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Don't Shit Where You Eat! ™


Comedy Posted on Mon, December 05, 2022 05:11:19

I’m writing this during a turkey hangover. My wife and I hosted an over-apartment-full number of guests last night for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is not a Swedish holiday, of course, but it should be. Getting together with family and friends, eating the same food dishes year after year and too much of it, drinking… it’s pretty much the definition of every Swedish holiday.

Thanksgiving means a lot to me for a number of reasons, primarily since it’s the one time of year I’m guaranteed to feel homesick. Sweden is my home, of course, but so is the US. When I hear from family about their plans and see pictures of all of them together, I get the lovely mix of wishing I was there and guilt that I’m not.

Growing up, Mom did all the cooking, and I don’t mean only for Thanksgiving. We never had mashed potatoes because she made so many other things, she didn’t feel like putting in all the extra work for them. Sometimes we’d host family at our place, sometimes we’d go to someone else’s dinner, but after a year hosted by my stepfather’s mom – where chicken was served instead of turkey – Mom insisted on hosting every year. She had three sisters and four brothers, so as the years went on and the families grew, it was a very full house.

I brought the woman who would become my first wife to Thanksgiving dinner and it was the first time she met my extended family. After dinner, she told me she didn’t think they liked her very much. “Your uncle reached past me to get food and nearly elbowed me in the face!” I laughed and told her that she just happened to be in the way of food. Wasn’t personal, just business. Many years later, I brought the woman who would become my second wife to Thanksgiving dinner, the first time she met everyone. I guess this is my thing.

Having never learned to cook growing up, I got married at 21 to a woman who did all the cooking. (Paging Dr. Freud…) As a result, when I got divorced at 32, it was the first time I lived alone and my cooking ability was limited to boiling water and baking chicken. I ate so much baked chicken that I can barely eat it today; in fact, my stomach is doing a roll as I write this.

I’ve since learned to make quite a few dishes, although I tend to make things that involve me being in the kitchen for eight hours. That may sound like I’m making super complex meals, but someone with even slightly better skills would only need an hour. I haven’t quite grasped multitasking yet.

Which all leads to another reason Thanksgiving means so much to me. My wife and I are a great team, getting an apartment ready to host more people than the Fire Marshall would approve, and she makes some popular dishes herself. I make the bulk of the food, including two whole birds, and the last thing I want is help. I’m my mother’s son – if we’ve invited 30, I cook for 60. Means a lot to me, not only that I’ve learned to cook, but that I can make so many different things. Yeah, it takes me all week, but it’s worth it.

Speaking of worth, turkey isn’t common here. At least one large supermarket chain realized they can sell turkeys at this time of year, but they aren’t cheap. Nor are the completely foreign ingredients I have to buy at The American Store in Stockholm. As a result, we spend a tremendous amount of money just before Christmas.

All that time and effort and money and I usually get to sit down maybe five minutes at the table during dinner. I spend 95% of the evening in the kitchen and I can hear our guests in the other room having a great time and I love it all. When Mom would host Thanksgiving or some other party she’d often say afterwards, “Sounded like everyone had a good time, wish I was there.” I can relate, although I do make a shitload of mashed potatoes.

I have much to be thankful for but, as this is a blog about standup, I suppose I should mention it sometime. The only real ambition I’ve had in standup is to be able to perform as many times as possible in as many venues as possible, and while I may be long from that today, I’m thankful that I practically have a residency in one of Stockholm’s largest clubs. Maybe 2023 will be the year I step it up, maybe not. In the meantime, I’m thankful that a few hundred people just about every week get to hear jokes about my penis.

Skipping the Line

Comedy Posted on Mon, November 28, 2022 06:45:12

One of the sweet little lies we like to tell ourselves in the comedy community is that standup is a meritocracy. If you work hard, develop your talent, grind away for years in club after club, more doors will open up to you. The best opportunities are only made available to the funniest, most experienced comics. When you start you might be 100th in line, but if you’re very patient, at some point it’ll be your turn.

In reality, however, there are many ways to skip the line, or at least move up the line faster. A simple example of this is people trying standup for the first time, but have a background in performing, such as theater or music. Your material might be mediocre, but you’ve got an advantage over fellow rookies who are just as mediocre but are also learning how to stand on a stage and hold a microphone.

