Will: I'm like grateful that I had that insight at the time because I could have put it off for so many years or just never did it, or just listened to everybody else and just go, “Well, you know, I had my shot, I missed it. So, I'll just do this for the rest of my life”. I'm so happy to be on the other side of that.
Nicole: Hi everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Multitudes. I'm Nicole and I am so looking forward to sharing with you my conversation today with comedian Will Purpura.
Will is a comedian based in New York City and in this episode, we get into Will's story and how they got into comedy, and we talk about having the confidence to start and continue with comedy, how they handle everything from crowd work to jokes about sex, relationships, and dating, and jokes that are deeply personal, even when the crowd may not realize it.
We also talk about working through depression and anxiety, therapy and transcendental meditation. And if you're interested in comedy, I particularly loved hearing about how they deal with a tough crowd and thinking through what to joke about and what to not joke about and what they do to prepare to be on stage.
Whether or not you are interested in comedy or go to comedy shows or not, what shines through this episode is a story about someone who doesn't give up on whatever they need to work through at a particular point in their life and doesn't give up on what they're passionate about.
Will Purpura is a hilarious comedian, but first and foremost, you'll see why Will is such a gem of a person and what they have to say is universally relatable and inspiring.
You can find Will, @Willpurpura, on Instagram and you can find me on Instagram as well, @Multitudes.podcast.
Nicole: Hi Will! Thanks so much for being here today.
Will: Hi. Thank you for having me!
Nicole: Yes. I'm so excited to chat with you today. Will is a comedian based in Brooklyn and I saw Will at a comedy show in Brooklyn and I thought Will was super funny, and has electric stage presence that I remembered and I was so excited to chat with. So, it's really cool to have you here.
Will: Well, thank you for asking me. I'm really happy to do this.
Nicole: Yes. Well, I'd first love to start with telling us a little bit about your story, wherever you'd like to start.
Will: Well, I started comedy pretty later than I guess most folks, I guess most folks start like right after college, 21, something like that. I started at 27, I believe.
Yeah, I grew up in Long Island. I didn't really do much there. I guess I didn't do a lot of things there. I went to college for dramatic writing and that was very difficult for me, as it turned out. And you know, I wound up doing like odd jobs for a number of years and then, I tried to like get my life in order and turn it around, and that's around the time of 27 and that's when I started taking comedy, like improv classes and started doing standup open mics, and I have to say everything that's come after it's been a joy. It’s definitely taken me places that I never imagine going. Then, I find myself here doing comedy in New York and sometimes other places on the East coast.
Nicole: Yeah. That's great. That's interesting that you found dramatic writing difficult, and now you're writing comedy. I'm curious, like what was difficult about it?
Will: Well, for me, I realized even though I'm kind of a solitary person, doing solitary work sometimes is not the best for me.
When I was in high school, I used to write a lot. I wrote like two full length screenplays and one stage play, and I was really into it. And then when I got to college, everything became really, really hard for me for several reasons, and it just wasn't happening. I just couldn't write. It would be such an effort.
I think for me, standup has been better for me. It gets me out of the house. It, you know, gets me to interact with people. I'm engaging with people, audience and other comedians and I realize that I really need that kind of social life in addition to the creative life.
When you're doing comedy, you're meeting people and everybody has like a different life going on. It's nice to chat with people like that where you're talking about your job, but you're also talking about other things in life, and everybody has like different stories and stuff.
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. And you started doing comedy as you were doing odd jobs, is that correct?
Will: Yes. I started comedy when I was driving a cab. I drove a cab for like six years and I think I started, like right around the time that I was trying to get out of that job which was a bit challenging and more emotionally than other stuff. It was a lot of hours and things, but somehow, I wound up doing that and it was also a different time. This was way before Uber. So, I mean, like Uber is seems like a lot, maybe, it's a lot better in a lot of ways, but we were working for a company, like a car service, at the time and it was kind of depressing for me because this was so different than what I had wanted to be doing, and I thought maybe it would be too late to do something else, and other people that I worked with confirmed that for me. They would say, “This is it. You're gonna be doing this for the rest of your life. You know, you made your bed, now you gotta sleep in it.” That kind of stuff, and I was like, “Oh God, I guess”. I guess there is this sort of stigma where it's like, whatever job you take after college, that used to be the way of thinking, I think, but you know, that's the job you're sticking with or something, or that's the line of work at least that you stick with and like, you might change company to company, but that's the thing you're doing.
Yeah. But yeah, I started doing comedy around that time and then slowly other things started to follow. I started to get a different job and then, I started making new friends. And I've been doing it eight years now and it really has been like a second chance of life in a lot of ways.
Nicole: I love that. Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for sharing about that. And I feel like that's also really inspiring for people who are interested in either trying a different career or trying comedy too, know that it's like not too late.
Can you talk a little bit about how you got into the comedy scene? I feel like I hear a lot of people, like they moved to New York City and then they become, like in the comedy scene, and what does that mean? And like where did they start? Or where did you start?
