Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Roast

Last night I participated in my first roast. As you probably know, the basic idea of the roast is to "honor" someone by subjecting them to a stream of insulting jokes. And the general rule seems to be that the more insulting, base and off-color you can be, the more esteemed the honoree. There are bonus points awarded in the category of "can you top this" shock value. Think Don Rickles.

The honoree was a local performer and booker who has done a lot for the local comedy scene. She has nearly single-handedly developed two great rooms for "emerging" comics. She has given us more (and better) stage time than we could get anywhere else, for which we are all grateful. Still, it's a roast. You can't come out and say "thank you" at a roast. It's just not done.

The honoree, I should also mention, has one physical characteristic which is salient for purposes of a roast: she is overweight. She's a big beautiful woman.

As a general rule, I think the assembled comics (myself included) were a little daunted by the idea of the roast. About half of those who signed up either didn't show, or took themselves off the list. That was probably a good idea. The more I thought about it, I realized: the difference between a "ha-ha" insult and a "you insensitive bastard" insult is very small. This roast stuff is harder than it looks.

Everyone managed to be insulting. Check. Funny was much harder to come by. Many comedians went for the (seemingly) easy laugh: the fat jokes. Okay, I guess they're inevitable. And the honoree knew what was coming, and seemed to take it in stride.

But this roasting stuff is high stakes poker. If you go with the fat jokes and they work, you'll get some laughs. If they don't, you're not just bombing; you're bombing, and you come off looking like a misogynist. (Though nowadays, I believe they prefer to be called Misog-therapists.) There were some clever lines, yes. But when they weren't funny, they sounded petty and mean-spirited. High risk, fairly low reward.

Still, the comedians laughed at everything, even the worst jokes. In fact, they seemed more delighted by the jokes that bombed than by the good ones, which is not uncommon.

(Oh, beware! Beware the laughing comedian. If I'm trying out material at an open mike, and I get laughs from the other comedians, it feels good. But sometimes comedians laugh because they thought they knew where a joke was going, and it went somewhere else. A "real" audience might not find that funny at all. Sometimes comedians laugh out of shock. Even though the comedians may laugh, there's still a fair chance that a real audience will give you nothing. I digress.)

So here's what we have: 1) an audience that is lethargic at best, and is mainly there for coffee and free wi-fi; 2) comedians telling a lot of "in" jokes that aren't accessible to the audience; and 3) jokes that are perilously close to tasteless, crossing the line more often than Billy Joel driving home from a barbecue at Diddy's house. (Rimshot. Thank you. I'll be here all week. Try the veal.)

As K. pointed out to me, it would have made for a fascinating anthropological study. I half expected to see Jane Goodall over in the corner taking notes. ("The younger ones seem to act out by making 'you so fat' jokes...though the jokes fall flat, the other members of the clan still laugh...could it be that this primitive species is capable of schadenfreude?")

"Come on, lighten up," you say. "That's what roasts are like." That may be true. I just wasn't comfortable going in that direction, so I didn't. I had a couple of good lines that got some laughs, so I was happy about that. And I was relieved when it was over.

Could I have done better? Probably. But I could have done worse.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

North Beach

I had a good weekend, thanks for asking. Did a show on Friday night where I was on a first name basis with all but about 5 people in the place. But that was okay, I had a good set-- I was loose, having fun, enjoying my time on stage. Surfing the punches. Playing in the seams. You know how we do.

Performed at a new place last night-- it was a very cool spot, a cafe in North Beach.

Here's something. I haven't put it all together yet, by any means. I'm not a nationally touring headliner, I don't have an Emmy. I still have a day job.

But if you had told me when I was in high school that I would be performing standup comedy in San Francisco, in North Beach, former stomping ground of Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce and Carol Doda, I would have said: where do I sign up?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Another Listy-List

So I did another listy-list, but this time it's posted over the list list. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Call me Ish...

Anonymous said...
Funny. Ish.

11:44 AM

And a new nickname was born. Funny. Ish.

There was a comedian/musician in the 1940s called Ish Kabibble. His nickname was derived from "Isch Ka Bibble (I Should Worry)," a Yiddish song that he used to perform. (He performed with Kay Kyser's orchestra, but you probably already knew that.) But I will be Ish not in honor of Ish Kabibble. Rather, I will be Ish in recognition of my status as, not quite funny, but funny-ish. (At least in the opinion of Anon 11:44 AM. I am still riding the wave of your tepid endorsement.)

