Stand-Up Sundays #5

I had someone message me on Facebook and tell me he wasn’t on the lineup for the Yoo Hoo room tonight. I told him he was in the Main Room. Either, way, judging by the timestamp on his messages, he was 15 minutes late for either show. Amazing. Because that’s what I want to be thinking about on my day off.

It was a rough week. I’m so behind on booking, it’s not even funny. It stresses me out and then I can’t be charming or whatever it is Barb and Dave think it is that I offer to the comedians.

Half of my job is sitting at my desk, second, third, fourth, and fifth-guessing my choices. I haven’t booked this person who has been on my booking list, but if I book him, is the show going to be cancelled? Are there too many white guys on the lineup already? How funny is he in comparison to all of the other white guys who keep asking me to book them?

I’m deeply aware that I’m holding hope and dreams in my sweaty, clumsy hands. People are so quick to thank me or defend me because I seem to be on their side, not realizing that it doesn’t matter if I’m on their side or not (I am, usually.) But I am booking one room in one club in one city in one state in one country. I am such a small part of their comedy journey, and there is so little that I can actually do for them. But they act like it’s everything.

I want to quit every day. Every day, I get to work and I think, “I can do this, at least for one more day. I just have to do this today. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus and someone else can decide who gets five minutes and who gets seven.”

The auditions were particularly bleak this week. I lost count of how many comedians did “jokes” in which fatness was the “punchline”. I weigh 300+ pounds. I’m very visible. I’m the person who checked you in, introduced myself as a booker, and am currently sitting in the back of the room, trying to figure out how to book you. Know your audience.

They don’t even realize to adjust, though. It’s not a thought. The attitude about fatness being synonymous laziness, grossness, worthlessness is so ingrained in our society. Nobody thinking about what jokes to do and what not to do, see me in a position of power, and rethink anything that they’re going to say about being fat or fat people in general. And they’re super lazy jokes, too.

Then again, last week, I had two comedians get on stage and say that dinner with them is basically a sex contract. Like, super 90s, hackety-hack-hack jokes. Dave’s note for one of them was “real comic”. Dave wasn’t wrong, the guy was really good, aside from his closer. The other guy actually mentioned Aziz Ansari, and was clearly working on a brand-new bit. (Which is such a GREAT idea at auditions, by the way. We don’t mention to not do that at EVERY SINGLE AUDITION or anything…)

But it’s amazing that with all of the Me Too and Times Up and women’s marches going on, that these jokes are still a viable part of a male comedian’s repertoire. I can’t wait for next week in which six or seven female comedians lament that they’ve never been sexually harassed or raped. Aren’t they pretty enough?

Okay, that got a little salty. I should end this on an upbeat note. But I’m not going to. Have a nice day.

 

 

Stand-Up Sundays #4

I want to take a moment to talk about how to be at a comedy show. If you’re at a show, whether it’s a mic or a bar show or an audition or a club show, get there 30 minutes early, and plan to be there for 30 minutes after. Stay the whole time. Whenever possible, be in the room, supporting the other comics. Stay off of your phone. Laugh when you think something is funny. I could probably write for 10k words on WHY to do this, but I’m going to try to keep it brief.

First, your physical presence indicates your emotional one, as well. So if you’re late, it tells me that you’re already disconnected from the show. If you’re hanging out in the hallway or the green room, it tells me that you are not 100% invested in what is happening in that room. A show is more than you. A show is a collaboration between the booker, the venue, the promoters, the staff, the audience, and the other comedians on the show. We all affect each other. Comedians who are excited about the show create an amazing energy before the show has even started. This is one of the reasons I like to work with new comedians. That excitement is spontaneous, genuine and infectious.

Second, the longer it takes for you to check in, the less sure the staff is that you’re going to show up. Yes, we know that some people just show up, expecting to do a set and then leave, but that behavior is self-indulgent. Imagine if the entire lineup does that? I have been to shows in which that is the case, and they are chaotic. I have had to look around and see an emcee and two comedians and be like, “We have 30 minutes of show right now. Let’s get started and if we need to vamp, we can.” I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve needed to add a comedian to a lineup in order to hold for someone we’re waiting for. That said, if the booker/producer can’t find you before the show, low-key alarm bells start going off in our heads,  and we’re trying to figure out if we need to replace you. Is that the impression you want to be making before you’re even on stage?

