The Silent Majority of Comedy (I hope)

There is a saying in stand-up comedy, “it takes ten years to find your voice.” I don’t know who invented this saying. Perhaps it was a club owner running bringer shows wanting to postpone frustrations of the semi-slave labor being manipulated with tapes and compliments. Perhaps it was a well-meaning veteran comedian trying to encourage a frustrated, younger comedian. Or maybe it is just true.  After all I feel like around 5 years in is when my comedy started to shift to the more personal and opinionated and around 8 years in when it merged with my sense of frustration and injustice with the way the comedy business worked, both as a business and as an art.  After all, it may take 10 years to find your voice, but from half of the casting and showcase lists you see from major comedy players, it can sometimes appear that you find your manager and your opportunity after your first pubic or facial hair sprouts, “voice” development be damned.  But in my 10th year is when all the things I had been writing, performing and producing hit a new stride and grew my audience.   So now I have, for better or worse, carved out a niche in the business through my videos, podcasts, blogs and stand up as sort of a guy who at best, offers funny and unflinching shots at anything I see wrong, even if it is with the business that I am trying to succeed in, or, at worst, is committing career suicide for his peers’ enjoyment.

What has perplexed me is that on a weekly basis I get messages, e-mails and texts from fellow comedians, many of who are friends or at least people with whom I am friendly, pointing me in the direction of some comedy news/blog/practice/etc or something they at least think will anger me into producing new content making their argument for them.  I don’t mind it, and am certainly not calling out any friend or acquaintance in particular.  But I have gotten suggestions for podcasts, blogs and videos from numerous people over the last few months and the question I want to ask is “You are a comedian, why don’t you do something with it?”

Some of the examples that come to mind include a blog last year, made as humorous and as complimentary as I could about an experience I had at a club (fun club, great staff) where the condo was infested with roaches in a pretty shitty building.  And the blog may have gotten me banned at that club.   But since then I have had private communications with several comedians about those accommodations and how terrible it was and other comedians cancelling gigs there.  But I am on the hook as the person who made a public stink of conditions that the department of health would take issue with, let alone hard working entertainers.  When the comedy business (or just a comedy business) treats performers poorly they should be ashamed and crawl into hiding, not the comedian who has a legitimate gripe about maltreatment.  And my post was only meant to be my personal humorous experience, until I heard at least a dozen comedians describe a similar experience.

There was Comedy Academy, my web series, which has passed 26,000 views total in a month and the most private messages of congratulations I have received in the last year but, per video, the fewest public shares on social media of all my videos, in the last year.  The people who were most likely to share the videos were people at the lower rung of comedy or people located in the untouchable upper rung of comedy, like Adam Carolla and Sebastian Maniscalco.  And while I deeply appreciate every share and post, I was disappointed by the fact that more of the videos were not shared.  It reminds me of how so many lower class and middle class Republicans in America vote against their interest.  They believe the American Dream so hard they ignore things right in front of their face.  Similarly, in comedy whether it be manipulation, poor payment (forget $5 spots at UCB when features on the road are getting paid the same (or less when you factor in the disappearance of paid-for lodging on the road at many places) as comedians 25 years ago, or just calling out bullshit professionally or artistically, so many up and comers are about “playing the game,” which most of them cannot win.  Just like the economic ladder in America, the comedic ladder, towards a career in comedy, especially stand-up is more difficult than ever.

Then there was my Facebook post about the Laughing Devil in Long Island City being booked by the people at The Stand.  People were nervous about what that post implicated because it looked like a shot at The Stand, which is the rising challenger in the NYC club scene with great buzz.  But what I was actually questioning, which was missed by most people who were afraid I was taking a shot at The Stand, was why did a cozy club in Long Island City, which was providing paid spots to comics like me, that are not getting them elsewhere in the city (it was nice to have a club not directly tied to talent management in the way some of the bigger clubs in NYC are) and free spots to comics that were not getting many elsewhere in NYC, switch booking practices… and not tell their roster of comics?  I know this because I was fortunate to at least be on the list for avails that The Stand sent out, but I know several people who were only on the Laughing Devil roster who knew nothing about a change and just assumed they needed to submit more avails for spots.  I don’t know why the change was made to different bookings on weekends because the last three weekend shows I did at the Laughing Devil were all packed, but that was a business deal/transaction to which I am not privy.  I feel like it is going to eventually become The Stand East (I don’t actually know that, but as an up and coming neighborhood with a built in audience it would make sense to get a foothold in it, especially since it was close to being sold last year) and can now be a workout room for spillover from The Stand’s roster.  Why am I saying all this?  Because clubs and comics like to speak of “community””, but unless I am completely off base this flies in the face of that.  And yes, having recorded an album and my biggest YouTube video at that club I feel particularly annoyed by the change, but that is business.  But individual comedy club ownership is a small business and should treat their comedians like part of a small business, not like a cog at Wal-Mart.

My point with a few of these examples is that if comedians are only speaking up or being bold about the business or art of stand up when they have the cover of industry or fame or are taking generally accepted “bold stance”” topics within the comedy world (like scoring tried and true points attacking conservative politics as an example), then how can it actually stand for anything anymore?  If everyone in stand up spoke out on bullsh*t, demanded more equitable treatment on the road (why does $200-$300 have to come out of the feature worker, when you can afford to pay a headliner anywhere from $2-$20K per week?  It is the same “job creator” argument we hear in politics, except in this case it is the “seat fillers.”  Will your audience stop coming if every food item is raised 25-50 cents to pay a decent week’s wage and accommodation to a hard working middle class (literally) comedian?

These are just some of the things I try to attack with serious writing, but also with humorous personal stories (self-deprecating to depressing) and funny sketches.  I guess I should be thankful that not many people, if any, take this sort of approach to the comedy business because it has allowed my name and reputation to rise slightly higher than where my actual career is right now financially.  But it also makes me wonder what happened that comedy because so full of cowards or at least people too afraid of repercussions for doing or saying the right thing (honesty is the right thing and what I believed was the hallmark of comedy versus other arts with more sullied reputations in the popular culture).  This is what confuses me above all: if comedians don’t treat stand up as a profession and an art on its own (and not just a pit stop on their way to television deals) then how can the industry possibly do better.  As philosopher Katt Williams once said (and he could have been making a decent defense for the comedy industry), “How can I ruin your self-esteem? It’s esteem of yo muthafuckin self!”  I think there is a lot of shabbiness by the industry, but there seems to be little push back or standing up for oneself in the comedy world (UCB “controversy” aside, which still led to no pay).  I want to believe that there could be a strike or a union or improved work for comedians, especially on the road, but comedians are almost conditioned at this point to think and act like desperate scabs – so how do unionize workers when the work force already consists of scab mentality?

Just under a year ago, when I made my Louis CK Tells The Classics video I remember one of the very first YouTube comments I got was “This would have been funny if you were making fun of Dane Cook, but not Louis.”  And I feel like that all the time in comedy now.  Like there is an acceptable way to question or challenge things in comedy.  I don’t think there is, as long as it is either valid or funny.  Or ideally, both.

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Roaches vs. Man – My Alamo in the Comedy…

Week 2 of my San Antonio journey officially began yesterday as I moved from the outskirts of San Antonio into the heart of downtown to work at Rivercenter Comedy Club.  A quick breakdown of the two clubs – The LOL Club gets you free admission to the best movie theater in America (Alamo Drafthouse) and quick access to a Cheesecake Factory and a Chick Fil-A.  On the downside you are sort of isolated and the only gym you can workout at is Planet Fitness – a gym that bans jump rope and heavy weights, but does have tootsie rolls and pizza parties.  Now I am at the Rivercenter Comedy Club.  Pluses – near the Alamo, which could be defeated by an athletic high school basketball team (if the tall Dutch were attacking instead of miniature Mexicans it would have been taken faster – the thing is small and short), near a Fogo De Chao (a Brazilian steakhouse that serves unlimited filet mignon) and a free week pass to the Gold’s Gym.  There is a movie theater, but it is not free and not as good, though it is a solid AMC.  So at this point it is hard to draw an overall winner.  Each club has its strengths and weaknesses.  The tie breaker is simple:

LOL Club – comedians get a hotel.  At Rivercenter – comics get the condo.

Whenever a comedian gets booked on the road there are three possibilities: one is the club provides a hotel, the next is they provide a condo – an apartment the club owns or rents and have cleaned once a week for the incoming comedians (do yourself a favor and DO NOT bring a black light – better to live in ignorance) and the last is that the club provides nothing.  Shockingly the lack of any lodging is sometimes preferable to the condo.

The first time I performed at Rivercenter was in Fall 2011 and I did not see one bug the whole week.  So despite other comedians ripping on the condo I had no problem coming back to it.  And during the day I saw nothing.

I did the show that night and had a great set – excellent crowd.  Had fun chatting with the emcee George and the headliner Cory, who was my condo-mate (the headliner gets the room with the 14 inch tube television – BALLER).  However, as I walked back with Cory to the condo after the show he began telling me haunting stories about his last time at the club (which was Fall 2012 – so more recent and relevant) and the high quantity of roaches he saw throughout the apartment (to be fair there are a lot of combat traps and 2 bottles of Raid in the condo).  And like Beetlejuice or Candyman it was as if Cory summoned the evil spirits of roaches and waterbugs by saying their name because when I got back to the condo I saw a large roach climbing the side of my dresser. I promptly smashed it (#hero), but was now convinced/paranoid that the apartment was teeming with them.  I put all my stuff into my suitcase and sprayed every inch of the room with Raid.

