In NYC, you can spend all your free time bouncing around from show to show, mic to mic, getting multiple spots a night, attending shows, etc. And while that certainly helps you, it comes at a price: You stop living a normal life. You don't have normal friends. You don't have normal experiences. You're just around the same people at the same venues doing the same things all the time.
And that's bad for a comic. If your whole life becomes an insular bubble, it hurts your ability to relate to the outside world. You turn into the equivalent of a rock band that writes songs about how tough it is being on the road. Yawn.
I like to make a point of taking nights off and hanging with civilians. 1) It's fun and helps me maintain my sanity and 2) I've found it's even good fuel for my standup too.
A lot of my fave bits have come not from a writing session or experimenting onstage but from a good conversation with a close friend. One who's not a comic and doesn't feel any pressure to be "on." Have a genuine conversation with an interesting person over drinks for a couple of hours and you're bound to get some good bit ideas out of it. (Don't forget that notebook.)
In fact, it's kind of become the holy grail for me. If I can take a real topic from a real conversation and turn it into a bit that I do onstage, it feels like a real victory. You hit a sweet spot when you do that. If your conversation with an audience is like your conversation with a close friend, you're a lot more likely to get them on your side. You don't have to pretend that what you're talking about is interesting. You don't have to manufacture anything. You're onstage and you're genuinely speaking about what you also think/talk about offstage. And that brings a whole different energy, tone, and openness to a performance.
I'd argue there's also a lot of value in taking time off to do other stuff like traveling or going to see other kinds of art/performers or having a relationship or anything else that gets you out of that "my whole life is about being a comic" rut. Plus, you get to actually live a life which, ya know, is a kinda worthwhile thing to do anyhow.
Labels: about standup
"Everybody know's what's gonna happen when ABK hits that stage!" Everybody? "Highly trained chef Shaggy2Dope!" Yum. "Lots of sex in the air. Don't doubt it!" Er, I would really doubt it. Highly. And how about those professional hosts they've got!?
Tom Scharpling and Paul F. Tompkins had a hilarious discussion about the Gathering last week on The Best Show on WFMU. Listen here starting at 1:27:10 in.
Two of my fave funny people in some glorious riffing. They can barely contain their giddiness when discussing things like "Violent J's Beach Boys BBQ Bash Blast" or the helicopter rides there. It is so so so so damn funny. Listen. (More of PFT's Best Show appearances can be found in the show archives.)
Thirty Reasons Why the Insane Clown Posse's 2009 Gathering of the Juggalos Infomercial is the Greatest YouTube Clip Ever [Paste Magazine]
Video: A Family Underground (a documentary movie "about Juggalos, by Juggalos, for Juggalos") [YouTube]
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How can someone get a large crowd to their weekly or monthly comedy show? I've seen plenty of shows that include nationally touring headlining acts and are still empty. What are some of the less obvious secrets to building up a fanbase who will deliver solid attendance?
Aalap Patel is one of the co-producers of New Young Comedians, a hot monthly show in NYC that always has a packed house and a good lineup. I asked him to take a crack at answering this question. Here's what he said:
Filling up the seats is the perpetual challenge for any independent comedy show, especially in a city like New York that offers tons of other entertainment options on any night. If you are running a show, or starting a show, this is your first hurdle. Here's a few things I think you can do (or not do) to make it easier:
1. Advertise: A simple facebook invite the night before is not enough. You need people to know there's a show, want to go to it, and remember where and when to show up. I suggest using all possible methods (email, listing on event and comedy sites, blogs, etc.) but don't drown people in announcements every day or every couple of hours. The louder you shout, the less people will listen. I suggest using Opt In marketing, which means you are not blasting everyone. Make sure people know about the event far out enough that they can put it on their calendars, but also remind them the day of and the day before.
2. Put on a Good show: this should probably be number one, and Matt has already discussed many aspecs of this (here and here, for example). Rational and good comedians understand that their job is to put on a good show, not only because everyone has fun, but because that is what gets you a repeat customer. If your friends and family feel like they are coming to support you, that's fine, but if they can actually enjoy themselves, then they are much more likely to come back. Bringing your loved ones to a crappy show makes them associate comedy (or your comedy) with boredom and hurts all of comedy. It's simple Pavlovian psychology, bring me to 3 terrible shows, and now i associate you and live comedy with wasted time and boredom. It a comedy show is supposed to be like a good party, not a chore. Give away prizes, drinks, whatever you can do to keep it fun.
