This month Last Comic Standing will begin another season on NBC, giving 100 comedians a chance to gain wider exposure for their comedy and, for some of them, increase their bookings and earning power. It will feature men and women of different backgrounds and orientations and eventually a gay comedian will be named the winner (last year I correctly predicted before the season began that a black man would win. This year, given the political and social climate, as well as the fact that there has never been a gay winner of Last Comic Standing – and producers, not audience pick the winner, I am confident a gay person will win), But at the end of the day that is only a comedy contest on television and will have little impact on most of our lives, except perhaps for struggling feature comics who will be bumped down the list at clubs in favor of 3 year veterans with 11 minutes of material – BUT I DIGRESSS. The more meaningful and almost certainly more hilarious reality competition show that has already started is the Republican Party’s nomination for president process. They are up to 14 nominees and by the end of the Summer they may be close to the 100 of Last Comic Standing. And much like LCS, the large Republican field has a diverse array of gender (well, 1 woman), races, sexual orientations (I see you Lindsey Graham) and body types (the angry Louie Anderson/Bobby Bacala himself Chris Christie). So if you can handle more than one reality comedy competition here’s your LCS style breakdown of the Republican field:
Donald Trump – the only candidate that could cross over and win both the bigoted, insane base of the Republican party AND make the finals of Last Comic Standing, as long as they believed he was an alt-comic character (i.e. hiding his general lack of comedy writing behind one long, uncomfortable note of “a character”)
Carly Fiorina – a woman who failed as CEO of Hewlett Packard… in other words proof that women can ruin businesses just as well as men. And I am sure she is hilarious because women have been and always will be as funny as men, if not funnier.
Ben Carson – a doctor with an inspiring life story who also believes Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to America since slavery. Here is where Republicans and the comedy industry blend perfectly – both love black men who believe that racism is a thing of the past and would rather spin tales to make white people completely comfortable
Rand Paul – also a doctor, but being an eye doctor next to Ben Carson’s pediatric neurosurgeon, he might as well be a podiatrist and not even mention it. He would be the type of comic that fans would love until they saw him pandering with safer, time-worn jokes to win over the tepid NBC/rabid GOP crowd.
Chris Christie – might do better on LCS because fat comics have always been more welcomed than fat politicians. H will “tell it like it is” which would serve him well for a while on LCS until people realize he is not that funny. Just full of bluster and trans fats.
Marco Rubio – would go far in Last Comic Stading because Latino = good diversity and then, much like his presidential campaign and most Latin comics, people would realize that he is not interesting (not funny) and should get the equivalent of a John Leguizamo one man show – a stint on Fox News.
Jeb Bush – famous name is good for ratings, good experience and from a key state full of funny stories, Jeb Bush would go far on LCS.
Bobby Jindal – also very trump like ability to do better on LCS than the GOP nominating process. He practically looks and sounds like a Jeff Dunham puppet. Ultra religious conservative Indian American Rhodes Scholar with a southern accent. Jeff Dunham’s next closer.
Ted Cruz – Recently posted a video of himself doing impressions of Simpsons characters. It was the least funny thing in the history of the Internet. But he is Canadian and Latin and unattractive and those are all things that tend to do well in comedy, regardless of actual funniness so don’t bet against Cruz crushing it on LCS.
Rick Santorum – that comic that has made the semi-finals a few times but never goes on. Boring, but still gets to headline all the Comedy Zone clubs.
Lindsey Graham – If this were Last Comic Standing, Grahams’genteel nature, southern accent and confirmed bachelor status would put him right at the top of my list for potential winners, but as for the GOP nomination, it doesn’t matter how many brown people he is willing to bomb, without a wife and kids he has no chance.
Mike Huckabee – the guy who used to charm with some jokes and speaking to some of the more compassionate angles of Christianity, he has reverted back to being fat and more sarcastically hateful with his rhetoric. So even if LCS wouldn’t work out, he might land a spot with Anthony Cumia on a podcast.
George Pataki – the veteran who missed his chance but will still get to compete. He is tall, has good experience and is moderate by the modern GOP’s inquisition-level of tolerance in 2015. But alas, he is boring. Perhaps if he hits himself in the head with the mic, pretending it is a penis, during either a debate or an LCS performance, he might move on
Rick Perry – although Ben Carson is the only black nominee, Perry did vacation at Nig*erhead Ranch so he might be able to rally Black Twitter to support him, as long as they don’t see that he actually looks like a dusty Josh Brolin. Still could do well in LCS if he remembers all three part of the rule of 3.
(and about to become 15) Scott Walker – Midwestern, white, solid experience, trashes gays and unions – would have been a top choice for LCS for the first 5 years, but is clearly the front runner for the GOP in 2015.
