stand up comedy
Wednesday I was headlining a one-night show at the Albany Funny Bone in New York. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it was a great show and thanks to the great crowd I have three new bits to share with you as I prep for a new album later this year. So enjoy the new stuff (and please tweet or FB share if you like any of them a lot)
As 2016 rapidly approaches its conclusion I am reflecting on a year that has been by far my most successful financially as a comedian and also in some ways the most frustrating. I have made the most money of any year, in part thanks to royalty payments for my albums, in part thanks to President-Elect Donald Trump and in part thanks to 13 years of diligence in trying to get booked as a feature at as many comedy clubs as I am able. I had an album reach #1 on iTunes and have made repeated performances on the top podcasts in the country. All done on my own with no representation. However beneath the veneer of budding success lie harsh truths. I have been unable to build an infrastructure for my career. Unlike a regular job, having a good year does not guarantee anything of the sort next year. There are no linear promotions in stand up comedy, at least not for the unrepresented among us. Having a good year in 2016 simply means I will have to redouble efforts in 2017 just to maintain the level I achieved this year and hope for recognition, notice and/or opportunity in 2017 that may allow me to surpass where I am currently. But the difficulty is that even if you double the money I made in comedy this year I would still need another source of income to continue living the pleasant, but month-to-month existence I have had for the last several years. So what that amounts to is that as I approach my 14th year in comedy (and look up the lyrics to Guns N Roses’14 years for a solid description) in what at times feels more like compulsion than enjoyment, I will have to work at a pace that didn’t fatigue me when I was working as a full time attorney and open mic comedian 10 years ago, but now exhausts me. And unlike the comedian I was in 2006 a lot has changed since then. In 2006 I had to worry about stage time, writing and getting clips to bookers. Today there are a dozen social media platforms, YouTube videos and podcasts all of which help you expand a fan base, but all of which take time and energy (in some cases money) and are not stand up comedy. And without a larger platform, media presence, or gatekeeper, you are only likely to expand linearly (my podcast has grown from 200 to 1000 listeners a week since I started it over 4 years ago, which is nice and from a larger comedy business perspective, completely irrelevant) and in this business exponential growth is needed and is still almost always controlled by powerful players in the business. However, just like state lotteries, the powerful in and around comedy have no qualm feeding the myth that the average guy with some pluck and a $1 can be the next success. So as we approach the conclusion of my most successful year as a comedian I offer some words of how comedians can help themselves and how the business can help comedians. Do I expect any of these to take hold? No. But I need this Starbucks coffee to cool off so might as well write.
Comedians Need a Guild
Having attended law school and practiced as an attorney I wish I were more well versed in labor law, but I am not. But I do know that stand up comedy needs a guild. Now I would not expect it to wield as much power or prestige as the Screen Actors Guild, nor provide certain things like health insurance because the economies of comedy clubs are not what they are for film studios, but certain protections and rights need to be enshrined for comedians at some point. For example – the fact that feature acts continue to be the most squeezed of the three comedian levels (emcees – often locals, entry level, middle acts – who have to do the travelling of headliners and perform more time than emcees for a fraction of the money headliners get). The pay per show of feature comedians has not gone up in 30 years. Half the clubs now do not provide lodging for feature acts. That means a feature act, who presumably is the next decade’s headliner (after he or she waits for the Vine stars, Instagram stars and MTV2 stars to leapfrog him or her) must find a way to travel and lodge themselves and hope that frugality and merchandise sales can help them make a little money. And of course the real reason to do it for net gain of maybe a few hundred dollars is to make contacts, hone your act and possible make some fans. But this is no longer really a viable path for people to earn a living and become great comedians. Therefore a Guild should guarantee lodging and/or increased pay for features. Now clubs can be organized by levels (colloquially we call them A or B (or C) rooms – based on crowds, location, prestige, etc. and those levels can be required to pay features a certain level. For example if no lodging is provided then an A room would have to pay a feature $150 per show instead of the standard $100 per show. These are just figures meant to illustrate my point as several clubs already do pay $100 per show plus room, but obviously there is something wrong with a job that is paying the same or less than the same job in 1986 (in real dollars, not adjusted for inflation). Like America, the Middle Class of comedy has been the one most decimated by cutbacks at clubs. In fact, I would argue that they are the only ones paying.
Another issue I would want a comedy guild to address is an outright ban on clubs managing talent. SAG for many years (I could not find out if the rule was lifted recently) banned talent agencies from producing content because of the obvious conflict of interest. I manage you; I make a movie; I cast you ahead of other talent and then I collect 10% of the salary I pay you for being in the movie. However, there are clubs that manage talent, allow that talent to monopolize spots at their club or clubs and then force feed their talent on showcases for networks under the guise of presenting a cream of the crop of talent for networks to select from. In this age of everyone telling comedians that gatekeepers don’t matter – they still matter a lot. We can keep producing free content while being sold a false dream or we can wake up and realize that for every Bo Burnham there are 10,000 people producing free content, some of it good, with no shot of breaking through without an established entity or gate keeper paving the way.