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe late great Ish Kabibble - not my namesake.

I got into comedy with a humble dream-- a dream that one day, people would say, "he's not exactly funny, but he's kind of in the same general area as funny. Let's say, funny-ish." I'm living that dream, boys and girls. Let the legend grow.

I'd love to tell you that criticism rolls off me like water off a duck's back. It doesn't, and I'd be skeptical of anyone who said that it does.

I've never taken criticism especially well, so it's a little perverse that I would end up doing something where I expose myself to a lot of criticism, and criticism that is very personal. The good thing is, you get a lot of positive feedback as well as the negative.

It's funny. Anon's comment came as I was writing my previous post about heckling. One of the things that the comedian in my heckling post said was, "I know I'm funny, I don't need to hear it from you." That may be true, but one of the reasons I do this (which I think most comedians share) is that I want the validation. I don't need it from everyone, and I can't expect it. I especially desire it from people I respect-- my friends, fellow comedians, anonymous blog visitors... you know.

I don't take criticism terribly well, but I don't take it too personally either. I see the constructive value of criticism. When I don't get the feedback I hope for, especially from the people whose opinions I respect most, it can be hard, but it's not devastating. Usually the people whose opinions I care about most are people who care about me, who want me to do well, and believe in my abilities.

I've seen a lot of comedians who don't seem to improve. They plateau. I think part of that stems from the fact that they don't get reliable feedback on what they do well, and what they need to work on. Too often, comedians flatter each other with platitudes. "Hey, good set, man." What can you learn from that?

Someday I hope I have the swagger to say, "I know I'm funny, I don't need to hear it from you." But I believe I can always improve, and I want to keep getting better. I believe I can learn from criticism. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be doing this.


So I'm at one of my usual spots last night. It's a club where I hang out in hopes of getting on the showcase, kind of like a feral cat hanging around the back door of a restaurant.

Last night, a pretty well established comedian was on-- nobody the average person would know, but he has TV credits. There's a woman in the audience who just won't shut up. It was fascinating to watch a guy with a lot of experience under his belt deal with this, for two reasons. One, he has been around enough to be pretty confident about handling a heckler. And two, because, despite all his experience, it clearly bothered him. A lot.

He started off fairly gently-- you know, maybe if I say something to this person, they will realize that they aren't part of the show, and stop. That did not work. In fairly short order, things escalated until the comedian let go, and just BLISTERED her. He called her many, many names which I choose not to print. Basically, he just called her out for being inconsiderate, starved for attention and immature.

One basic rule about dealing with a heckler is always keep the audience on your side. If the audience sides with the heckler, you're cooked. The audience was on this guy's side, but sort of luke warm. Well, this kind of pissed him off, too-- he was like, hey, she's disrupting the show you came to see. Do you even care? (I'm paraphrasing.)

He said, hey, I don't need this, I'm not even getting paid. I know how my jokes end, so I don't need to tell them. I know I'm funny, I don't need to hear it from you. Do you want to hear more jokes, or not? (Still paraphrasing.)

Apparently the call for more jokes was not sufficiently emphatic, so he dropped the mike and flipped off the crowd as he left the stage.


Seeing a seasoned comedian handle a heckler fascinates me. I have dealt with hecklers only a few times, and they were fairly tame. There was the couple sitting directly in front of me who talked all through my set, and basically ignored me. I have had a couple of audience members who talked to me during my set. One even started to give me a suggestion about changing a punchline. In the middle of my set.

Um, dude? Hi. Yeah, this isn't a workshop. I'm performing right now.

But these people weren't malicious. Strange, stupid maybe, over-served definitely, but not malicious.

This woman last night was a hard core heckler, someone whose sole reason for being there seemed to be to get under this guy's skin. And she did, no question. It really bothered him, and it totally derailed his set. She got called a lot of names, but she also got a lot of attention, which was probably her primary aim anyway.

I liked that this guy could say, hey, I know I'm funny, I don't need to hear it from you. Also, I admired the fact that he had the stones to just drop the mike, flip off the crowd, and walk off. Flipping off the crowd is not recommended in any section of Judy Carter's "Comedy Bible." I checked. Still, it was gutsy. A little cocky.

I remember another time when I saw a pro in NY deal with this woman who wouldn't shut up, so he let her have it. But she was accompanied by her brother and a friend who were very, very large. Menacing. I was worried about the comedian's safety after the show. Does the club have security? Is there a secret exit? I made a mental note that if I ever think about going off on a heckler, I should make sure they don't have a tough-looking posse.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why did I write this down?