So I am thinking that a gay comic wins Last Comic Standing, but that a gay-bashing Midwesterner wins the GOP nomination. But all of them are really just in this to up their speaking fees and lobby for appearances/shows on Fox News (the Sarah Palin plan). It is the same thing the real comedians will be doing on Last Comic Standing, except there is no danger there since none of the comics will have a 50/50 chance of running the country.
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Last Comic Standing is back after a 4 year break and it only took about ninety minutes of airtime before shock waves rippled through the comedy community. Ben Kronberg, a comedian I know and like personally and as a comedian (he is “alternative” if I were to categorize him, but he has the calves of a top tier athlete – at least the last time I saw them in Summer 2013 – so I think that always made me less prick-ish about his alternative stylings). Well the first episode of LCS was going smoothly until Ben got on stage and began his set with, depending on your perspective, a tired-stock joke or a somewhat modified industry standard (Ben fiddled around on stage, getting himself settled while not addressing the audience and then after about twenty seconds looked at the crowd and said (paraphrasing) “Oh like you start right away at your job.” The set was then edited and there was a seemingly heated exchange between judge Roseanne Barr leading to Roseanne saying “Go fu*k yourself” to Ben. This led to a viral hashtag on the Internet and the rest is history, depending on how important you feel stand up comedy is.
Now I interviewed Ben a couple of days ago on my podcast as part of my running commentary/analysis of the show this Summer. He was gracious and I tried to ask some serious and some funny questions about his experience with LCS this year (you can listen to the podcast episode here). However, I was disappointed in myself for failing to ask Ben’s opinion on one other thing regarding this incident: do you think, despite being a beneficiary of some nice community vibes, that other comedians took Roseanne’s words too personally or defensively?
The response directed at the incident and some of the vitriol aimed at Roseanne would have seemed acceptable if this was just a show at a comedy club, but it is reality television. From America’s Got Talent to American Idol (not to mention the glee our society, and many in the comedy world, take in watching the train wrecks that occupy the non-contest reality shows) it is clear that these shows are partly about talent promotion and all about ratings. Simon Cowell is a mega rich television personality, in part, because he tore people new assholes on live television.
Now I know comedians are mostly sensitive types (despite whatever confidence or swagger they display on stage) who only manage to speak up with hashtags or when Carlos Mencia steals a joke. But for people who get on stage and try to entertain strangers, the defensive posture to rally around one of their own seems a bit weak. I mean, what do people expect from reality television? Ben, in our chat seemed to know that anything was fair game and was disappointed how it was portrayed, but not startled and certainly not of the “Never Forget” mindset that some of the comments on social media would seem to indicate. Maybe other reality show contestants are just as sensitive to their fellow artists, but I am not friends with many emo musicians “just trying to share their gift with the world,” though every time I see an Upworthy article in my Facebook news feed I feel like I am that much closer to being immersed in a world of annoying sensitivity training supervisors.
My only real thought on this is comedians – you cannot have it both ways. You cannot be the tough guys (and gals) of the First Amendment – getting a pass for everything you say about anyone or anything, but then, when someone gets sh*t on on a reality show (as rigged, as GOTCHA and as edited an entertainment format as there is) start calling out how uncouth it was. WELL I NEVER!
So good luck to Ben, who seems to be getting some nice traction from the hashtag (Can we get a #YesAllWomenTellBenToGoFu*kHimself tag going?) and will be more than fine (as he said in our talk – it may not do as much for him as being a finalist, but he already is being talked about a lot more than any of the other people eliminated), but to the portion of the comedy world who found Roseanne beyond the pale and jumped to Ben’s defense – lighten up. If comedians cannot accept the harshness of entertainment and television gimmicks, why should regular folks be so open to your next edgy joke about (insert edgy thing).
For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic, iTunes and NOW on STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!
Last night upon seeing the results of Last Comic Standing (and the fact that I had predicted the exact order of everyone except the winner, Felipe Esparza) I tweeted “I don’t understand America’s sense of humor. Felipe Esparza!” That was greeted with a tweet from someone else in reply that said “Well said – you don’t. He’s funny as hell. Over your head.”
Without addressing the irony of something going over my head, is this what America thinks is “smart” comedy? Perhaps that is why we are such a dumb country. After all I have a feeling a majority of the country does not realize that amending the 14th Amendment to strip children, born in this country to illegal immigrant parents, of their citizenship (AKA Mexican-Americans) is only a midterm election issue. That won’t play on a national level during a presidential race, but the point is to get House and possibly Senate seats this Fall using the hate-driven proposal. It has nothing to do with amending the Constitution because that won’t happen. Republicans just want to use it as a wedge issue to pick up Congressional seats now. Unfortunately Obama’s supporters consist of too many fair-weather black voters (they did not even support him until after he won Iowa) and too many white voters who were ready to jump ship at the first sign of trouble (they had done their “I’m not a racist” duty by voting for him in the first place). The messsage needs to get to them that the uncool white men in the Senate and House have some power too and people need to wake up and realize what is going on. Go vote during the midterms! (end of tangentially-related political pitch)
Now perhaps in that context I should be happy to see Felipe Esparza win. After all, he is a Mexican-American and that sends a nice message. The only problem with that is that comedy viewers, unlike Academy Award voters (Milk) don’t take issues like that into consideration. They want their comedy simple, but also to feel good about themselves subconsciously. Nothing does that better than when that comedy is delivered by an ethnic comedian who plays into their ethnicity. And entertainment is a safe place for people of color. They can be appreciated without any discernible power (once again, Obama elected on the strength of an incredible and entertaining campaign, but as soon as he started wielding the power he was given all Hell broke loose).