We then went out where I decided a few beers might put my already tired ass into a coma so I could pass out without thinking about my new roommates.  We ended up going to this excellent place Mad Dog’s British pub, which featured outstanding karaoke hosts (they looked like an older Amy Poehler and Mya Rudolph performing a sketch about two older women hosting karaoke).  When Cory and I walked in we got great looks of “who ARE these guys” because Cory is short but very jacked and bears a little resemblance to Michael Vick, while I look like a back-up long snapper for an NFL team (hey we both made this fictional roster).  One of the karaoke highlights was one guy wearing a Roger Staubach jersey who did a phenomenal version of Cherry by Franki Valli and the Four Seasons.  The staff was hot, the crowd was fun and the hosts were great (singing, dancing and joking around – I guess women in their mid forties do have something to contribute after all!) and I started to relax.  After a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours we left to go back to the condo.

We were talking in the kitchen area and I was starting to feel comfortable (all the lights on in the apartment) and then a roach just sauntered out towards me in the light of the kitchen.  This roach was like Blade – it was of the night, but could also walk in the light.  I then noticed one on the wall and Cory informed me that a stain on the floor was his handiwork earlier in the day (dead roach stain, not a Cory stain).  I promptly stepped on the one approaching me and declared “I’m out of here.” I felt like those brave souls at the Alamo that I was now so close to – outnumbered by aggressive, tiny, brown creatures.  I then booked a room at a nearby Doubletree for a surprisingly low rate (this blog is sponsored by  When I got to the Doubletree at 3 am the man at the desk looked at me and said “No offense, but you look deathly tired.  Here are a couple of cookies.”  And then I fell asleep in my beautiful room at the Doubletree.

Remember the Condo!

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Stand Up Comedy – The Quintessential American Business

No other business in my opinion represents America like stand up comedy. I do not know where or how it exactly originated, but it is clear that America has the lion’s share of the top tier talent.  Comedy has been at the forefront of the 1st Amendment in entertainment.  It has produced cultural icons.  It has opened doors, pushed boundaries and offered Americans of all varieties windows into the worlds of people different than them in ways that social interaction may not have always allowed.  And like the American Dream – comedy was an art form where if you had a dream, a spark of talent and motivation you could become successful, albeit, moderately in many cases, if you just stuck with it and worked hard. People could make careers in stand-up comedy.

But just like the American Dream, which has basically died except for hard core Americans who believe more in the sanctity of platitudes than the reality of life, comedy has undergone a profound shift in recent history.  Just like an America where the rich have rigged the rules so that if you start ahead, you will most likely finish further ahead (while simultaneously lecturing the have-nots on the virtue of hard work and fair play), the comedy business has become an increasingly rigged business where the haves continue to grow in wealth and opportunity while instructing the have-nots (at least those rich in talent, lacking in most other things) of all the new ways they must work hard and build their brand – because their effort and skills are the only things holding them back.


The truth is America is rigged and you need to be an exception to make it by with hard work – the social contract of work hard, contribute to society and stay out of trouble is no longer enough for many people to have a successful life.  We are not all equal and we will not all live equally, but somehow a notion that permeated our country and thrived for decades, the idea that if you “work hard and play by the rules,” to quote Bill Clinton, is now not virtuous anymore.  You are either some wealthy kick ass person worthy of our admiration or someone who has fu*ked up or is not working hard enough – a janitor may not be a glamorous job, but if a guy puts in 40 hours a week cleaning toilets shouldn’t he be OK at least?  Now comedy is an art and by no means as important as basic life necessities.  And talent is necessary (and subjective).  But hard work, talent and staying out of trouble are no longer enough in comedy.  Because the game is increasingly rigged.

The “rich” in comedy have consolidated power by creating a near monopolistic control of the A comedy clubs in America, making it easier for their headlining clients to earn commissions for them.  So if you manage the talent and manage the venues that book the talent to perform, it seems fairly obvious who will perform there.  Now this monopolistic, incestuous booking/management/ownership practice may doom the comedy club business in the long run, but this apocalyptic future is of little consolation to comedians who have spent 10-20 years building a career only to see the equivalent of their factory close down or outsource or downsize in the last couple of years.

Now in many professions, a union used to be the way to even the score between undervalued workers and powerful owners and employers, but many decades removed from some of the worst worker abuses that made unions necessary in the first place, we now live in a society where more and more people belittle and denigrate the purpose of unions.  And a comedy union, which was tried a decade or so ago, has even less likely a chance of coming to fruition today than it did before.  Here is a comment I wrote about comedy unions on Facebook last week:

 It won’t work because only a small minority of comedians would actually benefit from a union. Assuming things like standard rates for showcase sets, emcee, feature and headlining gigs would be what a union would seek it would not work because headliners and stars would have little incentive to join, rising stars (MTV 2 and Comedy Central stables) would not want to harm their ascent, and local comedians around the country would not like it because they might and probably would suffer if more top flight features were sought out and guaranteed room and a decent week’s pay (since clubs abiding by union regulations would be paying more for talent they would be incentivized to guarantee customer satisfaction with the show). So the only people who would benefit would be the top tier feature level talent who would be able to stay afloat to possibly reach headline status and would have more opportunities if clubs no longer had a financial incentive to get emcees and features on the cheap.

In other words, just like in America – the rich workers have no incentive to support unions, employers have incentives NOT to support unions and the poorest and least skilled have little to benefit from joining them (local comedians in many cases being almost the equivalent of government assistance recipients) so the people who get squeezed and lose out on the would-be benefits of a comedy union are the middle class of comedy – hard working people who have the skills, but are no longer offered social mobility in the business.


Also, like in America, where the media has become a slave to the whims of the public and web traffic statistics instead of being solely concerned with valuable information (Lindsey Lohan “news” coverage ring a bell), the most popular sites for comedy news appear to be those dedicated to promoting the established stars and rare do-it-yourself tales of people making it from outside the industry – the kind of stories that are not as likely to enlighten or add weight to comedy criticism or information, but will boost Google Analytics for the provider of the story.  Stories of Bo Burnham are well known, as are Louis CK’s bucking the industry.  But these are exceptions – a kid becoming a star from his bedroom or a performer who spent decades within the industry finally accruing enough power to then buck the system.  However, just like reality television, which provides us with dozens of shows about “real Americans” to make us believe industry and working class people are still thriving and full of entertaining life, these comedic anecdotes are like opiates – making comedians believe that the business is more accessible than ever and not more rigged than ever.  The notion being f you just work hard and come up with something creative you will be rewarded. It was always a tough business, but every time you read a story of do-it-yourself successes in comedy, there are two more clubs being swallowed up into a monopoly that will not hire you unless you have made yourself a star already.  Then they will want your piece of your slice of the pie that you earned.  And the comedy sites will then be there to tell your story.


The brilliance of this new comedy business model is that comedy has never been as accessible and widespread as it is today.  Just as the general public is flooded with more information than ever before, breeding a level of apathy and cynicism in the general public (stories get bigger faster and become irrelevant faster from news fatigue), so too are people inundated with comedy all over their computers, phones and social media.  So it has never been easier to reach an audience, but simultaneously an audience has never had less monetary value.  As soon as YouTube fully grasped the success of YouTube they began promoting certain people and creating their own original content.  Comedy Clubs of the established variety are the last sort of seal of industry approval that audiences recognize.  But they are becoming more and more closed off to a lot of comedians.  And I am not just speaking of people in my position – there are a lot of experienced people beyond me who are feeling this pinch.

I wish I had a solution for this.  And maybe ten or twenty years from now the model will have exploded and things will reverse or get back to a little less Gilded Age approach to the comedy business.  But that won’t help people now – being historical footnotes during a Comedy Club oligarchy as the powers that be decided which headliners would survive and which up and coming acts they would try to make stars out of.

Instead of insuring the life blood of comedy, the powers that be seem like they want to suck it dry so it no longer exists when they leave.  That might explain why there is now Laughstub which is a Ticketmaster for comedy.  Because everyone loves Ticketmaster, right?  Just a few years ago, this did not exist at most clubs, but now people looking for a moderately priced evening of entertainment can tack on service charges that go to who – the employees of the clubs? I doubt it.

But the message sent to comedians – the working class soldiers in the comedy business?  Work harder – that is what is holding you back.  So while the haves keep increasing their share of the pie and inventing new slices to carve up, the blame is placed at the feet of the comedians just trying to work and earn a buck. The stand up comedy business is now so American that Ken Burns should make a documentary about it and Paul Krugman should write a column about how corrosive it is.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes. New Every Tuesday!

