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Don't Shit Where You Eat! ™

The Itch that Can’t/Won’t be Scratched

Comedy Posted on Fri, June 17, 2022 10:05:06

Several years ago, back when I was performing three to five times a week, I went to the US for a month during the summer. A week away from the stage and I started itching to perform again; by the end of the month I was nearly jumping out of my skin with all the new ideas I wanted to try out. When I’m visiting family, NYC isn’t so far away as to be completely out of the question, and Philly is a quick subway ride away, but I didn’t have any contacts in the US and it felt weird to bail on my family to chase a gig.

As the years passed, I gained a few contacts in both cities and I’ve performed in NYC once, Philly several times, but my urge to perform has diminished significantly. When I visit the US I don’t mind the break. Would be more accurate to say that my desire to gig doesn’t beat my desire to not bother with the rigmarole of finding a spot and getting to it.

I’ve written before how that itch became nearly extinguished over time, especially just prior to and during the pandemic, but I’m happy (?) to say it’s coming back. I put a question mark on that because my opportunities are severely limited. Many clubs that closed during the pandemic have yet to reopen, if ever, and although several clubs have sprung up since, the dynamic has changed in Stockholm. Before, most clubs didn’t charge the audience and getting spots was easy. Now, most clubs have a cover charge and the lineups are much more limited. Most of these clubs are run by comics who aren’t falling over themselves to offer me gigs, even when I ask, which is humbling. But that’s alright- a healthy ego never leads to good material.

Also, I do get more and longer gigs a month than many others, so I appreciate that and don’t take it for granted. By far, though, the biggest limit on opportunities comes from me. There’s an open-mic level club in Stockholm that’s open every night of the week and although I wouldn’t get a spot every time I ask- in fact, I asked for a spot tonight and was refused- I’m sure most of my requests would be granted. But I rarely ask, as the thought of taking the train an hour to get there for a seven-minute spot, just to turn around for the hour home, kills my motivation far more often than not.

Last night I found myself wondering what comics here would be like if Stockholm was more like NYC, where comics have to work harder to get spots but, with the right work ethic, it’s possible to perform several times a night. As it stands here, there aren’t many spots available but they take very little effort to get, and I can’t help but think that’s the reason there are so many comics who perform a few times a week, for years, without the slightest amount of growth. I try not to judge, but I’m only human, and despite my curiosity I’m not going to walk up to someone and ask if the odd chuckle here and there really satisfies them.

The most frustrating part of all this is that most of the time I’m hosting and most of my new ideas can’t be done while I’m hosting. Well, “can’t” is a strong word- I could do it if I wanted. But as I’ve stated many times here I’m not one of those hosts that do, let’s just say challenging material, and when the audience has paid a steep ticket price I don’t feel comfortable trying out new bits that are several minutes long. Hell, I get nervous trying a new joke, let alone a new chunk. When I do get a regular spot I take advantage of the chance to test new material, but those spots are so few and far between it’s difficult to really work out new ideas.

Besides the itch to perform, I have to admit the itch to start a new club is increasing as well, and I can’t help wondering why. Traditionally, comics start clubs to get guaranteed stage time for themselves, but I’d be happy to open a club, have someone else host it, and I’d maybe do a spot now and then. I wouldn’t open a club to hang with comics, as I can’t say I have much of a social circle at the moment and I’m not what you would call a mingler, especially when a show is in progress. I certainly wouldn’t open a club to make money.

I think I want to open one so, as in the past, I can offer more opportunities to others who otherwise don’t get many chances to grow. I’d love to see more return on my investment, though, and see them improve over time. I just need to figure out a way to motivate them. Maybe a trap door on stage triggered by thirty seconds of silence…. I’ll keep thinking about it and get back to you.

What the Hell is Wrong with Me

Comedy Posted on Mon, June 06, 2022 04:03:15

”It really puts perspective on things, doesn’t it?”
“Too much. There’s too much fucking perspective now.”

Spinal Tap’s Nigel and David nail my mindset during the pandemic. I’d decided to take a break from standup at the end of 2019 and right when I was ready to dip my toes back into the scene, just about every club shut down due to covid. I wasn’t working, either, so for over a year my routine was sleep late, gym, grocery shopping, couch until 2 AM or later, lather, rinse, repeat. I had a lot of time to think. Entirely too much time.