Being on the road a lot more in the last two years has shown me something about America – it is that rooms full of white people are generally a lot kinder to a comedian of color especially if he does one of two things:
1) confirm stereotypes, which allow white people to laugh twice as hard – once for the joke and once for relief of their feelings
2) portray themselves as fish out of water – I cannot tell you how many times a black comic has killed on stage with some line like, “I must be at the wrong club.”
Felipe Esparza was easily the 5th comic out of the five on the show last night. I thought he was more like 8th out of the overall final ten. He was literally the only one of the five that I thought could not win. Sadly I have also said that Sarah Palin could never win a presidential election. But Esparza gives America what it subconsciously wants – an ethnic friend. He delivered a quirky character. I am not saying he played it up to some caricature, like say, Dat Phan (Last Comic Standing winner – season 1), but he gave America enough. Perhaps the “I have a black friend” mantra can now be replaced by “I like that Mexican comedian” in thousands of homes across the country.
But that show was awful last night and not just because of the result. Kathy Griffin was the big headliner. To me, her success tells me that a lot of gay men and women have awful senses of humor. She acts like she is saying shocking things (“Oh no she diiiiiiiin’t”), but she is just saying things that Jay Leno passed on in his monologues. She is awful to look at and listen to. And just because she acknowledges her grotesque face and surgeries does not make it any more watchable.
Also Tom Papa, “The Marriage Ref”. Thanks for giving me another GPS-voice joke.
One highlight was Iliza Shlesinger (last season’s winner). Someone has been doing P90X while practicing Dane Cook-esque pratfalls! My friend John (non-comedian) only texted me twice during the final episode. One was to say: your boy Kaplan 🙁 (when buddy and frequent vanquisher of me in comedy contests Myq Kaplan was eliminated) and the other was: Shlesinger 🙂 I guess he liked her comedy.
Another highlight was Mike Destefano,, “If you voted for me thanks and if not Fu*k you.” I wish the show had ended there.
This weekend I, along with three other quality comics from New York City, made a twelve hour trek to Asheville, North Carolina for the 4th Annual Laugh Your Asheville Off Festival. It also happened to be the same week as the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival, so while the comedic equivalent of the NBA All Star Game was going on in Montreal, we were headed twelve hours in the opposite direction to the equivalent of WNBA tryouts.
The three other members of the car were Nick Cobb, recently of Last Comic Standing, Adam Newman of College Humor and Sam Morril, who most recently won March Comedy Madness at Comix. And me of www.JLCauvin.com, but you already knew that. I had not auditioned for the Montreal festival this year (was not asked to – so it is good to see that I am less worthwhile as a comic than I was two years ag0 – always a rewarding feeling), but I was still happy for all the people doing comedy half as long as me in some cases who were finally getting their shot at the big time after waiting all the time it takes to graduate a community college. I guess next year instead of writing jokes I will simply work on my networking for a year. I’m still convinced that my path to success lies somewhere along the path taken by Johnny Fontaine.
So we headed down to Asheville by car at 5 am on Friday. Nick Cobb did yeoman’s work, both in the amount of driving he did and the pity party he threw for himself for doing so much driving. Sam and I are New Yorkers in the sense that we both obtained driver’s licenses to get people to stop asking us if we have a license. See, outside of New York City people attach ideas like independence and self-worth to the ability to drive as soon as possible. But since native New Yorkers actually have things to look forward to other than driving to the Mall after school we don’t place the immediate importance on it (except for the rich kids I went to high school with who could not wait to drive the Mercedes, Range Rovers and BMWs to school junior). But thanks anyway to Nick for doing about 21 hours of driving in less than three days.
So on the ride down to Asheville we complained about comedy, ate boatloads of fast food and listened to various comedy CDs. By the time we arrived in Asheville at the Super 8 it was 5:30 and we all felt disgusting. Sadly, a Super 8 motel is not the place to feel refreshed. Super 8 motels feel like movie sets for the “brutal rape scene.” They are dark, dirty and the water pressure in the shower feels like someone urinating on you that has prostate problems – just warm enough to feel unsanitary and just enough water pressure to feel like air conditioned drip is falling on you from above. It’s like starring in a scene from Alien whenever you shower.
