Category: Stand-Up Comedy

Comedians Unite, Demand 10 More Dollars.

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

Good article in the NY Times about 300 area comics founding a union to get pay raises for sets, including doubling the weekend rate from $60 to $120 and raising weekday rates from $15 to $25.

While reading the article, one of the first things that flashed in my head was Bob Zmuda’s book on Andy Kaufman. In it, he describes how a 70s boycott of the LA Comedy Store damaged the art of comedy. At the time, the Comedy Store had comics perform for free. Andy Kaufman opposed the ban, believing it would hurt comedic experimentation. His rationale: the more people had to pay for a show, the more conventional entertainment they’d demand from comics. (I’m away for the holidays, so I can’t provide the exact reference. I’ll dig it up on my return.)

I certainly don’t feel this way myself. I do think the price of seeing a show ($30 a person according to the article) does keep good crowds out and makes people a lot more demanding. But there are the alternative spaces out there which allow for comedic experimentation and attract crowds that embrace it. (Something Kaufman couldn’t had forseen in the 70s.)

In a sense, comics at mainstream clubs are getting paid to put up with performing for audiences that aren’t as sophisticated, interesting or intelligent as those in alternative spaces. Raising pay rates may not always be good for comedy artistry, but for the comedy industry it’s a good thing.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

“Birth of a Joke” Delivered, 6 lbs, 4 oz

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

Caught the rerun of “The Seinfeld Story” where Jerry Seinfeld asserts he knew even as he was pitching it that his sitcom wasn’t going to be about how a comic generates material. He states pretty categorically that no one would want to watch such a thing. (Of course, a two-hour documentary called “Comedian”... that people will watch.)

While I’m not sure people would indulge in a half-hour series about comics developing material, they might view a web short on the subject. Over on, they have a little QuickTime movie entitled “Birth of a Joke,” a first in what they hope will be monthly series. In it, LA comic Sari Karplus talks about a new joke she’s has about the true story of her parents meeting. We see her try it for the first time. After sharing what she thought worked and what didn’t, we see her try out the new version a few weeks later.

It may sound a little dry, but if you have an iota of comedy nerd in you it’s great viewing. You almost want to play along and deconstruct with her, attempting to see how everything could fit together. It’s just a great little lesson-by-example in joke mechanics. I’m definitely looking forward to more of them.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)


Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

Read an interview with Eugene Mirman in the recent issue of Stay Free. In it, he describes how horrible comedy clubs are, referring to the system of going from opener to headliner “pointless and depressing.” Like many comics he prefers rock clubs, because even though there isn’t a system, they give “just as good if not better exposure.” And I imagine, the audiences are much more interesting as well.

I’ve never been a big comedy club fan myself. The idea of a singular culture product dedicated purely to generating laughs seems to be dying out in our culture. Comedy clubs, like sitcoms, seem a little archaic to me. I think much of it has to do with the presentation of it.

When you go to a comedy club, there an attitude of “enforced fun” that surrounds it. And desperation. With names like Rascals, Looney Bin, Zanies, Yuk Yuk, etc. etc., you don’t need screaming “c’mon, that was funny!” It may seem like a small point to harp on names, but atmosphere and presentation is everything to comedy. I think this banana peel ambiance just creates walls up in audiences, where they go, “Oh it’s funny. Prove it.”

Good comics overcome this obviously. But you look at the way TV promotes comedy in our culture and you’d wouldn’t think anything was funny. The announcer puts on his wacky voice and attempts to sell you on jokes like a laughtrack. There’s the idea that people in this country are so stupid that they have to be told something is funny with indicators like laugh tracks, wacky voices and other symbols. But laughter is a automatic response, it’s not something you can force out with a false atmosphere.

I hope comedy clubs will take cues from alternative spaces like the UCB and create more relaxed environments where the pressure to laugh is purely from the words the comedians are saying and not the CrAzY atmosphere. Don’t tell me it’s funny. Show me.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 06:32 PM | Comments (0)

Paper Covers Rock

Filed Under Sketch Comedy, Stand-Up Comedy

Though I admire The Onion, I pretty much skip over the front page headlines these days. They’re still very funny, but I know their format and voice well enough that the surprise is gone. Instead I head for the AV Club section, which this week features a great interview with Chris Rock.

