As part of our global expedition that explores what makes things funny, Joel Warner and I are grilling humorists about the science behind scoring laughs.
Folks are a-twitter over all the ladies taking over comedy these days. Chelsea Hander. Amy Sedaris. Kristin Wiig. Lena Dunham. Does this mean the women of comedy are finally getting their due?
Probably not, considering we’re still asking questions like this.
Take Christina Pazsitzky. The nationally recognized comic was a writer and round-table regular on the E! show Chelsea Lately, and is one of the comedians featured on the new, all-female stand-up series Standup in Stilettos, on the TV Guide Network. But please, don’t call her a “girl comic.” She hates it. And the label doesn’t do her justice.
After all, she’s also a TV celebrity, having been a cast member on MTV’s Road Rules Australia and hosted the FX series Hitchiker Chronicles. And she’s an animator, writing and doing voice work for projects like the film TV: The Movie and the television series Trolls. And her comedy? It’s not “girl comedy,” whatever that means. It’s raw, witty and unexpected — pure unisex hilarity.
Humor Code: How do you define humor? What do you think makes things funny?
Pazsitzky: Geez, start with the easy question first. Firstly, I think taste in humor is as subjective as taste in music. So for me, I like what is inappropriate.
Humor Code: Were you born funny, or did your funniness come from practice and development? Does good comedy have to come from a screwed-up childhood?
Pazsitzky: I’d say I was born with the ability to be funny, then honed it through a screwy childhood and adolescence. I honestly don’t know why anyone who didn’t come from a troubled childhood would choose stand-up comedy as a career path. It’s full of the same emotional patterns that are in a bad childhood: the approval/disapproval cycle, financial instability, loneliness, moving place to place. It just kind of continues the same crap I grew up with – which is why it feels so right.
Humor Code: What are the biggest misconceptions about what you do?
Pazsitzky: That it’s easy. Everyone thinks they can be a comedian but they don’t know there’s a vast difference between telling a joke to your buddies and getting on stage in front of a ton of people. It’s a skill like any other. Just like a carpenter, it takes years to hone your craft and get good. For some reason, people feel challenged and threatened by what we do. That’s why they yell out and heckle during a show. Yet they wouldn’t yell out at a theater performance. Why? Because they feel they can do what you do as a comic – and they’re usually hammered.
Humor Code: Can you give an example of when one of your jokes failed badly? Can you explain why it failed?
Pazsitzky: The times my jokes fail are when the emotion of real anger comes through. People can sense when you’re doing mock anger or when the emotion is too raw. So if I’m talking about something that really bothers me, I have to process the feelings first, then step back to write about the matter.
Humor Code: In your opinion, what makes a good comedic performance space? What makes a bad space?
The ideal space is a small room made of brick with low ceilings. The audience all faces one direction – towards you, and they’re not chomping on nachos. The sound is great, lighting is bright, but not blinding you to the point of not being able to see the crowd. I need to see the disappointment on their faces.
Things that make a shit room: The bar is in the back of the showroom so you can hear all the daiquiris being blended, ice being crushed, orders being yelled, etc. The servers talk loudly to the patrons taking orders. Patrons eat seafood or some type of cumbersome food during your show. Patrons are allowed to talk, yell, whistle, be on their cell phones during your set and nobody polices the room.
But the thing that ruins stand up the most is DRUNK AUDIENCE MEMBERS! I hate when clubs let in the drunks who have been going at it since5 pmthat night and it’s now11 pmand they’re hammered. They don’t listen to jokes, they are disruptive and ruin any ability for me to be vulnerable up there.
Humor Code: What is the worst heckling you’ve ever experienced? How do you handle hecklers?
Pazsitzky: I had a beer bottle thrown at me once.
I like to shame the heckler early on. From the first peep I emasculate them. Since it’s usually men, I say “Shhhhh, Mommy’s trying to tell jokes now.” Then if it gets worse, I’ll lay into them harder. If the heckler is female, I have an easier time laying into to her. Because she likely won’t get pissed and want to hit me.
Humor Code: How could the comedy industry do better at finding/fostering/promoting new talent?
Pazsitzky: When you’re starting out, this industry wants you to fail. It dares you to keep going. There’s a handful of clubs that treat feature acts and MCs like garbage. It’s so stupid because today’s MC and feature is tomorrow’s headliner and they’ll remember how they were mistreated. Comedy is a game of attrition. Whoever has the severe emotional problems to stay and persevere will make it.
Humor Code: How is technology changing comedy for the better — and how is it making it worse?
Pazsitzky: Technology has helped keep comedy independent and in the hands of performers. The only shitty part is reading the awful comments bloggers and Youtube commenters make about you. Over all, it’s been great, though. We no longer have to rely on TV execs to give you their blessing. You can make your own content and reach your audience.
For more about the Humor Code, check our:
Huffington Post blog.
Psychology Today blog.