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Want to learn how to kick-start a career in comedy as a student? Listen along as one of LMU’s favorite comedians, Zoe Zakson walks us through her creative process and shares some comedic advice.
I’ve been doing stand-up since I was 16. And my first time doing stand-up was like, I don’t know if this counts, but like I took like a class at Second City and then we had like a showcase at the end of it. But it was just the parents that came so it’s like, they were all trying to laugh really, really hard, but it was fun. But my first like, actual standup was at I think Roses Lounge in Chicago and then I got kicked out afterwards because I didn’t know you had to be 21 to like be in a bar. And so I was like, I like walked in and like I did my entire set and like lowkey was like funnier than any of the other like Millennials there and like kind of ate down and then I like mentioned something in my set about how I was like 17 and then afterwards they came up and they’re like you gotta goats I was like okay, perfect. But hey, left my mark on roses tap and lounge.
All right. Do you have like a idol when it comes to who like really got you into comedy?
Um, I really Chelsea Peretti’s stand-up, like she has a stand-up special on Netflix called “One of the Greats” and that’s like, my favorite stand-up special ever. And it makes me laugh no matter what. I had like horrible food poisoning once and I watched her stand-up special and then I was fine, she literally healed me. But it’s so good and like her style of comedy is so funny and like so physical and I just love her and I think she’s hilarious. She’s Gina on Brooklyn 99 if you don’t know
Funniest character, um, so I really I love her so much.
Where do you get her inspiration for the jokes that you write like typically?
Um, so I tend to like all my all my jokes pretty much are about like, just things that have happened to me. I just like think about like, what have I done in the past month or like, weird stories from my childhood and stuff because I don’t know. I feel like I can make fun of myself and everyone can laugh at it. And so I think and it’s kind of healing in a way to where it’s like, I can tell these stories that were like probably really like traumatic at the time, but then like, I’m sharing them with an audience. We can all giggle at it together. All right, everything’s fine.
So what are some features of a good joke? Like, do you like, need to open up someone’s mind with your jokes with every joke? Is it all in the timing? Like, what is it that makes for a good joke?
I think the timing is a huge part of it. And I didn’t even and I didn’t even realize that until like, I would be or timing and wording two or two things, but like, I would be like watching like sitcoms as a kid…and like if they like said a joke and it didn’t land I would like re-say it in my head and I was like that’s “how it should’ve been said!” Which is like a dumb thing for a child to be doing. But yeah, I think timing is a huge thing. Especially because you have to like read the audience and go with like the flow of like their laughing and stuff because you can’t like deliver a punch line if everyone’s still laughing, you know, stuff like that.
So we all know every joke needs a punch line, but I know there’s more that goes into it than that. What are the aspects that make up a joke like what’s a what’s the formula for like a banger joke? Like just a killer?
Gotcha. So like, write this down everybody, and you’ll be you’ll be successful afterwards. So I usually if I’m telling a story about something, setup is really important. Make sure that like the audience knows like, everything that they need to know to like piece together the punchline or else you don’t want to leave them confused.
I mean, like, I don’t really know quite what the story was. There has to be in a concise manner so you tell you know the basics that they need to know at the beginning with as least words as you can and then there’s a lot of like, just like in like screenwriting or something you want to like add stakes like heightened things, right?
So you want to like build up there the tension almost until you get to the punchline and that’s when you can release the tension in the room and everyone can laugh about it together. And so I think like building it up and then like, letting it all go is a good rhythm.
What types of jokes do you typically tell what’s your go-to? I’ve been doing this thing lately.
I don’t know if it’s considered a one-liner, but I like to read a list. And I have been doing these lists or I’ll just like title them something random, like “things I need to complain about” or like, like “things that I should have thought were like a red flag in my childhood” or just like random things. Then it’ll be like 10 or 15, like things that are maybe one liners and maybe a little bit longer, but I find that those work really well because they’re like short and fast and like send them out the rhythm of those is good. So, it’s mostly one liners, I guess and like anecdotal stuff.