I carry a notebook around most of the time. I use it to jot down ideas for jokes, phone numbers, shopping lists, what have you.

I learned through experience that when you get an idea, you had better get it committed to paper pretty quickly. I've been half asleep when an idea hits me, and rather than get up and write it down, I've said, "I'm sure I'll remember this in the morning."

And of course morning comes, and my idea is long gone. It never calls, it never writes. Maybe that idea I had was nothing; maybe if I had written it down, I wouldn't have time for blogging because I'd be too busy shooting the second season of Everybody Loves Shecky.

The point is, now I try to trap all of these wisps of inspiration in my notebook. Frequently, it's the simplest thoughts that hold the most promise. It can be a single phrase, such as "bad HMO," or "effeminate caveman." (In case you were wondering: both of them, comedy gold.)

As I said, they are not all winners by any means. I have written things down, sure that I have something really good. But in the cold light of day, I see that what Tanqueray and I had thought was so witty the night before might not be quite as hilarious as it seemed.

Sometimes leafing through my notebook is like visiting a comedy orphanage. "Oh yeah, that's funny, but pretty much just a one-liner... there's a punchline still looking for a premise... why did I write this down?"

Why did I write this down? I'm looking down at my notebook and I see one word: Splenda. Think. Why did I write Splenda? I don't buy Splenda, so I don't think it was a shopping list. I (perhaps in collaboration with Tanqueray) apparently thought there was comic potential in artificial sweetener, but now I have NO idea what it was. It could come to me at any moment, though. Or not.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Thank you, come again!

If you're reading my blog, chances are you are either here by mistake and are now hitting the "Back" button, or more likely, you clicked on the link at

Either way, welcome! Thanks for visiting. I have received so many nice comments. I want to share a few:

"Nice blog."
"Very funny."
"Have you considered working from home, or maybe getting a debt consolidation loan?"

Hey, I am NOT above seeing spam as validation of my creative choices. Anyway.

I will continue to meander along, alternating between serious reflection, humorous reflection, and just plain-old humor. I hope you will continue to stop by occasionally, even if it's just to make sure I know where I can get low cost Viagra on the internet.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A List for Y'all

Instant Messaging Acronyms That I Might Actually Use

ITOTC - I'm tired of this conversation.

WDYAHTBTU - Why do you always have to bring that up?

MAIFA - My ass is falling asleep.

ILOTI - I'm laughing on the inside.

OTIA - Ooh, this is awkward.

IYULOLAIMTU - If you use "LOL" again, I may throw up.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Lest you think all I ever do here is whine about the horrors of life on the lower branches of the comedy tree, I want to change the subject.

You could be forgiven for wondering, "if these open mikes are so sordid, WHY DO YOU DO IT?" I am reminded of the story about the guy who cleaned up after the elephants at the circus, a horrible job. He was asked why he didn't just quit, and he said, "what, and give up show business?"

Well, there ARE some good times, great times in fact. One of these is the moment when you find a new bit, when the inspiration strikes to write material. Sometimes it's just a couple of words, and you write them down, and boom, it just flows. Other times you get that first germ of a joke, and it takes awhile for it to develop into a full-fledged bit that you are willing to try on an audience. You play with it, twist it a few different ways until it finally locks in.

I love the feeling of taking that bit out on stage for the first time, especially when I think I've got a winner. When I do a bit for the first time for an (non-comedian) audience, and I think, "this will work," and, wonder of wonders, it does, it's a great feeling. I wanted to make people laugh, and I did it. Nice the way that works.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Just another So-So Set

I did my first set at a new place last night. It wasn't exactly an audition, but the first time you go up, you want to do well, have the booker see you do well, so that he'll keep booking you and move you up the ladder.

I was a little nervous, and I felt like I was in my head a little. Not completely in my own world, but not fully dialed in with the audience. Truth be told, that was hard-- they were a tough crowd. They just didn't seem to engage. It was like I was trying to communicate through a Plexiglas partition without picking up the phone. I know I should have left my material and worked the crowd a bit-- it couldn't have heard. It's disconcerting when you are trying to connect, looking people in the eye, and you just know they are thinking, "Hmm. Where did I park? Where are we going after this? Do I need to buy milk? What did he just say?"