These are just two ideas I have regarding a comedy guild, and I realize they, along with other ideas, would require a collective action that the comedy community may not be capable of. I have said this with some scorn and also some self-blame, but it is hard to organize a labor force when the majority already act and think of themselves as scabs. New comics are afraid of ruffling feathers, comics with some heat and opportunity are afraid of squandering what feels like a shot at the dream and big time comics are too removed from their struggling days to relate or care about the diminished outlook for comedians today. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but with the Internet demanding more of comedians than ever, having a business that is increasingly stacked against the middle class of comedy cannot and should not be tolerated by comedians at any level.
Facebook is not Your Friend
I have a buddy who is a comedian, but also owns and operates a hugely successful non-comedy Internet company. He has over 2 million fans on his business Facebook page. And over the last couple of years, as Facebook has approached 2 billion users worldwide it has become more and more difficult for him to reach his fans with posts because of the algorithms Facebook has instituted. Facebook has become immensely profitable and their answer to that has been to squeeze the people, business and creators that have helped make it successful. Google pays successful video makers and Twitter does not hide posts – there is still an egalitarian spirit in their business model, unlike Facebook, which basically holds its creators hostage. Facebook, as many of you know, discourages YouTube videos from being seen. As an example, 3 years ago I had a YouTube video link go viral. It had 81 shares and 200,000 views in 3 days. Last year I had a video get 80 shares and it had 5,000 views. There are other factors to explain some disparity, but none to explain that large a disparity other than Facebook’s algorithm. Now Facebook wants its users to directly upload through Facebook and your reward is the ego boost of more views, but nothing else. No compensation, no credits for ads. Nothing.
Facebook is a media giant. Make no mistake about it. They deserve to be treated like CBS, ABC and NBC and I hope the criticism from fake news stories being spread finally gets them to wield the power they cultivated with more responsibility. And as their ads continue to cost more and more money it will reach a point where your feed will be flooded by only the companies and entities that can afford to advertise on radio and television. So like many things in this country, they are driving their success on the backs of content creators, but making it unaffordable for those creators to get exposure (get exposure and make no money or upload a YouTube clip and get no views). Once again, at least Google pays people (there are plenty of issues with Google as well, but trying to keep this under 3000 words). My solution, as unrealistic as it is, would be for comedians to not upload any content directly to Facebook. Once again, this would have to be some sort of hashtaggy moment to draw attention, but we are now addicted to likes and clicks like a digital heroin, so I know it is unlikely. Facebook is just another big, bad company, except they actually don’t make anything. They steal ideas from other apps and they use free content from its users. And comedians should consider themselves one of the main foods on the plate of the social media parasite.
Do Not Use a Label to Produce Your Album(s)
I have self produced 5 albums and self producing has had real financial benefits. This year I will make a little over $15,000 in royalties because I am both the artist AND owner of my material. I have produced good content, but I have never been able to get a label to produce any of my albums. Now this comes with a caveat before I continue. If you are a major artist you can negotiate a deal that works for you. Like most things in comedy (and America) if you come into a deal with power you will leave with power and lots of money. Or if you are an up and coming artist and Comedy Central wants to work with you and produce your album that relationship has immense value for your career because of their reach and their numerous platforms. However, if you don’t fit into these categories I would advise you to take to heart what you half-heatedly tell yourself when trying to justify continuing a rocky career path: do it yourself.
This is one of the few areas where there is an ability to do it yourself (this assumes you are at a level of skill and talent where your material is at a point where it is worth putting down in an album and can find, if not an audience, at least respect, if people hear it). I get the breakdown of my royalties each month and it is roughly 47% to the artist and 53% to the rights owner. Now I probably make a decent amount relative to most no name comedians, but let’s say you are a comedian with one kick ass album. Maybe your label even negotiated a good deal for you, but bottom line is they will make half of your money in perpetuity of your album(s). Why? Because they put up the up front costs for you and got you a nice venue – it may not be a deal with the Devil, but I assure you it is not angelic either. Once again the lure of a top notch production and immediate gratification lures comedians to wager their long term benefits. These labels aggregate albums from big time people and dozens if not hundreds of no-namers like myself. So while you make $500 a month they may make $550 a month x 100 (or more) comedians. Individually, like class action lawsuits, you have no reason to really challenge, but as a collective comedians could change this industry.
If you look at the iTunes comedy charts you will usually see albums from 5 labels dominating and they will also occupy the “New and Noteworthy” spots with high profile placement. My album Israeli Tortoise hit #1 on the comedy charts in August, but it had no backing, no label and never got placement as new and noteworthy, even though one might think reaching #1 in its first week might make it both new and noteworthy. The point is that the only way to change the business is to practice what we preach, or at least pretend to believe. In an era where music labels, television studios and movie studios face increasing competition, comedians continue to be a reliable source of entertainment slave labor where large companies feed the narrative that “gatekeepers are not necessary” to encourage free content, while simultaneously benefiting from their monopoly on real and concrete opportunity as… gatekeepers.
