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DAN FRENCH has an M.A. in Rhetoric, and a Ph.D. in Media Studies, but don't let that fool you. And he still hasn't mailed us an 8 X 10.

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Dan French

The original "What Works"
"Tom Kenney"

"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
TV Development

"Whose Line is it Anyway?"
French's gag in a Quote-A-Crostic!

"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
TV Programming

"Your Showcase Set"
How to craft an L.A.-ready set

"The Clogged Drain of Comedy"
Who belongs on the stage? Comedy in L.A.

Why move to L.A.?

"Good Side/Bad Side"
What does comedy mean to a culture, post-911?

What should a manager do?

"Standup on TV"
What does TV want?

"Cash for Words"
Writing for dollars

"Stoking the Joke Machine"
Writing for a living

"Screenwriting for Standup Comics"
Just what it says

"Random Realizations"
Wisdom born of experience

Casting Season in L.A.

"Ladies & Gentlemen: A Job"
Working at Best Damn Sports Show Period

"LA Freefall for All"
It happens to everyone: Freefall!

"Hollywood or Bust"
How to change to succeed in L.A.

"How Edgy"
Column #2

"How Hip"
Column #3

"Who Writes Your Stuff?"
Why don't comics ask for help?

"The Art of Standup"
What would we gain by "turning up the art"

"Christmas Wish List"
Holiday column

"Getting Exercised"
A writing exercise

"High Octane"
Road vs. L.A., Monologist vs. Performer

"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
Television Programmers

"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
Television Production and Development

"Castle Breached"
Working at Late Late Show, Network television gig!

"I Like LA"
The third of five columns on writing comedy for money

"Hollywod Carousel"
Between BDSSP and Late Late Show, what I learned


Not everyone likes their comedy intellectualized. But, for those who do, I've suggested a column for SHECKY! in which I will focus each month on a professional comic and break down what it is they do that makes them stand out from the rest of the pack of microphone addicts. I'll give my ideas and if readers want to chime in, add in, call me on my bullshit, that would be great.

What I won't do is take shots at anyone. (That's for the back of the room while the comic is on stage.) And comics are too good at counter-punching, so I'm not setting myself up for that kind of punishment.

I figure I'll get enough just from people saying, "Hey, Man, it's either funny or it's not. You can't explain it." Maybe that's right: You can't explain humor. But you can sure as hell explain technique and character and material and most everything else that makes stage humor work or not. And if we start a forum for generating some ideas about what works on a standup stage and why, that might be a way for everyone to learn a few things along the way.

Anyway, that's what I think. Like I said, it may not be for everyone. I intend to write this by picking a comic each month and finding in his/her act some essential stand-up element that would be cool to explore. I live in L.A., but since every comic in the world seems to have moved here I should be able to keep this pretty cross-regional.

So if you're ready, I thought I'd start with a funny dude named Tom Kenny.

--Dan French

I saw Tom Kenny do a set at Largo in Hollywood back in April, and it was the first time I had seen him in probably ten years. He told the audience he made most of his money now as a voice guy (he's Spongebob Squarepants, among other things), but I was glad to see he was still at the top of his stand-up game, because he tore the place up.

A dervish on stage, Tom is thin with a hawkish face, a "high energy" act in the best sense of the phrase, the kind of guy who has performance power and sharp material. Add to that the fact that he works the crowd and you know it would just suck trying to follow him.

Tom has ditched the Buddy Holly glasses, but other than that the only thing that has changed about him is that like almost every comic who moves to LA, Hollywood has seeped into his act.

One of the worst things I see about stand-up in LA is that it is so focused on the media industry. Comic after comic goes up and does jokes about producers and has-been actors, shows they've been on, the lunacy of trying to "make it" out here. It's like some virus works its way into their acts, and suddenly guys from Michigan are doing stuff about Cha Chi and the chick on Little House on the Prairie. Which I guess is natural. Comics talk about what they experience. Unfortunately, out here they all experience Hollywood, and none of the rest of the country experiences that at all. But Tom Kenny is different. As a good comic he's been able to filter out the raw experience of Hollywood and work it into his show in a way that would be accessible even for the road audiences that so many LA comics claim to despise (they just don't get me, man).

He does this by finding what is universal in his Hollywood experience. Everyone gets shit on in a job sooner or later. Tom took this basic human phenomenon and applied it to working on a commercial where he was playing the letter "Y" in a bowl of cereal. The burned-out director asked him, "Y? What's your name?" Tom said, "You know, just call me Y."

Perfect. You don't need to know anything about commercials to know what it's like to be in the teeth of the dehumanization machine. Every union worker and middle management drone in the country can relate to that.

Which is one of the true genius aspects of stand-up. Great stand-ups don't get up and talk about their own idiosyncratic experience in New York or LA and just leave it idiosyncratic. They find ways to bring everyone into their experience. Audiences are cool with learning about your world if you can find ways to let them learn it. If you don't then you're just an asshole who hasn't worked to entertain the people who are paying your salary that night.

Tom has found a way to keep the audience connected even as his show has taken on some Hollywood focus. And he's smart, funny, and hip even in the moments where he's universalizing to the masses. In that moment Tom manages to be both "alternative" and accessible, and that's a great lesson for all the comics who don't get laughs except from very specialized audiences, and hide their failure behind statements like, I'm alternative, so not everybody is going to get it. HOME Back to the Top