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Philadelphia Freedom

With all due respect to the many excellent clubs that I have performed at over the years, but this past weekend in Philadelphia was the best sustained comedy experience of my life.  It was not a weekend without challenges, but never have I had more fun on stage than I did for the five shows at Helium Comedy Club from Thursday through Saturday.

Thursday – May 19th

Despite my plans to take Megabus down to Philly on Thursday afternoon I was still writing out my set for the show (I like to type out my entire set before a feature spot – both old jokes and newer ones as a way to beat them into my brain –  plus in ensures I have most of my material archived on my computer).  It was taking me longer than usual because I was putting in about 6 new minutes in that I felt good about.  So instead I had to take New Jersey Transit to Trenton and then SEPTA to Philly.

Taking New Jersey Transit in the late afternoon from Penn Station reminds me of the scene of any Armageddon-style movie where the world is coming to an end and people begin acting like desperate animals only interested in self-preservation.  I was actually pushed out of the way by a woman on her way to get a whole two people ahead of me in the mob going towards Gate 7 (as in she was standing behind me and just decided, “fuck this dude”).  Now I will never hit a woman, which was exhibited many months ago when a young woman tried to trip me at Karma Lounge in NYC after I did some jokes she apparently did not approve of.  Or, when last Winter a waitress at the Village Lantern pushed me in anger in the back because I was in her way on a narrow stairwell.  But I would like to find some way to inspire fear in them (that apparently being 6’7″ and looking angry does not do) so that they at least think I might have OJ tendencies. 

New Jersey Transit crowds do nothing to enhance the State's reputation.

But I made it on safely to the NJ Transit train and managed to leave my camera tripod underneath my seat.  So as I arrived in Philly, hating both myself and women (a wellspring of comedy brilliance) I got to Helium.  Of course starring right at me is a giant picture of Myq Kaplan, that seemed to be staring at me saying, “Maybe if you had beaten me at Carolines or in Boston anytime since 2005 YOU’d have a poster in here instead of your name misspelled on a piece of paper outside.”

There are probably hundreds of Philadelphians trying to Facebook friend and Twitter follow this guy, which would explain my lack of social media attention after Philly.

Well the first show went great.  Philadelphia sports fans have a reputation as being, what is the term I am trying to think of… oh yeah… pieces of sh*t.  Well, perhaps that anger, cruelty and intensity is exactly the perfect place for my humor because I have never felt more in sync with a crowd.  It was like we were female roommates for the weekend.  Part of that may also be because the headliner Steve Rannazzisi attracted a certain fan base because of his fantasy-sports comedy The League.  And I should note that it was good to work with Steve.  The man killed every show, so it was refreshing to see a comedian who had television celebrity, but still had stand up chops, instead of guys who are hogging stand up spots because of television success but cannot back it up (which I complain about every other week on this site).  Well, here was one of the new bits I did the first night (I wrote it that morning so it felt good to know it might have legs).  I think it tells you a lot about me and Philadelphia that the idea of giving AIDS to people who text in the middle of the sidewalk made us all so happy:

After the show I sold a couple of CDs and made my way home on NJ Transit without getting assault by any skanks.

Saturday – May 20th

I had been nervous all day that the shows would be cancelled on account of Rapture, but when it reached 8:00pm I realized we were all safe.  First show was great and then for the second show I was greeted with a surprise.  A good friend of Steve’s, a Philly based comic also named Steve, was in attendance with Pauly Shore.  Philly Steve and Pauly had a gig on Thursday night and decided to stop by and watch the Friday late show.  You can imagine my surprise.  Having a healthy ego I immediately thought, “I wonder if Pauly has read my blog and knows that some people in Des Moines thought he sucked and that I think comedians working largely on name recognition are destroying the future of comedy?”  Obviously he had not.  Or unlike women on NJ Transit, he was afraid to confront me.  After the show, which I performed hopped up and several gallons of Red Bull Vodkas, Pauly told me that he thought I was funny and then asked everyone in sight where the nearest strip club was because he “wanted to see pussy.”  Speaking of vagina here is another new bit that did well with the Philly folk on Friday night:

I sadly informed Pauly that I already had a date with 18 unattractive vaginas on the 2:40 AM Megabus and would not be joining him.  So working on little sleep I got on a packed Megabus where I had to sit sidesaddle for two hours because I literally cannot fit into the top deck Megabus seats.   When you are as tall as I am it feels as if you are so not handicapped that you eventually have the same effect as being handicapped.  Until you walk off the bus.  Then you feel properly capped again.