Will: Well, I started with open mics. I think a lot of people usually start that way. I think open mics can be challenging. A lot of it, especially in New York where you have so many options. I think a lot of it is like finding venues and groups of people that you really resonate with that you wanna be around while you're trying to find your voice.
I think finding your voice while being watched is pretty hard, and I kind of adapted a mindset where, “Okay. I'm just going here to get better. I'm not going there to be good. I'm going there to get used to this and to try to figure it out on my own. I'm not trying to impress anybody. I'm not trying to be really good. I'm just trying to figure it out.” And in the same way that, you know, people would do that with running or something like that, just try to adapt that mindset. But it's hard because people are looking at you, and no one's laughing in the beginning, and there's all that.
But I'm glad I had that moment of clarity where I would do it because you know, I did try comedy sporadically throughout my life where I just try it once, it didn't work out, and then I would like take a year off and then I would try it again the next year, and it didn't work. And then I just said, I'm gonna keep going once a week, at least once a week, I'm gonna make that doubt to myself, and I did that.
And yeah, open mics. I think there's a comedy scene in a lot more places now. So, I mean, like wherever you are, I mean, if you can find open mics, even if you can't find comedy open mics, there's a lot of music open mics that you could try stuff out. There's a lot of, you know, mixed open mics that you could try stuff out.
improv classes which introduced me to a lot of cool people. And I think just sticking to that in the beginning because it really is hard, like in the first year, maybe two, and just keep going and going and then, eventually a joke works and then, you have two jokes at work and you start to figure it out piece by piece.
Like nowadays, my most exciting thing is that it's fun. It's no longer nerve wracking or scary. Like there's a little bit of nerves here and there but I'm having fun and I just never thought I would have fun. I never thought it would be fun. It always seemed, it was always so stressful. But I'm so glad that I waited because now it's like you know, the thing I look forward to the most each day.
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Was there a point where you realized that you were not as nervous anymore, or yeah, that you were like looking forward to it and like a turning point in that way?
Will: I remember when a comedian, I think like a year and a half in, a comedian who I really respected gave me like a compliment, and I thought, “Okay”, this is like, you know, cuz some people don't just like compliment you randomly. I mean, this person came up to me and I remember that being like a moment where like, “Oh, maybe I'm getting better. Maybe this is working out.”
And I don't think I really got confident until three or four years in, and even then, when I look back on those sets, they're so distant to me and I'm just like, I don't relate to them at all. So now, I feel like I'm much more confident in what I'm staying than I ever did.
So, I don't know, I went through like some phases where it's like, “Alright, I feel comfortable going up here, but I don't know if I feel confident in the material I'm doing.” And now, I feel like a little bit of both where I feel confident in going up and the material and doing, but a lot of people saying nice things. Those compliments mean a lot and they make you feel like you're not crazy for trying this.
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. And like you knowing, like week after week you're going up, there was a period of time like where you felt like the audience was not responding to you, or like there was a sense like, “Oh, I just bombed that.” How was that like experience and like oh, you're trying out one joke and or you're trying out two jokes, how is that going up week after week and just knowing like, I'm here to improve and having that sort of like mindset?
Will: Yeah, well, I mean, I just like wasn't getting a lot of laughs and I knew that a lot of the reaction I was getting was coming from, I looked scared on site, like I looked like a scared person, and you know, so much of it is just being confident going up.
It's something with an audience where If you look scared, they get scared. Like I'm a naturally shy person and I have been like the funny person in my group of friends, but it takes me a while to get there, to feel comfortable. You know, so using that same logic with strangers, like it took me a while to feel that kind of confidence.
I think the best comedians set that I see, they really talk to an audience, like they're talking to one friend. You know, they're just trying to make you laugh, like they would try to make a friend laugh. And I think that's been like a long journey to feel confident in that, but it's not a natural thing for me. That's why I think like, literally, I think anyone can do standup because I am like not a show person. I don't have a musical theater background. You know, I'm not used to this kind of stuff.
So, I think like so much of it is just if you like to do it or think you can do it, it really just has a lot to do with, like doing it over and over again until you figure it out. Cuz I really think like it's accessible to anyone.
Nicole: Yeah. I'm curious, like, do you think of like one friend or you're talking to one person when you're up there? What's going through your mind when you're up there?
Will: Well, lately I've been just trying to be in the moment as much as possible, just try to, like, when I catch myself going on autopilot and just like saying words outta my mouth that I memorized and I've said a bunch of times, I get really freaked out. Like when I go on autopilot, I’m like, “Okay, let's try to reel it in and stay grounded and present”, and you know, try to figure something out.
I really like hosting shows and like just doing like a little bit of time at the up top and just keeping the energy up for all the comedians afterwards. You know, when I'm up there, I'm just trying to think what would I like to see in a performance, and I think, like I'm thinking of the people who inspire me and what would that look like for me as an audience member? What would I enjoy watching?
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. That's very cool that you're also hosting and it's a cool way to smooth out the show as well. Like, I always enjoy, like when there's a host and they keep it going and keep the energy going.