Another way to skip the line is to have social skills and be likeable off stage. I’ve mentioned before that most comics, including myself, are (and I say this with love) socially retarded. If you’re personable and see mingling as an opportunity and not something to be avoided at all costs, you’ll stand out.

I’m opening myself up to hate here but I don’t mean to be controversial, just pointing out reality- women often get to skip the line. Club owners looking to make their lineups more diverse will offer opportunities to female rookies that they would never offer to male rookies of the same calibur. And it’s fine! Lineups should be more diverse, there should be more women in standup, the few that are around should get more stage time. If it means that a club owner should deny the hundred men who email requests daily for stage time and instead offer spots to women who had never asked themselves, so be it. I hope the scene develops to the point that all feel comfortable and welcome in standup and women hunt and grind and nag club owners as much as men do. In the meantime, we just have to make the best of it.

The best way to skip the line is to start doing standup after you’ve already built up a fanbase doing something else. The way the standup process is “supposed” to work is that you start as a total unknown, but after years of grinding in any and every club and posting content online, you build up a fanbase. At the start of your career, you have to win the crowd over, but with time and dedication, the crowd will be on the edge of their seats before you even say a word. You won them over before you stepped on stage. You still have to be funny, but you don’t need to put in half the effort of a rookie doing five minutes three hours and twenty comics into a night.

However, if you’ve built up a fanbase because of a podcast or TikTok or YouTube, if you’ve got a million Instagram followers and then decide to give standup a go, that’s a shortcut to success! I say shortcut but that’s not true. It just means you did the same amount of work in a different field. Not everyone can be a YouTube sensation. You may not have built up a fanbase thanks to standup, but you still built up a fanbase. You’ve been rewarded for hard work and no one should look down their noses at you for that.

The problem is that it must be difficult to judge your own ability when everyone in the room is excited to see you and applauds every word out of your mouth. If the crowd is pissing themselves laughing while you’re on stage, doesn’t that mean you’re a great comic? Certainly not, at least not to the so-called true comics at the back of the room judging every aspect of your set mercilessly.

Self-awareness, being self-critical, these are very important to our development. How can it not go to your head, though, if doors are being opened to you left and right? Do you say, “I got this spot at this great club because it checked a diversity box,” or do you say, “I got this spot at this great club because I’m a great comic”? Do you say, “Eveyone loved me tonight because they know me from YouTube,” or do you say, “Everyone loved me tonight because I’m super talented at standup”?

Over the years I’ve met comics from all over the spectrum (and I don’t only mean autism). Everyone from comics who are too humble and self-critical to comics who are completely ignorant of their talent or lack thereof. It takes all kinds, I guess. I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine my place on that scale.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Standup Gala. A Swedish comic who recently sold out a massive arena in Stockholm has been complaining on podcasts that she wasn’t nominated for any awards at the Gala. Complaining that her peers don’t see her as a real comic because she built up a following through YouTube before making her standup debut and got to do big spots at big clubs without grinding five minutes at a time in shitty basements first.

Selling out an arena but whinging that you didn’t get nominated for an award that means nothing from a Gala no one’s ever heard of? If that doesn’t prove that you’re a comic, I don’t know what would.

Dick Jokes are Never Finished, Only Abandoned

Comedy Posted on Mon, November 21, 2022 06:32:07

Standing in line for a roller coaster on the Jersey Shore, I noticed the following sign: “WARNING! You may not ride this ride if you are pregnant, have back issues, or have an extreme body type.” I chuckled at “extreme body type.” Extremely skinny is an extreme body type, yet no heroin-chic model would be turned away from the Great Sea Serpent.

It reminded me of a recent trip I’d made to another US theme park. I had just sat down on a train set in an enclosed loop- the only thing the ride did was go upside down over and over, the only thing securing passengers being seat belts. A very large man near me was unable to lock his seatbelt and he called the ride attendant – a girl of 17, 18, tops – over for assistance. She brought a belt extension, still no success, and he asked her, “So, what do I do now?”

I guess he was hoping she’d say, “Well, just hold on real tight,” but was disappointed. Clearly uncomfortable by the awkwardness of the situation, she told him he would have to leave the ride.