10 Observations from 10 Years In Comedy

In my decade of performing, observing, enjoying and being despondent over stand up comedy it has been a very interesting and unique time to be a comedian.  When I began I still sent physical VHS tapes for auditions (quickly moving on to DVDs, both of which sit in warehouses like the one where the Arc of the Covenant is stored in Raiders of the Lost Arc).  The biggest comedian in the world was Dane Cook.  Beards were worn primarily by drifters and the homeless and women were just not considered very funny.  And in a decade my how some of those things have changed!  Now I send video clips and avails by email, which no longer have to be discarded into basements or (physical) trash bins; Louis CK is the biggest comedian, who unlike Dane Cook never uses non-sequiturs or voice inflection as the driving force of a joke; beards are an industry gold standard, like a foot long dong in porn; and now women are the funniest gender on the planet if you are reading the Huffington Post.  So to give you some perspective on the last tumultuous and game-changing decade in comedy here is my list:

1) Chris Rock may be the last stand up legend to be judged critically.  Bring the Pain is the greatest hour of comedy I have ever seen.  I do not think it will ever be surpassed.  Every bit on that is a greatest hit.  It was strong, relevant, thoughtful and most importantly hilarious.  Chris Rock’s next special was an A, but not the A+ that BTP was. But then Rock did Never Scared and I remember critics and comedians were not that warm to it.  I was at a taping of it in DC and enjoyed it, but knew that it was not to the level of the first two.  But I did not try to choke slam the first person to say they did not like the special.  Because in comedy you should be judged by the product and not merely reputation (that might actually benefit me).  Sure, fans can get caught up in the hype, but at least comedians should be able to give honest assessments.  However, guys like Dave Chappelle (who’s show was tremendous and whose stand up career has someone how been inflated to the level of Chris Rock (or beyond by some) as he gained unwarranted mythical status) and Louis CK have been unassailable and infallible in their stand up.

I saw Chappelle in 2003 I believe, headline the DC Improv and watched someone deliver a lackluster hour for $45 a ticket.  The material and the effort were not worthy of the ticket price.  Also, Louis CK’s last two specials were fine.  Some highlights, but the almost instant reaction from comedians to them was “brilliant” and “amazing” across social media platforms, and could not be justified.  So apparently it is now a great time to be a legend in comedy.  Our colective need for man made deities in an increasingly secular age with more and more Internet interaction has made hero worship more necessary and more personal to people.  Myths can be worshipped, but a real comedy legend should still be scrutinized and judged on the work.  So for my money (which is not much) I think Chris Rock may be the last comedy legend we see for a while and definitely over the past decade.

2) Dane Cook used voice inflection as a punchline, which is now panned… by people who love comics who use voice inflection.  Starting my decade of comedy, Dane Cook was the biggest thing in comedy (more Kevin Hart than CK, but still a huge deal).  Ten years later, Cook can do nothing right in the eyes of some.  His formula, though not for everyone, was unique and he had honed it – it relied a lot on personality, charisma and story telling, but his signatures were voice inflection and accompanying gesticulations.  I do not describe it this way to denigrate it, but only because that is how someone studying his success might portray it.  He worked hard, worked through the clubs, made it to late night television and when his moment came he became a monster success.

Now Dane Cook is a guy with “no jokes” and “stupid fans” to a lot of the in-the-know comedy crowd who gravitate towards a new scene of comics who use plenty of voice inflection and gesticulation to either punctuate a joke – or to replace conventional punchlines entirely.  But some of this new inflection class are more humble and pulling less pussy than Cook so they are viewed as vanguards of authenticity.  So in a way nothing has changed on this front in ten years, except for a lot of blind hypocrisy.

3) Chappelle’s Show Was the Last Great Sketch Show.  I still watch and enjoy SNL, but since Chappelle’s Show, sketch comedy took a nosedive the last ten years.   It seems that Chappelle’s Show was the last sketch (and possible comedy overall) to be hugely entertaining with meaningful social commentary and risk-taking that was not meant to shock, simply for the sake of shock.  If I showed you season 2 of Chappelle Show 10 years ago (approximately) and then showed you a futuristic glimpse of Key and Peele ten years later, you might assume an apocalyptic event had taken place.

4) It is better to be lucky or local as a middle comic.  Road work, once the lifeblood of the up and coming comedian has basically dried up.  Even if you are successful and connected enough to secure a lot of weeks of work as a middle, the nickel and diming barely allows you to make ends meet.  But if you are a local comedian across the country with any chops you can probably secure more work at your local clubs than someone with television credits can across the country (I am thinking of no one in particular).  Of course, if you are lucky enough to connect with an established headliner than you may secure as many feature weeks as they have headlining weeks, but generally being local or being lucky beat being good if you are trying to get middle work.  I felt like I saw a lot more people slightly ahead of me in the early part of my decade in comedy securing solid amounts of feature work.  Maybe that was an illusion, but when in 2013 a booker refers to it as a “buyer’s market” to you and another booker apologizes that they cannot pay you more (not because they are strapped for cash, but because local features have set the rate lower for that market) it probably is not.

5) The comedy community has reached a critical mass of self-absorption.  Comedy controversies have become as important to the comedy community as telling good jokes.  Mind you a comedy controversy is as valuable to the world as what you ate for breakfast is.  A funny joke on social media is almost as important as who told it with regard to re-tweeting and liking something.  No I am not suggesting that ass kissing somehow emerged in the last decade, just that it is now more in your face and having exponential growth BECAUSE it is in everyone’s face.  Ten years ago, the road and television appearances were badges of honor and benchmarks in a career.  Now every comedian who cannot or will not make effort to get booked outside of their three favorite venues is proclaiming “the old order is dead – we don’t need the clubs!”  Right, and now instead of some people having viable careers we have almost everyone scraping by at the same level.  I am mad at the clubs because they are cheap and hurting the chances of genuine talent sustaining their careers in comedy, but I still want the clubs because they have the built in audiences who like comedy and purchase CDs.

My favorie little anecdote showing people’s lack of gloabal awareness may have been a few years ago when a new-sish comic spoke of another new-ish comedian (both less than 4 years performing) and said “he is really influencing a lot of people right now.”

6) The best comics I have seen throughout the decade were the 10-12 year guys.  I mean this to say the “unknown” comedians that I have liked the best have always been the guys with enough experience to be great at what they do, but enough humility and time to have shifted their focus from bullsh*t.  Two of my favorite comics right now are Yannis Pappas and John Moses (who may not want to be affiliated with me or this post).  They are both sharp, unique comedians with distinct points of view and are starting to get success.  This is who should be getting the showcase opportunities from the industry, not having to be do-it-yourself cottage industries.  Of course this is a Catch 22 – perhaps if they had been coddled and embraced sooner they would not have become as good as they are.  But now that comics like Yannis and John and many others have molded their acts under increasingly brutal (do it all yourself and if we like you we will take 10% to help you cross the finish line) industry conditions I want to see them doing half hour specials.  Not as speculative chances, but as proven commodities.

I laughed when someone recently told me that they thought Joe DeRosa’s new comedy central half hour was “great.”  I laughed because I am sure it was.  Joe is a comedian who is well known in comedy circles, has been doing it for over a decade and has worked very hard.  Comedy specials on television should be the reward of people who have earned a certain status, not a polling station for what tests well with millennials.  Half hours on Comedy Central over the past few years in some cases (but certainly not all) have felt like testing ground for potential new stars, instead of a selection of proven comedians.  So when someone tells me that Joe DeRosa “was great” I laugh because I wonder why every year does not have 12-14 Joe DeRosa’s selected.  And if they cannot find that many, why do they have that many episodes?  Video killed the radio star and one day someone will write that Millennial polling drowned the stand up comedian.

7) Still waiting for a Latin comic who can make the Latin experience have cross over appeal.  Just a thought. Ten years and although there are comics of Latin descent (Giraldo being one of my all time favorites) who are excellent I find it weird that in a country where Latinos are now (I believe) or soon to be the largest minority in the country there is no breakout/crossover star of Latin comedy.  George Lopez is the most successful, but where is the Latin Chris Rock or Richard Pryor or Dave Chappelle – someone lending an insider’s perspective and experience from a large community to the mainstream?  Oh wait, I forgot about Carlos Mencia.  It just makes me wonder if Latin comedians are too insular with their material (try enjoying a George Lopez special without Rosetta Stone) or if the industry is ignoring some up and coming talent(s) who might add a needed new perspective.  Either possibility would not surprise me.

8 ) Men dominate comedy but the only thing that has changed is that it is now inappropriate to ascribe any qualitative value to the fact that dominate.  Most people still think men are funnier than women. All that has happened is vocal members of the comedy comunity have rendered this notion the equivalent of  hate speech so most people will no longer express that opinion explicitly.  #progress

9) There is no middle class left in comedy.  You are either a star, a star in the making, or a hobbyist. – Close to #4 so just read this.

10) I went from too new to too old without ever hitting the “just right” phase.  As I was moving up the ranks from “open mic-er” to “respected open mic-er” to “why is he still doing this open mic” to “hey I got a guest spot at a good club” to “emcee” to “feature” I was always impatient.  Club owners assured me that I was new and I was young and my time and voice would come.  Now I am 34, 10 years in the game and working my ass off and I see a lot of late twenty-somethings making it big (at least relatively speaking).  But maybe I just missed that specific day when I was 31 years old, but looked 29 and had just had a good workout and wrote a really solid new joke and had a little bit of 5 o’clock shadow – that was the moment when I was just right for comedy success.