Third, our friends are producing their own shows and mics, even getting their own sitcoms. They are looking to get us into their shows and shit. I have had people offer to try to figure out how to get me into shit, and I have no interest in being on TV and I don’t really do stand-up anymore, but it’s nice to be thought of. The point is, nobody wants to work with a flake, and with there being SO MANY funny and talented comedians, sometimes the thing that gives you that edge is being reliable. Personally, I would rather work with reliable and consistently funny over brilliant and flaky any time. There are headliners that I’ve stopped booking because they’ve flaked out on me so many times, and I’d rather give those opportunities to people who will appreciate them and take them seriously.

Do I blame these people for flaking on headlining a free show, over and over and over? Yes, to be honest. Do I see their point? Oh, absolutely. They are being completely undervalued and should never have agreed to do it in the first place. That said, they did say they’d do it, even often expressed some sort of excitement about it. And then I have to replace them last minute. If you’re ever too good for a gig, turn it town. Let yourself and the booker off of the hook. Let the booker find someone who is appropriate for an unpaid 20-minute set on a Thursday night in front of 20 people. The booker is not hurt, and in fact is surprised by the number of quality, experienced comedians who will say yes to that gig and who even seem grateful for it.

Fourth, In terms of being in the room during the show, there are several reasons for that, too. First, sometimes comedians have very similar jokes. But if you weren’t watching, you don’t know if your joke has already been told and then you wonder why you didn’t get the usual response to yours. Second, sometimes something weird happens, and you get to comment on it if you witness it. Also if something weird happens and you didn’t see it, you may have a joke that touches on the weird thing that happened, and again, don’t understand why you get an off response from the audience.

Finally, rushing off after your set doesn’t do you any good. You don’t get to thank the audience or the staff, two groups of people without whom you get no stage time. I often have people do their set at auditions or shows and then come and shake my hand, directly ensuring that I know that they’re leaving early. This always irritates me, but I am only the person who booked them.

I don’t pay for the electricity to their mics, I don’t pay for the food, I don’t hire the cooks or bartenders to prepare the food and drink, or the servers who deliver that food and drink. I don’t check in the audience or seat them (okay, sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t), I don’t make sure that the carpets are cleaned, replace broken or damaged equipment, buy the cameras, chairs or tables, and I catch as many shows as I can, but even with I do watch a show, I am not 10-200 people watching you.

Thank the audience as they leave. Let them know where to find you on social media. Exchange social media information with the other comedians so that if you want to hire them for a future project, or vice versa, you can find each other quickly and easily. It’s amazing to me the number of comedians who complain about not having a fan base, who also leave directly after their set.

The most important reason to be emotionally present for every show is that doing stand-up is all about being in the moment. If you’re checked out at any point during the show, it affects your performance. I know, why should you care if it’s just a mic or just a bar show or just 7 minutes or that you’re not getting paid or that you’re not getting paid enough? Here’s why: there is not a good enough gig to drag you out of that mentality. There is always a better show in your mind, the one that you’ll really give your all at.

Michael Rayner is Dave Reinitz’s favorite comedian, partly because Michael Rayner is BRILLIANT but also because he is a headliner who puts as much of himself into performing for an audience of one as he does for an audience of a thousand — and he has performed for both of those extremes. Why should it matter who Dave Reinitz’s favorite comedian is? Because when he opened up his own comedy club, he built the stage specifically so that Michael Rayner could perform on it. Be the comedian that people build comedy stages around.

On a personal note, I know that sometimes there is a small audience. We’re all figuring out how to market and promote shows in LA, and a small audience can feel like a betrayal of your expectations. Maybe it doesn’t feel worth it to stick around on shows like that. What’s in it for you? I get it. But, as someone who has sat through an entire show, and at the end of it the only people in the room were me, one other person in the audience, the emcee and the showrunner with the headliner on stage — please stay anyway.  Comedians left with the one or two people who came to see them. Other comedians who had no one to see them left before that. There could have been sixteen people in the room, supporting each comedian so that everyone had their best possible set for that situation. I’ve seen that happen, too.  But I still remember that show, like at least once a week. I remember that headliner too, who got up on stage for two people and rocked it out like a pro. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever open my own comedy club, but if I can EVER help that guy out in any way, I will.

Stand-Up Sundays #3

I’m going to keep this short because the impetus that drove me to start this blog has waned, and I’m waiting for it to come back. Doing anything whilst dealing with depression is like dancing in the ocean. When the current is with you, it sweeps you along, adding grace to your movements. When the current is against you, the waves wrap around you, dragging you down into a death-defying kiss. Nevertheless, we persist, don’t we?

I watched Sarah Silverman’s new special on Netflix last week. I was blessed to get to see her live at the Super Secret show, maybe a year ago? Probably more. Anyway, she was amazing and I figured the special would be great, so I watched it even though I try not to do anything stand-up related when I’m not at work.

