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Comedy Feel Good Story (sarcasm alert): The Successful Failure…

If you do not listen to my podcast then the beginning of this blog will seem new, but if you do listen, then endure this paragraph before getting to the good stuff.  This year, feeling a sense of creative and economic depression (I have raised my debt ceiling for the last five years and I hate myself – I am like Obama and Ted Cruz in the same body – dear closeted gay Tea Partiers this is NOT a sexual image for you to flog yourself to), I embarked on a plan to raise my profile and when my name recognition was at its highest (at least relative to my own career) release my best album and hope for the best.  So the plan started off with a bang with “Louis CK Tells The Classics” the viral video of my Louis CK impression.  I then made subsequent videos (Alt Wolf, Scared Straight) that got spread all around and promoted within the comedy world.  I then had an album recording that went well, but not as well as I wanted (plus three critical bits were forgotten) so I recorded another set a month and half later and killed it to the point that instead of integrating the missing bits into the original recording I ended up integrating two bits from the original recording into the later show for the album.  I then got a PR person to book me on some podcasts, get the album reviewed (to some glowing reviews), was on Sirius XM as their Intergalactic Premiere album of the week, was 24-7’s guest comedian of the weekend said a couple of prayers.  I even got a retweet for my album from Amy Schumer (her half a million followers indicates a slightly larger reach than my 1200).  In other words, in a world without a manager or an agent or fame I sort of did all that could be done to produce and promote a good album and my name.

Also giving me hope was the fact that my previous album was downloaded 1000 times (granted it was a free download) and received 70+ ratings/reviews on iTunes. So the only barrier to reaching that level (if not beyond) was the price tag on iTunes of $9.99 (or $8.99 on Amazon).  I figured that might create a dip from 1000, but at the same time I thought it might not be as big a dip because I am more well known in October 2013 than I was in February 2012 when Too Big To Fail was released.

Well the results are in (at least on iTunes) and downloads dipped a whopping 90% for Keep My Enemies Closer compared to Too Big To Fail.

Huh?

I have been wondering how this happened.  Obviously people like free stuff, but at least for me I would not download a free album from someone whose comedy I did not care about and by the same token I would absolutely purchase the album of a comedian whose work I like.   So the question is how does someone go from 1000 downloads and then produce a better album, with an upgrade in publicity and name recognition and then dip 90%?

The album did its best work on day one when it peaked at #12 on iTunes, but because it is not attached to any label or manager it failed to get into the new and noteworthy category.  So now it just hangs out on iTunes telling my other albums that it peaked at 12 as they go “bulllsh*t – you are just another J-L anonymous album – you are not better than us so shut the fu*k up.”

Now I know this blog can sometimes read like a comedy career suicide note, but this is really an open question (feel free to leave comments in the blog’s comment section) – is there something in the comedy world (the deluge of free content, the ever increasing importance of managers and power brokers in comedy to raise the profile of comics to the larger public, etc.) to explain this?  This is not me wondering why KMEC is not above Eminem and Pearl Jam on the iTunes chart, but rather how a better product (even if you think I suck at comedy (i.e. idiots), this album sucks least of anything I have produced) with better name recognition and better promotion can fare so much worse all for adding an $8.99/$9.99 price tag?  This year has sort of been an experiment by me – if I offer quality products (blogs, videos, podcast appearances, podcasts, etc.) for free and then ask for people to pay for one comedy thing (the album), then all the free stuff and the effort would pay off with one nice pay day.  But it did not really pan out. 

So what I am asking or saying is that like the American Dream is sort of a myth that very rich and fortunate people tell the masses (the increasing poor and the decreasing middle class) so that they continue to grind away in the myth machinery, is the do-it-yourself concept the same for entertainment?  Then you become a vilified as lazy or unworthy if you are not making ends meet.  The story America tells you is that hard work is the respected value, but in reality success, regardless of how attained, is the value of the day.  Plenty of wealthy people work hard for sure, but we now value results or “winning,” rather than how you play the game (but how many people would really work as hard if they knew the game was rigged?)  Similarly, I feel like the comedy industry loves telling people that it is a great time to be a comedian and that you can make your own success.  Then they point to the 1-2 examples in existence of people without connections who made it big on their own (and just like tax schemes and campaign finance law that help ensure that the rich shall continue to increase their share of power and influence – places like YouTube have changed over the last year or so to reduce the power of the random video at the expense of promoting preferred content providers) and therefore it is possible and all fault for lack of success lies with the comedian/content provider.

