The Hack’s Guide to Millennial Comedy

by Warren Wright

Edited by Al Bahmani

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The public’s idea of what a hack comedian is seems to be set in the 1980s. When we imagine a hack, we imagine the guy in a checkered suit telling jokes about airplane food. Some of the more prevalent hack topics included jokes about how men and women are different, Indian clerks at convenience stores, and fat people eating bacon cheeseburgers with a diet coke. With a vast demand for live performers in the 80’s, a comedy “boom” hit, and hit hard. The 15 + comedy clubs in every America city raked it in off of drink minimums, and still had the cash to pay hacks upwards of  $100,000 a year. Stand-up comedy had become another big economy in the Big Eighties. As all others, the market wasn’t ready for the future and couldn’t sustain itself. The club work dried up, and openers stopped making $1000 a show. Perhaps the market became over-saturated. It could have been the internet, which gave us access to all the comedy ever and thereby raising our standards. Perhaps widely-conceived clichés failed to be funny anymore.With the new Wifi Era  and its’ changing ethos of the day, hack comedy changed. Internet Apps changed the way we talk, and hacks took to the stage with new bits about,

Perhaps the market became over-saturated. It could have been the internet, which gave us access to all the comedy ever and thereby raising our standards. Perhaps widely-conceived clichés failed to be funny anymore.With the new Wifi Era  and its’ changing ethos of the day, hack comedy changed. Internet Apps changed the way we talk, and hacks took to the stage with new bits about, “How mean the comment section on Youtube can be”. Copy and pasted stock lines engulfed the mainstream lexicon. (“Party-foul!” “This is why we can’t have nice things!”). Hacks are now armed with a whole electronic world of easy, safe jokes regurgitated in a “share if you agree” format. The airplane food jokes of old have become “hipsters with smartphones” jokes.

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Describing Millennials

“These kids nowadays can’t change a tire!”

“So I went to (X college) and got a degree in (something useless). So I’m a barista”

“None of us will ever retire!”

Around 2008, the word “Millennial” became the hottest buzzword to describe the new crop of youth with far less money than their parents. According to journalists, they often are described as having useless college degrees or moving in back home with their parents. The journalists of the day described millennials in such generalized and blanketing terms that it seemed everybody between the ages of 18 and 30 lived an almost unanimous narrative. When they write about millennials, you can almost guarantee that the phrases “Skinny jeans” or “App-Savvy” or “Safe space” is soon to follow. “Millenial” had become an insult, and thereby something for hack comedians to exploit. Hack comedians and hack journalists both describe millennials tirelessly as narcissistic , nihilistic, and too sensitive to cope with reality. How many times have you heard the phrase “Everybody gets a trophy” this week? Hack social commentary begat hack comedy. Most of these easy generalizations  eventually find their way to the stage, and easy jokes are written about aimless deadbeats on social media.  So hipsters are known for taking pictures of their meal and putting it on Instagram. Who honestly gives a fuck?

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Lethargic, Self-Indulgent/ self-depreciating , Pizza/Taco Humor

“Have you ever smoked weed all day, indoors for 24 hours straight, and just binge-watching until you’re crying into your Whataburger? So I’m single. LADIES?!”

“I watched Netflix until it asked me ‘are you still watching?’. DON’T JUDGE ME, NETFLIX!”

“Some of my friends are becoming lawyers but pizza is my everything”

Scroll on Facebook for 2 minutes and you’ll come across this breed of humor. This is one of comedy’s lowest common denominators. It is the  bold declaration that binge-eating, laziness,and binge-watching will go on unabashedly. So many memes and comedians follow this formula to great success, as they resonate amongst the general public. The narrative of the everyman eating pizza and watching copious amounts of TV in the face of normalcy works so well because they are, in fact, telling jokes to people living in western society, all of whom are so familiar with this. We all enjoy lazy days indoors as we all have to work such long hours to get by. We all eat a lot of food. Sopranos-style cliffhanger television is as addictive as fuck and we’ve all been asked “Are you still watching?”. Normal, normal,normal. These jokes work amongst younger and older crowds, as sociologists have been warning us against binge-eating and binge-watching since as far back as the 50’s. This joke, however common , can be done in a clever and inventive way by very funny comedians. Honestly, I’d rather hear from the astronaut comedian tell jokes about his day job.

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Taking a Strong Stance on a Safe, Agreeable Platform

“So Donald Trump is evil. More like ‘Make America Hate Again’, amirite? ”

“They’re pro-life but they’ll still bomb an elementary school”

“You don’t beat your wife and crash your car stoned on weed. More like raid the fridge!”

It takes a true professional to get onstage, take a safe side on a sensitive subject, and still get laughs. However, a hack can take a safe side and get an easy “Gimme” applause break. (“Clap if you’re happy the gays can get married”. No shit, this is fucking Montrose). The so-called “Social Justice Hacks” are fairly prevalent, as there is a shit-load of injustice in the world. My college ethics professor had a running joke. He used to joke that “If you’ve read anything about slavery or the Holocaust, hopefully, your opinion on it is a negative one.” This joke always killed the class. The edgy should and always will beat out the safe in comedy. In politics, however, this trend is reversed. Politicians cannot be edgy, they must be voted in. When Obama mentions war, the message is “We need to keep America safe”, rather than “We need to go overseas and put landmines where children play”. On the Drug War, the message is  “We need to keep America safe from vicious cartels”, rather than “I think 15-year-olds should get ten years in prison over a joint”. When I imagine someone who thinks that is an acceptable policy, I imagine somebody very cruel and ignorant.The point being is that it is very, very difficult to elegantly articulate terrible, cruel ideas that will hurt a lot of innocent people. Granted, Hitler and Reagan had a gift. As we remember from the year 2008, Obama used to not be the first President in favor of Gay Marriage. One day at least 55% of Americans were pro-gay marriage, and so was he. What seemed to him taking a stand for truth and justice was essentially Obama taking a popular stance; the political equivalent of pandering. With politics as polarizing as ever, the “edgy” comedian doing a bit about legalizing weed is taking a very safe route as 50 million registered voters agree with him. Plus, Bill Hicks already said all of this shit years ago. Viewpoints on stage seen as cruel or ignorant will rarely yield laughs. It’s probably better to assume the audience you’re performing to is smart enough to know the difference between good and evil.

