Dec 16, 2009

Sign of the Times?

So I go to Costco with the family, and my wife is ticked at herself for forgetting her cellphone (not usually a big deal, but we do have to shop in different parts of the store for a while.)

It quickly occurs to me that someone from 1955 would be a little wigged-out by this.

"You carry phones around?" 
"Both of you?"
"You're in a store so big that you need telephones to stay in touch with each other?!"

Okay, take me back to the DeLorean, I wanna go home.

Dec 11, 2009

Dec 10, 2009

Christmas Survival Guide (originally from Chill Magazine).

Christmas is definitely in the air. And by "the air", I mean, "your face". Everywhere you look are LED icicles, ever-more-obese Santa effigies, and aerosol-snow that looks like it's been applied with a pressure-washer set to "kill". On the radio, The Jingle Cats have been sprung from their pound, and somewhere Bing Crosby is wondering why he ever did a duet with David Bowie. Thankfully, Christmas doesn't last forever; but here are some pointers and other reindeer games that will help you survive the holidays...

One thing you'll notice these days is that your average service provider has become more desperate than a squeegee-kid at a wishing well. More needy than an American banker. More awkwardly conciliatory than David Letterman on his wedding anniversary. I'm talking about 'Seasonal Tipping Disorder'. 

My views on "tipping" make Mr. Pink look like Robin Hood; but at Christmas, I find it especially grating when a bartender who's barely tolerated my existence all year, suddenly gets all Bob Cratchit when I come through the door. "Evening, guvnah! Have you lost weight? Might I suggest a mulled wine and handing over any cash in your pocket?"

Here's Mr. Stingy's "tips" for downplaying holiday gratuities:

  • Make sure you have some Loonies and Toonies on you at all times. Barkeeps sometimes like to "forget" your change near Christmas. (Hey, I used to sling beer. We're a desperate bunch.)
  • If you must take your wife to a restaurant, try to pick a place with the words "Bell" or "King" in it.
  • Get your hair cut before December 1st and ride it out til January.
  • Suspend newspaper delivery for the month. At the very least, gift the paperboy a laser-scope so he can start hitting porch once in a while.

What if you're the guy who actually needs the tips? Simple. Treat people nice all year 'round, and don't give me seventeen dollars in silver when you bring my change. Other than that, be content with 15%, and make sure the beer's cold. By the way, Little Miss Sassy-Waitress, "Tipping" is a city in China, but is now referred to as Xiphyang.

If you're stuck in an office job, but smart enough to schedule your holidays well in advance, ask to work on Christmas Eve. Sounds stupid, but even Leona Helmsley used to let people go home at noon, and there's always some woman from Accounts Receivable running around with a bottle of hootch for your coffee. Just sayin'. It might not be overtime, but it's an easy day's pay, and you'll be home in plenty time to read The Night Before Christmas.

Oh, a quick word about office parties. Don't. A potluck lunch is one thing, but no good can come from being at a free bar with that young intern your wife hates. You know—the one who thinks The Breakfast Club is the new sandwich at Tim Hortons. Do yourself a favour. Buy everyone a box of Toffifay, and go to a movie by yourself. At least that way, there's no possibility of performing karaoke.

Christmas morning

As an adult, there's generally two ways of picturing Christmas morning. Norman Rockwell or Norman Bates. If you belong in the rose-tinted world of the former, then deck the halls! I'm not going to rain on your Santa Claus parade. But I generally look upon the majesty of a Yuletide morn in much the same way credit card execs look upon a consumer stampede at an electronics store: equal parts excitement, greed, and barely-concealed disgust.

As an aspiring grumpy old man, I see not so much the greeting cards and presents, as the carnage they herald—mainly, the wrapping-paper abattoir that engulfs the living room by 9 o'clock. I can't see the Christmas tree for the forest, in other words. 

Let's get something straight. I'm not some hemp-weaving, enviro-Scrooge, looking to deprive kids of the frenetic awesomeness that was my childhood. I'm not against Christmas, and certainly not against kids. I'm not even against mindless wastes of time and money—as the seven "fart apps" on my iPod can attest. What I am against is my annual certainty that this year it will all somehow turn out differently. 