One reason I’d decided to step away was recognizing that I needed a better way to deal with anger. Probably the biggest thing about me that few understand and far fewer have actually witnessed (thank goodness) is that I’m fully capable of Hulking out with rage, minus the green skin and muscles. People sometimes wonder if I’m mad at them but the fact is, no one really has to ever wonder if I’m mad at them. If I’m mad at them, they’ll know.

I decided to finally talk to a therapist for the first time in my life, not that I really had the disposable income for it. And with the pandemic in full swing, the session was digital. I told her my problems, she recommended that I act like a grownup, which was shockingly good advice. I thanked her for her time and never had another session. I don’t think I’m cured, mind you, I just thought I’d said all I was going to say and further sessions would just mean repeating myself. I repeat myself on stage and in conversations with friends already, I don’t need to pay someone for the same opportunity.

I had a lot of time to think about what’s wrong with me and why I do standup, which I believe are related. Unlike more comics than I can count, I don’t have an official diagnosis of mental illness. The only official diagnosis I have, so far, is eczema, and if God existed He wouldn’t make me look good in black and also make my skin flake off, but I digress. Given that I have family members that are mentally ill and I have days or even weeks when I just want to stay in bed with the covers over my head, it’s likely that I’ve got something going on, but having been this way for so long I don’t see much need to take medical action against it. Besides, it doesn’t stop me from being somewhat functional in life.

Not to pooh-pooh mental illness, but I’ve met people who assign every mistake, every shitty thing said or done, to their diagnosis. “I did [x] because of [y],” as if they’d be flawless saints if it wasn’t for that damned chemical imbalance. I can envy that, to be honest, as I have to attribute mistakes to flaws in my character instead, but I certainly don’t envy a daily regimen of medication.

One thing I don’t wonder about is the origin of my antisocial nature. I despise mingling, I have a hard time talking to people I don’t know, I hate small talk because I can’t get invested in asking questions when I don’t care about the answers. I often get uncomfortable in social situations as I’m acutely aware of my own awkwardness; come into the club where I host just about every weekend and you’ll likely find me standing alone, away from everyone. I know I’ve given others a terrible first impression of me and it’s rough considering how much being social can help comics get opportunities.

This aspect became aggravated in recent years by me being away from the scene for so long, but it was always a part of me. My parents split when I was very young and my daily routine after school was, go straight home and let myself in, no friends allowed to visit, wait for my mom to get home from work. Eventually a stepdad was added to the mix and then, at age 10, I wasn’t an only child anymore, but the routine was the same. As a result, I spent a lot of time alone.

Not that I had to disappoint friends who wanted to hang but weren’t allowed. After my mom met the man who would become my stepdad, we moved to his town and I instantly became an object of ridicule in school. That was in Second Grade. I tried the “ignore your bullies until they get bored” method and it worked! By Tenth Grade. Ages 15 to 16 I was absolutely, completely ignored in school and I could not have been happier. It gave me the breathing room I needed to finally make a few friends! In Twelve Grade.

Well, you don’t need a degree to understand why I’m socially retarded to this day. Maybe there’s a pill for it, I don’t know. Fortunately/unfortunately, I’ve found that alcohol helps me get out of my own way in social situations. Give me a few vodka cranberries and I’m everyone’s friend. In any case, I have no plans to sue my parents for raising an introvert. They did the same thing I’m doing now as a father- the best they could. Looking around at others, I’d say their best was pretty damn good.

What does all of this have to do with why I do standup? I’m not exactly sure. I know someone who thinks that every comic ever was driven to the stage by troubled relationships with their fathers, and I’ve said on stage that male and female comics have Daddy Issues in common, but I don’t really believe that. Yeah, my parents split up, I only saw my dad weekends, and my relationship with my stepdad got pretty combative when I was a teenager, but none of that seems abnormal and we all get along fine today. Another theory is that we’re all seeking love and approval we didn’t get growing up but, again, I never felt neglected by family.

There is one thing I can think of that might be key. As I said, by Twelfth Grade I’d made a few friends and finally came out of my shell. I went to a small school and my class was made up of a hundred students who, by that point, had known me for six to ten years without actually knowing me. That year, over and over and over again, I’d be talking to someone and it was a revelation to them- “Holy Shit! You have a personality and something to say!” Maybe I’m still chasing that, to walk out of the shadow when it’s my time on stage, surprise everyone by doing well, then retreat to the dark, waiting for someone to want to talk to me. The 47-year-old wallflower.