 

 

 

 

Girl Power Comedy Hour : A Comedy Show

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“Comedy is already hard enough. Any creative pursuit comes with a wealth of vulnerability and insecurity,” she pointed out. “I know what it feels like to be a woman constantly picked apart. I want to do everything I can to level the playing field and make women feel more confident, not less.”

— Britt Vasicek 

When reached for information, Britt expressed that it is a priority for her to lift women up.

Britt Vasicek, a local entertainer, and writer, juggles her many passions under the name Fullabritt. She has a polyamory podcast, writes a satire blog, and does some stand-up here and there. With a taste for the non-conventional and controversial, Britt Vasicek put together a line-up that she’s proud of.

The comedian also pointed out that there aren’t as many women in Houston comedy, so they are a valuable resource for entertainment. Their perspective is not represented so much at open mics and she wants to draw out the kind of comedians she wants to hear more of.

“I get it when people say that they want to treat genders equally, but I want to see genders represented equally.”

The open mics around town are where comics get their practice and their start. At higher levels of comedy, women aren’t hard to come by. While there are still normally more guys on the bill, bookers still have plenty of women to choose from that have good chops and enough material.  

In Houston, there is a significantly larger number of men than women at the beginning level. At a standard open mic in the city, there will be about 40 names on the list (give or take) and about 5 of them will be females (give or take). This does not reflect the audiences which are about 1/3 female.

While the reason for the lack of women is argued in the comments of many a Facebook post and discussed at many a bar, there doesn’t seem to be an exact point of blame. The safety risk of walking to a car at night, the insecurity of being around a bunch of drunk men, and the lack of women to relate to are some guesses.

When asked why she thinks there are fewer women at the open mics, Britt implied that it’s because women are simply better.

“I see woman hustling on their own- putting on their shows, developing lots of new and better material. I think that when Houston sees a funny woman, they book her. Open mics get less frequent when you’re doing so much real stage time.”

The show will not only feature stand-up entertainment but will feature artists in Houston. Megan Gonzales will have her wonderful book of poetry for sale and there will be a zine by Divine Feminine.

When asked why this show was so important to her, Vasicek couldn’t stop smiling.

“If you think there isn’t enough sexism in art and entertainment to justify celebrating women for an hour, then you’re the people I’m out to change the minds of.”

There will be performances by Hoja Lopez, Addie Anderson, Kathryn Way, Roxxy Haze, Mairead Dickinson, and Katie McGee.

 

 

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2401 Main St, Ste 200, Houston, Texas 77002

Getting Sketchy this Christmas : Q&A w/ Microsatan

 

by Britt Vasicek

Edited by Al Bahmanimicrosatan

 Microsatan is a sketch writing collective in Houston, Tx that is more than what you expect from such a group. The shows are electric, eclectic and it feels like you are witnessing greatness happen. Each show is jam packed with stand-up, improv, music, and sketch comedy, Microsatan has managed to carve out a scene that is all their own. Sketch members Ned Gayle and Conner Clifton took some time out of their day and gave their views on sketches, zines and staying creative in a city that most would not associate with the creative.

What is Microsatan?

NED: MicroSatan is a self-proclaimed comedic art collective. Now don’t worry, we only called it that because we are pretentious pricks. The reason we use ‘art collective’ is due to the production that goes into our shows as well as our mission to create comedy across several mediums other than live performance (see MicroSatan Mag: A Zine).

We’ve been producing a brand new, hour-long sketch show/narrative play complete with original videos and music every month for the past year and a half.

CONNER: Well, that’s not fair. We started calling ourselves a “comedic art collective” because we wanted to produce works that went beyond staged sketch comedy and even move into the realm of interactive that- ok yeah, it’s pretentious. We’re just a sketch comedy group that makes zines sometimes.

What’s the origin story? How did Microsatan start? 

NED: MicroSatan started between Conner Clifton and Billy Trim. My involvement came before their first show. I recently reconnected with Conner at ZineFest Houston after meeting him 6 years before. He told me he was about to do a comedy talk show that weekend and I immediately asked if he needed anyone to do dumb characters for the show. He said, “actually, yeah.”

I had such a blast at the show and realized it was exactly what I was looking for to work on so I begged them to let me join. It only took 6 knuckle jobs and a case of beer to get them to agree!

CONNER: Once we had Ned involved, we started growing and growing. Some members have moved away, but we still consider them part of the MicroSatan family. PLEASE COME HOME.

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So, who is Microsatan?

NED: A bunch of fucking white dudes and Ruth Hirsch and Antoine Culbreath.

CONNER: Yeah. That’s…. That’s true. But one of the things that Billy and I set out to achieve when MicroSatan got its start was a growing community. MicroSatan works heavily with people who are not regularly in our writer’s room. We get to test the waters with new contributors in a very comfortable and familiar environment.

NED: I started my comedy career in Houston doing improv comedy with full intention to go into sketch writing. While I do enjoy improv immensely, I always saw it as a tool to work towards writing sketches; a more active/immersive way of shooting the shit and bouncing ideas.

Being a film student with a heavy editing background, it’s really fun for me to find a way to stylize sketches in the writing room.

Putting together sketches like the Chuck Tucker “tough lawyer commercial” and the “studio-style product commercial” for Chuglet (a milk inspired chocolate drink!) have been the most fun/rewarding for me to work on. It’s all about finding the balance of “I’ve seen something like that!” and “What the fuck was that?”

