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Don't Shit Where You Eat! ™

War Story: A Xmas Gig

Uncategorised Posted on Mon, October 19, 2020 07:11:53

The Swedish version of the Christmas office party is the julbord- literally Christmas table. The whole office gathers for a smorgasbord of traditional food and alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.

It’s also traditional to hire a comic for entertainment. Someone at the office thinks it would be a good idea to hire one of the three comics they’ve heard of and is horrified when they hear how much it would cost for their services. Unless it’s a big company with deep pockets.

That’s where agents come in handy. An agent will have a roster of available, unknown comics with far lower price tags. Hell, most comics will perform for a beer, if even that. A gig is a gig!

Not to brag, but I’m signed up with four different agents. Sounds impressive until I tell you only one ever got me any gigs and it’s been years since I last heard from him. But hey, I don’t have to explain that on my cv.

It was through this agent that I was contacted by a CEO looking to book an English-speaking comic for his julbord. I was a perfect fit, since I speak American and was in his price range. He told me I would be a fun surprise for his employees.

“You’re the customer so it’s absolutely your call, but I can tell you from experience that everyone will have a lot more fun if you tell them in advance that I’m coming.”

“…. So it’ll be surprise…”

Sigh.

“My idea is that I introduce you as the new Key Account Manager for the UK. You go up, pretend it’s real for a bit, and then you do your thing and everyone figures out you’re a comic!”

His money, his call. I wasn’t then in a position nor am I now where I could turn it down. I take what I get.

I was given an address, a time to arrive and a phone number I could call to be discreetly let in. What I wasn’t told was the exact nature of the dinner or, more specifically, if alcohol would be involved. Swedish audiences love to laugh but only as a group- to be the only one in a club laughing a joke would be a nightmare. It’s worse when a company goes to a club as a group, because no one wants their co-workers to see what they think is funny. A little alcohol goes a long way, however; get them lubed up a little and they relax. Unfortunately, when employees get to drink together, especially when the booze is free, there’s no such thing as a little alcohol. When they’re smashed the last thing they want to hear is some stranger telling them dick jokes.

I faced three possible scenarios. One, that everyone would be completely sober and this would be awkward for everyone involved. Two, they’d be so blitzed I’d barely be able to tell them my name, let alone a joke. Or three, they’d be pleasantly buzzed and this would be a fun gig. I went to the venue hoping for the latter, but not counting on it.

I called the number when I arrived and was greeted by a young woman with a big smile on her face. “This will be so fun!” she said as she led me to a room I was to hide in until my time. “They’re having dessert now and then I’ll come get you. You’re actually the first surprise. After you, we have a salsa group that’s going to perform!”

“Nice!” I said. “So… is everyone drinking?”

“Ohhhhh yeahhhhh,” she said, drawing out the words as her smile was replaced by a frown. “They were already drunk before dinner. We had to start giving them water. They heckled the CEO off the stage.”

Okay. It’s going to be one of those gigs.

I waited in the room for far longer than I anticipated; I guess they needed a lot of water. Finally, the CEO half-stumbled into the room with a sloppy grin and said it was time. He led me down a hall into a large room with a lot more people than I’d expected, at least fifty. As planned, he introduced me with a false name and said I’d just been hired.

I took the stage and said, “Yeah, I’m also surprised to be here. I was walking down the street talking to a friend and suddenly your CEO stopped me and said, ‘Oh, you speak English? How would you like a job as a Key Account Manager for the UK?’ I was unemployed so I said sure, but if that’s all it takes to hire me, I guess he’s a shit CEO.” I probably still nursed a little resentment over the whole surprise thing.

I didn’t feel like keeping up the pretense so I dropped it immediately. I introduced myself for real, said I was from the US, and launched into my act. I was happy to see that they were in much better shape than I’d feared, it was a nice room and nearly felt like a proper club gig.

Nearly. Five minutes into my set and midsentence, I was interrupted by a shout from the crowd. “Where are you from?” I spotted her in the middle of the room, so drunk that her eyes were looking in two different directions, swaying back and forth. Swaying back and forth in her chair. How much does one need to drink before being unable to sit straight?

“I told you, I’m from the US.”

“Yeah but where are you FROM?”

“Oh,” I said. No one had ever asked me to be specific. “I’m from New Jersey, close to Philadelphia.” No response and her face remained impassive, so I went back to my material. I figured she was satisfied.

I figured wrong. Five minutes later, in the middle of another joke:

“Where are you from?”

“I told you twice that I’m from the US!”

“Yeah but WHERE are you FROM?!”

“My mother’s vagina! What do you want from me?”

The room erupted around her as she remained as expressionless as ever. A guy next to her put his hand on her shoulder and, mercifully, there were no further outbursts.

