In rage or outrage

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How celebrities continue to bait the public on social media

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Feb 24, 2016

When you are a celebrity trying to promote yourself, no news is not good news. It’s better to receive hate from some than go completely unnoticed. That has been the philosophy of many celebrities who have taken to Twitter to make a big splash before sinking back into the depths of their wealth and sorrow.

But the barrage of outrage has become too much for British comedian Stephen Fry, who rage-quit Twitter after the criticism he received for a joke he made at the BAFTA Awards show. Or was it just another publicity ploy? While hosting, Fry zinged costume design winner Jenny Beavan for dressing like “a bag lady.” The Internet rose to Beavan’s defence, calling out Fry’s “offensive” comment on Twitter. Comedians defending their jokes on Twitter is not anything new, what’s surprising is that they continue to respond to those faceless voices even though they know they cannot fight the trolls.

I don’t believe Fry was harmed by the comments, I believe Fry was doing what celebrities do best, which is making the PR move that will garner them the most press. Quitting Twitter was the apt solution. It silenced the critics and made his fans appreciate him more. It also got him trending, which is rare for the BAFTA host.

Ricky Gervais, another fellow British comedian, is also no stranger to online outrage. As the host of the Golden Globes this year, Gervais made it his sole purpose to poke Hollywood celebrities and the Internet bear that defends them. Why? He openly admitted it. The more people bitching and moaning about how offensive he was on the show, the more publicity he gets. The more you get people talking about you, the higher you rise up on the Internet’s relevancy meter.

Celebrities have a powerful voice. When they speak, people listen, even when what they are saying is complete garbage. How has Donald Trump gone as far as he has on the presidential campaign? Shock factor. You cannot ignore it or pretend it wasn’t said because everyone will be talking about it days later. Simple yet ridiculous ideas that go against the grain are bound to evoke more attention than playing by the rules, nodding to what everyone else is saying, and conforming with the crowd.

Lastly, there is Kanye West. Does he have a new album coming out? Of course he does. But he didn’t market his new work as the latest Kanye West album, he marketed himself as a brand—a brand that’s so good it doesn’t give a fuck what you think. He sided with Bill Cosby, called out Taylor Swift, asked Mark Zuckerberg for money, and compared himself to Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry. Think about all the demographics he hit with those comments. Think of all the people he offended and honoured. He’s tapped into the Internet’s pathos and has manipulated it to do his album’s marketing for him.

So the next time you hear about celebrities saying something outrageous on a public platform, ask yourself: Do they want me to retaliate, or repeat what they said like some sort of megaphone?

Watching the Audience: Why I Did Standup Comedy and Why I Stopped

Published November 22, 2015 on Medium.

Public speaking. What an irrational fear. Yet, we are all in one way or another are terrified of it. Some harness that fear and turn it into a skill set. Others retreat into the crevasses of society, taking on jobs and lifestyles that do not demand any formal public speaking. In a digital world, we as humans no longer rely on our voices; we rely on posts and tweets, images, and upvotes. We share our opinions not on soapboxes but in textboxes. We no longer stand up on stage and watch the audience.

I wanted to be an entertainer ever since I was in elementary school, and for many years, I considered it less of a yearning and more of a destiny. The class was my audience and my teachers were my toughest critics. I got as many laughs as I did detentions and it was becoming clear that I had a knack for timing — just not in terms of professionalism.

If you don’t hit the audience with a punch line at the appropriate time, you’ve lost the opportunity, the soul of the joke. A poorly timed joke is just a corny statement. There is no time to wait for a silent break in any conversation. As a thirteen-year-old kid, I knew if I didn’t shout out the funny thought in my head when I thought it was funny, it would be gone, and the world will continue spinning one laugh less.

At the end of my seventh-grade experience, I was awarded the T.A.P. award. Never heard of it? Well, that is because it’s a bullshit award my teacher made in an effort to find something genuine to offer me in life. T.A.P. stood for “Time and Place” as in “There is a time and place for everything, and right now you should be quiet, Elliot.”

