Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Comedy My Way

I've been doing stand up comedy for 13 years. In that time I've pursued it with varying degrees of effort.

In the beginning I didn't really have a goal. I performed at one or two open mics almost every week for a year. I liked the attention it got me among my family and friends and the occasional "audience" members that took a moment to slur "Duuuude that was funny shit" between swigs of Bud Light. It was good for my unbridled low self esteem.

A few years in I started to get some paid work. It was a little bit because I was funny, but a lot because I was nice. Being one of the nicest people in a group of open mic "comics" is relatively easy. Don't bitch about the STATE OF COMEDY, don't try screw your buddy's girlfriend, and don't run down your fellow open mic'ers behind their backs (you should have the courage to do it to their faces, because it's probably warranted). I went on the road to fabulous comedy meccas like Winnemucca, NV. and Salem, OR. I met working comics, kept in touch with them, and got MORE work. Getting more work made me more serious about the craft. Yes. It's a craft. For a time this work paid off by giving me new material, making me a better performer and giving me a more polished persona.

But I got lazy. And scared. And arrogant. All qualities that retard your progression. I never gave up my day job, so I worked in comedy when I wanted to. I was comfortable thinking I was one of the best Reno comedians. I went through periods where I'd do a lot of shows and come to loathe my act. Then after I'd go months without performing, I'd get up somewhere and enjoy it again because the material seemed fresh. I'd quit comedy for short periods but I could never stay gone because, when you tend bar at a chain restaurant and spend your days making "RUTTI TUTTI SUPER FRUIT-A-RITAS" and prying four month old gum from the bottom of tables, you've got to have something that gives you a sense of accomplishment. I realized I had come sort of full circle. I wasn't doing it because I loved it, or even liked it, really. I was doing it for the attention and the self esteem boost. I loved the locker room aspect of it. The being on the road with another comic and suffering through same LOOOOOONG drive to a place that advertised the gig with finger paint on butcher paper. The 2 a.m. dinners spent talking about the show. The motel room that's mini-fridge came pre-stocked with the previous guests dentures (yes, for real).

I didn't love IT, though.

Earlier this year I reached another comedy crossroads. I realized that I wasn't good at anything else - food service, call center, sales, etc. - and maybe I should give comedy a shot full time. Not because I love IT, because I'd run out of other options. Through some lucky breaks and due somewhat to being a nice guy through the years, I've landed a pretty good gig. I get to perform nightly in a great club, and I can go on the road when I WANT to, not because I HAVE to. But lazy, scared and arrogant don't just go away without some effort on your part. I still suffer from those things. I haven't used this opportunity to improve, to write new stuff, to write BETTER stuff.

Then I had an inspired epiphany. If that's even a thing.

I had lunch with a fellow comic. His name's Kermet Apio. You should check him out: He's fabulous. As a comic and as a human. I learned so much in 2 and a half hours sitting across the table from him. I wish I'd have recorded it, because I'm sure I don't remember all the quality advice, encouragement and knowledge that came my way. I remember some though. On the craft side he talked about a comic's "comedy machine" and how it was important to get that working properly, so that everything that went into it, came out with uniformity and personal truth. On the business side he talked about adjusting your reaction to things you had no control over and finding the silver lining. He talked intelligently about every aspect of comedy. It was like a free comedy seminar - TOTALLY free because Kermet even paid for lunch.

That night I had the immense pleasure of watching him perform. He opened for the GREAT Brian Regan. It's no small accomplishment to be asked to open for Brian since you not only have to be GREAT yourself, you have to have "all ages" appeal. Kermet fit the bill in both those categories and THEN SOME. He did 25 minutes that had the 1200 or so people in the room wiping away tears. Their raucous applause when he was finished lasted a good solid 2 minutes. His material was all true, all clean, and all hysterically funny.

And I realized, I do love IT.

In my entire "career" I've rarely watched very much of other comics, because when I see a great one, I'm usually discouraged in my own ability rather than inspired by theirs. Not this time. After watching Kermet (and Brian Regan too) I'm finally inspired. Inspired to ATTEMPT to write and do comedy the way I've always wanted to. Comedy that has a message. Comedy that doesn't insult. Comedy I'd be proud to do in front of ANYONE. Comedy that's true to me. Comedy that's funny.

