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“A field guide to heckling” (my response)

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An article appeared in the Chicago Tribune recently in FAVOR of heckling. Apparently there is no real equivalency to heckling in the world of the written word, otherwise I’m sure the authors of this article wouldn’t be endorsing, encouraging, or condoning heckling in comedy. Sure, heckling sometimes leads to magical/improvised moments of genius…but to condone the practice of letting random people interrupt and alter a professional performance, even if only light-heartedly, is ludicrous to me.

Here’s the article: http://my.chicagotribune.com/#section/479/article/p2p-73895697/

Here’s the response I wrote to the authors…

No one should ever be 'in favor' of heckling.

No one should ever be ‘in favor’ of heckling.

I’m a professional comedian (meaning I’m pursuing comedy as a career), but by no means consider myself a ‘pro’ (as in ‘expert’). I fully expect that I have a lot of years of practice, trial/error, failure, and hopefully continued growth and success ahead of me. Before I ever tried stand-up comedy I spent several years performing improv comedy. I also don’t consider myself a ‘pro’ at improv. However, I’m quite comfortable improvising within and around a stand-up comedy performance. No two performances are exactly the same, ever. And, the unknown/unexpected moments in a stand-up set are indeed the moments where much of the best stand-up comedy is written/honed. For that reason, I also enjoy watching performers adapt to a unexpected situations…especially when they manage to pull it off with skill and seeming ease. It’s definitely exhilarating for the performer to capitalize on that moment as well as for the audience to witness it.

You know what else is probably exhilarating? Getting pushed on a rooftop and nearly flying of the edge toward injury/death but catching yourself at the last minute! That sounds pretty memorable too. What a story you would tell for years, as would anyone else who was witness to it! But, no one in their right mind would have anything but harsh criticism and serious chastisement for the person who did the pushing…the person who, without invitation/permission/warning, literally pushed another person to the edge of disaster. I liken any form of encouragement of heckling (even tongue in cheek) to this scenario.

Comedians should be praised for, and yes they can often benefit from, stepping up to the challenge of disruption/distraction that is heckling. And to use your own example of Zach Galifianakis, I’ve personally seen him completely disarm hecklers and thoroughly entertain audiences in the process…but I can’t imagine he ever encourages or hopes for such interruptions to his performances. If a comedian were to choose to encourage heckling during their own performances, OVERTLY build a reputation out of encouraging hecklers and taking on their challenges, that’s one thing. That is completely acceptable in my book. But, for anyone else (a fellow comedian, a writer, audience member, or basically anyone except the person giving the performance) to encourage or even condone heckling in a general sense is wholly frustrating.

Since you are writers, I’ll pose the argument to you in terms of writing, for the sake of comparison.

Imagine publishing an article in its final edited and “to be read by the masses” form. Now imagine that any random person reading that article could select any one paragraph in that article and completely remove it. No questions asked. You have to delete it.

Here are some options…

Option 1: No big deal, right? It’s just one paragraph. People can still get the gist of what your article is about. You can let that paragraph be deleted, not replace it, and hope the article retains it’s full effect and meaning for all the other people who are reading it.

OR

Option 2: HOORAY! The universe just handed you a gift! You have the opportunity to improvise and grow as a writer! You can retype a new paragraph in its place. But, you have to do it right now…don’t think, just write. You won’t be able to rewrite the original paragraph word for word, and it’ll probably be shorter and less accurate now. Clearly, the reading flow of the article is interrupted. And, you should probably start the new replacement paragraph with the all caps label “FORCED REPLACEMENT”. That way everyone else reading knows that the next paragraph was completely off the top of your head. Sure, it wasn’t the paragraph you had originally crafted and worked so hard to perfect. You had zero time to hone/shape this new one. But, if it’s especially good, the readers will be so impressed! And if it’s not that good, they’ll probably be disappointed at best (or think you’re a terrible writer, at worst). But, look on the bright side. You can still HOPE that the subsequent readers will just assume your first paragraph was well crafted and way better, even though they’ll never get to read it.

