Web Extras for "A Standout at Stand-Up"
Web Extras for “A Standout at Stand-Up: 83-Year-Old Finds Her Muse in Comedy” by Emily Harrison Weir
See Octogenarian Comic Dottie Segal Casper ’48 in Action
Enjoy video clips from an April performance.
Want ’Em Rolling in the Aisles? Here’s Dottie’s Advice to New Comics
Dorothy Segal Casper ’48 has a fine sense of the ridiculous that makes her a hit in comedy clubs. Here she shares some of the tips established comics gave her as a newbie to stand-up.
• Every experience can be turned into comedy. “I knew nothing. I didn’t even know how to hold a mike, but they [comedy club workshop participants] taught me. They told me how to stand on the stage first and how to hold the mike. He said, your mike is in front of you, but you’re turning your head so we don’t hear you. So my first line was ‘they taught me how to use a microphone, I hold it next to my chin so when I turn my head, the mike will go with me. Then I say, “I wish I could turn my head; it would make driving so much easier…especially backing up.’”
• Build the joke, but keep it short and snappy. “When I think of an idea, I write it down. Then I must rewrite it twenty times. They taught me how to cut things to the quick. If you’ve got an hour, you can tell a long story. If you’ve got ten minutes, you’ve got to do punchline, punchline, punchline. They told me how to lead up to a punchline by having things come in threes: one thing’s funny, the next thing is funnier, and then the punchline. “
• Leave ’em wanting more. “Save your best joke for your ending but use your second-best joke for the beginning of your act.”
• Know your audience. “One teacher said, ‘sit outside and watch your audience and choose your jokes according to who you see coming in.’ What works depends on your audience. With some, like an early Sunday audience, your jokes can’t be as sexual and you have to have slightly different stuff than for a Saturday night audience, when you want to go all out. One time we were told we had to be squeaky clean, so I rewrote some of my jokes. They were funny, but it was very hard work to get the audience with me. Everyday laughs are squeaky clean; that’s not why they’re coming to a comedy club.”
• Enjoy your favorite comic but always be yourself. “I don’t believe in ‘emulate your favorite comic.’ Being yourself is the only thing that works. After all, there already is that other comic.” What comics does she admire? “I always liked Mork [Robin Williams] from Mork and Mindy. I like Ellen DeGeneres’s easygoing humor, which sounds like it’s just rolling off her tongue. I also like the lady on YouTube who gives real, but crazy advice—I don’t know her name.”
Funny You Should Ask … 3 Experts’ Views of Dottie Casper, and Comedy
• Mark Craycroft, entertainment consultant and former director of entertainment for Dick Clark Productions:
Quarterly: What was your first impression of Dottie?
Mark Craycroft: The first thing I noticed was her willingness to understand the creative process of being funny. She understood that much quicker than most because of her life experiences. That one skill, no matter her age, is what made me want to answer her questions and help.
Quarterly: What are her gifts as a comic? Why is she funny?
Mark Craycroft: Dottie’s two great skills are timing and relatable joke writing. Everyone has had their grandmother make them laugh at one point, she takes that premise and runs with it.
Quarterly: Do audiences react differently to her than to younger comics? if so, how?
Mark Craycroft: After the initial “Hey! That could be my grandmother!” impression soaks in, the actual jokes are funny and relatable.
Quarterly: She says you gave her a start at appearing at other comedy clubs…why did you give her a chance?
Mark Craycroft: Her ability gave her the chance. People need to laugh in many ways. She’s a great left turn from a guy in suit or a young loud mouth offending someone’s wife! She gives people the feeling they’re in a theater. With one look people know she’s going to be non-offensive. That leaves one thing: ‘Is she funny?” She usually answers that question with a big yes. The comedy audience needs her more then she needs us.
Dottie Casper is what audiences needed ten years ago. Funny, relatable and worth the price of admission for you, your wife, and anyone else who loves laughing at life!
• Bobby Jewell, owner of Side Splitters comedy club, where Dottie got her start as a comic:
Dottie’s a sweetheart, and a wiry old broad; you gotta love her. A lot of people wonder about someone her age getting into what’s known as a “young person’s business,” but I never discourage anybody. We like to guide folks starting out with nuances that help them develop as comics, but she gets all the credit for her success.
She’s persistent, determined, and takes a lot of pride in what she does.
Yes, there’s a little shock value in some of her material. But mostly it’s that she exudes confidence; that’s what makes her funny.
• Maurice Jovan, who led the first comedy workshop Dottie attended, and was a major force in her early development as a comic:
Quarterly: What was your first impression of Dottie, the day she showed up for her very first comedy workshop?
Maurice Jovan: Well, she was definitely the oldest person who attended the workshop, but it’s not altogether rare to find people wanting to get into comedy at an older age. It’s not all those who have grown old in the business.
Quarterly: Other than her age, what did you notice about Dottie early on?
Maurice Jovan: Not right away, but maybe three or four workshops in, it was her material that set her apart. It was sharper than the material of the younger people in the workshop. I attributed that to the fact that she’d lived life and had richer stories to tell. She had a richer perspective and a deeper understanding of how to mine the material for laughs.
Also, she has an edge. She doesn’t do “blue” material per se, but every once in a while she’ll do something risqué and there’s a shock value to that because of her age. That makes those jokes funnier.
Quarterly: And after seeing Dottie develop as a comic, what do you notice about her style?
Maurice Jovan: She’s got a laid-back style of humor and a sense of honesty in her delivery. Some comedians—you can see them working. But Dottie has such an unassuming personality that you don’t see her ‘moving the shells,’ so to speak. You just listen to her, pretty much as you would to your own grandmother.
Dottie did not have a fear of looking bad or of a joke not working. If a joke didn’t work, she didn’t throw it out, she kept working on it. Her greatest strength is that she has no fear of failure.
She’s a fearless performer, and those are the ones that strike a chord with audiences because they put their whole self out there.
Quarterly: What’s the hardest thing to teach beginning comics?
Maurice Jovan: Getting up on that stage, before you say word one, is about 60 percent of it. Lots of people are funny with their family or friends, but you have to get up on that stage … After that, the hardest thing is not to be afraid of the silence. A lot of it is stage presence and attitude. You can teach people the mechanics—how to use a mike, how to move on the stage, how to use their stage presence—but you can’t give a comic stage presence.
July 20, 2010