THE COMEDY BUDDY
The open mic night in Caracas was starting to get very popular. Another guy had opened another open mic night on Tuesdays and people were talking about it. I was talking on the phone one day with my dear old friend Cesar Muñoz (musician, writer and my personal philosophical guru) and he told me: “Mate, this stand up open mic thing is taking ‘normal people’ (referring to non-pro comedians) on stage to do comedy. I think we can do this and we can be good at it”.
Cesar had a lot of comedy experience from years of singing and playing, back in the day, in a famous Venezuelan Comedy Choir named “Alpargata Cantorum”. He also studied music in the Berklee School of Music in Boston and had lots of stage and performing arts experience. By this time, I’d known Cesar for over 10 years and I have always respected how he approached his plans. So I just listened and agreed on how he thought we could make a difference the first time we got on that stage, to do great comedy and “kill”.
I wasn’t living in Caracas due to my work in the brewery so I hadn’t seen any of these comedy nights or the guys who were getting on stage. Cesar had seen them and he saw that none of them sounded like the stand up comedians we had seen in the HBO specials or Youtube videos. They were funny guys but it felt that they had no idea of what to do or what to look for on a stand up comedy stage.
As this was really new for us, Cesar’s plan was to first do some research about stand up comedy, watch a fuckload of stand up videos, learn about comedy writing for stand up, start writing, understand the basic concepts, keep writing and then prove our material in front of family and friends with a set up stage, spot lights and a mic; the lot! After doing this a few times then we would’ve been ready to go and try it in the real open mics.
Although we had experience at making people laugh, it took us a fair bit of time to understand how stand up comedy worked. Stand up comedy was barely starting in Venezuela. The English name ‘stand up’ was new and there wasn’t a name for it in Spanish. The few guys who were doing stand up comedy for the last 20 years in the country were considered to be just ’comedians’. The collective mind of the Venezuelans considered these people as special, funny, intelligent people who ad-libbed amazing funny stuff and only a few ’chosen ones’ were born to be comedians.
Comedy wasn’t considered a career and, believe or not, in Venezuela people never thought that comedians wrote their material. It was just their personality shining in a very funny way. Yes, us Venezuelans were very naive in this matter, very undeveloped; our knowledge about comedy was still in nappies.
The stand up comedy movement in the US started in the mid 1970’s at the IMPROV in New York City, and the new comics moved to L.A. to The Comedy Store when The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson moved to studios in California (If you are attracted on how it started in the US I really recommend reading the book: ‘I’m Dying Up Here’ by William Knoedelseder. It’s a must read if you love stand up).
So compared to the US, Venezuela was forty years behind in the stand up comedy subject (I don’t know when it started in the UK or Australia. Please tell me! I would love to know). I’m emphasising it because as new comics we didn’t know anything about terms like punchline, routines, set list, material, premise, timing and hecklers etc (not even their terms in Spanish). I’ve met, for example, people in Australia that are not comedians – but they know these terms just because comedy is very popular and it has always been there as part of their culture.
To find information about something these days is just a click away from your fingers. Cesar and I went online and dove into the comedy world. There are infinite videos on Youtube and lots of comedy writing books on Amazon. We read some of these books and started writing our own stuff. As we were not living in the same city, I went to Caracas almost every weekend to meet Cesar and discuss the material we’d written and the videos we’d seen. We had great moments talking about comedy and doing intense analyses. I still remember that magic moment when we finally understood the concept of a ’premise’. For those non-comedian readers, that’s the foundation of a joke and a very difficult concept to understand (I might dedicate a whole chapter to it one of these days).