Theft Revisited

Comedy Posted on Mon, May 30, 2022 04:35:00

Before getting into this week’s topic I just have to tell a story that has nothing to do with anything. This past weekend I hosted a show and during the break, I was talking to a comic that was on during the first half. A woman walked up to him and said, “Sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to tell you I thought you were really funny! I was laughing so hard I had a hard time breathing!”

Then she looked at me and said, “Where is the bathroom?” I love hosting.

This week I wanted to cover joke theft and parallel thinking, though I had a vague memory of writing on the subject before. I dug into the blog and, yup, I wrote an entry back in 2015. Look at me, stealing from myself.

I was surprised I didn’t mention something in that last post. I did write about the fact that expat comics tend to joke about the same aspects of Swedish life we all find especially foreign – there’s no expat comic that hasn’t hit the mines of fika, lagom and olla at some point – but I left out a story on the subject. I once called my eight-year-old daughter’s classmate a very bad word (to an American, that is; the word means next to nothing to the Irish) in my head and it became a story I told on stage where I’d actually said the word to the girl out loud. I liked that joke and told it roughly 600 times.

One day, another expat comic messaged me, said he’d seen me do that joke the night before, and he had a virtually identical joke where he said a different bad word to his neighbor’s kid. I told him I’d never heard him do it and it was clearly just parallel thinking. A few weeks later he told a club owner he’d only gig there if I wasn’t booked, the club owner gleefully ratted on him to me, and the comic and I didn’t speak for a year. Then he apologized and bought me a shot and all was well again.

(Damn it, writing this also sounded familiar so I looked again through the blog and saw a different post where I mentioned someone pissing me off and making good by buying shots. At least I didn’t tell the story then.)

Anyway, what I actually wanted to write about today is what to do if you think someone is stealing your shit. I’ll start with a little story that inspired this, as an example of what not to do. A few months back, a comic told me he’d started to record all of his sets because he was tired of other comics stealing his material. He didn’t name names, but the following week I heard a more experienced comic do one of the other guy’s jokes nearly word for word.

Did either steal from the other or is it just parallel thinking? I have no idea. It certainly appears that the aggrieved comic believes the other stole his shit, hasn’t spoken to them about it, but continues to do the same material. That’s a problem, since one gets more exposure than the other, people will believe the more established comic is the one getting ripped off. Robin Williams made quite a career out of vacuuming up material from club comics and passing it off as his own and the fact that few are aware of this fact speaks volumes.

My advice? If you think someone has stolen your joke outright, or maybe just happened to stumble on virtually the same material you’ve already been doing, have a conversation with that comic. I understand that, in conflict-adverse Sweden, this is easier said than done. But if you’re not passionate enough about that material to fight for it, then why hang onto it in the first place? Better to just let it go and write new jokes instead.

When I wrote before on the subject I mentioned the one time I needed to confront a comic. Other than that, there have been multiple occasions when, let’s just say that I’ve inspired others. I’m not the first comic to step off the stage and get into someone’s face during crowd work, but I’ve known a few comics who added that move to their routines after seeing me do it. Certainly nothing for me to gnash my teeth over, not when it’s a move I didn’t invent. It’s a bummer when a comic does it before me on the lineup, but since I do that bit so rarely these days, it’s not really an issue.

(Full disclosure- I was once on a lineup before a comic I had “inspired”, hadn’t planned to do that bit, but then did it just to take the wind out of their sails. Never said I’m above being petty.)

There’s no point at all in fighting over host material because I think that stuff is up for grabs. For example, I remember the first host I saw get the crowd going at the start by yelling, “GIVE ME SOME ENERGY!” I’ve seen five other hosts do it since, word for word. I’ve suggested to the crowd that the more they drink the funnier the show gets, I’ve heard three other hosts say it since. It’s flattering to be inspirational. I’m not going to get in someone’s face, “I’m the one who says, ‘Let’s give the comics in the first half a round of applause’!”

Then there are comics where confrontation is pointless. One such comic has a reputation for being somewhat of a parrot; for the most part they don’t steal jokes word for word, but instead certain phrases, topics, or even inflections. When I see them on stage I’ll often think, “Oh, that’s so-and-so’s voice.” I’ve heard my own voice coming out of their mouth more times than I can count. I don’t think they do it with malicious intent, or even consciously. I think they hear stuff from others, like it, and it goes into their Cloud to be accessed later. Until the day they take something more concrete, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and let my ego smile over being inspirational once again.