The special opens with a joke in which Sarah’s sister, drunk and puking in the toilet, thinks she’s being raped, only to find out that she pooped herself. Spoiler alert. (That’s how those work, right?) Sarah then goes on to analyze not only the audience’s reaction to the punchline — that their laughter is based on relief, rather than mirth, and then she ends the bit by observing that the only time a person would be happy to find out they’re shitting themselves is when they at the same time realize that they’re not being raped.

The bit is classic Sara Silverman; dirty, shocking, and surprisingly thoughtful and thought-provoking. The entire special lives up to that, and I like the transition that she has made since her last special. She has dropped the character of Sarah Silverman, the unreliable narrator, the racist, sexist airheaded girl, and has, without any warning, emerged as a smart, funny, empathetic, intelligent woman.

The special is for sure more personal, more dimensional, and therefore more deeply funny than anything else I’ve seen from her, aside from her book, “The Bedwetter”. I read it several years ago, and I think she opens with a silly foreword written by her stage persona, and I remember thinking that that voice was going to get really old, really fast. Then the actual book was written out of character, and I loved it.

When I saw her live, her mother had just died two months previously. She had some jokes she wanted to do about her mom, so to get into the material as quickly as possible, she dropped the dead mom bomb on us, and then paused, and then ever so gently said, “It’s your fault”, immediately breaking the tension. Masterful crowd manipulation.

I half watched her special to see if that stuff was in there, but it wasn’t. I don’t blame her. I couldn’t even talk about my mom for a full two years (at least) after she died without crying. But in the special, she does talk about her family and talks about the humiliation of attending camp as a bedwetter and then makes fun of her dad for thinking that that would be a good idea. She immediately follows that up with exquisite insight into why her dad did send her to camp, even though she was a bedwetter.

I think the most overwhelming and humbling thing about her special is just the core of sweetness that she has been hiding behind that dirty, bigoted character for so long. I’ve always found her likable, even when I couldn’t  necessarily get behind her character, but I loved her after I read her book, and I loved her even more after seeing her live, and I love her even more after watching her latest special.

Maybe that’s the wrong takeaway after watching a comedy special, but there was something so endearingly vulnerable about watching her tell jokes without hiding behind the protection of irony. It made the jokes more immediate, they hit harder, and — I don’t know. It’s the same reason I love watching Jackie Kashian. Everything she says is ferociously and unapologetically real.

Even though a situation is presented in a funny way, the core of pain or humiliation or confusion is right there, intensifying the contrast between the discomfort and the whimsy. I have a lot of favorite comedians and a lot of favorite jokes and I have an appreciation for pretty much every style of comedy. But there’s just something about fearlessly attacking unfettered pain with humor that doesn’t just make me laugh, but reminds me of what it means to be human.

So, I liked it.

Stand-Up Sunday #2

I had a lot of good moments to choose from this week, and I think I’m hyper-aware of them because of how hard the depression hit this week. Kyra Soltanovich called me a problem solver. I had to pull Cheri off the floor as she seduced me because a server was behind her with a tray of drinks. Dave had an amazing set on the Friday 7:30 show. I hope I never forget that set. Josh was hilarious, I loved my weekend headliner, I got to know my intern and some of my coworkers better.

But here’s what stands out from this week: Scott Myer is a very new comedian but he’s older — even older than Dave. He’s been divorced twice and he moved to California to take care of his mom who had cancer, and he started doing stand-up. He’s been coming around to auditions for the past few months, as regularly as he can manage.

He’s VERY new. So, he doesn’t have a ton of structure. Okay, he has no structure. He mostly rambles and stumbles upon punchlines completely by accident, most of the time. He’s charming as fuck, is what I’m saying.

At the auditions on Wednesday, he mentioned that he was just offered a job that would make him $100,000 a year and he turned it down because it would mean he’d have to be at work instead of coming to auditions on those days.  Dave and I immediately both started shouting at him to take the job, we’re open other days, for a 100k, we’ll move the auditions to Friday, etc.

It resulted in a very funny moment, for a couple of reasons. 1) Dave and I were responding entirely to the money, not to a dislike of Scott. We both like him a lot. 2) Dave and my reactions were spontaneous, in the moment, and genuine, so it ended up being funny rather than mean. 3) Scott had a point that he was trying to get to, but no rhythm or structure, so we didn’t disrupt a moment he was trying to build. 4) Scott, unlike most comics, innately understands that stand-up is a conversation. He wasn’t offended. He wanted to make his point, but he wasn’t butthurt at being interrupted. He responded to us but didn’t let us derail him.