So after we all half-freshened up and relieved McDonalds and Wendys from our systems we headed to the closest restaurant to the Super 8 – Hooters. The waitress must have smelled the anger, cynicism and general failure of four comics because I have never felt less flirted with by a Hooters waitress in my life. We still left a generous tip because she looked like a young version of Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights.
After Hooters we headed to the Diane Wortham Theater in “downtown” Asheville, but not before some Asheville resident swerved into a puddle (intentionally almost for sure based on its place PARALLEL TO THE SIDEWALK) splashing all four of us (me the most) with some of Asheville’s finest, three day-old puddle water. I then said a humble prayer that the driver of that car find his or her way through their windshield (the haaaard way -Rodney Dangerfield voice).
The DW Theater is beautiful (I knew from last year, but it was the first viewing for my three companions) and the crowd was laughing at everything on the first show. We all got very excited. Only Sam was performing on the second show Friday night (Nick, Adam and I all had spots on Saturday) so we just hoped for his sake that the crowd was as good.
What do you get when you take 350 and subtract 280? The crowd for the second show. Sam had to lead off the show after the “emcee” who resembled Jesse Pinkman’s prostitute friend from Breaking Bad (but with more tattoos) introduced him with – “he’s played the Carolinas” – which was actually Caroline’s in NYC. Sam had a very good set and at least 40 of the 70 people appreciated it. After the show we went out and had ice cream sundaes and drank beer because comedians are both immature and self-loathing. If Nicholas Cage had eaten ice cream to kill himsef instead of drinking alcohol in Leaving Las Vegas it would have resembled my weekend.
Saturday came around and the highlight of the day for Adam and Nick would be performing killer sets Saturday night. In a bit of foreshadowing, my highlight would be seeing Inception Saturday afternoon. Now that is no slouch of a highlight. Inception is a great great movie and you should see it if you have not. But I will explain shortly.
We made a post-movie, pre show trip to Hooters (hey if it’s broken why make the effort to fix it) where we ate chicken quesadillas and talked to the bartender about her 10 month old daughter. I find that before a set of mine it is good to have a conversation with a nice woman who seems to have a somewhat less than great life. If I still feel resentment and hostility towards the world and some women after that then I know I am going to have the right mindset to do comedy. I felt ready.
We headed to the theater and I was to perform first after the intermission. I went out on stage and there was a jazz band playing intro music for every comedian. My first line:
“Give it up for the jazz band. Yeah – jazz, my 11th favorite form of music.” A few comics in the balcony laughed.
I could not see everyone in the crowd, but it was my worst nightmare – it felt like a lot of old people. I guess the theater was having a special – “got to dinner at 4 pm and get half priced tickets to stare at a judgmental as*hole from New York City.”
My first actual joke that I prepared went well enough about shopping at big n tall stores, but it did not go as well as it has the previous 80 times I have told it. Then I did my joke about cougars, butsome loud-mouthed middle aged feminist fu*k kept shouting over my joke, apparently to defend the honor of the women on the Bravo channel from a relatively innocuous joke. In the last part of the joke I ask and answerthe question – “remember what they used to call cougars… uggggggggh.” However, during the pause, the woman who was defending the honor of “cougars,” decided to yell out defiantly, “SWEET!” as in cougars are sweet a/k/a awesome. So when I said “uggggh” it appeared that I was just responding to her with disdain. At that moment, when there was complete silence for my punchline, I was very tempted to stage dive like Axl Rose and at least beat up her male companion if she had one, but instead I just went through my jokes.
Next joke was a 2 minute bit on Facebook photography, which has been doing very well, but when even the children of half your audience aretoo old for Facebook , the joke will fall flatter than usual. I actually did get a big laugh at the end of the joke, but could not leave well enough alone and said with 100% disgust, “Oh, thanks for waking up Asheville.” Crowd lost again.
My jokes from that point on got very consistent laughter, except for the final line of a 2 1/2 minute closing bit, which got nothing after getting lots of laughs throughout the entire bit. So my final words on stage were, “That was the way to end a set poorly.” At least the last line had the Festival producer and the festival headliner, Jake Johannsen, laughing hard backstage.
Now this is when the real fun began. There were some managers and bookers of shows in attendance. And one of the bookers came back stage in between the early show (which I was on) and the later show (which Adam and Nick were on). This booker went and spoke to a few comics exchanging compliments and a desire to get them some bookings. I never even got eye contact from the guy. The best analogy I can think of is when a friend of yours is talking to someone at the bar and he/she has a friend. But the friend has no interest in you so the best he/she gives is sort of a smirky smile and then looks away, which sort of says “Hey I don’t think your an awful person, I just want nothing to do with you.” My experience backstage was whatever would be the level of humiliation after that. Not sure how many bookings I will get form the Festival, but it will probably be between zero and I’m going to call the cops if you email me again.