Of course I must admit that I do not know how each of the major labels operate or the nature of the deals they sign with comedians. I can only extrapolate what I know from my payment breakdown, how I see working no name comics treated by the business and the general lessons of history when powerful interests and business operate without restriction or restraint.
And In Conclusion…
America recently elected Donald Trump president. This was the insane result of many things and one of them was working class people willing to buy a lie wrapped in a fairy tale because they were desperate to believe something that catered to their anger and diminished clout. In comedy there is no need for a Trump because it is already run as if Trump is in charge. Contradictory policies, false promises and the middle men and no-namers buy in against their own interests. As my friend Mike Payne said perfectly (and hopefully now famously?) “Comedians talk about the world like Karl Marx and then become Paul Ryan when speaking about comedy.” I am not here to say that I am going to burn myself in front of a comedy club like a monk during Vietnam, either literally or metaphorically (though some might say this blog is doing just that), but there is no better industry more emblematic of income inequality and a rigged system than the broken backs of the middle class of comedy. The question is – will comedians ever band together and do anything about it because it is only getting worse.
Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER & ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.
The last week has been a great microcosm of my career. My latest album, Israeli Tortoise, with no industry, label, management or iTunes support hit #1 on the comedy charts for a day and stayed in the top 10 for 4 days (as I type this it currently sits at 110, so basically my album has had the same arc as the movie Awakenings – a miracle occurred and everyone became happy only to see it quickly fall back into a Robert DeNiro stupor by the end of its run. The album also received a Twitter endorsement from Jim Gaffigan, the Pope of iTunes album sales. And to kill time on the road I saw 4 movies, 3 of which I enjoyed. That’s the good news. But like any comedy adventure it also featured the usual assortment of low lights – a 15 hour train ride with 20 minutes sleep and then having to wait 4 hours before checking into the hotel, being avoided like a leper by 99.9% of the audiences of the shows after performing, despite crushing 4 of the shows and only having one stinker (LATE SHOW FRIDAY – I AM TALKING TO YOU). Fitting that during the week where I hit #1 on iTunes I have my worst week of merch sales on the road ever (I am averaging 1 CD sold per show with one show to go – the good news is I will get an unsuspecting workout dragging 90% of my albums home on Monday morning) . Here is my truth (hand to the chest) in more expansive details:
If Eli Roth is looking for a new movie idea for one of his awful torture porn films, perhaps “Cross Country Amtrak” could make a compelling subject. I have taken the Lakeshore Limited (the one that goes from NYC to Chicago by way of Greenland) well over a dozen times in my comedy career as it hits Cleveland, upstate NY and Chicago, all places I have performed in many times. But perhaps it is my increasing #ComedyMogul status or just getting more uncomfortable as I get older, but the train is rough. Especially to Toledo. It was an hour late and arrived in Toledo at 7am and let me tell you, there is nothing more refreshing than getting off a train filled with the obese, the “I need to avoid TSA” and bare feet crowd of an Amtrak after 15 hours (and kudos to the two separate people who took powerful shits in our car during the Odyssey) and only 20 minutes sleep.
Due to inconsistent Internet in the room and the fact that the gym in the mall closed 2 years ago, movies ended up being my main time killer. I saw 4 movies, one each day. I loved Sausage Party (see the review here), was more than pleasantly surprised by Bad Moms, found a lump in my throat during Pete’s Dragon and wanted to murder every critic on Rotten Tomatoes who gave the atrocious Lights Out a positive review. Also one of the great benefits of the Toledo Funny Bone, besides the excellent hotel across the street (not withstanding the Internet, it is pretty swanky) from the club, is the fact that food and the mall (not a great mall, but better than nothing) are within walking distance and involve no crossing or walking along the side of any highways – always a plus in the life of the car-less feature).
The main event for every trip are the shows and I have been very happy with my performances. But to be honest, I have eaten it on stage (Birmingham, AL 2009 comes to mind as an overall week that was a struggle) and still came away still selling decently. However, the Toledo crowds have been a perfect storm of people who don’t want to buy AND don’t particularly want to make eye contact with you after a show. I did get a handful of “are you really half black”‘s – slightly fewer than the “good show”‘s I got, but a lot closer than I would have liked. The main thing I have judged from the crowd is that a lot of them seem like stand up novices – those who may not be comedy savants so they simply know by the end of the show “the guy who went last and did the most is the only human being that counts on the lineup!” I have opened for some of the biggest names in comedy and although never overshadowing them – if you hold your own as a feature, good crowds can recognize the talent and promise in all the acts. These crowds laugh their asses off (EXCEPT YOU LATE FRIDAY SHOW), but then walk by you like you were the 25 minute mic stand repair guy. Very weird and frustrating, but that’s the deal sometimes.
The worst though, was the guy who came out after my set with his wife or girlfriend to specifically tell me that he thought I was really great and that my set blew him away. He asked for a picture, I obliged and he and his lady went back in for the rest of the show. I went to the emcee and said, “Well, at least I will get one sale after the show.” Fast forward 245 minutes (black headliner) and the same dude might have been able to challenge Usain Bolt for the 100m. I kept thinking – don’t you at least want my website info?”
