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Road Comedy Recap: Fixin to Turn Down for What…

This week I traveled to Orlando, Florida for my first booking in Florida since 2009 when I performed at a resort in Destin, Florida (my check cleared from that week, but less than a month later the checks stopped clearing for performers, one of the last times in my comedy career that I was not sarcastically #Blessed – though that should tell you something about the stand up comedy business when getting paid what you are owed counts as a blessing). Headed to Orlando, or as I call it “Tampa with an Associates Degree” there were snafus. I was originally slated to perform Thursday-Sunday. So I booked flights on Southwest using points. But a couple of weeks before the gig I was told that it would be Friday-Sunday.  Now, changing the ticket would have used up a lot more points (which I do have #ComedyMogul), but I figured I would save them for trips in the future to max out their value and take my old friend Amtrak to Orlando. And that is where this week’s Road Comedy Recap begins:

Thursday – Amtraks of My Tears

I arrived at Penn Station in NYC at 245 pm for the ironically titled “Silver Meteor,” which was set to depart at 3:15 and arrive in Orlando a mere 21.5 hours later(look up #21HoursOfAmtrak on Twitter to see my chronicles).  I settled into my seat, which, despite the crowded train, I managed to not have to share with anyone the entire ride to Orlando.  The only other two who managed this feat were the black guy behind me who was charming – he listened to music for about 20 of the hours to Orlando via noise cancelling headphones… wrapped around his neck so that basically it just sounded like an iPod playing without the headphones in. So his combination of black skin and shitty etiquette no doubt dissuaded many (white, Southern bound) passengers from joining him.  The other passenger who didn’t have to share her seat was a large woman who said she had purchased two seats so technically she is disqualified from the contest of “avoiding sitting next to a stranger.” Rigged seating!

As the ride progressed I did several hours of comedy related work and recreational reading in the cafe car to avoid settling into my seat before sleep time.  Then a little after midnight I made my way to my seat. I reclined and closed my eyes and slept for an hour. Then I was awoken by one of the three children sitting in front of me with his mother as he listened to YouTube videos on a cell phone sans headphones.  I dozed off again for an hour then woke up (#StayWoke) to more cell phone videos.  I then dozed off for one more hour and around 430am woke up for good to Beats Off by Dre behind me receiving a cell phone call that he stayed on til 530 am.

You’d think a 6’7″ stranger staring at 2 am on a train would be enough to scare a kid. Nope!

Nothing else of great significance happened on the train, other than it being late. I arrived just outside of Orlando early Friday afternoon, picked up by George, who told me that when he was much younger and living in Miami a guy had tried to work with him to do some modeling or TV work. He declined thinking it was some sketchy 80s Miami thing until he arrived on the set of Miami Vice (where he was interning) and saw that guy with a young actor who resembled him doing a part that he would have been auditioned for by the sketchy guy. The young actor was getting his first big break and his name… was Moe Green (not true – it was Benicio Del Toro, but I just wanted to pull a Hyman Roth from Godfather Part II – but still, what an insane story!).

Friday – Georgetown Law Reunion

Friday afternoon I did some sun bathing (at this point when I take off my shirt my girlfriend says “Plumo” referencing Pablo Escobar from Narcos (and real life) who would offer men “the silver (plata) or the lead (plumo).” This is not because she thinks I am a ruthless leader or criminal, but because of the Escobar-esque paunch I sport when eating like shit and skipping the gym.) So hopefully some of the women at the pool thought I was too powerful a #ComedyMogul and that is why I have neglected my core. But I got some Sun and then headed to the club to open for The Amazing Jonathan, a comedy/magician veteran that was headlining after taking a few years off due to health issues.  When I got there to settle into the green room TJA’s wife informed me that the Green Room was private per his contract, so I settled in the showroom while yelling at her “You know who I am? I’m Moe Green!” (sorry for the Godfather references) No, I didn’t do that and I didn’t care. After all the Palestinians have no home and look how well they are doing, so being a green room-less Power Feature was not an issue for me.

Plumo to the Pool!