So the second show Saturday night was a big success as Nick led off the show strong and Adam absolutely murdered it two spots later. So of the four comics that travelled together from NYC, the other three got to be Bosh, LeBron and Wade, and I ironically, as the only one with any minority blood in the water, was Mike Miller. Some of our group even got to speak with a manager from a somewhat reputable agency after the show who offered such insights as “don’t get married, you’ll never regret fu*king a lot,” and “I was chatting up this hot chick tonight. I’m married, but it’s good to see I can still do it.” I am just surprised he was not missed from his Montreal Festival seminar, “Here’s everything that you don’t need to know about comedy, but do need to know about how insecure and regretful I am about my decision to get married and have a family.” I just told the festival producer, Charlie (one of the coolest and nicest guys I have met in comedy) that if I did not see him relatively soon, there was a good chance he’d see me again in several years when I am teaching his kids high school History.
After the show, Sam, Nick and I went to Waffle House at 2 am because I feel it is therapeutic to hit complete rock bottom after a disappointing show. When we were leaving the Waffle House we were approached by a possibly drunk, definitely crazy, man in his late fifties, early 60s with a long white beard, flanked by 3 Latin/light-skinned black guys in their late teens.
Now as a Northern man with a black Dad and an Irish mom there are a few things I fear. 1) The South, 2) Old white men from the south, 3) groups of minority teens wandering parking lots at 2 in the morning. But I learned a new, more powerful fear that night – when an old crazy southern man is hanging out in a parking lot of Waffle House with three minority teens in the south. There is something so prison rape-ish about that combo to me.
So the old man walks up to us and has the following exchange:
Old Man – “You walkin’?”
Me – “No.”
Old Man – “You look like you’re walkin’?”
Me (walking away with Nick and Sam) – “Well yeah, now.”
As we walked away Nick started laughing uncontrollably, but Sam quickly informed us that they were all still looking at us as the old man mumbled something with the word “fu*k” and started angrily mocking Nick’s laugh. It was at that moment that I first imagined what it would be like to star in a re-make of Deliverance. We got back to our rooms and I slept 3 hours that night, both because we were leaving early the next morning and because I feared becoming a victim in The Hills Have Eyes 3.
Nothing much to report the next day – we just drove 14 hours back to the city (90 minute of travel was the Holland Tunnel), ate a bunch of crappy food, discussed comedy (we spent about 4 hours alone mocking comedians who discuss the difference of black people and white people) and just wished for the sweet embrace of death when we arrived back in NYC.
When I got back to Facebook world I got to see all the photos and tweets from all the comics and people from Montreal. Time to start looking at Masters programs in education I guess.
Well, today I had an audition for Last Comic Standing. I did two minutes in front of three big time pros: Andy Kindler (very respected comedian), Natasha Leggero (who sort of reminded me of the lead singer of The Bangles – niiiiice) and one of my two favorite comedians, Greg Giraldo (Chris Rock the other).
From the title you can tell that I did not advance and sadly I completely agreed with the judges. However, there is something profoundly crippling when one of your idols in your business tells you, as nicely as possible, that it wasn’t good enough. Sort of like how Michael Jordan ruined Kwame Brown’s career by continually berating him and calling him a “faggot” in practice when he was an 18 year old rookie with the Wizards. Kwame was never a good player after that, though he did his best to dispel the epithet by fathering a starting five and two subs with numerous women (at last check). None of the judges were mean at all – they were quite nice and refreshingly constructive, but I hope that was not because I am almost the size of Kwame Brown and they are not Michael Jordan’s size. I must admit though, that when Giraldo went to speak and I could see from his expression that it was going to be a very lukewarm appraisal it was one of the most painful moments of my career.
I guess I came prepared with a sort of a generic set that may have worked with producers in the past, but with real, genuine comedians of a high order judging, that was a big mistake. It seems whenever I audition for something I play it safe, probably because auditions terrify me.
What is so bitter to take is that this season could be great and come with an extra stamp of legitimacy because of who is judging and selecting. Of course there are funny people who will not make it, but if Greg Giraldo says you are a good comedian, it carries with it some real street cred that Bobby Baccala from The Sopranos (previous celebrity judge) just does not have.
On a plus, they thought my Obama impression was really good. But Giraldo thought the premise surrounding the impression was too convoluted (which as soon as he said it I thought – “of course it is – FU-K!”). As I left Gotham Comedy Club – my brain began to re-work jokes, but not to make a show, but because their advice, even on the two minutes of material, could actually make me a better comedian. I guess if their feedback can help me make my material better then there is a silver lining. It might have been helpful if one of them told me to give up also. Time will tell on that one.
Good luck to Nick Cobb, David Cope, Luke Cunningham, Myq Kaplan and any other friends who have moved on.
