Yeah, yeah, that is Tyler Greene performing a great set and then proposing to his girlfriend at Meltdown Comics Nerdmelt show. So many of my favorite words were used in that sentence. Regardless, I first found out about Tyler through this video after it was shared by some mutual friends in the Greenville comedy scene and thought he would make for a great Q&A subject, so here he is with some great answers to some OK questions.
1. How would you describe the LA comedy scene?
I think the LA comedy scene is an amazing thing. I would put it in the list of great art movements that have happened throughout the ages because you find this organic mixture of people who absolutely love their art getting together and spurring each other on to excellence of the artform. Most of us have decided to be poor in order to pursue this - usually about 10 years of poverty. That’s dedication.
But, to put it simply, I love the LA comedy scene!
2. What’s your writing process like?
I have given a lot of thought to my writing process. As a one-liner comedian, my writing process differs from a lot of other comedians. This is because I write almost completely offstage. Working out material on stage is only to see if a joke is solid. (And, of course, to become more comfortable on stage.)
I then need to try it out in front of at least three audiences to get a read on whether a joke is good or not. If it’s good, I keep it and keep trying it time and time again. If it’s sort of works I have to either rework it and keep trying it, or completely throw it out. If it’s not working, even if I like it, I have to throw it out.
Now, within the one-liner persuasion, there are two ways to go about writing jokes. The first is the process of Demetri Martin, and the second is that of Steven Wright. Demetri Martin’s process is to write a ton of jokes and hope that a handful of them work. Steven Wright’s process is to just go throughout life and at some point your brain is going to give you an idea for a joke. At that point you have to work the form a little bit, but it’s usually pretty well formed. So, you end up writing fewer jokes this way, but a higher percentage of them work. I write more like Steven Wright. I just go throughout the day and occasionally my brain will go here’s a funny and condensed way you think about this thing you’ve interacted with. It’s very natural. The only work is in trying to fit it into proper form so that an audience will understand where the punchline is, and then trying them out on stage. Otherwise, it’s a pretty natural occurrence. The problem with this, is that if you’re not in the right mood, especially if you’re feeling down, you tend to not write jokes for a while. This dry spell can scare you. But, once you go through that ebb and flow enough, you realize that your brain is going to think like this no matter what, so the jokes will come. I’ve tried sitting down and writing jokes like Demetri Martin does, But I usually find that I just end up wasting time because the only thing I produce are mediocre jokes. They tend to not be up to the caliber that I like to keep.
3. Do you have a standard of quality when it comes to the jokes you will or won’t do, regardless of laughs?
I have a very very high standard for my jokes. I only will keep the jokes that I consider my A plus material. I’ll try a lot of jokes out, but I usually keep a very small percentage of the ones that even seem to work well. It’s got to have a special something to it. It is important for me to like telling the joke, of course. But, that’s not the most important factor. For me, the ultimate deciding criteria is if the audience likes it. Now, that’s not to say that I let the audience be my sole criteria. I think if you do that you’ll end up with hack material. My process is that first I have to think it’s funny. Then, I try it out in front of enough audiences to see if it’s pretty much universally funny. If I think it’s funny but the audience doesn’t think it’s funny I ditch the joke. Even if it’s one of my most favorite jokes I’ve ever written. If it’s not funny it’s not funny. For me, I have to think it’s funny and the audience has to think it’s funny a certain number of times. I think you have to have both. For just me to think it’s funny is comedy masturbation. For just them to think it’s funny is soulless hack material.
I have several other principles that I try to follow to give a uniqueness to my material. First, I try to avoid topical altogether. Good one-liners are a rare thing, so I don’t want them to become passé by the time I perfect them. This allows them to have a much longer shelf life. Second, I try to never use a premise that I’ve heard another comic use, let alone their angle on a joke. If anyone else can think of the same things, then I’m not being a unique comic. I’ve had instances where I’ll do a joke and another comic will come up to me after my set and say I have a friend in Portland who has that same joke. At that point, I instantly drop it. Even if I thought of it first or if he might’ve taken the joke from me, I drop it from my material. If it’s not a joke that’s unique to me, I don’t want it.
4. A lot of comedians talk about developing their voice. What’s your definition of ‘voice’ and how did/do you go about developing it as a comedian?
I think voice is best defined as being most like yourself and your unique sense of humor. I think that’s what everyone is ultimately trying to strive for in comedy. And also in life - self-actualization. It’s a hard process and it takes a long time – they usually say 10 years – because no one really knows who they are. New comics have very little idea of what their unique sense of humor is.
