Luke Giordano is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, California. He used to live and perform comedy in Philadelphia, until a job as a writer on Two and a Half Men sent him west. He now works as a writer for the Nickelodeon show Marvin Marvin. He will be returning to Philly next weekend, where he will teach a workshop at Philly Improv Theater on Becoming a Television Comedy Staff Writer. We caught up with Luke to ask him some questions about the workshop, and his return to Philadelphia.
WITOUT: I’ve heard you’re mostly returning to Philadelphia so you can go to the Ruby Chinese Buffet, is this true?
LUKE GIORDANO: I am indeed excited to go Ruby Chinese Buffet, as are we all. But is it for the food or for the good times we shared there? I’m also excited for getting a Wawa hoagie. Even though there are better hoagies all around town, none will make me feel nostalgic for good old Philly like Wawa will. Plus, I’ve been trying to work out and eat decently for a while now, so it’ll be nice to have a weekend where I can eat like I hate myself again.
WO: Is the workshop going to focus more on the process of writing or the process of selling yourself as a writer?
LG: Originally, it was going to be more about the things you need to do to get a job that aren’t writing a script, but since I’ve been reading several scripts from Philly comedy people, I’ve noticed that a lot of the same problems come up. Structure is the biggest problem I’ve seen people have with writing a TV script. If you don’t know how to structure an episode of television properly, nobody who matters is going to read it. The workshop is really about arming yourself. Through a great script, through what you know, what you do to get noticed, how get an agent, what to expect in meetings, what people are looking for, and everything else. I don’t think you can teach someone how to be a good writer, but you can teach someone how to write more effectively. This workshop and seminar is really telling you everything I know about writing for television.
WO: Which of these have you found more difficult? Why?
LG: Writing is the fun part. It’s the part that makes everything worth it. To go in everyday and your job being that you get pitch jokes all day and laugh? It’s so amazing that it’s actually immoral. And on top of that, I get to make a comfortable living? It’s the best job in the world and it’s worth every ounce of struggle that you put into it. It’s worth going through all the shit and the disappointment and the rejection and the astronomical odds against you. If I didn’t get my first job when I was twenty-five, I would have gone another twenty years trying to get it. It’s a choice, really. Do you value comfort and stability or do you want to take a risk and do what you really want to do? Even though you probably won’t get it?
WO: You’ve done stand-up, improv, and sketch – how have each of these prepared you in different ways for your Hollywood writing jobs?
LG: I think all those skills go to the same place. It’s all a skill set you should develop anyway, and the more you develop that stuff, the stronger you’ll be. When you go into a meeting with a network executive, for example, you’re selling yourself — so they want a bit of a performance. You got in the room because they liked your script, so what the meeting is about is finding out if they like you and if you’re somebody they want to continue to work with. They want a little song and dance, but just as long as it doesn’t seem like you’re doing a song and dance. They can smell your desperation if it comes off that way, but the conquering of fear that comes with performing live comedy will help you to talk to these people and be funny and be yourself. The same goes for pitching jokes in the writers room. You have to sell the joke like you would on stage. You have to be behind this idea you’re putting forth to expect anyone to accept it. Performing comedy and telling jokes in front of an audience is only going to make you better at pitching a joke to a room of peers. On top of that, stand-up and sketch are only going to make your writing stronger because you’re learning how to construct jokes more effectively and efficiently. You’re writing to get a laugh and I think when you write specifically for the purpose of getting laughter, you learn to drop all the meandering bullshit. And improv is going to teach you how to think on your feet, but I think improv is all jokes, too. They’re just a little more disguised and between multiple people.
WO: How did your years as a Philadelphia comic prepare you for life as an LA writer/comedian?
LG: Most importantly, it taught me how to fail, how to deal with failure, and how to move through failure and learn from it. Failing is the single most important part of the creative process. It matures you, it makes you stronger. You can learn from your mistake, fix where you went wrong, learn your limitations, find out what’s funny and what isn’t. And when a point comes when you’re not afraid of failure (I’m in no way anywhere near this), I think you find freedom. I got fired from Two and a Half Men six weeks after I got the job. I didn’t know if I would ever work in writing again. And it was absolutely humiliating. People get fired from writing jobs for the most minuscule of reasons. Sometimes it doesn’t really have anything to do with them. They fire you because they can and because that’s the game you’re in. As I’ve learned since, every single writer in the business will get fired at some point. It’s about what you do after you get fired.