So if this is the last ten years of comedy I hope for my sake AND for the sake of stand up that this circles back around a little bit. Because if this was the ten years leading up to now, the next time you see Key and Peele on your television set there very well may have been a stand up comedy apocalypse.

Have a great weekend!

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes. New Every Tuesday!

The Things New Comics Should Be Doing

As I get set to celebrate/mourn a full decade performing stand up comedy it dawned on me that a majority of the posts I write concerning comedy have a somewhat negative or cynical spin.  Sure there are problems and issues with the art, as well as the business of stand up comedy, but I have certainly learned and experienced some very positive things.  Comedy has allowed me to see so many parts of America (and they are all obese).  I have heard racist comments in the deep south as well as the shallow northeast.  In other words, a career in comedy has allowed me to have a rich and fulfilling experience learning about the human condition in America.  It has also given me great insights into how, instead of just being mean and cynical to newer comics, my experience and observations of how comedy has changed in the last decade could provide guidance to those new comics.  So that they can become more successful and avoid the bitterness and cynicism that has sometimes stifled me, here are some of my suggestions for people just starting out in comedy or thinking about trying stand up (or maybe even some veterans), because after all: ANYONE CAN DO IT!

1.  Put “Comedian” in front of your name and as your occupation on all social media.  In other professions you have to earn your title, or at least exhibit some shame in calling yourself something you have not quite earned (like that look on a podiatrist’s face when he demands that you to call him or her “doctor.”  Well, comedy doesn’t work like that.  Simply claim the title after that first open mic and never let it go.  You don’t even need to earn laughs, let alone money, to call yourself a comedian.  And by putting it in your Facebook name you announce to the world that you are in fact a comedian.  Like they did not know already!

2.  Refer to your schedule of shows as a “Tour.”  A tour used to mean a sponsored series of events or at least a series of events similar in their significance or theme that calling them a tour seemed to mean something.  I might be inclined to refer to my mish mash of performances as a schedule or at least call the section of my website “live calendar,” but in this day and age a schedule is something you put on Microsoft Outlook.  You are a comedian! It says so on your Facebook name – so act like a rock star performer and call your list of shows a tour.  People will respect you more.  Even if that tour takes you to the basement of a taco restaurant.

3.  Tweet and Facebook “Up”.  Try to re-tweet and #FF as many people above you as possible.  And be sure to like the statuses of anyone significantly higher than you in the social media realm.  These more successful and/or famous people like being treated well and will recognize you for it.  And remember, every set that someone with more momentum than you does should result in either a  “you killed”, “you crushed” or “fu*king brilliant!” compliment from you.

4.  Refer to the right comics. A corollary to number 3 is to make sure you know who to praise, who not to praise. Easy examples to start you on your way: Louis CK – the best and  Dane Cook – the worst.  You will look like an asshole who has no idea what is going on in comedy if you veer to sharply from the boundaries that have been set by the comedy community.

5.  Do long sets as soon as possible.  I had a comedian (said so on his Facebook name) tell me he had been doing comedy for a very short time but was already doing 30 and 40 minute sets.  YES!  This is what it takes people.  Having 30 minutes is easy – if you can speak confidently for thirty minutes, can find a space anywhere in America with a microphone and someone willing to let you do it, then voila! You have thirty minutes of material!  Why wait – you may already be ready!

6. Start a web series.  Things may not be completely blowing up in stand up in your first 5 months (and you already have a podcast and a blog) so it is probably time to diversify your funny portfolio. Start doing a web series.  Nothing will make you a better comedian than by producing non-stand up comedy content.

7.  After one year, begin lecturing other performers and sharing what you have learned.  Once you have been doing stand up for one year, it is time to start sharing your knowledge with other comics.  Snort and chuckle when newer comedians say things that seem arrogant and remind them that you have been on the road and know what this business is really like (even one road gig qualifies you as an expert).  However, if you are talking to a comedian with significantly more experience, be sure to show them deference by saying “you know how it is” after complaining to a 12 year veteran how upset you are that your career is stalled after 19 days.  And speaking of the road…

8.  Never do the road.  Not only is the road not a really viable career path at this point except for the independently wealthy or established headliners, but it is not really what you should be about.  Working the road will help you get a good 30-45 minutes over time, whereas staying where you are will be good for networking and creating a ten minute set that your favorite neighborhood hangout will enjoy.

9.  Record an album as soon as you can and sell it for $5.  I defer to comedian Andy Sandford’s Facebook advice to young comedians, which sort of inspired me to give my advice column to young comedians:

hey, if you’ve been doin comedy for 6 months and have 45 minutes of untrimmed quasi-material that no one wants to hear…you need to record and release your own album on itunes ASAP, before you progress and hate the material. In the past, record labels kept artists like yerself down by having standards. Well the future is now, and you can sell direct to fans just like Louis CK, who you are most likely imitating

10. Create a Character.  Your voice and opinions, God willing, will never fully develop because within a few years you should be in development for television projects and never have to do stand up again.  However, in case you are not quite on that track, develop a character – make your voice sound different, be different, even if the thoughts expressed through your material are not.  Greg Giraldo is dead.  Pee Wee Herman is alive – which one would you rather be?

Good luck on your comedy adventure young comedian!

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes.

The Rise of the Female Heckler

A foolish woman is clamorous.  She is simple and knoweth nothing.” – Proverbs 9:13

Rest assured avid readers of this blog and listeners of the Righteous Prick podcast.  This is not some screed against women in comedy.  Well, sort of.  It is not about performers of comedy.  I just finished what can only be called a triumphant series of shows at Helium Comedy Club.  I received a great response from the six crowds, sold more CDs (and Live Angry wristbands) than any single week of my career and not one person out of roughly 1500 audience members offered me a suggestion on how I could improve a joke (they must have read last week’s angry post).  So what could I possibly have to complain about?  Well a great week does not mean a perfect week and both at Helium and at a bar show I did Sunday night upon returning to the city there were a few blemishes.  For the last couple of years that has been a debate drummed into the ground about whether women are funny (or in all honesty, and more specifically, if women are as funny as men).  Rather than divide the comedy community on a gender-related issue that has been exhausted, perhaps it is time to acknowledge gender in a comedy issue that comedians of both genders should be able to agree on: women are talking way too much sh*t at comedy clubs.

I do not know enough about the history of comedy club etiquette to know if mouthy women were always the norm in comedy club audiences, but I feel like in my decade in comedy I have seen a big rise in women sharing their opinions, sound effects and “making it about them” recently.  Now I am in a unique position as a physically imposing comedian in that like a nuclear missile, my size mostly acts as a deterrent.  I am no fighter, but I could still throw a few punches and smother most people to the ground with Dunkin Donuts-fueled mass.  Early in my career I only remember being heckled twice by men.  One was at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, which was basically punk college kids having a goofy time at a lightly-attended free show.  The other time was way back in 2004 at the DC Improv where some guy yelled as I got on stage, “That’s a big bitch!” (my hair almost grazes the ceiling above the stage at the DC Improv).  But since those early (and not material-related) heckles I find women in comedy club audiences have become almost the sole source of heckling, talking and commentary.  Much like an Al Qaeda argument, I am not saying all women heckle. In fact women made up a majority of all the shows at Helium this weekend and 99% of them were great audience members.  But of the 8-10 moments of interruption during my 6 sets, 1 was a drunk man, 9 were women.  And at the bar show I did in Brooklyn there was one heckler and she was a woman.  Before I continue describing this new, or at least growing trend, allow Bill Burr to posit one theory why women have become  so free with their voices and opinions at clubs (he is discussing society at large, but it applies):

I have determined that there are different categories of female audience members that are waging war on the comedy club experience.  You never know which one will show up or if it will be several at once, creating a Game of Thrones-like chaotic war of loud-mouthed women.  But thankfully, this weekend, I got to briefly experience a little bit of each group of  The Five Female Hecklers.


1) The Bachelorette Party Member(s)

This is sort of a cliche in comedy clubs that these parties generally suck, but cliches ring true for a reason.  This can actually be broadened to any large group of young women at a comedy club.  There can be one member of the group who is loud and or drunk, or it can be the whole group, but sadly, no matter what the number, they always seem to rally around the people in the group being jerks.  I witnessed this at Helium this weekend.  I was sitting in the back watching Rachel Feinstein’s set (the headliner) and a table of 6 women under 27 years old were talking nonstop.  An employee of the club went over and asked them to please stop talking, or if they needed to talk to please go out to the bar area.  Well, emblematic of their “I walk and text without looking around on busy streets assuming people will get out my way” generation they began mock laughing saying “we are allowed to laugh, right?”  They then left a few minutes later and drew a penis on the back of their receipt.  These women will be mothers one day, God willing.

2) The Black/Latin  Loudly Passive Aggressive Woman

I do not like to divide things on race, but this one is required.  The black or latin female heckler has a different approach. For example when I shared with the crowd that my father is Haitian on Saturday’s early show, one black woman sitting close enough for me to see and hear gave me a  “uhhh hmmmm… sure sure” indicating her non-belief.  Other comments that I have heard in my history from black and latin female audience members have been things like “He ain’t right”, “he ain’t funny” and “he don’t know me!” In other words, when it occurs, the heckles are usually loud and almost always passive aggressive as they are not stated directly to the comedian.