CONNER: What I love most about sketch writing, at least in this capacity, is the team environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked in with an idea that I was super dedicated to and then someone makes a suggestion that is way funnier than anything I came up with or something that escalates my original idea to new heights. Also, is there anything more fun than writing jokes with your friends and trying to crack each other up? I really only work by myself when I’m making comics because that’s really the only thing I can have complete and total control over.

What is the sketch scene in Houston?

NED: There aren’t a lot of active sketch groups in Houston. Not to say there isn’t sketch- I’ve seen fantastic sketch shows produced by/at both BETA and Station theater- but there aren’t as many groups actively producing shows at the moment. There have been a lot of great ones over the years, though. My favorite, now defunct, group was Feelings- comprised of Antoine Culbreath and Amy Birkhead.

I used to produce sketch shows with Kelly Juneau under the name Ned Kelly (named after the famous Australian bush bandit, not our names). Be Kind to Strangers has been active for *eons* and they always amaze me with the amount of content they push out with pristine live production (their recent set at Trill Comedy Festival was awesome!).

CONNER: MicroSatan was really my first experience with sketch comedy in Houston. I mean, I had done Neo-Benshi a few times beforehand, but even that show is a reinterpretation of an existing piece of work; I never created something out of nothing for the stage in that capacity, nor was I aware of anyone else doing anything like it. That’s my fault, I really only had exposure to improv and stand-up and storytelling before diving into the sketch.

Stalk Show (Rest In Piece) was my favorite sketch show in town. If you’re not familiar, the premise was Hoja Lopez was a creepy obsessive stalker who would fall in love with someone new every month and the show would always be dedicated to that person. She, Stacey Daniels and Kathryn Way wrote some really cool and hilarious stuff on that show. Unfortunately, Stalk Show is no more, but I’ve heard that the three of them are already working on something new. Keep an eye out for ANYTHING they produce!

Have you taken this thing on tour?

NED: We went on a small Texas tour earlier this year going from Houston – San Antonio – Austin – Denton. Rather than stay overnight in Denton after our final show, we were so revved with the energy we decided to leave for Houston around midnight. Delirious and pumped full of adrenaline we called a Jesus Billboard and Conner, with his best concerned parent voice, confided in the poor operator about his son. He must’ve talked for 30 or 45 minutes with this guy about his son’s strayed path from Jesus and how he would attend “Satanic laughing shows” like MicroSatan. We were all dying (from laughter!).

CONNER: I made sure that the tour lined up so that we’d be performing in Austin on the day of my birthday. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. I really felt like MicroSatan had become my new family. After the tour, something clicked… We knew how everyone worked and what everyone could handle. We’re more of a unit after that tour.

Where do you see these projects taking you?

NED: I think we might take some time away from the live shows to work on larger video projects. This past year has been pretty hectic but we’ve really come into our own as a writers room. None of our upcoming projects are set in stone but I’m extremely confident in whatever we try to tackle next. I’d like to concentrate on projects outside of sketch such as expanding our zine, working on weirdo art shows and working on games (Conner is becoming quite the coding wizard).

CONNER: I’d like to slow down the whole “having a show every month” thing. I’d rather take the time to put together a show with a high production value. My big inspirations are the tightly packaged plots of Mr. Show and the over-the-top glamor and choreography of Busby Berkeley. I’d love to have a show full of musical numbers with showgirls swimming in blood fountains while Satan sings about eternal suffering, fully backed by a choir of demons.

Tell me about this Christmas Special coming up!

NED: I am very excited for this! Last year we modeled our Xmas special around the classic Christmas special format (mainly from the critically un-acclaimed Star Wars Holiday Special) where our stars of the show host a variety show of characters, songs, and stories. The format this year will be very similar, but with a new story.

CONNER: This has been a shitty year. Even before the election, you had plenty to complain about, regardless of your political leanings. Now, everything seems to be coming to a head and we’re all expected to put on a smile and celebrate the holidays as if nothing is wrong. The main thing we want you to walk away from this special with is a glimmer of hope that yes, you CAN enjoy the holidays despite having over 300 days of terrible news leading up to it.

Microsatan is excited to share their hard work with you and I can personally say there isn’t a better way to celebrate your holiday.

This holiday season Microsatan is putting on a Christmas Special with a tale that is guaranteed to be unlike any Christmas story you’ve ever heard. The event will take place at Midtown Bar & Grill in the upstairs room on December 9th at 10pm.

You can like their Facebook page here to keep up with their projects and RSVP for the event here to make sure you don’t miss this amazing show.

Tim Mathis: Houston’s Loose Canon Tightens Up

by Al Bahmani

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“Tim is a silly, funny and intelligent everyman who has this ability to be to liked by both black and white audiences.”

Theodore ME Taylor

 Houston Funniest Person 2011

So what’s new?

This Sunday I’m going to be in Kevin Hart Presents “Hart of the City” with a few other Houston comics and a Dallas comic. The other Houston comics in it are Crystal Powell and Ken Boyd. Alfred Kainga is the Dallas guy. The episode was filmed at Cafe 4212 which is a little jazz club in downtown Houston.

Where are you from and how’d you get into comedy?

I was raised in Clute, Texas. It’s a smaller town right off of Hwy 288 right by Lake Jackson, Texas about an hour south of Houston. The population was about 8,000 people when I grew up there. It’s very different now. I was homeschooled and then went to Christian school and then I went to the Navy in Pascagoula, Mississippi, which was horrible. I did anti ship missile defense. I didn’t do much there except paint. When I got out of the Navy, I went to Alvin Community College because I wanted to get into radio.

A College radio station in Alvin, Tx?

89.7 FM KACC is a classic rock station. Back then I had my own weekly show that was a mix of politics and pop culture. Radio is where I learned how to write jokes. (On the radio) I was always trying to be funny. Some of the jokes were a little too edgy, so I had to get approval to get them on the air. From there I got a job as a radio producer for KSEV 700 AM, a radio station owned by now Lt. Governor (of Texas) Dan Patrick from 2007-2011.  I had an early morning Saturday show. I was libertarian before everyone else was.