WO: We all know that LA is home to a lot of professional comedians, but how does the amateur LA comedy scene stack up to the Philadelphia comedy scene?
LG: Mostly it’s way bigger. There are a lot more people, a lot more shows, a lot more places to get up. I think you have to fully commit yourself to get noticed, even by other open micers. I haven’t gotten up as much as I would like to, so I still feel like I’m on the outside a bit. I certainly don’t think the comedians here are better qualitatively on average than they are in Philadelphia. But there is always the possibility that you’re doing a show and Patton Oswalt might walk in to do a set. It’s weird. I feel like people feel like there’s more at stake, because people come here to work and make it. So you do get a lot of people who just do stand-up to get famous or get a sitcom, in addition to the people who are actually doing it to be comedians. It’s a little strange to me. I don’t think I’ve deciphered it yet.
WO: What else are you looking forward to doing on your return trip to Philadelphia?
1. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
2. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
3. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
4. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
5. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
6. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
7. If you are considering dating someone in your improv group and you are both straight but of the opposite sex, consider talking yourself into having gender reassignment surgery. If that doesn’t work, convince the person you are interested in to undergo the sex change. This approach also works for homosexual improv group members who are both of the same gender at the beginning of the attraction.
8. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
All through the month of October, Philly Improv Theater House Team Asteroid will present their B Movie format – an improvised tribute show celebrating the fun of the low-budget sci-fi/horror films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The group has released this teaser video for their shows.
The fellas at Center City Comedy and Super DPS have teamed up again to make this new short film starring H. Foley as The Sultan of Swat himself, Babe Ruth, transported from the 1930’s to modern day Philadelphia. Watch as he learns how the world has changed since his day and tries to adapt to today’s fast-paced world alongside Tom Cassidy, Darryl Charles and a slew of other Philly comics you will definitely recognize.
Philly Improv Theater is offering a workshop on Becoming a Television Comedy Staff Writer taught by former Philadelphia comedian/ current Los Angeles comedian and television writer Luke Giordano on Saturday, October 6th. Giordano was hired as a writer for the sitcom Two and a Half Men in 2011 and now works for a Nickelodeon sitcom that will premiere in 2013. Details on the workshop can be found online. Also on October 6th, Giordano will be performing a half hour of stand-up on the 7:00pm show at PHIT with Aaron Hertzog (Facebook Event).
I felt compelled to write in to WitOut to share my feelings. I like to write, and I have a lot of feelings. Lately, a lot of my good feelings have been happening on Wednesday nights, when my Philly Improv Theater house team Davenger rehearses.
I recently moved to Brooklyn because my husband got a fancy new job there. But because of my feelings, I just couldn’t leave this group of people or give up the incredible experience of learning and performing with them. Here’s what keeps me coming back on a crowded Megabus, and what we will strive to share with you during our Fringe Festival run:
1. Our good friend Harold. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be seeing the word “classic” cropping up next to this long form structure. Well-known in the improv community, the Harold has a long history stretching back to its development by Del Close in the 1960s, but it still felt revolutionary to me when I was first introduced to it in 2006. I feel like it is an excellent vehicle for a team to develop its skills and craft a cohesive performance, and I am really happy that Davenger has chosen to explore the Harold’s challenges and satisfactions. Our director Maggy Keegan has an excellent eye for both the macro and micro levels of attention that the Harold demands, and she encourages us to reflect on our work not only as collected bits of comedy but also as thematically-linked commentary. She also likes when we make creepy faces.
2. Chemistry. (You know, like on Breaking Bad.) Another thing Maggy’s done for Davenger (every time I drop her name I get to take the suggestion for another show) is really focus on the unique strengths of each individual on the team. We’ve done two rounds of “clinics” in rehearsal, where we’ll spend 15 minutes or so working with one particular improviser on something he or she has identified as a personal challenge. I love this. It’s really liberating to get to proclaim, “I think I’m bad at this!” and to have the group say, “We’ve got your back. Let’s play about it!” Maggy (+3) has created a really supportive space that encourages a lot of feedback. Usually that feedback is – “Fuck you, Dan.” This is a big compliment.
