Stand-up comedians Don Friesen and Jason Love stopped by Pandora headquarters in Oakland to entertain employees with our very first live comedy Whiteboard Session. After waking the staff up with a 9:30 AM performance, they kept us laughing as we chatted about open mics, vomit, and advice for aspiring comics.
Don Friesen is the only two-time winner of the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. He has appeared on Comedy Central and his recent special Ask Your Mom is currently airing on Showtime.
Jason Love has appeared on Comedy Central, Last Comic Standing, and HBO’s Luck. His award-winning humor column, So It Goes has run in over 50 publications.
Which performers inspired you to do comedy?
JL: I remember when I was a little kid, there was a guy on TV [Bob Nelson] who did this imitation of a football player, and he’d put on shoulder pads, and he’d go, “I play football. In the football league. With a football.” And I’d imitate him at Thanksgiving, and it got to the point where they’d look forward to me doing the exact same routine, so I guess…that guy. On my little list of inspires, I actually list Don, Brian Regan and Mitch Hedberg.
JL: I already said Brian Regan–
DF: Oh, you took it.
JL: I got first draft pick in the Fantasy Comedy League.
DF: But Brian Regan was the one that I saw work clean and make fun of himself, and the light came on in my head that whenever people really laughed hard at me–they’d always laugh at my wit, but when people would spill out, was when I made fun of myself. I started off in improv, so I always consider myself to be a sketch comic who just kind of–most of what I do is sketch comedy that’s kind of bastardized into standup. Ultimately, I’m probably in the wrong field, cause I’m more of a satirist and sketch comic than a comedian, but I’ve learned to make it work as standup. So probably my biggest influence, honestly, in terms of affecting me, other than Brian Regan, would be Monty Python.
What do you remember about your first open mic?
DF: Jason, you’re the opener, you gotta break it open, and then I gotta think about what you said–
JL: The thing about comedy is that before you can go on and do nice rooms like Pandora, you gotta do all the really crappy rooms, like the Lava Lounge with a lot of hecklers — So yeah, that’s the Catch-22, when you really have no idea what you’re doing, you have to go on in the most difficult atmosphere, and they don’t even turn the game off, they’ll leave the 49ers on in the background. And so, that’s about my first 50 shows, right there. And there’s like that vague smell of vomit, you know, not today’s vomit, but last week’s…that’s how I recall it.
DF: You have to work your way up to fresh vomit.
JL: Yeah, fresh vomit, I must be makin’ it!
DF: My first open mic, Jason opened for me, he was doing his first open mic–
DF: In college at USC, I did a comedy competition, it was the Cool Ranch flavor Doritos comedy competition, sponsored by Jay Leno. I didn’t even know that comics wrote their own material. I knew sometimes they did, but I was clueless about it. So I took the best of what I could remember of comics I’d heard, and butchered really good bits. I only had one original line, and it was lame, but it was like, “Hi, Jay Leno here for new Cool Ranch Flavor Condoms! F*%k all you want kids, we ‘ll make more!” It was that level, you know, it’s that college sophomoric–even though I was a junior, it was sophomoric. But yeah, I was horrible.
When did you start doing standup for a living?
JL: I’m newer than Don, obviously–
DF: Define “living.” You mean like a living-living?
JL: I’ve been scraping by for about four years. I mean, now I’m not scraping by as much as I was then. But that’s when I started.
DF: Well, I been livin’ large since the mid-nineties–I’ve been doing nothing but this since 1995. 1995, nothin’ but net!
What would you do if you weren’t a comedian?
JL: I would be begging for change on the corner, definitely. I’d be playing music on the corner for spare change. I tried to work in a cubicle, and I did, I pulled it off for a year, but you could see the claw marks on the side, shavings of my nails from trying to escape. I had to go out for breaks at least once an hour. You know what I would do? I’d just take my papers I would just walk fast to the other side of the building and walk back, and they all thought I had something going on, and I was just airing out.
DF: I would probably be analyzing comedy at Pandora. Or I would work at the Apple Store, one or the other.
Would you give any advice to people starting out as comedians?
DF: If you’re already doing it, the simplest thing is to just record every set. Never stop writing, never stop changing your bits, never stop throwing things away that you think you loved as you get better. Be your own worst critic, and constantly write. Never waste a set by not trying new things. Even if it’s an important set, unless it’s for a showcase for TV or something and you have to do exact material. It’s trial and error, really, I think. If you listen to yourself constantly, you’ll get over the thing of sounding weird to yourself and you’ll see yourself more like other people do and you can be more objective. If you do it enough, you can hear what audiences are telling you about what they see. I don’t think you should write what you think audiences would like, personally. I think you should write what you love, but you should also listen to what the convergence is of what you like and what they also buy on board. And you’ll get a sense of what people like about you, how they perceive you.
And then once you can see that, then it’s easier to distinguish between the things you like, what might have a better chance of flying and whatnot. But if you have pet projects, you still gotta push those anyway, even if it’s uphill.
JL: My advice is just go up a thousand times, and let the audience tell you, like Don was saying. Disregard all the advice and opinions–especially comics that aren’t really successful, but they’re still hanging around and they’re so quick to be your mentor, and say ‘this is how it’s done,’ and they want to show you the way.
That’s good advice for advice-givers.
DF: I never offer advice unless somebody asks.
–Kelly (Comedy Analyst)