Professional

31 May

Haven’t blogged in a bit. What’s changed recently? Well, there’s that whole “just finished half of my master’s program” thing, but who gives a shit? I guess there’s that whole “just moved everything out of my parents’ house so I’m totally on my own (except for my cell phone and health insurance)” thing, too, but really? Meh.

Oh, right! I’m getting paid to do comedy now! That’s kind of a big deal for me.

My first paid gig came as a result of a “bringer” (a show where you bring a certain amount of audience members to perform) I did last Fall, which I documented earlier. I almost thought it wasn’t going to happen, but then after a bit of Facebook pestering, I was messaged on a Tuesday asking if I could go up to Scarsdale on a Friday. Luckily I didn’t have any work obligations that day, so I said yes. Scarsdale is in Westchester County, the next one up from the Bronx, so you could say my first paid gig was also my first “road gig.”

The show, for sure, FELT like a “road comic” room, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, when I say “road comic” room, I am referencing a certain taste in comedy that would be shared with drive-time radio, like Bubba the Love Sponge or Mancow. That kind of stuff. And I mean this sense was coming from both the comics and audience.

I’ll set the context a little more: Scarsdale is NOT like New York City. Even though it’s only a half-hour train ride, it looks more like a New England town like Wellesley, MA or Lebanon, NH. The people who showed up to the “Spotlight Cafe,” which was in a strip mall not too far from a Red Lobster, were overweight women and guys who look like what every Hollywood or New York TV show thinks truck drivers look like. However, I was not going to be superficial and base any predictions about their reaction to my material on their looks.

Then, however, the show started. I can’t remember if I was second or third, but one of the comedians who went up before me was billed as “Pakistan’s Number 1  Comedian.” That should give you a clue what kind of show this was going to be.  The guy seemed to be very intelligent and articulate (hell, he said he had a degree in physic) but he was going to every possible obvious joke you could make about Pakistanis for his material, and you can bet he was going to tell everyone about how he didn’t know where Osama was living when he was caught. Some dude sitting at the bar shouted some heckle about him pumping his gas, which I thought was shitty, but then, part of the comedian’s material later in the set was, indeed, about pumping gas.

Then I just felt disappointed, because if there’s one thing I want out of my own comedy, it’s to never write a punchline the audience could think of just as easily. I think that just makes you lose credibility, because then it seems like there’s no reason why you’re on stage and the audience is in the audience, if there’s a completely equal level of talent between them. You shouldn’t act like you’re better than the audience, but creatively, you should BE better. At least that’s my goal.

Then I went up, and showed how effective the philosophy was for making the crowd like me which is to say… Not at all. I’ll just let the video tell the story:

The joke that I think did the best was a gross joke about my beard that usually NEVER gets that much laughter when I do it in the city. Everything else just sort of went “pfft.” I heard the most vocal reaction to Paul Simon EVER when, as you can see, someone said “ew” when I mentioned him. I’m so flabbergasted that Paul Simon could merit that strong a sentiment, negative OR positive.

To be fair, I probably shouldn’t have opened my set with a bit  about Jesus not existing in front of the same audience that was having a good laugh about Pakistanis all being like Osama. My mistake. Most of the laughter on that video was coming from some other comics sitting near the stage and my camera. I was willing to just chalk it up to me performing badly, since, as evidenced in the video, I once again suffered from my energy not being in it when the audience didn’t give me what I was expecting.

But then the show continued, and I was further assured that this was simply not my audience. For example, the comedian who went up after me, she had some fine material, but the bit that got the biggest reaction was a Cartman impression. It was a fine Cartman impression, sure, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t 1997 anymore and we had moved past the novelty of Cartman impressions in general. There was a genuine joke behind the impression that was actually original, but it was clear the audience was only reacting to the repetition of his famous catchphrases, as the big laughs came on lines like “Cheesy Poofs” and “Suck my balls.”

Then came the “headliner.” I don’t even remember his name, but all you need to know was that 1) he did STREET JOKES on stage, as in “two nuns walk into…” kind of JOKEY jokes, and 2) he was one of those comedians who has a noise to let the audience know that what he said was funny, like a “git-r-done,” but for him it was this grunting “Hep-HEP! Hep-HEP!” kind of noise, like it was a sports cheer. And he killed, probably doing a straight half-hour. That was what they wanted.

Frankly, I know I sound really condescending, but I’m not going to begrudge the comedians or the audience for doing what they do and wanting what they want. Comedy is subjective. In the end, I still got paid $30, which is 33% more than I got paid for my first pro wrestling gig. I wasn’t necessarily getting the enthusiastic “you were really funny!” compliments as the audience filed past me leaving the bar, but I still got an important experience, because every comedian I like has stories about doing clubs in towns where the audience just is not digging them and they just have to power through their set anyway. You just learn to confront the silence and be comfortable with it, and that’s how you become comfortable with just saying what you want to say how you want to say it without fear of reprisal, and that’s how you become a better comedian. I hope to get more shows like this, because the money and the emotional tempering are of equal benefit (the money slightly moreso, though).

It all got made up for, however, when I did my SECOND paid gig later that month. Getting this gig was less an impressive feat, since it was just a matter of me calling on friends for a favor. I called my Dartmouth classmate and fellow comedian Kenny, still a junior there and current president of the stand-up comedy club, and said that I wanted to come up and do a show during Green Key, one of Dartmouth’s big party weekends, and it would be great if I could get paid for it, mostly because transport between New York and Hanover, NH is kind of expensive. Not only did he (and the administration) say yes, but he asked if I could bring any other comedians from NYC up with me, and I said “hell yes,” knowing immediately the two I wanted: my co-host Alex and my favorite secret grandpa, Reid. So we formed a little nerdy white boy comedy tour and hauled out.

I was actually quite anxious about how this show would go. I started thinking about every snarky negative comment someone had posted on a Jack-o-Lantern video I had worked on or talked shit about myself or Sit-Down Tragedy, and thought my homecoming would be nothing but just people shitting on me and making me feel the same horrible way I felt during a lot of my time as a student there. I was also anxious when I learned that our show had been moved from Collis Commonground, a higher capacity venue, to One Wheelock, a smaller, tavern-like setting.

Luckily, most of the people I didn’t like were gone when my class graduated, and there was a whole new class of people who didn’t know me at all and were willing to give me a try, and One Wheelock had been arranged so that it could seat a surprising amount of people. And they all stayed! Even after they got pizza! Okay, there were a few douchebags who left, but Alex, Reid, and I got to perform for a full room!

The difference was night and day. Again, I’ll let the tape tell the tale:

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I did so much better in front of a room of people who are all as equally educated and have similar interests to me. You could tell they especially appreciated it when I would throw out esoteric references to things like synesthesia, because I was talking at them instead of down to them. It was the polar opposite of everything I feared it would be. Alex and Reid also did well, Alex being particularly happy about how his set went after a few downer gigs previously.

If anything these two gigs were helpful to prove the obvious: my audience is closer to the college crowd than the suburban crowd. Now I guess I’m going to have to pursue this knowledge harder in order to get my stuff out to the people who would want to consume it. In fact, Alex got the seed planted in his head that we should try and go to other colleges as a packaged show deal, which would work really well since there’s such a proliferation of them within a bus ride of New York. We’ll have to see how it turns out, but it might become a nice bit of income.

In the meantime, I have to come up with some new material worth paying for, as I’ve spent way too much time working on the fifteen minutes I did at Dartmouth. I’ve gone weeks without writing anything new!

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