The first show went great and I sold a lot of CDs. One couple, that I would describe as poor man’s Kelly Slater and his porn star girlfriend (though she didn’t have that wounded look in her eyes or a high-pitched, my uncle diddled me when I was 8-voice so maybe she was just hot for hot’s sake), came up to me and were emphatic in their praise. He then pointed to the long line of admirers for the headliner and said “What is that? Are they serious? You should have that line.” Unfortunately he started getting louder and I had to tell him “No one ruins my comedy career or burns bridges except me!” But I still appreciated the sentiment and the support.  But it would be very “on brand” for me to get in trouble in my career for getting new fans.

One of the biggest stories of Friday night was three law school buddies coming out to the show!  Well they came to the late show.  The first show was a tour de force.  The second show featured 3 different tables of drunk, loudmouths (women and their weak men) and of course that was the one my friends came to.  They still had a good time and I ended up selling decently after that show as well, I think mainly out of solidarity with people’s disgust with the talkers. We then went for dessert at a nearby bar and watched the Utah Jazz lose at home, forcing a Game 7 (an hour away as I write this – UPDATE THEY WON!).

Just your typical 13 year Law School Reunion at a comedy club.

Sadly the real headline for me on Friday was that my brother was in Haiti with my cousin burying my father’s ashes.  As my brother said, it was sunny and hot, just like my Dad would have liked it.  I would have been there, but there is an old saying in entertainment – when the comedy world offers you a chance to net $310 profit in a week you don’t say no.

Saturday – Rednecks Ruin The Hotel Pool

On Saturday, well rested considering I had slept a fitful 3 hours in the last 44 hours, I made my way to Planet Fitness, the gym for people who hate gyms. Sadly when I arrived it was not hot fudge sundae and donut day.  I understand the purpose and focus of Planet Fitness and respect it to a degree. For many people, the gym can be uncomfortable and discourage people from working out. But Planet Fitness seems to have gone too far in the other direction.  I half expected to see a sign saying “no shoes, no cellulite, no service.”  There was a sign banning supersets.  The exercise bike did not go to a level high enough to challenge me and I am an out of shape Plumo!  The dumbbells only go up to 60lbs. It’s not a gym. It’s a place where people rehab after hip replacements!  But I did a serviceable back workout despite being asked to leave once a vein became exposed in my arm from working too hard.

I then went to the hotel pool for some more rays and that is when the redneck trash took over.  I was lying there getting some sun when 6 people, appeared to be two couples and a couple of friends, showed up. They immediately started playing music on a stereo (that Trump America confidence) and Lil John’s “Turn Down For What” came on in their playlist. Then one of the woman changed it and one of the redneck men said “Why did you turn that off? I was fixin’ to turn down for what!”” I had a private chuckle and then went back into my zone until the youngest member of the crew, who I can only describe as “Lena Dunham, if she let herself go” began jumping into the pool. The pool was small and there was less than a foot between the pool and the lounges where people like me were reclining. I barely got splashed so I said nothing, but then she did it again and I got a healthy dose of water. So I said to one of her friends “she’s got to stop that.” Well, Trailer Park Dunham began pouting and “put herself in a time out” because I guess I was being a cranky old man and not letting Shamu Gallagher have her fun. I kept my cool, but I was seething inside. Or maybe that was just the sun burn I developed on my shoulders. Either way I was hot, but left peacefully.

The shows Saturday night were both excellent. Sold merch, met a fan from The Black Guy Tips (a usual occurrence by now because he has the most engaged audience of anything I have done in 14 years of comedy – UPDATE – another fan showed up to Sunday’s show) who came from Tampa with his girlfriend to see me (despite the fact that the club staff repeatedly told him I was not performing there this weekend because in comedy there is an old saying – “Fu*k a feature, and not in a good way.”  But here are two good clips from the weekend’s shows. A brand new bit and a retooled classic from Keep My Enemies Closer (seriously that album is a masterpiece – get it):

Sunday – The Sweaty Journey to a Fake Catholic Church Before The Jazz Game

Now there are stories that I am not writing here that will be covered on the podcast this week, but this is also being written before the Utah Jazz game on Sunday. So for anything Sunday night or Monday-Tuesday (taking Amtrak back – #PrayersForJL) , as well as things from the weekend not written up here, the podcast is the place to go Tuesday night. But Sunday I woke up (#StayWoke), had a delicious breakfast at the hotel and began walking to the nearest Catholic Church for 10:30 am Mass. Now I forgot to pack walking around shorts so I had to make the 2 mile walk in jeans. So when I arrived at the Church in humid heat and sprinting from cars as I crossed the highway (thanks Google maps for making me think there were sidewalks) I was tickled at the fact that it was an Eastern Orthodox Church. It counts for Catholic Mass (like transfer credits from a strange alternative learning college that doesn’t believe in grades or gender), but it really feels like a parody of Catholic Mass. First off, 95% of the Mass is sung. Even the readings. So during prayers I sounded like the bass from Boyz II Men doing an interlude breakdown while Greek Shawn, Greek Nate and Greek Wanya sing-prayed their hearts out. Also, these folks do the sign of the cross wrong. And Communion was a wine soaked piece of bread. So now I know that I prefer my tasteless wafer.