Usually merch money pays for all my food and movies for a weekend and then some. Now I am going to have to hit an ATM to tip out the bartenders after the last show. This is my 9/11 (which if I had sold between 9 and 11 CDs I would not have to go to the ATM).
One other thing I have learned about myself being on the road for the last few years is my ability to depress emcees. It is admittedly cool that because of my videos and impressions my reputation and skills have outpaced my actual career within stand up comedy (which is sort of counter-intuitive – “Hey people know and like your work – of course we can’t book/represent you!). On top of that my exposure on podcasts like Carolla and TBGWT have made more people on the road familiar with my work. But it is sort of a bizarre compliment seeing comedians getting sort of depressed about the business when realizing that I am still a nobody (implying that they think I should be further along – hence the compliment). Not to mention I get slightly aroused seeing comedians become more aware of what a shameful joke this industry is. Quick teaching moment – kiss the ass of a headliner, get a manger or be under 30 with a pinch of talent (but not too much so that they don’t think they can mold you into what they need at their agency) – these are the ways to “make it.” All other methods are red herrings.
So as I gear up for the finals show of the week (and a 3:20 am Amtrak back to NYC – SEE AT THE BOTTOM FOR SUNDAY EPILOGUE) I leave you with some bits from the weekend and a reminder to go buy Israeli Tortoise on iTunes (or other digital platforms), Enjoy – and pray that I don’t get Zika, Ebola or Bird Flu on my way home.
Play Station Banged My Ex
The Problem With Ocean’s 8 in 1 Minute
I sold 1 CD on Sunday night after a very strong set, which helped complete my 1.0 sales per show rate – the lowest of my career for any road weekend. However, group of older black people came up to me at the club after the show and said the following (for ease of writing I have turned all of their voices into one speaker):
OBP: We were on your Amtrak coming here. We sat next to you and in front of you (there were 4 of them total)!
J-L: Oh yeah, I remember you!
OBP: Yes, you were very funny tonight. And we commented on the train how often you got up to go to the bathroom.
J-L: Yeah, I didn’t sleep for the whole trip so my body kept having to pee.
OBP: Will you be going back on the train tonight?
OBP: Then we will see you there. We will get a picture with you there!
So look for a pic of me and 4 older black people at the Toledo Amtrak station coming to the Internet soon!
With Veep‘s season over (please Silicon Valley people be quiet – SV is a very good comedy, but it is not in Veep‘s league), my binging of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt long over, no more OJ-themed TV shows on the horizon and Game of Thrones 10-500 months away from its seventh season, there was a major hole in my TV roster for great comedy and/or must-watch-TV. However, those vacancies have been filled admirably and surprisingly by the 2nd season of The Jim Gaffigan Show, which to me, is the best and most satisfying depiction of stand up comedy that I have ever seen.
As far as depictions of stand up comedy (calm down Seinfeld people – that show featured a stand up comedian, but was famously a “show about nothing”) in my memory I can think of Louie, which before I gave up on it had glimpses of greatness (the episode featuring Dane Cook still stands out as the best one and his season 1 episode going to Birmingham was incredibly authentic and funny, and not just because I too got heckled at a large room in Birmingham) and Funny People – the bait and switch 4 hour movie by Judd Apatow that was “about stand up comedy,” but turned out to be another rom com that was too long that happened to have some scenes at stand up comedy clubs. I may be forgetting other things, but for me that is irrelevant because TJGS has been brilliant in its humor this season and specifically in its simultaneous depiction and parodying of stand up comedy in 2016.
Season 1 of The Jim Gaffigan Show was very good, but it felt like more of a focus on the family and personal life of Gaffigan. It made me laugh and was a pleasant diversion from life, exactly what most would want from a 30 minute sitcom. The cast was excellent, especially a longtime favorite of mine, Adam Goldberg, in what I think must be some sort of amalgamation of different comedians Gaffigan has been friends with (I always thought it might have been Greg Giraldo, but the character, Dave Marks, is too much of a quasi-loser, underground figure to be an exact parallel). At the end of season 1 I thought, “I hope that show gets renewed.” And it did. And even though Gaffigan and Louis CK have different sensibilities and styles, I thought TJGS was more of what I hoped Louie would be. Instead, Louie morphed into a largely unfunny (to me) homage to Woody Allen movies. Fortunately, season 2 of TJGS is not a Kubrick-esque exploration of art and family, but instead has turned into a brilliant depiction of stand up comedy that combines accuracy and parody seamlessly.
