Mayer, Kumail, and getting out of your comedy comfort zone

I wasn't there but here's what seems to have happened: John Mayer has a rough (comedy) set at Sweet (he likes to dabble in standup). Kumail goes up after and comments on it. Mayer jumps onstage to riff with him. But thinks he needs to insult Kumail. Calls him "Kabul" and compares him to "one of those ambiguous CNN anchors" because of the way he looks and his "British" accent. Awkward times for all involved. Sources for that rundown: The Comic's Comic talks to Mayer and commenters weigh in, AST thread on the incident, Eugene makes fun of Mayer for "accidental racist" tendencies.

Mostly, who cares? Just another lookyloo incident that only matters because someone tabloid famous is involved.

I do think there's a lesson here about getting outside of your comfort zone though. A lot of comics hit the same couple of rooms over and over and this sort of incident shows why that can be a bad idea.

Mayer almost always goes up at The Cellar where he's pals with the other comics and in with the owners and seems to be able to do whatever he wants because of who he is. (It's also a very cliquey, testosteroney, bust each other's balls kinda environment there.) Once he brought his act to an alt show, it seems like it hit him what a different ballgame it was. All of a sudden, he was out of his element and had to scramble. And the result sounds like it wasn't pretty.

That's the problem with getting stuck in any single comedy ghetto. Instead, I'd advise doing whatever room you can. Alt shows for Brooklyn hipsters, club shows for tourists, urban rooms, Harlem coffee shops, hostels filled with backpackers, Park Slope restaurants, "art star" freak mics, Jersey City dive bars, corporate gigs, suburban hotels, whatever. Lots of jokes will work at one of those places. But a joke that works at ALL of them? You know that's funny.

Will it get awkward sometimes? Yes. But that's the way learning often feels. Uncomfortable.

I hate to go to the CK well yet again, but he put it well:

Go onstage in adverse conditions, that's how you get good. Do you really think that becoming a great comedian means finding audiences that are already ready to laugh at what you have to say?

Being comfortable or getting better: Sometimes you have to pick one.


soce said...

Mayer's set really wasn't all that bad. I think he felt that it was worse than it really was because he kept losing his train of thought and forgetting the jokes. A lot of the material was very base, but he had plenty of confidence and great comedic timing.

I think if he did it every day (or multiple times per day) for a few months, then he would rapidly improve. I would love for him to do a set at the TreeHouse or Root Hill open mics etc

And yes, his riffing with Kumail was terrible and completely inappropriate, although if he had let Kumail take the reigns and pulled back on his ego and one-upmanship, it could've been a fascinating interview that would lead into Kumail's set.

Mainly, he seemed to think that Kumail was some random nobody comedian and that it would be okay for him to put him down (which is never okay to think about anybody who you're sharing the stage with) .. plus his put-downs weren't at all funny, they were just mean-spirited for absolutely no reason.

Earlier in the show, Christian Finnegan (on stage) and Craig Baldo (as the DJ) started riffing with each other and putting each other down, but you could tell they were old friends who did truly love and respect each other, so it was actually quite funny and heartwarming.

Matteson said...

Another mayer incident documented, possibly from the very same night: http://berrto.xanga.com/717587852/attell-for-mayer/

I'm really disappointed in Mayer. First he breaks Jennifer Aniston's heart, and now this. I'm going to have to break all my Mayer Cd's...I mean never buy any. Yeah, that's it.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Nice insight into getting out of the comfort zone, but I want to bring it back to the obvious, why anyone cares. There are several reasons I care as a comedian.

1. Free rides piss me off. Mayer hogging stage time on well-known shows and coveted stages is as infuriating as seeing any 2-year open mic'er get carte blanche to perform anywhere he wants. It's as annoying as any 2-year comic who gets scooped up by a headliner to open on the road and therefore gets exposure, connections and a fan base. It means you haven't worked hard to get where you are.

2. Celebrity entitlement pisses me off. Mayer thinks he should go back onstage to defend himself, and that the audience wants to see him do that. He also has no idea how celebrated Nanjiani is in the NYC comedy community, so uses that notion of KN as an average joe as leverage.

3. Rookie moves piss me off. Mayer thinks it's not okay for himself to fail, so he tries to make up for it. Base humor, interrupting, rude gestures, heckling. It's like he's a monkey throwing his poop, and the audience is the embarrassed house guest, and I am a zookeeper who says, "Well, monkeys aren't pets."

I'm not mad. I wasn't mad when Michael Richards couldn't handle being unfunny. I just don't want you to miss that a millionaire with fans is the same as the idiot in my office: they both think comedy is easy.

Matt Ruby said...

Soce, thanks for the 411.

Matteson, good link. Apparently he thinks this is just what comics do. Nothing worse than an unearned sense of entitlement.

Abbi, I agree with much of what ya say. Feel free to care. For me, I prefer to just ignore the celeb BS that goes on in our culture. I think the more energy you devote to it, the more you empower it. I'd rather pretend it doesn't exist and focus on things that matter. In my book, John Mayer is not one of those things.

Danny Solomon said...

I think going to all those types of shows is a great idea! Except for Art-Star mics, those suck.


My name's Josh Guarino said...

Here's an excerpt from John Mayer's explanation for why things went awry at the Slipper Room:

"It was combative in the sense that the crowd didn't really accept the fact that the jock, the guy who gets the girls, was at a place where the guys go who talk about how they don't get the girls."

That's right! It's not that John Mayer is an inexperienced comic at best or that he lacks any knowledge or respect of the comedy world. You're all just jealous that John Mayer gets to bone more chicks.

What a geek. I'd love to jump in front of him at Madison Square Garden, play horrible music for two hours, and then come back on the stage to tell jokes during his set.

londoncalling said...

mayer the playa got his come-uppence .... hurray !

you died on your arse now take your lumps and go home and self harm like any self respecting comic

soce said...

Hey now, I happen to enjoy the art star open mics. I've had a fun time at them over the years. But they're not for everyone.. It's generally a lot of people standing up and talking about their lives and sometimes even doing random Q & As, which is very different from a typical stand-up comedy show, so I can see how some people may not enjoy that.

Unknown said...

A veteran comic I knew when I was starting out once told me to do as many different shows as possible for two reasons. First, to figure out how to tailor what you do to different audiences. Second, to realize that ultimately, all audiences want to hear you do what you do.

I mean, small tweaks, okay, but even the most material-bound comic will adjust his delivery on the fly against audience reactions. (I know this. I am the most material-bound comic.) You see people trying to radically change their style from the get-go in certain rooms, though, and it's like, what? You know how you perform best, why are you hamstringing yourself by not doing that?

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Another benefit to doing rooms you don't usually do: the mystique is gone. If you fear one kind of audience because you assume they won't like your material, once you perform for them and they have laughed, you realize your notion was mostly based in a gross generalization of the culture / class / age of the crowd.

@ matt ruby : I really didn't intend for my comment above to come across as a rant against John. But more as a verbal lashing of Aziz Ansari.

See how I brought it back to celebrity? How do you sleep at night not knowing what celebs wore that day to go shopping?

But really, I'm glad soce gave a re-cap. And I support any and everyone who wants to try their hand at stand-up. Precious just said on Leno that she wishes she could have been a comedian, so I plan on opening for her in 2010.

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