3. Book Good Comics: Maybe this falls under the last category. Most comics you'll get don't have enough of a fan base (even headlining comics) that will fill seats. The importance of booking good comics is to create a consistency of quality. At my monthly show we have friends, family, coworkers, and comics coming back on multiple occasions because they've enjoyed themselves every time. Book comics who are better than you because it will force you to rise. If your show is known to be good, then it will attract good comics, and also some comics will feel good about inviting their friends and family. As a rule if you're a comic, don't invite your loved ones to see you at a show unless you know it's going to be good.
4. Grow Your Contact Base: You should be raffling off prizes at each show, and to enter the raffle you should have people give you their email address. Regardless of how big your contact list is, you need to keep growing it because you can't count on the same people to show up each month. You want to reach everyone who has attended a show (and not opted out) because they will not remember to look for your show, they need to be reminded. Sign up with a email service like constant contact, it will help you manage large email lists and let you send pretty emails with nice graphics.
There are a few more tips I could give but frankly I'm not sure which of the tips are the most effective. The key is to do as much as you can, and keep trying to grow each month.
*Honorable mention -- charge at least a little bit for your show, often times the price and the value of an item share some correlation in a consumer's mind. Even if you only charge 5 dollars, you want people to understand that you're delivering value and sometimes free shows can carry less weight in people's minds.
(Back to Matt...) Thanks for the great answer, Aalap. Couple of things I'll add: Don't put on a me-too comedy show that's like all the others. Bring a unique idea that stands out.
Also, put on the kind of show that you would want to see if you were in the crowd. Do you want to see a show with a lazy host that does too much time along with a lineup of not that funny comics who are only there because they trade spots with the host? No, then don't put on that show.
I don't feel confused so let me try to boil it down one more time. This is what turns me off: A comedian who's like "I'm a liberal (or conservative) and the other side is dumb and my whole act will be devoted to showing you why that's so." I've seen guys like these and they don't make me laugh. Others can feel free to disagree. That's what I was trying to say.
OK, just wanted to get that out upfront.
Actually, I think the podcast's hosts (Jimmy Dore, Todd Glass, Stefane Zamorano) did a pretty fair job of reading my views and trying to see where I'm coming from. They're right that my explanations thus far were a bit muddled. A couple of reasons for that: For one thing, how you define "politics" and a "political comedian" is a big gray area. And also, I'm trying not to single people out by name. This would be easier if I just could say, "I've seen X, Y, and Z and I think they're not funny." But that's kinda lame to do so I'm trying to avoid that. (Part of why I felt ok discussing Jimmy's role in this is that I've never seen his act and know him solely via the podcast. He might not even fit into the category I'm talking about. Or he might be so hilarious he completely changes my mind on all this.)
Todd and Jimmy hacked away at me a bit so let me respond. Jimmy asks how I would define "political" and wonders if these things qualify as political topics: the war on terror, gay marriage, and health care. Yes, they totally do. And if someone was like, "The next comic going up is going to talk about the war on terror and health care and gay marriage..." I'd be predisposed to not liking that comic. If that makes me some kind of idiot, so be it. Could this comic wow me and turn me around? Sure, it's possible. But, in my experience, someone who confines themselves solely to discussing topics like these usually has a certain mindset/approach/delivery that I'm not a big fan of.
Perhaps my real problem is with the idea that someone would label themselves as a "political comedian." I don't like the idea of defining your act by just one thing. Jimmy mentions Carlin and Rock a lot to back up his case yet I don't think either of them would ever say, "I'm a political comedian." Just like I don't think you'd hear CK say, "I'm a parenting comedian." These guys all talk about a huge range of topics, not just things like the war on terror, gay marriage, and health care.
One more thing...during the previous discussions at this site, I think it's worth noting how many times I use the phrase "for me." I'm not making blanket statements that everyone should feel the same way. For example, Jimmy really emphasized the way I said, "There's no such thing as good political standup comedy." But what I wrote is: "For me, there's no such thing as good political standup comedy." Big difference between those two statements.
Anyway, fun discussion. And I look forward to seeing Jimmy live sometime and realizing how wrong I am about all this!
FYI, here's the original discussion: "Is crowd work a crutch?" You can leave any comments there.
P.S. The only time I got offended during the discussion: When Jimmy accused me of being from Long Island!? Easy with that. I live in Brooklyn.
Labels: about standup
Permalink | 7/24/2009
What are the advantages of performing every single night? Yes, that gets a person lots of exposure and shows that s/he is in demand, but why is it better than just doing a few shows each week and spending the rest of the time developing new material or networking? Doesn't it get exhausting? When does the madness stop...where does it take you?