Whether the show found its voice more clearly, hired additional writers or if simply this was its natural progression, season 2 has been one of the 3 or 4 best comedies I have watched on TV all year (I would have to imagine ABC which, given Gaffigan’s clean and widespread appeal and well known family of 7, would have seemed to have been the ideal landing spot for TJGS. Instead it is on TV Land). And the main reason to me is the brilliant direction the show has gone with stand up comedy in particular. The last two episodes (pardon the recency bias) have mocked the alternative scene (“Union Hall is actually a mainstream alternative room”), the idea of road comedy (“I do theaters, I don’t know if that makes me a ‘road comic'”), the obligations to your friends in comedy (“You gotta have your buddy open for you”), seeing your friends not help you out in comedy (“Oh THAT Q.E.D”) and portrayed the struggles of a non star comedian with tremendous humor and accuracy (“I might have to get a day job”). What makes this more impressive is that Gaffigan’s actual career is far removed from the professional struggles he portrays. That is either a credit to his mind and memory, a credit to the writing staff, or both.
There are literally too many moments from the last two episodes for me to recall all of the jokes that hit so well on truths in stand up comedy, but the tight rope of parodying something, while still accurately depicting it is really impressive. Perhaps stand up in 2016 has already become a parody of itself and TJGS is merely reflecting it, but to anyone out there who wants to laugh and wants to see something that really and truly depicts the world of stand up comedy, set your DVR to The Jim Gaffigan Show.
For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes and/or STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe for free! And look for J-L’s new stand up album ISRAELI TORTOISE in August 2016.
On Thursday of last week I travelled to Columbus, Ohio to audition for feature work at the Columbus Funny Bone. Any comedian who has ever attempted to work the road should be familiar with the club. The manager there books feature work for 15 A clubs around the country so it is an important stop for people who want to get a lot of road work (and don’t have a manager, agent AND still believe in the antiquated philosophy that performing comedy is the best way to establish a career in comedy). This was actually my third time auditioning at the club since 2007, so I think a brief chronology of how I found myself at the Easton Mall in Columbus, Ohio on April 7, 2016 is in order.
2007: Not Ready
In 2007 I went to the Columbus Funny Bone for the 2nd time. The first time was as an audience member several years later to watch Greg Giraldo, a birthday present from my college girlfriend who was attending OSU Medical School while I was at Georgetown Law. Well, in 2007 it was time for another lawyer-comedian whose career would eventually die to take the stage. I had lots of material, but had not actually performed a 30 minute set yet. So like a human centipede version of my bringer sets I simply stitched together 3 ten minutes sets together. The result was an uneven, poorly paced set, with some good laughs, but overall somewhat incompetent. On that same show was NYC comedian Keith Alberstadt and I saw that he was much more comfortable with the time. When I met the manager after the show to receive my $50 for the gig, he specifically singled out Keith as someone who did get passed because he seemed ready. In a rare moment of humility (but I am never above being humbled, just not falsely) I was in complete agreement. So for 2+ years I worked on getting some road work at C and B rooms and doing lots of time in NYC. And like Rocky I may have lost the first installment, but I learned a lot and came back ready to win in the sequel…
2009: Of Course I Got Passed
When I made my way out to Columbus in 2009 I was armed with a lot more confidence and I got passed. The best feeling was that I knew it before I spoke with the manager because I had killed. I got my $50 and was told to look for work in 2010.
2010-2015: Good Start and then Screwed by Children of the Corn
In 2010 I worked the Hartford Funny Bone and the Toledo Funny Bone. Killed both weeks. I then got an unsolicited e-mail from the manager saying that he had received great feedback on me and I was being bumped up his list. I figured that had to be a good thing. For 2011 I got booked at Hartford again, the Huntington, West Virginia Funny Bone and the Des Moines Funny Bone. The Hartford week went great, but in a moment that was indicative of the general luck of my comedy career, the West Virginia club closed before I could work there (my career is like The Nothing in The Neverending Story). Then came the Des Moines Funny Bone. The gig started well – I was opening for Jim Short, an Australian comic I had met a few years earlier at the San Francisco Comedy Competition. So paired with a funny headliner who was fun to hang with (when he spilled popcorn at a movie, his rage was one of the funniest things of the entire week) the week was going well, though I was not killing like I had at the other clubs (but can you completely trust the sense of humor of a state that over the course of my comedy career has selected Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz in their caucuses?). And then I closed my final set with my communications with an attempted groupie in Iowa:
When I left Iowa I felt pretty good. Sold some merchandise, avoided cheating on my girlfriend (watch the video so you get this joke – not actually treating fidelity like an accomplishment). Little did I know I would not be booked as a feature again from that March week in 2011.
2016: Don’t Call It a Comeback. Seriously, don’t. I Was Already Passed Here.
Since 2013 I have volunteered to re-audition (around 10 years into comedy is when pride and dignity are completely beat out of you if all you have is your Hotmail account booking you on gigs). It took over two years to get back on (granted for a while the manager was not re-auditioning and then the club underwent massive renovations (it looks really terrific now), but on April 7, 2016 I made it back. I had a pre-show meal at the Cheesecake Factory (after the usual sprint across a freeway that are commonplace for my road work trips – WE ARE A FAT NATION BECAUSE THE MIDDLE STATES DONT BELIEVE IN SIDEWALKS) and then got ready to perform. I was the first to the green room, but then I was greeted by Miguel Dalmau, a NYC-turned-Indianapolis comedian and a comedian from Florida (who promptly dropped 3 names of headliners he works with, perhaps just nerves or conversation, but it felt like he had spent too much time in LA), both of whom were auditioning.