You talked a little bit about presence and being present and not getting into autopilot, and I did wanna talk about your interest in transcendental meditation and how that has also, you mentioned, changed the way that you think about life, and how it's maybe kept you a bit more present. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you think about transcendental meditation and your connection to comedy?
Will: Yeah. So, right now I'm in the process of getting really back on track with it. So, this month I’m like in a good stretch of time of not missing a day without it but I did learn. In 2014, I read a book about Andy Kaufman and it said that transcendental meditation gave him the confidence to perform. And that's what got me interested in it because that was what I wanted to do, but I just didn't have the confidence for it.
So, I actually had some disposable income at the time from driving the taxi and it does cost money to learn. You know, I went and I learned, and I was a very cynical and skeptical person. You know, stuff like this and stuff like therapy which also I benefited greatly from, used to be something that I would very much shrug off, and not give it any moment's thought until like my depression was just like too, it was too much to manage, and I just feeling pain all the time, like physical pain from mental stress and depression and anxiety. And I was just like, I have to figure this out.
So, I did go to therapy. I went for about a year and then, I found TM and I learned it. And I have to say, from the very first moment that I did it, I felt something really profound. And I think it affects everybody differently. You know, so I can only speak from my experience but I was overwhelmed. I couldn't believe what I felt like the amount of relaxation. And then just the amount of clarity walking out into the street. And I did it very devotedly, if that's a word, I do not think I’m using that right, for like two years. And within that two years, everything just started to make more sense. I was more in tune with myself. I was able to see just how depressed I was. I really wanted to do things for myself. I wanted to be a better person to the people around me. I, you know, was happy, almost all the time. I was just like so excited for things and it led me to some pretty incredible stuff.
I will say that I did take it for granted for a while because I thought like so much had been fixed that I just like kind of put my feet up for a while, cause I was like, “Wow, I really figured it out.” And then I lost track of it. I let go of it, and wound-up having anxiety again and I was kind of slipping away. Like, I was still doing it but I just wasn't as devoted. And there was a difference in terms of just how I’m able to manage my anxiety and had thoughts like that.
So, right now, I'm, you know, trying to not miss a day at all, so I can get back to that place that I was. And so far, I do feel a little bit of a difference, not as profound when I first started, but I think part of that was, I was just going through so much that I just was not aware of within my own brain that it was able to get me to self-actualize and to realize who I was and what that meant.
So, it was like a night and day kind of a thing. I mean, like, that was a very hard, you know, high school to that time, like 26, 27 was a very hard time for me. That really kind of changed everything for me. And therapy, having a good therapist for like two years was incredible.
Nicole: Yeah. Did you do therapy alongside TM?
Will: I did therapy for like a year before TM and then, every session became like a little better when I started to meditate. Like I wasn't as afraid to come in with things to talk about things. I was doing therapy for like twice a week during that first year and a half or something. And I was so scared. I was so scared to talk about myself, scared to talk about how I was feeling.
And now looking back on it, I realize I really didn't have an opportunity to share a lot of the stuff I was sharing. So, I was just bottling all these things up, letting It overwhelm me, letting it take over my body, physically. And then while I was doing TM, I just like was a little more confident. I could talk more freely. I wasn't judging myself as much. So, it really helped.
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. I'm curious about like this idea of this feeling of like, you took it for granted and then you decided to stop as that what happened, or I'm thinking about this idea too, of going through something and you need a break and kind of assessing like how it's impacting you and that sort of things.
Will: I mean there was such a big difference, that after like two or three years of it, it’s almost like a magical experience where you just feel like something magical has overtaken you, and maybe it's like, “Okay, I'm better now.” Like I'm all better, you know.
Nicole: Like, I'm fixed.
Will: Yeah, I'm fixed. I'm like, “All right, this is great. Now, what else can I do?” And then I think I took on like way too much than I could handle, and I just thought, well, if I just keep this practice and take care of myself and keep a positive mindset and all this stuff, I can work through it, and it's not magic. It is the same as therapy where you're only getting as much out of it as you're putting in. You know, like that first two or three years of therapy was rather productive because I was just unloading all these things that I've never even thought to tell anyone.
But then when you get over that, you really have to like, I mean, I have to put a lot of work into making the sessions productive. You know, I don't want to just like talk about my day, although sometimes it's just, that's what it is but I'm trying to maintain a regular routine of it because I feel like it's only effective in my life, if I keep it a steady habit. And just because I'm doing it, and just because I feel better doesn't mean I can do everything.
You know I have to take it easy on myself. I have to really think about what I'm doing and the world. You know, try to maintain my happiness so I can be a good person to the people I care about. You know, stress I think is like, it could really be overwhelming. I mean, like everybody knows that but I think people are talking about it more now than they used to, but there used to be like a thing where it's like the more you do, the more valuable you are.
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely.
Will: Yeah. Isn't it cool that this person does so many things?
Nicole: Yeah. There's that idea of like your productivity is like tied to your worth and like seeing the idea of like you're here to just be as well.
