Being funny isn't something to take lightly. Sure, you're the friend Mary turns to when she needs to chuckle off a tough day at the office. Yeah, Mark is always nudging you at the bar saying, “Tell them the one about the rabid monkey and the three-legged elephant.” So you can tell a joke, but do you have what it takes to be a stand-up comic? With a cup of coffee in hand and a world-famous Frontier breakfast burrito stuffing his face, local up-and-coming comedian Marc Shuter tells the Alibi why funny isn't the only skill you need to bring on stage.
How did you get into comedy?
I started when I was a junior in high school. Laffs was doing an open mic once a month, so I would drive [from Angel Fire]. I thought I had built some kind of a rapport at the club, so I came to UNM—which was stupid, because I didn't really. ... I thought it would be a lot easier than it is. I was pretty sure I would have a Grammy already. That didn't pan out.
Where does your material come from?
From interacting with the people of the world. Actually, I thought of a good premise while I was ordering my burrito. There was a little girl sitting on the bench, and I wanted to sit down, but I realized that you couldn't sit down next to a little kid in public any more or people will think you're a pedophile. Which isn't a joke yet, so I'll have to work on that. All I have to do is the hard part.
Which is ...
Punch lines. People who have any longevity in this business do that every day.
Just think of jokes?
Just commit to writing every day. I've seen people once a year for three years, and they have the same shit every time. What have they been doing? If you can't motivate yourself, you don't have much chance. People think comedians only work an hour a day, but when a comedian hits the stage, I'd say at least 75 percent of the work has been done. He's written the jokes. He's memorized it. He's gotten booked. He's driven there.
Now you’ve experienced this situation where you saw the little girl, but you didn't sit by her. What happens next to turn it into a joke?
Next, I write it down. Either that day or a lot later I go back to it. Sometimes it works if you wait a week or two, ’cause then you have a different perspective. There are always at least two sides of the story to each joke. You have to see both of them before you can write the joke. [The girl on the bench] made me laugh. They don't usually make me laugh.
How do you gauge it then?
Sometimes I write jokes that I think suck, and then it's my new closer. And sometimes I'm like, “Oh, this is solid gold," and then I tell it, and it's fucking nothing, so then I cuss the audience out. That happens a lot.
It's trial and error all the time?
Richard Jeni said: You try out 100 things, one of them works, now you have one. You try out 100 more things, one of them works, now you have two. Richard Jeni—that guy's for real. He's been in the business for a really long time. He's funny as hell, too.
So you come up with this joke about the girl and pedophilia. You go up to tell it, and you know someone in the audience might have a daughter who has been affected by pedophilia, or some similar situation. How do you turn it into enough of a fictional thing to let people into the joke without being afraid of offending someone?
Well, the angle I would come from is not that I rape little girls. It's the fear that someone would perceive it that way. That's where the funny is, in the misconception by other people of me sitting next to her. In that case, it's more making fun of people's already set assumption of an older guy [sitting next to] a younger girl. In that case, I'm not doing anything bad. The victim isn't me or the little girl. It's everyone.
Would you say more of your jokes are narrative stories or do you have a lot one-liners?
I've got a lot of one-liners. I'm working on trying to make longer runs. It's really hard to sit down and write a chunk. If it's something real that people can relate to or acknowledge in themselves—like [the girl on the bench]—the laugh would be a lot more wholesome and real than if I told a joke about the Pope and a cowboy walking into a bar.
Anything else about starting out in the comedy business?
If anyone's half serious, the first thing they need to do is write. And write, and write and write. Once you get funny, you'll get attention. You can't skip steps. There are going to be a lot of years of shit before you can make a decent living at it.
Got a good one-liner?
I got a bonsai tree, and the instructions said if I wanted to keep it alive I had to recreate the environment of Japan the best I can. So every week I pick it up and shake it in my Godzilla suit.