All sets went well (the crowd was a pretty easy laugh) and I was re-passed? The manager informed me that, although he didn’t recall (I told him, that’s ok – you have to keep track of hundreds of comedians; I just keep track of one), I must have received bad reviews at a club. I said “Des Moines, 2011.” I then received my
$50 $25 for the gig and spent it on popcorn, water and a ticket to Hardcore Henry, an atrocious action movie which is reviewed on this site on the movie review page. Because no matter how good or productive a comedy trip is, I always like it to end poorly.
Epilogue: Accela Train Blues
On Friday I had an 11:05 am flight out of Columbus to BWI and then an Amtrak ticket from BWI to NYC. The reasons I do this are as follows:
- Most trips to Ohio from NYC are on small planes. I don’t fit well on small planes and I hate how they have turbulence, even on clear sky days.
- Southwest, which flies to all the Ohio cities I perform in, use 737s, which are solid sized planes.
- But Southwest only goes to Columbus via Chicago if leaving LaGuardia and
- I have a lot of Amtrak points so
- I take Amtrak to and from BWI and Southwest to and from Ohio out of BWI
Well, I woke up in my Extended Stay hotel on Friday morning and saw that my plane was delayed 80 minutes, which is exactly the window I left myself to get to the 1:30pm poor people Amtrak. When I called Amtrak to change trains, the only train available after that for many hours was the 3:20 Accela (the rich people train) for a healthy $160 add on. So for anyone who wants a tally – that’s $190 on airfare, $160 on train fare, $100 on hotel, $35 on salmon and cheesecake, $25 on Hardcore Henry, $30 on Columbus cab fares and $25 in comedy pay. So for -$515.00 I was able to turn the clock back to 2009. Pretty cheap for time travel!
Many comedians refer to their calendar as a “tour,” but for the most part that is deceptive re-branding to make “calendar” or “bookings” seem more impressive, sort of like a secretary being called an administrative assistant or Kevin Hart claiming to be 5’3″ instead of 4’5″. To have a tour there should be a theme, a finite, but numerous roster of gigs and either talent or a large enough fan base to warrant calling it a tour. Since I have none of those things, but will be recording my new album in June (in NYC – date to be confirmed and possibly one other city) I might as well tell you the places I will be until then in case you a) ignore my newsletter b) don’t get my newsletter or c) never look at my website, which is loaded with good content and cost me thousands of dollars over the course of my career. As a reward for reading this and possibly marking your calendar with dates when I will be near you I have attached a new bit that will be featured in my album recording shows about how being in relationships in 2016 is harder than ever in human history. So here is my non-tour tour and the new bit (subscribe on YouTube if you like it:
- DC Improv March 31st – April 3
- Columbus Funny Bone – April 7
- Cleveland Improv – April 14-17
- “Organic Porn” – new sketch release April 14
- Los Angeles (Flappers Comedy Club, The Adam Carolla Show, New Video for ACS ) – May 15-19
- New Album Recording – June date(s) – TBA
See, that wasn’t so tough. Now, here is a new bit, sort of like a trailer for the kind of stuff my new album will contain:
There has been a heated debate within stand up comedy regarding comedy festival submission fees recently and I think it is important that young comics or would be comics learn that there are a lot of things outside of festivals and bringer shows they can do to improve their comedy career. Granted, none of these things necessarily involve writing or performing, except for one, but in a day where it is less cost effective to work the road and more difficult to crack into rotation at hometown clubs due to growing numbers of performers, social media and other uses of the Internet are the best ways to reverse engineer a comedy career. Build a fan base first, then get them to buy tickets to your stand up that you have not had time to work on and perfect – it is that simple. So here is the way to do that, instead of complaining about festival fees:
1) Take a picture with a child of a different race than you and post it to social media with something about how racism is taught. Works best if you are under the age of 8. Watch your Facebook shares skyrocket and your Instagram followers grow.
2) Take a disabled person to the prom – Someone will cover this and you will become a hero.
3) Take a soldier to the prom – Someone may cover this and you will become a hero.
4) Take a disabled soldier to the prom – Someone will definitely cover this and you will go viral.
5) Post a video or blog where you “School Someone” in a specific number of seconds – Pick an easy target, like the KKK or Justin Bieber or Donald Trump. Wait for them to say something dumb on an issue of societal importance and then either in a video (at which point you have to mention how many seconds it is in the title, but can be no more than 90 seconds) or a blog post “school them” on why they are dead wrong. But you cannot claim to school them yourself. This is the risk in this method. You just have to be heavy handed about things that are pretty much consensus to thinking people and then let it get picked up by a click bait site (all sites) and they will let the world know how badly you schooled them.