This year... the kids will be satisfied with everything they get. This year... my Dad won't give me a battery-powered shoe-straightener. This year... my hands won't be sliced into figgy pudding from opening 47 clamshell packages with a steak-knife. Seriously, what kind of vindictive manufacturer encases a stamp-sized product in a hard plastic sarcophagus that you could make truck-bumpers out of? Why not just give me that puzzle-cube from Hellraiser and spare me the slow death?

But it all comes down to holiday tradition. Doing the same (stupid) things every year creates the warm cultural tapestry that we all share. Even if that tapestry is used to staunch arterial bleeding in the emergency room.

Making the most of it
It's not like Christmas is just one day, either. It's called the holiday 'season' because it lasts for almost 3 months. Astronomically, Christmas starts the moment you've wheeled the green bin to the curb on Thanksgiving night, and officially ends in late January, when you've vacuumed the last of the 10 squintillion pine needles from your floor. That's a lot of cheer to ration out for one holiday.

In the same way that basketball games should just start at 90 points per side, then play out for 3 minutes, the holidays (officially known as RamaHanaKwanMas) could probably be wrapped up in about a week. And that includes the Boxing Month cage-match where grown men line up at 3AM, just so they can buy a $5 BluRay of Scary Movie XII: Night of the Living Audience Member.

Here are my suggestions for improving the holiday time-warp:
For starters, Christmas-themed ads shouldn't be allowed to start until December 18th and would halt immediately on the 23rd. The only programs on TV during that week would be The Grinch, the Fat Albert Christmas Special, that BB-gun movie, and—if you're up late enough—Die Hard. "Yippie Ki-Yay, stocking-stuffer!" The only thing on-air between the 25th and 31st? That 'burning log' movie. Even newspapers should be forced to print stills of the log in various stages of combustion and decay.

If you're still with me, I'd like to go one suggestion further. No more buying other people gifts. People should buy themselves (and their kids) one—and only one—completely awesome thing. That's it. Give some cash to charity, and casually flip the bird to every greeting card store you walk by. (Wouldn't that be a Hallmark moment?) Then, everyone would gather for a nice dinner to talk about the cool things they bought themselves. Also, turnips would be outlawed.

No matter what your faith (or lack thereof) let's just be nice each other, and save our natural hostility for when it's really needed. Valentine's Day.

Nov 11, 2009

Things I would tell myself in... 1984.


Say, Say, Say... I'm really enjoying this. The further you go back, the easier it is to be a know-it-all. And, man, if you seriously have no advice for a douchebag 16-year-old, you definitely need a new drug.

Top Ten things I would tell myself in 1984:
  1. Listening to Duran Duran? Fine. Wearing three Duran Duran pins on your multi-pocketed jacket? The opposite of fine.
  2. Don't throw that party. Scott Gardner shows up.
  3. We're all really happy that whole D&D thing got back-burnered. It takes 18 double-zero strength to get a date while that's going on.
  4. Would it kill you to wear a pair of jeans?
  5. If you don't know three consecutive answers on a fill-in-the-blanks test, always go with Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Make it your signature.
  6. The Cult or The Cure? Choose wisely.
  7. For the love of God, one camouflage article of clothing at a time.
  8. Easy on the gay jokes, Diceman.
  9. Instead of bitching about the sheet music available for sax, ask Mr. Van Dyne to get you some John Coltrane or Lou Marini... Hey, university is three years away and you need every secret weapon you can get. 
  10. You know how insecure you feel? Get over it. So is everyone.
P.S. Thank you for not smoking.

Nov 9, 2009

Things I would tell myself in... 1989.


I ended up having a lot of fun with "Things I would tell myself in 1994", so I thought I'd keep it rolling. Keeping with our species' proclivity for all things base-ten, I'm honouring the David Letterman format.