But using my own career over the last decade (but especially over the last 20 months) this is sort of debunked, isn’t it?  All things equal I have had 50,000 unique visitors to my website in 2013, had my podcast listener average increase from 200 to about 400+ people per week, gained over 310,000 YouTube views to name a few metrics, which were huge increases from 2012 and yet by charging $9.99 for an album instead of free, led to a massive drop off in downloads.  I know this sounds like complaining, but it is really more confusion than anything else.  I long ago gave up on getting rich from comedy, but this year has taught me that producing high quality content, building your circle of fans/viewers/listeners means little in increasing your bottom line, if you are truly a do-it-yourself artist.  I am a sample size of one so take it for what it is worth, but the very fact that all things were equal because it was me.  The only variables were I was a lot more well known in 2013 (a good thing), had a lot more PR (a good thing) but I charged $9.99 instead of free (death).  The question is then how can you make money off of your art if without fame or industry backing people will consume your free content, but not pay for even a small amount of it?

So if you have not, please check out Keep My Enemies Closer on iTunes or Amazon and join with me in being confused why it has been less successful than Too Big To Fail.   Have a nice week.

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

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I Did Not Know Internet Memes Were The Future…

There was a time in my career when I aspired to be the next Greg Giraldo or Patrice O’Neal.  Although my health seems to be headed in the right direction to accomplish that goal, the comedy portion of my career does not seem to be on target.  And then it dawned on me that I was thinking about comedy in the wrong way.  Writing material and performing are secondary sources of content for a successful comedy career today.  That is why my new comedy hero is George Takei.  I will now enter the cutting edge of comedy – Internet memes!

One thing I must give credit to is Facebook.  Internet memes did not seem to be anywhere and then Facebook decided to start making photos larger a little over a year ago (I think – time flies when your career is stagnant). It seems that Facebook decided, very perceptively, that adults, like toddlers, enjoy pictures so they should make them bigger. So as adults we all joined in an adult picture book. Almost instantly it seemed people were posting a lot more pictures on Facebook.

But it was time for us to mature to the children’s books of Facebook – MEMES! Now we could look at a picture and slowly build our comedic reading comprehension.  This should come as no surprise.  YouTube has been a great tool for promoting and spreading content, but it also conditioned people’s response time to 1-2 minutes for content.  But like a people who’s technological capacity is increasing in direct contrast to their attention span, we have now moved on to Memes.  Now you need not spend more than 2-3 seconds to get your humor fix!

Of course part of the meme movement were phenomena like “planking” and “Tebowing” which could be grouped in a bigger category of “stupidity.”  But they helped prove what everyone except comedians think: Everyone can be a comedian and a source of “comedy” as long as we continue to get dumber and more impatient.  But I had not realized how pervasive and how quickly even smart people had been conditioned to prefer memes as the delivery device of modern comedy.

I am a member of Comedians at Law – a group of comedians aimed primarily at untapped, intellectually savvy markets – the legal communities, both professional and educational.  There are not many groups of people more steeped in reading comprehension, education or in need of a laugh.  So we have produced humorous writings on a daily basis that receive varying responses ranging from decent to very good.  Now these are usually writings targeted at our demographic and relatively short depending on how lazy members of the group are feeling.  But what has had an inordinate amount of success among legal humor sites?  Memes.  Some are very funny like the following after the “Obamacare” Decision:

But many are marginally funny at best and yet still yield a tremendous amount of shares, likes and other forms of social media appreciation. Now of course an argument could be that “Hey, sometimes people want a quick laugh or don’t have the time to read something or watch something more involved.”  But looking at many of these memes, it feels like people would rather place a premium on efficiency than quality.  Why read a five minute funny post when I can look at a relatively unfunny picture for seven seconds?  And if this is the comedy preferences of legal professionals and law students, where is the average American’s mindset?  I assume laughing at their own boogers at this point.