It wasn't just me, which was reassuring. (Props to the other comedians who were mediocre. Represent.)

It happens. I had an off-night, and ran into an audience that wasn't into it. No big.

I've got another show tonight, and I have a longer set. Usually, the crowd is pretty good at this place, and I'm there pretty often, so I am comfortable. Hopefully I will be more loose, having fun on stage, connected with my material and the audience, and whatever other positive buzzwords you want to throw in there.

Another Way to Shatter Your Soul: Hand Out Flyers

You see them everyday. People handing out flyers. Flyers for 10% of your purchase of $50 or more at Bed Bath & Beyond, or discounted admission to a club, or a promo for eyebrow threading, whatever that is. Or those guys who stand on the corner, with the big arrow pointing to the mattress store that is having a Blowout Sale! He's totally out of it, listening to music, rocking back and forth.

I've looked at life from both sides now. I don't mind telling you, handing out flyers sucks. It's the closest I have come to saying, "that's it, this isn't worth it."

I only did it about 5-6 times, but that was enough. The comedy flyers are a little different from the other guys. The other guys probably get paid by the hour, and they're supposed to hand out all the flyers. The comedians ACTUALLY CARE whether someone will take a flyer and come to the show. In many cases, if they don't get people, they don't get on stage. So it's hard not to take it personally.

The first thing I noticed while flyering in New York is that there are quite a few people out there walking the streets who are absolutely crazy. Not just the guy with a drugstore shopping bag on one foot, carrying a hello kitty pencil box. I mean the basically functional people who are, nevertheless, nutballs. It's a much higher percentage of the population than I would have guessed.

Some people walked by having resolved that under no circumstances would they acknowledge my existence. As if making eye contact with me would turn them into a pillar of salt. (It happens, but rarely. I try to use my powers for good, not for evil.)

I saw people who tried to time when they would pass me so that there would be someone else between me and them, or when I would be facing the other direction. You could read the terror on their faces. "Dear God, please don't let him speak to me!"

Some went so far as to walk out into traffic to avoid getting within my flyering range. They would rather risk being hit by a bus than hear that there's a comedy show at 10pm. Why, people, why? I'm not handing out Ebola virus.

Oh, and there were the 20-something guys, who tried to impress their dates by saying things like, "I hate comedy," or "that's okay, I'm already funny enough."

Oh well played, Oscar Wilde, well played. Douchebags.

My favorite reactions, without a doubt, were from the people who felt compelled not only to say no, but to make sure that YOU knew they had a legitimate excuse.

"Ooh, I'd really love to come, but my in-laws are in town from Toronto. Yeah, we're going to see "Wicked" tonight, then we have to get up early tomorrow, because we're taking them to the Empire State Building."

Dude. A simple "no thanks" would have been fine. You had me at no.

I remember most fondly the people who did something I previously had thought unremarkable: they acknowledged my existence in a well-adjusted manner. They didn't always say "hey, thanks, I'd love to see a show." In fact, only a tiny fraction said anything like that. Most said no if they said anything. But to the ones who actually looked me in the eye, and in a friendly way said, "no thanks," I say: no, thank you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

People who say "to make a long story short" never do.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Open Mike Archipelago

In order to, shall we say, "hone my craft," and at the same time, get some exposure, I need all the stage time I can get. New York offers plenty of stage time-- there are a lot of places to get up and perform. Oh, you want an actual audience? That's different.

Most of those open mikes will charge a token amount, maybe make you buy a drink, for the privilege of getting up on stage in front of other comedians who can't afford to waste their energy and generosity appreciating your material. Comedians just don't laugh that often or that hard. They hear a good bit, and they can react in a number of ways:

1) "Hmm. Funny. That was nicely constructed. "
2) "Hmm. Funny. It would be funnier if he trimmed that set-up and changed the fish to a baby seal."
3) "Crap. I thought my take on that was original. Did he steal my bit? Did I steal his? If this guy is doing it too, it must be hack."
4) "Huh, what? Did someone say something?"

Okay, I exaggerate. Truth be told, there are many comedians who are supportive and attentive, and it is great to work with them. But there are plenty that are not. Which I understand, but it can be discouraging.

Sometimes you get a laugh, but it's misleading. Sometimes comedians laugh for the wrong reasons. Maybe you surprised them. They expected you to go from A to B and you went from A to D, so they laugh. But a regular audience will go from A to B, maybe C, and when you go to D, the audience may not go with you.