Saturday May 21st

The final day began with another night of nearly no sleep (I do not have the gift of some of my friends to sleep 8-10 hours regardless of when they actually go to sleep – I always seem to wake up around 8 am).  I touched up my set and sat around for 5 hours thinking about going to the gym.  When I finally left myself no time to go to the gym I showered and headed down to Philly for the last night of gigs.

At this point I realized that commuting by Megabus at the odd hours I was, with almost no sleep, for a few days consecutively, was probably the equivalent of Navy Seal Training, if they had a comedy division.  I think the 30 hour train ride I have scheduled coming back from New Orleans in September will be my Comedy Seal Team 6 training.  “YOU WILL HAVE TO SIT NEXT TO OBESE PEOPLE IN TINY SEATS!  YOU WILL BE SO TIRED YOU WILL START TO TWITCH AS IF YOU IN DRUG WITHDRAWAL!!  THEN YOU WILL HAVE TO ENTERTAIN PEOPLE AGAIN AFTER GETTING ALMOST NO SLEEP!  THEN JUST WHEN THE WHOLE PROCESS IS OVER YOU WILL BECOME DEPRESSED BECAUSE DESPITE ALL THE DRAWBACKS TO THE GIG IT MADE YOU MUCH HAPPIER THAN DOING OPEN MICS AND BAR SHOWS!  ANY QUESTIONS?!”

To cut costs this is how I will be travelling to any future gigs in Florida.

The two shows went great Saturday night.  In fact they went so well that I took Myq Kaplan’s poster and Rocky IV’d it like he was my personal Drago (despite the physical reversal of roles) (2:01 mark of the video, but the whole scene is awesome):

Ok, so I did not actually do that because I like Myq and destruction of property probably trumps “good sets” as the lasting memory for features when it comes to comedy clubs.  But here are the last two clips (these from Saturday’s shows):

Nothing could have gone better under the circumstances (circumstances being travelling on Megabuses that were so hot and uncomfortable that I just assumed that the driver’s background was in human trafficking).  After the show I went to a nearby bar and someone from Friday’s show was at the bar with friends.  he immediately turned to his friends and said, “THIS WAS THE DUDE I WAS TELLING YOU ABOUT!”  He started reciting a couple of jokes back to me and it felt really awesome.  And then he said to his friend, while pointing at me, “Dude – this guy is right there with Aziz for me!”  I think when he saw the confused look on my face (I love Parks and Recreation and Tom Haverford, but I have yet to dig Aziz’s stand up) he clarified and said, “‘Cause I saw Aziz a little while back and he is fu*king hilarious!”  Phew, because he could have gone either way with that and I would have understood.

So I learned many things this week in Philly.  One is that Philly is neck and neck with DC as my favorite places to perform.  The second was that if I criticize a comedian on my blog it appears that I will either meet them or be compared to them.  But seriously I thank Steve, Lawrence Mullaney the emcee, everyone at Helium and all the people that came out to the shows.  It was the type of weekend that can give new energy to a cynical comedian to keep at it in this business.  And one day that comedian will perform at Helium and it will make a world of difference.  🙂

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Trying Times in Indianapolis

This past week I spent in Indianapolis to compete in Trial By Laughter, a comedy contest (yay) between thirty-two comics from around the country.  Here are the important details:

  • The winner was to receive $1,000 cash, an Amazon Kindle, a Flip camera, a 45 minute DVD shoot at Morty’s Comedy Joint – the host club for the competition and a CD recording deal
  • Runner up was to receive $500 cash, a Flip camera, a 30 minute DVD shoot at the club and a recording deal
  • 3rd and 4th place receive automatic entry into the Laughing Skull Festival in Atlanta in Spring 2011
  • 5th-32nd place leave with varying ranges of disappointment and bitterness towards comedy and with sets to air on local Comcast (Indiana/Midwest) this December.