It gave me an idea for a joke that became, “I think the sign should be more direct. ‘CAUTION! This ride goes high in the air, turns upside down, and spins really fast… you might be too fucking fat for this ride. If you weigh 300 kilos, there is no metal on Earth that will hold you in place- you will be thrown from the ride and take out have the park with you. Finally, if you are out of breath just from reading this sign, you really don’t need more excitement in your life.”

Trying it out on stage, I was very pleased with the response, and that gave me an idea: what if I add several more examples to that list? Make the list so long that the crowd laughs less and less as it goes on, only to start laughing again because the list keeps continuing? I added six or seven more examples and gave it try! Once. I got the first part right, the crowd did indeed laugh less as it went on, but that was it. I preferred the reaction to the leaner, meaner version and decided to keep the original.

A few months later, a comic came up to me and told me he loved the joke – love when that happens – and said it had potential, that I could add a lot more examples to the list. I pooh-poohed that part of his feedback. He hadn’t seen me try that one time to do exactly that.

Long, long after – this is an old joke at this point – I decided to add one more thing to the list. Before the final line, I added, “No, food will not be served on this ride,” inspired by the many people I’d seen in lines shoving fried food, ice cream, or fried ice cream into their faces while standing in lines. That one line elevated the bit to a new level and the response wasn’t just stronger, but more consistent.

I’m writing all this not to show what a brilliant writer I am nor my bravery in targeting the morbidly obese (although, as 41 US states have adult obesity rates over 35%, one could argue that I’m kicking up), but to illustrate a point. I get an idea for a joke, try it out on stage, rewrite it, try it again, keep doing that until I find the perfect version. When it’s complete, like a song on a setlist, I can move it around, or have it on reserve in my head in case I feel it would make sense to add it on the fly. Other comics have a similar process, to the point that I can lip sync along to someone else’s material that I’ve heard so often, worded and performed the exact same way every time.

Except a joke is never complete. Da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” As pompous and inane as it is to call dick jokes art, it’s still true that there’s no such thing as a completed work. We can always keep tweaking them, adding, subtracting, but I think most of us are, by our very nature, lazy. Which is not to say that we should be dissatisfied with a joke that gets applause as well as laughter, just that the only thing standing in the way of improvement is ourselves.

I mentioned that the one time I tried making that list even longer, I added six or seven more examples. I think it’s telling that I don’t remember what they were. Maybe the problem wasn’t making the list longer, maybe I just wasn’t funny enough. Maybe I’ll never be funny enough to make a long list work the way I hoped it would. Or maybe this is my Jeff Foxworthy moment and I could ride this ride (no pun intended) to fame and fortune!

“If you haven’t seen your penis in ten years… you might be too fucking fat to ride this ride!”

Making a Special for Self-Pleasure

Comedy Posted on Mon, November 14, 2022 06:20:04

I figured it was classier to have “Self-Pleasure” in the title instead of “Masturbation.”

On the eve of my fortieth birthday, I decided to produce my first special. Some guys grow a ponytail and buy a convertible, I did a special. I’d been performing for four years, I was booked to headline a club on a Friday and Saturday, I had friends in film production, I figured the time was right.

Growing up, the HBO Comedy Hour specials had made quite an impact on me, and I wanted my special to follow the same format. I wrote a sketch for the start and cast a bunch of other comics and friends. I walked around the block from the venue, speaking to the camera about myself and the show, then came the standup. I wore the same outfit both nights so we could edit the footage together, making it look like one set.

Looking back, a mistake I made was preparing two different 35-min sets, one for each night. I figured I’d take the best from both shows and edit them together into one show, but what I should’ve done was one set, twice. I can only name hubris as my motivation here; I wanted to show off to other comics – who were used to seeing me do 5–10 min of material at a time – that I had that much material. Well, I know what to do differently if there’s ever a next time.

Friday night went off without a hitch. Although the venue was only half-full, the crowd was very giving. I was excited to headline, excited to film, and I knew Saturday night was sold out. It was a fun night!

Saturday night ended up being oversold, standing-room only for late arrivals. The place was absolutely packed and the energy in the room was fantastic. I went into my set, different from the night before, but cocksure…

…. and began to bomb.

I think I knew already then what I’d done wrong, besides deciding to film a special as an unknown comic with four years’ experience. While Swedes love being made fun of, this set, unlike the night before, had me bashing Swedes from the start and then again and again. I started strong but the law of diminishing returns was in full effect. As the laughter died down, people in the crowd started talking to each other instead. I can’t blame them for looking for entertainment elsewhere since they weren’t getting it from me.

