If you’ve been following my social media accounts for the last couple weeks you’ve seen the miniature songs I’ve been posting each day. There’s a purpose behind them. Let me tell you what’s up.
I’ve been working really hard on the standup parts of my show for the last couple years. And that focus has taken my brain away from songwriting. While I’ve written a few things recently, they’re not anything I’m super excited about or think can compete with my previous work.
I’ve been going through this thing of really really missing writing songs but also feeling intimidated by the process of doing so because I’m out of practice. It’s the words. It’s always the words. And of course, when writing comedy music the words are kind of important.
So I was thinking about a low pressure way to put my brain back on song mode without having to worry about sustaining a premise for 2-3 minutes. And that’s where #30SecSongs comes in. A daily song that clocks in at 30 seconds (give or take 15 seconds).
I stockpiled 150 ideas to get it going while I write the rest of them. And the plan is to put one out every day for a whole year.
Some will be funny. Some will be duds. Either way you get a little something new from me each day and I get to whip my musical mind back into shape.
Let’s see what happens! You can follow along with the daily videos on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Or you can watch all of them in the playlist below. Feel free to like, comment, share and we’ll see which ones might turn into something larger.
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The “Bees” bit from “Pretty From The Back” has been on my mind lately. Mostly because I just bought tickets to Eddie Izzard’s new tour. I’ll explain what that’s all about.
Eddie Izzard, in his show called “Unrepeatable” did a whole bit about bees. I’ll put the video below. What I’ve always admired about Eddie Izzard’s work is that his bits are so detailed and hit on so many aspects of the subject. In this instance he drags over 4 minutes of material out just on the subject of bees. Check it out.
I was sitting down to write one day and wondered if I could take on the same subject and find new stuff in it that Eddie didn’t. Could I filter that subject of “bees” through my own experiences and come out with something completely different?
Spoiler alert. Yes. Essentially this was a writing exercise for myself and the material turned out to be good enough to put on stage. Not always the case when I’m writing just for exercise.
Strangely, I came up with almost the same amount of material time-wise. He did 4 minutes 15 seconds. Mine totals to 4 minutes 30 seconds, split across two bits with another 7 1/2 minutes of other stuff between them.
Side note: You might wonder was the comic’s fascination is with the time lengths of bits. We’re constantly thinking about it because we have to switch between two different types of gigs. In one, we’re doing long sets of 30, 45, or 60 minutes. So we need enough jokes to fill that amount of time. On the flip side we might be doing a short set of 5, 7, or 10 minutes. So you have to know how long the various bits are so you can combine them into a little 7 minute puzzle that doesn’t force you to either leave things out or risk running over time.
I don’t have the full video up on YouTube of my bees material. Mostly because I’m really hoping you’ll buy the whole special here or rent it over on Amazon. (Rated 5 stars! And if you have Prime you can watch it for free. – Yes, I still get paid.)
But here’s the audio of the first chunk of bee jokes.
At the beginning I hit on one similar premise. That of the bee only stinging once. But from there it veers off in different directions. Admittedly there is a similarity in humanizing the bee, but I love doing those kinds of act-outs. It’s always a struggle for me to find more ways to put in those absurdist act-outs without it looking like I’m just doing Eddie Izzard. 🙂
Believe it or not, the toughest joke to come up with here, and one of the last ones added to the bit, was the tiny Winnie the Pooh tag at the 2 minute mark. It’s a simple 3-way joke structure. But I had a dead spot in the bit where I was getting into the premise of finding a better solution for dealing with bees than what was out there. Whenever the set up becomes too long, the punch doesn’t hit as hard. So I had to figure out a little something to juice that part up and Pooh fit the bill. But that took months to figure out.
On the flip side, is the happy accident of the “bee doing a Bob Dylan impression” joke. That one got riffed on stage one night as I was making the bee sound and realized it sounded like Dylan’s singing cadence. No months of work on that one. Just magic in the moment. It happens both ways.
