“The way to improve is to reject everything you’re doing. You have to create a void by destroying everything; you have to kill it. Or else you’ll tell the same fucking jokes every night.” – Louis CK
The path of a comedian is one of growth and change. We are constantly trying to write new jokes, work on new material, and develop fresh ideas. All in the hopes of getting better. We are constantly looking ahead, to what is next. What is the next step in our careers? What is the next goal we want to achieve? Where do we go from here? This Wednesday, at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater as part of Comedy Month’s City Spotlight, a group of Philadelphia comedians will do just the opposite, they will look back.
In the Beginning…is a show from the mind of comedian Pat House which will showcase comedians taking a look at video footage from an early point in their careers, and roasting their former selves on their comedic talents (or lack thereof.) It is a show that aims to celebrate the growth and development of Philly comics in a way most comedians are comfortable with…by making fun of themselves. We had some questions for House on his own growth as a comedian, and what he sees in his peers.
Why are you making comedians relive their painful sets of years’ past? Because comedy isn’t tortuous enough. Just kidding!! I’m fascinated by the process of stand-up comedy. Nobody starts out great, and the evolution comedians has always interested me. I think it’ll be fun to laugh at how new and inexperienced we were, and it’ll be great to relive some of those gems we all had when we first started.
Tell us about the first time you thought you were getting good as a comedian. Though there are plenty of things in my comedy that really need improvement, I guess I first thought I was on the right track between a year and two years in, when I started getting hosting spots and guest sets on the weekends.
How much have you grown and changed since? What would you say to yourself then?
Great question. For starters, I would love to ask myself “So, you think you’re being discrete by taping a setlist to your water bottle and looking at it between every joke? Because you’re not.”
For me, growth as a comedian seems to be long plateau periods and every once in a while I will hit a bit of an upswing – how do you see patterns in your growth? I would definitely agree with that. Plateaus are very common, but the longer I do comedy, the more I realized how beneficial the plateaus are. When you’re doing the same jokes night after night, it’s redundant and sometimes boring, but looking back, you realize those jokes got tighter and better. You don’t always realize that on a day-to-day evaluation.
I see patterns in my growth every year. I used to judge myself on what seemed like a daily basis and I’ve learned that I absolutely cannot do that. The everyday grind is rough, but if I gauge myself every six months to a year, that’s where I see the most improvement.
How do you think that compares to other comedians? Every comedian plateaus, but every comic gauges their comedy in their own way. A lot of newer comics tend to be in the moment and think they’re either good or that they suck right off the bat. The more you hang around comedy, the more you realize it’s about the bigger picture. I just hit my seventh anniverary in comedy last week, and I can definitely say that I’ve learned more between years five and seven than I did my first five.
What is your favorite thing about watching different comedians evolve and grow? My favorite thing about watching other comics grow is that in itself (does that even make sense?) I can name dozens of great comics I’ve known since the beginning of their career, and watching them evolve to where they are now has been one of the best parts of the ride. We’re all in this mess together.
Do you have any specific favorite moments of seeing a comedian “find their voice”? Just the other day I watched the 1995 HBO Young Comedian’s Special with Louis CK and Dave Attell. They were great, professional comics at the time, but sixteen years later, both of them are (obviously) significantly better and have a solid grip on their voice.
It was really interesting to me – with Attell, a lot of the jokes he does in the HBO special, he did on his first album six years later, and the jokes are light-years better on the album. He honed those jokes for years. With Louie, it was almost like you could see where he was going with his voice, it was there, it just hadn’t come out yet.
Attell and CK are two of my all-time favorite comics, and seeing that special made me feel a lot better about my material. They were great then, and incredible now.
Have you seen any dramatic changes in someone’s style, either suddenly or over time? What have you liked or disliked about them? I really can’t recall any dramatic changes in someone’s act. I feel with a lot of my friends, any changes over time were just the natural progression of becoming a better comic.
How do you think your style has changed since you started? My style has changed immensely since I started; I am a completely different comedian. When I first started, I had a lot of shock value one-liners; terrible, fictitious jokes that were God-awful. Back then, the thought of being personal on stage didn’t even occur to me. About two years or so in, I started to get a little personal with jokes about my life at the time (college and drinking), and from there, it progressed slowly into what I do now, which is becoming a mostly personal act.
Do you have any plans or goals as far as changing your style or writing habits for the future? My main goal for the future is to write more. I tell myself to everyday, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty lazy with that. Reading helps me a lot too. I find that when I’m going through book after book, I’m writing a lot more, and I seem to notice more things around me as well.
In the Beginning…will play at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater (2111 Sansom St.) this Wednesday, October 19th at 8:00PM. Tickets can purchased online.