But the key to comedy in the last decade has been to be ahead of the curve. Dane Cook was with MySpace. Louis CK was with self-producing his own show.  So now what is the next level?  I am putting all my money on bodily sounds and facial expressions.  As society’s comedy expectations continue along the awful crossroad of heightened sensitivity and shorter, less sophisticated attention, is it only a matter of time before farts and buck teeth become the next sensation in comedy’s De-Evolution chart?  Speaking of which, please check in to my website every Friday for J-L’s Sneeze of the Week.

I used to feel like a comedian. Now I feel like an Internet marketing company.  When I speak of quitting comedy, people sometimes take that statement as a mere “I am not making the money I need so I must quit” sort of cry.  And it is.  But truthfully, there is so much involved with a comedy career that has nothing to do with comedy, that it feels more like I want to be a comedian in 1998 – that seems like a cool job.  In 2012 it feels more like I am a cyber marketer who happens to have a sense of humor.

Illustrative of my frustrations along this front is a  conflict that we have had recently in Comedians at Law regarding web traffic.  My belief is that we should offer content that is quality and speaks to us 100% and hope that people who follow us are dedicated because of the quality.  But there is a school of thought within the group, which does produce more significant web traffic, that we should be delivering what people want.  However, the problem with this is that when we offer quality content or radio appearances promoting shows, people who have been drawn to us do not respond with any enthusiasm.  I want to attract moths to a comedy flame, but it feels like we are aiming to draw flies to comedy shit.   And not to sound too melodramatic, but sometimes I feel like this is the battle being waged in comedy since the YouTube/Twitter takeover.  Within 5 years I will be selling fecal samples on my website rather than CDs if this continues.  OK, maybe not my feces, but the feces of someone with hilarious feces.  Mine are a little bit wordy.

This for me, by comedian Andy Sandford, is a great way of demonstrating part of the mental atrophy that is occurring with audiences of comedy.  Even I can fully support this meme.  Enjoy and please only share the meme and not the rest of the blog.

For more from J-L please check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes or on Podomatic

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J-L’s Time Person of the Year

One of the most anticipated magazine issues every year, besides the 114 that discuss whether Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston will get back together, is Time’s Person of the Year issue.  The criteria, according to Wikipedia, is  a person, couple, group, idea, place, or machine that “for better or for worse, …has done the most to influence the events of the year.”   Now clearly Time has not always honored that, most notably when Osama bin Laden lost in 2001 (rumor has it he will never attend the awards banquet ever again) to Rudy Giuliani – which was basically the Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas of  Time’s POTY.  But this year I think Time can get it right.

I am so over Time's Person of the Year.

Many people got talking when the finalists were announced – on my Facebook page LeBron James got a lot of attention (ironically people obsessing over him for the last 6 months thought it absurd that he could be a finalist).  But for me the winner should be obvious.

My pick, of the numerous finalists, is Lady Gaga.  Now in 2001 Time clearly feared their choice would be seen as an award, rather than as mere acknowledgment and the fear of appearing a joke may stop Time from naming Gaga, so here’s the argument for her.

Should be TIme's Person of the Year

First off, she won a bunch of MTV video awards and in a year without Kanye West interruptions, that makes her the biggest music story of the year.

Now technically that is basically it for her actual accomplishments this year.  She is a hard working performer who has become a major force in music.  But that alone would just make her a minor irritant.  However, what she represents is basically the direction of  our entire culture.  Here’s why.

1) She has become the dominant figure on the Internet.  All due respect to Mark Zuckerberg, who created the Internet’s most pervasive medium since e-mail, but Gaga dominates all of our pithy forms of communication.  Her video Bad Romance is the most watched video on all of YouTube.  She has the most Twitter followers on Twitter (President Obama is 5th).  In other words, in a society that is increasingly turning information and entertainment into 140 character brain farts and 30 second, seizure-inducing visuals intended to keep the attention of morons, she is the Queen.