Top Ten Things I would tell myself in 1989*

  1. That whole "Berlin Wall" thing? Important. Remembering where you were when Batman opened?... Not so much.
  2. If you pay the oil bill on time, they won't cut off your heat. I checked.
  3. Take advantage of your university experince by chatting up your profs once in a while. It puts you in the good books, and you may learn something before it's done. Hey! Hey! Hey!
  4. Put. The beer. Down.
  5. The House of Lords called. They no longer want credit for your bouffant.
  6. Call your mother.
  7. News flash. That weird artist you're trying to date is just as psycho as she lets on.
  8. Seriously, lose the cowboy boots.
  9. Good for you... grocery shopping at Kensington Market. Finally, a habit worth bragging about.
  10. Aerosmith is peaking now. Savour the moment.
Coming soon? Yep. 1984, baby.

* Other than... never, ever do that stupid John Cusack thing. If your romantic gesture of last resort involves "serenading" a girl with a Radio Shack boom-box while dressed like a homeless pedophile, you have truly scraped the bottom of the desperation barrel.

Nov 5, 2009

Things I would tell myself in... 1994.


'If I met my younger self from back then today, I’d say to him, “You’re just paying your dues, Kiddo. Frickin’ get over yourself…” '

Hugh MacLeod is a guy who naturally inspires. His site, his art, his philosophy... it's all part of a package that, for me, cuts to the chase of life itself. Life is short, success is hard. And thank God for that.

Anyway, I'm not here to pat Hugh on the back. He doesn't need it. (Besides, I bought some art recently, and I figure we're about even.)

But that quote made me think... what would I say to myself, say 15 years ago? Other than, "Are you Sarah Connor?" 

I know that hardcore advice, like "stop drinking", or "exercise more" would fall on deaf ears; even if it were coming from a 350 lb. alcoholic with an electric voice-box, so I tried to keep it simple.

Here's my first 10 thoughts:
  1. Keep working... at anything that pays.
  2. Quit hoping to be a stand-up, and go be a stand-up.
  3. You can't have 20 priorities. It's an excuse to not do anything.
  4. Quit drinking at bars so much. It's too expensive.
  5. Call your mother.
  6. That Elastica CD you bought isn't fooling anyone.
  7. Do more weekend trips to places you've never been.
  8. Carry yourself in a way that would piss off your ex-girlfriend.
  9. I'm not kidding. Ditch the  f*@#ing cowboy boots.
  10. Stop waking up the neighbours next door. They have kids, for cryin' out loud.
Anyway, barring any new discoveries at CERN, I'm guessing I won't be doling this advice out to the guy on Spencer Avenue in 1994, but it's a fun exercise. 

Not lost on me: 
smart 41-year-old would start planning the conversation he was about to have with that 56-year-old coming down the street in his DeLorean.

Oct 30, 2009

360° timelapse video on a car roof.

360° Panning-head timelapse drive: Toronto from Jeremy Sale on Vimeo.

The idea was simple (and certainly had been done before). The hardware was pretty easy to come by.

But the pucker-factor was huge.

Mount a battery-powered Meade panning head on the roof of a car with a Nikon D70s and an intervalometer. The camera shoots around one frame per two seconds, and the head rotates about once every ten minutes.

I have done car-roof timelapses before. Static, that is. The first time was really scary, wondering if my only camera and PClix were destined for the curb once I took a corner a little too fast—left to collect curious glances like those orphaned running shoes you see on the shoulder every now and then.

Coincidentally, my first mobile shoot was also the first time I ever drove under the speed limit for a 30 minutes in a row. First-born in the back seat? No problem. DLSR on the roof? Well, it's not like I'm picking favourites, but the Nikon might actually kill someone if things come unglued. After all, I installed it, remember.

As it turns out, a Manfrotto SuperClamp is probably stronger that the roof rack that it is attached it to. I could rock the car back and forth with it. Also, it's very easy to double and triple the redundancy of the rig with any number of wires, ropes and locks. Even if it gets decapitated in a Burger King drive-thru, the whole thing won't fall off your car. (It'll just scrape the paint off your roof and hang in front of your cracked windshield, as you drive to the bar, weeping.)

The thing is, a spinning tripod head can't easily be secured anywhere other than the base plate, which has only one screw-thread. If you attach a cable to the camera, the cable will eventually spool up snug and bring the rig to a stand-still, or worse.

Since I'm not a welder (and I'm not all that patient), I rolled the dice. It felt secure, and I was just doing a test shoot after all. Anyway, I got the results I wanted and nobody got killed.

