Comedian Diz White is a sharp, funny Englishwoman who launched her career in the late ’70s with two performances that have become part of sketch-comedy legend: She co-authored and performed with Ron House, John Neville-Andrews, Alan Shearman and Derek Cunningham in the musical El Grande de Coca Cola, a parody of a third-rate vaudeville act, and Bullshot Crummond, a lampoon of the British pulp hero, in a play that was made into a 1983 film.
White’s just-published “how to” book for being a comedian and forming a comedy group (The Comedy Group Book) contains 251 pages of lucid, common-sense advice on topics ranging from “Why Create a Comedy Group?” (probably a good place to start if one is thinking of doing so) to counsel on business plans, mind-sets and marketing — i.e., how to convert your act from a Monday-night warm-up gig at the Comedy Club to a sitcom on ABC.
There are many aspects to White’s advice that blaze with universal truths: the need to research and know the world you’re entering; the need to know the history of world comedy and yet not be intimidated by it; the mechanics and tribulations of “going solo.” Particularly appealing are the depth of White’s historical knowledge, the breadth of her references, and her practical philosophy of supporting one’s supporters, with the understanding that more kismet comes from generosity than competition. There’s also the wisdom she’s accrued from the group dynamics of a comedy troupe — the melding of disparate voices into a harmony. These insights parallel common truths that also accompany ensemble-driven theater.
White’s intriguing and sometimes inspiring book isn’t entirely persuasive. She uses her own rich and prodigious experience to serve up her rules, regulations and encouragement; however, little in her book addresses directly and concretely how the world might have changed since White met with her success in the late ’70s. There’s an Internet-resources guide in the glossary but nothing about YouTube or the phenomenon of video within comedy acts that so many comedians in their 20s are now employing and the reason why TV executives are paying attention to them at comedy festivals. The list of White’s “recommended” comedy clubs in L.A. is restricted to the Groundlings, Acme Comedy Theatre, the Ice House and the Improv — venues that have been around for decades. Where are the comparative newcomers and innovators: the Steve Allen Theatre, Bang Comedy Theatre or Upright Citizens Brigade? — the latter has also been a comedy beacon in New York for years, and isn’t on White’s recommended list for that city either.
On sketch-comedy troupes, White refers to the sum of a comedy group being greater than its parts. In her book, however, separate parts may be greater than its sum. Yet those parts give White’s book its considerable value.
THE COMEDY GROUP BOOK | By DIZ WHITE | Smith and Kraus Publishers | 251 pages | $15.95 softcover