on June 4, 2003
According to author Franklyn Ajaye, he was partly inspired in his successful comedy, writing and producing careers by Larry Wilde's Great Comedians Talk About Comedy, a 1968 question & answer style interview book, reprinted in 2000 (available on Amazon.com). Wilde's book contains insightful interviews with late 20th century top comedians and Ajaye hoped his own Comic Insights would be along the same lines.
In fact, Comic Insights, a book containing interviews with some of the early 21st century's comic geniuses, is as good as or even better than Wilde's wonderful and still timely book.
The reason: Comic Insights contains not only great interviews but also specific and concise advice on standup comedy performance technique -- complete with easy-to-review notes at the end of key chapters. It's one of the best books ever published on the subject.
Comic Insights is required reading for ANYONE remotely or seriously interested in performing comedy, key comedy techniques, the comedian's mind-set, goal-setting,
perseverance, the need to be YOU onstage and -- a crucial subject incredibly ignored in most comedy books ...TIMING. Hopefully it'll be reprinted periodically, like Wilde's
book. If it isn't and you don't have a copy then you'll be out of luck because you'll be missing a vital potential comedy tool.
This book was so fascinating, easy to read, and had so much good information, facts, performing tips and inspiration that I virtually defaced it with my colored-marker underlinings and little notes written in ink. Any second the Book Police will (rightfully) arrest me .....
The first section is one of the most readable explanations of key standup tricks of the trade ever written. If an aspiring comedian uses some of these principles it could save him years of bombing. Ajaye also includes helpful review notes at the end of each of these sections.
There are far too many superb tips to list here, but a few include studying WHY top comedians are funny; studying the use of timing, body language and visual effects. The importance of recording and analyzing your act. And, critically, the importance of being yourself in performance and act content: "The hacks can steal your joke but they can't steal the way you look at life," he writes.
Peppered throughout are the BEST written explanations (from him and other comedians) on timing EVER published. He points to the famous (and sadly not re-run) eternal master of timing Jack Benny and notes that timing is a way to "light the fuse" on a
joke, by taking a pause to deliver a punchline. Don't "be afraid of silent moments," he advises, and wait until a laugh naturally subsides before moving to another joke.
The second section includes a wide range of the 21st century's top laugh-makers (again too many to cite here). Some key highlights include:
---LOUIE ANDERSON, a master of setting up routines, using his eyes, space and silence, inspired by Jack Benny. Anderson says: "The secret behind timing is to hold whatever you're going to say until you absolutely have to say it."
--ELAYNE BOOSLER on the importance of taping an act, listening to it, analyzing it and enhancing it..
--GEORGE CARLIN'S great explanation of how evolved from a jacket-and-tie comediandoing stock, standard jokes in front of people who he realized where his parents' friends into a comedy icon for his own and younger generations by changing his jokes, dress
(getting fired for it) his attitude -- and the way many comedians forever would do comedy.
--ELLEN DEGENERES & PAUL REISNER: The slowing down joke delivery.
--JAY LENO: The importance of learning jokes (he has no joke file) and goal setting (you should be able to make standup within 7 years work).
--CHRIS ROCK: On the importance of writing NEW jokes to take any comedy career to the next level.
--ROSEANNE & JERRY SEINFELD: The importance being disciplined to constantly write down ideas (on anything even napkins), jokes, concepts and then sit down and translate those ideas into actual performable material.
--GARY SHANDLING: Persistance. He bombed for 5 years but never gave up.
The third section is especially useful since managers, club owners and agents tell what they seek in a comedian. Talent Agent Irv Arthur, among other things, notes the importance of total preparation to be ready for the big break when it comes.
This superb book, especially if read together with Greg Dean's wonderful Step By Stepto Standup Comedy (also available on Amazon), could save aspiring comedians years of frustration and tears....and it tips off civilians to what's really lurking behind the curtain of that comedy wizard of the Oz called "the comedy club."
on December 12, 2002
As someone who loves comedy but would never dream of taking the stage myself, I found Franklyn's book fascinating. Going to comedy clubs has been a hobby of mine for twenty years. Everyone loves the headliners, but I also follow aspiring comics who are trying to learn the incredibly difficult skill of making people laugh consistently.
