Comedian Don Friesen Talks About his Career and New Showtime Special Ask Your Mom

The very funny Don Friesen talks with us about his career in comedy and his new special, Ask Your Mom which debuts on Showtime Friday June 22nd at 10:00 PM Eastern/Pacific

What can you tell us about Ask Your Mom and what can they expect?

Well when I’m not doing standup I’m basically just a husband, dad, and wannabe geek…. So the title of my show is a spoof of my feckless answers to the kids when they ask me if they can do things: “We”ll see,” “I don’t see why not,” and “Ask your mom”–mostly “Ask your mom.”

The Special is basically a highly-caffeinated satire of my daily life. It’s self-deprecating and playful and has some pretty broad physicality, but at the end of the day people tell me they relate to it and see their own lives playing out in front of them. It’s a clean act, but no one seems to notice. I get guys coming up to me after every show saying things like “Dude, you were F@#in hysterical!”

How did you become involved with standup and what inspired you?

I was basically a senior in business school, selling commercial real estate, and going through bankruptcy. It’s a topic you’re supposed to study as a business student but not necessarily experience firsthand. If I hadn’t sucked at business I probably would have never explored comedy. I always wanted to try comedy–used to check out Cosby albums from the library and play them until the grooves wore off–but never thought of it as a realistic career option. But hitting rock bottom financially and careerwise really opened up my mind to new possibilities. Rock bottom can be very liberating. I figured if I’m going to be broke anyways, I might as well be broke doing something that I love.

What sort of research did you gain your inspiration for your material from?

Research?? Ha! I’m laughing because when I first started, I used to do tons of research on topics I was writing about, scanning encylopedias, thesauruses, books of idioms, articles yada yada yada… I treated comedy like a term paper, trying to find the best combinations of words that would sound funny together and show people how smart I was. I wanted to be the next Dennis Miller. Over the years I’ve become more of a conversational comedian whose research involves studying the human condition–how people, including myself, act, and why. My inspiration comes from exploring our faults and frailties. I’m looking to find some humanity through mockery–uncovering the farce of the daily life that we all take so seriously. Ironically, I now spend half of my act telling people what an idiot I am. Lemme tell you: they’re buying the idiot thing more than they ever did the smart thing.

What would you say are the main difference between the East and west Coasts in terms of comedy and do you notice differences in the audiences East/West?

Boy that’s tough. I honestly haven’t given this a bunch of thought, but… I guess if I was forced to generalize I would say that East Coast comics maybe place more value on joke structure, and design bits that showcase their writing skills. West Coast? A lot of LA comics gravitate towards the alternative style–edgy with an emphasis on attitude. It’s sometimes a competition of who can be the most shocking and detached…. a lot SF comics on the other hand, gravitate towards the Lenny Bruce style of social relevance–having a strong opinion seems to be very important. But I could name dozens of exceptions to any of these theories, so I think it’s ultimately more important who you are than where you perform.

Can you tell us about your first gig and what it taught you?

My first gig was a disaster! I was so nervous I couldn’t breathe, and I was using a hodgepodge of bits that i had heard other comics do over the years, and couldn’t even remember them.

Oddly enough, I was hooked. My second gig went a little better because I wrote my own material and then rehearsed it to death. My third gig I was physically hooked. I was literally pulled off the stage by a giant hook–a fact that my roommate at the time never let me live down. So what did I learn? If you love something and you’re not good at it right away, don’t give up. We all have our own learning curves.

In what ways would you say that performing material in front of a camera are
alike and different?

That’s always tough–especially when there’s only one camera, in a club, and you’re trying to capture a set to submit to TV bookers. Unless you’re a stand-still monologist who stays front and center and plays straight ahead anyways, you have to decide to what degree you want to play to the camera or the audience. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully resolved the answer to that, because it’s nuanced, but I’m currently leaning towards just playing to the audience in the way that’s most natural to you… the theory being if the set is more natural and organic, the camera will capture the best essence of you whether you’re looking into it or not.

Having said that, I’m still aware of the camera and do try and open up and give it a little extra love. It probably sounds silly, but if I know the camera is close on me, I do try and keep my head a little stiller than usual–a regular amount of head-motion in a live show can come across as herky-jerky on the camera.

Who or what makes you laugh?

who? Brian Regan, Mitch Hedberg, Mike Birbiglia, my kids. what? God it could be anything. I’m easily amused by people who take themselves too seriously. Also by awkward situations that you can see coming a mile away but can’t seem to stop. It’s the slow motion train wreck that plays out beautifully for our amusement. I guess it’s the folly of human nature that kills me. On some level or another we’re all kind of idiots… it;s the ones who don’t realize it who are the funniest.

For anyone wanting to get into the industry, what advice would you give

Well…. if by the industry you mean standup I would say, try it. I’m not saying that everyone could or should make a career out of it, but if it’s something that you’ve always wanted to try, go for it! Why not, what’s the worst that could happen? Beats living with regrets. Beyond the experimental phase though, if you don’t have a deep, driving, almost obsessive passion for comedy, then I wouldn’t suggest quitting the day job. There are easier and more realistic ways to make a living. However, if you do it because you love it, and the reward is in the journey, then you might have a decent shot at satisfaction.

What movies have you seen recently and what do you have on your to see list?

I’ve been too crazy busy doing press and promo and rebuilding my website to have any time for movies lately, which is a shame because I absolutely love them. The one exception was taking the kids to see The Avengers a few weeks ago–what a blast! Brilliant use of the Hulk as comic relief–the green man really stole the show! Plus Robert Downey Jr. is about as brilliant as they come. He’s great in everything. On my list to see: don’t know what’s playing at the theater, but I did promise my daughter we would pick a day in the next couple of weeks to watch our favorite three CGI movies of all time back to back to back: The Incredibles. UP, and Megamind. Welcome to my world.