3) The Table of Cougars

This is a more recent phenomenon given all the empowerment society has bestowed recently on neglected women in their late forties.  I was not actually personally bashed by the cougar crowd this weekend (though I witness them exhibiting some general sh*t talking), but every comedy show seems to now have a group of women – a mix of divorced, married and whorish –  who roll into the club and are going to recapture their youth, no matter who is saying what with a microphone.  What happened to some dignity later in life?

4) The Disapproving Woman with the Weak Husband/Date

This is the defining group of the women heckler phenomenon.  From being a prosecutor in the Bronx to dating women in adulthood I have noticed that bad people tend to gravitate towards someone who tolerates and/or is comfortable with their flaws.  This does not mean happy with, but means comfortable with, because it satiates some primal instinct or conditioning.  Abusive men I observed in the South Bronx did not seek out or find themselves attracted to doctors and lawyers, unless their encounter resembled the beginning of the plot of a snuff film they saw.  They found women who came from places where abuse was tolerated or normal, thus creating a hellish symbiosis of abuse.  Well, much like the Real Husbands of the South Bronx, the Real Housewives of American Comedy Clubs have apparently found boyfriends and husbands that like to be yelled into submission as if they’re dating Dirk Diggler’s mother.

I once went on a date with a woman to see Dane Cook (2004 – Caroline’s).  She was late – strike one; she gave me a look of disapproval when I laughed at a Dane Cook joke about vaginas  – strike two; and then she did not do anything after the date – strike three – game over.  Fortunately, she did not vocalize her disapproval, but her look was enough to turn me off (that and her lack of consent after the show).  But had she spoken out or yelled at Dane Cook I would have told her to be quiet, stop embarrassing us or leave.  This may sound harsh, but it just means that I only want to date people who know how to conduct themselves in public and that I am not desperate enough to put up with inappropriate bullsh*t from a woman because she is the only one I can get.  Now unfortunately, there is a class of men who date and marry loud, inappropriate and embarrassing women because they either can put up with it, or more likely, feel that they have to.  And there is a couple like this at every show.

She is the woman yelling “That’s not funny!” or “Men do it too!!”  or some other stupid and unnecessary opinion about a joke.  And almost always you will see a guy just happy to have a spot on her life roster sitting right next to her.  Just sitting there quietly knowing that he is powerless to stop this monster.   In short, she is the worst person in the comedy club.  Assuming Lena Dunham’s nutritionist is not in attendance.

Or as another example – at the bar show in Brooklyn last night – the loud woman was near the stage, intoxicated and with a large black boyfriend (second biggest dude in the bar after the miserable sloth on stage). She kept yapping and I just told her “I’ll be done in a few minutes.”  Now, as tradition would have it, large black guys don’t usually have a reputation for putting up with mouthy women, unless they are the voices inside of Tyler Perry’s mind.  But as I gave them a look of fatigued disappointment he said to me with a smile and what sounded like an African accent, “Hey man, you got to keep it real, right?”  And then I realized this woman had found a third way to find a man who would allow her to be a moron in public: date a foreigner who does not yet know the custom. Downside – when her guy does learn the custom, he may circumcise her for being insolent.

5) The Woo-er and the “I Don’t Know How To Respond To a Funny Joke” Lady

This last one is almost not a heckler, but has found a way to become just enough of a distraction to be a loose cousin of the heckler.  This is the chick that “woo”s way to much, because it is not about supporting the comedian, rather, it is about letting the comedian know that she is there.  This is the same woman that when she thanks someone she goes “thank you soooooo much,” just to somehow make the thank you about her as much as it is about the person being thanked.  This person is usually drunk, sometimes attractive and always useless.  They can often be the same person, or at the same table as the person who looks at their table and either repeats every tag (in 2006 or 2007 at a show at Gotham Comedy Club I heard a woman repeat every Pablo Francisco punchline for 35 minutes) or just keeps saying “that is so funny” while barely laughing.  Instead of teaching classes on stand up comedy, maybe clubs should start teaching audience how to react (3 appropriate responses to jokes – claps and laughter or silence – end of class).

But once again, women made up a majority of the people buying my merchandise and laughing at my jokes this week and I am very appreciative.  But now it is time for that great majority to start cleaning house and letting these dummies know that they are doing wrong.  Except for #4 – that one will probably never learn.  I am just keeping it real, right?

Missing the Forest for the UCB Tree

If you are a comedian or friends with comedians on social media then you have probably read about the “controversy” involving the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB).  By way of quick background, I believe the issue began when comedian Kurt Metzger commented on social media that the UCB was charging covers and not paying performers after he performed on a show at UCB.  As a result, the entire show he had been booked on was kicked out of the UCB (whereas the more reasonable or at least understandable approach might have been to not allow Metzger to perform at their venues).

In full disclosure I just started co-producing an already existing show at UCB East called Unmanageable.  In fuller disclosure I have been nothing on this blog (and on my podcast) if not willing to burn bridges in the furtherance of what I believe is in the good of the art and business of comedy.  So feel free to question my integrity given my unpaid dog in the fight, but I think it would be foolish to think I am kissing ass.

What followed in the wake of the UCB “controversy” was (and is) one of the most myopic and self-congratulatory discussions I have seen in ten years doing comedy.  I have spent considerable time on this site over the last 4 years writing about things I have observed first hand as problems with the business of comedy, on a national (or at least relatively large) scale, that I believe are hurting, or will hurt, the art of comedy.  However, in the last couple of years in New York (and from what I have been told, but cannot speak to, Los Angeles) has become centered around alternative rooms that provide a nurturing clubhouse of comedy.  The same comedians I used to see trashing new or weak comedians from the shadowy backs of comedy club basements are now the high priesthood of this alternative-dominant scene.  Although some of these comedians are talented and working their craft all over, many of their acolytes are just people whose comedy is crafted for and supported by a very specific and unique scene.  However these folks do not seem able to accept that with that nurturing, narrow environment comes some limitations. I really think that the UCB debate is truly a great example of losing the forest for the trees.  Allow me to pause the UCB discussion for a different problem in comedy.

Feature work, as Atlanta’s Punchline Comedy Club owner recently said on one of the podcasts I operate, is the Triple A (baseball, not automotive analogy) of comedy.  It is the best way to develop the next wave of headliners.  You work with headliners, you work different parts of the country and you get exposed to different crowds and different styles.  You become conditioned to work longer sets.  You are the bridge between the emcee and the headliner.  It is an integral part of both the comedy show and the comedy business.  But there is a real problem here.  Features are still being paid in 1988 money, and in some cases less.  I once had a discussion with a comedy club manager on the road and we talked about what a good feature should be paid and he said $1000 plus a room (travel is on the comic).  But what are comedians on the road being paid for feature work?  Usually around $600 with a room, most of the time.  When you factor in travel this is really not a livable wage, especially when most features are not working 40+ weeks a year.  But where is the outcry from the comedy community? It is no where because most comedians are concerned about their local clubhouse because that is where they have friends and support and have no idea what is happening outside of their own backyards.  Lots of the heroes of this scene are bypassing this middle stage of a comedy career because the business is currently enamored with this scene and elevating people to headliner status quickly (I am NOT saying undeservedly, so do not take quickly to be some comment of derision). So they report back to their admirers how great and wonderful comedy is and that bitterness and anger are not needed.  The priests have spoken; the followers cheer and the tortoise-like middle group struggles to improve their craft the old-fashioned way.

I spent three years working the Cleveland Improv as an emcee.  I was booked 3-4 weeks a year and despite featuring nationally at every other club I worked, I was not getting elevated.  The Cleveland Improv is a generally urban crowd (not meaning “black,” though that is the main demographic of the audience members, but stylistically the headliners are often those most known for BET and Def Jam appearances) and it took me a while to work those crowds.  But the club knew I was good so I kept getting booked to emcee (two weeks at a time which was a nice way to minimize travel hits) and I became better at working the crowds, until 2012 when I was really killing out of the emcee spot.  So then I was set to feature.  So thanks to the Cleveland Improv, although I was not always happy about it, I developed the skills to work urban rooms, honed emcee skills (you never know when you will need them) and developed a great relationship with a club and a small group of fans.  And then I got the word this month – the Cleveland Improv would not be booking their own features any more (they were one of the few that still independently booked features).  Instead the central booking office for many of the features of the Improvs and Funny Bones would take over.

I was passed to feature at the Improvs and Funny Bones in 2009 (after not being passed in 2007 – I agreed with both the 2007 and 2009 decisions).  I was and have been treated fairly by the chains (and the central booking office) and received complimentary messages after 2010 and 2011 when I started to get feature work.  And then in 2012 I received zero bookings.  I do not think there was any personal reason for this I just think that between headliners bringing their own features and more clubs using local talent (for hotel costs) the amount of work for independent features trying to work the road is drying up.   So now I look at the Cleveland Improv and realize one of the dozen or so A road clubs I’ve earned the hard way is no longer going to work me, at least not nearly with the consistency they had been.