2) She takes pithy political stands.  In a country that is increasingly mired in a struggle to choose the less complex answer and choice for increasingly complex problems she took the brave stand of asking for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  It is nice to use your fame and clout for good social issues and I think that is a worthy cause, but for a pop star who is next in line to lead the Kingdom of Gay Dance  Clubs (should Queen Brittney Spears die) I don’t think it is a particularly bold stand.  But that is our politics – does it affect me (Gaga’s dancers and fans)?  Is it already fairly popular or at least popular enough that I will not feel like an outcast if I join?  Then Yes!

3) She could have written the anthem for the anti-Immigration movement.  In a country where many people are anti-Immigrant and come out of the woodwork every election cycle, one of Gaga’s big hits of the last year was “Alejandro.”  The chorus:

Don’t call my name.
Don’t call my name, Alejandro.
I’m not your babe.
I’m not your babe, Fernando.

Don’t wanna kiss, don’t wanna touch.
Just smoke one cigarette and hush.
Don’t call my name.
Don’t call my name, Roberto

We get it Gaga – you don’t like Latinos.  Perhaps you could do a concert for the militias that patrol the border.  Just don’t bring your gay dancers.

4) She is a distraction.  The days of musical artists being relevant beyond the current minute are here.  Unlike Madonna or Michael Jackson or the Rolling Stones or the Beatles artists today are just flashes in the pan, in part because of a lack of creativity and perhaps even more due to our lack of attention span.  Madonna would take years to come out with a new album.  If Lady Gaga took years to release her next album, her next album would not come out because a dozen copycats would have taken her place.  Lady Gaga’s tireless effort is an acknowledgment that she, like the Justin Biebers of the world do not have staying power (at least as musical artists), both because of us, as well as themselves.  Madonna could change her image over a decade. Gaga changes her image every commercial break both because we need it to stay focused and she needs to do it to stay in the spotlight.  She labeled her album the Fame Monster and that is appropriate – because she is a monster and American consuming society is her Dr. Frankenstein.  So her influence is technically our doing, but she should accept the recognition on behalf of our culture.

5) Bad Romance is a pretty good song.  Got to give the devil her due.

Of course – if I were a betting man, I would guess that Time will go for an intellectually safe, discussion-creating choice like…

Time will make the almsot equally valid, but definitely safer choice and probably pick this fu*k for Person of the Year.
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The Top Ten Movies of 2009 (and the decade)

I thought this year was a really good year for movies, despite the garbage that was listed on this site yesterday.  Before getting to the top 10 movies of 2009 (and the decade) here are some special (mostly positive) awards for movies in 2009.

SPECIAL AWARDS

Most Surprisingly Good Movies (in no particular order)

1) This Is it– Thoroughly enjoyed the concert (rehearsal) documentary about Michael Jackson.  Great music and a worthy tribute to the fallen icon and aficionado of play dates with tweens.

2) Taken– The Liam Neeson film is a perfect example of how a movie that has no ambition, only one star and a simple plot can still deliver if it just tries to do the simple things well.  And the scene where he shoots his friend’s wife to show that he means business was one of the best this year.

3) Crank 2– Either the most ingenious quasi-spoof of action movies ever or just a ridiculously entertaining goof.  Either way I had no idea that I would enjoy this movie as much as I did.  It now validates Jason Statham’s work visa to me, though his films have only grossed slightly more than my YouTube videos.

4) Drag Me To Hell – This Movie almost made the top 10.  Funny, creepy, gross, and all on purpose.  A good, but not great movie.  However, there were very few movies I enjoyed more than this one.

Take My Wife, please.
Take My Wife, please.

The Any Given Sunday Award For Most Disappointing Movie Based On Awesome Trailer

Watchmen.  Blue genitals and a waste of time is all I remember from this movie.  The trailer, however, was perfection.

The Two Towers Award For Great Trailer That Delivered Great Movie

Nothing.  But The Men Who Stare At Goats was my favorite trailer of the year and the movie was solid, but still did not meet expectations. 

