Each week in Give A Little Bit, we talk to funny people — comics, writers, cartoonists, senators — about the first time they got a laugh and a bunch of other things about their life.
This week, comedian Kevin Bartini talks about old VHS tapes, being the guy lesbians are always experimenting with and the ghost of Dr. Suess.
Your first bit…
I don’t exactly remember my first bit. I guess that I could dig up an old VHS tape of one of my early sets to jog my memory but that would be far too painful. A lot of what I was doing at first was akin to throwing shit onto a wall and seeing which held on the longest before sliding to the floor.
I started comedy when I was only 19 or 20 years old. I didn’t have a lot of life experiences yet to talk about. I did, however, have one strange thing happen to me that became an early bit.
I dated a girl for a little while, right before I moved to New York who as it turned out was a lesbian. I guess she was bisexual since she was dating me at the time, or she was experimenting. Whatever it was it didn’t last long and I found out afterward that she was into women.
A few months later after moving to NYC, I had a one night stand with a friend of a friend. I found out the next day that she was also in a relationship with a woman but in her mind was not cheating since she slept with a man. As far as I know I was the only guy either had ever been with.
So the bit I wrote was about the challenges of performing oral sex on a lesbian being akin to trying to impress Eric Clapton on the guitar. I don’t remember the bit all that well but I do remember using the phrase “rooting around down there like a hog digging for truffles.”
Your writing process is…
My writing process is quite undisciplined. I still do a lot of open mikes and a lot of bar shows. Shows where there isn’t a lot of pressure and not a lot of chance that anyone in the industry will see me.
I will go on, totally unprepared. I will just start talking, generally about something that annoys me or something that happened to me recently. Often times what I am riffing on will segue into an established bit. The result may be that I can add to an old bit. Sometimes I get something new out of it. More often than not I waste the time of everyone in the room.
I try to be mindful of the things that annoy me and the things that I find myself bitching about repeatedly. For example when my sister and her best friend had babies at virtually the same time. This meant that my parents and their best friends became grandparents at the same time.
What annoyed me was the horrific names that the chose for themselves. Since I was neither a dad or a grandfather I had no say in the names that they chose. But I did have to hear them call one another Opa, Nonu, YeeYaw and Gangy constantly. It drove me crazy and I was very vocal about it.
After bitching and ranting a dozen times or so it dawned on me that this was something that I was passionate about. So I sat down with my laptop and wrote out a five or six-page rant.
Then I took that to the stage and started working it out. What I had at the end of the day was a solid five or six minute bit that I really like.
Your influences are…
As a comedian, my influences growing up were George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Lewis Black, Woody Allen, Bob Newhart, Dennis Miller to name a few. I do my best not to watch my contemporaries so as to not be influenced. But guys like Dave Attell and Jim Norton are so good that I break my rule.
Is our president be bad or good for comedy?
Donald Trump will be an unmitigated disaster for the country.
Honestly, I hate the idea that Trump will be good for comedy. I hated the idea that Obama would be bad for comedy. It’s so craven. To be a comedian and to be glad that an imbecile like Trump is in office because it makes your job easier is unpatriotic at best. It would make me no better than a war profiteer who was glad Bush was in office because it meant more personal ill-gotten gains.
Comedy shouldn’t be easy. If a joke is easy, it’s probably hacky. If a joke is easy it means that a dozen other guys probably are doing it right now as well.
I’d rather a boring pencil pusher with no personality guiding the country. If having a steady hand on the national steering wheel means that the writers for Weekend Update have to dig a little deeper, I’ll sleep just fine at night.
How you keep all your work together?
I record almost every set I do on my iPhone. I try to at least label the set and notate it if I did new material. I have piles of notebooks and jokes jotted down on cocktail napkins. I try to get things written down and filed away on my computer.
If I have a professional weakness it would have to be that I can be unfocused, undisciplined and unorganized off stage.
There are tons of old sets that I haven’t listened back to even though I noted that there was new material.
Jokes that do get filed on the computer may never see the light of day again. I’m actively trying to get better at this. I’ve let a lot of chances pass me by just because I was unorganized. I’ve let new bits and new contacts die on the vine.
I don’t have a talent manager or a personal assistant. So creating some sort of a workable system offstage is a huge priority these days.
I wish I wrote…
David Sedaris wrote an essay in Holidays On Ice called Seasons Greetings To Our Friends and Family. It is a year-end holiday newsletter from The Dunbar Family. Although the family has had their fair share of public humiliations and personal setbacks, the matriarch is determined to put a happy face on and continue the family’s holiday newsletter tradition. It’s genius, as is so much of Sedaris’ work.
One other thing I wish I had written was an op-ed in The Onion by the ghost of Dr. Seuss. It is called Stop Making Movies About My Books. What I love about it is first that it has a point. At the time we were being inundated by flashy sub-par live action movies based on Seuss’ books. I along with the author was so disappointed to see what was being done to these beloved books of my childhood.
Of course, Seuss would be sickened by it as well. I don’t know who actually wrote this piece. The Author gave Seuss a chance to rail against the greedy decimation of his life’s work. The execution is also amazing. It is written in Seuss-ian prose. Not a word feels out of place.
These two pieces are so smart and so funny. I wish I had written them.
A new bit…
I’m starting to find myself bitching to friends about the local TV News commercials hyping whatever Dopplar 9000 Accu-Weather Hemi Powered piece of crap weather prediction device they have. There is a new bit in that and I’ll spend a few sets working it out.