Okay. So what do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
I like and this is very like “ladybird writers in the woods” of me, but I like go to the like, Marina in Marina Del Rey and just like, sit there and be like, very mysterious. And just like, write and write for hours because like I just like need to be like somewhere silent in public where like don’t know anybody but also I’ve realized that like, I will like look at my photo stream from like, either recently or like when I was little and just like look through stuff because it’ll like jog my memory of like, things that like I’ve wanted to tell stories about like forgot and so yeah, just like going through the memories. There’s always something hidden there.
Do you have any jokes that you’ve written recently that we could walk through just to see the process that you talked about, like the formula-type thing?
Let’s get something out. Let’s see. Just looking through my notebook. Yeah. Okay, well, actually, yeah, we’ll do this one. Okay. So it’s called POTS superhero, which is like, dumb, but anyway, okay. So basically, the premise of the joke is that like, I have this chronic illness, where like, sometimes if I stand up too fast, I pass out and that’s like, pretty much it. It’s like really strange, but Okay, so we’ll set it up at the beginning where it’s like, I talk about like, oh, I have this thing called POTS.
It’s like Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. It’s really weird. A strange disorder, but I’m like, really glad I didn’t have it in middle school. And then you’re gonna do like half a punch line to keep people laughing because you can just tell a story and have no jokes in the middle of it because then people get bored. So I’d be like, that means two things like number one, I’m I would be a really bad superhero because they would be like, it’s only like somebody tell me like one second, and it would take me a couple minutes to get up. Which would make me super bad at being a superhero.
And then the second thing is that it’d be a really good target for bullies. Because like, I could be arguing with somebody, and they’d be like, stand-up, and then I’d go and then this would be the punch line. I’ll go “Um, James actually men fight sitting down”. Something dumb like that. Um, and then sometimes you want to do something like after if like as a little transition, and so I will go, the great thing is if like I was in a superhero movie, like I would cut the budget in half because I am my own villain.
Now that Zoey has given us her step-by-step process of writing a joke. Let’s hear her tell one live. Here’s a clip of Zoey following that format.
We’re figuring out who we are going into who we are and discovering our identity. And I’m really glad to be able to do it, like in a time now where everyone’s like, chill mostly. Well, like I’ve noticed that like, I think maybe we’ve gotten so far to the left that we’ve kind of circled back around. Anyone here get like, reverse misgendered?
Like, it’s gotten to a point where like, I’ll tell people my pronouns right? I’ll be like all my friends that she/her and they’re like, really? Like, have an active argument with me. Like I was getting lunch on campus the other day and I went to pay for my food. I didn’t have any money. And the girl in front of me, who is in the audience tonight I just learned, she goes into the cafe and she’s like, alright, I’ll take this and then I’ll pay for..theirs.
Okay, with the process of writing jokes and putting the whole routine together. How do you decide about the order that jokes go in? In a routine? So do you have like a plan going in? Like, how does that work?
I always have a plan of like, I’ll usually have like a list in my notebook of just like, I read it really big so I can see it. But just like the headlines of all the jokes, and it’s always in an order, and I never strayed from the order. But that’s because like you want to have a transition in between your jokes. So it’s not just like, oh, blah, blah, airplane food. And then by the way, my mom like, it would be weird. And so you want to make sure you have a transition. So it’s smooth so that they don’t realize you’re going from joke to joke. It just sounds like one long continuous thing. So I always want to start with something that I know is gonna get a laugh, like so usually not something super new. Or something that I’ve like told my friends and they’ve like laughed at because you want to start off good because if you start off or something that kind of flops in there, like the audience is gonna be iffy for the rest of the set. So you want to do some of that, you know, it’s gonna get a laugh at first
Here’s a live example of a joke that Zoey used to start out her set.
Wow. First of all, if you’re a child of divorce, can you make some noise? I’m not I just feel really bad, and then you can kind of throw in shorter stuff in the middle. I like to end with a longer joke because those usually have a bigger payoff, and we’ll get a bigger laugh. And then I been doing those lists, like I said, and so those will typically go either first because I know that they’ll get giggles or like somewhere in the middle. But not usually last, so yeah. All right.
