Here's an interview with Dick Cavett, from Shecky magazine, in which he talks about comedy.
Shecky: Since you are primarily known for your interviewing prowess, do you think most people are surprised to learn that you were a standup comic?
Cavett: They shouldn't be surprised if they've done their homework and read "Cavett" (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $8.95 1974) I'm not sure how to take the fact that there are so many copies of it on Bibliofind,etc. I assume people want to give others the chance to laugh. I recall some valuable rapping in there about comedy writing. Not to mention the laughter and tears saga of becoming a club comic. (And watching Woody become one.)
Shecky: When and where did you make your standup comedy debut?
Cavett: I debuted (funny looking word) at the Bitter End and tell in the book the gory details of how my first night was a bitter beginning. Not even triumphant later appearances there and elsewhere can erase the memory.
Shecky: How do you think your standup material would work in today's comedy climate? Have you been in a comedy club in the "modern era" (Post Comedy Boom, 1981 or thereabouts)?
Cavett: I recently found a notebook I thought was lost and there was my old act, not written out but with abbreviations ("Chinese-German food," "Wedding gifts," etc.) and in one margin I had noted: "Woody said, 'Great joke, Cavett' " It reminded me of the sweat and labor of getting a second show, something I'd not foreseen. I used to stretch my Richard Loo impression nearly fifteen minutes to have something new for the bastards who stayed to see me twice. What struck me was that virtually all of it would work today. I'm trying manfully not to say, "Funny is funny," but I'm afraid it's true. I might update the act some by uttering "motherfucker" every few minutes. Years have passed since I have set foot in a comedy club. If the comic is doing badly it's painful, and if the comic is doing brilliantly, it's extremely painful.
Shecky: When you first began doing standup, you said you could write in someone else's voice, but it was difficult to write in your own. Once you learned how to write in your own voice, was it then difficult to write for someone else?
Cavett: Very astute question. I'm not sure why writing for others became harder. Probably a reluctance to give away anything you might conceivably use yourself caused a block. I did it, but it remained hard when it had once been easy. And what a rude shock it was to first sit and try to write for myself. Who am I? What am I? Those were the questions. Of course now with Scientology, all that is easy.
Shecky: Do you think it's easy for someone to write for Dick Cavett?
Cavett: I think I'd be pretty easy to write for. Anyone you've seen and heard should be writeable(sp?) for. The mistake people have made in writing for me has been to make the false assumption that I don't need hard jokes, just 'observations'. My Chinese-German restaurant joke was my most stolen joke. "Chinese-German food is wonderful. The only problem is, an hour later you're hungry for power." That's a solid joke and I needed 200 like it. That's not to say that I can't also get a laugh by something that, out of context isn't a joke--like "...and there I stood." What's ahead of that can make it a knock-out 'joke.'
Shecky: Is there any contemporary comedian that you think you would want to write for?
Cavett: Barry Humphries. His "Dame Edna," soon on tour, may be the funniest evening of my life in the theatre. I went three times and got to know Humphries. There is not a particle of female or resemblance to Dame Edna in him and thank God my inborn aversion to most drag and all camp didn't override a director friend's insistence that I go. Every student of comedy should see Dame Edna at least twice. And have your paper on my desk by Friday.
Shecky: What surprised you most about doing standup comedy?
To read the rest of the interview, click here.