Monday, November 18, 2013

Experience and Observation, the Keys to Writing Comedy: An Interview with @jeffbaldinger

Today, my fellow Jayhawk, Jeffrey Baldinger, stopped by the blog to chat about his career as a comedian in Los Angeles. He has been performing for almost four years, and for the past year, he has produced a show at the Hollywood Improv called Flyover Comedy, which showcases big names in comedy with a Midwest connection. His credits also include performances at the Hollywood Improv, The Comedy Store. UCB, The Hayworth Theatre, Hyperion Theatre, Laugh Factory, and The Ice House.

TL: Thanks for stopping by. I think it's amazing that you are living your dream of being a comic. For those who would also like to be a professional comedian one day, can you tell us what your typical day is like?
JB: I usually wake up around 9am, write for a few hours, or go hiking, meet some friends for lunch… if I don’t go hiking or have plans to meet someone for lunch, I don’t really eat during the day. It’s how I maintain my figure. But at around 5pm, I start going out to do open mics around the city, and I’ll typically be out doing comedy for the rest of the night (booked shows and/or open mics) and I’ll get back between 2am-4am.

TL: How did you get started writing comedy? 
JB: I started writing stand-up after seeing Jim Gaffigan’s “Beyond The Pale” special; he really inspired me to put my thoughts down on paper.

TL: What was your first big break as a comic, and how did it happen? 
Past poster from Flyover Comedy
JB: My first big break as a comic was when I got the Playboy Comedy Tour. A friend of mine was dating a playboy model…yeah, fuck him…but he brought her to a show I was on, she really liked what I did, and told me that she helped book the Playboy tour and wanted me on the show. That was a big deal because it was my first actual credit. And I finally got to perform with comedy legend Carrot Topless. So that was fun.


TL: What’s your process for writing jokes? 
JB: I mostly write from experience and observations. I have a lot of stories that I draw from, goofy things I’ve done or like to do, and then if something strikes me as odd or weird, I’ll talk about that too. I’ll write the concept or premise in my notebook or phone, and then flush it out on stage. For the joke to work, it has to come from a real place. My philosophy is that the joke doesn’t necessarily need to be true, but it has to be honest.

TL: You mentioned that your material draws from a lot of your personal experiences or observations on life. So I'm curious, what did you do before you were a comedian? 
Jeff performing in Los Angeles.
JB: I’ve had a lot of jobs… I was a life guard, factory worker, Development intern at Sony Pictures Television, Production Assistant and Editor at a Christian Movie Company, Editor’s Assistant for the Real Housewives of New York…that was only for a day though. And I also gave drum lessons and am currently a Hebrew schoolteacher. 

TL: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to break into the comedy scene in LA? 
JB: Advice for people wanting to break into the scene…that’s a very loaded question; its hard, hard work and determination. There are no shortcuts and there is a lot of rejection. Hell, I’m still trying to break into the scene. You have to be unique and have a specific point of view, because the market is so saturated with amazingly talented people that you can very easily be lost. What makes you stand out? You can’t be afraid to take risks, and you need to commit yourself to what you truly want. If you’re not putting forth the effort, the results won’t happen. I know that’s a lot of motivational rhetoric, which is very easy to just say, but it is very hard to put in to action. You have to be undeniable. And until you are, you will be denied. A LOT. But, if you’re asking how someone might want to start doing stand-up in general…go to an open mic. Watch people go up and do their thing. Then you have to actually do an open mic. Open mics are low risk, high reward. They are amazing and awful. Doing open mics will let you know if you actually want to be a comedian. Jeff Garlin once said to me, “You wanna be a director? Direct. Don’t try to be a director. Be a fucking director.” It’s a good philosophy on life in general, and it’s something I always think about. Bill Burr once said, “keep your head down, don’t be a dick” He didn’t say that to me, but he said it to Pete Holmes who said it on a web video for his new talk show recently, and I think that’s pretty cool.

If you'd like to connect with Jeff, you can find him on Twitter: @jeffbaldinger

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