Helpful Tip to Young Comics: You are not Daniel Tosh

After a show with a couple new comedy friends, Todd McComas and Tim McLaughlin.

Since I started doing comedy, every few years there is a successful standup that young comics are trying to emulate.  Here is my chronological timeline of how it has gone since 1992.

Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Hicks, Dave Attell, Mitch Hedburg, Dane Cook, and now the most influential for young comics is Daniel Tosh.

Tosh has an amazing ability of saying horrible things about unfortunate people and not only gets big laughs with it, but even women in the audience buy into it.  Doug Stanhope and Jim Norton hit similar targets, but they don’t play well to a large section of the populace. Stanhope and Norton have their fans and are doing well, but I can’t see either one of them with a huge smash TV show.  There are a few reasons for this but I would say a big part of it is they lack Tosh’s smile. (I’m not joking here.)

That toothy fucking grin of his lets him get away with shit no other comic I’ve seen been able to do.  It’s like one of those Julia Roberts smiles that captivates people, especially women. This is no shot at his material or his delivery, as both of them are top-notch.  I am not writing this to slam Tosh, I am writing this to tell young comics, find someone else to emulate.  Writing dark fucking jokes are fun and work with your other comic friends, but unless they are brilliant, they aren’t going to play well with the audience.  And they definitely aren’t going to play well as the MC or feature act, which is the first jobs you are going to have.

I am not in any way telling you to be soft with your material, what I am saying is you aren’t good enough yet to offend an audience who didn’t come to see you in the first place. Take it from someone who tried to be Hicks when he started, I quickly found out I wasn’t going to get club work doing 15 minutes of social ranting to start the show.  What I did find out was I might be able to put in 5 minutes of the edgier stuff, with it working subliminally as I had enough other stuff that was sillier to seduce the audience into liking me.

Look, you can be Johnny Artist and only do what speaks to your dark, dark soul, but know that unless you have a megawatt smile or something else that will keep you loved by the audience, you won’t have a paying job in comedy, unless you call being a prep cook at Chili’s a comedy gig.  Not saying you should throw this material away, just don’t make it the lone focus of your act.  I have seen some really funny guys who played only to the back of the room and they never got past that level.

So try to keep in mind that first off, you aren’t as funny, charming, or experienced as Daniel Tosh.  Even more importantly, no comedy club is desperate to find you, so don’t blow your first impression by being a reject from the Unbookables Tour.  If the only material that strikes you as funny is demented, at least try to include stories about you being involved in evil, as that will humanize you to the audience.  For example, by exposing so much of himself and telling the crowd how much of a creep he thinks he is, it has helped Jim Norton, immeasurably.

Wow, this is great advice. I should teach one of them comedy classes or something…


I’m really impressed with the acting chops of Louis CK on his show, but this past week he was even eclipsed by Doug Stanhope.  I think Stanhope is a great comic, but I don’t drink from the kool-aid that he’s the best around, so I think I’m pretty unbiased on him.  His acting in the part of a struggling, cynical road comic who decides that life isn’t worth living anymore was spectacular.  Better acting than anything I’ve seen this year.  Seriously. Now I’m not saying I think Stanhope could play the part of anything else but a hateful prick, but anyone looking for that type character should call him. He hits all the notes playing this type of nihilistic dude.

9 thoughts on “Helpful Tip to Young Comics: You are not Daniel Tosh

  1. I agree that Tosh is a good comic but I don’t know anyone trying to emulate him. At least not him specifically.

    I do see a lot of young comics saying really horrible things on stage (And I agree that most don’t have the ability to pull it off). But I am positive that if I asked 50 of them who they emulated most (if consciously), none of them would say Daniel Tosh.

    Most of them would say Louis CK. Actually, Tosh and CK are similar in that they both get away with very dark material by just smirking or shrugging in that “just joking” kind of way.

    But CK delves into auto-biographical, ultra-personal stories and that’s what I’ve seen more of. Only, young comics, don’t have the stage persona or the writing ability yet… and more importantly, they don’t have the lifetime of experiences to draw from. So they’re just telling a bunch of dirty jokes with either punchlines that just seem hacky or no punchlines at all.

    Other than that, I agree with everything you said. But that’s the journey all comics have to take, right? My first time on stage, I told an 8 minute story about the time I got butt-worms in 7th grade. Really gross. It was then that I learned that clubs take their food sales seriously.

  2. Eh. Dark humor was around before Tosh, it will be around after Tosh. If I start to find it doesn’t work for me, which to this point it has, I’ll go another route. How about just enjoying yourself? If you want to sellout for the money that’s fine, but I’d rather see if I can find my own way doing my own thing. Tips on crowd work or stage presence are fine, but telling people what their HUMOR should be does not really entice me to sign up for your class.

  3. Ok, well I guess I didn’t get my point across well enough. Nowhere in this piece do I say not to do dark humor. It is by far my favorite material, BUT what I was saying is the odds of you getting some work only doing stuff that is hateful about others (and not about yourself) is really small when you are hired to be the MC of the show. I completely understand the do my own thing part so I’m not saying I have all the answers. Just sharing my own viewpoints which is knowledge I’ve gained from doing almost every type of gig in the comedy business during my 20 years.

    Oh and FUCK YOU on the sell-out part. No one who has seen my comedy club show has ever said I’m a sell-out on-stage. I can accept criticism, but being called a sell-out is not one. Please send me a link to your standup (do it privately, if you want), so I can see what a true artist’s standup is like. Maybe you are Bill Burr or Nick Griffin or Dan Cummins using a moniker, so I will have to accept your criticism…

  4. Fair. And I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest YOU sold out. If you’re happy doing what you’re doing for more than the money, I applaud you. I just didn’t want anybody to jump ship on their humor.
    I’m sorry if I got your message wrong – perhaps I did take it more personally as I find myself onstage loving edgy humor and in some small part, yes, idolizing the way Daniel Tosh does it so masterfully. At the same time, though, I don’t think I have to emulate him, simply admire and take some pointers-in-style from. If I had to emulate, it’d be a Tosh-Carlin-Izzard crossbreed.
    My sincerest apologies for sounding more aggressive than I should have. However, if you are still open to listening to some novice standup, I would certainly appreciate a professional critique. I’m not ready for Carnegie – that’s for sure.
    I have only been doing standup for about five months.

  5. Carlin is the greatest comic, and I don’t think it’s even close. What I like best is that he took on the biggest targets, not attacking the weakest.
    You should strive to push the envelope, my advice was just don’t try to be too close to Tosh, as he’s a unique comic that through talent and charm gets away with shit no other comic has done.
    Good luck with your career. Drop me an email if you have anything specific you have a question on.

    1. sorry Derek. Thought I had, but maybe I didn’t actually hit send. I think if you are on the east coast, it might be more CK influenced, but in the rest of the country Tosh-like open mikers rule the roost. It makes sense because most open mikers are young without kids and hate the world. I get it. I was that guy. I still hate a lot of the world, but maybe there is a taste of humanity that bleeds through my material now.

      You are right-on about the part of young comics not having the life-experience to do the CK type of comedy well, which is why I don’t see anyone at the open mics saying they emulate him. They probably love his show, which is great. Any comic who tells me he loves Entourage is someone I never want to see do standup.

      We agree on a lot here, but get outside East Coast and I think you find many open mikers trying to be Tosh. He’s the best there is at what he does, but as I wrote he has some really unique characteristics which help him get away with stuff that none of us could with your typical 8 pm Saturday night show.

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