So now that I am caked in dried sweat with dusty jeans sitting in a Starbucks I am hoping that my #Blessed weekend passes to the Utah Jazz.  See you next year when my Amtrak arrives back in NYC! And meanwhile, back in NYC while I am away:

Cookie: it’s hot AF back in NYC
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Comedy Road Work: Fool’s Bronze

One of the things I hear from younger comics, the ones not afraid to speak to me, in conversation is the following: “I need to get on the road.”  A much more accurate derivation of this that I hear is “I want to get out on the road.”  That one word change makes all the difference and it took me several years of ongoing frustration to learn the difference.   Many comics want to get on the road – it is fun, you feel like you are earning your keep (travel, receiving a check, filling out a tax form – it almost feels like a job!) and you gain experience and stories.  But the idea of “needing” to get on the road is really nonsense.  Now, of course I am speaking to a majority of comedians, but excluding some: headliners and their personal opening acts, this does not apply to you.

As one of the last of a generation of comedians raised early on advice like “write… perform… repeat” as the key to becoming a good comedian (back then becoming a “good comedian” implied that the quality would render you a  “working comedian”). Internet and television opportunities may be plentiful, but with the industry prioritizing different metrics beyond (or above) the actual quality of stand-up comedy, working on your stand up act has never been more irrelevant to being a working comedian (better to be “decent” with additional factors in your favor, than just a great stand up). But the mythology surrounding road work still persists: the idea that working the road is necessary in light of tremendous evidence that it cannot help you build your career or your bank account.  I have said it many times before, but like America in general, stand up comedy is becoming a business where the middle class is being squeezed out. It is not financially viable for up and comers (without management or heat or other entertainment income) to work full time at their stand up so the only people incentivized to dedicate themselves to comedy are locals who are increasingly employed by penny pinching clubs (don’t cut the headliner’s $20,000 pay check; instead, cut the feature pay/value from $900 total dollars to $500) or headliners who continue to be more central to the club’s bottom line.

So why are comedians still drawn to the road? Ego. That is the main reason. It serves no real financial purpose. And no matter how many emails you collect as a feature act or a low level headliner, without a massive Internet or television presence (or industry/management backing willing to leverage their more famous clients to benefit your budding career – very common) you are not going to build the kind of fan base that will elevate you to the level you want or need (or by the time you collect 15 years of e-mails we will be on to the next tech thing you “must do” to advance.  But you feel like a real comedian on the road – if you are coming from NYC, LA or Chicago club audiences treat you like a D-list celebrity if they like you, drinks are cheap, laughs are plentiful and you might even sell some merchandise.  But at the end of the day, the dwindling quantity of road work that pays a decent week’s wage is not worth the ego boost.  And many of the clubs (not all, there are still some good managers and owners still treating their comedians like professionals) are nickel and diming comedians more and more so that it sometimes is not even worth missing a week of work back home.  Think of it this way, to be available to even do 20 weeks of road work in a year you cannot really have a full time job.  But to become great at stand up you need the freedom to work at least that much.  It is a real Catch 22 – if you have the time to work on your act you will almost likely get too poor to continue that lifestyle, but if you work a full time job to pay your bills your opportunities for stage time, road work and crafting longer sets will be greatly diminished.

And then there is my personal favorite that deserves a small note – the road booker’s “last minute replacement” list.