I accepted the award with pride, because it was something I earned. I remember looking around the class and seeing other students receive worthless, thoughtless certificates with horrendous compliments written by the teacher. Notable awards I’m making up but might as well have been given: “Most Lovely Shoes,” “The Best Teammate,” and “Genuine Friend.” Ugh! I wanted to vomit. I’ll keep my T.A.P. award, thanks.

My greatest achievement.

Perhaps it was kismet that I got into comedy: first as a fan, then as a hobbyist, and finally as a professional (the term “professional” is used loosely). But the thing about comedy is that it is not something that happens alone; performing comedy is a social act. You cannot tell jokes to yourself.

I really enjoyed making people laugh, but it came with a cost. The label. I sacrificed numerous things to be the funny guy, and one of them is credibility. After a while, people just assumed I was being sarcastic. In strenuous situations like a group project, my ideas would be shunned or taken as an unprompted attempt at humour. Later, once I started taking comedy seriously and told people about it, the intensity of other people’s preconceptions rose. “Tell me something funny!” is a line a comedian will hear often at social gatherings. Because 95% of people in the world think they themselves are funny, they’ll usually require proof that you are in fact what you claim to be. They are the best judges of humour after all. It’s the same way we all look at an attractive person and collectively go, “Yep! That person is attractive. Approved. Carry on.”

If it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient in anything, then I was 1.8% of the way to mastering comedy. An average of five minutes of stage time a week for one and a half years was hardly tenure. I was a Starbucks barista as long as I was a stand-up comedian, and Starbucks is very similar to comedy; after all, you acknowledge your audience and you behave accordingly. No need to think of entertaining, just be yourself. And like amateur stand-up comedy, the customers are not really there for your sake; they just want a drink, and you just so happen to be there.

When I told my friends and family that I have stopped doing stand up, many uttered grievances, sometimes in disappointment that they didn’t get to see me perform — in which they would tempt me to tell a joke — and others times with apprehension. “Oh… why did you stop? (Were you that bad?)”

My mother, who had once found my aspiration insufferable, had now become my number one fan. Passing up an opportunity to be a lawyer was one thing, but giving up on comedy now when so many doors were now closed, left a grave uncertainty in her life. After all, who would take care of her when she’s old if my stupid son is unemployed and not funny? Not Dane Cook that’s for sure. There wasn’t a final show where I bowed out. I just stopped asking for stage time. I told those booking shows that I was taking a break, trying to regroup.

I wonder what I would be if I didn’t stop. Would I be booking my own shows, headlining after performing at local bars and clubs for seven years, or would I just be another comedian like so many other comedians, spending my day in the back of the bar, waiting for my five minutes — still working at Starbucks during the day. I look back and I can’t image my success, which as someone who thought that entertainment was his destiny was a little heartbreaking. I was a carpenter in a world without lumber. I couldn’t help but ask: What happened to me?

My first paycheck as a comedian. 50 big ones! (Photo taken in the Matrix where I’m famous)

There was a moment on stage, I remember; I had my audio recorder on a stool with a notebook full of notes, usually one random word followed by another, tracking the order of my set. I remember looking down at the list and reading the next word on it “Living room.”

I loved wordplay and comedy allowed me to explore it in the weirdest ways. “Living room” was one of those words that had so many meanings, but is so dramatic in a literal sense. It’s like how a scarecrow is actually there to scarecrows. The punch line of the joke comes after a ramble about how ridiculous the notion of a living room is, because “every room you’ve ever been in is a living room.” Bam! Comedy in my books. However, when I told that joke that day a part of my inside was dying. I guess I wasn’t in a living room anymore. Har har!

I stopped performing standup because I didn’t have any conviction to what I was saying. I stopped performing stand-up because what I was saying was irrelevant. I stopped doing standup because I didn’t want to waste people’s precious time with mindless wordplay and frictionless jokes. I wasn’t a good comedian because I wasn’t tackling any important issues. I was twenty years old and I had nothing to fight for except my own pride. Pride came in the form of laughter and applause. That is not what a comedian should do, that is not what any public speaker should do.