What did radio production involve?

With radio production you do the behind the scenes stuff, like run the show clock, answer calls, run the sound board and if they are a bunch of guests in there, you check the levels. Basically you keep the show on the rails. It’s not totally different from running a comedy comedy show. You still got to deal with different personalities. Comedy is different because it’s a live performance. With radio I can cut mics and go to commercial. You can’t go to commercial in comedy.

The transition from radio to comedy was much easier because I had my own radio show since I was in college in 2007.  I already knew how to write jokes and talk without verbal ticks like “uh, um and like” and all that. It was a really smooth transition into stand up.

What led to that transition from radio to stand up?

I got laid off from my radio gig in January 2011. Lt. Governor. Dan Patrick is actually the guy that laid me off. After two or three month of being depressed, I needed a creative outlet. I always wanted to do stand up so I went to the Sherlocks open mic and did my first set in April 2011.

I don’t know who the host was but Kid (Chris Reid) from Kid N Play did thirty minutes. He was supposed to seven and did about thirty. I was like, “I’ll be here a while”. I went up at one seventeen in the morning. So I was one of the last guys there and it went well for the four people that were there. I kept going on at Sherlocks and there Rich Williams told me about Uptown Hookah. I started going there and from Uptown, Netra Babin introduced me to Ali Siddiq and I became a regular at The Horn which is a room he used to run.

How did you end up booking your own comedy shows?

 I started booking my own shows around 2014. There was a room in Pearland, Texas called Skeets. It was a one-nighter and the guy booking the show didn’t want to book it anymore. He told me the budget and I took it. At one point I was running 5 rooms, which is about 4 too many. If you put together good shows then people are going to ask you to do more shows. If you put together crap shows and then you have to find venues.

What’s the best thing about starting in a place like Houston, Texas?

It’s a city of 4 million people and we have a lot of really good comics. There’s only two clubs and in order to get those spots you gotta be one of the funniest guys there is. It’s that competition that makes you very funny.

The “competitors” kept you funny are?

As far as comics go Jermaine Warren, Bryson Brown, Rich Williams, and then were those that were my mentors like Ali Siddiq, Caroline Picard, Billy D. Washington and All D. Freeman. I’d also like to publicly apologize to Sam Demaris. I drug you into a beef with another comic and I shouldn’t of done what I did. You helped me out early on and I apologize for that. 

And what are the pitfalls of doing comedy in a place like Houston, Texas?

There were times I’d be drunk by noon. In comedy alcoholism is easy because for number one, you’re always in a bar or a club that serves alcohol. A lot of times, you get free drinks and people will buy you drinks. Still to this day, I joke about not drinking any more and after the show people will come up to me and try to buy me more drinks. You don’t want to be a jerk, but you don’t want to break your sobriety. Andy Huggins helped me out a lot when I reached out to him. I’m still an alcoholic but I don’t drink.

Any advice anyone just starting comedy?

Stay in your lane, keep to yourself and don’t worry about other people. And don’t start any unnecessary drama.

So what’s next for you?

Right now I’m prepared for what every comes out. I got my website updated and I got a passport. I’ve been saving money in case I need to move anywhere. Everything is up in the air. I’ve never been on national TV before. I don’t know what’s next.

The Houston episode of “Kevin Hart Presents Hart of the City” airs this Sunday 10:30 PM CST on Comedy Central. A viewing will be taking place at Cafe 4212 for more details click here.

A Rough Personal Guide to Alt Shows & Scene Building in Standup Comedy

By Jay Whitecotton

Very little edited by Al Bahmani

First and foremost – feel free to dismiss everything you read here. I only wrote this as a reminder for myself. Comedy is wide open and an industry built on the illusion that what people do and how far they’ve gone is actually a thing.

Also – whenever something becomes obvious or overplayed – like jokes themselves – audiences become immune to it.

The whole industry is in constant change and nothing is forever. 

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Rule 1:

Only promote things worth promoting.

It’s your word on the line and if you send people to shitty open mics, overpriced venues or blah events – they will never trust your recommendation again and also – think less of standup.

There’s a reason people will walk into a bar show – see the event and say “ugh – its comedy night, are you sure you wanna stay?” – it’s because terrible comics who only care about getting their name out are working in unison with terrible bar owners whose only goal is to con comics and people to go into their shit hole to buy drinks.

Comedy is the greatest thing ever. Laughter, jokes, it’s in almost every form of entertainment. However it’s also the most disrespected. (seriously The Martian wins a Golden Globe for best Comedy? Fuck you too Hollywood)

If you’re approach to doing standup is to ‘fake it, til you make it’ please just go ahead and kill yourself now. You are the salt poured on the earth that stops any real growth.

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Rule 2:

Put comedy ahead of your ego.

If you put comedy ahead of yourself, refuse to allow the self satisfaction that always becomes complacency and avoid pandering to get cheap laughs because you need to feel like a winner – you will get better at it and your act in turn will propel you forward.

If you choose to believe in your greatness, act like you’re too good to talk and thank an audience post show, or treat comics as lesser people or as just avenues to get rides to your merch table event – well – you might get some local success, but eventually you’ll suffocate on your own inflated ego and succumb to the graveyard that is teaching defensive driving.

Allow yourself to suffer a lil bit ya fuck. Entitlement kills art.

Also – Keep this in mind – you deserve nothing, You are owed nothing. People worse and better than you will always get opportunities they don’t deserve. That’s fine. Nobody – no one – deserves anything so just do the work. Take satisfaction in making things better, improving yourself and don’t sweat what other people do on stage. That’s their business. Do that and and you’ll put yourself in way better position to succeed than trying to create substance out of hype. Let hype naturally form from actual substance. Do the work you lazy piece of shit.

