I love Sean Ingram. This is a great interview. Thank you.
Writing, like many other processes in life, is something which we usually only see the finished product of. When you watch athletes on television you never see the 20+ years of work and doubt they put into it, just the catch or the tackle that changed the game’s outcome. When hear a song, it could be the 100th rendition of said song, but you would never know it because the performer and the producer decided that would be the one that would be presented to the public. So it is with writing. When you are reading your first book, as simple as the book may be, you are never made aware of just how much work and time was put into the book, just that the book was completed and one day you will be expected to put something out at a similar level.
Most stop after that, but there are a few who would like to continue writing. And they never stop at essays, it’s always novels that are next. From five to ten pages to 100’s and 100’s of pages. It’s quite a leap and one I’ve thankfully never taken. I can certainly understand the allure though. It looks easy because we never see the writers going through the headaches and birthing pains it takes to actually produce the final product, we just see the final product as if it were spun whole thread from the writer’s imagination, just waiting to see the light of day. The thought is a depressing one when you’re trying to work on your own novel. How does character A make character D like them while seeming believable? What are the rules of this particular world? Is it OK to stop writing to eat for a few minutes or will I lose what inspiration I have?
We seldom hear any writers going through these particular questions. A lot of writers prefer to act as if these things only affect mortals, well, except George R. Martin and possibly Neil Gaiman, oh, and Stephen King. You know. The ones who write the big fat novels. Maybe you’re above all that tripe. Maybe you want to be Wells or Poe or Steele or a writer of horse ranch romance novels, I’m not here to judge. I can guarantee you those people go through the same thing.
So how can it be easier? I can only tell you what works for me, so take what you will of it. First off, writing doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s something I had to teach myself and work at regularly. I first came up with a simple frame and I would practice with it. This frame can be expanded on or simplified depending on what you’re writing. I write jokes so the frame is simple for the most part: set up and punch line. Demetri Martin compared it to an Algebra problem that he regularly tried to solve and I can certainly see it. Before I wrote jokes I wrote Harry Potter fanfiction. True. The frame was still simple. Intro, conversation (my favorite part), resolution.
Neville is introduced to friend, Neville plays chess with new friend, Neville and new friend realize they share a common bond. That’s simple, but it equated to a 700+ word short story, not because I’m an amazing writer, but because I’m filling in blanks ie who’s being introduced, what’s the conversation about, how do they reach this resolution. Nonetheless the frame still holds.
Jokes work the same way for me. When I first started writing jokes I would pick a topic I enjoyed or was interested in ie bullfighting, classical literature, 50’s horror monsters, etc and then attempt to write 50 jokes about that topic in one sitting. I would come at it from different angles, sometimes add a second joke to a joke I had just written above it, but the fun part was when my brain tired and I went on autopilot for a few lines because that’s when the weird stuff came out. The jokes about Frankenstein trying to put a scarlet F on a blazing fire or an orphanage that only caters to the children of bullfighters, that was the stuff I enjoyed and that was the stuff I wanted my brain to work towards. So how long did it take to get to that point? Usually about 35 jokes and then I got three of those types of jokes, followed by twelve more of me racking my brain for an angle.
Writing’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot of work involved and you constantly have to be honest with yourself. If it’s bad, it’s bad, no matter how much you love it. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed, but what you have to ask yourself is if it’s worth it. If so go for it, if not, then put it on the shelf, it might be something you take down and realize where it fits later on.
Another exercise I’ve been trying recently is writing on stage. Meaning that again I have a basic frame (set up, punchline), but rather than filling in the gaps on paper I’m willing to try it in front of an audience. Julian McCullough aptly described it as jumping out of an airplane with a parachute that may or may not pop before you hit the ground. While scary, I think some would be surprised at the leaps your brain makes to fill in gaps, sometimes for the worst, sometimes for the better.
I realize the last one might be a little hard, but at least try the frame exercise. I think that given enough time and effort good writing and great filling can come out of it.
***WARNING: Very inside baseball comedy post that only comedians will wanna read***
There is no real “trick” to getting better at stand up, other than consistent stagetime and persistent writing. However, there are little things you pick up along that way that my friends and I refer to as tricks. Could be a writing exercise, or a technique that works, or a way to get on more shows…really anything. I figured I’d go ahead and share some comedy tricks that I have found or have heard about someone else doing. Not gonna share all of course, and some won’t apply to everyone, but whatever here goes…
I rarely use this to just blog. I’m going to just blog now, so you can all just ignore this if it’s not to your liking.
Warning. Contents under pressure.
Q&A With Vinny Valdivia
I first met Vinny Valdivia over a little year ago through Zach Ward. Vinny was and still is in charge of booking the Pork stand-up show at DSI theatre and he booked me and a friend to perform there without knowing much about us other than that we had performed at the NC Comedy Arts Festival. From the minute we got there Vinny made sure we were taken care of and even invited to us a going away party after the show was over. Super nice dude.
I got to see him perform at Charleston Comedy Festival a few months later when he performed with his group Bonecracker. What intrigued me was that Vinny didn’t play to type, he didn’t play for laughs, he played what the scene needed: victim, princess, gym coach, it didn’t matter, he was all in. Super good improviser.
Needless to say I was really happy that he took time from his busy schedule of helping to make sure the new DSI Theatre’s coming together and also being a resident instructor at said theatre to answer some of my question.
1. How did you get started with improv?
In 2008 I saw the UCB team Death By Roo and half way through their show I knew I had to do what they were doing. At the time I lived in Raleigh so I looked up improv classes in the area and started right away. Fast forward two years, I wanted to take more classes so I started classes at DSI in 2010.
2. Rather than regularly play to type, bigger guy = bully, jock, etc you tend to allow yourself to play low status and even victim from time to time. Is that a conscious decision on your part or just something that comes naturally?
3. What do you get from improv that you might not have gotten when you performed with a band?
4. Who are some comedy heroes of yours?
5. What’s something that pushes you as a performer?
6. How would you define your method as an improviser?
8. When get the prompt from the audience how do you take it in, ie idea for a scene, a character’s physicality, reflect on a past moment, etc.?
Also, if you want to find out more about helping DSI Theatre finish their new theatre’s construction you can go here. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zachward/dsi-comedy-on-franklin-street
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