Public speaking, including comedy, is an act of influence. When an entertainer steps on stage they should bring more than their good looks and charms, they need to have something worth saying, something they are passionate about, something worth sharing. Jokes are delicious. Jokes are tasty. But jokes are cheap. It’s not hard to get a good laugh, but to be able to connect the laughter with something tangible, something genuine, well that is priceless.

I stopped doing standup because I didn’t have a reason to talk. It was elementary school all over again, but now I understood what my teacher was talking about. Time and Place.

Nevertheless, the time has changed and the place where I choose to communicate is not on stage in front of an audience, but instead in the written world, where I can pretend to have some proficiency in articulation.

There is little fear when we communicate online, the same way I had little fear when I spoke up in class. The consequence is light and so we continue to speak into the void. Sometimes people get annoyed, i.e. my teachers. Other times it’s so ephemeral that it goes unnoticed, i.e. my ramblings at the bar. Nevertheless, when we have something to say, we should make sure we are doing it at the right time and place. We should watch our audience and make certain that what we have to offer is more than reminding everyone that they are currently sitting in a living room. Although it’s hard to argue that it is an important reminder, sometimes.

What Sales Pitches, Interviews, and Stand-up Comedy Have in Common – and Why It Matters

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There are certain employment epochs I remember fondly.

Through those experiences, I had the opportunity to learn a bit about myself, as well as a certain skill set. But looking back now, regardless of the job, one component always stood out: attentiveness.

It didn’t matter if I was trying to convince someone to sponsor a needy child, seduce someone into telling me their life story, or simply make a crowd of people laugh, being aware of my environment was consistently instrumental towards my success.

Some jobs you can bury your head and work, but not mine. It’s important to look up once in awhile and see how the world is reacting. Then assess: should I stay the course? Or should I get the hell out of Dodge?

 

MAY THE ODDS BE WITH YOU

When I went about knocking door to door, canvassing for World Vision, I recognized that although I meant no harm, I was still an annoyance. People did not want to be disrupted during primetime television, they didn’t want to listen to my sales pitch, and they definitely were not inclined to open their wallets at the door.

I can gauge in approximately 1.3 seconds whether the big beefy guy with a frown on his face is interested, or whether the sweet old lady with a smile is actually listening—or if she just wanted company; if so, to indulge her would be to trick her.

A good sales pitch is not one that tricks people into purchase—it’s not a performance, it’s not robotic. It’s a conversation. When the door opens or when the customer walks in, that’s your opportunity to educate and engage. And that is done through proper interpersonal communication, not necessarily with showmanship or razzle dazzle.

The best way to make a sale is by recognizing whether the person can actually afford it in their lifestyle; in other words, are they worthy of sponsoring a kid, buying a toaster, owning a Ford Fiesta, etc.? You should be helping them. Lose the stress of the quota and listen.

Engage in a humanistic way. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself as a person, not salesman. A good salesperson takes the time to interact with the consumer, and not simply play the odds. Why do you yourself believe it’s a worthwhile cause? Before you can sell something to anybody, you must first be able to sell it to yourself. And then you roll the dice and see if the door slams in your face or not. No hard feelings if it does.

 

LISTENING MORE IMPORTANT THAN ASKING

As an interviewer, people always expect me to come with an arsenal of questions. And I do. I write down as many possible questions I can think of, some pertinent, some filler, but on the day, I set those questions aside. The questions I prepared become a crutch. I’ll use them only if there is a moment of silence that needs to be filled. Aside from that, I do without the questions, the same way an actor forgoes the script when it’s show time.

Imagine arriving at a house party with a notebook full of questions to ask the guests. You wouldn’t sit down with someone and automatically start quizzing him or her on his or her life, right? So don’t do that in a professional interview either.