Mark Normand is always hustling to do spots all over town so I asked him to answer. His response:
The advantages are practice, practice, practice. The more you get up, the more experience you're getting. It's common sense. Plus, you never know what you will come up with on stage at any given moment. What are the advantages? You answered your own question in your question: "That gets a person lots of exposure and shows that s/he is in demand." What more do you want than that?
Also, you should be working on material also as well as getting up. Write before you go out. Face time is important too but not as important as being on stage. "When does the madness stop?" It never stops. If you really want to be a comic, then you'll be trying to get up every night for years to come.
Good answer. I think the "you never know what you will come up with on stage at any given moment" thing is a big part of it. Great comedy is a conversation with the audience. You can't have that conversation alone.
Sports analogy! Let's say you want to be a great tennis player. You need an opponent. You can't just hit a ball against a wall all day and become great.
And yes, it gets exhausting to constantly haul your ass to shows, watch bad comics, etc. But getting great at anything can be exhausting. You have to love it so much that it doesn't seem like work. Getting onstage should bring you enough joy to justify the effort. If it doesn't, it's gonna be tough to get very far.
Labels: about standup
And come on out Friday night to the next one...
WE'RE ALL FRIENDS HERE
The comedy chat show with boundary issues
Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand
Friday, July 24
8pm @ The Creek
10-93 Jackson Ave at 49th Ave
Long Island City, NY
Just one subway stop from Brooklyn and Manhattan
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Here's a photo I took of Cass from the stage as he closed out the night:
That light came on and I reached for my phone as fast as I could. Didn't even notice the appropriate "Exit" signs in the background until later. (More of my photography here in case you're curious.)
I had never done a roast set before so it was interesting coming up with the material. You kinda have to reverse engineer jokes. Start with the list of people and figure out what things there are to make fun of them about. Then try to figure out the back door to get to it. Extra points if you're extra nasty or have a very creative approach.
Some of my lines: "X is so fat, the other day I had to convince five Japanese tourists that he was NOT actually Ground Zero." "Y has a real gambling problem. The only way we got him here tonight was by telling him Coco was a horse and the odds were 66-1." "A lot of girls think Z is very chivalrous. They don't realize he's holding the door open for them because he forgot he's not still at work." (Last one about a comic who works as a doorman. A lot of the jokes were very insidery like that.)
Also, I had one of Cassidy's set lists from a month ago. It only had two things on it: 1) Anything 2) The Rain. Yes, it actually said the word "anything." And I saw the set...he never did talk about the rain. So I ended by pulling that out.
I, along with everyone else on stage, got it pretty good too. I should spend less time writing this blog and more time writing jokes! I'm a narcissist! My suits are old and cheap! And so am I! Etc. It's actually kinda nice. All that shit that people say behind your back comes out. If you're the type who likes to know what people really think of ya, even the painful stuff can be good to hear.
These one-off shows where everyone has to come up with new/fresh material are always fun too. Feels like a real community thing as opposed to normal shows which are a bit more "look at me." Kudos to Nick Turner for doing a great job putting it together.
(Photo by Melissa Teran.)
Jimmy Dore showed up to provide some thoughtful commentary. (Sample: "I think we do our profession a disservice when we forget that comedians have a powerful and important role to play in shaping how we think about society and culture.")
In response, I offer up a more detailed explanation of why it is that I don't like political comedians.
(Note: I moved comments here over to the other thread so they're all in one place.)
Labels: about standup
Permalink | 7/17/2009
But when someone's a real master at crowdwork, I love it. It's fresh and in-the-moment. It's a way different vibe than someone who does 100% written material. It's how those unique moments happen that could only take place in that room at that time with that group of people. And that's part of the magic of standup.
Thinking about this after reading this conversation over at AST where Kent Haines wrote:
Hey, can we all discuss Jimmy [Dore]'s assertion from a couple episodes back that crowd work is a crutch? I think that's pretty off the mark. Especially because part of his point was that crowd work comics never get famous. That seems, to me, to be entirely beside the point of how artistically ambitious or lazy it is.
I love crowd work. It's exhilarating to watch, but more than that, it's one of the things that separates stand-up from other forms of comedy. Where else are the performers given the option to address the reality of what's going on in the room? And there's something so attractive about the idea that I just witnessed a joke that is based on what is happening right now. It makes me, as an audience member, feel like I saw something special.