I was talking to my uncle last summer. He suggested I watch Abbott and Costello clips on YouTube and either steal their jokes outright or otherwise rework their material into my own. I wasn’t able to make him understand how alien this thought is to me. I don’t even know how to fit “Who’s On First?” into my routine. Even if I did, I wouldn’t. The time I get on stage is my own, my opportunity to say what I want to say the way I want to say it. That’s the question I’d pose to comics who steal or parrot others- the crowd may be laughing, but don’t you want to be the one who really got them to laugh? Life and stage time are too short for karaoke.

You Might Just Be an Entitled Comic

Comedy Posted on Mon, May 23, 2022 08:38:58

If I ever run low on ideas for this blog, I could spend weeks on my pet peeves alone. For fuck’s sake, never ask a crowd if it’s “okay” to tell a joke you’re planning to tell anyway. Sorry, I’ll stay on topic today- I want to write about comics becoming entitled, a condition that drives me batshit and of which I’m becoming increasingly aware in my peers. I’m not sure if it’s always been around and I’m just seeing it more, or if it’s actually increasing in the Stockholm community, but either way it does no one any good.

I’ve written before about the early days of one’s comedy career, when we’re wide-eyed and optimistic in the clubs, look up with awe at the veterans around us, and generally feel lucky to get a minute of stage time, let alone five. I love to still see that when I meet rookie comics but it’s bittersweet; it reminds me of how I used to be and I know it’s a fleeting emotion. Cynicism usually sets in around six months to a year and sets in hard.

I’ve always felt, when I walk into a comedy club for a gig, that I’m a guest in the club owner’s house. I won’t claim to jump for joy when I’m put first on the lineup or asked to censor my material, but when I’m under someone else’s roof, I play by their rules. Plus, I’m an unknown comic- if one person shows up thanks to me sharing the event on social media, that’s quite a coup for me. Whatever audience fills the room that night, they aren’t there to see me, specifically. And while I certainly appreciate being paid to joke about my penis, it’s not something I take for granted. More often than not I’ll perform for free because I want to perform, although I’m far less likely to travel for hours to do so.

As a people, comics are… special. And by special, I mean broken. Everyone wants to be loved and accepted, but it takes a special kind of broken to get on a stage and expect it from drunk strangers. We all have luggage filled with insecurities and that manifests in many ways, usually by overcompensation- for example, I’ve met many comics over the years, especially rookies, who overcompensate for their lack of confidence by wearing an aura of false confidence like a ten gallon hat.

Insecurity leads to anger and anger leads to the Dark Side. I don’t deserve to be first on the lineup! … do I? Why am I not headlining, I deserve it! … don’t I? Why am I not being offered gigs, why don’t they say yes when I ask, I deserve to be booked! … don’t I? All that anger and insecurity needs a target or the damage will be self-inflicted, so it’s much more satisfying to bash club owners.

Over the last decade I’ve seen comics come and go, I’ve seen many of my peers achieve higher success than I have, at least so far, and might not ever achieve. Many of them are more ambitious than me, more prolific, while others are more social than me, play the game better than me. I don’t mind either way, I just run my own race and try hard to avoid becoming bitter. That, unfortunately, is a trap I’ve seen too many fall into. Comics who feel they haven’t achieved the success they deserve, that compare themselves to others who passed them by, who treat clubs like they’re doing the place a favor by being there.

I’m not going to name names- see the title of this blog- but one such comic changed the way I host shows. I was at a club, hosting a sold-out night, and I said to the crowd, “Tonight your headliner is —–! Who’s here to see them?” There was a moment of absolute silence, followed by a nervous giggle that rippled through the crowd. I’d had the same reaction during previous shows and decided to never ask again.

Thing is, this is someone I like. I went to a show they had produced themselves for an audience half the size of the night in question and felt they deserved a bigger turnout. Unfortunately, this comic would later complain openly about not being paid enough to headline, which just makes me wonder- how much money should we demand when a show is sold out, yet not one person bought a ticket to see us, specifically?

I’ve heard it said that club owners take advantage of comics. After all, without comics there’d be no show. Fair enough, but for the 99.98% of comics who can’t sell tickets on their names alone, we’re performing to crowds who bought tickets based on the name of the club. I’d say our relationship with the clubs is symbiotic. Perhaps symbiotically parasitic, if that was a thing.

I don’t mean to say that there’s a pandemic of entitlement, because that’s far from the truth. I think it’s more that I’m seeing it in comics I’ve known for years, and, as Yoda said, once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. I’ve also written about this before, that at some point you’re either at peace with the success of others, or every new instance drives you deeper into a bitter hole. I saw the best minds of my generation caught in that sinkhole and, to date, I’ve never seen anyone climb out.

