Comics find laughs by telling the truth
When doing stand-up, comics have to find what works for them. Some get loud and make funny faces. There are those who take on a flippant persona or pick on the absurdities in the world, while, others, use props and gimmicks.
The tool that Patrick Keane and Todd Sawyer use is personal truth.
The comics, who will perform at the Egyptian Theatre on Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4, elaborated on that topic with The Park Record during two separate phone interviews from Los Angeles, Calif., last week.
Patrick Keane has been making a name for himself with appearances on Comedy Central’s "Live at Gotham" and "The Late Show With Craig Ferguson."
He’s also been a guest on "The Bob and Tom Show" and is a regular at the Improv and Comedy Store in Hollywood.
For him, comedy was something he had to do.
"It wasn’t like I said to myself, ‘I want to be different,’" he explained. "It was more like this is the only thing I could ever do. And the truth is, half of me enjoys it, but half of me needs it."
Part of the urge was to talk about himself, but try to do it in a clever way.
"I always walk the line where the material can stop being funny because it becomes too much about me," he said. "So, I try to find that balance.
"I do talk about growing up Irish and playing sports, and I like to go a little deeper than that, but at the same time, I don’t want to sound pretentious," he said. "The material has to be fun and funny, and unless I can find a funny take on certain things in my life, I won’t go there."
This is why some of Keane’s comedic influences are Bill Murray, Gene Wilder, Rodney Dangerfield and Jerry Seinfeld.
Still, Keane found being a comic was harder than expected.
"The thing I have learned along the way is that comedy is a lifetime thing and it’s more work than I thought it would be," Keane said. "I got into comedy to have fun, because I saw all these comics having fun on stage, but in reality, I’m working harder than I ever have in any job.
"Seriously, if I worked as hard as I am when I was a student, I would probably be a CEO by now," he said.
Another lesson Keane learned is that comedians, like other performing artists, do suffer for their work.
"I always thought that if I dedicated my life to it, the career would give me back something and I will be successful, but that’s not the case," he said with a wry laugh. "There are plenty of people who dedicate their lives to their craft, and at the end of their lives, they still don’t see any kind of financial return."
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any rewards in making audiences laugh.
"I like it when people coming up to me and telling me what a great show I did," Keane said. "They may not remember what I said during the show, but they remembered I was funny."
Sometimes the reward is just being at the right place at the right time.
"I got to open for a comic during a sold-out show at the Warfield in San Francisco," Keane said. "To play for a packed house on the same stage that Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young and the Grateful Dead played on, was amazing.
"And on top of all this, I get to meet girls," Keane laughed.
When Todd Sawyer gets on stage, he opens himself to the audience like a long lost friend.
"I can’t be too personal enough, and the more I try to talk about my own experiences, the more real the comedy is," he said. "I mean, I will try to tell you my story about going to the dentist, and hopefully you will relate to it."
From his early days as a comic 25 years ago, Sawyer avoided talking in generalizations.
"I’ve never wanted to say, ‘Women are this way’ or ‘Men are this way,’" he said. "I’ve always tried to say, ‘My nephew said this’ and ‘I said that,’ because the more honest I am about being a human being, the more the audience will find the relatable stuff."
However, there are some challenges Sawyer comes across when he tries to make these personal stories into good material.
"My job as a good comic is to write all the time, and I found if I write 10 jokes, then usually only three will be good," he said. "I’ve learned, also, that I have to write all 10 to find those three."
In being truthful, Sawyer likes to touch on personal subjects such as divorce, but in a way that opens the door for some funny, but critical insights.
"I don’t like jokes that start, ‘My ex is such a witch,’ because it’s like a short cut," he said. "I like to start off by saying, ‘It hurt when I got divorced,’ because from there I can write a bunch of jokes about being divorced," Sawyer said. "That’s how my whole act is. It’s based on what the audience believes."
Throughout his career, Sawyer has explored different avenues in making people laugh, and through them, he’s become an in-demand writer who has written jokes for Ron White, who was part of the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" and for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
"If you stick around long enough, you meet people," Sawyer said. "One of my buddies is a speech writer who writes jokes for politicians and military guys, and he called me and asked if we could work together to put some things together for Kissinger."
The White account came about after White’s road manager saw Sawyer perform.
"He said, ‘I think you would get along great with Ron and he needs someone to open for him,’" Sawyer said. "One thing led to another and I spent three years on the road with Ron."
During one show, Sawyer experienced the biggest reason he does stand-up.
"I remember meeting a woman who I saw in the audience who didn’t laugh once," Sawyer said. "I can always find that person, but I didn’t say anything to her during the show. Anyway, she and her son came up to me afterwards and her son said, ‘My father passed away this week, and I made my mom get out of the house, and we had a great time.’"
He also likes it when people come up and say, "Thanks for telling me that it’s OK to be divorced."
"When that happens, I know that I’m doing what I’m suppose to be doing, Sawyer said. "Those are the kinds of things that motivates me to continue what I’m doing, even though I have to pay rent and stuff like that."
The Egyptian Theatre will present stand-up comedians Patrick Keane and Todd Sawyer on Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $19 to $34 and are available at http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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