I’d been hired to do thirty minutes but, as is usually the case, I could tell after twenty minutes they’d had enough. I thanked them and headed back to my room, glad I’d done well and that everyone had enjoyed it.

When I entered the room I found the salsa band getting ready for their turn in the spotlight. The band being two men tuning their instruments and two women dressing up to dance while the men played. “Dressing up” is a strong statement as they were going for a Rio Carnival look.

Between the copious amounts of alcohol and the g-strings and pasties, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who remembers this gig.



Standup is Easy

Uncategorised Posted on Tue, October 13, 2020 05:34:46

Jerry Seinfeld: “I have no idea what the curve is, of when it’s gonna… feel like it used to feel.”
Colin Quinn: “When you’re killing… you’re up there killing, and you’re miserable. That’s how you’ll know.”
– Comedian

Comments so common to comics from civilians they’re cliches include, “I could never do that,” and, “Standup must be so hard!” The reality is counterintuitive and perhaps a bit controversial, but no less true. I’m here to tell you: standup, is very, very easy.

Granted, there is an actual phobia of talking to large groups of people, especially from a stage. According to multiple sources on the Interwebs (which must, therefore, be 100% accurate), many people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. Okay, if you actually have that phobia, it will be a considerable obstacle for you. Otherwise, standup is very, very easy.

Whenever someone tells me they could never do standup themselves, I ask them the same question- “Have you ever said something you thought was funny to a friend and your friend doesn’t laugh?” That’s all there is to standup. You don’t write jokes you think other people will laugh at. You write jokes that make you laugh and hope as many people in the crowd will agree with you.

Hell, you don’t even have to write jokes. You can just write a three-minute set of stuff you want to talk about. Do you have something in your life you’re very passionate about? I hope you do! Well, talk about that for three minutes and let everyone see how passionate you are about it and they’ll appreciate it.

Here’s another thing to consider: the vast majority of your opinions are shared by the vast majority of the human race. Some examples:
– Airline food is terrible
– Public bathrooms suck
– Sex is fun
– Being unemployed sucks
– Having a job sucks
– Bosses suck
– Rush Hour sucks
– It’s hard being a parent
– It’s hard not being a parent
– Being single is tough
– Being married is tough
– Being divorced is tough and/or awesome

Pick four of the above and express your opinions for two minutes each and BOOM! You’ve got an eight-minute set where you express your opinions to drunk strangers who, for the most part, agree with everything you say. In fact, most of them will have expressed the same thoughts to others, but never from a stage to drunk strangers because they’re not as brave as you, you talented comic you.

So now you’ve done your first set and you probably didn’t get a lot of laughs. Still, you’ve done something most people will never dare do themselves. Now you can analyze the set- what did the crowd like? What didn’t they like? That story that took 45 seconds to tell, can you get it down to 30 seconds?

Maybe you’ll improve! Maybe you’ll find the funny in all the things you said and you can cut out the fat. Maybe you’ll build on those ideas or throw them away and talk about other shit instead. Or, maybe, you won’t improve, but you’ll keep performing anyway. You’ll stay at the same level, talking about whatever you like to scattered chuckles from the audience. And that’s okay too, because the majority of your peers will stay on the same level as well.

Standup is easy. Killing is hard. Even killing has degrees, though. I’ve seen comics kill in a basement full of a hundred people who’d come for the show that could barely get smiles when there’s two people in the room. And yes, I’ve seen comics kill when there’s two people in the room. There are comics who can crush in a proper club for a proper crowd who would choke if they’d been hired to perform at a birthday party in some yokel’s house. There are comics who can succeed no matter where they are, no matter what order they’re in the lineup.

I was once in a chat thread for an upcoming show where all the comics competed to not be first in the lineup, so I volunteered for it. Yeah, it’s not much fun to be up first. You can hope the host will do a good job of warming up the crowd for you, but obviously (and hopefully) the crowd gets increasingly receptive as the show goes on. (For the record and in my personal opinion, the best spot is up last before the break.) But what would it say about me as a comic if I need the crowd warmed up for me to succeed?

There’s really no destination when it comes to performing. You’ll improve as much as you’re capable of improving and, hopefully, you’ll never stop improving. You may reach a point where you’re satisfied to remain forever, with forty minutes of material you know works and never write a new joke again. And that’s okay too, because you’ll have plenty of company on that level as well.



Standup Malaise

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, October 01, 2020 11:15:46

2020 has been a rough year for me.  But then, how many people are going to look back at this year with nostalgia?  Not many, unless things get real bad in the future.  “Well, 2020 wasn’t great, but now it’s Trump’s sixth term and it’s literally raining fire.”