This Saturday, while filming The Blind Side 2 trailer, comedian Nick Cobb paid me a rather odd compliment: “When are you going to update your blog? I have been checking every day and no update. Your blog gives me comfort, knowing that no matter how angry I am about comedy, there’s always at least one person who is angrier.”
It’s true I sort of slacked off on the blog posts in February, primarily because I try to write only when I have either a funny idea or something I want to express and February just did not inspire much. Another reason was I was playing far too much God of War. Well, March should be quite different.
First off I will be competing in Comix’ March Comedy Madness, which gives me a 63/64 chance of being disappointed. This tournament used to be held at Caroline’s, but Caroline’s decided to host a different tournament called “Final Four,” which I think will be a similar format. I opted to do only the Comix tournament for two reasons. One is that I did not have to audition since I made the Final Four last year. And second, the last time I showed up for an open call at Caroline’s I waited 5 hours, was then told I did not have to audition and then was never given a spot I was told I was getting (that’s known as the worst of all worlds). And I still have not gotten an email response to a politely worded email requesting an explanation. So in other words, Comix was the default winner for not having treated me like a part time Wal-Mart employee (like battered spouses, comedians set very low thresholds for appreciation by comedy clubs).
It will be an uphill battle at Comix (starting March 10th) mainly because it is almost impossible for me to get people to come see a show of min anymore (crowd determines winner) and because lacking a beard, a disheveled wardrobe, jokes thick with non sequiturs and inside references, as well as an accent or universal circle-jerk approval from sycophantic comedy websites and Time Out NY, I realize that I may not have the success I have had in previous years.
March will also provide an opportunity for me to audition for Last Comic Standing. Sadly, this one I actually have more hope for simply because the potential reward is too big to ignore (it’s like the lotto). So I will audition for that and most likely write a recap on the website. All in all March promises to give me more than enough vitriol to provide you with a good read.
I’m Mad As hell… And Will Probably Take It Some More
In what is becoming a tiresome ritual for even my mother to read about, last week I suffered another mild indignity at a comedy club. But this new one both angered me and perplexed me in equal measure and forced me to take a step back and look more globally at comedy. I wish I could say I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, but I love comedy (the performance and writing aspects) and know that I will endure the accompanying bullsh*t long after it is sensible to (are we there yet?).
It was the line outside for New York Funniest Comedian, a fraudulent open call to all comics in New York. Now most comics of any established reputation in NYC that wanted to compete called the club ahead of time and got a specific call time. This is allowed for a couple of reasons: comics that the club likes or respects (or are affiliated or managed with people the club respects) should not have to waste their time and/or suffer the indignity of waiting on line for hours to do two minutes of material. The other reason is that the club already knows who they want to put forward into the competition at least 99% of the time.
I chose not to call ahead because some self-righteous aspect of my personality wanted to be rejected from the line. I know that subconsciously I enjoy enduring the hypocrisy and lies of this business in some sort of self-righteous self-indulgence, even if it just for me and a few loyal readers (if Hunter S Thompson was a gonzo journalist, so maybe I have a future career as a depresso-journalist). So I waited on line for four and a half hours outside of Caroline’s on Broadway as I watched comic after comic that could be considered in my peer group in the business walk in for their “audition,” which, I learned later, just amounted to saying hello to the booker and being put on the list of those that are actually being considered for a spot in the semi-finals (taking place tonight and tomorrow night).
Well after waiting all that time I was spotted at the front of the line by a Caroline’s employee and was told, “Oh, J-L, you can go down (to audition right away).” I felt a little guilty, but that guilt was assuaged by the rationalization that I had waited the exact same amount of time as the rest of the comedy proletariat. When I got downstairs I went inside and was not required to do any stand up whatsoever. I was just told that I would be on one of the semi-finals shows on Tuesday or Wednesday. I left sort of relieved, but sort of disgusted. I had friends (or at least friendly acquaintances) waiting on line upstairs, with literally no chance at making it, no matter how good their audition. But we will get back to the story a bit later.
Believe (Almost) No One
“______ is looking for new talent to bring into the club for paid work. ________ will be watching these shows so definitely sign up.”
This was an excerpt from an e-mail I received about 6 months ago. I did one of these shows, a bringer (aka the crack cocaine of the comedy world where you are required to bring friends, family, co-workers) as a warm up for a television audition. I was well beyond the delusion that had plaguedme for years that anything career changing would happen from this bringer, but I wanted to do a show that would help me prepare for the audition. Well after the show, unsolicited, I received a glowing review from “______”.
So in a moment of temporary insanity I emailed that club’s booker and was told, “We like you, but right now we have too many comics for the spots open.” I accepted that as truthful words from people who had been nice to me for many years. However, kind words can best be summarized by Al Capone from the film The Untouchables: “You can get a lot further with a kind word and a gun, than you can with just a kind word.” In other words young comics, the only nice words you should fully trust from a manager or booker are “here’s you money.” This is not saying they are all liars or lie all the time, but to preserve your feelings in a business rife with disappointment, protect yourself first.