Before you start with the five W’s they taught you in J-school, consider asking this question: How’s it going? Establishing a rapport is fundamental to a good interview. Odds are the person will say something to trigger your interest and then your curiosity will take over.

A strong sense of discovery will guide your interview, not your prepared questions. A common mistake is focusing too much on what you want to ask and not what your subject is actually saying. Take notes if you must, use a recording device, but above all else have a genuine conversation. After all, as an interviewer you are attempting to tell a story, and stories, at the heart of it, are about relationships.

You can approach an interview with zero questions prepared if you are actually curious about your subject. Questions will come. With that being said, do prepare some stock questions, since some interviewees are nervous, busy, or simply less inclined to offer effective sound bites and insightful responses.

 

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

As a stand-up comedian, I learned that not every audience will relate to your jokes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find you funny. A good comedian is one that can adjust to the crowd and is funny through their personality and wit, rather than something scripted and rehearsed. You cannot force a group of people to laugh at you, but you can earn their likings, and that happens through dialogue.

I believe stand-up comedy is a dialogue. I’m not saying you should ever encourage the audience to heckle or argue with you. However, imagine a conversation with someone, but instead of having a response in words, it’s a response through laughter. Laughter is validation. But it can only come through if you understand your audience. This goes for all other form of public speaking.

I remember lectures I had in college where the instructors would just go on and on about whatever. Clearly I learned nothing. But the reason I can’t remember anything is because they couldn’t connect with me. They never looked up from their notes to ask, “Elliot, you get what I am saying?”

For comedians, the presence of laughter is affirmation. For public speakers, an absence of coughing is affirmation. Learn to read your audience and ask for a response if they are refusing to offer it. It’s a dialogue; there is no fourth wall.

Odds are, you are not the only person presenting at any given time, whether you are a comedian, a presenter, or the best man giving a speech at a wedding. In most occasions there is an opportunity for you to acknowledge your audience before you hit the stage.

In comedy, for example: if a comedian before you had made a similar joke to the one you’re about to do, measure whether the audience enjoyed it. If it received a lackluster response, consider swapping it—even if it might mess up your entire set. Don’t be stubborn when you know something wouldn’t work. Is the audience here to actively engage with you or are they just forced to be there and you happen to be on stage?

You don’t need to be the showstopper, but you should at the very least be memorable. Otherwise there is no reason for you to be on stage.

Whether you are selling, interviewing, or just trying to make a group of people laugh, the art of interaction is a two-sided rally. You might do the majority of the speaking, but when you aren’t, you better be listening.

 

For more information about workplace and hireable skills please check out Webucator’s Most Marketable Skills project. Presentation extends further than a strong speaking voice, and in today’s world, there is a lot of demand for hard technique skills in addition to the soft ones. If you are looking to upgrade your PowerPoint (and other MS Office applications) I recommend trying out the free demo at Webucator.

Sales and Stand Up: a profile of Dennis Litonjua

Formerly published by Ricepaper Magazine.

by ELLIOT.CHAN on Feb 10, 2013 • 1:34 pm

By day, Dennis Litonjua can clock 400 clicks driving around the city. His civilian day job requires him to be constantly on the road. But by night, he can still be found on the go—he goes comedy-club hopping, rushing onto stages to produce laughter. This modern day comedian can effortlessly sum up the hardships of aging and stage time, “It’s a challenge for sure,” he said. “Life gets in the way.”

I was halfway towards Goldie’s Pizza, a regular spot on Thursday nights for open mic. Downtown Vancouver was busy as usual, so I gave myself plenty of time to get there to meet with Litonjua. Then I heard my cell-phone beep and vibrate. It was a text message that began with an explicit, “Shit! Forgot!” The busy comedian had a lot on his mind. He was currently 30 minutes across town at LaffLines in New Westminster. Litonjua was preparing for his second set that night. I doubled back and arrived just as he stepped off the stage.

