by Kelly Zemnickis
School is back (or at least, it might be by the time this gets published)!! Either way, fall (or autumn) is almost upon us and I think a change of season is a perfect time to add some new reads to your bookshelf. I hope they inspire you to write more, whatever it is that you want to write about!
1. The Tao of Comedy: Embrace the Pause by Bobbie Oliver A priceless gift to the online comedy journey I took due to the pandemic was meeting folks like Bobbie. She has an awesome comedy resume and knows her stuff. She is funny and gracious. Her comedy home in L.A. is the Tao Comedy, an amazing space that’s inclusive and encouraging and a space that I wish I had the money to franchise… but what I CAN do in the interim is recommend that you get Bobbie’s book. It is filled with so much guidance and goodness you’ll wonder how you started stand-up comedy without it. One of the biggest take-aways for me was the reminder to slow down before my set, to focus on my breath and centre myself. And because of this, instead of my pre-jam head-banging playlist I’d use to psych myself up pre-show? I’m now listening to tunes like ‘Don’t Stop’ by Jon Baptise before each set, music that helps me settle down and tell that inner kid inside me “you’re gonna be great- go have fun”. I took a workshop with Bobbie recently and she reminded the class that our voices matter- and every type of person should do comedy because someone else might see themselves in that person onstage. As someone who started stand-up “later in life”, reminders that like that are like HUGE. This book helped me to slow down, and get into a more spiritual side of why I do what I do. I really can’t recommend it enough. It’s a game-changer.
2. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin This book was given to me by my former co-worker and my friend, Luba Goy. (Luba Goy is Canadian comedy royalty. Go google her now.) I was fortunate in a previous life to work with her on Royal Canadian Air Farce and was extra fortunate to have her accept an invite to my 30th birthday. She gifted me this book and told me at my party that “30 is the new 15”. I wasn’t even thinking of performing at the time she gave me this, but I think Luba saw the improv & sketch waters I was dipping my toes into and wanted to help me float along. I loved reading about how Steve Martin became the Steve Martin I grew to love. He’s a marvelous writer, so honest and eloquent and funny. Steve writes in the intro that “Stand-up is seldom performed in ideal circumstances” and oh how true that has been for the past year & a half!! I first read this book when stand-up comedy was just something I admired for the sidelines, and this felt like peeking behind the curtain. I am re-reading it now with different eyes and I can’t wait to find new gems or bits of wisdom to share with my fellow comics. Just read this book already, okay??
3. Laugh Lines: My Life Helping People Be Funnier by Alan Zweibel Was recommended by my friend Cory Kahaney, who is a brilliant comic and a wonder in the kitchen. (Google her too, oh… just look up everyone on this list.) Alan is an original SNL writer and helped to create the gem that was It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. This is another marvelous example of getting to peek behind that comedy curtain and do some super-cool time traveling. I loved reading about his friendship with Gilda Radner and re-living the magic of those early days of Saturday Night Live … learning that the theme to It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was written in an elevator… fun fact, my baking show on YouTube It’ll Be Fine: A Baking Show? When I asked my friend Cheryl Beatty to compose a theme song, I said I wanted to be like the theme song to IGSS. But I’m not sure if Cheryl also wrote her song in an elevator. But I digress. This is another book when reading it, I feel like I’m in conversation with the author – Alan is so good at his craft. I follow him on Instagram, and as I was finishing the book I happened to have submitted my very first writing packet to SNL. So I dropped him a note. To my utter delight, he wrote back and sent me words of encouragement. For someone I’ve never met, I’d jump at the chance to be his friend and would invite him to dinner if given the chance. Cory… make this happen! (Also, Alan co-wrote a film I just saw called Here Today which I can’t recommend enough. It’s heartfelt and funny and just perfect.)
4. The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin Speaking of food… Calvin is THE MAN when it comes to food writing. I was introduced to him years ago at an event in Toronto, he was speaking at an arts series or something of the sort and I went down intrigued and left enlightened. He’s SUCH a marvelous writer, SO funny and engaging, kind and honest. I feel like I’m traveling right beside him as he talks about the food he brings on airplanes or as if I’m in the kitchen with him and his late wife, Alice. He’s a great example of how writing can bring you into another world fully completely, and you’re walking with him in Kansas City listening to him say “any restaurant the executive secretary of the Chamber of Commerce is particularly proud of is almost certainly not worth eating in. Its name will be something like La Maison de la Casa House…” The Tummy Trilogy was a perfect introduction to his work. And then go read About Alice which is just stunning and the most loveliest of love stories. Calvin Trillin has range, friends… he’s a literary gem.
5. The Late Night with David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists (1990) by David Letterman & the LNWDL writers This is just a book of lists, yes. But as a kid who stayed up late to sneak in a viewing of Letterman and marvel at the goofy adventures he dived into each night, I literally couldn’t wait to buy this book when I heard it came out. A book of lists?! SIGN ME UP!!! I used to make notes on my calendar when he’d do his Charts & Graphs segment. Had he released a book of Charts & Graphs I’d honestly have bought that too.I think this is a marvelous example of how I love being organized and making people laugh… I’m not your typical creative who lives at a messy desk. I have two calendars in front of me as I write this. My pens in a PANTS mug off to my left, purchased the first time I went to a Late Show with David Letterman taping. Friends mock me when I complain my apartment is a mess and ask if I have a magazine out of place. ANYWAY… My favourite list to this day is Top 10 List of Numbers Between One and Ten (fun fact: 5 & 6 tied for first). I’m not sure if it can still be found for purchase, and plenty of the references don’t hold up in 2021, but if anything this is just a great reminder to stay silly.