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Rule 3:

Venue and atmosphere is everything.

Before producing your own show make a checklist. What is the perfect set up for standup comedy? You’d be surprised how many people don’t even bother to deal with this. The venue is almost the single biggest difference between success and failure. An ok show in a subpar venue would’ve been an amazing show in the right venue.

Intimate room: Find something that can seat 50 people comfortably, 80 people packed to capacity, but if 15 people show up it still feels like a good worthwhile show. Room dynamics affects the quality of shows and future turnouts. It is everything. For instance – if you have 5 round top tables – DO NOT line up the back of the room with them because you think you need more single chairs up front. People instinctively don’t want to be anywhere near the comedy and prefer tables. Unfortunately, sitting far away makes it harder for audience and performer to connect, so put small tables up front as a way to encourage people to be close to the show. This will also insure that they have a great time while making your event feel more full. Trust me – when people in the audience see an empty front row – even if the show is packed – they still feel like it’s a blah event in the back of their head. I don’t know psychology, but I know this to be true.

During room set up try making it a point to sit in every chair. Can you comfortably see the stage?

Separate from the bar: This is hard to find, but if you can get it jump on it. You want a show room dedicated to comedy. It forces the audience to be people dedicated to the show and for those who are not – can leave and drink or fuck around outside the show at their leisure. Putting on bar shows suck because you are constantly having to deal with walk-ins who only came to hang with friends, play darts, etc. Plus nothing is worse than a margarita machine killing a punchline. This drastically kills shows and people’s ability to enjoy comedy.

Staging: sparse, tasteful, cheap. You can do all of these with some cleverly arranged dark king sized bed sheets and Christmas lights. A stage should give elevation, but not uncomfortable to view and a soft LED light positioned close up top can get the job done. You want dark, you want intimate. Watch out for comics who step out of the light complaining they can’t see the audience. Yeah – that’s the point. Hit your mark and learn to tell jokes that don’t require crowd work. If no one is responding to you – focus on the craft and your performance. Not on “What’s your name, what do you do?” Little candles around the room are a nice, cheap, and effective mood maker.

Also – try to avoid long shotgun style set ups. Where the stage is at the end of essentially a long hall way. This creates focus issues and encourages more talk at the back of the room plus isolation from the performer. Set the stage in a way you can half circle chairs around the comic and you’ll be able to insure a better chance of intimacy.

Sound: Holy shit do people ignore this. Yes – you need a mic and a PA. What the fuck are you doing without this? No – it cant be rink-a-dink. Voices need to command and cut through. Rule of thumb I find works best is put your treble up, scoop your mid down a bit – then raise the bass according to the room dynamic. Nothing too boomy, but nothing too tinny either. Take your time and teach yourself the difference. This will save your ass every time.

Walk around the room during the performance. Can everyone hear? Sound changes when  a room is filled with a crowd laughing. Are the speakers placed in a way so the front row isn’t cringing while the back is struggling to hear? (again – intimate room solves this almost always)

Seats: up close. Tables up front. Single chairs in the middle – high tops around the back edges. (see intimate room)

Temperature: avoid warm, avoid hot. Slight chill keeps people alert, laughing, and drinking (ie loosening up enough to laugh)

Location and parking: find a place where people would want to go. Good bar, designated smoking patio, and safe parking. If it’s too far or outa the way people won’t bother to ‘make the trek’. All this is pretty much based on individual cities. Some places 15 minute drives are considered nightmares while other places view them as the short cuts. DO NOT just choose a place because it’s got people always going there. If there’s a mass of people annoyed that a comedy show is invading their environment it makes for a hard time, kills growth and makes you look like a tool.

During shows: Don’t open doors if you can help it til 15 minutes before show time. Let them chill and socialize at the bar (if you have a separate room). Have someone work the door and seat people. Have upbeat music playing before and after the show. Keep it lit, but lower down to dark when the show starts. Basic shit people forget. Play music when the show is over. Do it asap as silence is creepy when the show ends. Other comics – volunteer for this shit. Act like you care. Also POLICE THE ROOM. If someone gets outta hand heckling. Kick them out politely and immediately. Be kind about it – we’ve all been drunk, but use it as an opportunity to train the audience on how to be an audience.

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Rule 4:

Approaching Venues.

Found a place that fits most your criteria? Choose the best night for everyone. Talk to management. Make no promises that you’ll have immediate crowds, but explain what you want to do and willing to spend a year developing it. Don’t look for money and don’t accept a shitty Monday night because most bars will cancel events around Monday Night Football. If you take money out of the equation you have more control and freedom to run your show the right way. However if you prove yourself to the venue over time, you can possibly negotiate some cash to cover your promos. Just don’t expect the bar to help out or do it for you.

Bar/venue management is in constant flux and the greed factor is amazing. Especially when a new manager comes in all ‘swinging dick’ thinking he can tweak things.

It’s important to know that no matter how successful your show is – venues only want the ability to not think about that particular night. The freedom to focus on the chaotic hell that is operating an actual business. If you take all responsibility out of their hands except the night being guaranteed yours for a set period of time – you avoid most of the potential hassles. Far biggest is the one where we expect the venue to support with a crowd and then slack off on our own promotions.

That said – finding a place that will treat you right from the start with food and a tab is a goddamn treasure.

Build it first then get the bar/venue behind it. If you can’t build it without their help you probably weren’t ever going to anyway.  Be honest, direct, and make sure you get a lot of time to make it a thing.

It takes forever to do this proper.

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Rule 5:

Know Your audience. Have Good Taste.

People want to drink, fuck, and possibly smoke. That’s the first thing you have to accept. Seeing a comedy show is rarely first. There’s a reason it’s called Netflix and Chill as opposed to ‘See sad people talk about their failings and Chill’. There’s a lot of competing forms of entertainment and if you want people to see comedy (especially local) you’re going to have to make it special and worthwhile. It also requires like minded people and talent. This is where taste and direction is absolutely important. You’re going to have to decide what your goal is.