Several years ago I received a few bookings from a prominent club booker.  I did very well with the clubs I work, as evidenced by the unsolicited e-mail I received from the booker saying “I have heard great things about you. I am moving you up my list.” I assumed this meant I would receive more bookings. Since that e-mail I have not worked any of his rooms.  I did not realize that I was moved “up” from the “sometimes booked” to the “fu*k this guy” portion of his list.  I would think that would be a step down, but clearly I don’t get the industry.  But then I realized that I had actually been moved to the “last minute replacement” list for this booker, as well as another unrelated booker.  This list is the “Oh no someone cancelled and I need someone within 1-7 days.”  Now, obviously some of the people receiving these e-mails may be within driving distance to these clubs, but for many these e-mails come off as borderline insulting.  If you are paying me $600 and the flight I must now book costs $500, what is the incentive?  Or is this just a half-acknowledgement that the booker knows the desperate environment they have helped cultivate among comedians that someone will grab it just for the chance to ply their trade for a week?

Of course when I sent a professionally worded email to a booker concerning my lack of opportunities I was told by a third party that my email may have been received poorly (this was an inference, not direct knowledge). In other words, simply corresponding like a regular person may rub these fief lords the wrong way.   So my advice to young comedians would be to leave the road alone, no matter how tempting it is, unless you fall into small exceptions (and on a side note – if you are going to do festivals – treat them more like vacations to meet and talk with other comeidans – if you treat them like realistic opportunities for career advancement, odds are you will leave disappointed, or at least eventually become dissatisfied with them).  Everyone knows the “chicken or egg” dilemma, but what came first, the nickel and dime booker or the headliner who decided to bring their own feature?  Now I have seen some headliners bring their own feature, driven mostly by insecurity, but many others want someone who will work well with them personally and on stage. Totally understandable.  One would think this would be the job of the booker to coordinate good talent that has general chops and also works well with the headliner.  Some bookers take this responsibility seriously. Others don’t give a fu*k because booking good mid-level acts (both as individual performers and in coordination with headlining acts) takes giving a damn about comedy and not just the bottom line.

Comedy bookers (to reiterate, not all, but enough to shape the industry) have further driven a scab mentality into working comedians, so a union will never be possible (how do you form a union when the labor force is replete with scab-mentality workers?).  So I think my advice to up and coming comedians is to forego the road.  It will do nothing concrete for your career.  Now if you are working with a headliner and have a personal relationship that can drive you forward professionally then embrace it. Or are you someone with management and road middle work is just a truck stop on your way to headlining and more heat then ignore this as well.  But to everyone else, the road has nothing to offer you. Perhaps a decade ago it was fool’s gold, but the economics of stand up comedy now have rendered it fool’s bronze – not even worth the foolhardy chase on which you want to embark.  If you think me hypocritical for pursuing road work, understand that my carer has his an all-time high for notoriety, which is a good thing, and a credit to the products I have worked hard to put out, but also near a low point economically because of several of the factors I have included above, so any opportunity to make money from comedy is one I cannot pass up.  Is this where you want your career to be?  Pursuing any and all work, out of equal parts desire and necessity?  Play the long game, not the short game and your comedy career and life will be much better off.  In the age of Facebook and Twitter every comedian’s insecure need (or perhaps to show to fans and industry that they are working and relevant) to post messages of false humility and blatant braggadocio of the clubs they are going to work or have just worked can get any comedian seeking opportunities to feel jealous. That is the short game.  Remember – getting on the road in many cases now is not a necessity, but a desire.  Unless you fit into exceptions I have written steer clear of the temptation.

So my advice is to work locally on your act.  Work on your YouTube channel. Work on your Twitter account. If this sounds cynical, it is.  But it is also true.  I have reluctantly, but fully embraced this.  It is simply reality at this point.  I know that I will have to become a headliner for many of these clubs to employ me again, but my stand up skills are not a well known enough draw to make it happen (yet?).  Comedy works less like General Motors and more like Silicon Valley now.  So work on your act and comedy portfolio in a way that benefits you, because I assure you, many club owners’ agendas are in direct opposition to the advancement of your career and bank account. Don’t let them throw you scraps in the dumpster and act like they are feeding you dinner.

If this concerns any of you it should. It means there are fewer and fewer careers possible in stand up comedy.  But if you are willing to go for it – the way to do it is to either connect with connected people, or become a headliner – in talent or, more beneficial, in fame/reach.  So get cracking on all things that are not stand up comedy if you want to be a working stand up comedian.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on PodomaticiTunes and NOW on STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free! COMING THIS WEEK – WHO SHOULD REPLACE DAVID LETTERMAN. 

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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.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on PodomaticiTunes and NOW on STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!

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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.

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?