Crowd work, like almost anything else in stand-up, can be a crutch. But that doesn't make it a crutch per se. To use a touchy example, a lot of comedians use political humor as a crutch, knowing that they will get a certain level of support from a crowd that agrees with them, even if his jokes aren't terribly clever. But I wouldn't say that political humor is somehow bad because some comics use it badly. Because then I wouldn't be able to enjoy jokes like "bleeding heart conservative," which killed me.
Jimmy Dore responded:
Note to Ken,
Thanks for your thoughts on the crowd work. I think we actually agree, but let me clarify..... I also love crowd work. I am jut saying that the comedians who make it the only thing that they do are fooling themselves into thinking that their crowd work is special. IT is not. Most funny people who are funny on stage can do crowd work well, and do it when appropriate. Making it all you do is a mistake artistically, and bizness wise. I think if you re listen to what I was said on the podcast you will see that I love crowd work and think that the people that do it exclusively do it well.
But comedy is taking an idea and relating it to strangers in a way that resonates. Doing crowd work is way way way way way way way way way way way easier than it looks. and way way easier than crafting ideas and presenting them comedically to strangers.
Thanks for clarifying, Jimmy. I still disagree with some of it, but I think I see your point better now...I'm not going to say that [Jimmy] Pardo's making a mistake by doing an act full of crowd work. His crowd work is special. He doesn't just make fun of Joe Audience's job. He weaves threads of logic through an entire crowd, constantly connecting the dots between all the individual conversations he's started. His shows at Helium this fall were some of the most fun shows I've ever seen.
It's interesting to read Dore, a guy who I believe relies heavily on political material, take a stand against guys who do a lot of crowdwork. Nothing personal against Dore since I've never seen him live, but my least favorite kind of comedians are ones who do all political material. When someone gets on stage and starts lashing out at Bush, Palin, Cheney, Limbaugh, etc., that's when I really fade.
It's not 'cuz I'm some right-winger. I get it. I read the Times, I watch The Daily Show and Real Time, I live in NYC, I know exactly what's going on. And that's why the last thing I want from a comic that goes on stage is some kinda moral lecture disguised as comedy. It doesn't surprise me and it doesn't make me laugh. I get why others might dig it, but it's just not my thing. Personally, I'd much rather listen to a good crowdwork comic than one that tells me for the 5,000th time that Cheney is evil.
Upcoming shows: Sunday Night Standup, LIVE at the SAGE THEATER, Comedy vs. Audience Show (Philadelphia), etc.This Google calendar lists all of my upcoming spots...
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saw this (link)...
"People complain about Hollywood's tendency to be unadventurous with its big-money titles, but the moviegoing masses clearly get the most excited when they are not being surprised. In other words, the multiplex really rocks when movies are served up the McDonalds way: predictably and comfortably. 'Transformers' is definitely that."
...and thought of you. question: how can you hate hack comedians so much yet still (i think) go see so many hack movies? isn't that why Hollywood makes so many bad movies? explain yourself!!? ; )
I'm personally involved in comedy and so I demand more from it.
And I hope that great films get made, but I do have fun watching some of the bad ones. And let's be clear here: Star Trek, Iron Man, Dark Knight, and Up are all big budget summer movies that were highly marketed but are also genuinely great films. Transformers isn't a good movie. I didn't think it would be, but it was fun to watch on a sunday matinee with a buddy and make fun of it the same way I would during a [redacted] set.
Fair enough. But we all vote with our dollars. By buying a ticket, you're encouraging Hollywood to make more movies like that. Couldn't it be argued that, in effect, you're keeping the Dane Cooks/Carlos Mencias/Blue Collar Tour guys of the movie world at the top of the Hollywood heap?
(yes, I'm just being difficult)
Yes it could. And you know what, I hope they do. I need movies like that every once in a while. I'll openly admit, that my tastes have eroded a bit since I started living here and a lot of that has to do with how much money I make and how little time I have to do anything. I used to go to independent movies all the time. I don't anymore. I want a big experience that entertains me. And there are millions of people like that.
It's very easy to shit on the Mencias and Cooks and Cable Guys (And I will continue to), but the truth is, they do stuff that's appealing to the lower class. We often don't. Go to an open mic and it's a lot of stuffy, pseudo-intellectual "look how fucking smart I am" whiny, self-indulgent bullshit. And I admit, I contribute to that whole-heartedly. What I don't do, is openly appeal to the lower classes. Those comics do. And thank god someone does.
