Sunday, December 24, 2006
The Guidebook to Seeing Comedians That You Know (sort of) Perform. Specifically What Not to Say to Them Because It’s Been Said or is Just Rude:
#1 If you haven’t seen me before and we sort of know one another or you’re a friend of the family…don’t ask me before a show if I’m going to be funny. There are many things to factor in. Am I on the road in a small town and the audience has no idea who I am? No. I will not be funny to 98% of the people in the room. If you are not swayed by the non-laughter of others, you still might think I’m funny. Will I be funny? Is it a sold-out show composed of an audience of hundreds of like-minded weirdos? Yes. I will probably get huge laughs – even laughs that I didn’t earn – and you, might still not think I’m funny. So don’t ask me questions that are subjective and also based in the future. It’s not all up to me.
#2 Don’t corner me and in an accusatory tone ask, “Have you always thought that you were funny?” Because I know you’re trying to get inside the mind of a comedian, or be supportive or finish your thesis on “When Does Comedy Begin?” but…the question in itself is leading…like the pesky White House Press Corp type questions, “President Bush, Why are the Democrats pussies who want Al Qaeda, which I understand is based in Iraq, to win?” See, when you ask me if “I’ve always thought I was funny”, that sort of immediately paints me as aggressive and not just believing in myself, but sort of pushing myself on people, subjecting folks to my “thinking I’m funniness” because that’s what YOU ARE LIKE. Most comedians who actually get stage time have a slight inner conflict about themselves…and most of us think, “I feel like saying x,y & z because it’s my thought/opinion/experience, I have an instinct that others will relate…let’s go to the club and see.” And after a while if you’ve been doing it long enough, you think to yourself, “Oh, when said in my comedic voice…I bet this routine is something that audiences that seem to like me will like.” But no comedian, no good comedian, acts like they are going to date-rape a stage before they get up there with a, “I AM SO FUNNY” attitude. I’ve seen it happen and these people might as well be coaching high school football because their aggression at being funny is out of place and awkward. But I bet it could serve to bring a down-and-out-team of atheletes to victory.
#3 Don’t get offended if I can’t hang out after a show or listen to your comedy routine or go see your show that you’re doing immediately after my show. I’m not just a comedian, I’m an anal-retentive person. I have a Day Planner ($19.99 Staples) that tells me where to go and what to do. I’m not spontaneous and if I am, than I might be drunk and in that case you should just send me home. So to even my best friends who want me to see a midnight movie because they know I’m awake, I say, “Nahhh.” I enjoy many people’s comedy but I don’t believe that they must “return the favor” by coming to see me or hanging out with me. I believe the relationship follows, you like comedy, comedian makes you laugh, you laugh at comedian which helps them continue to make you laugh. It’s a beautiful cycle and it doesn’t need 18 more elements of intimacy.
Part II: Please don’t accuse the comedian of snobbery via email or through a friend of a friend….because they can’t hang out afterwards. Sometimes the comedian has a dying grandmother to visit the next day or a sister who drove them to the show who would like to go home.
Part III: Sometimes the comedian is shy about having stood on stage exposing herself to a crowd and there’s no sane reason why she should have to then go out. Sometimes we get sick of ourselves and if you get sick of us, there goes our audience.
#4 If you do find yourself at the same restaurant/bar/thing as me after a show…and we start chatting please do not block me into a corner and start interviewing me. I know that you must assume that I love the attention, but again, I’m socializing with people in my life, they’re going to think I’m a meglomaniac if I’m doing a mini-Larry-King-Live in the corner, and most likely, since you are not a professional interviewer your questions might bother me, be too personal and/or I’ve heard before.
Part I of #4. Interview Questions
If I can’t get away from you and you are commencing with the questions here are ones that I can answer here and now and you don’t have to bother me or other comedians.
#1 So, How Come You’re Not On/Will Your Dreams Come True When You Get On…Saturday Night Live? [And then when I answer, “no”…you chastize, “You liar! All comedians say that. How could you NOT want to be on TV?”]
Lately, I tend to answer with, I am going to be on TV. I’m going to be on the funniest sketch show you’re ever going to see, The Department of Acceptable Media, this spring on Vh1. You stare blankly. I just told you that the person you are chastizing, is a working acting comedian and you say, “Yeah. But it’s not Saturday Night Live.” No. That is a good observation. It is not. I’m glad it’s not. Because artisitcally, I’d only like to be on SNL, Season #1 or the Phil Hartman years. Maybe in the next world, but for now…not a possibility. Would I do SNL? Yes. But it would tear my heart out to have to leave Neil and live in NYC. I don’t like NYC, so that would be hard as well. I know many people who have been on SNL and who have written for it and it wasn’t the best experience for them. [Usually at this point you think I’m bragging that I mention I know SNL people, but I’m not. And at this point you may derail the conversation and mention celebrities that you know or your friends of a friends cousin knows.] Anyway the $ when you’re on SNL is not going to make you rich, not after your agent and manager get it. And from what I understand there will be a big panic after you get on to develop a franchisable character that has a catch phrase that everyone in the country is annoyed by and you may get a small million something movie deal but is this why you got into comedy in the first place? If not, then as Dave Chapelle says, “Get your Africa tickets.” Oh! And I forgot to mention! Every year whatever manager I’m with gets me an SNL audition and I turn it down because I can’t stand the pre-requisite, “You have to have 3 celebrity impersonations.” I don’t. So…that’s that.