The controversial joke is the atheist one at the end. There’s always a little question in the listener’s mind of “Is he an atheist? Or is he religious and doesn’t like atheists?” Plus the hard left turn of doing a religion joke at the end of a fluffy bit about bees can be like dumping cold water on a crowd. But I’ll follow the logic of a set up to see where it goes and if I like the turn of logic and it goes to a unique place, I’ll do the joke. It can be challenging to pull off sometimes though.
The atheist/vampire joke is also why I decided to split up the bee material into two chunks. In between comes a bit about vampires and that segues into a bit about a vampire movie that my music was in. Moving into those bits there keeps the show feeling like a stream of consciousness and gave it a nice smooth flow from bit to bit.
Plus I love when a comic does a nice lengthy chunk that goes to wildly different places and then wraps back around to the beginning again. I didn’t do the wrap-around super elegantly in this case. But there were no bees in the vampire movie to link it back around. 🙂 And the hard cut back to bees was disconcerting enough to get a laugh.
You’ll hear what I mean here. This is the second chunk of bee stuff.
In this part the main premise I wanted to get to is, if bees manage to live without violence against one another, why can’t humans?
And if I remember right, I have to give my own mother credit for the “welfare” joke. I had the “we all have the same mother” part and my mom tagged it with the welfare line. That may have had something to do with the welfare mother with an exorbitant number of children living a couple doors down from her.
And yes, Eddie Izzard did touch on the dancing thing too. But from a different angle. To be honest, I really like his better than mine. 🙂
And I do love the wasp joke. Wordplay is like crack to a comic.
The Missing Bee Jokes
I wrote tons of stuff for this bit that didn’t make it to the final cut. It was twice as long at the beginning as in its final form. Here’s a few of the jokes that got cut out.
So when Mohammed Ali said, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…” He really meant, “I’ll hit you once then fall down dead.” It’s just not quite as intimidating that way.
Bees have two jobs in life. Pollination and trying to not accidentally get their butt stuck to something. Can you imagine if we had that? Your life would be in mortal danger cuz you sat on a vinyl seat in shorts.
You leave your intestines in the chair, party foul, dude. “Aw man Larry… Would you wear jeans next time?” You do not want your friends posting that YouTube video. “Dude, check out this video. It’s called ‘Larry’s Intestines Become Outtestines’”.
The Missing Bee Chunk
There’s actually a whole third section to the bee material that I left out entirely. For a couple reasons: When I was performing the whole three-part thing I could feel the audience thinking “Geez, more bee stuff, huh?” Which just means that the last chunk wasn’t funny enough to keep the momentum going.
And second, I couldn’t figure out how to strong end the third part or give it a smooth segue into the next bit, a bit about strip clubs. (Though thinking about it right now, I can think of a couple different ways to get there. The advantage of more years of practice…)
So because of all that I decided to just drop the whole chunk. It felt underdeveloped. Like I didn’t have the skills to communicate what I was trying to get across with it. Maybe I’ll bring it back at some point.
But for now… Here’s the transcript of the missing finish to the Bee trilogy.
I read on the back of a cough drop package that bee pollination is responsible for 1/3 of the world’s food supply. I’ve never seen a bee driving a tractor, but ok. “Boy, I told you to get out there and get that tractor fixed.” “But I was going to go into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!”
It makes sense though because bees are old-school country. See when a beekeeper goes into a hive he calms the bees by spreading smoke over them which triggers a binge feeding response. Which has to make them Willie Nelson fans. They don’t like that Bro Country shit.
It’s out of the range of our hearing, but that buzzing sound is the melody of “On The Road Again.”
The smoke makes them binge eat because they think the hive is on fire, and they have to survive until they get another hive. And they eat so much that they’re bellies are distended and they can’t flex their bodies correctly to sting anything. They just want to undo the top stripe and watch Sports Center.
If there happen to be any Africanized bees in the hive at that time, after the binge eating they become known as Americanized bees.
Basically it’s like somebody walking into your house and yelling “Fire!” which causes you to eat everything in your refrigerator. Which I think we can all agree is a dick move. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to be motivated by fire to do that anyway.
I think the bees know the smoke means the beekeeper is about to steal their honey and they try to eat it before he gets to it. Like when the cops pull you over. “Dude, eat it all! He’s coming!”
