Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ben Hamilton - Interview

My Interview with Ben Hamilton


Q1. Were you funny as a kid? 

Ben: Yes, I started doing impressions when I was about 8 years old. 

Q2. How did you get into comedy? 

Ben: I always knew I wanted to do something in the entertainment field. I started off doing Improv acting and mystery dinner shows (Picture a 280lb man in Superman tights. Did you throw up in your mouth a little?) lol

Q3. What was your first experience as a comedian? 

Ben: The first one was really good, which was great because it gave me confidence to do it again. The second time sucked out loud. Still, the first time was enough to get me hooked and gave me the belief I could do it again. 

Q4. When did you first start getting paid for your work in comedy? 

Ben: My first paid gig was about 6 months into performing stand-up. It was an awful show at a Catholic school benefiting teachers. I, and two other comics, earned $140.00 to perform for a room full of people who had absolutely no interest in being there. AND! One of those sneaky guests stole my Red Bull!  I had planned to drink it prior to performing, but no such luck. In the middle of my act, I saw one of the guests drinking MY Red Bull! Oh well, I figured, with the $140 bucks they just paid me, I suppose I can afford to buy another one! 

NOTE FROM THE INTERVIEWER: Notice Ben uses humor as a coping mechanism here. I've noticed this is a common thread among all the comedians I've spoken or communicated with, a seemingly natural resilience. There are some people who might have cracked under the pressure of not having their 'comfort item' available, but not Ben, he just shrugged it off and made light of the situation. This is indicative of more than just a personality trait, but rather, an emotional intelligence skill. 

Q5. When was your first big break? 

Ben: I spent 3 years working at the Chicago Improv as a door man and then later as a supervisor. After bothering them to no end, I was finally given a spot in their local talent showcase. I now perform there regularly, opening for comedians like Nick Cannon, Rocky LaPorte, Jeremy Hotz, and Billy Gardell. 


Q6. Is there a central theme inherent in your humor? 

Ben: I just try to be honest, someone with whom the audience can relate. I've learned that the closer your comedy is to the truth, the more natural it will flow, making it easier for the audience to relate. When the story is totally fabricated or made-up, people do not relate as well. 

Q7. Who are your favorite comedians? 

Ben: Louis CK, Stephen Lynch, Jimmy Fallon, Rodney Carrington. 

I like Louie CK because of his completely honest approach to comedy. He says things that most people only say when in the company of close friends. I really respect him for pushing the envelope like that. I'm not at all racist, but many comedians have told a joke that starts off with their first looking around the room to see who is present, in the event the joke will offend someone - but not Louie, he doesn't seem to care, he just tells the joke without caring who is in the room. 

Stephen Lynch and Rodney Carrington both have musical comedy styles, which I enjoy since I started off just doing comedy songs that I had written. After watching Rodney Carrington's special Live and the Majestic, I was inspired to perform musical stand-up comedy. 

Jimmy Fallon is one of the nicest and most down to earth people I've ever met in my life. He was the first comic that I saw at the Improv that had such a stage presence you could literally FEEL the energy from the crowd. That was amazing to me! He gave me a guitar pick, and I told him that one day I'd be on his show and when I did, I'd give him his pick back. In my mind, it's a way of saying thank you - and, I made it! 

Q8. What do you aspire to achieve as a comedian? 

Ben: My long-term goal is to have my own sitcom. I want to be so well-known that when someone sees me they smile just from being in my presence. 


Q9. Do you read books on humor? 

Ben: To be completely honest, I'm not a big reader. I have, however, read 2 biographies on Garth Brooks and Drew Carey's, "Dirty Jokes and Beer." 

Q10. Do you keep joke records? 
Ben: Ever comic has tons of material, and tons of jokes. Some that they use daily and some that just haven't yet found a place in their set yet. 

Q11. How did you come up with the material for your act? 

Ben: Mostly, I draw from things that have happened in my life, growing up and being married, twice. The second marriage still provides me with material. Even silly things that happen to me on a daily basis find their way into my act. 

Q12. How often do you revise your act? 

Ben: I am constantly trying to revise and add new things to my act. After spending years at the Improv and watching 100's of shows and seeing the same comedians perform the same act word-for-word 3 years later, I watched the looks on the audiences' faces. They seemed let down and disappointed, like they had just wasted their money. I strive to incorporate new material into my act so people don't go away feeling like that. 


Q13. Name a few of your favorite movies. 

Ben: Anything with Paul Rudd. I love the Hangover movies. I also like, The Fighter

Q14. Are you active on Facebook or other social networking sites? 

Ben: I have a Twitter account but am not as active on it. I tend to post more on the bathroom wall! 

Q15. Do you teach humor? 

Ben: My answer might sound weird, but I don't think you can teach humor. It's something you have or you don't (have). It's something that you find within yourself. I do believe that if you surround yourself with the right people that you can and will develop a sense of humor. 

Q16. As a professional in the field of comedy, how did it feel the first time you made someone laugh? 

Ben: It was like a free drug for me, and it still is to this day. Once you do it, you're hooked. You just want more and more. 


Q17. How has humor changed you since you first started your career? 

Ben: It has gotten stronger int he fact that I can still laugh when something horrible happens to me. I can still find humor in something that before might have depressed me.  

Q18. Have you noticed any trends in comedy? 