Will: Yeah. Yeah. And knowing when to step away, knowing when to you know, be kind to yourself. So, but I do know that just the practice of it meant so much to me. So, I'm just trying to get back to it. Not for the purpose of any outcome, but just to get back to giving myself that time each day and keeping that habit.
Nicole: Yeah. And you touched upon like this idea of sharing about what you're feeling and sharing about your anxiety, and you do a bit of that in your standup too, right? And I'm curious about how you think about like sharing so publicly and you went from starting to share with a therapist and realizing like, that's challenging and then that you could do that and now like you're sharing on like a super public stage.
And how do you think about that? I'm also thinking about like, how do you decide like, “Oh, that's like too personal to share as a joke” or “I don't wanna talk about this.” or “I'm not ready to like, bring certain thoughts or like certain anxieties to like my comedy” or “Maybe I am ready” and that sort of thing.
Will: Yeah. It's really hard because there's a lot of stuff that if you watch me do it, it's like a joke but like one or two sentences of a joke, but some of those one or two sentence jokes, the lead up to it to where I'm able to talk about it is so long.
So, it seems like, you know, it took me so many years to talk about my dad dying on stage and then it just becomes like a few jokes which is fine because that's the way I like to write. I don’t really write in a storytelling fashion, even though I appreciate that and I like watching it. It's just not the way I'm writing at least right now. But being able to talk about my dad dying in a pretty traumatic way, that took me a long time to talk about on stage, and then I feel it rewarding in a sense that something that you know, really took me down a really dark spiral for many, many years is now something that I could, artistically, work with and make it into something that someone might relate to or really enjoy. I mean, people who have lost parents have told me they really like those jokes. So, I mean that means lot to me because it is a hard thing.
There's a joke in my act that took me a very long time to do, and it's only one joke but you know, it was a true story that I told my dad when I was like in middle school, that I was having feelings for both genders, or you know, like that's how I was describing like, you know, I was having bisexual feelings, and I mean, like, I don't go into this part of the joke but he had a very wild reaction that traumatized me. It was just like he was like clear that this was going to affect our relationship in a very deep level, and if I pursued this, these are not his words but this is what subconsciously communicated to me as a kid, that I wouldn't be his son. We wouldn't be friends anymore. And just the journey of being able to openly say I'm bi, and then talking about that experience has taken me so long and I haven't been able to do it until like this past year. And that's a big thing for me.
You know, part of me wants to like talk more because there's a lot of guilt and shame about, you know, coming to this realization later in life and stuff like that, and there's other things I'd like to talk about right now, it's just like one joke, one idea.
But it's like I'm trying to write material, but I'm also trying to write material that's meaningful for me and maybe meaningful for somebody else. And ideally, I would love to find the joke for all those things that are deeply personal. That I feel make up the person that I am.
So, I feel like some of the jokes are very, like that joke in particular is very personal to me because it's like that's something I can never imagine saying out loud in any capacity. Like there was a time in life where I was so scared of being discovered, or thought of in any way queer or anything that I would be shaking, I would turn red, I'd be frozen. And now to be able to say that on the stage in front of strangers is incredibly liberating.
And I guess like the personal stuff doesn't, you know, like I just want to find the joke though. I want to make sure it's funny, but like I said, I don't do a storytelling kind of style. So, I want to make sure that the joke is funny and works with my style. So, that part is hard, and then the idea of like not wanting to share anything too personal. I'm not opposed to that, but sometimes when you're dealing with stuff like parents, I don't wanna go too far in giving somebody else's baggage or like, you know, something that I wanna try to keep it as close to personal as possible and try not to, like there are some things like about my parents that are, you know, I feel are important to myself, but I don't know if I can make a joke about them cause I don't wanna throw them under the bus, so to speak, or not just them, but just like friends or relationships. I'd rather just keep it personal cause I don't wanna unintentionally hurt somebody, if that makes sense.
Nicole: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Like that sense of keeping it about you more or less, just so that you feel like the people in your life can be like comfortable and free and protecting them in a sense as well. Is that kind of how you think about it?
Will: Yeah. Totally. As of right now, I can probably come up with enough personal stuff without even going into that territory.
Nicole: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that and I really appreciate that. And I think it also highlights like the sense of what an audience member is seeing. It's just we're seeing a joke and we have no clue of like the journey it took to have like a joke become what it is and the story behind it, and that sense of it's very personal or it's not very personal.
I think an audience member doesn't know, like they can't distinguish like this joke was more personal than that joke. If they're both about like a family member and that like nuance there is can be like lost at times too.
Will: Yeah, absolutely. And like I said, I try to like keep it short and fast and just focus in on the joke aspect and you know, I just feel like that's where I am right now. Maybe like down the line as I'm doing different things. I don't wanna just do the same thing, all the time, like maybe I would expand it and make it a little more deeper, but I really love when I can take something that is like, you know, something that used to be so stressful.
