A Masterclass in Comedy Magic with Harrison Greenbaum
August 17th, 2017
agt, americas got talent, comedy, last comic standing, magic, the illustionists
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Harrison Greenbaum is the hardest working man in comedy and magic. His unique act has landed him slots on Last Comic Standing and America’s Got Talent. His career started early first as a stand-up comic who occasionally used magic in his sets when the jokes weren’t landing. He was encouraged to focus just on the comedy but by the time he graduated college he decided that he wanted to combine the two. Harrison just completed his first tour with The Illusionists one of the largest magic promotions in the world. That success coincided with his appearance in the current season of AGT. He is also obsessed with getting a Netflix special which he is relentlessly promoting with his I Want a Netflix Special website.
Harrison is now performing as many as 700 shows a years, which is an astonishing number. He admits to us that many of those shows are sometimes just fifteen minute sets at a comedy club – which allows him to do three or four shows a night. Harrison also does a large number of shows in the independent circuit including a recent show that took place in the middle of Central Park in New York. He is a firm believe that young comedians and magicians should do as many shows as possible. Failing is the most important part of getting good. He has been lucky enough to work with some of his comedic heroes like Louis C.K. He was particularly inspired when he watched Louis work out his latest MSG special night after night at the Comedy Cellar.
America’s Got Talent is a huge platform and Harrison found the experience extremely difficult. The audition process included waiting for up to twelve hours before performing. In subsequent rounds the wait was just as long with the added stress of having cameras constantly filming. The one frustrating thing is having your performance heavily edited before it made it to air.
The old joke is that if you do comedy magic you’re probably not that good at either. Harrison totally recognises that a huge amount of comedy magic is brutal. Harrison has some pretty firm ideas about how to perform magic. Most people go to the magic store, buy a trick and then figure out some way to jam it into an act. Harrison does it exactly the opposite. He comes up with an idea first then develops a trick.
There are certain rote jokes that every magician does in every set. We discuss the problem of people following tends or even stealing material form one another. Harrison recognizes that people can come up with the same idea independently. Nevertheless, he is a firm believer that performers should focus on material that is truly surprising and original.
We love to discuss the creative process. Harrison’s process is all about output. He tries to come up with as many crazy ideas as possible and then follows through on them. Sometimes that doesn’t work but when they do click it becomes a truly original idea. Over time the audience is always going to tell what is working and what isn’t. If your joke isn’t working it’s because the comparison isn’t right. Comparing apples to apples isn’t funny but comparing apples to pirates is.
When Harrison was in collegein Boston he loved to attend the Mystery Lounge. One of the performers there is Mike Bent who is also a professor of comedy at Emerson. Bent famously had a prop-off between himself and Carrot Top.
My big takeaway is Harrison’s advice to develop material premise first. Tyler loved Harrison’s focus and drive. Harrison’s main takeaway is that he needs a Netflix special. Harrison says it’s hugely important to go break stuff – be willing to fail.