Still, I don’t want that to belittle my own problems.  Even before covid, I’d decided to step back from the stage and focus on getting my life together.  Some things I was able to fix, others learn to live with, and in the meantime, new problems reared their ugly heads.  One thing is certain: I haven’t been feeling particularly funny.

I fell in love with standup when I was a preteen and, for nearly ten years, I’ve been performing myself.  Chasing gigs, running clubs, going on road trips.  It has been, by far, the greatest passion in my life, so it’s been sobering to see that, not only has my drive to perform cooled considerably, I haven’t missed it very much.

Maybe it would be different if we weren’t living in the new covid normal, if all the clubs were running as they always had.  I can’t be certain, but I don’t think so.  So many comics have talked about getting addicted to laughs, but I’ve never experienced that [insert no-one-ever-laughs-at-you comment here].  My drive to be a comic has always been due to my passion for standup and, due to not being passionate about anything this year, that drive has suffered along with everything else.

I’ve been very outspoken about being a comedy snob and I’ve noticed that my snobbery has, somehow, increased over the last year.  For example, there was a scandal this summer at one of the few Stockholm clubs that has remained open- a heckler got upset at comics doing offensive material, was thrown out, leading to a backlash on social media towards the club, leading to comics rushing to the defense with the Free Speech banners held high- but the only thing I could think was, “Yes, you can joke about anything, but how about being funny?”

If you’ve got a joke about Down’s Syndrome and it’s really, really funny, people will be laughing so hard they forget to be offended.  Unfortunately for 99.99% of the comics, just saying Down’s Syndrome is the punchline.  I should know; when I first started, I had a Down’s Syndrome joke.

The other thing about that club is that it was open seven days a week during the summer.  I know a lot of rookies who went there several days a week looking for gigs.  I also know that, when I finally see these rookies for the first time in many, many months, they won’t have any jokes I haven’t heard them say before.  But hey, they’ll have more gigs under their belts.

It gave me the idea to run a comedy course designed for rookies who’ve been performing for one to three years.  It would be a one day event.  Each of them would do a five minute set and then I’d tell them to continue grinding for gigs or, in most cases, I’d say, “Look, you’ve never been very good and you won’t get any better.  Maybe stop wasting your time and pick a more lucrative hobby.  Stamp collecting, perhaps?”

Naturally, no sooner had this idea struck me than I checked myself.  First of all, there’s nothing wrong with performing just to perform, without ambition, or even with ambition that will never be realized.  Also, who am I to judge?  I was at an open mic last week and when a rookie who’s done five gigs asked me how long I’ve been performing, I was almost embarrassed to say nearly a decade.  I’m doing alright but I’ve seen comics with far less experience pass me and reach heights I won’t attain.  And that’s also okay; I’ve never had much ambition and it shows.

Becoming bitter is a trap I’ve seen many comics fall into and that’s not for me.  I can’t say I jump for joy when I’m not an advertised comic on a lineup or put first, or at the fact that more clubs than not won’t offer me gigs unsolicited, and plenty of those clubs won’t book me even if I ask.  I just shrug my shoulders and accept that, based on my level of ambition and talent, I am right where I deserve to be.

Besides, one thing I really enjoy is seeing rookies and their unbridled enthusiasm for being in the club, walking off stage after a thoroughly mediocre gig but shining like they’d just slaughtered at an arena.  It reminds me of when I felt, “Oh my God, I’m booked at an open mic in two weeks, I can’t fucking wait!” instead of, “Ugh, I’m booked at an open mic tonight, I should just stay here on my couch.”  Or nine-year-old posts on Facebook I made saying “I just killed at an open mic!!!!!!!!”  I’m sure I didn’t, but thanks On This Day for reminding me.

I’ve never been one for nostalgia. I honestly get sad when I hear people my age talk about high school as the best years of their lives.  I’ve never wanted to look back at my happiest days; I’d rather feel that I’m happy now and/or more happiness is just up ahead.  But I do catch myself sometimes, looking back at those early days when I was more wide-eyed and enthusiastic.  I also know that this is a common feeling amongst comics who’ve been at this just as long.

Speaking of common feelings, there’s the “oh it used to be so much more fun to hang at clubs” feeling.  One I hear often, in particular, is the era of Maffia Comedy at Baras Backe, a bar where there was a side room in which all the comics could hang before, during and after the show.  I tend to look back at that time with rose-tinted glasses and miss it today, but then I remind myself that it was a show where no one respected how much stage time they got, making a two-hour show stretch to three hours and beyond, and if I wasn’t hosting, I was “headlining.”  (A comic nicknamed me Mr. Sist, sist meaning last in Swedish.)  As a result, while everyone else was hanging out and having a good time, I was usually the only one paying attention to the show.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did and I have a lot of fond memories of the place.  I’m guessing, however, that there are a host of rookies out there right now that are having just as much fun as we did back then, that will look back at even these terrible times with nostalgia.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, just be sure to take those glasses off.

I’m not sure where I go from here.  Back in the early days, I’d see very funny people suddenly disappear and wonder how they could’ve just quit like that.  Now I see how easy it can be and I still care enough about standup to find that worrisome.  I’ve done a few gigs recently, I have a few booked, maybe I’ll get back to the grind.  Maybe I’ll open a new club, but not before all the covid restrictions are gone.  Hopefully there will be a nice window of time between the release of an effective covid vaccine and the sky falling.  Happy times ahead.



Comedy in the Time of Covid

Comedy Posted on Sat, March 21, 2020 12:27:04

A week before Christmas, my position where I worked was erased, and I agreed with my manager that I should leave. Which is like describing a breakup as “mutual.” Everyone says that losing a full-time job in Sweden is next to impossible, but not only is it very possible, I am really good at it, apparently.

At least I saw it coming, for good and for ill. Heading into the Christmas season I can’t say that I was in the best of moods. Grumpy, anxious, taking anger out on friends, generally wondering how I let myself get to that point in my life. All of that came to a head in early January, just when I was enjoying my annual, post-holiday depression, which hopefully isn’t fueled by also being sober every January.

I had to get away, to get my shit together. I quit my club, canceled all my gigs, knew I needed a break but not how long it would be. I didn’t want to make a production of it, just wanted to go away quietly.

It was the longest break I’ve taken in nine years. I’ve heard comics talk about the benefits of taking a break, but I can’t say I experienced any. Didn’t miss performing, didn’t think of any jokes, had absolutely zero motivation. What I did do was spend a lot of time on my couch, not going out, barely communicating with anyone. I tried therapy for the first time, so now the only thing separating me from all the other comics out there is that I’m not on Tinder. Watched a lot of TV, played a lot of video games. Which was fine, for quite a while, but, not surprisingly, it got boring after a few months.

By the start of March I was thinking about performing again, but still didn’t have a real drive to do so. I had a standup event to run for a visiting US comic in the middle of the month, one I’d have to do, and wasn’t excited about. When Trump announced the US-Europe travel ban, the comic had to cancel, and though I feel bad for that person, the news came as a relief. I just wasn’t ready for it.

However, when the middle of the month actually arrived, I was asked to host another show and I said yes. I was ready to go out and see the world again! … just in time for everyone to stay in. I’m such a hipster, I self-isolated before it was cool.

————–

I was booked to host Friday and Saturday night. Friday was…. brutal. Not many tickets sold in advance, and not everyone who’d bought a ticket showed up. The headliner didn’t show up, either; I told the audience that him not being there was proof that cocaine doesn’t help against covid. Covid was the elephant in the room but I was far from my best myself. It was my first time on stage in over two months; I feel rusty after a week. I’d assumed it wouldn’t be too hard, since I host so often, but I barely remembered my own name up there. On the bright side, we didn’t take a break, so after doing five awful minutes to start the show my time on stage was reduced to just introducing the next comic.

A few of us went for a beer after, though none of us felt like celebrating. Being in a half-empty bar just magnified the gloomy atmosphere.

But I needed that night to get me ready for Saturday. The crowd was half the size it normally would be on a Saturday, but it felt full enough that no one noticed the difference. I was loose, not nearly as nervous, and asked the club owner to have a break in the middle like the show normally does. That way, I got to do ten minutes at the start and another ten after the break and I, quite frankly, was fantastic. I’d got my mojo back!

A few of us went for a beer after, because we wanted to celebrate… and left the half-empty bar after one beer. It’s not easy to maintain a party mood when you’re in a ghost town.

————–

In the past week, I’ve been in four clubs, performing twice. Not many people in each room, of course, and I would describe their attitude overall as “fuck corona.” Which is exactly what I told them from stage:
“Fuck corona, yeah! Fuck old people! We’ll show that virus! I think we should take it a step further and spit in each other’s mouths- it might help build our immune systems and will give me an erection, so win-win.”

I know that just being outside the apartment at all is controversial and I don’t share that “fuck corona” attitude, but my bottom-line feeling is, if some people are choosing to go out anyway, the show might as well go on. I’ve heard comics compare themselves to musicians on the Titanic, which is apt, since, like the Titanic, our venues are slowly slipping under the ice. I’m glad I don’t have to make the choice to keep a club open or not; most have closed, some choose to remain open despite cries for them to shut down. That choice may be taken from them soon, especially if an official ban on bars and restaurants comes down.

I hope that doesn’t happen. I’m still spending most of my waking hours on my couch, even if I’ve gone out a few times. I’ve watched too much TV, played too many video games, done waaaay too much soul-searching. My brain is terrible company.

————–

Every once in a while, something comes along and scares the shit out of the human race. SARS, Ebola, Avian Flu… My all-time favorite was Super AIDS, which didn’t capture our attention for very long.

When Swine Flu arrived to scare the shit out of all of us, experts advised using hand sanitizer regularly. Naturally, we trampled over each other to get that, as well as the vaccine that came out not long after. A year later, we found out that neither worked; the vaccine didn’t even give people narcolepsy, even though many still believe that.

I’m not an anti-vaccer. But I am against being reactionary and living in fear. I’m also against not caring at all, saying, “meh, it’s no worse than the flu.” I think we should take it seriously and take precautions. Many of us are in risk groups, or close to people who are, and we should be extra cautious. But no one should be passionately “OMG WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!” or passionately “the media is just making a big deal out of nothing” because we simply don’t know enough yet.

I know what medical experts say today and I take that seriously, but what makes science science and not religion is that experts change their minds as more data is made available. “THOU SHALT BATHE IN ALCOHOL SANITIZER” wasn’t written on a stone tablet when Swine Flu came out. After time and observation those same experts could say, “Whoops, we were wrong about that.” Maybe it really does help against covid, or would if we used even more of it, or maybe not at all. We’ll find out.

Maybe self-isolating works, or would work if everyone did it. Maybe comics telling dick jokes to 10 drunk strangers in a small bar is worse than licking a toilet seat, or maybe it doesn’t matter at all. Maybe posting 18 times a day on social media about covid and screaming out the window at people outside to get indoors for the love of God will save us all, or maybe not at all. We’ll find out.

Well, most of us will find out. Most of us will get through this. Some of us will not live to see covid-free streets and chemtrails back in the sky above us. Some of us will die from covid. Or car crashes. Or domestic violence, on the rise thanks to self-isolation. Or from God knows what. Death is coming for us all, sooner or later.

I often say to rookie comics, “You’ve got 5 minutes on stage. You can be whatever you want, talk about whatever you want, so how do you want to spend that time?” Not many of us know how many minutes we have left to live, but we all know it’s limited. So how do you want to spend that time? I’ll try not to judge you for it, but I probably will. Hey, I’m not Jesus. But who is?

If we’re very lucky, the worst of this will blow over by summer, in time for covid to be replaced in the headlines by shark attacks, and then that can scare the shit out of us instead. Life returning to normal.



Take Advantage of this Opportunity and Get Hubris for Free!

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, January 10, 2020 07:29:29

When I ran Crossfire Comedy Club, for the first two seasons it was a comedy competition. From Season Three I just made it a regular, weekly club, and the first night each month was all-English. Those nights were a lot of fun! The Swedish nights were… not as much fun, due to low turnout. A turnout that got progressively lower as time went on.

On one such night, Yvonne Skattberg was headlining. She’d warned me in advance that she wouldn’t arrive until after the show started, which was just as well since I was going out of my mind. Three people were in the audience. Also, since the venue was a restaurant with only one room, there were a lot of dinner guests who weren’t aware there’d be standup and were annoyed by it, frankly.

I hosted and did my best, which wasn’t nearly good enough. The three in the crowd weren’t much happier than all the dinner guests. Brought up the first comic who promptly and predictably bombed, I went back up and attempted to get things going, without success. But while I was up there I noticed Yvonne arrive.

Brought up the next comic and while they were bombing, went to talk to Yvonne. Apologized for the low turnout and said I completely understood if she just wanted to leave. ”It’s no problem, but instead of headlining, could I go on next?”

I introduced her to the stage and she didn’t treat the room like there were three people in the crowd, sort of listening. She treated the room as if 100 people were there for the show. Not only did she get those three people excited, she got many of the dinner guests to start paying attention, and we had them for the rest of the show.

I thanked Yvonne afterward for her energy and dedication. ”It doesn’t matter if there’s three or three hundred here,” she said, ”it’s a show and they’re here to have a good time.”

—————

One thing that all rookies find out early, much to their chagrin, is that standup isn’t a meritocracy. Talent alone doesn’t lead to stage time and new opportunities. On the one hand, this is a good thing- it shouldn’t be easy. Comics should push club owners for stage time and show up when we’re not booked and promote ourselves on social media as much as possible.

On the other hand, it can be frustrating to see someone get stage time again and again and again, seemingly for the sole reason that the comic has great social skills. Since the vast majority of comics are social retards, a little charm goes a long way; in the land of the blind, he with one eye is king.

I wrote in the last post that talent isn’t enough and not even the most important key to success. We need luck, but the only way to increase the chances of being in the right place at the right time is to be out in the clubs as much as possible. We need to be social, although, speaking as an introvert myself, it’s a tough proposition. ”Hey, you know that way you’ve been your entire life? Have you tried not being that way?”

We need something that makes us special, which is actually something we can affect. If there’s nothing special about the real you, just invent a character. Standup is a very honest art form except when it’s not.

For the very lucky, having a hard-to-define ”it-factor” is powerful currency. Club owners may not even be able to say the exact reason they throw opportunities to those people. Whatever it is, take advantage of it!

I am well aware that being an English-speaking comic in Sweden makes me something more than just yet another middle-aged white guy. All it took for me to make my debut at Maffia Comedy Club was writing an email to the owner saying I’m an English-speaking comic; I’ve seen Swedish comics struggle to get stage time there harder than a rabbit biting its own foot off to get out of a trap. I’ve headlined shows in multiple clubs because I speak English. Hell, I’ve headlined shows just because I have a car and was willing to drive a bunch of comics to the gig.

None of these things matters without some level of talent. Beyond that, whatever edge you may have, exploit the fuck out of it and without guilt. But don’t confuse that edge with actual talent.

Unfortunately, that’s a trap I’ve seen too many comics fall into. I can’t say I blame them. When you’ve just started and everyone is telling you that you’re hot shit, it’s pretty easy to believe it. I’m not sure if they’re so self-unaware that they think they’re far better comics than they are, or if they’re very aware that their talent alone doesn’t justify the opportunities they’re handed and overcompensate as a result. In either case, it leads to dickish, diva behavior.

Van Halen is infamous for demanding M & Ms be available backstage for a show with all the brown ones taken out. Hey, what Van Halen wants, Van Halen gets. Would I get away with making a demand like that? Should I get away with making a demand like that? Obviously not, I can’t play guitar, nor have I ever worn leather ass-less chaps, not even once.

(I’m sure there’s a rumor about me saying the opposite but, as usual, false.)

I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced that level of hubris in one of my clubs, but I do encounter these people on a semi-regular basis. Everything from, ”Oh, there’s only 10 people here and I wanted to try new material, I mean, what’s the point?” to showing up three minutes before their spot and leaving immediately afterwards, or not bothering to show up at all. One can hope that karma catches up to people eventually, but in the short-term it doesn’t seem to matter. The opportunities keep coming.

Probably sounds like sour grapes, I know, or the natural ”why do they get all the gigs I don’t, I’m waaaaay better” attitude most comics live with. Outside my own club I just shrug my shoulders. It’s the nature of the business and some people get all the breaks and some don’t. While I shamelessly press every advantage I have, I’d rather look back on whatever success I obtain and know I built it on talent and drive.

Speaking of shoulders, though, in my club that’s where I’d like to grab a few comics now and then and give them a little shake. ”Do you not understand that you’re not good enough to be this difficult?!”

If you’ve got any comments to make about this post, I only want to hear the positive ones. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be backstage eating green Non Stop only.



My First Not Really Decade of Standup

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, January 02, 2020 14:17:39

A caveat- in March 2020 I will celebrate nine years of standup. So no, technically I haven’t wrapped up my first decade of comedy, nor literally my first decade of standup. Hey, my blog, my rules.

But now that the 2010s have come to an end, I’ve thought a lot about where I was as the decade began and where I am now. About the progress I’ve made, about all the things I’ve learned about myself and standup in general. Some things that were confirmed, others that were surprises, good things and bad things but above all the sheer amount of them, and I thought this would be a good time to recap some of them.

– I was right, I am a nice guy.
Nothing makes me feel better than helping others, probably due to my Hero Complex and pathological need to save people even when they don’t want to be saved. The consequences have been more positive than negative, however. I honestly can’t count the number of people I’ve helped over the years, helping them write or straight out writing for them, giving them their standup debut at one of my clubs, introducing them to other club owners, vouching for them to get them bigger and better gigs, just to name a few things I’ve done. I hope that’s my legacy and how most people think of me, because…..

– Turns out, I can be a real asshole.
There are dozens of people I really like and enjoy hanging out with that I couldn’t tell you anything about other than their jokes, which I’ve heard a hundred times, because I make zero effort to learn anything about them. I’ve met people five or six times for the first time, because it took that long to remember meeting them at all. If I see someone new in a club, chances are high I’m not going to have an urge to say hello until I’ve seen them on stage and found them funny.
I’ve trash-talked other comics, though I’ve toned that down significantly in recent years. Gossiped- if there’s one thing comics love to talk about more than themselves, it’s other comics- and though I should know better I’ve certainly spread stories that weren’t my own. I’ve toned that down, too, but I’m still guilty of it from time to time.
“I have so many beefs in standup it makes me want to become a vegan,” is one of my standard remarks because I know plenty of people who don’t like me (and don’t claim to know all the people who don’t like me). Sometimes I didn’t do anything to deserve it, I swear! Most of the time, though, it’s earned. Comics are sensitive by nature, and I’m no exception. As tough as we talk, feelings are easily hurt.

– All it takes is a real apology to make everything ok again.
At one point, a comic really pissed me off and I didn’t talk to him for nearly a year. Lots of people got to hear why I was angry, except him; we weren’t close and didn’t see each other often, so he had no idea he’d done anything wrong. Eventually I confronted him, to his surprise, and he gave a genuine apology, not the more common non-apology of, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” He also bought a round of shots and all was forgiven.
This came as a surprise to me, that I could be that angry for a long period of time but have it go away in an instant. But this revealed another surprise…

– I can hold a grudge a long, long time.
Not too proud of this one, but if someone makes me very angry and never apologizes for it, they are dead to me. I have quite a number of these instances that, remembering them now, piss me off nearly as much as they did at the time. As much as I would prefer to forgive and forget, I’m just not wired that way.

– Talent isn’t the biggest key to success.
When I think about all the comics I’ve met over the years, there are far, far more people I never see today than familiar faces. Of them, the overwhelming majority quit. A small handful achieved greater success and have no need of grinding in open mic clubs anymore. They’re talented, of course, but they have more in common than that: ambition, social skills, an it-factor that is hard to define, discipline and a fair amount of luck.
I probably have a lower opinion of my own talent than I should, but I also have no ambition, poor social skills, cool is the last word one would use to describe me and, like most comics, I am very lazy (notice that this is the first blog post in a year). I’m lucky enough to be an English-speaking comic in Sweden, which makes me something more than just another middle-aged white guy talking about his dick, but this combination will almost certainly not lead to my Big Break.
Like I said, no one with zero talent will make it far, but I could name several successful comics who have pretty limited talent (I’m not actually going to name them because see the name of my blog). They’re strong enough in those other areas to make up for it. I could name several comics who are extremely talented but lacking in those other areas, and the biggest level of success they might enjoy is being known as a comic’s comic, never growing out of the clubs.

– Corporate gigs are awesome.
Wait, you WANT to pay me to talk about my penis, which I usually do for free? Sounds fantastic!

– Just kidding, corporate gigs are awful.
The money is nice, don’t get me wrong. But chances are high that you’ve been booked as a surprise by the one person at the company who has a sense of humor and your introduction to the party is, “Ok everyone, stop talking to each other and enjoying yourselves, it’s time to give your complete attention to someone you’ve never heard of who will try and make you laugh.”

– Counting gigs was silly.

I used to obsessively count and track all my gigs.  When I hit 500 gigs in less than three years I realized how goofy it was and a complete waste of time, so I stopped counting.

– Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to stop counting gigs.

Recently I saw someone make a very big deal about doing their 1000th gig.  Now you tell me I was supposed to keep counting?!

 



Performing in Swedish (or close enough)

Comedy Posted on Thu, January 10, 2019 09:34:46

The first time I performed in Swedish, back in 2013, I was
very proud of myself. Not only that I’d
performed in another language, but that it worked almost as well as when I’d
performed in English. Kept smiling all
night and at the bar after the show, a woman from the crowd spoke to me, except
in English.

”I thought you were funny, but next time, please perform in
English.”

”Gee, thanks.”

”No disrespect meant!
But you lost me when you tried to say ’sju’.”

”Sju” is the Swedish word for seven. It was also the first thing I’d said. ”Hi my name is Ryan Bussell, I’ve lived in
Sweden for seven years,” except in Swedish.
So I lost her then.

The comment annoyed me and I started telling that story on
stage. After one such time, a female
comic gave me unsolicited feedback – see? that happens sometimes – saying, ”The
problem with that bit is that you say ’sju’ perfectly!”

”Exactly!”

I’ve performed in Swedish several times since then, but it’s
rare. I want to be perfect, which will
never happen, and not being perfect keeps me from practicing, which keeps me
from improving. That’s my problem in
general when it comes to Swedish, not just on stage.

Also, I want them laughing for the right reason. A comic offered me a gig at a Youth Club in a
Stockholm suburb. Said comic apparently
likes to invite me to that town to bomb; previous gigs with him there were
abyssmal. Anyway, although I can usually
rely on the solid English skills Swedes have, I knew that I would be dealing
with a group of 12 – 16 year olds, so I decided to perform in Swedish. Took about 30 seconds before they were openly
– and loudly – mocking my accent.
Shitheads.

Then there was the time I was booked through an agent to
perform at a birthday party outside Mälmo.
The birthday boy knew I performed in English, but still wanted me to do
30 minutes at his party in Swedish. Hey,
it’s his money, and despite having months to prepare I waited for the train
trip south to write and rehearse the whole thing.