Ben: Yes! here's one that I can't stand! Comics that only cater to other comics. It happens a lot in the city, like when a comic goes on a rant that is only funny to his comic friends - not the general audience. That same person usually is the comic who after a show will come up and tell you that you're not funny because you didn't make him or his friends laugh. 

Here's the thing: I didn't get into comedy to entertain other comedians. I did it to appeal to a total stranger. I'm not going to go up on stage and waste my time telling a 20-minute inside joke that others can't appreciate just to get a laugh from friends that I plant in the audience. (Okay, I feel better now that I've gotten that off my chest, next question). 

Q19. What do you think about humor therapy? 

Ben: Comedy is 100% my therapy! If I couldn't laugh, I'd be a miserable piece of crap. 

Q20. Are you familiar with laughing yoga? 

Ben: No, but if I went to yoga and someone passed gas, I would start laughing. 

(Again, the interviewer is laughing...) 

Certifications, Awards, Honors

Q21. Did you study theater or take classes relating to humor and comedy? 

Ben: I took some Improv classes at Second City, as well as some classes at Comedy Sportz in Chicago. My instructor at Comedy Sportz was Frank Caeti from Mad TV. 

Q22. Do you hold degrees in fields that are related to humor/comedy or to your act in general? 

Ben: No. I never had time for school between work and trying to raise a family. 

Q23. What field or concept has influenced your act the most? 

Ben: I would have to say musical comedy and acting (in general). 

Q24. Do you hold any certificates in humor or play therapy? 

No, but I'm really looking forward to getting my certificate that says I'm no longer married to the unsupportive B**ch that never believed in me and called my work a "pipe dream." The joke's on her because this pipe dream is what helped pay for my half of the divorce! 

Q25. Describe your continuing education in humor studies. 

Ben: I'm currently studying and learning how to write sitcoms. It has been a dream of mine to appear on a sitcom, so now I'm taking the steps to accomplish yet another "pipe dream." 


Q26. Have you written material for other comedians? 

Ben: Yes, for many local comics. However, I do not do a lot oa collaboration because I have a wicked case of ADD, which makes it difficult for me to stay focused unless I'm by myself. 

Q27. Where can someone see your act? 

Ben: Live at one of my shows or a recorded version on YouTube. My YouTube page is DUKE7695. 


Q28.  Do you believe comedy can change the world? 

Ben: Without a doubt. People always need to laugh. 

Q29. Do you believe humor can heal? 

Ben: For sure! It has helped me through some of the toughest times in my life. 

Q30. Do you believe in talking unicorns? 

NOTE: I generally add in this throw-away question to lighten-up the interview given I ask a number of questions, which all my participants have been kind enough to take the time to answer. This was the first time a comedian answered it with proof of talking unicorns! Subconsciously, I knew they existed! 
See, I was right!!! 

Q31. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child?  

Ben: No, but when I was in the 6th grade, I was in Special Ed classes, and every few years, some "moron" would evaluate me, which included asking me this very question. I thought it would be funny to mess with her, so I said, "yes", and she immediately perked up, grabbed her clipboard, and started taking notes. It got funnier when they called my parents in for a parent-teacher conference. Even my parents thought it was funny. Guess who didn't think it was funny? The school board who thought it was best that I spend the rest of middle and high school in Special Ed classes. I was later evaluated again, and can you believe it, they asked me if I "still" had that imaginary friend. Unbelievable! 

Q32. Do you believe there is a higher power involved in our recognition of humor? 

Ben: Yes. 

Q33. Should the U.S. Government have an official Secretary of Humor post? 

Ben: I thought that was the President's job! (I'd vote for Louis CK!) 

Q34. What advice would you give to someone entering the field of comedy? 

Ben: I would say that it's hard, but it's worth it. Don't get too cocky just cuz your first time out is good. Chances are, your second time will suck. It's not because you're not good, but it's because you begin expecting to be good, rather than working at it. Most of the time FEAR is what gets you through that act, which makes the first time out especially good (for many new comedians). It's almost as if you go into survival mode. 

Remember, you're good enough to be up there regardless of what another comedian might think. As you continue to develop your set, you're going to have some amazing shows, which get you through the bad ones. It's important to remind yourself that IT'S NOT YOU! DON'T BEAT YOURSELF UP! 

I have performed back-to-back shows where the first one was awful, then the second one blew the roof off the place - all from the same exact set (word-for-word). 

If you go on an open mic and you don't get laughs, don't worry about it. Most open mics are filled with comics who aren't paying attention because they just want to get up there and do their own set, then hit another open mic. Don't become that person. It's hard enough for some people to get onstage, but to sit through 15 people and then have them leave without the common decency of seeing your act, feels bad for any comic on stage. The point is: have respect for the people you work with, including those just starting out. Stay in the room, it's the courteous thing to do. Professionally speaking, it also pays as Bookers and Promoters are in the audience. They notice when you leave early. 

Some of the best advice I've received came from Robert Kelly. He said, "When doing comedy, you need to treat it like school. Your first year is Kindergarten. Your learning steps on how to become better. Your second year is like first grade, and your next, second grade and so on and so on. It's an ongoing learning experience all the way through..." 

For more information on Ben Hamilton, visit his webpage: 

Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to respond to my call for Comedian Interviews! 

PS: A special thanks for confirming that talking unicorns do indeed exist!  

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