The fact that bees are only responsible for 1/3 of the world’s food supply seems like an underused resource to me. Bees are the perfect agricultural work force. They’re used to living in overcrowded conditions in a wooden box, make their own food, and work hard. If bees can learn how to roll a good burrito, Mexicans are out of work.
This is why 3rd world countries like Ethiopia don’t have enough food. Not enough bees. Too many flies. Flies don’t do anything. Sure, they always look busy. But it’s just ADD. They don’t accomplish a damn thing. A fly lands on a flower, and just sits there thinking, “Now, what did I come over here for? Ooh look! Poo!”
Maybe if we gave flies Ritalin they might discover their purpose in life. If bees help produce food, maybe flies have a natural talent for particle physics or mid-level management. Of course, the day a Nobel Peace Prize goes to a scientific discovery made by a housefly, Stephen Hawking will unplug himself.
The thing is, a fly only lives for about two weeks. You wouldn’t want to work hard if you’re going to die in two weeks. Flies are like “Live fast, die young!”
Maybe they have the right idea. Maybe we should live every day like it’s our last. Live it up, fly around like crazy, eat poo.
Thanks for taking this little trip down bee memory lane with me. I hope it gave you some insight into what goes into creating even just 4 minutes of comedy. Months of working and reworking to get it into its final form.
Years ago, Roy Wood Jr gave me a compliment that I’ve carried in my mental wallet ever since. If you’re not familiar with Roy, you should be. Here’s a clip of some of his work.
I attended a comedy workshop with Eddie Brill who was, at the time, the talent booker for Letterman. I can’t remember the exact year, but it’s got to be somewhere in maybe 2007.
The workshop was part of a larger entertainment booking conference and so there were a few people hanging around in the back of the workshop that were there to help critique sets.
Eddie had talked about the type of comedians that David Letterman liked to have on the show and I immediately knew that I wasn’t that kind of comic. Apparently Dave like joke writers who could stand in one spot, deliver the jokes without a bunch of rigmarole, and let the words do the talking.
And while I totally respect that style of comedy, it wasn’t me at the time. I was all about rigmarole. 🙂 Big act outs, shouting, dialects, doing my best to feed my inner Robin Williams. Ironically, now that Dave’s not on anymore, I think I could definitely put together a set in his preferred style.
But at this workshop I decided to do material that I really liked for my onstage character and get honest feedback about it. And so I did my Pirates bit that was in my first special “What Color Is Your Laugh?”. I may have also done Gangsta Pooh but I can’t remember exactly.
When I finished the other comics told me that was a terrible bit to do because it would never get on Letterman. There was a substantial amount of swearing in it. But Eddie knew what I was doing and explained my exact thought process of knowing I wasn’t right for the show, so I using this particular opportunity to get what I needed from it. Just solid feedback.
And fortunately he had a lot of nice things to say about my writing and he liked the bit. He really didn’t like the last joke and I totally agree with him. Wasn’t necessary. But I’d already released the special, so it’s out there.
And then Roy Wood Jr piped up from the back of the room and said “You’re a very brave white boy. And that was very funny.” Coming from someone many rungs higher on the comedy ladder than I, that was such a great compliment. And I’ve carried it in my brain since then.
To me that said that I can do material like this if it’s handled the right way. And I honestly think I handle it way better and more fairly now. But every time I work on a bit like this I think of Roy telling me I’m a very brave white boy. 🙂
Here’s the audio of Pirates from “What Color Is Your Laugh?” and you can download the whole special, audio and video, for free at www.PhilJComedy.com
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This is one of the first “trigger-y” kind of bits I wrote that really worked well. And by “trigger-y” I mean that the subject matter catches people off guard. And if they’re not paying attention to actual intent and content they freak out a little bit.
The premise is all true of course. I believe the tour was called Kings of the Mic and included LL Cool J, Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Ice Cube. And my girlfriend and I had this discussion about “put your hands in the air” during the show.
In my writing I covered a ton of ground about the concert. The differences in the audience makeup between modern hip hop shows and old school shows. The one white guy who was dressed in powder blue slacks and a bright orange sport coat to call attention to himself. The jarring moment when my girl realized that Ice Cube on stage isn’t Ice Cube from the Friday movies.