#2 Don’t notice that I’m sort of “funny” in conversation and offer that what I’m doing could be a skit. I got it under control. I’m constantly on patrol for what could be comedy becuase I’m too lazy to sit down and write jokes. And unless it’s 1978 and you’re addressing Tim Conway or Carol Burnette, what I do is not called a “skit.” A skit involves props, costumes and other people. Just call it what you have heard me and the MC call it all night, ‘Stand-up comedy.’
#3 Do you get nervous up there?
Now, this seems innocent enough and I sound like a bitch including this harmless question. But when I say….”No. Not really.” It’s followed with, “You’re lying. I would get nervous. How can you not get nervous? Are you so confident that you’re funny?”
See, you are not getting it again. You are assuming that me not being nervous means that I’m date-raping the stage again with my “I’m so funny.” I bomb all the time. And it doesn’t make me nervous. I’m nervous about highways and flying but not comedy. Sometimes I get a feeling of dread or concern but not panic or nerves. You probably would get nervous as you say, because you don’t have any experience or a routine written. What could be more nervwracking? I’d be nervous trying to win a case in a court of law. But what attracted me to comedy was that I already liked being on stage and I just am not a good enough tap dancer or singer to do Broadway. I assume if you’re a doctor you already did not hate blood and guts and hospitals. I assume that if you’re a politician you did not have a fear of the Constitution.
#4 Do you get paid for this? How much? What did you make tonight?
Um, really? It’s suddenly okay to talk about money? It’s suddenly okay to inquire about someone’s salary? Are you in the IRS? You are? Okay. I think. Sometimes I get paid for gigs. Road gigs can pay anywhere from $500-1500. Club shows in a city tell people they pay their comics, but they don’t. The Improv still owes me $36 from 2004. When I do comedy on TV that pays AFTRA scale, unless it’s not AFTRA in which case it pays more or less. But don’t tell AFTRA on me or they’ll kick me out of the Union.
Which leads me to the next scenario #5…if you have not met me, or have not seen me before, please don’t assume that I just started doing stand-up. I don’t know why people assume this. When people say, “So do you think you’ll try to do this for a living?” It’s insulting. What if you were a cop and you just wrestled a perp to the ground and screamed, “Put your hands up!” and brought the guy to jail and I said in a sing-song tone, “Aw, do you think you might want to be a police officer someday?” Yes. I want to try to do this for a living and last time I checked I was doing it for a living. I have been doing it as a living/and or pursuit for 10 years. I no longer count the years of having a day job as not doing comedy for a living. A living to me is not just what I get paid. I’m committed to the lifestyle. You are not, NOT a mother because you don’t get paid. I just don’t get why some deferrement to me as the expert on myself is a bad thing. Can you not ask, “I’m sorry. I don’t know how this works and I don’t get out to comedy much. How long have you been doing it? Where has your career taken you?”
#6. I don’t need help. I mean I do. But don’t tell me that your cousin’s friend’s brother is a producer/writer or knows someone who writes on Conan. That’s great. I know all those people too. I know that writing on Conan or a TV show is an amazing job and it’s hard to get. But unless I want the same job and there is an opening right in that guy’s office and it’s up to him to hire someone, they can’t help me. And they don’t have time. It’s always a hustle. Each job you get makes you more and more sure of the fact that you can never, ever go back to your day job and you spend your time at each job, looking to the NEXT job that you can get and helping others doesn’t always factor in.
Sometimes big name comics help lesser knowns. FOR SURE. And it’s great. But it doesn’t happen because you pester them. It happens because they find you. And then they enjoy thinking that they can help you. And everyone wins. This is not called “shmoozing” this is called being patient and bothering to live a life in comedy for decades and then eventually you have a group of friends, some older, some younger, all varying degrees of success and just like in any office, no one wants to work with a jack-ass and sometimes in show-biz, you get to hire your friends. Not the people that desparately schmooze you with awkward Vista Print business cards or compliments but friends who you think are hilarious but who no one knows about. I have friends like that and I am that friend to some. And we are all going to do great. And I appreciate that you are excited about our careers and you want to give us the name of your friend but see…I’ve followed up on these things before, or I’ve passively hoped that they will pass, and bang! I’m in someone’s office who has no time for me, we do TOTALLY opposite things in Hollywood. Or it turns out that your family friend has lied to you and he’s just delivering pizza and now this person has my cell phone # and they think I can help them and since I can’t now they are calling me and accusing me of being a snob.
And yes, I know that I live in L.A. and celebrities are here. But no, I can’t tell Will Ferrell that his wife is from my hometown or Jay Leno that I went to his college. I know these seem like real nice guys. That is their job. I don’t know if they’re nice or not, but nice is different than, “A guy that can/will blindly give me a job.” Why should they? When I had some conversations with Ben Stiller in the mid-90’s and I’d only been doing comedy for 6 months, I thought he was going to carry me away on his chariot of comedy fame and that I’d never have to pay my dues or rent an apartment. And then I was humiliated and I humiliated him at an SNL party. And that was it. I know that you hate that story, person who wants me to find the celebrities who can help. But that story is the best thing that ever happened to me. It was like instant learning a lesson. I got it out of my system, thinking that famous people can help. But you think the flip side is that if the weird awkward moment didn’t happen and he DID fly me away to comedy fame, that it all would have worked out. But no. I had no material, nothing written, no persona or identity and I was bad with money. You’d see a girl who burned out quick on arrogance, bought lots of bracelets and now sits in her parents basement. Instead, I’m a normal, mature performer who feels on the right track.
So thank you for your interest in comedy. But sometimes all a comedian wants is your laughter.