My main attraction to this book was the quality of the people interviewed. Several are icons in the entertainment world. I also bought the book because I remember Franklyn's stand-up days and saw him perform live a few times.
The book begins with an instructional section. This isn't what I bought the book for, but I found it much more entertaining than I thought. Franklyn uses his own careeer as a format to provide the instruction. He was a failing law student looking for another way to earn a living. He talks about how he developed his writing style, managing his material, dealing with stage fright as well as hecklers. This section reads like a story rather than a dry, how-to manual. I realy felt the drama involved with trying to succeed in a business where so many fail.
The interviews are very good. After reading the first part of the book, I already had new insight into the art of stand-up. The interviews covered the topics that had been introduced previously. They work well because the interviewer is a veteran comedian himself and because he has known many of the interviewees for many years. I particularly enjoyed the interviews with George Carlin, Elaine Boosler, Richard Lewis, Sinbad and George Wallace. In many of the interviews you get a sense of how they worked their way up from nowhere to become successful. I was very impressed at the amount of work that goes into putting together an act.
This is undoubtedly a must-read for an aspiring comedian. But for someone like myself, who will never have the courage to take to the stage, it is a chance to get to know several great comedians who I have enjoyed and admired for years.
on December 10, 2002
In the first fifty pages Ajaye provides strongly written advise worth reading several times over particularly if you are well into the process of performing. How to study your favorite comics and still be true to your self is an outstanding section.
As comics write and talk about stand up comedy business, the struggles to break into a living wage level are displayed as mind numbing. The world is full of people that are tearing you down for their own entertainment both on and off the stage. Your desire to succeed must be massive to overcome the grinding down. For each and everyone comic that has opened up, they have described standup as really hard work. This book may depress you if you are thinking about a life in comedy. This is not a motivational book. It is more of a get tough or get out road map. Entertaining the reader does not happen in this book.
One great insight in the Richard Jeni interview is worth the price of the book. There are three equal parts to performing your own material: written construction, body gestures and facial expression. You have to work on all three with equal commitment.
Interviewing the very successful comedians is very smart. The 17 famous comedian interviews could have been the heart and soul of the book. The interviews should have been better written. With his incredible access to famous comedians Ajaye blew this chance to work at creating a classic on comedy. Where is the editor? My point is the following. In the book Success Secrets of the Motivational by Michael Jeffreys the author gets deep into the mind and art of each interviewee's work. He then edited it down to a very powerfully written book. With loads of exact quotes-each carrying great poignancy. In Ajaye's defense, I suspect that the interviews are lightly edited to remain true to the interview. It is still the lessor skill compared to a strongly worked book. Who wants to read court testimony? Where's the Beef? I hope Ajaye takes another shot at writing another book.
If you are already funny you want to read this book. It would not be my first recommendation. My rank order follows: 1. Judy Carter's The Comedy Bible 2. Step by Step to Stand Up Comedy by Greg Dean and 3. Did I Ever Tell You About the Time by Grady Jim Robinson. Fourth would be this book. The first book is critical to developing the foundation on how to write stand up.
on December 1, 2002
I'm an actor who's been thinking about trying to do stand up comedy. I picked up this book because all my favorite comics were interviewed in it, and I'm glad I did. It's a great book!! As good in it's own way as Michael Caine's great book on film acting which is my acting bible. In the first section of the book Mr. Ajaye talks about what makes a good comedian, and how to study comedians in order to learn from them. It's made me look at comedians much more analytically and appreciate what it takes to be a good one. His writing style is straightforward and full of practical information. The second section has full length probing interviews with today's great comedians, and they are fascinating to read. They speak about their own beginning experiences, difficulties, fears, and methods. Some of them are surprisingly philosophical and offer gems that can be applied to life in general. I found myself highlighting portions of these interviews to refer back to. The third section of the book has interviews with managers, agents, and comedy club owners, and their insights are valuable as well. If you're thinking about being a stand up comedian, you can't do better than this book.
on November 10, 2002
After reading Franklyn Ajaye's incisive guide to the stand-up's art, you might wonder why anyone would ever want to put themselves through the relentless routine of writing, performing and honing material that it takes to become a successful comedian.