I'd probably make some minor changes to the exposure and rotation speed, but I'm dying to try it again. Next time, my wife's cousin has agreed to weld a couple of links to the base plate, so that I can indulge my undying respect for Murphy's Law.

P.S.  Meade, stop putting 3/8" fine thread on your devices. There's a whole new world out there.

Sep 14, 2009

Don't do what "Jeremy Don't" does—Ep. #1

Welcome to my new column. "Jeremy Don'tis my alter-ego. He offers great advice to photographers who desperately want to sabotage their next shoot. The column exists 20% as a cautionary tale, and 80% to rap myself on the head.

Off the top of my recently rapped head, here's some solid advice.
  1. Slave your third flash at a birthday party with lots of camera-happy relatives, because you're too cheap to buy a fourth Pocket Wizard. Can you say strobe-light?
  2. Forget the phone number of your client at home, even though you have the location and time written down.
  3. Leave your battery charger at the event, plugged into the wall.
  4. Eat too much of the delicious food that is graciously offered at the event.
  5. Don't rent a wind machine. That would only make women look great, and give people a reason to flock to your photo-booth in an overly hot church basement.
  6. Make sure your gear bag has no business cards. Wouldn't want to get any other business, would you? No.

Notes on the above:
  1. What was I smoking exactly? I guess I just love the SU-4 feature so much, I forgot about the other humans who have flash cameras at birthdays. 
  2. Thankfully, did not need it.
  3. Had my name and # written on it in Sharpie.
  4. Good food is good food.
  5. Did not really need yet another expense digging into my bottom line. (If I did it again, I'd rent/buy it in a heart beat, though.)
  6. Had a whack of them in my car. Still. Come on.
Also, I finally remembered to white-balance with a card at the start of the shoot, rather than the next day. Lightroom always does a great job on RAW after the fact, but it was nice to actually use the thing for its intended purpose once.

Sep 10, 2009

Things to remember during a location shoot...

[Not an A-Z treatise or anything. Just some thoughts from my last shoot.]

There are times when the only thing you want to say to a client is, "Stay still. Smile. Keep doing that until I stop shooting." Because that's often what's on the tip of your tongue while the clock ticks, the batteries die, and the clouds roll in.

If I ever—for  second—felt that these words would get me some better shots,  I would try them. But, I'm pretty sure they don't. My mother raised a polite son, and as flustered as I ever get, I have always known that curt photographers don't get a lot of word-of-mouth business.

The best way to get a good portrait? Instill confidence and relaxation in the subject. That's 80% of your job—done. Smiles are natural and easily coaxed, you don't have to rely on sub-amateur words like 'cheese', and when the client eventually shows her teeth, the smile will touch her eyes. 

Sounds easy. But at the very time you should be making people feel relaxed—in an environment most humans hate—you are often wigging-out on technical junk that should already be taken care of. (e.g. if I've ever taken your photograph, and you've seen me wince for no apparent reason, it's because I'm imagining the myriad things I have done to sabotage my own shoot, even after the test-shots.)

The internal dialog for me is often: "Okay, can the sensor on the SB800 actually see my pop-up when I stand in front of the softbox? (click) Yes. Shit, what about that slaved rim light? I put it on channel 4, right? (click) Yes. Wait, is f/8 is good enough depth of field for three rows of people? (fiddle) No. What about the shutter speed I picked? (peek) God. Is that rain cloud going to mess up my TTL?"

Meanwhile twenty people are thinking, "Why does he keep shooting even though the baby's crying?" It's because I am second-guessing the stuff I was confident with five minutes ago.