You definitely get the sense that in the 10/90 split of Inspiration/Perspiration, Chris likes to sweat. Early this year, when Entertainment Weekly dubbed Chris the Funniest Man, the image of Chris treating comedy clubs like gyms definitely came through. With one of his two iPods completely loaded like comedy albums, even his restful moments are absorbed in one thing… being a funny motherfucker.

The Onion interview gives some insights into why that is, with Chris recounting a story Al Franken told him about a major league pitcher allowing some batters hits early on so that they won’t try so hard later in the game. Chris was like that, apparently. It’s a rather strange thing to tell someone and says a lot about the power struggles to get a sketch on Saturday Night Live. (Let a guy have one sketch so you don’t have worry about him writing another… what happened to picking the funniest material?) Chris, obviously, ain’t that kind of hitter no more.

The most intriguing parts of the Onion interview are where Chris Rock smacks down Jay Mohr for complaining about SNL in Gasping For Airtime, including a spirited defense of Ellen Cleghorne (who Jay slags in the book), which argues she had to be damn funny to get on the show as a black woman. Some would argue its the other way around… Comedic Affirmative Action. I don’t think we’ll ever know how funny Ellen Cleghorne is because how good could she be in a organization that couldn’t see how funny Chris was?

The best part, Chris doesn’t say no to a special edition Pootie Tang DVD (though I could do without Pootie 2, thank you).

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:09 PM | Comments (0)

I Wouldn’t Say it was a Bad Set…

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

Christian Finnegan supplies for starting comics a what they say/what they mean about post-bomb comments.  It’s humor, but (ha-ha) “it’s funny cuz it’s true!” My fave:

COMMENT: “The audience really sucked tonight.”
TRANSLATION: I like you as a person, so I am going to help you shift the blame for what just transpired off of your either half-written or over-written jokes and non-existent stage presence to a group of people whose only crime was to spend their hard-earned money and time trying to be entertained by you.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 12:34 AM | Comments (1)

Last Comic Gets a Winner, NBC a Big Loser

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

So first, NBC gives up the finale of “Last Comic Standing” to Comedy Central, but then they mute any ratings by announcing Alonzo Bodden won the contest, which kinda kills the suspense of a finale. Heck you can even watch Alonzo’s winning set on NBC “Last Comic” sitelet.

Well, Alonzo got $250 thousand anyway, so who cares about another hour of low-rated airtime? As he states in this interview, “I’ll take it.”  And did NBC get the ratings it wanted. Ah, nope. According to Shecky Magazine, the two “Father of the Pride"s were fifth for the night. Though neither shows represent what I’d like network comedy to be, it’s hard to celebrate that both fail to attract audiences.

If you are really still interested, you can see the half-hour finale on Comedy Central this Saturday at 8 PM.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

Last “No Respects” 2

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

Been reading the obituaries for Rodney Dangerfield and was struck by how rare he was. As he stated in his LA Times obituary:

“I’m very lucky to have an image. Most comedians do not have an image. They do, ‘Did this ever happen to you?’ or they do satire. But there’s practically none around today with an image. (Jack) Benny had an image. (W.C.) Fields had an image. An image is tough to come by. It doesn’t just happen. And people try to create it and think, ‘What’s an image for me?’ But it has to happen from your soul, I guess. You have to feel it.”

Rodney’s image was of an iconic level: the tug on the “red tie” with the declarations of no respect. He manage to keep both contradicting balls of comedy - familiarity and surprise - up in the air for so long. We kinda knew what he was gonna say, but it always pulled the rug out from under us anyway. I don’t think anyone will have such a solid image again… so much stand-up is about being real, that filtering your jokes through a persona seems ridiculous. Yet Rodney’s persona was real… it was him… a downtown comic whose demeanor was Catskills. No wonder he was a bridge between generations of comedy and why many claim he was responsible for many careers including Sam Kinison, Roseanne Barr and Jerry Seinfeld.

Here’s a collection of interesting links/obits featuring Rodney and his comedy. Check ‘em out:

Posted by Todd Jackson at 02:32 AM | Comments (0)
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