But as with any bit, a ton of stuff gets whittled away leaving just the core nuggets that work best. For me it often feels like parts of the experience are missing. But I have to remind myself that that audience doesn’t even know about that guy in the suit if I don’t bring it up. So if I don’t bring it up they won’t know something is missing.
I’ll show you some of the stuff that didn’t make it in below.
The punch line at the 1-minute mark is my favorite part even though I never feel like I got it quite right. It’s not in the video above. But you can hear it in the full version on this Spotify player. (Or see the whole special on Amazon or buy the download from my store.)
The one word that, I think, makes people uncomfortable with the last punch line is “beats”. As in “paper beats rock”. Because while in this case it means “wins” it also can mean physical violence. And that was not my intent at all. But because of the subject matter, I’m sure it springs to the audience’s mind sometimes.
I tried different words in there to make it more palatable. “Wins” didn’t work for me because it sounds awkward. “Triumphs over” sounds too grandiose and connotes a superiority that I didn’t want in there. Anything longer than one word ruined the rhythm of the joke.
So I stuck with “beats” and the joke would work most of the time. It’s the kind of joke that’s got a solid logic and meaning behind it. Even if the listener is vaguely uncomfortable with it they’ll still laugh.
And I really enjoy that kind of reaction. Something that feels a little bit dangerous to laugh at but still gets the laugh. And it’s not actually malicious at all. But it makes the listener take a step back, examine their own first impression of the joke, and then make a decision as to whether they’ll accept my position or read something into it that I didn’t intend.
And the fact that the human mind can do all that within 5 seconds astounds me constantly.
What Didn’t Make The Cut
My girlfriend never liked the last half of this joke. She would always say “But rock beats scissors.” And I tried a variety of ways to close that loop, but never found one that worked. Plus it seemed out of my jurisdiction to pit black people against Asians in a joke. Once my personal experience is taken out of the equation things start to get dicey.
Here’s a couple lines about the difference in audiences that worked a few times, but I couldn’t get them consistent:
There were obvious signs that it was an older crowd. The couple behind us brought food in Tupperware. There’s no Tupperware at a Lil Wayne show.
“Put yo hands up! Burp yo Tuppaware! Burp yo Tuppaware! Keepin’ food fresh! Keepin food fresh!”
This was like the black version of a Fleetwood Mac concert.
I think just me trying to do the Lil Wayne part is tough to pull off.
Here’s the chunk about the guy in the weird suit. From an actual discussion we had during the show.
There weren’t a ton of white people there, but we weren’t hard to spot. Not because of our color, but because of the completely inappropriate clothing. One dude showed up wearing powder blue slacks and a bright orange sport coat. And his hair was orange. Not redhead, I mean dyed Crayola crayon orange.
My girlfriend leaned over and said, “I hope his friends dressed him like that.”
“Yeah, man. This is what they’re wearing in the clubs. (aside) No, shut up… (back) Man, everyone looks like a popsicle. You’ll be the coolest!”
It really turned out you had to be there for that one to be funny. 🙂
And this last little bit about how the audience was dressed:
It was an old school show, so most everyone was nicely dressed. All the black folks were dressed nice. All the Mexican folks were dressed nice. And right in front of us were two white couples that looked like they’re days away from having their own Discovery Channel show.
Maybe something about wrestling alligators or harvesting organs from wayward tourists. All of them pushing 50, with doo rags and neck tattoos. When you see an older black man or Mexican guy with a neck tattoo, you think, “Damn, he’s seen some shit… I’ll bet he’s got some wild stories.” When you see a 50 year white dude with a neck tattoo, you think, “Awww… That’s sad.”
That guy only has stories that start with, “So we’re drinking Jack Daniels, right?…”
Looking back at some of these, I think I could rewrite them and make them work better now. But when a bit is done, it’s done. And those parts didn’t make the cut. Relegated to the “extras” bin.
Thanks for taking this little tour of the bit with me. I hope it gave you a little deeper insight into it.