We greeted with causal formality. The comedy scene was familiar, like entering an old high school after graduation. In 2009-2011, I spent a good portion of my nights at bars that hosted amateur shows for comedian. Dennis Litonjua was one of the supportive regulars that guided me along, helping me improve from joke to joke.

As the show ended I watched as he continued to take on a fatherly role. A young up-coming comedian approached him. He extended his hand and Litonjua took it and offered a piece of advice along with it. Comedy can feel like a thankless job, but he made sure audiences and performers alike didn’t leave empty handed.

A lot has changed in the past few years. The recently married Litonjua has been caught reevaluating his ambitions. “For the past five years I have been graphing everything,” he said, referring to his stage time. “So I went from eight hours to 10 hours and then 14. I peaked at 14 hours around 2010 and went to 12 hours in 2011 and 2012. These are a bunch of five minute sets.” He chuckled at his undeniable Asian work ethic and added, “It is hard to fathom, right? Because of all the time you do in a year, it only adds up for 12 hours. I mean that is a lot of driving.”

Litonjua is familiar with the highs and lows of the comedy business. Having played some of the biggest stages in the city, alongside some the most prestigious comedians in the industry, he knows that even the best and brightest goes through hard times. “You don’t do comedy for financial gain,” he said, “but you have to make adult choices.”A year ago, Litonjua could be found on stages across the lower mainland three to four times a week. Now, with his busy schedule he is simply aiming for twice a week. “October November December— I did less than 2 hours combined,” He hung his head a bit disheartened, but then quickly shakes off the negativity. “For those three months that is terrible. So I’ve been dragging my feet and trying to get back into it.”

With only a handful of Asian comedians working the circuit, Litonjua takes on heighten responsibilities. The Flip N’ Comedy shows are ongoing projects that he and fellow Filipino comedian, Art Factora created in 2008 to promote comedy and fund charities.

Comedians of ethnic decent are synonymous with stereotypical jokes and funny accents, but that is not what Litonjua finds funny. “Not any of us do Asian sets,” he said, “I think everyone realized that that is what we are expected to do, but we are not defined by it. Some jokes are hilarious, but bad writers will go to stereotypes.”

As an advocate for multiculturalism, he cannot ignore the facts that stand-up comedy is an art form that hasn’t caught on in different cultures. “This sounds terrible, but I think we are a little materialistic,” he said, “So like when you have family members who make x amount of money and you are on the same intellectual level as they are and have the same degree they do and you are watching them make so much more money.” He gave a shrug and sighed.

For Litonjua a regular day consists of sales. Rather he is selling merchandise for his job or selling his jokes on stage; it is a constant act of promotion. “Self promotion is way easier now. My wife would always say, ‘Tweet that you’re performing tonight,’” he said, “And I’ll be like yeah—then I fall asleep on the john.” Despite the ease of getting the word out, he still understands the fine line between advertising and pestering. His theory is that the best way to develop a fan base is by having a good reputation. “Some people want to challenge others on an intellectual level,” he said with a smirk. “I’m not the guy. If I want to be challenged intellectually I would have a debate. I would find a forum to do that. But no, this is not the place. What comics do is angel’s work. That person sitting in the room, you have no idea what they are going through, they are sitting in a bar hopping to have fun. And that is what you want to provide them. Cause when they are laughing, chances are they aren’t thinking about the bills that need to be paid or the baby mama drama. They are there having fun.”

Still striving to excel in his craft, Litonjua also has his eyes set on other creative avenues. Film, theatre and additional comedic opportunities lay in the future. For now he is not closing any doors. “I get spoiled on it,” he admitted, “A room full of people laughing at what you created is always fun. If I stay in the game I’ll continue being challenged.” There was an adventurous gleam in his eyes. He did not point his finger on the path he was intending to take, but something told me that he had many kilometers left to travel.

Stay connected with Dennis by following him on Twitter @flipnfunny and catch him performing live, for now here is a little taste of his comedy– enjoy.