Guess which group I fell in?  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Here is a full recap of the week.

Night 1 – Optimism in Many Forms

So the first night of the competition I did good work.  I was the second overall comedian of the competition and I felt very good about my set.  I ended up placing first in my group and moving on to the semi finals.

After the show I was going to go to Steak N Shake with fellow comedian Nick Dopuch of Chicago via St. Louis, except for one thing – Nick’s car broke down – specifically his alternator and battery were shot.  This combined with Nick not moving on to the next round (he went after me and lost the crowd with a Chicago Cub bit) and I was feeling bad for him.  Had both of those things happened to me I probably would have lit the car on fire, but Nick was remarkably pleasant. 

And he was rewarded – two women who had watched the show drove by and asked us if we needed help (isn’t it usually the other way around? – what a great feminist moment).  They ended up driving us to the dealership so Nick could leave the car there for morning repairs and then were Nick’s guest to Steak N Shake as a thank you (sure this could be the opening for a porno film, but one was married and one had a boyfriend so Nick was going to have to be content with a hamburger and milkshake).  Here is the most important part of our conversation, which, once again, took place at Steak N Shake, where we were waited on by Andrew,

Imagine jemaine going through the awkward teenage years and you have our waiter at Steak N Shake.

who looked like a teenage Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords, for the first of 4 consecutive nights:

Woman 1 – So you guys just travel around doing comedy?

Nick and J-L – Yeah

Woman 2 – So it must be crazy – is it just money and partying on the road?

Nick and J-L – Yeah, that is why you had to give a jump to my broken down Honda.  And why we are sitting in Steak N shake eating ice cream with platonic groupies – because it is fu*king crazy!

Somehow our fans thought comedy was much like a Motley Crue tour, which it is if you replace orgies with trips to Best Buy and cocaine with ice cream sundaes.

So after night 1 I was feeling optimistic of my chances in the competition and was more impressed with the resiliency of Nick.

Days 2-4 – Movies, The Rock & Al Pacino

The next two days were basically me and Nick driving from strip mall to strip mall doing impressions of The Rock, Al Pacino.  We also went to see Paranormal Activity 2 (underrated) and Due Date (overhyped).  Basically it was just a higher IQ version of Dumb and Dumber for 48 hours.  We also watched the other competitors each night, and passed judgment on most of them.

I kept telling Nick that he had me laughing way more in real life than when he was on stage.  It was like looking at my opposite.  I have been told to be nicer on stage, whereas I think Nick may make too much of an effort to be nice on stage.  That’s comedy – trying to be yourself, while making it work for other people.

Nick Dopuch and J-L Cauvin taking Indianapolis by storm

Night 4 – The Death of Optimism

So every competition for me has a pattern – I have a kick ass first round,  and a very good set in the round preceding the finals that is derailed by some sort of bad timing.  A brief history:

2008 Boston Comedy Festival – Sandwiched between Bostonians Joe List and Myq Kaplan I get squashed – less crowd interactive than List and then dismissed by one of Kaplan’s patented callback quips to my set.

2009 Boston Comedy Festival – I went last in a field of 8 in the semi finals.  I had an excellent set.  Unfortunately, the audience had sort of tuned out because Dave McDonough had just obliterated them (he went on to win the whole thing).  It was like he felt like a closer and then “hey wait, don’t leave – we know you loved that last guy, but we have one more as*hole who wants to stop you from going home – J-L Cauvin!”

2010 New York Comedy Contest – only 2 rounds and I finished 2nd of 70+ comedians.  1st place won $2500.  2nd place won $0

2010 Trial By Laughter – I am seeded 2nd, but behind the #1 seed Tom Simmons, who beat me in San Francisco last year and went on to win the whole thing.  As a 17 or 57 year veteran of comedy Simmons is a very tough matchup and going last (the benefit of being the higher seed) would make it nearly impossible.  But after the set I had in the first round I am not sure why I drew the toughest matchup in the second round, but the karma-like tradition of “fu*king J-L in the semi finals/second round” is apparently set in stone at this point.