Alternatively, if that craving to make 'em laugh still proves irresistible after all 289 pages, at least you'll have picked up a wealth of practical tips along the way.
Comic Insights is clearly aimed as a manual for the aspiring stand-up, and the aspiring American stand-up at that. Given the indefinable nature of comedy, Ajaye sensibly steers well clear of providing advice on how to be funny, concentrating instead on how to be more funny.
It's a book of three unequal thirds, starting with a definitive 'how to' guide for the would-be stand-up. This section is jam-packed with invaluable pearls of wisdom about the mechanics of the craft. These basic tips are often common sense, and are generally regarded as universal truths among performers, but they do need to be said, especially for the rookie.
Mostly, the key is self-awareness: knowing what makes your voice and persona uniquely funny; knowing how your delivery, stage presence and timing went,; and knowing how that affected the laughs you get.
Sensibly, Ajaye recommends aspiring stand-ups study their comedy idols to find out what makes them funny (though definitely not trying to blindly emulate them) and suggests you always record your faltering efforts on stage to analyse what went wrong - or right.
The book's crammed full of such fundamental tips, which no rookie should take to the stage without knowing.
Occasionally the language veers into the unfortunate buzzwords of the training industry, but there's no diluting the rock-solid advice at the heart of it.
A lot of these interviews are fairly old but the advice is pretty timeless, and comes from a collection of interview subjects that covers a wide range of comedy styles. Ajaye isn't always the best inteviewer nonetheless, the gems of truth always do emerge.
In the brief third portion of the book, Ajaye also talks to a small cross-sections industry folk - agents, managers, promoters - to provide a glimpse from that side of the business, too.
For anyone interested in being a comedian or just interested in what makes a comic tick, this valuable book will satisfy on both counts.
on October 16, 2002
Most examinations of stand-up comedy as a performance art form, as well as techniques as to "how to do it", tend to be rather academic and come from those can't do it themselves. Here's a look at what goes on in the minds of a series of well-known and genuinely funny people from the perspective of a man who has been as well regarded as the subjects in his book, at least by those who have seen his act.
Ajaye does a great job of showing how to approach the notion of actually performing stand-up comedy by using his own genesis and evolution as a sample template. He talks about his heroes and his fears,techniques, and styles in such a way as to lay open the mysteries of what makes a comic tick. That's the subject of the first section.
The second section is a seriesof interview transciptions with comic from Elayne Boosler and Paul Reiser to Richard Jeni and Jerry Seinfeld, as well as many more. The interviews are little dated for the most part, although by watching the comics he had address a class on comedy Ajaye taught at UCLA in the early 90's, one can see the elements of performance they talked about 10 years ago have not changed appreciably.
The final section of the book was a short series of interviews with people who regularly interact with comedians, to give the reader the outside perspective. and having been the former manager of a comedy club myself, the comments by people like Budd Friedman on what they look for in a new comedian seem very relevant.
The only thing missing from the book for me was any information about whether Ajaye would return to performing someday. I hear he's been at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in Australia during the past couple of years, but we miss him stateside.
on October 11, 2002
I recently had the opportunity to purchase and read Franklyn Ajaye's new book Comic Insights. I read it in one sitting. I've followed Franklyn's career for over 30 years so reading his book came out of genuine interest, as a quasi student of stand-up comedy and as a good friend for even longer.
When we were in high school he was the proverbial class clown who also exhibited tremendous insecurities when not "on", characteristics of which I've always believed, even if it sounds trite and cliche to be the hallmark of all great creative types and in particular what made Franklyn such an insightful, sensitive and probing comedian.
I've always believed that his cross to bear or his white albatross was the fact that he appeared on the comedy scene just after and in the same generation as Richard Pryor. To make matters worse was the great influence Pryor was to have on Franklyn.
They both came out of the same genre of comedy, the Black American "experience" and that of wonderful storytellers. Which is why I sincerely believe their celebrity profiles today would be just the reverse if Franklyn had appeared on the comedy scene first. It's just unfortunate that comparisons are always inevitable.