2009 Honorable Mention (A/K/A The Unpaid Guestspot of Movie Awards)

Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Two Lovers, Food Inc., State of Play

2009 Top Ten Movies

10) (tie) Sugar, The Messenger

Sugar is the story of a Dominican immigrant seeking to become a baseball star.  Came out early this year to rave reviews, but has long been forgotten.  Anyone who is a baseball fan or interested in the immigrant experience should see this.  Or just hang out by Yankee Stadium.

The Messenger is the best war movie this year.  It is about two soldiers who report to next of kin of the loss of loved ones.  The things people do for work in this economy.  Really strong and simple movie.

9)Capitalism: A Love Story. 

This movie is a reminder that America used to be a place where a middle class person could thrive (middle class meaning one blue collar job with could salary and benefits, not $5 million dollars or less like John McCain seemed to think).  Now thanks to a selfish, never too rich mindset the wealth is more concentrated at the top than ever before.  Sadly for working Americans and Michael Moore, America is one big casino and the house always wins.

Michael Moore was right America - these guys are stealing your pensions, your country and your daughters - actually if you live In NYC you know that the daughters are mostly willing participants in the, "profiting off the misery of most Americans is such a turn on" industry, like less forthright versions of Ashley Dupre
Michael Moore was right America - these guys are stealing your pensions, your country and your daughters - actually if you live In NYC you know that the daughters are mostly willing participants in the, "profiting off the misery of most Americans is such a turn on" industry, like less forthright versions of Ashley Dupre

8) 500 Days of Summer

The fact that Music and Lyrics was my favorite romantic comedy before this movie came out (yes I have seen Love Actually, but have not seen When Harry Met Sally yet – gasp!) may diminish my credibility in this genre,  but I am probably not the only person telling you how great this movie is.  Funny, heartfelt and thoroughly enjoyable.  And the lesson of the film couldn’t be more optimistic: if you find yourself in a relationship with a cu-t, don’t worry because eventually you may go out with Derek Jeter’s girlfriend.

7) Bruno

The selection most likely to anger people.  First, yes I thought it was funnier than Borat.  Second, the best opening of any film since The Dark Knight.  As the techno music began blaring and the words “black guys” and “taint” flashed on screen I could not stop laughing.  For many the film was too crude.  Other complaints I heard was that Borat had a point in showing some ignorance in funny ways, whereas this just went for cheap laughs.  Probably true.  Perhaps it was easier to embrace a character who was exposing racism and sexism and, most flagrantly, anti-Semitism in Borat and feel good about laughing than in Bruno, where you are just laughing at the absurdity of a gay character’s libido on steroids.  My advice to the self-righteous – take the champagne bottle out of your ass and watch Bruno pour some champagne out of his boyfriend’s.

"Throw your shoulders back, this is a fashion show, not a slave auction!"
"Throw your shoulders back, this is a fashion show, not a slave auction!"

6) Precious Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire

Fat, pregnant by her father (again – fool me once shame on him, fool you twice… shame on him again in this rare exception to that saying), illiterate and Mariah Carey as your social worker.  And I thought being a comedian was tough.  This movie is a powerhouse and Mo’nique’s performance is one of my three favorite this year (Christopher Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Paul Rudd in I Love You Man being the other two).  And I would like this movie to win Best Adapted Screenplay so that Sapphire, who probably negotiated the self-indulgent title has to hear the dumbest phrase ever uttered at an awards show: The winner is Precious Based on The Novel Push By Sapphire Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire.

You look like my career.
You look like my career.

5) Up

The opening to this movie may be the most touching sequence in movies this year.  It is just another great movie from Pixar.  Normally stories of old men hanging out with young fat kids is awkward (think Herbert the Pervert and Chris Griffin from Family Guy as one such pairing), but this movie is nothing of the sort.  Plus it has a talking golden retriever, which will always get support from me.

This is not the plot of Up, but I bet even Pixar could make it work.  MMMMMMMMMM
This is not the plot of Up, but I bet even Pixar could make it work. MMMMMMMMMM

4) Inglorious Basterds

Christopher Waltz was amazing, but surprising to me was how good Brad Pitt was.  A funny, intense, enjoyable movie about Nazis and the Jews that hunted them.  It was also a welcome relief from the usual parade of mediocre, maudlin films about the Holocaust that are raised to critical praise because of the subject matter.  After Schindler’s List I think Hollywood could have just waited for this one .  After all slavery has had what, Roots and Amistad?  I think 6 Holocaust movies come out last year alone.  But I digress.  Basterds is awesome (and my favorite Tarantino film – that is what I think, but I am also writing it because I want to anger those who worship at the altar of Pulp Fiction).

3) Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Even more than Bruno, this choice is likely to bring on some WTFs.  I did not even want to see this movie, but then reviews kept talking about how much fun it was.  The biggest shock of the year for me was this movie.  It was hysterical from start to finish.  It was like the humor of Family Guy, but not as crude or easy.  I flirted with putting this #1, but the last two choices, upon reflection, were the two best movies of the year.

2) Up In The Air

 I am tired of the “this is the movie that defines our times” type quotes, but besides that this is a great movie.  George Clooney’s best (unlike his win for Syriana, no complaints if he gets Best Actor) and a movie that is so good that I cannot exactly explain why it is so good.  Perhaps it is because it is a movie that defines our times… oops.

1) District 9

The most original movie I have seen in a long time.  The biggest crime of the Oscars could be if Avatar gets a best picture nomination and this does not (if they only feel like honoring once sci-fi-ish film).  Since it is #1 I don’t think it needs any explaining, other than the fact that it comes out on DVD today so you should rent it if you have not seen it.

After thinking again about the 4,558 movies I saw this year, District 9 is #1.
After thinking again about the 4,558 movies I saw this year, District 9 is #1.

TOP TEN MOVIES OF THE DECADE

10) School Of Rock – Along with The Wrestler, no movie has matched an actor better this decade than Jack Black and SOR.

9) The Departed – I hate the Boston accent, but that was the only thing I hated about this movie.

8) Eastern Promises– Russian mob in London and the best fight scene in any movie ever.  Sorry Bourne Ultimatum.  You were second.

7) Million Dollar Baby – The only movie that made me cry this decade (joining E.T., Glory and Dead Poets’ Society on the career list).  Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank all at their best.

6) Traffic – A decade later the violence in Mexico is worse and the liberal pot smokers who abhor the violence of war or the treatment of chickens that are not free-range, but still help fund the cartels that propagate massive bloodshed in and around the border.  This movie would go under the category of wake up calls unheeded.  Great movie.

5) Finding Nemo– My favorite movie from the most consistently great movie studio.

4) 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – I am not a big foreign film guy, but this was so intense and so good I regretted not speaking (Romanian if my recollection is correct) the language because even checking the subtitles was too much attention away from the acting.

3) The Dark Knight – I have never seen a movie in the theaters more than this one.  And it’s not even close.  Die Hard, The Matrix and The Dark Knight are the three films that changed and elevated action movies higher than any others in the last 20 years.  To me, it was even more impressive to take action, the way Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger did, and turn it into art.

2) The Lord Of The Rings – Because of The Godfather III’s mediocrity this is the greatest trilogy of all time.  Shut up Star Wars people. (and if I had to pick just one – The Two Towers).

1) United 93 – I have only seen two perfect movies in my lifetime.  One was Amadeus, my favorite movie of all time.  The other was United 93.  I am not saying it is my favorite movie of all time; it would be hard to make that claim about a film focused on 9/11.  But the realism, the intensity, the respectful rendering of an incredibly sensitive subject and the overall product was second to none this decade for me.  In a sad way I guess it is fitting that the decade’s defining event yielded the decade’s best movie. Besides, a movie about our collective self-indulgence and self absorption called Twitter v. 3.05 would not be nearly as riveting.

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Patience

I remember as a 2nd grader (give or take a year) at Riverdale Country School some Columbia psychology grad students were allowed to use us for experiments.  Simple ones, maybe some of you have been involved in them (there is actually a commercial parodying them running on television currently, but it involves ponies) where the experimenter would tell us we could have 3 Hershey Kisses if we waited for an indefinite amount of time (could be 5 minutes, could be 50) or 2 Hershey Kisses at any time when we said we wished to stop waiting.  I distinctly remember waiting for only a few minutes and then requesting the two Hershey Kisses. 