This is only a theory on my part but as I see national clubs starting to charge ticket fees (because stand up was definitely missing a Ticketmaster feel), more and more of the feature booking taken out of the local hands and the consolidation of talent and clubs on Laughstub I feel like the national comedy scene is going to become more monolithic and closed to independent performers.  Could I be wrong?  Maybe, but when in our history has big business not passed on the opportunity to become bigger business without checks, balances and regulations?

But what’s that independent, alt rebels?  Alternative venues and other such things are giving comedians a chance to bypass the traditional gatekeepers?  Louis CK proved that right?  No he didn’t. CK spent decades working WITH the gatekeepers until he could become the one man corporation that he is today.  Clubs are still the gatekeepers for the vast majority of clubs.   So maybe we can all boycott clubs and bring them to their knees, but there is no alternative to creating sustainable, successful careers in stand up comedy outside of the clubs.  Please do not point to examples of people who used the clubs as their springboard.  And do not give me examples like Rob Delaney, who may have gained notoriety through Twitter, but is now working the clubs just like every other headliner.  So maybe in twenty years it will all be different, but I do not want my career and the careers of my peers to be martyred to a seismic change that may never occur, or to become a lost generation of headliners passed over because we were too young when we entered at the turn of the millennium and too old when Comedy Central and MTV decided that youth trumps all.  And if you want UCB to pay you accordingly then they will have to start charging more money and instead of an alt-scene darling you will have what many of you have been avoiding: another comedy regular comedy club.

This UCB debate to me is about a nice venue that charges low or no cover for their shows and no drink requirements for its customers.  They have made a business decision to sacrifice the level of talent they may attract for the chance of drawing larger audiences.  I am not sure why this is such a tragedy.  I am always looking for places to perform. Some open mics charge money.  This may suck, but if a bar wants to be compensated for use of the space where they pay rent then they are not villains for doing so.  Similarly, but to a greater extent, the UCB provides a very nice venue to work out material and expose your art to potential fans.  They do not pay performers, but they also ask very little of the audience.  It is a trade-off they made and I see no problem with it.  But that may be because of my experiences as a comedian.

I have travelled for a $400 gig on a $408 flight in the hopes of building a relationship with a club.  I luckily sold 17 CDs at $10 a pop to clear some kind of profit, but I did it to work my comedy and to enhance my career for the long haul.  I am working road gigs this year where I am not provided with rooms and in one case, am being paid well below the established market rate for feature work because I am working with quality headliners and hope to network and build a fan base.  These are the choices I am making and I do not blame anyone but myself for the choices.  But there are a lot of talented people who may not fit into the Comedy Central demographic who are trying to hone their skills in the trenches of road work and cannot afford to work for peanuts.  And they cannot compete against managers and a system that have chosen to squeeze the feature class for cost cutting.  And I believe THIS is a devastating problem for comedy.  Feature work was never going to make anyone rich, but now for many talented people it is not even a viable or available option, which is a shame because of how vital quality features are to the future of comedy.  Perhaps some comedy clubs are in trouble and really need to be careful, but there are many who treat comedians like the oil industry treats the Earth.  “Sure, the next 30-40 years of comedy depend on a thriving and well-honed feature class of comedians, but the next 5-10 years of my bottom line will be better if I scorch the earth and only use lesser local talent and/or crush the livelihood, or at least incentive, of features.”

So while I appreciate the sentiments of some of the people who complained about UCB, because no one likes to feel ripped off, I feel like complaining about the UCB in spite of what is really happening to working comedians is like asking who left the TV on while the rest of the house is on fire.  The UCB is providing a space for (local) people to perform in front of an audience that they cultivate through their marketing, the rent they pay and the cheap cover they charge.  I do not see a problem with that.  But outside the small world of alternative venues in NYC there is an entire country that is slowly, but surely, gutting the training grounds for tomorrow’s headliners. And that is something to be upset about.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes.

10 Things in Stand-Up Comedy that Should Be Retired

In my monthly or so examination of comedy I have decided after hearing certain things too much that it might make sense to retire them (and to the haters that will read this and comment that “I should retire,” or that “”I cannot retire from a career that is going so poorly,” allow me to say – thanks for reading my blog).  In full disclosure, I did many of the things listed early in my career so this is less judgmental and more aspirational, that we might forge ahead with a better, less hacky, less annoying comedy future (sorry I got swept up in the Democratic National Convention rhetoric last night). So, without anymore preamble here is the list of ten things I would like to see retired from comedy by 2013 (wishful thinking):

1. Tyrone.  In the last forty years black people have gone from Negroes to Afro-Americans to African-Americans to socialists (if you are a Tea Party member looking to vent your racist rage in a socially and politically acceptable way), but the standard name for a non-black comedian to reveal a black person punchline remains Tyrone.  It is time to evolve beyond this.  Perhaps Terrel or Daequon could seize the mantle for 2012 (or at least for 2002).  Or when in doubt just add a D’ in front of a name and hope for the best.  But let’s retire Tyrone, or at least petition the NAACP to have a funeral for it.

2. The White Guy Voice.  The white guy voice is a time honored device of degradation for minority comics to demean white guys. It has been done for a long time with varying levels of success (and for me, my favorite spin on it is Dave Chappelle’s, which sounds less corny and more super serious), but it is time to go. I made this decision while watching George Lopez’ Rosetta Stone Spanish lesson, posing as a comedy special on HBO.  His special consisted of four things in equal parts: Spanish phrases, telling the difference between Latino families and white families, staring bug-eyed while rubbing the lapel of his suit jacket and doing a white voice circa 1977 comedy.  Enough is enough – it is time for a new spin on this one. Retire the old one.


3. “Where my ____ at?”  I have heard this line for cheap crowd applause so much that “Give it up for the troops” thinks it is hack.  This is the way to usually shoehorn crowd work in to supplement a joke that is not strong enough or organically arising on its own.  Work on your bit and tell the crowd what is happening – stop asking them and if you have to ask them a question, at least phrase it differently than every hack emcee across the country trying to sound like they have an ounce of hip hop credibility (hip hop no longer has credibility – see Ice Cube’s Coors commercials and 50 Cent’s $500 million Vitamin Water deal).

4. Weed jokes.  A close relative of #3 and in my humble opinion, the best reason to legalize marijuana. Sure, drug violence at the Mexican border might be reduced and it makes little sense to criminalize marijuana at this point, but all I care about is destroying weed based stand up comedy.  I remember when I started comedy it felt like any joke about marijuana got huge laughs (I don’t smoke so I don’t make the jokes).  But I feel like there may be a little more exhaustion from these jokes because “Where my weed smokers at?” (a double violation/double retiree) don’t seem to rile up crowds as much anymore.  The point is smoking marijuana is common place, barely criminalized anymore and has been beaten to death by comedians. Let’s move on to heroin material.

5. “Too soon?”  I know this one will be tough for a lot of people to let go so I will make a deal. “Too soon” still gets some laughs when properly applied (Gary Gulman’s bit about a gunpowder Abe Lincoln scratch n sniff sticker comes to mind), but I would estimate, based on absolutely no scientific data other than my gut instinct, that 90% of jokes that end with a”too soon?” tag are actually written with the too soon in mind.  So instead of relying on the strength of the joke, the so-so joke is in place to facilitate a “too soon.”  Too late “too soon!” This is your pink slip.

6. “Interweb(s)” I believe I first heard this in an early George W. Bush parody, but I could be wrong.  But not much has gone from new to hack quicker.  It was funny once upon a time. We no longer live in that world, so let’s stop saying it.

7. Male vs. Female Funny Debate.  I have engaged this topic with nuanced vigor to no avail.  So I am here to say that I will finally admit that men and women are equally funny and equally capable of being funny. In exchange for this admission on my part I would just like all the people who have always supported this idea to admit that there is not a shred of tangible evidence proving the veracity of this statement.  Great! So I guess we can stick a fork in this one.

8. Instruments, Puppets & Beards – The Unholy Trinity of Props.  If you play an instrument or play with puppets as the centerpiece or sole focus of your stand-up comedy then you are not a stand up comedian and should perform at middle schools and theaters, but not at stand up comedy clubs.  And thanks to Zach Galifianakis, the beard has become a new prop in stand up comedy.  I do not know if lumberjacking (working title for a porn) is still a thriving profession in America or if The Lorax’ hard work paid off, but stand up comedy has shot way past it in terms of becoming the most facial hairy profession.  Now a beard, unlike instruments and puppets does not disqualify a comedian.  However, in a profession that is a safe haven (or used to be) for free speech, the proliferation of facial hair is telling.  Beards and mustaches are often considered hallmarks of someone with something to hide.  But if comedy is supposed to be raw honesty, then all these bearded folks must have something to hide, possibly something besides a lack of punchlines.  Get the Gillette and get to writing!


9. The “clubs and colleges” intro.  Even when true this intro no longer sounds honest, especially when the emcee has just done it for 7 consecutive anonymous comedians.  Instead use one of two options – 1) get a credit or 2) be proud of your anonymity – When I did open mics at a taco restaurant named Maui Taco I had myself introduced a few times as “You may have seen this guy performing in the basement of a taco restaurant.”  And then when I had performed at clubs and a college I was angry at being introduced as “clubs and colleges.”  I had earned that one college and it was being diluted by a false quantity of between one and infinity number of colleges.  Next time up I was introduced as “clubs and a college.”  These are just some of your options, but let’s ditch the “clubs and colleges” for good.