What I write here is purely my own tastes and may not measure up with yours. Please keep that in mind. My personal view is not booking shows where comics are screaming nigger, cunt, and rape as if they’re making a statement (this falls into ego ahead of comedy category for me) I don’t have any qualms with those topics in comedy, but most the time the people doing it are just covering up the fact they can’t write jokes and criminally boring and cliche. Demand better for yourself and earn the right to tackle those subjects.

That said – if your goal is to do a no rules, metal af, slayer themed comedy show – then you’re attracting a specific crowd that won’t be turned off by those subjects. However – this one rule applies across the entire spectrum – the jokes still have to be funny and performed well no matter. Do you, but develop some goddamn taste.

I also avoid ethnic themed shows for the same reason. “Oh cool, let’s do an hour on Mexican stereotypes.” These shows can attract full crowds and can be very rewarding – crushing with ‘been there done that’ jokes that play on stereotypes, but most comics who get sucked up in that start believing they’re anything other than a future Jeff Dunham puppet. Develop taste, demand better, kill your pandering ego. Plus – if your audience is made up solely of people looking for basic bitch racial jokes – no one will grow on stage and you paint yourself in a corner unable to book better and more original acts. Well done – you created a bad place to do comedy.

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Rule 6:

You Can’t Do It Alone

If you are a comic looking to create a space that allows you to get better on stage, develop an audience and more – know that you can’t do this by yourself. You can do it once for sure, twice, maybe even up to 6, but eventually you either stop crafting new bits or get worn out doing all the promos for your event. Know this. Get a group of comics together who will think like you do or trust you enough to follow through. Everyone will have to work together. Assign simple promo/show duties divided up. That will free up time for all to handle their own personal writing and be able to knock out their small share of the promoting. Does this mean get the funniest people in your town? Maybe not.

Open Mic Sign Up by Paul Oddo

“Friday Night Hot Chicks Open Mic” at UCB East. Photo by Paul Oddo

Rule 7:

Lineups

What if you’re new to comedy, but still want to produce shows you can grow on? Great – that’s how I started, but instead of promoting my name – I came up with a name for a monthly show that presented comics I loved to watch. Funny people I could introduce to an audience I felt would appreciate seeing great acts. This is how you build substance. Nobody trusts your constant hype of yourself, but promote a show that’s about the comedy first, that’s about a good time, in a good venue for the sake of good comedy – and you’ll earn a good name and better act for it. People will trust your word and thank you for it.

Your host has to be a good comic who can keep a show together. Don’t throw up the rookie open micer to run the list because he can bring a crowd or isn’t smart enough to know hosting is actual hard dedicated work. When you pull this kind of shit you’re creating a clunky atmosphere and a bad show. Care about the event you stupid self entitled fuck. Comedy before yourself or lose a good thing.

Start on time and lead off with the best comics you have – then mix up the acts for variety sake. Towards the end you can mix in whoever you know is taking chances that week or someone new with potential. By then the audience is on board loose and hopefully in a supportive mindset. 

(Doing the opposite of this trains your crowd to show up late and not respect the show thinking the start is just filler crap)

Creativity over Funny: You got to be funny yes. Absolutely, but anybody can pander for laughs. Farts are goddamn hilarious. Being creative is a challenge that should trump all. Its what gets you to write more. It’s what pushes you to get better. Being funny isn’t always the issue, but it’s the first thing comics attack themselves for not being. More often the idea is funny, but you sucked at getting to it, or communicating in general, or digging deeper into what the actual point of the joke is, or coming up with a creative avenue in the bit that would make you excited to say it on stage (or maybe you weren’t comfortable yelling at 30 drunks who just got done playing trivia now trapped in your comedy show while three different margarita machines squeal through your setups).

Anybody you book should have the freedom to fail. If you book a 15 comic showcase of short sets – give a few performers the chance to fail around the 9th -12th spot. Let them feel trusted to take some chances and grow. This will pay off huge down the road for everybody.

Everybody performing promotes: Make it a must. If you want good shows it requires community effort. I have a comic friend who actively says he refuses to promote any show he’s on. I won’t book him. If he doesn’t think he’s good enough to promote people to see, why would I ask anyone to see him either?

(All this still coincides with the very first rule btw – only promote good things worth seeing)

Avoid Poison: I know a lot of funny people who kill on stage, but create the worst atmosphere to hang or work around. They’re negative for the sake of being negative, treat new comics like lesser people, and shit on every crowd for not being exactly the way they think they should be. Don’t make em’ apart. All it does is kill momentum and make people not want to come back. Don’t get me wrong – I love negativity – it can be a blast! But if you’re trying to build something positive you won’t get far surrounding yourself with these types of comics who refuse to allow themselves to care. They bring everything down. Ask them to go. You don’t need that shit. It’s not helping.

Social anxiety: Let’s just get this out of the way. 99% of you DO NOT have intense social anxiety. You’re just an asshole. Oh you mean interacting with people is hard and uncomfortable? Yeah – suck it up you self absorbed piece of shit. Hang after the show and thank people for showing up. Go out and talk to people you meet about this ‘cool thing you’re apart of they might like’. Support comics on stage by watching and clapping as opposed to talking, interrupting, or other poisonous self involved bullshit.

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Rule 8:

Actually promote. Then do it again. And Again…

Let me let you in on a little secret. No one for sure knows what they’re actually doing. Producers are the biggest con artists in the fucking business. So much so that they often con themselves into thinking they’re competent. Look – the only thing that works 90% of the time is booking acts people want to see. Established names with valid credits. Can’t afford that? Then specialty gimmick shows often do the trick (to an extent).

Not one promotion tool works by itself 100% of the time. You have to do all of them – in advance – and then lather, rinse, repeat.

Here’s the checklist: Start with the name of your show.

