Interview with a Comedian
I recently had the opportunity to do a photo session, with local Southern Ontario area Comedian, Craig Churchill. He had approached me to do a series of portraits for promotional / handout purposes. I agreed to the challenge and tried figuring out what might incorporate comic quality to the portrait.
I have also, inserted a short Q & A that Craig was kind enough to provide. It is embedded throughout this blog posting.
For this shoot, we used the X- Drop back drop system with the black and white back drops. One medium 5 in 1 reflector. A camera flash bracket and an off-camera flash. The shoot was done in a living room so space was very minimal. Also window light was present and there were enough curtains complete with sheers so that we could utilize that light source for somewhat of a fill. I bounced my flash off the 5 in 1 to create a studio lighting look. With the use of the camera bracket, the flash positioning can remain the same for portrait or landscape.
Q. Why comedy?
A. I 've given this question some thought and it's tough to answer without coming across as being full of myself. I don't think I have much of the dark, tortured soul you find in a lot of comedians. I just always liked to make my friends laugh growing up. I didn't start in stand-up until a lot later than most people. I did my first set three years ago at the age of 41. But i chalk that up to not knowing the right avenues to pursue this passion. It's easy to start a band when you're a twenty-something in St. John's, Newfoundland, but I had no idea how to break into stand-up at that time and place. Then I spent most of my thirties in Halifax, where I joined up with a public speaking club called Toastmasters that helped me develop my confidence. I don't think I ever had stage-fright, but a big part of stand-up is sharing a point of view and I guess I wasn't ready to do that until now.
One thing I have learned about a comedy portrait is, that it's not always the suspected whacky zany look as you would expect, but more of a serious portrait look, or a straight face with a funny prop that makes it. What? you say. The theory is a sound approach and takes some imagination but when put into practice can produce an excellent result with a satisfied client.
Q. What is your comedic style?
A. My jokes tend to be observational in nature, commenting on things like TV commercials and celebrities, although I draw from my personal life as well. My material is usually short form. Currently I think my longest joke is still less than two minutes long. A lot of comics around here - especially the ones I know in Hamilton - tend to more storytellers and are able to pull off longer form pieces. I've been doing this a little less than three years and I'm still working on developing my longer form skills.
Q. Who in the comedy industry inspires you and why? It doesn't have to be a famous person/comic.
A. There are a lot of comics I like and respect - Louis C.K., Patton Oswalt, Lewis Black - but it pretty much starts and ends with George Carlin. Specifically later-in-life Carlin, when he got angry and detached. I think most people enjoy the early seventies Carlin when he did his "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television", but I didn't gravitate to him until I started watching more stand-up comedy in the 80s, and by 1992 when he did his HBO show "Jammin' In New York" I was a disciple. My material is nothinig like his, but his style is something I aspire to, and it's one that you don't see in many others in the business. He chose his words carefully and actually did his material more like performance pieces. He considered himself a writer who performed his material rather than as a performer who wrote his material. I'm still trying to work out the difference, but I think I get it.
Locally another guy has been a growing influence on me, Gavin Stephens. He of a similar age to me and he seems to have a similar frame of perspective on a lot off issues as me, although he's been in the game a lot longer than I have and has some good advice about surviving the grind. I've spoken to him a few times and he's been really encouraging.
After a number of classic finger pointing shots, we decided to throw the theory to the test.
Experimenting with the razor and shaving gel as the prop, Craig seriously thinking about ... To shave or not to shave? I found the black back drop worked well. The contrast helped focus on the prop and subject. Time was minimal as Craig had a show that night, so we focused more on the content and composition, utilizing a simple setup and lighting.
Q. How do you come up with material?
A. I love picking apart an idea and finding the absurdities in it that people perhaps never noticed before, or looking at an idea from an unexpected perspective. For example, the whole idea of the Tooth Fairy. A child can lose a tooth, put it under his or her pillow, and "magically" the tooth is gone the next morning and in its place there's a couple of dollars. I thought to myself "why doesn't the same thing happen if that kid is in an accident and loses a finger?"
We did one shot through a side door window just after a huge rain storm. It was originally colour, but this B & W version, I felt gave more to the photo. There are challenges with making this shot. Fogging of the glass from breathing for and reflection. To help minimize the reflection in the glass, my assistant held up the black back drop behind me. Craig held his breath to control the glass fogging up.
Q. In your opinion, how is the state of comedy today?
A. Comedy today is in a weird state. There are a lot of comics out there. I actually don't venture into Toronto much, but even in the satellite cities - Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Brantford - there are a lot of comics out there, and quite a lot of them are really good. And there are a lot of comedy rooms in those cities giving them an opportunity to hone their craft, or perfect their art. There are a lot of problems in the local comedy industry but I don't see the comedians themselves as a problem. Most bad or lazy comics will kind of weed themselves out, so I don't worry too much about that. The biggest obstacle to a successful stand-up career, especially in Canada, is getting the public motivated enough to get out and see a show in a time where any and all forms of entertainment can be streamed onto your phone. The number of shows I've done where the audience was basically the other comedians is higher than I want to admit. If people don't get out to see live comedy, the venues won't host it, or won't pay well if they do host it.
Twitter - @TheyCallMeCarg
I had a lot of fun working with Craig. It really showed through in the results and he was easy to work with. His standup routines are really funny and he does a great Mick Jagger stint. We will be going out again, trying out door stuff with the same concept. I have some other ideas to try and will post the results in the future.
So you heard the man. Get out and see the show!!
Keywords: 5 in one, Brantford, Halifax, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Toronto, X- Drop back drop, camera, colour, comedian, comedy, comic, flash, flash bracket, funny, photo, photography, portrait, prop, southern ontario
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