6) Destroy a Heckler – This is almost a classic move at this point, but it does require you to get on stage. When you get heckled, just respond with some dismissive snarky comment and then title the video “Comedian destroys,” even if you did not do anything of the sort. People will be primed to think you did destroy.
7) Write as many Open Letters as you can – This does not cost anything and should be done daily. Each day pick someone who has said something horribly offensive, mildly offensive or not offensive at all and write them an open letter.
8 ) Be Under 30 – This is an important tip. Don’t ignore it.
9) Change all your social media avatars to a hot, but not unrealistically hot picture of a woman – their jokes are funnier, their pictures get more likes and they get booked on more shows and afternoon “writing sessions.” Doesn’t matter if you are a woman or not. Your social media profiles should identify as a hot, but accessibly hot, woman.
10) Don’t end your list posts with a conventional number. Always end with an odd number so that it appears you put more thought into generating a list instead of a pre-determined hacky number like 10.
So that is it people. You can take the condescending advice of people who have already arrived at a good place in the business or are on their way. Or you could take the advice of newcomers who talk a big game of which they know very little. Or you can follow my steps and become a successful comedian that saves money in the process. The choice is yours.
This weekend I had, what appears to be my final gig of 2015, in Saratoga Springs, NY. And like the race horses that have run there, my career has been begging to be euthanized. On top of that general malaise, I also was (and still am) in the midst of the worst cold I have had in many years. But it was with the warrior’s determination of a vagrant participating in a bum fight that I boarded the PATH train to Hoboken to meet up with Usama and Dan, another comedian on the show and the show’s producer, respectively, to ride up to Saratoga. Usama, who turns out was going to go to medical school before discovering comedy, or as I call it, “the poor man’s def poetry”, showed off his brains and wit quickly, as he pick 6’d one of my jokes in our initial conversation (a “pick 6” is a term I coined for when a comedian telegraphs his (sigh… or her) punchline so badly that were it a football pass you could intercept it and take it in for a touchdown. In this case it felt more like I had been picked off by Richard Sherman or Darrel Revis (like when I anticipated a Bill Burr punchline correctly at MSG – sometimes a brilliant comedic mind can make a great play without it being the QB/joke teller’s fault). In my case, Usama and I were looking at the Freedom Tower from Hoboken (a Bangladeshi man named Usama and a bi-racial Egyptian-looking giant surveying the Freedom Tower from New Jersey – I am scared and angry that we weren’t profiled) and I said, telling him it was a joke (instead of being one of the comedians who pretends like his organic conversation just naturally morphs into well constructed bits), that it is a good thing we didn’t have cell phone cameras on 9/11 because nothing would have been worse – and he interrupted me and said “People shouting world star as the towers fell!” And at that moment I realized either I am losing my fastball or Usama is a sharp dude/comedian. Needless to say both my comedic instincts and my self preservation instincts compel me to choose the latter.
So Dan showed up shortly after Usama and I met and we got into Dan’s Subaru. Dan is Italian, but also has a Mediterranean skin tone that could easily be construed as Middle Eastern, so basically we had a sleeper cell headed to Saratoga, with much worse funding. Usama fell asleep in the backseat for just about the entire ride up, which allowed me to eat horribly at rest stops without the skinny dude body shaming me. #DoveSoapAd
We arrived at the venue, The Parting Glass Pub, at around 7, just in the nick of time for the 915pm start time. There were just as many headhsots of horses as there were of entertainers, or maybe Tony Robbins used to do comedy. I sat in a half coma sounding like Stephen Hawking with a stuffy nose, hacking like I was in the last stages of Ebola, which allowed me the isolation I needed to prep for my set. The show went really well with Usama really impressing me (he did use the “soul bounce”, generally saved for black comics in all white rooms (trademark pending), to point out he was a real outlier compared to the crowd, whose racial makeup was somewhere between albino and bleach, but his set was really great). I did well with my 40 minute set (my timer after read “40:07” which proves that even when sick I am a well-oiled machine of struggling comedy) despite my cold and the local guy taping the show was nice enough to tell me he was a huge fan of my appearances on The Adam Carolla Show. Basically this was like Jordan’s flu game against the Utah Jazz, but for upstate NY comedy shows.
We then departed back for Hoboken, stopping just once at a Roy Rodgers where I got a burger and fries just to ensure that death would come swiftly. We arrived in Hoboken at 3:00 am and Usama took the PATH back to the city. I got home at 3:45 and celebrated a good show with a chipwich and 4 hours of sleep. For one little show the money was good, though I did the math and if I had simply worked on my legal assignment for the entire time I spent on the Saratoga trip I would have made triple the money. When you are willing to sacrifice comfort and money for comedy that is a sign of dedication to your craft. Or a sign of masochism. Either way, looks like that is the last road update of 2015. Thanks for the least productiv & least lucrative year of comedy road work for me in 7 years comedy biz! #Blessed
This weekend took me to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – birthplace of Jesus Christ and high school football location of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Well, major events happen in threes, so you can officially add my stand up performance to that historic duo. I was scheduled to headline a 7pm show at Broadway Social and because of my extensive fan base (consisting almost exclusively of friends from college and law school) I knew I would have 2-10 “fans” in the crowd. To get to Bethlehem I had to take Transbridge bus line (“I took Transbridge bus to get here, so I guess now buses can identify as whatever they want in this post Kaitlyn Jenner world” was my first joke on stage and it bombed), which is all part of my “Not Even Good Enough For a Greyhound Depot” Comedy Tour of America. At only 3 hours, the bus ride was not quite long enough to cripple my bum knees, but I still had a limp for about a half hour after arriving in Bethlehem.