His book reads like a textbook that should be required reading in whatever schools that teach stand-up comedy. This book would've been his masters thesis had he gone to a graduate school for comedy. It's probably the best textbook of it's kind anywhere, if there are such things.
I thought his writing on personal experiences to be more interesting than his probing interviews with celebrities. His investigations into what he believes to be what makes a good comedian quite fascinating.
The one criticism I had of the book was his glaring omission in his interview section of a comedian of towering figure and probably one of the most important if not influential figure of our time, Robins Williams.
Franklyn explained his rationale to me this way. Since Robin Williams was so influenced by Jonathan Winters and Winters was "considered a greater comedian in his prime than Robin" and because Franklyn had access to Winters for his interviews,
Even though our careers took us in different directions geographically, Franklyn and I have always shared somewhat common political and social views, which is why I guess I've always found his humor to be to my liking.
I believe it was George Burns who was once asked what was the secret to his success and longevity. He answered. And I paraphrase. In show biz, if you live long enough everybody makes a comeback. So I say to Franklyn, come back soon we need your humorous insights now more than ever.
on October 11, 2002
I'm a person just starting out as a comedian, and all I can say is thank God for this book. Everything I would like to ask an established comedian is addressed here. The first section gives me the fundamentals of standup that I didn't know existed, and a way of thinking about standup comedy. And the writing style is very accessible. I get the feeling the Ajaye truly wants to share his experiences and knowledge with us and help us through the rough times we novices face.
The second part which consists of the interviews with the comedians as they talk about their methods and career travails is nothing less than inspiring. I learned that every great comedian bombed and struggled when they first started. Garry Shandling says he bombed for the first five years. Amazing that he would continue with such tenacity in the face of such failure. Roseanne's interview was a revelation. Gone was the rough talking person we've always seen, and instead a thoughtful woman with a spiritual and musical bent to her comedic inspiration emerged. Jay Leno's interview showed him to be the decent person he appears with a thoroughly humane approach to his comedy, and the interviews of Elayne Boosler, and Chris Rock showed the determination of their truth-seeking natures, while Jonathan Winters revealed a softer side not generally associated with this famously zany man. I got something out of all the interviews. I found myself highlighting passages just for what they said about life. My wife who has no interest in comedy whatsoever read just the interviews and couldn't put it down. She said she learned a lot more about the comedians as people and not just as entertainers.
The third section had managers, agents, and club owners telling what they look for in a comedian. Absolutely invaluable stuff. I carry it with me and refer to it often when preparing for my gigs. It's a Bible for aspiring comedians.
on October 7, 2002
Comic Insights, by Franklyn Ajaye is a great read. The heart of the book for me, is the series of interviews with many of the top comedians working today. While I think a young comedian wanting to start in the business would find the book invaluable, general readers interested in comedy, and life, would also enjoy it. One gets a good sense about the people these comedians are in these interviews. I wish they were longer. It is clear that Ajaye knows these fellow comedians well and that knowledge made a more intimate conversation possible. There is so much insight into the practice of stand up comedy, that I experienced moments when I wanted to give it a try! Of course I know better, but one begins to fully appreciate the discipline, intelligence, and creativity that great comedians bring to their work. Not incidentally, there are some very thoughtful perspectives on life, gems of thought, offered by these gifted people, some funny and sad, poignant, witty, and wise. It was clear to me that the comedians interviewed also shared an appreciation for the comedic gifts of Ajaye, whom I have heard and seen perform, to my great delight, over the years.
on October 20, 2002
I was really impressed by the high calibre of those interviewed including one of my real favourites - George Carlin. Ajaye with his very conversational style of interviewing(rather than the standard list of same questions) was able to get his interviewees to feel comfortable and divulge a lot about their art as well as their personal lives.
The author obviously has the respect of his fellow comedians.
A brilliantly articulate book this should be an essential part of the library of any student of comedy and highly recommended reading for aspiring comedians everywhere.
I know of 3 other comedians in Melbourne Australia who have read this book and all spoke about it in glowing terms.
I hope that "Comic Insights" is a best seller because it truly deserves to be.