I think it's also like a good analogy for things like, these are things like, there's a lot of stuff that I've written jokes about. They were such deep points of stress in my life that it was just like, All consuming and dragging me down and like preventing me from any kind of a happy life. And now for me to just like throw it away as a joke, it really is super liberating and it makes me feel like something that seems so important years ago and it is important, but now I can have fun with it.
Nicole: Yeah. It's an interesting idea to me of like this idea of having a joke and how, not only how it changes the audience, but how it changes you and like how you see yourself evolving or changing with the jokes that you're creating.
I am curious about like this idea of telling jokes that are personal and also having like a personality on stage and developing a personality or a particular character.
Will: Yeah, I think it's an extension. A good comedy character or anything is an extension of who you really are. Amplified, twisted.
You know, the stuff that I talk about is usually stuff that I think about or I read about. I like fun. I like when something is, you know, and I'm not saying that this is what I do, but it's something that I aspire to.
I like when things are big and theatrical. I like when things are kind of have this like, Fun House. Like, you know, like you don't know what's gonna happen, but it's fun and everybody's in on it. I don't like everybody's, “Let's all go have fun.” I like movies like that. I like shows like that. I like musicals like that.
I also like, you know, this is not something that I feel I do right now, but I also like sincerity in the sense of like a comedic film or a comedic show can bring you to a moment of sincerity. That's not necessarily funny. I'm not saying I do that, but that is something that looms around in my head.
I do like stillness and I try to write and perform in a way that I would enjoy if I were watching. And I feel like what's cool about it is maybe you could be somebody that you're not able to be in your day-to-day life. You can wear fun things, you can have a different hairstyle, you can play up, you know, or just like have a ton of energy that if you were to have that amount of energy all day, it would be exhausting, but you could save it up for 10 minutes at a show or something.
And that's also a day-to-day thing, or something I'm trying to do is to make my comedic persona to be a hundred percent a reflection of my philosophy. At this point, I'm like thinking, is this too unfunny, this as I'm talking about this?
But you know, I feel like a lot of the stuff I talk about does reflect my philosophy. I do have some jokes that don't reflect my philosophy, but they get laughs and I feel like compelled to do them cause I wanna do well. And you know, one goal later on would be to shave all of those off and just have it to be one whole reflection of how I feel.
Like I said, I used to be a very cynical person. So right now, my philosophy, the things I read, things I search for, seem to go in the other side of things, on the other side of cynicism, more on the side of optimism. That's more what I want to reflect in my performance. So, that's what I try to do, and that's not even something that I feel like I live 24/7.
Sometimes I'm still feeling pessimistic or I'm dreading something. And then I try to recharge my brain and try to like you know, fill my life up with stuff like that, because that's the point of view that works for me. That makes me feel good. So, I try to do that, and when people enjoy that, that makes me feel good. I feel like I can stand behind that at the end of the day.
Nicole: Yeah. That also makes me think about how receptive the crowd is to what you are joking about and you trying different jokes on with different crowds?
Will: I really like, right now I've been like thinking about like there's certain jokes that aren't getting the same reaction and you know, like that they used to, or like they only work in like half the time or something like that. And it does make me feel like, “Well, what am I hanging onto in that sense?” You know, ultimately, I would love to have a hundred percent a good set that people really enjoy. And you know, maybe that's too much to think about, but I think like, I don't want to change my personality or my point of view for any crowd, but I do want to, like I was saying, have jokes that I can stand behind and also feel like even if a set doesn't go well, it's not something I could help in the sense.
Yeah. So, you know, I've performed in different states and stuff and I kind of just do my thing and hope everybody likes it, and if they don't, I'll feel okay only because I feel like, you know, it's still me. You know, I don't know, if I feel like I couldn't do anything different.
The only time I feel bad is like, I'll look at a sound and be like, you know, like, “Oh, I just wasn't bringing the right amount of energy”, or “I was not feeling”, you know, that's when I'll feel bad. But if I'm doing my normal thing and I feel like I gave it a hundred percent, you know, then I guess there's nothing I can do.
Nicole: It just sounds to me like a crowd can be so fickle and like unpredictable, and it's almost like that sense of like you can't get hung up on how a crowd would respond or like you see other comedians up there perhaps, and you're like seeing like, “Okay, this crowd is like this and I'm going to change some jokes around”, and that sort of thing.
Will: Yeah. Well, I remember I did a competition once and I was talking to one of the comedians and I was like kind of nervous cuz I was like, we did two rounds of this and I did the same set. And I was like, I don’t know if I should do the same set and he is like, “No, you always do the same set.” And that was his advice was like, “Don't try to change it up, do the set that you were intending to do. Don't try to like change it up just based on the crowd.” And that kind of helped me in the long run because I feel like if a crowd is like dead and they're not giving anybody any reaction, I feel like it's almost like, at least for my….