When I'm at my job and I talk to people about pop culture it's very different than when I'm with other comics. Movies,comedy,music,etc. is just one more thing for us comics to over-analyze. To people making 8 dollars an it's just an hour they don't have to worry about how they'll take care of their kids or worry about what happens when they get sick and don't have insurance.
So basically, yes Transformers and Mencia are examples of bad art. But they do so serve a purpose that thankfully you don't have to worry about understanding.
Ah, if only I could stop myself from worrying about Transformers and Mencia. Actually, what if Mencia is really a Transformer??? That would explain so much.
Labels: about standup
NYC: Sean Patton, Brent Sullivan, Dan Soder, Joe Mande, Taylor Williamson, Kumail Nanjiani
Chicago: Kyle Kinane
Austin: Daniel Jackson, Eric Krug, Andy Ritchie, and Chuck Watkins (via "Austin Invades Gotham!")
Philadelphia: Kent Haines (via "Kent Haines tapped for new season of 'Live at Gotham'")
Boston: Sean Sullivan (via Josh)
Congrats to all. Gotta be more too. If ya know of anyone else, add a comment.
P.S. Patton, Sullivan, Nanjiani, and Haines have all appeared on our We're All Friends Here show. Ya can find them on the podcast here.
Labels: about standup
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a topic suggestion I'd like to see on your blog: When you're at a show and a comic before you hits a topic that you plan to cover, or uses a key phrase that you're planning to use-- do you bail on the joke or do you forge ahead? Should you point out the previous reference before your bit? How easily does one alter his set at the last minute?
How I handle it when a comic hits a topic I planned to cover: If they're making a similar point or taking the same angle that I'm taking, I usually bail on the bit. You'll just look like a chump if you repeat the same joke that someone else just did.
But if it's just a similar topic but a different take on it, I like that. In fact, I'll often riff off what the previous comic said as the opening to my set and then work into the bit I had planned. If you make it seem conversational, this is a great way to seem spontaneous and in the moment, even though it's something you've prepared. It's a little bit of trickery but it's a good way to build rapport with an audience.
When you sell a funny prepared bit as something that just came to you off the cuff, people usually dig it even more. Some of my favorite comics to watch do a great job of weaving between riffs and prepared material in a way that you can't even tell which is which. It's a whole artform in itself.
If the similar topic thing is really a big worry, ya might want to think about what you're choosing to talk about onstage. Topical stuff can be fun...but the more unique and personal your p.o.v. is, the less you have to worry about having bits that overlap with other comics.
Labels: about standup
I was getting people to clap, but I reached a point where I never wanted to get people to clap, because it was, like you said, pandering. But there's a difference between a clap and a laugh. A laugh is involuntary, but the crowd is in complete control when they're clapping, they're saying, "we agree with what you're saying-proceed!" But when they're laughing, they're genuinely surprised. And when they're not laughing, they're really surprised. And sometimes I think, in my little head, that that's the best comedy of all.
He also talks about why he doesn't do the same set every night.
If you want to say the same thing every night of your life, if that's what you want to choose to do with your life, that seems completely insane to me. Like, I don't even know how singers do that shit. Plus is becomes so rote that unless you're the greatest actor in the world, you can't pretend like it's just coming off the top of your head. I'm probably the worst actor in the world, so I need something new all the time. I need stuff that makes me laugh, and old stuff doesn't make me laugh. And also I'm embarrassed. Like, you know when you tell a person a story that you've already told them before? That's embarrassing, right? So I would be embarrassed by it, but mostly I would be driven insane by the repetition.
I often thought comics that weave and bob onstage — alternating between crowdwork, riffing, and material — have more fun than guys who just go out and do mostly the same set every night. Comics who come to mind: Todd Barry, Todd Lynn, Patrice O'Neal, Jimmy Pardo, etc.
That approach prob sets ya back a bit when it comes to churning out albums and TV specials. But ya probably enjoy the ride along the way a lot more.
Labels: about standup
That way the audience gets to work for it too. They get to meet you halfway. They pull the mask off the joke in their own heads and get to feel smart for figuring it out. People like crossword puzzles a lot more than they like just reading a list of random facts. Solving things is fun.
It's kinda like symbolism in literature or poetry. It's not about saying something directly. It's about creating the caged bird or whatever other metaphor you use and then having the reader be able to deconstruct that and connect the dots on their own. By engaging them that way, you have them create the art alongside you. You do it together.
It's also like a whodunit. You need to give them enough clues to keep them engaged and make the story make sense — and yet still have the ending be a surprise.
Figuring out what to say is easy. Knowing just how much to hide it is when it gets tricky.
Labels: about standup