Tom and I had engaged in some spirited texting during the week.  Where he assured me that everyone was fighting for second place and made Mom-related comments and plagiarised Eminem to trash talk while I asked him if he would use any notes from his days workshopping with Elaine Boozler.  So Thursday night we were the lad off matchup with NYC’s Lance Weiss leading off followed by me, closed out by Tom Simmons.

The competition is being filmed for local Comcast airing so all sets needed to be TV clean.  Lance Weiss, 40 seconds into his joke said: “oops I fu*ked up that joke, and now I have cursed… I will be selling my DVDs after the show” – a very funny moment, but made it more obvious that it would be a showdown between the Tom and I.

I went up and had a perfect set (10 minutes this round and comedians were not allowed to repeat jokes from any preceding rounds).   I could not be angry with myself.  What I could be angry with is that the crowd was now sufficiently warmed up for Tom Simmons to finish the show.  Which he did.  I left his set 3 minutes in because every minute that went by I could hear my chances of winning diminishing with every Midwestern guffaw.  Towards the end of his set I heard a loud burst of applause and I came back into the showroom, assuming it was him getting off stage.  Nope.  Applause break.  At that moment, for the 58th time in 7 1/2 years I declared my comedy career over.  All the frustration of the highs and lows just came to an all new head.

Tom Simmons went on to finish second to Kansas City’s Mike Baldwin so thanks for doing my job for me Baldwin.  Of course I was not there because I had flown out the morning of the Finals.  Special thanks to comedian Tony Deyo, who was also a much better sport than me about losing in a very tough semi finals match (to Mike Baldwin), who gave me an early morning ride to the airport.  I guess one of the good things about the week was to see and meet comedians who were able to roll with punches a lot better than me and look to the bigger picture.

Here is the familiar end for me in comedy competitions.

Unfortunately now is not the time for lessons because I am headed to Boston for… you guessed it – the first round of the 2010 Boston Comedy Festival.  God help us all.

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Feel Good Bad Comedy

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

or

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.

Can millions of women and gay men be wrong? Ask the Twilight series, Bravo and a 1980s blood bank.

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.

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First Comic Sitting

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 hope I don't end up the Kwame Brown of comedy.

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.

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Doing The Same Thing And Expecting A Different Result:…

It is hard to believe it has been one year since I lost to Myq Kaplan at Caroline’s in the Final Four of March Comedy Madness 2009.  The road to the championship each year for its first three years has gone through me.  Year one, I lost to Julian McCullough in the Sweet 16, who went on to win the title.  One month later my brother named his second son Julian. Coincidence? 

The next year I lost to Liz Miele, who is the girlfriend of Reese Waters, in the Elite 8. Liz did not win the whole thing, but Reese did, so close enough.

And last year I lost to Myq Kaplan, who won the whole thing, in the Final Four, and has since gone on to be on The Tonight Show.  So basically my comedy career has turned into the equivalent of Jennifer Aniston’s vagina: once you have been through me, greater success for you or those close to you is all but assured.

I feel your pain Jen.

Last night I felt so tired on my way to Comix.  I had already resigned myself to not winning, but seeing someone beat me and attain new success.  I was also exhausted from a day of watching Six Feet Under (great show).  But when I got to Comix (the sight of March Comedy Madness this year) I felt the competitive juices and hope stirring again.  The crowd was buzzing and looking good, (the only comedy club in the meatpacking district, Comix audience members tend to be a hybrid of comedy club goers and women you’d fu-k if your father ran a hedge fund. At least that is what I usually see when I am slaving around in Ochi’s – Comix’s alternative venue in the basement, where I rant and rave, while feeling like my comedy career is Sloth from The Goonies).

Well when I got on stage my jokes all hit exactly as expected (but I had to go first, which meant when the audience votes, my competitor gets last licks, so they can measure how I do and try to do better).  My competitor got a nice reaction from the crowd, but when the voting occurred, something unexpected happened: a tie.  Then after another round of applause voting, another tie. 