I don’t think to have a voice in comedy that you have to talk about your deepest, darkest thoughts. That seems to be a recent trend in comedy – as if you’re not really doing comedy unless you’re talking about the things you should never tell strangers. But, I think that’s just a form of comedy snobbery. There are so many greats in the history of comedy that don’t do that. To do that I think you’re setting up a false standard by which to judge others. But, I do think that being authentic to yourself is crucial to having a good comedy voice. The difference is: spewing everything dark about yourself is a type of honesty, whereas finding what you truly think is funny and sharing that with people is authentic. In fact, you can be brutally honest about your darkest thoughts and actions without having a true voice. Go to any open mic and you can see that. Honestly does not equal voice. Authenticity equals voice. Now don’t get me wrong, I think there are people who are authentically over-sharers on real life, but only some. Somehow that seems to be the gold-standard of “true” comedy recently.
5. How do you keep your set fresh for you when you might be doing the same jokes for the 20th or so time?
I think this is particularly hard for one-liner comics. I say the joke pretty much the same way from its inception until I stop doing it. That means I could be doing that same joke with the same wording, more or less, for years. At that point, the fresh thing for me is that particular audiences reaction to my jokes. That is a benefit of someone who’s more impromptu with their material. They might not know what they’re even going to say before they get on stage. That is admirable to me. But, I also think that being able to write sharply offstage is admirable to them.
One way to keep it fresh for one-liner comics is to do a lot of crowd work. This might seem like a contradiction, but it’s not. You can have well-crafted, static jokes and still be able to be funny off the top of your head. Demetri Martin, to use him again as an example, says he does about 20 minutes of crowd work before he gets into material at his shows. I think each style of writing – meaning, on stage or offstage – has its particular strengths and weaknesses. But, if you’re focused on what the audience is giving you, then each performance is a unique experience.
6. Who are some of your inspirations and how have they helped shape you as a comedian?
My most immediate influences, of course, are the one-liner comedians. I’ve already mentioned Demetri Martin and Steven Wright. But, I also love people like Zack Galafianakis,Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and the biggest mack daddy of them all – Mitch Hedberg. I love brilliant joke writing, especially when it’s a little outside of the box. It just does something to my brain. But, I would say my favorite comics to listen to are usually the absurdist guys. People who have won the Andy Kaufman award. Like Brent Weinbach and Neil Hamburger. Those are the ones who are truly unique comics. There’s nothing else quite like those guys. One-liner comics will come and go throughout the ages. They’ve been around forever. I think they’re probably the oldest type of comedians. People like jesters in the courts of kingdoms past. I’m pretty sure those guys had some clever one-liners. But, I don’t think you’ll ever quite get someone like Brent Weinbach again.
7. Do you have an end goal in mind and, if so, how does it affect the way you approach stand up?
This is going to sound bad, but it’s honest. I want to be a comedy legend. No compromise. It affects me in a couple of ways. First, I don’t want to pop too soon. A lot of new comics get bent out of shape that they’re not on good booked shows. I know that feeling because I was there too. You want recognition as a comic and if you aren’t getting it you feel like you’re failing. However, I think it’s much wiser to stay under the radar for a very long time. Years and years and years. Then, when you’re ready and undeniably a good comic, That’s the time to make your presence known. If you’re doing the work in the comedy community, people are going to see you and they are going to talk. My plan is to know I’m ready when People tell me I’m ready. Until then, I am just working out as much material as I can at open mic sent some book shows. I don’t feel like I’m failing by doing that. I think that’s the path to the greatest success you can take.
Second, I am ruthlessly brutal with my material. If I kept all the decent jokes I have ever written, I would have probably close to a headliners set worth. But, because I have a very high standard for myself, I have only about 15 minutes right now. That’s after 3 1/2 years of doing comedy. I think most people at that point have a lot more material. I could be wrong about that. But, I am really confident in the material that I have, which is a good feeling when I get on stage.
Third, I make sure I hit open mics even when I don’t feel like it. I feel like if I want to get better, I’ve got to put the work in. I usually try to string together between three and five mics every time I go out. Sometimes you get a little sick of telling the same jokes, but you’ve got to do it. I should also add that I don’t go out every night. I usually go out a couple of nights a week. But, I still average doing around seven mics per week that way. I do think doing mics every night could easily burn someone out. I tried that for a while and it burned me out. I do think that you have to have a life outside of comedy to insure your longevity. I am married and my wife works for 9 to 5, so I don’t think it would be fair to my wife if I didn’t see her any night of the week. I do want to stay married.
8. What was your first set and how have you changed since then?
Ha ha! Wow! My first time on stage I did this shtick where I had closed body language and refused to look at the audience. I just paced back-and-forth on the stage and talked in a really quiet monotone. It was more like I was doing a character than I was doing myself. I was like Steven Wright on downers. I would say the main way that I changed it is I am now pretty much 100% myself on stage. If you talk to me before my set and then I went onstage I don’t think you’d notice that big of a change in my personality. I think that authenticity has helped me quite a bit. When I used to get off stage, I would get the comment, “Oh you’re nothing like you are on stage,” and that really bothered me. It just took along time to become myself when performing. But, it’s been a vast improvement, I think.