A lesson in patience
A lesson in patience

I did not realize that more than two decades later this mindset would bite me in the ass when everyone else would adopt it.

With the advent of YouTube and similar media outlets the viewer’s attention span is both demanding and being molded for nothing less than ten minutes of humorous bursts.  The shorter the better.  If something is 3 minutes try to make it 2, etc.  But comedy, I believed, was open to all sorts of styles and thoughts.  My jokes generally come in the form of intermittent punchlines during the course of stories or opinions with (hopefully) a big punchline at the end.  That is one style – it is not changing the world, but iI hope the content and perspective I have is unique enough.  I am no Bill Cosby or George Carlin, but I wonder to myself sometimes if those legends started out today would they even be considered comedians or would they be placed under the more nebulous “spoken word” category, meaning I may have to listen to some set up or opinion or allow a person to develop something before I get to a more substantive and funny payoff. 

Ok, ok, would you just say the 7 words already?!
Ok, ok, would you just say the 7 words already?!

I really believe YouTube, for all its convenience is going to have a very detrimental long term effect on comedy.   I was recently told in the course of a rejection for something I auditioned for that I “needed to get to the jokes faster.”  This was in response to one of the best sets I’d ever had in my life.  Now maybe that means that I suck.  But I do not feel that is the case.  So, despite telling what is my best material in crisp formats that had just gotten me passed at two well regarded national clubs, I was taking too much time getting to the punch.   But this may just be what the comedy fan market is demanding.  But

This trend has a doubly deleterious effect on my nascent career because at the time that young storytelling comics with points of view may or may not be getting shunned (or at least fewer opportunities) for more quick hit style comics (nothing against them at all if they do it well), it also seems that this is the dawn of new dominance for the slovenly/nerdy comedian.  Seth Rogan’sascendancy may be the biggest moment of this trend(or re-trend), but also in successful movies like The Hangover the two guys getting the biggest laughs are Zach Galifianakis (slovenly) and Ed Helms (sort of meek and nerdy).  Shows like Important Things with Dimitri Martin and the new porn for alt comedy fans, Michael and Michael demonstrate that the nerdy and alt scene is where the comedy businsess seems to be mining for its new talent.  Perhaps Dane Cook cashed in all the alpha male chips this decade for comedians.  But these two trends (shorter bits, stranger comedians) make me feel like a 2009 General Motors SUV.  That is why instead of getting what I think is a half-assed critique of my audition I would have preferred to hear, “Fu-k you,” or “We don’t want you,” or “You are not what we’re looking for.”  Those I can understand, but if the gates to the comedy kingdom require admission fees in the form of alternative looks or sounds or rapid fire punchlines akin to Rodney Dangerfield or Robin Williams then my days in the business are numbered.  It’s just not what I do.

And people are becoming more and more programmed to expect or demand certain delivery devices like YouTube – the internet is no longer enough.  Not too long ago I told a waiter at a restaurant that I was a comedian.  He seemed to be a big comedy fan so I gave him my card which has my website on it.  He then asked me if I had any clips on YouTube and that he’d look me up on YouTube.  I just gave him a sh*t eating grin because I did not want saliva in my food, but in my head I was thinking, “Yeah maybe you could check out clips of mine if I put them on YouTube, but wait, I think I know where you might also have a chance of seeing some clips – the FU-KING website I just gave you that has all my stuff you pre-programmed moron.”

And to show that this is not sour grapes or some small potatoes gripe, all entertainment is feeling this decrease in attention and creativity – even porn!  See the link below.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/08/business/media/08porn.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=plot%20in%20porn&st=cse

Now if even porn stars are craving more substance to their work something is going dreadfully wrong with our pop culture. 

If even she requires some plot then maybe we need to ease off of the YouTube pedal.
If even she requires some plot then maybe we need to ease off of the YouTube pedal.

I really feel like at some point down the road YouTube will have some video Twitter equivalent where things can only be 15 seconds long and will just consist of people taking dumps in public places or near children and we will all be competing with that stupidity as comics.   I just hope this is a phase of comedy and not a permanent direction because if it is I’ll just take my two Hershey kisses now.

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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.