3. The Warm-Up. You won’t actually see it at a Davenger show, but somewhere, probably in the basement beneath your seats as you settle in with a PBR, it is happening. A manic, incomprehensible goulash of circle games is devolving into bits, and patterns are becoming infected with patterns in an ever-repeating comedy fractal. Ok, so basically we point at each other and clap our hands at the same time. But you can expect it to sound something like this:
Just know that everything you see on stage is informed by this ritual. Sometimes there are Stallone impressions.
4. Memes. Because Davenger is a thing, that means it needs a “social media presence.” That means that I have an outlet to create and share pictures with words over top of them. Here’s one that Alex made:
5. Cupcakes & Nicknames. At our first rehearsal, we selected nicknames for one of the circle games in our warmup. It looks like we’ll have them forever. We also really like cupcakes. Cait made these cherry limeade beauties for our potluck team dinner:
And Jess made these nickname-cakes back when we were still codenamed “Westmarch”:
Anyway. Be jealous of our cupcakes.
I seriously love improvising with Davenger, and I want to share them with the world. But not the cupcakes. I won’t share those.
Davenger is: Dan Corkery, Hilary Kissinger, Nicholas Mirra, Alex Newman, Cait O’Driscoll, Kevin Pettit, Brian Rumble, Jessica Snow, and Max Sittenfield. They are directed by Maggy Keegan.
Davenger performs Wednesday, September 12 – Saturday, September 15 on the Mainstage at the Adrienne Theater (2030 Sansom St.) Tickets can be purchased online.
Hot Dish will perform “Backstory” at the Philly Fringe Festival using a form that not many improv fans have ever seen. They will create a completely improvised show that unfolds backwards in time, similar to the movie Memento. A single story is told in about forty five minutes that begins with the curtain call and ends with the opening suggestion, similar to a backwards one-act play. “Backstory” will be a unique experience for audiences and performers alike.
Director Steve Kleinedler says, “This show will be unlike anything the audience has seen before. What really makes it interesting is seeing how the actors are able to manage telling the story backwards.” Steve calls this approach “mind-blowing” because of the associated difficulty level. Since it is hard to pull off, not many shows use this format. Cast member Jim Burns confesses that he has never seen a show like this nor has he himself performed this way. He says, “In prepping for this show we have to reorient our appreciation of time and augment our understanding of basic language concepts to follow our director. The brain begins working in ways it hadn’t before. It’s exciting and daunting and perplexing and fantastic all at once.”
So where did such an idea come from? Steve says he originally conceived the idea about eight years ago while directing at Improv Boston and thought it was very interesting. He showed the cast members a short clip of how he previously directed this form and they were intrigued. Jim labeled Steve as a “fearless director” for his determination to pull this off.
Not only are cast members excited to see how audiences respond to their show, they are also eager to see how they as performers respond to this form of improv. This style will certainly keep these improvisers on their toes. Steve reminds the cast that this sort of form demands rehearsals in order to deliver a smooth performance. While Hot Dish is focusing right now on their performance at the Fringe, they think it would be cool to use this format for future shows.
Backstory plays Wednesday, September 19 – Saturday, September 22 on the Mainstage at the Adrienne Theater (2030 Sansom St.) Tickets can be purchased online.
Tonight, Helium Comedy Club will host a Comedy Central Audition where ten stand-ups will showcase for the cable television channel. Featured comics on tonight’s show include: DavidJames, Tommy Pope, James Hesky, John McKeever, Pat House, Darryl Charles, Chip Chantry, Doogie Horner, Anton Shuford, and Pat Barker. Tickets for the show can be purchased online.
Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac returns to the South Philadelphia venue tonight for a show featuring sets from Deleted Scenes, Lock and Key, Self Esteem Motivators, Malone, Sleep Walking, Housebroken, Sad Trombone, and Kait and Andrew. Doors open at 8:00, and the show starts at 9:00.
This Wednesday, the Nick Turner and Friends Comedy Tour 2012 will make a stop in Philadelphia at The Urban Saloon (2120 Fairmount Ave.) The show will feature Turner, a New York comedian who has performed at the SXSW Music Festival, the Montreal Comedy Festival, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and recently made his late night debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Andy Haynes, who has performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Conan, and at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.