutes. My stomach fills with terror-butterflies. My hand shakes with uncontrollable spasms. My voice pitches higher. I liken it to skydiving: standing at the edge of the open door, knowing you have to jump into thin air, knowing your parachute may not open and you will plummet for several minutes, knowing you will die, and there is not a thing you can do about it.

    Though I had some cockiness about my stage experience, I was scared to death to mount those stairs to the stage and try out my material in front of this class. I had lost my mojo during grad school, when I was stripped of all my “bad habits” and became incredibly self-conscious and uncertain that I had any talent at all for acting. Every posture, facial expression, extra pound, regional accent, character choice, gesture, all of what I thought I had as an asset or skill, was criticized and examined under an unforgiving microscope. My emotions were psychoanalyzed, my body betrayed me daily, and I could not memorize my lines fast enough. I was told I was undisciplined, unfocused, and fairly uninteresting as an actor. And I was. My dreams of being on Broadway were a joke, and I felt I was a fraud. Yet, I moved to NYC anyway, shaky and feeling stupid, and basically apologizing during every audition I attended, as if to say “I know I suck. Just let me get through this, and I will leave quickly and never bother you again.” I had performed comedy exactly twice in my life before I took the class with Tommy: each time for a nationwide comedy contest in college, in front of a crowd of hundreds of semi-drunk students who laughed at almost anything. I didn’t win, but loved the thrill. I guess I hoped I could try to rebuild my damaged ego by attempting the funny.

    I loved Tommy’s encouragement and words of wisdom. He was enthusiastic and gentle and told me I had great potential with my honest, original material and my natural ease onstage (despite my spastic hand shaking.) I had to learn to shape my act, and have endings to my bits, and keep practicing by going to open mics often to hone my craft. The advice I got from my other comedy mentors, the hilarious and incredibly supportive Jessica Kirson  and wonderfully kind Gotham Comedy Club owner Chris Mazzilli was this: “You have to figure out what you want to do with your comedy. Do you want to be a stand-up, a comedy writer, a comedic actor, or what?”

    Of, course, I didn’t fucking know what I wanted to do. I still don’t. I just want it all, I guess.

    Today I read an email from Gotham’s Director of New Talent, Andy Engel, whom I’ve known since he was New Talent Director at Caroline’s. He posted a link to a site with words of wisdom/thoughts from my absolute favorite living comic, Louis CK. I fucking love Louis, and love his show “Louie.” He writes, directs, produces, edits (or co-edits), and stars in the brilliantly dark and funny series, and I admire him most for his unfailing honesty and fearlessness onstage and onscreen. My favorite comics, too many to list right now, are fearless and unapologetically revealing. And they work (or worked) on their craft doggedly, tirelessly, sacrificing financial security, commercial success, and a normal family life to tell their stories.  Darryl Hammond would work six exhausting days a week on Saturday Night Live, and I’d see him regularly on his ONE night off, Monday, at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village, exercising his comedy muscles to keep himself sharp and relevant. I am in awe of the professional working comic, because it is a fucking GRIND to keep doing it, day after day, for shitty pay (when one is not a household “name,”) weeks or months or years on the road, and little to show for their sweat except the occasional Comedy Central appearance or Aruba tourism commercial.

    Read what Louis has to say, and watch the clips. Watch “Louie” on F/X or Netflix or Hulu or wherever you can download the show. Go see him live, of course. He has done something revolutionary lately: he has started offering tickets to his shows, or five dollar downloads of his specials, directly through his site , rather than having to pay Ticketmaster and have the scalpers scoop up the damn tickets and resell them at insane prices. He writes funny emails to his fans, and he is one hard-working honest motherfucker.

    Link to the Annotated Wisdom of Louis CK:

    And the clip from the site:


    In honor of Louis, I decided to be honest and finally (!!!) tell my guy I fucking loved him. It made my stomach stop flipping around in barf-circles and you know what? He said he loved me right back. Right then. It doesn’t mean the rules of our relationship have altered or that all will be rainbows and unicorns from now on. It means that life is fucking short; people should be told they are loved, and screw the rules. Screw the system of withholding for the sake of preserving some sort of pride or ego or preventing heartbreaking pain. It’s all bullshit. Just be fucking truthful when you want to share something of yourself. It will change your life. And it may change someone else’s perception that they are all alone in their weird world, and that feeling of “Hey, I am completely alone and no one gives a shit what I do or think” might just evaporate briefly and be replaced with a feeling of “Hey, someone fucking gets me.”

    And that, folks, is why I do what I do. It is scary as hell to be vulnerable and reveal your guts. But you get to fly out that airplane door, see the world from a wonderful new perspective, and have the thrill of your goddamn life, parachute be damned.

    And this final clip shows jumping out of that airplane door, with the parachute... well, you'll see...









  2. 4 comments:

    1. wow. not so sure he'd say he had a parachute in that last clip. i really liked "Life's Too Short to Be an Asshole" -- thanks for sharing his wisdom with us.

      really great that you feel good about having told the man that you love him.

      i love how honest you are in your writing. it makes sense that you'd love Louis' honesty.

    2. RHC said...

      I love Louis CK also. The biggest highlight of my (mostly unceremonious) return to comedy was appearing on his show. He's changed the game. BTW I wish you rainbows & unicorns.

    3. She So Funny said...

      This was a fabulous post. Love the choice of Louis CK clips... and everything you've felt...I've felt. Thanks for so eloquently stating stuff that's so difficult to talk about. xo ~S

    4. Anonymous said...

      Great read Helene! I'm happy for you. Also I have worked with Tommy and both he and Jessica are great people and great friends to comics. Thanks for all the great blogs.

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