I wouldn't call myself a thrill seeker. So, I mean, like if I'm like going out, I don't really surf, but if I went out, I wouldn't want huge waves anyway. So, I mean, like if I just went out and there was low waves, I just be like, “All right, well I’m just gonna try it out, as much fun as possible.” And then if it was, you know, like, I don’t know if that's even a good analogy, but the crowd was having big reactions, then I would just go ahead and do my thing. If the crowd was giving no reactions, I might be more inclined to do something radically different than I was intending to do, just because it seemed like a very low stake situation. So, maybe I'll try something new, maybe I'll do something alternative or whatever.
And sometimes that's a lot of fun when, you know, I hate to say, but it can be fun when an audience is giving no reaction cause it's just like, well this is like a note, you know, nothing's going well, so I might as well just, you know, try and then if by some miracle, whatever happens works. Then it's like, “Oh wow. I was able to change it in that moment.” But then if it doesn't work and it's not, then it's just like, “Well, this is just what was happening the whole night.”
That's another thing though, is that if like, you know, people who are starting not just like the confidence level during that first couple of years, like trying to get confident on stage, a big thing was like getting over the idea of failing. And I'm like at a point where I don't, in this regard of like, you know, bombing or things like that, that doesn't keep me up at night as it used to. It doesn't make me feel stressed because I know it just comes with the territory and I don't get super discouraged. I won't say that. It never hurts me. Sometimes it does. You know, like if I'm in front of people that I wanted to impress, if I was in a room with a lot of people I respect and it doesn't go well, that's really hurtful.
But unlike writing, which was like, send something in, you know, like wait to hear back two months later, maybe they like it, maybe they don't. I'm able to go back the next night and have a good set after a bad set or another bad set, but then I can go, you know, I'm very much in control of the output. Like I can do as many as I want, as many sets as I like, especially in New York when there's like open mics everywhere.
I also think that every audience is, you know, they're trying to have fun. They wanna laugh. They wanna have fun. So, I don't really think about like, the crowd is good, the crowd is bad. Like that kind of way of thinking.
Nicole: Yeah. That also makes me think about when comedians decide to do crowd work as well, like how they make that decision? And like you do crowd work and I'm curious about like how you decide like, “Oh, am I always going to do crowd work? Am I not going to do crowd work?” And like how you prepare for that?
Will: So, I mean, improv, and I did some acting classes with Meisner Techniques, have really come in handy with that because I'm not saying this is the thing to do, but when I am up there and something happens, whatever it is, like somebody says something, like I do acknowledge that sometimes people are being disruptive, but a lot of times if people say something, or even if they make like a nonverbal kind of reaction to something, I remember being really taken with the idea of Meisner, where it's like anything that happens in a scene, even if it's not on the page, you have to react to because you are in the moment, you're trying to be a real human being in the moment. You're not trying to play a role, you're trying really be yourself.
So, in real life, you know, it's a performance, but it's also, I'm really here, I'm present if I see something or I hear something, that's distracting me or something. I will try to incorporate it and I'll try to react to it and I’ll try for it to be a fun thing.
Sometimes people like, I do one bit of a joke where I talk about having your therapist take off on vacation, and I've noticed that almost every time I do that joke now, someone has a reaction to it. And it's like everybody has a therapist that's on vacation, like every performance I do, someone inevitably has a therapist that's on vacation. And if I see it, I really can't, I don't wanna ignore it, I wanna explore it. I wanna at least ask, you know, “Where are they going on vacation? Did they tell you?” Like that kind of stuff.
Also, the other thing I like about standup more than other things, it has to be live. There's no way to do it without it being live. It's sort of forced within that presentation or whatever. And I like the idea of if it's going to be live, why not explore that more?
So, if I get taken off script into this other direction, I wanna explore it and I wanna get better at that part, cuz I do do it. I don't think I'm particularly great at it. I would love to get better at it and be more improvisational.
And I kind of like the idea, I mean like, maybe other people would hate this, but I kinda like the idea of like, you're part of it too. You know, you're watching but you're also part of it. And if you want to contribute something, maybe, let's make it into something, you know? Like, I don't know. And if it works out, if it's like something that's funny or interesting, it's really engaging.
So, I like the mixture of it, and I feel like the Meisner class in particular is very much, there's a parallel there because like you have a script, you go to it but then if somebody coughs or something or they stutter or whatever the thing is that's like different than what's on the page, you have to acknowledge it. You explore that and then you go back to the text. So, I kind of do that with the jokes. You know, if something, you know, takes me off, I'll go explore that and then I'll go back to the jokes. And it's a lot of fun. I mean, I feel like you get to connect and have fun with people that way.
Nicole: Yeah. Yeah. No, it definitely is like a fun moment. And that idea of like the Meisner technique, that's like where you incorporate anything external. Is that how you think about it? Or is it like anything that's not in your script that comes up, you have to acknowledge?
Will: Yeah. Well, I mean they kind of teach it in improv too, and just like, but an improv, it's all the same.
Nicole: Oh, yeah.
Will: One thing about improv is a lot of it is just trying to teach this basic concept of just react to what happened just now. Instead of trying to write the scene or try to like make something funny happen. Just react to what just happened, what someone just said, or what happened. I would do that with improv too.