Some thoughts:

  • Have a rough plan and stick with it until there's good reason not to. Is depth-of-field paramount, or is freezing action? Should I use CLS or Pocket Wizards? Figure this out before you even get there.
  • Check ALL your batteries and memory cards before you get to the shoot. Top-up the batts, regardless.
  • Get there early—or, as Chris Rock says, "There is on-time and late. There is no 'early'."
  • Do on-location test shots with the exact lights and lenses that you plan to use for the real thing. Find a stand-in; preferably not an ADHD toddler with his pet cat.
  • If you're using wireless flash, make sure it's popping consistently from the camera position you will likely be shooting from, not just when you're in the perfect spot, shooting directly at the sensor at full power.
  • Don't trust your LCD.
This last one is kind of like the Q-Tip people saying "don't put Q-Tips in your ears". You're kidding, right? Well, not really. As much as the LCD draws your eye (with powers roughly akin to Swedish cleavage) you should be trusting:
  1. Your eye.
  2. You histograms.
  3. Your blinkies.
Your eye. Look over the entire viewfinder when it's at your eye, not just the focus point. Pause and survey. Don't go full Uzi just because you think you should be ripping frames to impress the client. Now is the time to nail the cropping, to eliminate background distractions, to capture the smile before the blink happens.

Your histograms. If your light is nicely within the 0-255 swath, you're good. (Note: pixophiles will look at each separate channel, because the reds can be out-of-whack, but this is putting the 'anal' in analysis, in my opinion.)

Rule-of-thumb: err on the side of underexposed.

If histograms make you feel like you're failing calculus again, you can generally trust your blinkies. They're distracting, and they scare the tar out of anyone looking over your shoulder, but they're pretty reliable. And, of course, many perfectly-exposed images blink just because the sun is out. 

Oh, apropos of nothing... try to avoid shooting a dozen portraits in a row... with a frickin raindrop on the lens. Because that's what happened last week when I got distracted by a crying baby, an approaching rainstorm, and a finicky CLS receiver.

A raindrop. My 6-year-old would have noticed it. Because he trusts rule #1.

So, your equipment is good. Your plan is sound. Everyone's waiting. Now what?

The one thing I have some trouble resisting—especially in a group setting—is the dreaded 'count-down'. "Okay. On three... two... one!" That's what amateurs say when they desperately want people to care about what comes next. What should come next is: a bunch of good-looking people, timing their smiles, eyelids and hands to be in the exact right place when the shutter trips at the unspoken 'zero'.

Except this never, ever, happens. What you get instead are exaggerated smiles, clenched fists and the odd first-grader who says, "Blast off!" Who could blame them, really.

If you can't resist the count-down, try tripping your shutter on "two". Then fire again... and then again. A deliberate screw-up often invites a natural laugh... which then becomes the shot you wanted in the first place. Full point.

For children, the easiest, crassest thing to do for a smile is use toilet-words. (Hey, a smile's a smile.) The best part is, you don't have to be around when little Datona is running around the house, saying "Butthead! Butthead! Butthead!" for the next two weeks. (Just make sure you're paid first.)

And if they're all adults, you may consider raising the profanity bar somewhat. I've always been too scared to try, but my imagination on swear words makes Eddie Murphy look like Eddie Haskell. Have to try that some time. 

After I wipe my lens.

Aug 28, 2009

Help-Portrait wants photographers.

There's no way I can talk about this project without drifting into "Hey, look what I'm doing!", but seriously... if you have a camera and even one pico-clue as to how to take a portrait, book off December 12th... just an hour or two will do it. I have a feeling this will be one of the most rewarding Christmas presents you give this year.

Help-Portrait is the brainchild of Jeremy Cowart (I have half his name and half of 1% of his talent.  Coincidence?). He explains the whole thing way better than I, so just go. I'll be right here when you're done.

It's a simple, beautiful idea. I especially respect that he doesn't want to see the photos—God knows there will be a lot of them. This is not about creating buzz or blog-traffic. I have resisted mentioning it, because of that whole coattail-riding thing; but I finally decided that it was too important to not pass along.

Several weeks back, I hosted "Free Portrait Day" . It was a combination fund-raiser / practice session / publicity stunt... and, I got what I hoped for: Money for breast cancer research, solid photos for my book, and—as a solid bonus—a nice shout-out from David Hobby at Strobist. Help-Portrait is very different from that.

It's personal—between you and whomever you're helping. It's not going to clothe anyone, fill anyone's stomach, or cure cancer. But it just might give someone a smile on Christmas morning. There are worse things you could do.

Aug 24, 2009

The Dirty Dozen, with Jay Malone.

[NOTE: this is a very non-photographic post. It's a re-print from my article in Chill Magazine—that free Beer Store thing in the metal rack.]