10. Stand Up Comedy Classes.  I understand that times are tough and that some veteran comedians can offer some good advice on crafting material and (more importantly in my opinion) ways to guide a fledgling career.  But funny cannot really be taught. It is a cliche, but  worth repeating.  So if you are a young comedian and you are looking for guidance on approaching a career or work-shopping material, perhaps you can find value in a class.  But for every legit one there are scores of frauds so I would throw the legit baby out with the illegitimate bath water of stand up comedy classes.

OK – there it is. I look forward to many of these things being inducted into the Comedy Hall of Shame in five years when they become eligible after retirement.

Be sure to become a fan of Righteous Prick: The Official Blog and Podcast of J-L Cauvin on Facebook for weekly podcasts and writings on comedy and culture – mostly in complaint or debate form.

The Death of Stand Up Comedy

I have not been blogging with nearly the same regularity as I have in the past.  There are several reasons for this (fewer funny road stories, over-saturation in the marketplace with blogs about everything, lack of motivation, etc.).  Now I have recommitted to writing a little more frequently, but one of the things I probably won’t be writing about nearly as much is the thing that has gotten me the most readers: the stand up comedy business.  It is because I believe that stand up comedy, as we knew it or like to think of it, is dying.  There is such an overwhelming perfect storm of factors that are contributing to destroying the prominence and art of stand up comedy that I no longer view it as a viable career option for myself, nor a community or industry for which I have much remaining passion.  Naturally I still get great pleasure from writing, working out material and then seeing it work in front of “regular people,” but that feeling is the lone positive swimming against a tsunami of negatives.  So let’s go through all the reasons why stand up is on life support:

1. Crushing The Middle Class of Comedy.  As I have written before (please read this one as well –, just as the middle class of America is being left behind in an increasingly unequal society, feature work – the best way to become a competent and skilled comedian, is no longer a viable way of making a living.  For those of you that do not understand the industry lingo – the feature act is the comedian that goes between the emcee and the person you are there to see.  They receive about a half hour to get the audience drunk and really ready for a long set of comedy.  The fact is that feature work used to be a way to make a modest living if you were good enough (features in the 1980s were being paid as much or more in actual dollars, not adjusted, than features in 2012).  I had an old school booker tell me a couple of years ago that it would take ten years to become an excellent feature.  His timetable feels about right.  Of course for most people in the YouTube/Twitter/Tumblr world this is far too long a time table.  So now, more than ever it is difficult to make your focus and goal to be a great comedian, unless you are doing things other than comedy.  Then, if you are doing enough you will leapfrog the process and become a headliner, but not necessarily because your stand up chops are undeniable or even ready.  So instead of nurturing good comedians, good comedians must develop in spite of the lack of incentives and opportunities.

2. Everyone Wants To Be Heard.  The last year of stand up “scandals” have proven how self-absorbed the comedy community has become with its own news.   The competition to be the first to weigh in on any little blip on the comedy scene is pretty fierce.   Every comedian with six month’s or more of experience  has begun to weigh in on every issue that arises.  I have certainly done my share, but usually in the context of not liking the general trajectory of the comedy business, not for just a gut reaction response to an isolated incident.  Every one of these incidents gets play in the national media as the chatter builds up (the New York Times covered the Daniel Tosh incident close to a week after it had achieved viral status).  For me the Tosh incident should have been a non-issue.  Instead we collectively raised it to the level of a national conversation.  The short summary of this is that comedy is becoming a bunch of people cyber shouting and offering their input (regardless of writing talent or experience in comedy) and not spending time trying to be funny.  Not the best way for talent to develop, but of course the name of the game is to get noticed and worry about being funny later.  As an example – watch the inevitable next time some man makes a comment about gender and humor.  The uproar will be fast and furious from many people you have never heard of, while those who have made it or are on their way will be too busy writing new material and working to weigh in.

3. The Anti-Bullying Culture Joins Forces With Political Correctness.  Our society has become semi-obsessed with eradicating bullying.  I suppose in a post 9/11 world we need to get terror, wherever it lies, including 5th grade classrooms.  I would not want my kids to be bullied, but if a few taunts got my 12 year old to jump off a bridge I would also have to examine my own parenting and whether I had missed signs of severe depression, not just if kids teased him.  Perhaps if we gave 8 year olds fewer participation trophies and stopped making sure every kid at a birthday party, not just the birthday boy or girl, got a present, then maybe kids wouldn’t be so frail by the time they hit 15.  I am not saying there are not cases of individual torment that go into the Stephen King level of bullying, but why have we reached this alleged epidemic/crisis of bullying today?

Along those lines, comedy, once the bastion of free speech like no other art form, is now under attack.  Daniel Tosh makes a rape joke.  Tracy Morgan makes a homophobic joke in reference to his son.  Dane Cook talks about fu*king a woman with a chain saw.  I did not even bother to look at what George Lopez said on his special because I no longer cared what the protesters had to say.  I am a big believer that discrimination is still rampant in this country. As a half-black man who looks Egyptian or Italian, depending on the season, I hear far too many comments that make me sad and frustrated (because the Italian looking dude is probably down with racist stuff too, right?).  But have things gotten so good in America that now stand up comedy has to be sanitized?  People have lost sight of what kind of art form comedy was and now think they can place their agenda on it because they were offended.  It is an art form built, in part, on pushing boundaries and language.  More so, I was particularly disappointed with comedian/actor TJ Miller’s response to Dane Cook’s joke because it meant that not only were ignorant comedy fans treating stand up comedy like school plays, but comics themselves were adding their inside-the-business opinions, thus giving credence to the idea that comedy and speech on stage should be curtailed, or at least making a big show of their disapproval when it did not meet their ethical standards.  In no way does this mean that I approve or like any of the material in question.  But I do believe that outside of incidents like Michael Richards’ Kramer’s infamous N-bomb parade, which was not comedy in any way, anything said on stage is fair game.

So I will ignore these stories from now on.  They simply reflect a society that is growing out of touch with comedy (and thanks to social media – every perceived transgression can now have the effect of an atom bomb on-line) and a growing cadre of comedians who want aggression they disagree with taken out of comedy (e.g. there will be no uproar from the comedy community about jokes insulting faith and religion, but God forbid a joke on gender or race gets too edgy).

4. Not Everything is Stand Up Comedy, Nor Should It Be.  Bill Burr stirred another “comedy controversy” with his comments about alternative comedy earlier this year.  Here is what I think alternative comedy has done. On the plus side it has allowed everyone with any voice to be considered comedy. Some are very funny.  Most are not.  If I had my druthers I would take everyone with an instrument or a puppet operating as comedians and ban them from anything where stand up is performed (of course this is an aside, as no one considers these performers “alt.”).  But stand up has become very inclusive.  Too inclusive if you ask me, which you didn’t.  I would compare alternative comedy to Amazon’s publishing business.  They are making it easier for authors to self-publish, cut out the middle man and reach audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have.  However, the vetting process and the machinery of publishing still give a book a certain seal of approval, as if an official vetting has occurred and it is worth considering.  Now, as I already said, the clubs and the club system have failed as well, but that does not mean that every non sequitur spewing, act out champion needs to be considered the torch bearer for Pryor, Rock, Carlin, Giraldo just because there is a niche following for it in dank basements.  One of the things that made stand up comedy hard, even before the current difficulties, is that it was hard to do.  But it now feels like there is a moral relativism in comedy where nothing can be judged, everything can be funny and just as valid a form of stand up.  So what if you cannot write jokes as well or deliver as compelling a performance – just do something weird with a weird look or fashion sense and there is a place for you!   There have always been character based comedians or off-beat comedians, but with one Late Night Show basically dedicated to alternative comedy and a powerful presence on both coasts, they now have a platform bigger than their quantity of quality can bear.  Sure, you can say that people “don’t get it,” but maybe some of the comedians performing this stuff don’t get it either.

5. Comedy Central.  Imagine if there was a channel called Broadway Live.  And on it you could watch every play on Broadway on basic cable.  More people would get exposed to the theater and this would be great until the theater began to lose its cache.  Then it would be a disaster.  There would be a demand for content that Broadway Live would have to churn out which would dilute the quality of content as well as people’s perception of theater as something t partake in live as a cultural experience.  Watching Comedy Central these days feels the same way.  They had to change the name of “Comedy Central Presents” to “The Half Hour” a not-so subtle suggestion that the signature stand up show on the network had lost its cache and power.  Just as The Tonight Show is no longer a kingmaker for a comedian (the loss of Johnny Carson and the advent of Comedy Central probably played a role in that), Comedy Central Presents does not seem to have the power it once did.  Unlike the first several seasons where every comedian performing on them was either a phenom or a veteran with chops, now it feels very hit and miss.  The benefits of Comedy Central to comedians cannot be understated, but the pendulum feels like it may have swung into over-saturation and under-delivering in quality.  It is the same reason why CNN has to show Lindsay Lohan stories – because they have too much time and not enough news for the time.  This may sound like I have an ax to grind, but I don’t. This perspective was really informed by all the older comics I worked with on the road who noticed a real difference pre and post-Comedy Central.  Once again, as I stated in item #1, Comedy Central is a great platform for the rich to get richer, but the business for many comedians has also probably been hurt long term by Comedy Central’s existence.