I don't think of myself as a particularly good improviser, because sometimes I would, you know, if I heard something from the audience, I couldn't ignore it. I didn't wanna ignore it. It's like something, you know, someone laughed in a certain way. I wouldn't sabotage a scene but that's one thing I do like about standup is you don't have to commit to a scene. You can literally react to everything going on around you. And you can go off the script, you can stick with the script, you can do whatever you want. But with Meisner, they do a lot of, and I've only taken like, you know, a couple of classes in it, but it was enough to like, you know, have like a little bit of a impact of how I view standup.
They teach you to repeat and repeat this phrase and then wait for somebody to say it a different way and then repeat the way they said it, and then over and over. But I guess it's just, I'm no acting expert, but I think it's just, you know, trying to drill in your brain, stay extremely present, listen to everything, and you know, the better you are at listening and acknowledging what's going on, you can be more present in the scene and you can behave like a human being would instead of trying to force something. They were very much against, like, if you don't feel like crying, don't cry. Don't try to force anything. Feel what you feel in the moment.
So, I do that too in a different way, but I mean like, if I feel like I don't want to stick with the script, I want to do this, I'm not opposed to taking my set in a different direction than what I initially thought it to be.
Nicole: Yeah. You mentioned the Meisner technique of like paying attention and like really listening to what people are saying. And how does that blend into your everyday life or your relationships? Do you find doing comedy or these techniques that you are incorporating into your comedy sets like impacting in any sort of way? Like how you relate to other people when you're not on stage?
Will: I feel more fulfilled in my life, and I feel like when you're more fulfilled in your life, you're able to be a better person to the people around you.
I can always like think of like, you know, certain people in my life and certainly myself around others, when they're just like too depressed or too stressed. You can't really be fully present for somebody because your mind is just starting to like, you know, I'm not happy where I am right now, and I gotta figure a way out of it. And then, you know, it's like really hard to stay present. It's really hard to like really be there for somebody when you're terribly unhappy.
I am in a place right now where I'm not in as good of a place as I was a few years ago where I felt like I was like very stabilized. And right now, I do have like an up and down period, but for the most part it's up because I do feel fulfilled creatively.
I'm meeting so many great people through comedy. I feel good about that. So, it’s a great thing to like feel fulfilled in that way cause then I feel way more present for my friendships and for families. You know, like I'm able to be there and really think about how to be a better person for them.
Definitely gone through moments where I'm like incredibly stressed out and I can't be there for anybody. And it's a terrible feeling. And I would say luckily, in comparison to the place I was 10 years ago before therapy and before that, I, at least, have a self-awareness where I'm like, “All right, I'm too stressed right now.” I can say that to myself.
I've had a hard time maintaining friendships in my younger years. I'm an only child. You know, when I have friendships, they mean a lot to me, and then sometimes I can feel like I don't deserve them or something. And now I feel like I'm much more comfortable with myself on my own.
So, when I'm around my friends, I can really be a friend to them, and just being aware of that, like knowing that if I let this stuff flip, if I, you know, let myself get stressed out, if I let myself do this or that or the other thing, I know that this is going to affect the relationships in my life. It's gonna affect my friendships, it's gonna affect family.
So, knowing that if I can prioritize those things or do my best to stabilize those things, I know that, that will help in that regard too. Now it's like so many years went by where I was just like so unhappy. I remember like, I actually remember somebody told me that, you know, one time somebody asked, “Why is that guy so miserable?” Like, somebody asked that when I was like, 23, 24, something like that. “What is wrong?” And you know, I didn't even, like, I was in a waking coma in that time. I was just like, I wasn't even, you know, I couldn't even say it was depression. Like I didn't even know. I was just like walking around not feeling connected with my body, my emotions or anything.
So now, all of this stuff has become connected in a way, and I'm able to express how I'm feeling. I'm able to listen to my friends and hear what they're going through and I feel good being able to be that person that I wasn't able to be for a long time when I was young.
Nicole: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. And I'm curious about, been talking about like relationships as well and like thinking about topics, and one thing that I have noticed is that going to smaller comedy shows, I would say I see a lot of comedians talking about relationships, and there have been times when I have gone to comedy shows and I feel like set after set, it's about dating and relationships and sex and sexuality and like sometimes it's about other topics, but I feel like that almost starts to feel like a theme after a while.
And I'm curious about like, do you feel that way? Like how do you think about picking the topics? Thinking about like, “Oh, a lot of people are talking about relationships and dating. Like, should I not talk about that? Should I have jokes about that as well?”
Will: I do have like, so I've written obviously jokes about dating and jokes about that stuff. I kinda stay away. I think for the same reason that I was talking about earlier is like, I don't like the idea, and this is just me personally, I'm not making any judgment on anyone's material, but like for me, like I have tried because I just like, that seems like to be a thing, and you know, when you're trying to like develop material, you're definitely looking at what other people are talking about. You wanna like say like, “Oh, maybe I should write something about this.”