So that's the journey I embark on as I write this. I'm going through my act and looking at places to clean it up and freshen it up. I'm making a list of NEW topics to talk about that mean something to me. I'm really THINKING about what I do on stage for the first time in years. I'm comfortable with the knowledge that I can't continue to do stand up if I can't do it the way I want to. I don't know if I'll succeed, but I do know that if I don't, I'll feel good for having tried.

And if I don't? Well I can still make a pretty good "RUTTI TUTTI SUPER FRUIT-A-RITA".

Monday, July 9, 2012

Do The Right Thing!

Running a comedy club is fun. Mostly. I get to hang out with comics, perform every night, and the hours are tough to beat. It's probably the best job I've ever had, but there are still things about it that get under my skin. Hecklers, drunks, and people who are easily offended bother me, but besides my Mom (who is sometimes all three at once), most of them are easy enough to handle. I don't enjoy the administrative duties - I never know how many paper clips to order or how to make a kick ass facebook cover photo - but they're a small part of the gig.

One of the things I love the most is giving the local comics opportunities to do "guest sets". I got A LOT of breaks from good people when I was starting and I'm thrilled to be in a position to return the favor. What I don't love is that there's not much thought put into the etiquette of doing some time in a comedy club.



The following is my own personal list of dos and don'ts for your guest set. I'm a crotchety old guy who took tickets, ran the sound, and cleaned up bodily fluids I wasn't even aware existed to get my first stage time in a real comedy club, so keep that in mind. I may seem harsh here, and it is actually my intention.

DO: Show up at least a half an hour before the show starts. I wanna know you're ready to go. It's not my responsibility to get in touch with you to see if you're still coming.

DON'T: Grab yourself 3 or 4 of the bottled waters from the green room. The club pays for those. I don't mind if you have one or two, but AT LEAST ask first

DO: Dress appropriately. The audience has paid to get in, they don't deserve to see you in an Amerian Eagle T-shirt, ripped jeans and flip flops. NO ONE deserves to see that, come to think of it.

DON'T: Do jokes that people who don't live in Reno won't understand. Your Sun Valley material probably kills at open mic, but people from Ohio don't know what the fuck you're talking about. You're in a comedy club in Reno, where most nights more than half of the audience is from somewhere else.

DO: Your time. If we agree on 5 minutes, that doesn't mean 2 minutes of "Thanks for coming out nice to be here how many locals blah blah blah" and THEN 5 minutes. The one sure-fire way to NEVER get on in the club again is to go over your time.

DON'T: Ask me for time every week. A comedy club with a paid audience isn't the place to work out your newest rape joke. When I give you a guest set, I wanna see if you can handle the room in case I need someone to work someday.

DO: Well. Give me your best 5 or 10 minutes. Don't engage the crowd or try to riff. Again, I wanna see if I can pay you to work the club when I need someone.

DON'T: Only come around when you're doing your guest set. If you stop by the club to see if you can help out in some way (at the door, flyers, etc.) I'm much more likely to give you stage time. Not to be a dick, but I don't NEED you.

DO: Promote your guest set on facebook, twitter, etc. and let your friends and followers know about any discounts the club offers.

DON'T: Ask me how many people you can comp in. I'm running a business and the biggest part of that is selling tickets. When you get to the level of working the club officially, you get to have a guest list. Not before.

Keep in mind, this is just my PERSONAL list. Other clubs may have more stringent or less asshole-y requirements. Less asshole-y would be my guess. I know some comics (of the few who'll even take the time to read it) will find this insulting. Those aren't the ones I wanna help anyway. They can work their rape / pedophilia / sex with livestock jokes out at Toastmasters or in a bar "filled" with other comics. For those that already do the right thing, thanks, and I'll see you at the club.

Oh! I almost forgot. I have a new bit I wanted to try:

Two pedophiles walk into a pet store looking for a new kitten...