Now in every college basketball run to the title, there is always a clutch play that allows the eventual champion to continue playing.  Tyus Edney is still the one that comes to mind in 1995 for UCLA.  Well, due to the tie, we had to do a 30 second joke-off. And like Mariano Rivera out of the bullpen for the Yankees, I dropped my Obama impression for 30 seconds, which saved the day.

Last night felt a little early for my Tyus Edney moment, but so be it.

So now, after a year of recovery from the bitterness and rage that always consumes me after I lose or miss out on anything (I put a friend on two weeks video game suspension when he beat my In NBA Live and did not offer an immediate rematch) I am back and ready to make someone the next champion of March Comedy Madness.  Next Wednesday at 930 pm at Comix I square off against Alex Grubard.  Could he be headed for The Tonight Show, Comedy Central or a intimate relationship with the next winner?  You have to be there to see it.

My Obama impression is my Mariano Rivera. It has saved 50 sets, but has no ring to show for it.
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Judgment Day: Sonia & Paula

Today one respected jurist will be confirmed to the Supreme Court as “one of America’s most respected judges” according to comedian Ted Alexandro, makes an exit. 

Career judicial record: 1800-0 for the contestant
Career judicial record: 1800-0 for the contestant

Sonia Sotomayor is set to become only the third female justice, and probably first drinker of Bustello Coffee, to the Supreme Court.  But like some sad zero sum game for women, the feminist and special needs movements were dealt a severe blow with Paula Abdul’s exit from American Idol. 

Empathy Terrorist
Empathy Terrorist

For the Supreme Court it means a possibly dose of empathy and wise Latina judgement, which have jointly replaced gays and blacks as the scariest things to Republicans.  For American Idol fans it means less empathy from the nicest judge and more of Kara Dioguardi speaking angrily about how much she likes someone’s “artistry.”

For Clarence Thomas it means another desperate opportunity to place pubic hairs on Coca-Cola cans (sorry Ruth Bader, you appeared to be a nice looking woman in your youth, but Justice Long Dong needs something fresh).  For Simon Cowell it means no more drugged up grabs of his chest hairs during broadcasts.

Sonia, being a wise latina do you like more mature movies?
Sonia, being a wise latina do you like more mature movies?

For the country Sonia Sotomayor’s replacing of David Souter may mean very little in the balance of issues.  For the country, Paula Abdul’s exit will mean very little in American Idol’s ratings.

Kept it short today – writing other stuff.  River Bar tonight if you are in NYC.  The aforementioned Ted Alexandro is headlining (Letterman, Comedy Central specials) with myself, Myq Kaplan (Just for Laughs Festival), Ryan Connor & Joe List (Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham).  42nd and 10th ave @ 9 pm.  Drink specials and no cover.

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Sell Out

Bon Scott said “It’s A Long Way To The Top” – Then he died and his band made it to the top with another singer.

Last night I lost in the Final Four of Caroline’s March Madness to the incredibly sharp and very deserving champ Myq Kaplan.  I think what gave me trouble sleeping last night was not the fact that I lost, but the fact that I felt like a complete nervous fu-king hack in my performance.  I wish I could give a more upbeat recap (Rich Vos crushed some idiot woman in the front who started talking during my set and did not shut up until Vos verbally undressed her for 15 minutes, Ryan Reiss had strong sets and Myq Kaplan beat him with a very strong set in the finals), but I am preoccupied.

See the jokes I did last night are some of my tried and true and they always work.  But last night they did not work as well for several reasons.  One is that I was nervous.  Give me a mic and some strangers and I can do very well.  Give me a mic, some strangers and add the word competition or contest and I freeze.  

Probably for many comics, including myself, these competitions present the same opportunity that the lottery presents – an unrealistic hope that success will change, or accelerate a change in, one’s life, when all it amounts to is lost time and money for all but the winner.  I have been on television twice and it has yielded jack sh*t.  So when there is a chance to get paid work from a club and some modicum of exposure/respect it ramps up the importance, even if it is something you have done a thousand times.  But the desire to “make it” or “get a break”, no matter how small the break may be just adds a layer of nervousness for me – like how Tommy in the film Tommy Boy describes how he fu-ks up a potential deal. 

Sort of what I do when comedy becomes a competition.
Sort of what I do when comedy becomes a competition.