Facebook: Create an event. Create a meme you can tag performers in. Post both – rely on none of it. Encourage shares and likes. Facebook has an algorithm that pushes popular posts ahead of posts with one or two likes. If you decide to create a page dedicated to your show, insist all the comics you collaborate with to invite people to like the page thru wall posts and instant messaging. This way you’ll have a large dedicated pool to promote events to. Do not invite out of town people to events or to like the page. Avoid getting bands, or old parents, or other comics to like the page. These people rarely actually go to shows and if they want to they can like the page on their own. If comics don’t want to help with this, don’t book them.

At the start I liked to make these events secret. I never made posters with a shit load of strange names with no credits. Sure it’s nice to see your name on a thing, but nobody knows or cares who the fuck you are so be good on stage – promote the show as a whole instead and people will figure out real quick who the fuck you are if you get good enough.

Text and Instant Messaging: Be polite, be sincere, and don’t just be ‘Promoter Person’. It turns people off (especially friends) – makes them feel like cattle to your ego. Yes you want your friends to see a great show, don’t hound them about it. Be a fucking friend and keep up with their lives. Ask about them. Actually give a shit and they’ll give a shit about you. (Life Hack: Being a person will also make you a better comedian) Also – don’t keep inviting your dead friends to your events stupid. Again – no –  you do not have social anxiety. 

Alt Weekly: Most cities have them. Look what they’re announcing. Look up the editor in charge of show announcements. Message them. Start a polite relaxed dialogue. Invite them out. Don’t be needy. Buy them a few drinks it’s a tough job they have to do trying to satisfy everyone at once. Don’t take it personal if they give you nothing back – they’re busy and paid like shit. Just stay in touch and be cool. If you develop great things they’ll go to you more and be there for you.

Flyers: Make a small number. Make them look like professional tickets or make them look cheesy on purpose, there’s a wide selection of taste to draw from and just so long as they’re simple and not filled with the names of a bunch of people no one gives a shit about – you’ll do fine. Don’t just hand them to strangers. Go to bars or popular spots you can talk to people in idle conversation and offer them info on this ‘cool thing you do if they’re down to check it out’. Again – You don’t have social anxiety. Go with friends and performers on the show. When you do it alone it feels weird and 9 times outa 10 – you give up on it. DO NOT just stash them on cars or in alt weeklies. That’s lazy and also rude as fuck.

Suck it up and be a person.

Meetup groups: there is a lot of them online join or start one.

Instagram and Twitter: good to have, but if you don’t have a pool of people working them together they don’t get you that far. Take pictures of the shows, post them on your pages. Let people see that people are attending your shows and liking it. This is huge and builds community.

Talk to people, get emails, Facebooks, whatever. Follow up. This is the number one thing that works – THAT NO ONE WANTS TO DO. Suck it up. Do it or watch everything fall apart.

All of the above – every week and forever. By themselves they will not work, but together you give yourself the best opportunity to succeed.

Big vs. Small Market: If you’re in a big market you have the luxury of a lot of talent, but the handicap that they probably can hit up some shit mic the same night without having to do any of the above work. If you’re scene is small then you have the luxury of comics who will be eager and excited to see growth enough to do the work, but probably not enough to sustain a weekly show. (ie – If you have 20 comics doing 4 minutes you can have a nice showcase and opportunity to work in more new sets, also 4 minutes prepares you way better for tv late night auditions. You can make this show weekly, but if you only have 7-10 comics in your scene– you can probably pull off a monthly at best)

Jokes repeated bore and wear out an audience. Constant new jokes that aren’t ready do the same. Hit all the shitty mics you can and save the above type of work for one show worth promoting. That way you can develop material and stage chops, then test it out when it’s mostly formed in a good creative and trusted atmosphere. This will also make you look good to the audience that naturally builds around you.

The problem here is a lot of comics will get better, stop going to the hard mics, get lazy, dwindle out, or worse – get better – move forward and do nothing for the scene coming up to support them and teach them to do what they learned. Things will eventually fall apart and many involved will put their egos ahead of their comedy and think they’re above doing the work anymore.

Entitlement breeds complacency. Complacency kills art.

Try to avoid that or at the very least be conscience of it cuz it happens to us all no matter what level you are at.

Jay Whitecotton

Rule 9:

There Is No Money.

Like none. The money’s at the end. To get to it – you have to do the work. If there’s no environment to do the work right – you have to make one. Everything above is a helpful suggestion on how. Take it or leave it.

You can do free shows, $5 shows etc, but if you’re goal is to cover gas money to pursue becoming a standup comedian. You rarely get it for years.

If you’re a promoter looking to capitalize on talent by using them for the promise of ‘exposure’ and taking a $10 cover for your ‘trouble’ – well you’re a piece of shit and like the ‘fake it, til you make it’ people – Kill yourself. Radiation is something that also requires exposure and yours is about as worthwhile you charlatan.

If however you just want to cover printing and promotional etc – ask for donations. Let people pay what they want, be cool, or work as a collective with the emphasis on becoming better at comedy – so you can eventually be badly paid unappreciated touring comics. It’s about comedy first, ego second. There’s a reason why I didn’t make money a thing when looking for a venue. When you take money out of the equation – it becomes about the art. When you throw some nickles in, everything seems to get fucked up.

If you do this right – you’ll eventually be able to create networks with national acts and opportunities you never would’ve had by grinding out the same bullshit bar shows and no taste open mics. If you’re lucky enough to make a career out of it – honor these shows whenever you get a chance and be supportive. It’s real easy to fall off the high rung and have to do it all over again as many comics often do.

Do the work right. Avoid paying Lip Service. Follow through on your Word.

Arg

 

Jay Whitecotton is a Stand Up Comedian from San Antonio, TX now living in Austin. He’s written columns for magazines without any journalistic credibility – toured professionally as a guitarist, despite no lessons – and sold a script that was never made into a movie… – He likes dragons

Originally posted with permission of Jay.