All of this affects my enjoyment, or lack thereof, out in the clubs. I try instead to focus on positive energy, both from new faces and veterans who’ve remained easy-going. It absolutely affects my drive to open a new club; I’ve been out of that game for nearly three years now and while I have a bit of an itch to start something new, I’m not in any hurry. I know exactly what I’d do, combining the best elements of the three clubs I’ve run in the past to various levels of non-success, into a new venue that would be open to all. I’m sure it would be a welcome addition to the scene in Stockholm, especially in this allegedly post-covid world, but that would mean dealing with comics like myself. To quote Gene Wilder from Blazing Saddles, “You know… assholes.”

It would just be nice to see comics happy to be in clubs and promoting their gigs on social media and not being dicks. But hey, if we had healthy attitudes and stable emotions, we wouldn’t be comics.

The Art of Dick Jokes

Comedy Posted on Wed, May 18, 2022 03:11:23

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I could gladly spend hours in serious discussion of all things standup. Hell, I have a blog dedicated to it. It’s an art form that has inspired passion in me like nothing else. I’m endlessly fascinated in the craft, how so many factors – the way you stand on stage, where your eyes land, the order of your bits, and on and on – affect your performance as much or even more than the quality of your material.

At the same time, nothing makes me laugh harder than hearing comics discuss comedy seriously. Recently, a friend of mine told me he can’t take someone’s opinion on the “craft of standup” if they’re not performing themselves; this is the same friend who has spent the past several months working on a bit about the difficulties he encounters with hygiene due to his hairy asscrack. Craft, indeed.

I’m not throwing stones here. I’m a self-admitted snob and can hang with the most pretentious out there. It’s just fun to talk seriously about a subject it’s impossible to take seriously.

Mid-pandemic I was on an online panel with a few other comics, discussing how we were affected by the restrictions and the fact that so many clubs had shut down. “We need places to express our art!” said one and I laughed immediately. “Yes, our art of using ‘Down Syndrome’ as a punchline.”

I’d love to discover that there’s an afterlife and I get the opportunity to meet Beethoven. “Oh yes, I was also an artist,” I’d say to him. “I explained to rooms full of drunk strangers how my penis is like frozen pizza.”

My Worst Enemy

Comedy Posted on Mon, May 09, 2022 08:19:52

About a year into the pandemic, inspired by a friend who had long before suggested I do a bit about it, I came up with a sketch- an unboxing video for War Paint.  If you haven’t heard of that, it’s cosmetics for men.  But everyone knows that Real Men don’t wear makeup, so this absolutely isn’t makeup, no.  It’s War Paint!  Yes, it’s a real thing.

In the sketch I would be a manly man and repeatedly insist it’s not makeup, but ask my daughter to help me apply the products.  In the end I’d look like the worst drag queen you’ve ever seen.  Thought it would be fun to do, especially since I hadn’t worked or performed in months and was bored senseless.  My kid thought it would be fun also.

Then I saw the price tag for the Ultimate Kit, 154 Euro, not including shipping.  “Sorry, but I think we should pause on doing that video,” I said to my daughter.  “Don’t really have that kind of disposable income to drop on cosmetics I’ll use just to make a video and never again.”

“Yeah,” she replied, “and it would suck to go through all that for a video no one watches.”

Harsh, but true.  She knows me too well.  This is a reason I’m my own worst enemy, that I do it for the Likes.

Not completely.  I’m very self-motivated when it comes to standup.  To perform at all, to come up with new material, to consistently improve, that drive definitely comes from within.  I think that’s fueled by observable change- I can look back at old clips and see positive changes since, I remember certain gigs as turning points and milestones.  My drive in standup is based solely on my own enjoyment.

Creative endeavors off stage, however, are another story.  When I see other people who have successful YouTube channels or podcasts or tens of thousands of Instagram followers, I know they aren’t overnight successes. They had to plug away and grind and consistently put out content to build to that point.  I’ve met several people who said they’d never try standup because they want to be great immediately and know that won’t happen, and I just shake my head, but I clearly have the same attitude about creating content.

Take Twitter, for example.  I’d been a comic for nearly a year before I joined, noticing all my peers were more active there than on Facebook (this is 2012 we’re talking about).  I liked being limited in how little space I had to write jokes, though I never really understood the whole hashtag thing (even then, at 37, I was old).  But it didn’t take long for me to notice the Silence.  “Twitter is, you tell someone a joke and then they turn and walk away without a word,” as a friend succinctly put it.

