Video: My first urban show in Harlem

Alternative comedy often seems like it's just for rich, white, college educated people. Kinda lame that. That's why I was psyched to do my first urban show in Harlem on Monday night. (I've performed at a smaller one in Brooklyn and some mixed crowd shows before — but nothing like this.) Packed house, 95% black. Very no bullshit crowd. You knew exactly where you stood at all times.

Man, that situation makes you hyperaware. And joke selection becomes huge too. You go through every line and throw out anything that relies on a reference to, say, Jews, Renee Zellwegger, or Philip Glass. And you better hit 'em hard and fast. This ain't no place for wandering or rambling. (Reference point: The host is doing act outs about how uncircumcised dicks look like they're wearing hoodies.)

Now, we all know that in comedy you're supposed to open and close strong. I decided to go the opposite route. Well, they decided that really. But ya live and learn. Though tense, it was really fun. Felt like a real standup experience. Bring it or get the fuck out, ya know?

Here's video of the set along with some 20/20 hindsight annotations. Watch the whole thing to find out why I almost got punched on my way out!

Host went up afterwards and said he expected to find me with a blow dart in my neck! Ha. The good news: He also dug my set, invited me to do it again, and said to not sweat the threat. Can't wait to go back. (Seriously.)


Anonymous said...

Wow, you went out to the hood to make the black folks laugh! What a feat! And you're actually going back or black! Comedy is comedy. My skin color is brown and my heritage is Francophone African/French Caribbean, but I guess white people call me black, however, I am aware of Jewish culture, Renee Zellwegger, and Philip Glass (checked out his music at BAM).

You say Louis CK is one of your favorites, however, you forgot one of the major lessons that CK emphasizes in his act: Be Real, Be Human. Fuck the color shit.

Just be yourself. You're in your funniest zone when you are most conscious of your link with your audience; your humanity, compassion, and empathy is your link, anything else is bullshit. Just be yourself and if you're living a boring life, well, live a little more on the edge and get some new material.

I say the same shit to my friends who are African-American or Middle Eastern, who constantly try to pander to the lowest common denominator when they feel intimidated by an audience that is of a different age or ethnicity. Be yourself. Don't use your culture and skin color as a filter, drop the filter and don't be afraid to bomb, sometimes bombing is cool, as long as, you're being genuine and not dumbing your shit down.

I know several African-Americans who love Demetri Martin, and they're from predominantly working class, urban backgrounds. So, do your shit, you'd be surprised who might appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I've got to agree with the above. This post came off as kind of racist. I like your stuff normally, but I got the feeling that you were sort of like "Wow, if black people like me, ANYONE CAN LIKE ME!"

Matt Ruby said...

Thanks for the comments Anonymous #1 and #2. Kinda surprised. I figured comedy fans would be aware that there are, well, differences between black people and white people.

To #1: "Be yourself." How was I not myself? "Fuck the color shit." You really think color should be ignored? I did a church group show the other week and adjusted my act accordingly. Why wouldn't I do the same in an urban room? Do you really think your set should remain unchanged regardless of audience? You'd tell the same jokes to a roomful of old Jews that you'd tell to a roomful of teenage Puerto Ricans?

To #2: What was kind of racist about the post? It was a totally different vibe than a normal show. There was a palpable tension in the room. Am I not supposed to talk about that at all?

Also, feel free to leave your name. Anonymous comments don't carry as much weight.

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