Another thing I wanted to ask about the process was Do you like how do you test out your jokes? Like, can you only do it with strangers? It had to be someone you know,
I used to like, try and tell him like my family and friends. And then I realized that that just like made my confidemce so low because like, my parents don’t laugh at anything. And so I realized that like, I can’t like tell anybody a joke before I do it. Like if I practice it too much then like it comes becomes like very formulaic and it doesn’t have like the same like, just like, oh, like I’m having conversation with the audience kind of vibe. And I don’t find that it’s like as fun to tell. So like, I usually, if I practice them, it’s literally only in my head, like I literally sit on the floor, and I close my eyes and I literally just say it in my head and that’s like how I get like the rhythm of I get this visualization, but like, Yeah, I’ll do that. But yeah, I have a thing where like, I can’t say any of them like too many times or else like I can’t. Maybe this is just like ADHD thing, but I get so bored of it like after like two times with my mom. Like I get halfway through I’m like I don’t really want to finish this right now.
I always figured that like comedians would go on like Omegle to tell jokes that way people will just be brutal. Just absolutely brutal. We would tear you apart, honestly. So you gotta you gotta be in like the right mental state for that. I feel like okay, so about your gig this week. I understand that it’s a recurring thing. So can you tell me a little bit about how you got it and what it’s been or what it was like to like find a place to perform.
Um, so I started interning at this place called the Crow just doing like video cuz I’m a film student, and it’s owned by Mickey and Nicole Blaine. They’re both LMU alum, okay. And they’re like the greatest people ever. And Daphne Reese who also works there. She’s not only alone, but she’s just awesome and shout out to her. But yeah, basically I found out about this internship on like,the plug handshake, and I was just doing like video work for them for a while. Then I’d like told them or like that I that I also did stand-up and whatever. And I had just done my like student showcase here where I do like a 30-minute set. So that was like big for me. That’s how I know about that. And about how like, I don’t know, I just was like, I want to like do a show that’s like for college kids because I have been going to like all these open mics off campus where it’s like, seven old people and it’s like, not fun at all. And I was like, I just hate that environment. And I want somewhere where like, like we do like here at The Living Room where it’s like all college kids and we like all laugh together because we all have the same sense of humor, you know? And so it’s like, I want to do something like that. But like in like the real world, you know, like an actual club and stuff. And I guess like Nicole had been really wanting to do something like that at the Club for a while. And yeah, pieces just falling in place really well.
I was just thinking about it’s it must have been like so kind of jarring to do stand-up at school like to be starting a stand-up career so young and like that is in and of itself like so bold and so like you have to have so much like competence, but to do it in front of your peers is like I’m so impressed.
I never thought about that. But that is like a pretty high stakes environment because like if you like fuck up everyone’s like, damn, like I will be talking to Tao.
My nightmare! So for those of us interested in attending those weekly or sorry, monthly events, what are they? Where are they?
Okay, first show is this Thursday, February 2 at 8pm. Doors are at 7:45. get there early. You have to buy ticket online. The link is in my Instagram bio if you look up Crow Comedy it’s also there. If you look up Crow Comedy on Google, you can find it there. The show is called is called the kids are fine, not great. Because the kids are fine but they’re not great. Okay. And it’s a play on The Kids Are All Right, obviously. Um, but yeah, at first it was February 2, It’s at the crow in Santa Monica. There’s free parking —which they really want me to plug— is the fact that there’s free parking. It’s like a big lot. Very spacious, lots of free parking. There’s so much parking you guys. And the second show is it’s the first Thursday of every month but that’s like a confusing thing to say. So the second show was March 2, April 6, May 5, June…June something and Thursday, June the next Thursday. Yeah, but come to like any and all of them. Please come!
Link in bio, what’s the Instagram?
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I started doing stand-up because I kind of realized that like, literally if you’re laughing at something you’re not worried about anything else. And like I struggle with mental illness a lot as I know, like a lot of us do. And I kind of realized that like when I was like giggling or like watching TV or something that I like wasn’t worried about anything else that was happening. So I wanted to be able to like do that for other people. And also like, for myself, because like when I’m telling jokes and like being goofy, I’m not worried about anything else.
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