When I arrived I was greeted by my buddy Scott, Scott’s brother and a friend of theirs. It was also confirmed that many years ago I coined a term called “Weinberg” that has become very popular in their circles in Bethlehem. Like many funny things I have forgotten I told Scott that whenever someone tries to shift blame on someone out of nowhere it is like when Col. Nathan R Jessup in A Few Good Men asks Daniel Caffey who’s going to protect the country, “You (Caffey?)” *turning unexpectedly to Kevin Pollack’s character with a hint of Antisemitism “YOU Lt Weinberrrggg?” So at some point in my storied career of unpaid humor I referred to someone as totally “Weinberging” someone. And for many years that has become a thing in Bethlehem, PA. #Legend
When we arrived at Broadway Social I saw that it was a pretty nice bar/lounge so I took in the surroundings, went over my notes for what I wanted to do on stage and set up my camera that I lugged from NYC. After several local comedians went up I went up and had a very strong set. The lounge had a clear VIP lounge area for private parties or something so it got a huge laugh when I said after a sort of dirty bit got less laughs than others “Oh please we are in a club with a VIP rape room right over there! So don’t act too uptight when you know that visiting stripper porn stars probably come here to fu*k who ever is the important business man in Bethlehem.” I was extremely happy with the set and knew that I had at least 2-3 quality YouTube clips ready from the set. On top of that I also was paid $5 more than the agreed upon payment. So let that be a lesson to you young comics – if you do things right, work hard and professionally you will reap tremendous, unexpected benefits.
After the show I went back with Scott to his house, but his three kids and wife were at the in-laws, which led to two benefits: a late night viewing of John Wick on HBO and a free child’s twin bed for me to sleep in (I think I secretly hoped that Scott’s family would arrive before I woke up just for the potential Goldilocks/Home Alone level humor of a 4 year old finding a giant in his bed. Of course it probably ends with the child standing his ground and killing me in a perfectly legal shoot (especially considering my black father/ISIS eyebrows), but still pretty funny.
The next morning, before catching the transbus (Its momma named it bus, I’ma call it bus!), I was asked to stand as Godfather to Scott’s youngest child (After Mel Gibson and Stephen Colbert I might be the third most famous Catholic in entertainment). I then slapped him and told him he should act like a man! So, just another typical road comedy gig for me – bus travel, lucrative cash bonuses and providing spiritual guidance. And then I got home and accidentally deleted the set from Friday night. #Blessed
I was at the Mohegan Sun in Wilkes Barre, PA this weekend, so I guess my Cal Ripken-esque gig-less streak has been broken, but rest assured I am a fierce competitor and am committed to starting a new streak this week. I love the Mohegan Sun gig because you always get a great room, and it is like a mini-legit casino (the title is supposed to be a James Bond pun on Casino Royale, since the new Bond film opened this week). The comedy club is nice and I have generally done well so nothing to fret. I will just give you a few small highlights before sharing some clips of new bits that went well over the weekend (FYI – this is going up on a Sunday because Monday will be the all out blitz for my Trump-Sanders-Obama video – this week’s podcast will go up Wednesday instead of Tuesday:
- Jokes about every group went well except one: women. Now I made jokes about big women, but this line, that attacked women’s overall role as financial beneficiaries on dates, fell flatter than anything I said all weekend: “Valentine’s Day is sort of weird – in honor of boyfriends and husbands paying for dinner all year, they should pay more money for extra date – that is a weird way of saying thanks to us. I mean do you ask your Mom to cook you an extra special breakfast when it’s Mother’s Day?” – It felt like Daffy Duck following Bugs Bunny on stage. Crickets.
- Got to earn extra loot by doing a firehouse gig before Saturday’s show. Took my first Uber ride and despite making 2 wrong turns the guy still asked for a 5 star review. I was leaning 4 stars, but the guy was an African immigrant living in Donald Trump-loving Pennsylvania country so before he gets shot by police or chased out of town by a mob I figured I could give him a charity 5 stars.
- Got paid in cash for all my shows and some Uber reimbursement, but still managed to walk by all the tables without plopping it down and seeing if I could leave with headliner money. So thanks to my caution I still have cell phone, Con Ed and health insurance money for the month. What I am saying is that I am a rock star.
- OK, so without further adieu here are 3 bits from this weekend that I am very proud of. Hope you enjoy them, share them and subscribe to the channel: