And now, for some words of wisdom about comedy from comedians. In their own words.
In contemplating a possible return of The Tonight Show to New York City and 30 Rockefeller from Los Angeles and Burbank, Dick Cavett reflects on Johnny Carson’s tenure, as well as how Cavett first got a job on Tonight by pitching monologue jokes to Jack Paar. Cavett writes in the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter:
“I was working as a copy boy at Time. I happened to glance at a column item that said Jack Paar worried about his Tonight Show monologue more than the whole show put together. And that triggered me to peck out what I thought sounded like Jack Paar monologues. I put the stuff into an envelope with the biggest Time logo I could find, knowing that if I got near him that might catch his eye, sneaked out of a service elevator at 30 Rock and bang, there was Jack, coming right at me. I said: “Mr. Paar, I brought you something — it’s material I wrote for you.” He looked a bit annoyed but said: “Oh, OK, kid,” and took it.”
5) That it’s just as hard to get paid on time from major studios as it is from comedy club owners in Minneapolis. And most importantly: Always ask for cash.
Ophira Eisenberg hosts NPR’s Ask Me Another and has a new book out, “Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy.” In Jezebel, Eisenberg offers an excerpt from the book about a one-night stand with a comedian she opened for, so to speak, gone horribly wrong. That bad idea began as bad ideas do, following a bad set — this one in New Jersey. Eisenberg writes:
My set went over badly. The crowd wanted me to talk more about blow jobs, and less about my seventy-five-year-old mother sending me her first email with the entire thing written in the subject line. After a strained thirty minutes of comedy—which could have been confused with giving a thoughtful speech—I left the stage to polite applause that sounded almost mocking, and I headed straight to the back bar to order a drink. The bartender bought me an Absolut and soda and toasted my set.
“You’re very smart!” he said. I’d heard it a hundred times before, and it still didn’t sound like “funny” to me. That being said, I was happy for the free booze and a compliment of any sort.
I wasn’t looking forward to that long bus ride home, with nothing but idle time to review every excruciating detail of my pathetic life as I stared out a grimy window at the industrial wasteland that is New Jersey.
Rob’s big closing joke was a really offensive, wince-inducing dog-farting joke, but the crowd howled in response. Suddenly I knew exactly how I could turn my night around. I’d resort to my fallback feel-good plan. I needed to sleep with Rob. Extra bonus: He had a car.
Starting out as a comedian is a lot like going to college: you meet people who will become your best friends, you’ll drink a lot and lose countless hours of sleep doing what seems to be, “a great idea at the time.” Your classroom is bars, clubs and restaurants. Anywhere with a sound system and at least one person who thought comedy there would be a good idea. Sometimes customers hate you because they’re actually having dinner. Try to win them over. It’s fun! Those are the nights I learned the most; being put in an environment where people didn’t want comedy, and telling them jokes. I’ve performed for the back of so many heads.
When you’re young and hungry for it, you’ll perform anywhere. If we comics were booked at a funeral, we’d tell jokes there. “Oh we’re not getting paid? But there’s food at the wake, right?” You have to have bad nights to appreciate the good ones.
Andy Sandford isn’t from New York City, so the comedian has learned some hard lessons about moving to the Big Apple. In his Tumblr post, he lists four of them. First off:
1. In many ways, you will be starting over. I can’t stress enough how much being a big fish somewhere else does not matter. This city is filled with big fish. To the surprise of some, no one is keeping track of the comedy rankings for other cities. You are not going to be able to hop on a bunch of shows right when you get to NYC. You are actually going to take a big hit in the stagetime department, even with everything going for you. I visited NY a bunch of times before moving and was able to do several of the good shows (I strongly recommend visiting btw), but it is a different thing once you make the move. Everything is on a larger scale, so it takes more time for people to know who you are and that you live here. This is why the most valuable thing you have is your skillset as a comedian. Good sets beget future shows. The more consistent you are with the shows that you do, the more people see that you are consistent. Keep in mind it takes being out every night for months before people get it in their head that you live there and are out a lot.
Most shows (and I mean smaller booked shows. Not open mics, which I will get to later)…most shows are not what you would consider optimal conditions. Very small crowds. Uninterested people barked in from the street…it is very important to remember not to throw a set and basically say “fuck it” because you’d rather look like you’re not trying. These are the type of shows that make you better. My friend nate puts it like this: “a lot of shows in NY are like swinging 2 bats.” It’s true, because after a bunch of the 2 bat shows, a regular show with an attentive crowd feels like no problem. I personally love going up to a dead crowd and seeing how much I can elevate the show. Not caving goes a really long way. Acting like you are too cool for shit comes off really bad.