White-haired whiz kid David Steinberg directed Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm

substitute-hosted The Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson golden age and documented
his stand-up routine in two Grammy-nominated albums after finding his comedic footing as
an early member of Chicago’s fabled Second City improv troupe.
Steinberg puts all that expertise to work in his current gig as host of Inside Comedy. In season
2 of the Showtime series (Mondays at 11 p.m. starting Feb. 11), Steinberg talks shop with
guests including Louis C.K., Judd Apatow, Tina Fey, Ben Stiller, Steve Martin, Bob Newhart
and Will Ferrell.
One recurring motif: Comedy is hard. Steinberg and his professionally warped colleagues
share nine rules for how to succeed in the funny business, and life, by really really really
Failure Is The Only Option
"There is no way to get better in stand up comedy than by failing," says Steinberg. "Even if
you’re as successful as you can be, like Jerry Seinfeld, when you try that new piece of
material, you will fail again. You have to take risks."
For Instance: When he’s testing new material, Louie C.K. says he expects "about 30 seconds"
of good will from an audience before the jokes are forced to live, or die, on their own merits.
Get Personal
"The odd thing about comedy is that the more personal you are, the larger the audience,"
Steinberg says. "It’s the opposite of the television formula which is to get as wide an
audience by being as general as you possible can."

For Instance: Keenen Ivory Wayans heeded the advice of a comedy club manager to be "more
specific." When he quit doing generic pop culture jokes and started telling stories about a
tough dad and school bullies, Wayans’ career took off.
Figure Out What Works--Then Change It
"Once you succeed at something it’s hard to keep it fresh and exciting so you have to keep
challenging yourself," says Steinberg, whose own evolution from stand-up comedian to TV
director illustrates the point. "You have to be a moving target or it won’t work."
For Instance: A star at Second City, Tiny Fey failed to get a performing slot at Saturday Night
Live, so she switched focus and launched her TV career as an SNL writer. Steinberg says, "I
asked Tina how she sees herself now and it’s mostly as a writer, but she’ll probably end up
Look Back to Move Forward

"Know where you came from, thats the rule," says Steinberg who notes that a few names--
Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Saturday Night Live, SCTV, Steve Martin--keep popping
as key influences. "Buy a Lenny Bruce record, watch Richie Pryor, take a look at Bill Cosby in
concert and see how he uses the space and creates his brothers just by making the sound of a
door slamming. Don’t steal any of it, but study how they did it."
Steinberg adds, "In comedy, looking back is more important than looking around at your
contemporaries because they are too much influenced by the same time period as you are. In
some ways that creates boundaries rather than opening up fields for your own originality."
For Instance: Judd Apatow deepened his comedic sensibility by absorbing mentor Larry
Shandling’s mantra that The Larry Sanders Show was about "people who love each other but
show business gets in the way." Keenen Wayans instructed his younger brothers to watch
movies by Mel Brooks.
Being Liked Is Overrated
Steinberg says, "There’s no question, no matter what anyone says, the goal is, 'Please like
me.' But your need to be liked has to be suppressed when you’re on stage. You can’t try to be
the kitten that the audience wants to pat. You have to make the audience come to you and
do it on your own terms. At the same time, I know it sounds a little contradictory, you have to
find out what they want to hear and connect with them."
For Instance: Though he will talk to fans, Louis C.K. refuses to let strangers take his picture
and if they don’t like it, too bad. C.K. also distrusts adulation when testing new material. "I
don’t like to ride the crest of applause." He prefers hearing someone say "I don’t like that guy
but that shit is funny."
Work the Silence
Silence from an audience instructs comedians when they’re bombing, but quietude can also
function as a potent storytelling tool, Steinberg says. "Silences are the most underrated part
of comedy," Steinberg says. "It’s about how long is the pause? It’s about the spaces in
For Instance: Bob Newhart built the timing for his entire act around imaginary conversations
filled with silent gaps.
Misery Loves Comedy
"I used to say 'If you’ve had a good childhood, a happy marriage and a little bit of money in
the bank, you’re going to make a lousy comedian,'" says Steinberg. "The one thing an
audience always has in common with a comedian is troubles. The Yiddish word for that is
tsuris You’re always putting your tsuris on stage whether you like it or not. No one is
untroubled, unless they’re just, you know, an imbecile."
For Instance: Six months before he died in a car accident, the late Robert Schimmel was
interviewed by Steinberg for Inside Comedy. "Robert talked about his cancer and how he’s
taken this tragic life that he was living even then, and turned it into comedy material,"
Steinberg recalls. "He was very articulate in describing how that liberates people from being
Listen Up
"Improv teaches you to listen and not jump ahead and write the scene before responding to
it naturally," Steinberg says.
For Instance: Steinberg observes, "The best Second City people could hear what you were
saying and still keep a theme going and all of that. Tina Fey falls into that category."
Don’t Pander
Citing improvisational comedy troupes that have spawned several truck loads of comedy
stars, Steinberg observes, "The most important thing to get from Second City and then the
Groundlings, and now Upright Citizens Brigade is that you work from the top of your
intelligence. Get your laughs from being smart, not by being dumb. And if you’re playing a
really dumb character, then do it as smartly as you can."
For Instance: Steve Martin plays dumb brilliantly. Steinberg says, "Steve sees the guy he plays
as a happy idiot who gets angry at the slightest thing. The way he does that is totally original
and unique."