He came back for the Thursday auditions, but by then, I’d realized that he might be hurt that Dave and I so vehemently insisted that he take the job. So I talked to him for a moment in the bar before the show started. I don’t know if he really was okay or if he was hurt by our reaction and kind of relaxed as soon as I apologized, but he basically said that he has been questioning everything in his life for a while and that performing at Flappers is his only source of true joy and he isn’t ready to give it up. He’d rather be poor and happy.

And him saying that took me back to four years ago, when I wandered into Flappers, looking for a glimpse into another world — a world in which people actively pursue their dreams and express themselves freely. I was there for one night and I was addicted and I had to go back again and again to get my fix. I had saved up money and was taking a year off to write. When that year was up and I ran out of money, I started using my credit card because I could not go back to the shitty world of “should” that I had just come from. I knew that I should have gone out and got a job and stayed out of debt, but I didn’t. It was more important to me to be at the only place that had given me a moment’s rest from my grief since my mom died.

I thought, we all came for the same reason, not just to Flappers, but to comedy. Comedy, aside from all of the terrible aspects of it as a business, at its core, is a place that people mentally and physically go to, knowing that they’re going to be able to speak and be told the truth.

It’s been four years for me, and about a hundred for Dave (He’s old. You get it.), and at a certain point, we forget that we came to comedy in pursuit of truth because there is so much bullshit surrounding the business. It’s very sweet to think you’d rather be poor and happy but years of being overworked and undervalued kills that initial impulse. Because the thing that attracted you to comedy in the first place is such a small part of it. It’s like the light on the anglerfish. Truth draws you in and corruption and exploitation eat you alive.

That sounds negative, and it can, honestly, weigh on me to the point where I lose sight of why I wanted to be in this environment in the first place. Still, I often say that I’m glad that I found Flappers instead of any other comedy club, and I find it difficult to articulate, even to myself, why. I think that we do make a distinct effort to treat people as well and as fairly as we can, although I am also always pointing out that we need to do more.  But I think the thing that really saves us is that we are built on trying to create an environment in which newcomers feel safe and welcome to perform.

Although there are people who would point out that us doing so is not entirely altruistic, and I certainly agree with that, new talent is the lifeblood of any artistic community. New comedians remind me that comedy is exciting and fun. I forget that, I really do. I think that any time you take an artform and turn it into a business, you run the risk of removing its soul, and for me at least, watching new people figure it out, watching people who have been doing it for a while get better, watching people who know what they’re doing and should never be doing anything else — all of that is what reminds me of how much I love comedy and how much it has done for me.

Stand-up Sunday #1

Alright, look at me being all consistent for a day-and-a-half. Stand-up Sundays! I just got home from work, I’m tired, cranky, and not entirely sober. Let’s talk about comedy!

Yeah, I’m going to let my first comedy post be a bitchy one. Deal with it.

If you’re booked on a show and you’re NOT Jerry Seinfeld, you: 

  • Show up on time, and by “on time”, I mean 30 minutes prior to show start. If you’re hosting, it’s 45 minutes.
  • If you’re running late — and don’t be running late — call the club so that we know what the hell happened to you.
  • Stay for the whole show.
  • If you DO decide to bust out early, DON’T call the booker’s attention to the fact by finding and shaking her hand in the middle of someone else’s set.
  • Be nice to the staff. I got a complaint about a comedian from a staff member yesterday and I won’t be booking him for a while, if ever again.
  • Do your BEST material or a reasonable facsimile.
  • If you ARE doing brand-new material, don’t announce it to the booker or the audience or both.
  • No notes on stage.
  • Don’t run the light.
  • Don’t run the light.
  • Don’t run the light.

There’s also something else I should mention before I forget: DON’T RUN THE LIGHT! Ugh, I was trying so hard to not write that list in all caps, I just couldn’t hold back anymore! So many people violated multiples of these rules this weekend. Most of the time, I’ll overlook it, but bad manners just ran rampant this weekend and I wanted to scream.

Okay, that was me being negative. Here are some DOs that people did this weekend that pleasantly surprised me: 

  • Comedians supported other comedians and came to watch the shows. (By the way, I do not count the DBs who come in only to watch his/her friend’s set and immediately leave. I’m not going to get into why here, but I might in a future Stand-Up Sundays post.)
  • Grow As a Comedian: This weekend and last weekend, there were comedians that I hadn’t seen perform in a while, and they blew me away! This makes me SO happy, more than you can understand.
  • Be a Better Comedian Than I Thought You Were: This sounds like the same as the last thing, but the truth is that you might be a great comedian and have had a terrible audition or a just-okay tape and those were what you were booked from. A few people pleasantly surprised me this weekend and I will be doing more with them in the future.