Now, imagine that this random paragraph deletion could potentially happen with ANY article you ever write and could even happen multiple times during a single article. And remember, the person doing the deleting was in no way involved in the original creation of the article. They probably have never written articles themselves about your subject or any other. They might not have even read many articles. Certainly they haven’t read articles as many articles as you have as a writer and fan of writing. They were likely unaware of all the information you collected from interviews and research and what inspired you to write the article in the first place. They didn’t know your intention for writing it, nor the point(s) you were trying to make. But all that’s fair, right? You want to grow as a writer, don’t you? So, they should definitely get to randomly edit your work. Oh, did I mention these amateur editors might also be drunk?

Would you welcome this kind of new challenge in your writing career? Sure, it might actually help develop better writers. You might even get pretty good at improvising new paragraphs. I mean, there would still probably be several articles that suffered or were completely sabotaged from these kinds of interruptions, but that’s why you got into writing in the first place, right? To have unqualified writers force you to interrupt and re-edit your work solely at their drunken whim?

Sarcasm aside, I get where you’re coming from on this. I really do. I love seeing improv done well. And, I especially love seeing hecklers get owned by a skillful, witty retort. But, I would never in a million years state or even insinuate that I am in FAVOR of heckling, any more than I’d be in favor of shoving unsuspecting people on rooftops just so we could all tell a crazy story about how they instantaneously learned how to not fall off a building.

Now, if you still won’t be quiet about this…we’ll have you removed from the room.

Start Spreading the News…

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It’s offical. I’m a New Yorkian, err whatever. Quick recap of my first 24 hours in the city. Food, Nap, Halloween Party at Etsy offices (very cool), Cardinals win the World Series (which is exciting because that means I don’t have to consciously NOT WATCH baseball for year), and I wake up the first morning to a beautiful (from inside at least) day long snowfall. Thanks for spoiling me, New York.

ATTENTION NEW YORK FRIENDS: 3 shows next week (see schedule)

Here’s the view out my front window when I woke up.

Beards of Comedy “Best Comedy Collective”

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Creative Loafing ATLANTA has selected the Beards as the “Best Comedy Collective” in the city. We’re really glad for the honor and recognition as we all transition to other parts of the country to continue to build our presence. Big thanks to everyone who has supported us through the years. THANKS!

(See article below)

In 2009, rising comedians Andy Sandford, Dave Stone, TJ Young and Joe Zimmerman looked for a hook to promote their touring shows. The then-clean-shaven Zimmerman suggested he grow a beard so they could take the name the Beards of Comedy. The Beards provide a laid-back but hilarious lineup, with humor ranging from Stone and Young’s self-deprecating quips about being big and sweaty to more conceptual shtick, like Sandford’s imitation of Morgan Freeman reading lyrics of the Wu-Tang Clan. The hirsute foursome reliably represent Atlanta’s scruffy alt-comedy scene — at least until they move to New York this fall. beardsofcomedy.com.

To see the listing on the CL Website Click Here.

LaughFest 2011 Review

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“I’ve seen T.J. Young perform a few times in the past and his material and delivery seem to improve with each performance. Young was probably the cleanest comic of the night, but he was also one of the funniest. Besides a fart joke or two, Young didn’t go for visceral or what some might call “cheap” laughs. I love dirty and/or childish humor, and I often find myself yawning in the presence of clean comedy. However, this comic won me over with his well-crafted observations on the mundane. The fact that Young didn’t have to say anything edgy to get laughs speaks volumes about his skill as a comedian—especially when one takes into account the fact that he was following a procession of edgier comics. And as a comic who calls Athens home, Young was clearly in his element; he even ended a joke by saying that it would only work in Athens. The joke involved pickup trucks, pickup lines and hybrid cars.”

This is an excerpt from a review of the LaughFest 2011 show at the 40 Watt, on Jun 22nd. Written by Kevin Craig, freelance writer for Flagpole Magazine. Click here to read the full article.