Let me take you now, on a tour of some of the memorable comedians I have been privileged to share the stage with. Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

There was the time I was in a contest, and I had to follow a woman who delivered a solemn monologue about how much she liked anal intercourse. The audience was still suffering from PTSD as I launched into my brilliant brand of observational humor. ("Hey, folks! What's the deal with airline peanuts?") I got nothing. Except her phone number. (Rimshot, "hi-yo!")

At a another open mike there was a regular who would burst into hysterical laughter. But it was indiscriminate. The laugh got bigger and more random with each beer he drank. After awhile, he wasn't even laughing at punchlines.

There was the guy who's opening line was "I think rape should be legal."

A guy who works as a clown, but whose material includes his experiences with prostitutes. (Who am I to judge? At least he's emotionally connected to his material. And I have to admit, it's interesting.)

A guy who plays a song on his cheek with a pencil.

A ventriloquist who removed her dress and her dummy's dress, and then had the dummy do a pole dance on the mike stand.

Again, who am I to judge? Perhaps one of these people is the next Carrot Top, or Gallagher, or Waylon and Madam. Besides, um, I'm there too. I'm inside the cage. So if I judge, am I not also implicating myself by association?

Some open mikes remind me of the bar scene from Star Wars. I half expect to overhear Han Solo in the corner bragging about the Millennium Falcon. ("You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It's the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs!")

But it's an interesting place, and I'm comfortable being part of it... for now. Some nights it corrodes my soul; other nights, it's reassuring to see familiar faces, to be with people who would actually notice if I weren't there. These are my peeps, yo. Except for that rape guy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

In the news: GSAVE... G-Spare Me

WASHINGTON (August 1)- The Bush Administration is no longer using the term "Global War on Terrorism," or GWOT, and has introduced the term "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremists," or GSAVE.

The Administration, it seems, concluded that the Global War on Terror wasn't playing well with the public. In GSAVE, it thinks it has found a term that the public can grasp, and more importantly, that has a catchy, bouncy, happy acronym.

No truth to the rumor that based on polling, they are considering changing "thousands" of casualties to "several" casualties.

Neither are they considering changing the acronym for roadside bombs, or "improvised explosive devices," from "IED" to the catchier "FRED," for "F**king Ruthless Explosive Device."

In the news: Astronaut makes repairs

CAPE CANAVERAL (August 3)- No sooner did Astronaut Stephen Robinson return from one space walk to repair the space shuttle, he was told he may need to go out again.

Apparently, someone left the door to the gas tank open. Also, there's a flyer stuck under the windshield.

Let me get this straight:

Okay, let me get this straight: President Bush supports intelligent design and Rafael Palmeiro.

But he opposes stem cell research and gay marriage.

It would be funny if it weren't true.

PS- If you need the President, he'll be out on the Ranch in Crawford on vacation. For about a month. He needs to catch up on all that NOT reading intelligence briefs.

Monday, August 01, 2005

In the news: Bush Appoints Bolton During Senate Recess

Washington (August 1) -- President Bush announced this morning that he is appointing John Bolton to the post of US Ambassador to the United Nations while the Senate is in recess.

Said President Bush, "it's high time we get on with the important work of defeating and destroying the United Nations. This position calls for someone who knows how to be a turd in the punch bowl. With his extensive credentials in this field, John Bolton is exactly the right man for the job."

"It's an honor to be chosen, Mr. President," said Bolton. "I am eager to get to New York and put my experience to work creating obstructions, diversions, and throwing world-class tantrums."

In the news: Palmeiro tests positive...

NEW YORK (August 1)- Major League Baseball announced today that it was suspending Rafael Palmeiro for 10 days after he tested positive for steroids.

Palmeiro, who recently collected his 3,000th major league hit, spoke to reporters outside the Camden Yards clubhouse.

"I deny ever knowingly taking steroids. It is possible that it was contained in a nutritional supplement that I took. Or perhaps it was in my Viagra, which I also deny taking. Just because I endorse it doesn't mean I need it."

During testimony before Congress earlier this year, Palmeiro emphatically denied using steroids. In his recent tell-all book, former major leaguer Jose Canseco alleged that he had personally injected Palmeiro with steroids.

"When I spoke before Congress, I meant to say 'I didn't knowingly take steroids.' I didn't knowingly leave out the word knowingly."

Palmeiro will be featured in Canseco's next book, "How to go from being a sure Hall-of-Famer to a celebreality TV show freak."