I looked on this club’s site a month after the “too many comics” e-mail and saw names on weekend shows (i.e. actually paid work, not the indentured servitude of unpaid “guest spots”) that I have never seen on those shows before. I then checked the management/representation of those names and saw that it was the same two agencies representing a large majority of the comics booked at that club. So while the nice answer may have eased my mind for a few weeks, the true answer, “we’re not booking you until you hook up with the right agency” or “we just don’t think you are good enough now” might have left me with a clearer plan and some dignity. However, it also may have meant that the $10,000+ that my friends and family have given to that club over the years would have dried up.
But that is the basis of the bringer system, which feeds money to clubs and producers on a weekly basis in NYC. You tell young comics how good they are when they suck because you know their friends are enthusiastic and will pay money to see their friend embark on a new and fun hobby. So to get money you encourage lots of performances of shi**y comedy because you do not care about exploiting the overgrown dreams of a new comic. I received just as many compliments from clubs when I was starting out as I do now. I know I am good now, but I have watched early tapes and I make myself cringe. But I could fill 3 bringers a month when I started doing comedy. So I got filled with lots of false compliments from clubs. Those compliments may have given me encouragement to continue and for that aspect I guess I should be thankful, but when my friend supply dried up no one came calling that “really good comic” named J-L anymore.
But don’t think that this is a club only issue. I have been told absolutely disgusting stories about bringers run out of lesser venues where comics who are lonely or friendless or just clueless are paying relatively exorbitant money just to get on shows based on promises that, even if true, do not warrant their expenses. Much like the U.S. Congress, once the money begins flowing in the bringer system, it creates a corrupt and result-less process.
What’s The Matter With Comics?
I read the book “What’s The Matter With Kansas” several years back and it explored why so many working class Republicans worked in favor of a party that did not have their interests at heart (or at least in practice). I think it is the same in comedy. Every comedian believes that they can make it. Last Comic Standing’s last two seasons had open casting calls in NYC. Of the many, many hundreds that lined up up outside those two years, one made it to the next round, where he was eliminated and did not even get a clip of his comedy on television. And I believe most people in line thought everyone else was wasting their time by showing up, except for themselves. But all you are when you show up for an open casting call is an extra in the movie “The American Entertainment Dream.” The stars are already cast and you are just there to make the stars look more heroic for standing out of the crowd.
Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
Much like capitalism, the big villain in Michael Moore’s new film, comedy capitalism forces comics into being relatively selfish and dog eat dog. Three years ago I had a pre-arranged audition for Last Comic Standing, meaning I was one of the many comics who bypassed the cattle call with a legit shot at getting on the show. I did not get it, but I did not feel ashamed at the time for trying to “get mine.” And many comics would not begrudge me for doing so, but then I must begrudge myself, if one can do such a thing. I do feel guilty about that. At some point, like in America, I think that the “haves” of comedy must stand up for the “have nots.” If I named the best comics in NYC in my opinion, I am sure there would be at least an 85-90% correlation with who the clubs and industry think are the best. But to sustain the venues of those talented comedians, the comedy clubs, owners, bookers and industry place an unfair and unwarranted burden on the nobodies of comedy. They have them line up outside of comedy clubs, not for a chance to achieve success themselves, but to artificially exalt those who are already having success. They entice you with misleading promises and compliments so you will bring friends on a Tuesday, just so they can pay the electric bill and the rent for the “real comics” on a Saturday. This is not about giving spots or work to lesser or newer comics; it is simply about respecting all comics as people.
People look at Goldman Sachs as emblematic of what is wrong with capitalism and how the rich get richer. This is no less true of the comedy business. Dreams are exploited (The American Dream of a house, car and good education versus your name in lights and artistic sacrifice paying off). But comedy, like capitalism, has no end game except for the Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfelds of their respective arenas. And because of that, no one speaks up because everyone is too buried in their own quest for success in the rat race to stand up and say, “Hey club or TV show – it is not okay to exploit my fellow comedians. Even if they suck at comedy, their hope and dream is not something that you should be able to exploit. Whether their comedy is good, great or terrible, their dream and desire is real.” No one says that. I did not say that three years ago and am not happy with myself. I told myself last week, that no matter the result of the NY Funniest Comedian competition I would write this, because unlike a lot of my contemporaries I did stand on that line and the whole experience did not feel right.
New York’s Funniest Reject?
On Sunday I learned that I did not make the cut for the 30 semi finalists, which perplexed me and angered me. I was fully prepared to go along with the charade and do two minutes of material, but was told not to. Much like my status in the comedy world right now I was too qualified to audition, but not good enough to get the part. So I had neither the satisfaction of performing, nor the gratification of advancing. I have e-mailed politely requesting an explanation, but have not received it yet.