LaughFest Interview (AthFest 2011)

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TJ Young has performed in Athens for a decade now.

First honing his chops as a happy-go-lucky percussionist, he successfully parlayed his talents into a career as a happy-go-lucky comedian – who uses no percussion whatsoever.  But there is more to comedy than punch lines. And more to percussion than making loud noises – lest we forget a little thing called rhythm. If nineties trance act, Snap! taught us nothing else, they left us with this: “rhythm is a dancer.”  This bold and prescient claim has valid application in TJ Young, often found dancing at various Athens locales, rhythmically.  However this is more of a passion than a true calling. For a living, he tells jokes in front of real live people.

Late last week, he answered some of ABH’s questions on the way back from Indiana, a state in the union.  Wouldn’t you know it; some of his responses are legitimately funny. (JK, TJ; you had us in stitches, start to finish) We can’t wait for the show.

ABH:  TJ Young…Who is TJ Young?

Teej: I am TJ Young. I was on tour in Indianapolis with the Beards of Comedy…I’m heading back to Athens to perform at LaughFest 2011. We were traveling in a Lexus. So, we looked like high-class business travelers…if that business was donuts and farts.

ABH: What is the most interesting thing you’ve seen on the road today thus far?

Teej: It was a tie between seeing a fireworks stand called “Sad Sam’s Fireworks”…Sam was a crying clown, not kidding. I don’t think you should buy anything explosive from a clown, and especially not one suffering from depression. And, I saw a “Jewish Hospital”. I’d never heard of such a thing, but I knew it was a Jewish Hospital because it said it in huge letters on the top of the building…and it had big curly ribbons dangling down either side of the building. Which I thought was a bit much.

ABH: What are some interesting things we can expect to see at the 2nd Annual Laughfest?

Teej: You can expect to see a unicyclist on fire and a sasquatch juggling babies. I mean you WON’T see these things, but you can certainly expect to. You’re an adult, do what you want.

ABH: Who is performing at the show this Wednesday?

Teej: Dan Telfer, Dave Waite, TJ Young, Chris Patton, Natalie Glaser, Matt Gilbert, Luke Fields, and Drew Dickerson.

ABH: Favorite television show currently on air?

Teej: Game of Thrones… it’s like if Tosh.0 wasn’t about internet videos and it was set in medieval times.

ABH: How has Athens helped you grow as an artist?

Teej: I think the biggest advantage that Athens has been is it’s size relative it’s concentration of artists. There are so many creative people packed in this smallish town that it challenges you to do two things… 1) To CREATE – You’re constantly reminded and inspired to create and explore because the atmosphere here is so music/arts focused and 2) To – PROMOTE – There is so much here that you also have to learn to promote yourself and your art in order to get noticed, which if you desire to make a living as an artist it an important skill to develop.

ABH:  What musical act are you most excited to see at Athfest?

Teej:  Some would say that picking ONE band you wanna see at AthFest is like picking which of your children is your favorite. But, I disagree. The difference between children and musicians is that most children can be trusted to dress themselves. But, I will pick a handful… The Agenda, The Shutups, The Chasers and in keeping with this theme, THE Reptar.

ABH:  Great Picks Teej! We also love your new Beards of Comedy Video.  Heatles 2.0?

(This article appeared in the Athens Banner Herald – Wed. June 22, 2011. Interview by Jimmy Sherfy, a great freelance writer in Athens and a friend of TJ’s for many years. Thanks, Jimmy!)

“Smooth” move, TJ.

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Here’s a thing I did with my buddy Matt Chastain, with Chastain Creative. Fun, short little commercial spot for the local Smoothie King franchise. They were nice enough to give me free smoothies. Which was a bit of a consolation prize, as I found out that “split-screen” actually means “you don’t get to meet the girl.” Oh well, maybe it would turn out that SHE was also super cold and smells like fresh fruit…in that case, I’d rather have the smoothie. But, I’m sure she’s a nice lady.