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An Open Letter to Hecklers

You think you can do this better? I dare you.

I dare you to try to write an original joke that’s actually funny. It’s harder than you think. That weird thing that happened to your dick might be concerning but it’s not funny. That time when you made a faux pas in the office – no one gives a damn.  Most statements that begin with “so I was drunk, right?” will only get you blank stares. Had a moment with the TSA? Chill, so has the rest of America. It’s been done before. Got anything else?

Came up with a set that’s funny, did you? How quaint. I hate to tell you, but as a comic you’re sense of humor is only one half of the equation and it’s not even the important half. And you’re new so it’s likely a steaming pile of rhinoceros turd. But since you’ve worked so hard on it, I dare you to memorize it. Practice it with different inflections, put the pauses in different places and try not to leave a pause after each punch line for the audience’s “raucous laughter” you’re so sure will follow (it probably won’t, sorry bro).

I dare you to sign up for an open mic…and actually perform for the full five minutes. Just you and a mic. And a spotlight that will likely stop you from seeing anything but white. (Kind of feels like you’re the asshole performing at the end of the tunnel.) Sometimes, you’ll be lucky enough to glimpse some seriously unimpressed faces staring back at you, impatient for you to actually begin to be funny. You’ll hear talking – it’s either your fellow comics or a good sign that people are bored with you. But, at least, talking means there’s an audience. Sometimes there isn’t. By the way, have you ever talked uninterrupted for five minutes? It’s a long fucking time.

I dare you to bomb. To keep talking at a crowd who wishes they could swipe left on you – for five minutes, for three hundred counts of one-one thousands. Watch people get up and leave during your set because you weren’t worth their time. Harsh, but it happens often.

I dare you to handle a heckler. You need to make sure you stay the authority figure onstage so you have to address whoever the drunk bastard is. Unless it’s a sober bastard, in which case, I’m sorry, but you’re probably a terrible comic. Keep in mind that your audience is a fickle mistress and if they see you rip a heckler a new one, they’re like to turn on you. Self-restraint is key, but not so much that you appear weak. I dare you to pick up exactly where you left off before you were interrupted, which was in the middle of a joke. That joke is probably ruined. Better get yourself back on track quickly, your audience is confused as to why you’re not funny. Recover or die.

I dare you to keep doing all of these things. Night after night. Can you handle the late nights after long days at the office? Can you do bad set after bad set and still come back for more? Do you still believe in whatever reason you walked up to the mic in the first place?

Then, after all that, I dare you to heckle another comic again.

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Written By: Emerald Gearing

Surprisingly, It Did Not Suck.

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Written by Aaron Aryanpur Edited by Al Bahmani

“Surprisingly, it did not suck.”

Those were my dad’s first words to me after my first time on stage at the Improv. Believe me, coming from him that’s high praise.

My dad is a funny, funny man with a dry, understated, wicked, multi-layered sense of humor. Growing up, I watched him laugh at the smartest, most subtle stuff and watched him howl at the dumbest stuff.

Part of my daily preschool ritual was checking the mail with him. I would know it was time for our walk when “Sanford and Son” was over. He loved Redd Foxx, Rodney Dangerfield and Cosby. We watched Bill Cosby Himself so often that it became like a second (or third) language to us. Now I can’t watch Cosby at all anymore, and it makes me sad.

We saw “The Naked Gun” in the theater. I was stunned when I looked over during the press conference/bathroom scene and watched my dad wipe away tears from laughing so hard. It was marvelous seeing someone who was normally so composed let himself be so free.

I think my dad was amused when I first tried stand-up. We’d talk on the phone and he’d ask, “Any new jokes?” I’d share a new bit I was working on about the day job or something he had said to me when I was growing up.

“But that’s not a joke though. I actually said that.”

I would agree with him. I had found it funny. And strangers did too.

When it comes to my family, at times I feel more like a reporter than a writer.

He’s watched me grow as a performer. He’s seen me destroy a room.
During a rare visit, I was driving us to a show when a genius idea hit me. I asked if he wanted to join me on stage during my set. I think he started panicking, “But I wouldn’t know what to say.” I told him not to worry, that I would handle all the set-ups and all he’d have to do is respond honestly. We would MUR-DER. He wouldn’t do it, though, and I consider it everyone’s loss.

He once asked me, “When you get your TV show, what kind of show is it going to be?” Not “if,” but “when.”

Joking around, I told him I thought it would be great to have an old fashioned variety show with sketches and musical numbers like Carol Burnett, Benny Hill or Hee-Haw.

“Hee-Haw? Like when the pretty girls pop out of the corn?”

“Yeah, Dad. Something like that.”

“You NEED to tell me when you get this show.”

Like I *wouldn’t* tell him if I was in production.

“…I could pop up out of the corn too. Playing the banjo.”

“YES. YES. YOU. COULD. We’re signing you up for banjo lessons yesterday!”

When I recorded my albums this year, he had some more professional advice. “You’re going to want someone to listen to it before it goes out in the world.”

He meant HE needed to hear it before it went out in the world. “Just because *you* think it’s funny doesn’t mean everyone will.” I told him this was material that was road tested over many years in front of thousands and thousands of people.

“Just because thousands and thousands of people think it’s funny, doesn’t mean everyone *else* will.”

He loves to hear road stories, about how I played for twelve people one embarrassing night and then 300 cheering people the next night.

“Any new jokes?”

He means jokes about him. I tell him the newest one, based on an awkward FaceTime experience between him and his grandsons.

“And people laugh at that?”

I tell him, “Of course. It’s funny.”

And he smiles, the writer.

Funniest Comic in Texas 2012 Winner, Aaron Aryanpur was also recntly voted one of the Top 100 Creatives For the Dallas Observer, and just recently made his national TV debut on FOX’s Laughs

*Originally Posted November 24th, 2015