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DID YOU READ

Chris Gethard on the Best Comedy Advice He’s Ever Heard

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As any comedian will tell you, getting laughs on stage is no easy feat. But getting laughs in a coffee and crepe shop? Unless you’re good—no, make that great—it’s next to impossible. For IFC’s web series Comedy Drop, Chris Gethard was able to pull it off. To find out how, we spoke with Chris about joke writing, dealing with nerves and the best comedy advice he’s ever heard.

Aside from Comedy Drop, where was the strangest—or most interesting—place you’ve done stand up?

I’m a fan of music and have become pretty locked in with the local punk scene, and have been asked to host a number of music shows as a comedian. This is fun, but it’s also tough because no one really wants to listen to a comedian at a rock show. I hosted a show for WFMU once – and WFMU is definitely a literate, smart, laid back crowd – at the Bell House. They went ape shit on me. One guy stood four feet in front of the stage and every time I tried to speak shouted the words “PLAY FUCKING MUSIC.” These were like, dorky record collector types. I couldn’t believe they had that much rage in them.

Where was the first place you ever performed?

I’d been doing improv and sketch for years, and my friend Joe Mande started pushing me to try stand up. He invited me to do his show down at Riffifi, which was a great bar that had stand up shows every night. It was a really fantastic place to perform. I felt safe there, and knowing my friend Joe was hosting the show and looking out for me made me feel okay about it, though I was intensely nervous.

Those nerves reflected themselves in a specific tick – for some reason, I kept putting my hand in my back pocket. It was a compulsive fear based thing, I didn’t realize I was doing it. The jokes went okay – it was my first time, so they weren’t good by any stretch, but I didn’t feel awful about it.

My friend Joe got on stage and immediately started tearing me to pieces for putting my hand in my pocket. He riffed for like two straight minutes on what I possibly could have been doing – had I lost the punchlines to my jokes back there? Was I picking something out of my butt? His improvised commentary on my physical demeanor on stage got roughly 100 times more laughs than any joke I actually told.

I didn’t do stand up again for like eighteen months.

Performing in front of crowds—especially ones not expecting comedy—has to be tough. Do you have any rituals to shake pre-show jitters?

At this point, I am happy to say I’m at a place where I can remind myself that nothing really matters and failure is fun. I both succeed and fail on stage on a regular basis, and I honestly think being met with silence is a fun process and I know it leads to a lot of growth. So that makes jitters sort of null and void. Nothing matters.

How do you approach joke writing? Do you hunker down and write, or does inspiration need to find you first?

All of my jokes are generally storytelling style, which means I usually have to live life and keep my eyes peeled for the weirdness my days throw at me. Then I go on stage and tell the stories in loose formats, keeping my ears open to what crowds respond to and seeing if my angles and opinions on those things strike a chord. Then I refine my viewpoints on them and tighten them up and look for punchlines. I really only write by getting on stage and talking and refining, as opposed to sitting down and writing. It takes a long time but it’s my style.

Is a joke ever fully “ready,” or is it always “in progress”?

Always in progress. I have an improv background, so I’m always really happy to cut and run and look for new punchlines along the way.

What is the best piece of stand up advice you’ve ever heard?

There’s so much advice that goes so far, both from people I actually know or just by knowing my history and hearing stuff passed down through generations. Here’s one that actually had a profound effect on me: Mike Birbiglia recently told me to start with the joke. That sounds simple, but for a storyteller I’m always slogging through exposition. That’s sometimes how idiotic I am. “Oh right, start with the funny part and they’ll get hooked in sooner. Makes sense.” But you do build these jokes that have all these moving parts, and you think people need to know all this context to understand, and they don’t. Really if you can get them laughing, they’ll then buy into the context. Start with the context and you might lose them before you get to the joke. Reading this back makes me realize how much I should already have known that, but I’ve been writing more complex stories lately and getting tangled up in them. Mike is easily one of the best storyteller comedians out there and he saw it, pinpointed it, and handed me a note that is going to save me months and months of figuring out why I can’t get jokes as tight as I want them.

What’s a joke that makes you laugh, or smile, every time?

The Louis C.K. “Give Me Back My Jacket” joke always gets me. I would love to be able to tell a story this well.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.