Competitions are like the good cop to the bringer show’s bad cop.  See clubs will tell you it’s a business, etc., but there are comics getting work and comics not getting work that could easily switch places.  The problem for these places is once you are in, you understandably won’t go back to being out – so bumping an established regular will only lose the club a comic.  However, if you string along young comics, without telling them that years of bringers will not yield anything that years in the backs or basements of pubs won’t (more a lie of omission than commission), they will keep coming back (case in point – me).  So if you make the mistake of bumping up too many of these comics all you get is more comics who will refuse to fund “new talent nights.”  So I now reconcile my lack of courage by saying that I need to do them because I need a good tape of some new jokes – which can be true, but does not really justify whoring myself out.

But worse than choking last night was the fact that my tougher, more personal jokes I saved for the finals (in the event that I made it) because I needed the crowd to like me first (gentler jokes in the first set) before I could get into that.    This is what I am most ashamed of from last night.  I tried to be Jay Leno and tell jokes that everyone would like instead of telling the jokes that mean the most to me and can evoke the best performance from me, for fear that I would not get everyone chuckling.  

I was reminded after the show last night of a show that I did last Friday.  The crowd was about 150 and the median age was about 48.  A comic named Sean Patton got up last on the show.  He did a set that was very funny, but what I appreciated even more was that his set had a very subtle “this is what I do, so fu-k you if it’s not your cup of tea”  kind of vibe because his topics and style were surely not going to make everyone in the stuffy room happy.  But his performance had no change from what it was at Rodeo Bar two days earlier in front of younger, drunker people.   He was not trying to be a different product for different audiences.  He knows what kind of comic he is (at least he certainly appears to) and did not abandon it.

 My best stuff is the stuff that 75% of the room likes and 25% of the room is slightly offended by (those stats are provided by my imagination) – and I am not talking about some sort of Lisa Lampanelli parade of racial slurs – I am talking about the calling of people on their bullsh*t sort of humor or exposing horrible things from my past to get a laugh.  But instead of being me as a comic, something that has taken me a few years to figure out (and still am figuring out) I told my safe set.  So I lost and could not even leave with my pride.  It is as if the comedy gods tell me to develop my own style and be true to it, but all the opportunities that come up with a hint of potential success tempt me to go lite in the hopes of getting a leg up in the business.  Here is what I would have done differently last night if I could have it over again:

  • Told the woman in the front row to shut the fu-k up.  Not as clever as Vos’ stuff, but would have felt good.
  • Told my Kobe (“Great Comedic Timing”), Diamond Maker and My Private 9/11 jokes (first 2 available on iTunes, third available on rooftop comedy). 

Simple changes, but would have made a huge difference – not in the result, but in my pride in my performance.  But this is a moot point because I sh*t the bed in competition.  I’m surprised I didn’t revert back to calling myself the love child of The Rock and Adam Sandler while having a conversation between Robert DeNiro and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Sorry if this seems too much like a mope fest.  The chance to perform comedy at a great venue and not be required to bring people is an opportunity I am thankful for.  And special thanks to my friends who showed up last night.  The comedy system as it is set up puts as much a strain on the friends of relatives of comics as it does the comics (the ones who show up regularly at least).  There is a balance between supporting your friends and risk hearing the same jokes over and over again versus the comic’s dilemma of trying to perfect the jokes they have while trying to perform new ones so your friends do not get bored and stop coming to the show.   One thing the bringers have shown me is who amongst my friends really supports my dream and comedy and who doesn’t.   As Batman said at the end of The Dark Knight – “sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” Well, if there is a silver lining to taking comedy bait for all of these years it is that I can see and appreciate who amongst my people who have shown some faith in my comedy.

I think I just wish comedy was just about comedy.  Like some sort of warped John Lennon song imagine there was no YouTube, No Bringers, No Contests – just comedy.  Or maybe I just have to be more disciplined and principled with my comedy.   Checking my next few shows on my calendar are a bringer, another competition (serious reconsideration) and a couple of auditions – to quote Lloyd Bridges from Airplane, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to find principles.”

Looks like I picked the wrong week to find cajones.