Jay Malone is one of Canada's finest stand-ups. I caught up with him and asked him a bit about the biz. Check out his page here .
  1. 10 favorite comedians performing today?
    Louis CK, Brian Regan, Bill Burr, Jo Koy, Dave Chapelle, Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan, Ellen Degeneres, Zack Galifanakas, and Derek Edwards.

  2. Who are your five favorite Canadian comics? 
    Tim Steeves, Fraser Young, Debra Digiovanni, Derek Edwards, Ryan Belleville.

  3. What is the best attribute of an aspiring comedian?
    Thick skin.

  4. What is the surest way to fail miserably at standup?
     Ignoring audience reaction.

  5. Have you ever wished you could have an intervention with a really bad comedian, to stop them from wasting their life?
    At first I didn't care. I just figured, to each his own. Then I realized that they're taking stage time from people who "should" be doing it. And they're ruining it for the audience who have a bad experience and don't come back to the club! So yes, I do think that sometimes. But there might not be enough interventionists in the world!

  6. The First Commandment of Stand-up is...
    Know when you're jokes aren't working.

  7. The biggest sin in stand-up is:
    Blaming the audience when you're not doing well. (Though sometimes it IS them!)

  8. Is there anyone out there who you feel is succeeding despite their lack of talent?
    Of course there is, but they all have the other "attribute" that you need in comedy, 'persistence'. Otherwise known as 'moxy' or 'hustle', which I would argue is actually more important than being good on stage.

  9. What's your favorite bit that you do?
    "Penis Key."

  10. How come Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld have so few albums when they're considered such essential stand-up artists?
    They made a huge impact back when the number of albums was less important than the quality. Their albums were so great they helped raise standup out of the 'alternative' world and into the 'mainstream'. Today it seems it's more about "amount" of material than anything. Which is too bad but totally understandable. The internet is changing everything.

  11. Are albums important any more?
    Albums are still very important but are definitely less so for this generation. They still serve as a sign that you've made it. And also provide a lot of income for the comics. In addition they're a good way to do your material and then put it to bed. The album serves as a nice archive that will always be there. Something for fans to go back to. Whereas without shooting one, you're old material just disappears. However, with the internet exploding like it has, the album isn't the only way for a comic to get noticed or acquire fans anymore. You can simply shoot your own album nowadays.
  12. What is up with airline peanuts?
    Airlines serve peanuts??
Jay Malone hails from Kentville, Nova Scotia. He was the 2004 winner of the Homegrown Competition at Just for Laughs and is busy headlining clubs while pursuing a television career.

Stand-up and be counted.

[NOTE: this is a very non-photographic post. It's a re-print from my article in Chill Magazine—that free Beer Store thing in the metal rack.]

"Rice is great when you're hungry and want two thousand of something."
-Mitch Hedberg

I'm pretty comfortable talking about things which I know nothing about — barbecuing, touch football, anniversary gifts —but I have mixed feelings about stand-up comedy. On the one hand, I know more than your average bear, having performed quite a bit. On the other hand, I kinda sucked wookie when I did it.

Straight up: I am not a comedian, nor have I ever been a member of the comedian party. I haven't held a microphone in almost four years and my career earnings amount to precisely sixty dollars and eight Molson Exports. (You could surpass both by gathering empties on the 401 for an afternoon.)

I first hit the stage in 1990 — and when I say 'hit', I mean impacted... cratered... still-looking-for-the-black-box kind of 'hit'. My bombing happened right before the Gulf War — and was about the scariest thing I've ever experienced. Getting married? Skydiving? Walk in the park. Making fifty complete strangers laugh? Well, as British actor Edmund Keene said on his death bed, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." I pretty much took the next decade off.

"The Four Levels of Comedy: Make your friends laugh, Make strangers laugh, Get paid to make strangers laugh, and Make people talk like you because it's so much fun."
-Jerry Seinfeld

Even when I got back to it, rare was the month that I did four sets . That is not enough for comedic mastery. It's like doing 100 pushups a day... once a year. The equivalent of trimming four Christmas trees and implying that you're somehow a lumberjack. Real comedians work every day. You gotta write, edit, practice, promote, and perform all the time. Seinfeld did stretches in the 70's where he'd go eighteen months without missing a single day on stage. And remember, he wasn't getting paid back then.