I have a hard time like going out on a date and then thinking about like, yeah. I just like, even if like, you know, like regardless of what the situation is, for me, like I said, I don't want to throw anyone else under the bus. So, I'm not saying like whatever the case may be, I would feel like that's an intrusion in a way.
And right now, I'm not in a relationship. Maybe if I were in a stable relationship and there were things within that relationship I wanted to talk about, you know, with my partner's permission, I would do that.
But right now, in this place in my life, you know, like, feels like I don't want to, like bring people into my act that don't wanna be brought into it. You know what I mean? So, I don't really talk about, but I do think a lot of comedy comes from juxtapositions. So, I do understand the appeal and why people talk about it, whatever the joke may be, if it's a romantic thing, and something non-romantic happens in a romantic setting, that could be good fodder for comedy material because it's a juxtaposition.
And it's something that people can all relate to as well because most people are on the dating apps, most people are going on some dates or they're in a relationship or something. It is also a thing that everybody has a relationship in some way.
You know, a lot of people talk about death too. So, I mean, that's an also a juxtaposition, you know, like when I talk about my dad dying, you know, like that's a serious subject but you know, finding the humor in that, maybe that's why.
So, I mean, I do notice, you know, that's a lot of material. Again, I like to look from like, I want to explore for me, like my, in terms of goals, of like what my material would like to be. I would like to explore me coming out late in life, and the emotions around that because I feel like that's a deeply personal thing, you know, but it's just me. I'm not like, you know, bringing somebody else into it.
So, I feel weird. I have tried that kind of material and I'm like, you know, like, about like, “Oh, I went on a date and isn't it weird when blah, blah, blah.” or something like that. And it just, I haven't found the right joke or the right way that I feel fits in with my point of view. So, I don't really talk about that as much.
I do have sexuality jokes and some sex jokes, but I think that's also, you know, I'll admit that even the ones that I do, some of them are not the ones that are like the ones I enjoy the most because I think like it is something that I guess a lot of people talk about.
And it feels like there must be other things. There must be other things. And sometimes it's really hard because there are other things, but it's like trying to find the funny in those other things is really hard. There's definitely other things I think about. So, that's why, you know, sometimes it's more rewarding when I'm able to think of a joke that's really like, completely off the path of that.
But I think that's also, I mean, I don't know if any of this is a good response to it, but I mean, like, it is, like in terms of like the top five things people think about, it's gotta be in there for almost everyone, of like being, being single, being in a relationship, what does that mean? And trying to find somebody that you're compatible with, and that's such a big thing for everybody. That's such a big thing in society.
Nicole: Yeah, it's a relatable, universal subject and yeah, that sense of like, okay, well then somebody up there on stage has to be thinking like, “Am I involving other people? Do I want to go there?”
Yeah. Well, thank you so much. I would love to like know if you have any advice time, if you have any like thoughts for people who are listening and feeling hesitant about starting comedy or have been thinking about it for a while and something is holding them back. Do you have anything that you have learned or that you can share for people who are thinking about starting comedy?
Will: Yeah. Well, I think if it's something that you have thought to do, you owe it to yourself to try it. I think for a while comedy was very gate-keepery, another big stigma that it's like you have to be depressed or mess, you know, like in order to be funny. You can, I don't think there's a secret formula to it. I think if you wanna do it, that's the secret formula.
So, it doesn't matter if you're shy, it doesn't matter if you've had a terribly exciting life or not. I think you could do it, and you don't even have to be the funny person amongst your friends. If you see it and it resonates with you, I think it really is much more like any other thing, like any other art. You know, if you wanted to learn how to play the guitar, you could pick up a guitar. it is like that, and find the people who you gravitate towards.
I think if you think somebody's really funny, tell them. See what they have to say. Keep getting up there. Don't get discouraged if you fail. Don't worry about what others think as much and be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be respectful.
I don't think it's ever too late to start. I don't think it's ever too late to start. I think that's for everything. I never think it's too late to start. It's never too late to start therapy. It's never too late to start anything like that. It's never too late to totally shift gears and go into something else.
I'm like grateful that I had that insight at the time because I could have put it off for so many years or just never did it, or just listen to everybody else and just go, “Well, you know, I had my shot, I missed it. So, I'll just do this for the rest of my life.” I'm so happy to be on the other side of that.
Nicole: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that, and I'm so happy that you decided to give that a shot because you are hilarious and I really enjoy your sets, and I would love for more people to see how funny you are. So, I'm so excited to share this conversation, and I would also love for you to share where we can find you and how we can hear about you.
Will: I'm @Willpurpura, just my name on Instagram. That's the best place to find me and I post clips, I post memes, and I post show dates, and thank you so much for having me.
Nicole: Yes, thank you Will. It was really great talking with you about all things, comedy, your life, and just really appreciate you being here. So, thank you so much.
Will: Thank you.
Nicole: If you enjoy this conversation, I would love to know. Please leave a rating or review, wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. You can find Will, @Willpurara on Instagram, and you can find me on Instagram as well, @Multitudes.podcast.
Thanks so much and I'll see you next time.