6. Social Media.  I am including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook in this.  Now do not get confused. Social media is a great way for people to see your material and learn about you, if you are both lucky and savvy with the tools it provides.  But it has also cheapened comedy to be some sort of instantaneous short attention span exercise on par with a page a day calendar (remember those things?).  Now every comedian has to have some kind of Internet presence and there is both an embarrassment of riches and a rich number of embarrassments on social media pushing comedy content.  The market is so flooded that at the end of a work day people have probably gotten their fill of comedy.  And then people not only devalue the work of stand up comedians, but because of their proximity to them on social media can see themselves on the same level as some comedians.  When comedians lose both their cache and their perception of humor superiority over regular folk, it is not a good recipe for stand up.

7. Youth Over Talent.  In breaking news a sperm was picked for the Just For Laughs Festival because they wanted someone young and fresh with 5 minutes of material.  I remember being told early in the last decade, along with other friends who have achieved small amounts of success, that the key to making it in comedy was to write, perform, gain experience, find your voice and have something to say to people.  Now that some of my friends and I have wrapped up a decade in comedy and have developed voices and material, the comedy business has made a marked shift to youth being the paramount factor.  It seems comedians are being vetted like old Hollywood starlets – give me a face I can market (slightly different criteria for comedians than starlets), hopefully they have a little bit of something to work with and then we will get them on television, then they can headline clubs and hopefully along the way they develop an act.  And maybe this is a good business model (and of course I am not saying that there are not very talented young comics out there), but when the top criterion on many comedy booker/manager/festival producers list is “young,” can that really be in the best long term interests of stand up comedy?  Perhaps we have already reached the point of no return where stand up is now closer to def poetry slamming,

8. Celebrity Culture.  Comedy, like a lot of our culture, is now, more than ever, driven by fame. Here is a piece I wrote last year about Charlie Sheen’s comedy tour and I think it holds up today (  I have placed a lot of blame on the inner workings and failures of people within comedy, but we are now living in a Real Housewives/Kardashian world of entertainment.  Celebrity is enough to warrant entertainment empires.  So although #1-#7  are hurtful, they probably are less damaging to stand up combined than the culture shift in general.  Everyone thinks they can be a celebrity because they can be.  So why would they even care about people with talent?  Stand Up comedy is becoming to entertainment was print is to journalism and what manufacturing is to the United States, a relic growing more irrelevant or at least less powerful every year.  Sure there are examples like Louis CK, but the New York Times is doing well, does that not mean that journalism is still in trouble?

As is clear from what I wrote, many of these factors are affecting other walks of life, but comedy is getting hit with most of our culture’s bad trends all at once in heavy doses.  So hopefully some of these things are cyclical, but sadly I think many of them are here to stay and will only get worse.

I’m off to watch Batman die now (allegedly?).  Maybe that will cheer me up.

Adam Carolla’s Eddie Brill Moment

For the second time this year a major figure in comedy has made controversial public remarks about the funniness of women.  Adam Carolla, of the #1 ranked podcast The Adam Carolla Show, stated in a New York Post article that “[t]he reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks.”  He went on to cite a few famous women that he finds hilarious, but the damage had been done.  Twitter and Facebook lit up with denunciations by women and a few super enlightened men.  Some sources, like the Huffington Post questioned why we would even care about Adam Carolla’s opinion. Other comedians, mostly female, were hurling the “irrelevant” label at Carolla.


Before I get to the larger point, a quick defense of Carolla’s “relevance.”  He is the #1 podcaster in the world – a format that comedians have embraced wholeheartedly and that he has done better and with more success than anyone on Earth.  Calling him irrelevant would be like calling Dane Cook irrelevant back in 2006.  Carolla, in my opinion, is also one of the 5 or 10 funniest people in America.  His ability to be funny off the cuff, which I think is the purest form of funny, is second to none.  He is also a best-selling author of “In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks,” which is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.  He may not be Louis CK or Chris Rock in the stand-up comedy community, but to call him irrelevant is a surefire sign that you are out of the loop in comedy and media.  And full disclosure – I was never in a fraternity and before I ever listened to his podcast I just assumed (wrongly) that Carolla was an unsophisticated douche from the commercials for The Man Show (which I never watched).  Of all the women criticizing him I wonder how many were regular listeners to his podcast or had read his book or had ever seen him perform live.   Now back to the issue.

My first basic question is, what if Carolla is right or at least why is the idea that men are generally funnier than women such a sin that to even think it is a capital offense?  This has become such an article of faith among female comedians (and some super enlightened male comics) that no gender is funnier than the other.  Of course, any objective marker of comedy success, from the reverence given to Louis CK, to the financial dominance of “comedian” Jeff Dunham suggests otherwise.  As I wrote in a piece in January about the firing of Eddie Brill (, comedy may be subjective, but all objective evidence point to the overwhelming popularity of male comedians  over female comedians.  And Carolla never said a woman cannot be as funny as a man.  So each individual female has an opportunity to be a Sarah Silverman or a Joan Rivers, but he said if he were playing the odds he would bet on a male comedian.

To the point of whether a woman can be as funny as a man – why is this not enough?  Why is it so offensive to female comedians to say that men are funnier on average?  Carolla offered no reasons as to why this is the case in the short interview, but might I suggest there are numerous cultural factors within and outside of comedy that lend itself to being a male art form?  The lifestyle of comedy is one that is still more socially acceptable for men that may weed out women.  Women who pursue the long and lonely journey of stand up comedy are potentially giving up a lot more in terms of family than men who pursue it.  Furthermore, we are a culture that has long praised men for being outgoing and attention seeking by being “the life of the party.”  Women, not so much.  Without getting into the Christopher Hitchens article  on women not being funny, is it possible that our culture (even if not going back to our evolution) has stacked the deck against women being “the funny ones?”  And if all these things are true, why do we have to still go ahead and say “But women and men are equally funny,” or at least are not allowed to hold the opinion that men are funnier without being considered misogynist monsters?  To say nothing of the fact that stand up comedy has been a largely male art form so we have shaped the content and the expectations of viewers for generations.   None of these factors are saying that women can’t be as funny in individual cases and some of these factors are unfortunate for the additional roadblocks they create for women seeking success in comedy.  But thinking something is unfortunate or unfair does not make it untrue.

Here’s something that I rarely heard at any office I worked in or class I attended, “You know who’s hilarious?  (Insert female name)”  I have known more funny men that never picked up a microphone than I know funny female comedians.  Do I know funny females? Obviously.  But female comedians seem to lose sight of the fact that they are already in a self-selecting group.  They do not represent the female population as a whole. They are 51% of the population, but definitely less than 50% of the stand up comedy world.  This has been my life experience and may reflect my taste in comedy, but there is something in our culture that  encourages men to be funny, and rewards them if they are.  But it has become this article of faith in comedy, like Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, that unless you say “I don’t see gender, I only see a comedian and there are funny men and funny women and that is all I know,” you become some sort of monster on the wrong side of a Civil Rights struggle.  For some reason, “Women can be as funny as men” is not good enough if you believe on the whole that men are generally funnier than women.  Even if you suggest that the root cause of this is not biological, but merely social and cultural you are still a pig.

Perhaps as our society and culture change what Carolla said will not be true, but right now, if an alien landed in America and studied comedy he (OR SHE) would come to the conclusion that men are funnier.  He could go to an office, a happy hour at a bar or a comedy club and the evidence would be overwhelming.  Yes there are more male comedians than female, but I am arguing that in a larger context of our culture, not just in stand up circles.

Of course, if an alien were to turn to the Huffington Post comedy page and see their numerous lists of funny women you should follow on Twitter it might disagree. Then they might be confused by articles on the same site claiming that we need to stop taking gender into account in comedy.  And then they might look at some of those Twitter lists and say, “Wait, some of these aren’t that funny – are they simply on this list because they are women? That doesn’t seem like it will advance gender equity and respect in comedy.”

The truth is I would welcome this discussion going away, much like many of the female comics and super enlightened men who support them wholeheartedly.  But the fact is beauty and comedy are two things that are in the eye of the beholder and as much as it may sting, America largely agrees with Adam Carolla. Don’t take my word for it – look at the numbers.

Now I look forward to critics rolling their eyes at this and telling me “I am obsessed and need to let this go.” Why?  Because I wrote twice this year about it when Eddie Brill got fired and when my favorite podcaster got attacked?  Wow – truly obsessed.  I just get annoyed when I see irrational arguments bashing Carolla.  Of course every woman who jumps on this issue and bashes Brill or Carolla just gets a bunch of “You go girl’s” like she’s the Rosa Parks of comedy and is in no way “obsessed.”  It is the cyber equivalent of “support the troops.”  And then there are the female comedians who could not wait to call themselves hilarious on Twitter and Facebook as a way of sticking it to Carolla.  If you want to stick it to the Carollas of the world let someone else say it for you.  If you are funny someone surely will.

And then listen to Carolla’s podcast.