Got to the party and found, despite my strong advice, that I
was a surprise to the guests. Sigh. It was already awkward as I began, but in
Swedish, ”Hi, I’m Ryan, I rarely perform in Swedish but it’s a special night,
so why not?” The birthday boy shouted,
”Well, do it English then!” Nope, I’d worked
too hard on that set to give up. (Yes,
waiting until the last minute is working hard in my world.). He was happy, his
guests were confused.

Writing that first Swedish set had two unexpected
benefits. First of all, it isn’t enough
to Google Translate my English material into Swedish. It needs to have the right flow and, more
importantly, I need to be careful which words I choose. I’m not skilled enough to say any and all
Swedish words. Writing so carefully and
deliberately in Swedish helped my English writing as well.

The second thing is that, to me, Swedish is a much more
emotional language than English. It has a
sing-song quality and I’ve often said to non-Swedes that, if they would observe
two Swedes in conversation, they might not understand what was being said but
they would know how the Swedes felt.
(It’s interesting, then, that when many Swedes speak English, all
emotion vanishes. It can be like talking
to a robot that has perfect chinbones.)

Because of that, I found emotion in my material that I
didn’t know was there. Saying the same
line, but in Swedish, I was much more expressive in my delivery than I’d been
when I’d performed in English, so I brought that energy into my English sets as
well.

However, I’ve noticed that my tougher material gets a much
better response in English than in Swedish.
It’s like I get a pass saying dark, offensive things as a foreigner, but
when I say the same thing in Swedish, the reaction from the crowd is, ”nooo, we
don’t say such things here.” For that
reason, and the fact that I don’t recognize the sound of my own voice in
Swedish, performing in Swedish will remain a rare event.

I was contacted by a Big Name who asked me if I had any videos on YouTube where I perform in Swedish. “Yes!” I replied, excited for the opportunity he was about to hand me.
“Great! I’m planning to perform as an American speaking Swedish and I need to learn that accent.”
Ass.



Give ‘Em What They Want

Comedy Posted on Tue, November 27, 2018 07:16:05

Had a conversation recently with a comic who felt like he
had to say on stage what the audience expected him to say. ”They see me, they hear my accent, they have
a good idea of who I am and where I’m from and I feel like that’s all I should
talk about.” He feels like he’s forced
to give the crowd what they want.

I get that. One of
the many rules of standup is that, if there’s something about you that’s
obvious, you have to address it from the start.
Otherwise, the crowd gets distracted, thinking, ”Why isn’t the comic
addressing that?” instead of listening to the material. I learned early on to always open with, ”Hi,
I’m Ryan, I’m from the US but I live here now.”
There were times I didn’t do that and heard people in the crowd asking
each other, ”Is he English? Is he Irish?”

Yes, I’m Irish! …in America.
Here in Sweden, I’m American.

I know a comic that used to have a huge afro. He’d start with 30 seconds on his hair – ”Yes,
I know, I have crazy hair…” – and then move on, not addressing it again.

That was the advice I gave to the guy I was talking to-
address the obvious but don’t feel that the entire set has to revolve around
it. You don’t have to give the crowd what
you think they want. I even used my
classic line, ”You’re not there for them, they’re there for you.”

I have to wonder, though, if this is good advice. My niche is American Comic in Sweden and of
course I talk about that; I talk about my life and my life is here. But I avoid it as much as I can and I openly
shit on the standard jokes to the point of absurdity. But it doesn’t matter, Swedes won’t stop
laughing at those jokes. Just me saying
a word in Swedish is enough to get a laugh and since I don’t want to become a
cliché – the comic who hates the audience – I avoid doing that, too.

So while I’m actively avoiding that material, my peers are
not, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several of my peers get a lot
more heat than me. (I mean, there’s a
chance they’re actually funnier than me, but how likely is that?) They’re giving the audience what they want to
hear.

I just… can’t. Or won’t. Despite the fact that I rarely perform
outside Sweden, I am still trying to write material that will work no matter
where I am. I talked about this with an
established comic who told me he used to feel the same way, but it didn’t take
long before everything was about Sweden, and now every new idea is about
Sweden. You can’t get more successful
than him, so there might be a point to giving the crowd what they want.

Maybe, deep down, I do hate the audience, or at least think
I’m better than them. I always liked
this advice from Bill Hicks: ”Don’t ever ask the audience, ’How are you all
feeling tonight?’ It’s your job to tell them how to feel.”

I’ve said before that I have no ambition and that’s true,
but despite my best intentions I’m still human and enjoy success. I just want success on my terms. I’m not there for them, they’re there for me.



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