Honestly, I wasn’t my best this weekend either, and that has an effect on the other comedians, the staff, and the audience. And I know that I’m not the end-all, be-all of whether a show goes well or not, but I’m a component. That’s why I get so mad when a comedian comes in and is too cool for the room — because one jerk with an attitude can take all of the air out of a room. We all affect each other whether we like it or not.

Blogging While Humaning

I’d love to have prepared something special for my first real blog post. I did a quick Google search and there were a lot of “not to-do” articles that I didn’t click on, but I did see one piece of advice that said, “share your expertise”. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m not an expert on anything but I am proficient in a lot of things:

  • sadness
  • anxiety
  • face blindness
  • Dan Fogelberg
  • writing
  • drawing
  • stand-up comedy

That’s seven things! So I’m going to dedicate one day of the week to each of these things and give the best tips I have for all of these subjects. If I become proficient at anything else,  I may have to change the format at some point, but we’ll start with these. Because this is my first official blog, I’m going to do the first week in one post and give a tip for each subject, so that you can judge from one post if I have any credibility on these subjects.

Minstrel Monday
Dan Fogelberg Fact: Dan Fogelberg had a boat named the Minstrel, therefore, Mondays have been nicknamed Minstrel Mondays!

Testy Tuesday
Okay, I couldn’t think of a word for anxiety that started with a “t” so we’re going with Testy Tuesdays. A tip for dealing with anxiety: Anxiety is about feeling out of control, so the best way to combat that is to pull your focus into what you can control, even if it’s something small. Write a one-page story (it doesn’t have to be good), draw a thing (it doesn’t have to be good), pick up your socks off the floor (leave the empty water bottles). If you’re focused on what you CAN do, you’re not focused on what you CAN’T control.

Writing Wednesday
This one was easy to name. This is something I did for my writing, recently:  I joined a Facebook writing group. It’s going well so far. Yes, there is the temptation to just play on the page instead of write. However, being able to see and talk to people for whom writing is also super important is very helpful.

Drawing Thursday
Yeah, I totally gave up on the alliteration for this one. A tip for drawing: start out crappy at it and get better by doing it crappily a lot. It’ll get gradually less crappy and before you know it, it’s actually kind of good.

Face-Blindness Friday
Again easy to name! Face blindness is called “prosopagnosia” and it is defined as, “Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces…Depending upon the degree of impairment, some people with prosopagnosia may only have difficulty recognizing a familiar face; others will be unable to discriminate between unknown faces, while still others may not even be able to distinguish a face as being different from an object.”* Tip for Dealing with a Face Blind Person: if you’ve met someone a few times and they still don’t recognize you, it may not be a lack of respect, it could be a neurological condition, so don’t get all butt hurt, just introduce yourself again.

Sadness Saturday
Ooh, my favorite! Honestly, I could make this every day, but what a bummer of a blog that would be. A tip for dealing with sadness: Google “I am sad” and see what pops up. Generally, it’s kittens. I like to Google my sadness away because it reminds me that it’s part of being human. Everyone deals with sadness, I am not a freak for feeling sad sometimes.

Stand-Up Sunday
The perfect follow-up to Sadness Saturday. I work at a comedy club, so I’ll probably spend Sundays reflecting on something I learned or saw that week, or a joke I heard, or something that pissed me off. This week, the Wednesday audition was really nice. We had like, four first timers (comedians new to the club) but in general, it was a low turnout, and mostly regulars. But before the audition, I asked David Dorward if he’d do one of my favorite bits. I requested one of my favorite Kimberly Clark bits from her, too, and then spent more time chatting with the few people who showed up than I usually do.

Usually, at auditions, the regulars get up and use it as an open mic with mixed results. But on Wednesday, David was one of our first regulars up, and he brought it. Kimberly did too, and so did all of our regulars. I think there were two things that happened yesterday: one, I showed an interest in the comics, rather than just checking them in, which made them feel special before they even got on stage. And second, even the comedians I didn’t chat with were jazzed and inspired by David and Kimberly and they all did their best, too.

David and Kimberly are two of my favorite comedians who drop by auditions regularly, and they always do well, but I think that going in knowing that they were not just watched but seen and heard, really helped. It COULD have backfired, and I won’t be doing that a lot, but my requests were spontaneous and genuine, and they responded to that. I think we all got to remind each other that we all love stand-up, which oddly enough, sometimes gets lost in the grinds and gears of comedy as a business.

* https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Prosopagnosia-Information-Page