The names were a who’s who of up and coming comics in NYC. Perhaps some of them were on line, but I do know that most walked right by. I do not blame the comics for this because this is the system that dangles success carrots in front of them so that they have blinders to the exploitation of their less experienced or talented brethren. Or maybe some of them laugh and don’t care because some of those comics on line do in fact suck at comedy (possibly because they are new, possibly because they are not funny). Who knows, but I think if asked to think about it manyestablished comics would acknowledge that it is not right, but would also shrug their shoulders and say, “what the fu-k can I do about it?”
Because the plain truth is that from bringers to cattle call lines, the clubs know deep down that barring a comedy miracle, nothing is going to happen for these people that they entice to their clubs. So I think if I ruled the comedy world this is the short wish list I’d have for comedians:
1) Boycott bringers in 2010 (unless you are doing it with a clear head to get a good tape AND THAT’S ALL)
2) Clubs would have no more open calls. I would have no problem with the NY Funniest Comedian competition if it was submission or invitation only – this would be honest and that is all that I think comics are entitled to. Honesty does not guarantee any success, but it does guarantee that the comedians get to keep more of their integrity. There is one NYC club I would like to work at eventually if I ever attain the success I hope for, simply because they’ve never lied to me. That is it. I was never given excessive compliments, never given excuses or half-truths and that is really all any comic should want or feel entitled to.
3) Comedy shows would book based on stand-up and not as if they were casting a cooky CBS sitcom. Otherwise I am just going to grow out a huge fro, wear glasses and not stop eating cupcakes until a heart attack or a development deal is mine. (This one is a little more selfish on my part).
I understand that comedy is a business, but I think comics need to stand up for the integrity of the business for their fellow comics. In the 1970s comics went on strike to get paid. That is a much more concrete demand than what I am writing about (PETC – People for The Ethical Treatment of Comics?), but integrity is still important. I know this won’t change anything substantively (I am under no delusion that 30 comics will pull a Rudy tonight and hand in their microphones so that someone like Mick DiFlo, one of the most respected, but anonymous comics in NYC, can perform), but perhaps it will make some comics take a moment and think about what’s going on in comedy.
I know some may dismiss this as the sour grapes of an increasingly bitter comic, but I really would like to see the culture change and not just for me. The only way I can see this helping is maybe if you know a new comic with some potential, or at least some enthusiasm you can tell them to approach the business more practically and avoid some of the things that will hurt them so that they can look at the business honestly, even if it won’t be honest with them.
I remember two very well established comedians saying to me about 4 years ago: don’t do bringers. Just write and perform over and over again. Like anyone young, either in life or career, I did not listen until I was knee deep in regrets. Maybe more young comics will be wiser than me. Maybe not.
If this is my Jerry Maguire Mission Statement then I can expect my career to go further South, but I having already had a legal career and a girlfriend with a son during my comedy career (check my 2 CDs for details), so I am in uncharted territory for Jerry Maguire. Wish me luck.
Mayhem broke out yesterday at an open call audition for the CW’s show “America’s Next Top Model.” For those of you that don’t know, the show airs on the CW, the LaToya Jackson of the networks. There was an unusually high turnout for the show because, according to producers, it was the first season only open to women 5’7″ and shorter. The melee that ensued I guess shows what men have known and what the show’s producers have now learned – that you don’t have to be super tall, beautiful and anorexic to be a crazy bitch; they apparently come in all looks and sizes. And what a shock that competitive women seeking an opportunity based solely on their looks would get into a fight – you’d think women of such substantive value would be able to resolve conflict peacefully.
The audition was closed after the melee broke out (numerous reports of either a gun, a fight at the front of the line, and/or a claim that a car was on fire and about to explode). What I got a kick out of was hearing women on television and reading other quotes in the paper that “this was my lifelong dream” or “my dream is ruined.” If the lottery is a tax on poor people, then reality shows are public assistance for stupid women. “Your dream?” It is a reality show. These things have only been around for a decade so what did you dream of before then, a spot on Cops?
And does anyone realize that 99% of these lineups are just for short clips on the show to show how many people showed up? If this show is anything like Last Comic Sanding or American Idol, the people with a chance at the finals are in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands that show up. In two years in NYC, one comic got to the NY finals of Last Comic Standing without a pre-booked audition. People who had auditions in some cases were actually asked to get on line before or after their pre-booked audition to look like they waited on line.
And the worst part of the ATM story is that the women I saw on television talking about their dream being ruined never had a chance. One homely woman named Shiquita (like the banana, but misspelled I assume) was crying that she had come from Richmond and had almost made it in when the auditions were closed. Perhaps it is time for Shiquita and these women to wake up from their dream, the one that they are living in where they are beautiful women, inside or out.