The vast majority of my tweets got nothing.  My wife got really into Twitter and amassed over 1000 followers before I hit 500.  Before too long, I’d think of something I could post and then not bother, because what was the fucking point?  Just logged in for the first time in several months and I see I’ve dropped to 499.  Might as well be zero, really.

Another inspired-by-covid-boredom creation was a video bashing Coming 2 America.  I was excited to see that movie only to find it was the worst movie I’d seen in years, so I spoiled the whole thing in a 14-min long video, including screen grabs from the movie and my own commentary.  Was fun to do, despite taking at least four hours to put together.  I posted it on Facebook and Instagram and got very little reaction.  As of this writing, it has 70 views on YouTube and one Like.  I have another video in mind where I bash Forrest Gump but, again, what’s the fucking point?

Just before covid hit I took a break from standup and went into self-imposed exile, only to find that I didn’t miss standup all that much.  The longer I was away, the less I felt drawn to the stage, and then the lockdown eliminated most chances for that anyway.  It gave me the idea to do a limited-series podcast where I’d talk to other comics who had quit standup completely or just quit the grind and were happy to perform a few times a year instead of a dozen times a month.  With this thing, at least, I went into it with eyes wide open- I was about to be the last person on Earth to put out a podcast and most of the people I’d talk to would be unknown to the majority of the current comedy community, much less the general public.  Also, since they were mostly, if not completely, out of the game, most of them never bothered to share the episodes to their own followers.

I posted the audio on all the major podcast services and made a point to not look at how much- or more likely little- traffic it was getting.  I did this podcast for me, because I didn’t want it to be just another idea that I never realized.  I posted video on YouTube, however, and the views there are harder to not notice.  As of this writing, of the ten episodes the most successful has 110 views and 5 Likes.  One episode has two views.  While that doesn’t affect my feelings about those ten episodes- I’m glad I did it and I clearly did it more for me than anyone else- it has affected my drive to continue the podcast.  I knew from the start that a good follow-up season could be interviewing comics who stayed active during the pandemic but, again, what’s the fucking point?

I could mention several other examples but the last one I’ll cover is this very blog.  Looking back at past entries, it’s clear to see periods where I was driven to write several posts, then gaps of several months or even over a year before I was motivated to write again.  I’m currently in, what I hope to be, an active period, but I have no idea how long it will last.  This is solely based on the fact that I don’t know how many- or more likely few- actually read anything I write.  When I post this on FB, my mother-in-law will click Like within thirty seconds, but I doubt she’s ever read anything (shoutout to Ylva, I do appreciate the support).  I don’t get many more Likes than that, but comics will occasionally tell me in person that they read a recent post, which is nice, and surprising, because I would’ve remembered if they clicked that Like button.  I have to be motivated by the idea that more people are reading this than I know, but that motivation tends to burn out too quickly.

I don’t want this to come across as a Pity Party, because I honestly get it.  There’s a ton of content out there and I’m sure others do to me what I do to them, whip through their posts on social media without ever listening to their podcast or watching their video.  And we’re talking about people I actually like, not to mention all the rest.  Who has that kind of time?

I’m also terrible at promotion.  When I do something, the only way I announce is on Instagram (300 followers, most of whom are also FB friends) and Facebook (950 friends, some of whom are dead).  Of all of them, how many ever see anything I post?  Of them, how many are interested in anything I have to say about anything?  Of them, how many actually engage?  Pretty small numbers.  I don’t pay to advertise, I don’t promote myself on stage, I don’t guest on popular podcasts (that one isn’t a choice), I don’t do anything that can get my message out to a larger group of people.  Part of it is just being lazy, but there’s always that thought that I’ll put more time, energy, and even money into promotion and still not move the needle.  If I don’t put myself out there, I don’t get rejected.  See, this is what happens when you don’t date in high school.

I’ll finish by answering the question I asked several times in this post- what’s the fucking point?  The point is to create for the sake of creating, not to get views and praise.  That lack of drive and ambition makes me my own worst enemy.  Maybe I will do that second season of the podcast and that video bashing Forrest Gump, but if I do I know it will be for me.

Why You Don’t Get Booked

Comedy Posted on Tue, May 03, 2022 02:48:30

One of the top questions comics ask- along with, “Can I get a free beer?” and, “Can I at least get a discount?”- is, “Why won’t that club book me?!” This is a question that can fuel hours, if not years, of angry speculation. However, the true answer is usually simpler than we’d like to admit.

I’ve met a lot of club owners. I’ve run three myself. No matter the club, whether it’s an open mic or high-cost admission or the nichest of niche clubs, the decision to book or not book is based on the same three questions:
– Will this comic do well at my club?
– Do I like this comic offstage?
– Do I think this comic is funny?

Of the three questions, only the first is objective. As much as we like to compare them to plantation owners or vampires or vampires who own plantations, club owners are human just like the rest of us. Comedy, like so many other things in life, is subjective.

Let’s say I run a club and Jeff Dunham’s people contact me, asking me to book him. If you don’t know who that is, he’s an American comic, a ventriloquist act, one of the most successful comics in history. He’s had his own TV show, he sells out arenas worldwide. So the answer to the first question is yes, obviously.

Do I like him offstage? I have no idea, never met him, never even heard any stories. He might be a real sweetheart.

Do I think he’s funny? No. Good Lord, no. I think he’s brutally unfunny. I think he’s so unfunny that I get offended when I see him on TV, performing to a sold-out arena and everyone is pissing themselves. He’s extremely successful and has millions of fans, so am I wrong? Of course not, he’s just not my taste. I like tomatoes virtually every way but raw and that puts me in the minority, but my taste is my taste. Also, I’ve read that not liking raw tomatoes is a sign of intelligence and that fits.

Would I book him? In a heartbeat. Would I book him if, in addition to not liking him onstage, I thought he was an asshole offstage? I’d love to say no but I would. He’s a big get, sue me.

Even if those are the only questions in mind, there’s no formula to it, like, if the answer to any question is no, then the comic doesn’t get booked. I’ve seen club owners book comics they don’t think will do well, don’t think are funny, but like them offstage. I’ve seen club owners book comics they don’t like on- or offstage but know they’ll do well. I’ve seen club owners not book comics they think are funny, know will do well at the club, but not like offstage.

This is a huge stumbling block for comics who approach club owners cold or- worse- just send a DM. “Hi, you have no idea who I am and I don’t have a clip, but can I get a spot?” Pretty difficult to succeed when the answer to all three questions is, “I have no fucking idea.”

In my experience, it’s as simple as that, but we’d love for the reason to be something other than our likability or talent. I’ve heard enough stories to accept that there have been club owners who were sexist or racist, but I haven’t encountered any myself. That said, there is a fourth question that some- but far from all- club owners ask themselves: “Is my lineup diverse enough?”

The issue of why so many lineups are overwhelming- or completely- male is a hornet’s nest I have no desire to kick right now. We can argue over how little or how much extra effort it takes to create a balanced lineup, so let’s just say it takes some extra effort, and not all club owners have the energy or desire to put in the work.

The bottom-line is that, no matter how funny and talented and gifted you think you are, no matter how many people agree with you, not everyone will. Not everyone will even like you offstage. And that’s okay, because that’s how life works. You’re not going to get every opportunity, so take full advantage of the chances you do get. “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” as Steve Martin famously said. Hey, if you’re consistently killing on stage, you can be a complete dick offstage and still get gigs.

Lastly, if you don’t feel you’re getting the stage time you deserve, that you’re not seeing the lineups you desire, start a club! Yeah, it’s hard work. Will take so much of your time, you probably won’t have the energy or desire to book comics you don’t know or particularly like. Congratulations! You’ve become another asshole vampire slave driver.

Performing Standup to Perform Standup

Comedy Posted on Mon, April 25, 2022 10:04:54

This past weekend, I turned down a paid hosting gig at one club in favor of an unpaid spot at another club. This prompted a few people to ask me why on Earth I would do something like that. Good timing, as this touches on a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for some time.

Now, I’m not really in a position to turn down money. I’m a full-time comic, which is just a nice way of saying I’m unemployed. (Shoutout to Swedish taxpayers for funding my rock ‘n roll lifestyle.) Not only did I choose an unpaid gig over a paid gig, I ended up performing to a crowd half the size of the other. Doesn’t matter, I’m happy with my choice.

I’ve gone through several phases as a comic. When I first started, struggling to get spots at the one club that would sometimes book me, to performing five to seven times a week at several clubs, to keeping that pace but also running my own club. To “slowing down” and only doing my own club twice a week and hosting another club twice a week, to today when I’m primarily hosting at a club every weekend and doing a few spots here and there. Compared to my peak many years ago, I’m barely on stage at all, not to mention the even fewer times I’m just doing a spot.

That’s why, in this case, I chose to perform rather than host. My last entry here was about hosting so I’m not going to repeat myself now, other than to say how much I enjoy the freedom of a set. Also, a little variety now and then is very much needed- all work and no play makes Ryan a dull boy. I’m not doing myself or anyone else a favor by only hosting the same room every weekend, doing virtually the same material, watching virtually the same lineup. That said, I still enjoy hosting very much and I absolutely appreciate the opportunity; it’s certainly a position I’ve earned.

In regards to phases, I’ve reached one I feel is nihilistic, that nothing I do actually matters. That sounds bad but let me continue- I don’t think anything my peers do matters either. I should probably explain that.

Years ago, when I was performing several times a week at several different clubs, I got jealous of other comics very often. There were many comics- even comics who had been around longer than me- who were getting a tenth of my opportunities, but I wasn’t thinking about them. I was only thinking about the opportunities I didn’t get, comparing myself to comics who got those gigs, got invited to do podcasts, etc, and, oddly, I was always more talented than them so why wasn’t I getting those offers?! I helped new comics with opportunities, either at my own clubs or at others, watched them surpass me and get to the point they were offering opportunities, but rarely to me. Is it true that no good deed goes unpunished?!

I am far, far more relaxed now. At the time, even other comics would tell me that jealousy is a good thing, that it fuels ambition. That might be true to a certain extent, but I’ve also seen comics become bitter and stay that way. There’s nothing worse than seeing a comic on stage who feels like the club is beneath them, that they’re doing the club a favor by being there. Seems it’s easy to forget the point, that whether there’s 20 or 500 people in the room, they’re there to be entertained and it’s our job to deliver. And if you’re headlining, you’ve got a spot that dozens of comics currently performing will never attain. Jealousy might be a fuel but I find it far more rewarding to appreciate what I have than to obsess over what I don’t.

Those feelings of, I’m funnier than comics who get opportunities I don’t, I’m too good for this room, they come from the same place- every comic thinks they’re funny. It doesn’t get more basic than that. We go up on stage and say things we think are funny and hope the audience agrees. If they don’t, then we work on the material or abandon it or keep doing it anyway because obviously the audience is just stupid. But it’s rare that a comic walks away from a bomb wondering if they’re actually funny at all. That’s a confidence that may or not be misplaced but is always there as a foundation.

When I say that nothing I or anyone else matters, I’m thinking of those times I saw a comic in a club that had been on TV, been an opening act on a huge tour, and was jealous. It occurred to me all too recently that I’M SEEING THEM ON THE SAME LINEUP AS ME. Sure, they’ll do rooms I can’t or be regulars on a podcast that isn’t interested in me, probably get more corporate gigs than me, but for the most part we’re still rubbing elbows in the same clubs with equal amounts of stage time. I imagine that contributes to the bitterness I’ve seen even successful comics fall prey to, to attain such heights and yet still remain on the same lineups with far less successful and ambitious comics such as myself.

It could be my imagination but it feels like doing standup for the sake of standup is a rare motivation these days. It could be a result of the pandemic- nearly all clubs shut down in Stockholm and while many have returned, including brand new locations, the lineups are very limited. Also, it’s unusual for a club to not charge the audience, when the opposite was true just a few years ago. For the many, many comics who can’t get those spots, it must be like a glimpse of distant water while lost in the desert.

On the other hand, for those comics who do get those opportunities, I’ve noticed an increasing sense of entitlement. I deserve more stage time, I deserve better spots, I absolutely deserve to get paid and paid more. Hey, we all love and need money and I’m certainly no exception. But if I’m performing at a club in front of a large crowd and I’m responsible for exactly zero ticket sales, I’m not going to stomp my feet and cry about not getting paid or not getting paid enough. While there are a handful of comics who sell tickets on name alone, that’s hardly the case for the overwhelming majority of the community here.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that comics should just accept every offer with a smile and never ask for more. We should all set a value for ourselves, for our time, and if we’re offered less than it’s up to us to say yes or no. I frequently hear comics compare standup to slavery but, as far as I know, plantation owners didn’t give slaves the option of not showing up for work. If the club is too small for you or the pay insufficient, nothing wrong with saying no!

I guess it’s a lack of humility I often see in others. I certainly enjoy getting paid for telling the same dick jokes I’ve told other times for free, but money is a nice bonus, not the end goal. I’m a comic because I love standup and my heroes are all comics. Call me an odd duck but I perform standup to perform standup.

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