Don't get me wrong; you absolutely have to get up there — even if you're not in it for the long haul. If people say you're funny and there's a 'new talent' night in your town, put down the damn Wiimote for five minutes and write some gags. Even if nobody says you're funny, but you feel the itch, pick up the phone and leave a message at the club. Just remember, when they finally call you back, life is going to get very strange.

"Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things. "
-George Carlin

Once you're committed, people will treat you differently. The closest analogy would be if you happened to be a pretty good cook, then suddenly decided to open a restaurant. Friends and relatives who once raved about your culinary prowess now look upon you with equal parts worry and pity. "Dude, you braise a mean coq au vin, but your own bistro? Good luck with all that."

Another unwelcome development is that any time you're funny,  people will think you're "doing a bit". The worst part is: you usually are. Then comes the unsolicited material: "You should talk about that time we stole the lobster tank from Mandarin... What about doing a joke about Dad's bed-wetting... You should lip-sync the Mighty Mouse theme, like Andy Kaufman!"

Which brings us to the greatest handicap in stand-up — that which is also the core of its beauty. It's you, and only you. Musicians can play cover songs well into a professional career, but comedians are never, ever allowed borrow someone else's material.  This is why a guy on stage might say, "I'd like to do a little something by Eddie Money," but will never say, "I'd like to do a little something by Eddie Murphy." 

Trust me — the emcee will know you stole it, and you'll never work at that club again. You'd be better off expounding Micheal Richards's views on African-Americans. Yeah... maybe don't do that, either.

"The good thing about being bisexual is that it doubles your chance of a date on Saturday night."
-Woody Allen

If you're a young, single guy who's considering a life in comedy, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is, you have no one at home who will get upset when you're hitting the clubs every night. The bad news is, it's a terrible way to meet women.

Women in the audience either come with a big, jealous boyfriend or a pack of co-workers who don't want your company. Also, since most comics are already uber-neurotic, consider the implications of two of them dating. All comedians share a trait called neediness. The need to make people laugh, the need to forge a bond with an audience, and the need to need to kill one other when they go out for more than two dates. 

"I believe in the institution of marriage, and I intend to keep trying till I get it right." 
-Richard Pryor

If you're a married guy, there's also good and bad news. The good news is, you already have lots of material to work with. The bad news is, you'll be out a lot, honing your craft. Here's a tip: if you're trying to sell this lifestyle to your significant other, don't describe it as a 'low-paying job', but as a 'free hobby'. Hopefully, your wife will be supportive. If not, you'll at least have a whole lot more material.

"Why should I do anything for posterity? What has posterity ever done for me?"
-Groucho Marx

So you wrote some gags; you practiced; you did the show. Maybe you even killed. But, hopefully, you bombed. Hopefully? Yes, because the only thing more dangerous than winning the first time you go to a casino, is kicking butt the first time you get on stage. You're going to have some tough nights, and if it happens sooner rather than later, it will save you a lot of future anxiety.

Oh, and memo to friends and family. The following is not a compliment: "You're brave. I could never do that."  What you're actually saying is, "If that was half as painful to perform as it was to watch, why didn't you just strip naked and smack your ass with a rolled-up newspaper for five minutes?"

It's not a life for everyone, but it's definitely a rush. Even if you only do it once, you'll be ahead of all those guys who die, never knowing that comedy was hard.

10 tips for aspiring comics :

  • Do it often. It's easier to nail your material and gain confidence with repetition.

  • Practice with the TV and the radio on. Learn to overcome distraction.

  • Figure out which way to twist the mic stand, before you're on stage.

  • Instead of cue cards, jot important words on your water bottle with a Sharpie.

  • Don't wear a funny t-shirt. It risks topping your material.

  • If you're nervous, look at people's hair instead of their eyes (unless Mr. T is in the audience, in which case you have bigger problems).

  • You shouldn't have to swear. It's like a "ninja using a gun".

  • When heckled, tell your mom to ease up a little.

  • Record your act, then smash the tape-machine when you realize how wimpy your voice is.

  • That blinking red light does not mean "fries are up".