While one part of my brain handled my performance outwardly, another handled things inwardly. I thought, “Holy Fuck I’m bombing AND I’m headlining AND I’m filming!” My back was dripping wet with flop sweat. Despite our best efforts, everyone bombs at some point or another, but this was the worst possible time. At this point in my “career,” I had a tried-and-true strategy for dealing with this exact situation: leave the stage early. Hey, if they didn’t like me, why waste their time and my own?

However, this wasn’t the time for that. I was ten minutes into a headline set, cameras were rolling, I was determined to pull out of the nosedive. I rearranged the planned material, cutting most of it in favor of repeating jokes from Friday night’s set that were more crowd-friendly, and I’m happy and proud to say that I got them back on my side. While a lot of dead air did not make it into the finished special, the conclusion is from Saturday night.

I’d rather not say how much money I spent on the damned thing. Honestly, I don’t even remember. It was an expensive present I bought myself. I put it out on Vimeo for $5 to see what would happen and I believe I sold two, maybe three copies. Not that I was expecting it to sell like gangbusters, but it was a little disappointing. I thought that maybe all the people I knew on Facebook who had only seen me perform a few times, if at all, might be interested, but I think their interest could’ve measured by the fact that they’d only seen me perform a few times, if at all.

Several months later, I decided to just post it on YouTube and, to date, it’s generated 431 views! Oh, you kids today, complaining that your TikToks and whatnots only get 10K views.

I’m cool with it, though, because I knew going into it that the target audience was me. I had no more business putting out a special then than I do now, nearly eight years later. But it was fun to do and I’m glad I did it. If nothing else, it’s a time-capsule, capturing a moment when I was performing five to ten times a week and thought that number would only increase from there, when I was much closer to the start of the Dunning-Kruger bell curve than I am now (Google that if you’re not familiar).

If you’re so inclined, you can find my special here. Titled, appropriately enough, Simply Resistible.

Hate Money, Love Opportunity

Comedy Posted on Mon, November 07, 2022 08:03:55

I saw a recent discussion on a Swedish comics’ forum a few days ago. It was started by a comic commenting on the fact that some club owners ask comics to do more than just sets. Help with chairs, check tickets, throw out unruly crowd members, etc. Is it okay for club owners to do this?

Well, I call it a “discussion” but that’s a pretty lofty word in this case. There were a few responses that ranged from, it’s okay for a club owner to ask, but not demand, work in exchange for stage time, to, it’s not okay at all. Color me shocked!

In reality, doing grunt work in exchange for stage time is a not-so-proud tradition in standup. I’ve heard it said that it’s for “comics who hate money but love opportunity.” Club owners have every right to ask comics for help. They can, in fact, demand it. As much as we’d like it to not be true, club owners don’t have to book us just because we ask. But here’s the good news: if a club owner offers a gig in exchange for grunt work, we don’t have to say yes!

Working the door – checking tickets, acting as bouncers – at LA’s The Comedy Store was and is a standard way for up-and-comers to get stage time and loose change in their pockets. Here’s a quick list of comics who did thankless work that was beneath them as artists:
David Letterman
Sam Kinison
Jim Carrey
Michael Keaton
Eddie Griffin
Marc Maron

It’s too bad those poor people didn’t have a Swedish comic to educate them that they were being taken advantage of!

It all comes down to choice. I do grunt work on a regular basis and while I’m all too aware of how that looks to other comics, I don’t mind it. Oddly enough, in some ways I enjoy it. I also see it as a way to help out a club owner that I like and show appreciation for the club. I’ve also seen a lot of comics grow out of helping. One in particular used to get stage time in exchange for helping, then decided to stop helping and not perform again until the club owner would book him without asking anything in return. It took a few years but it finally happened, so good for him! It has to be a great feeling as an artist. On the other hand, I can’t help but think of the years of stage time missed, at least at that club. On the other, other hand, who’s to say who’d he be now if he’d continued to trade work for gigs?

When I’ve run clubs in the past, I’ve met comics who were willing to help out, and of course that lead to me giving them special treatment. More gigs, longer sets, better spots in the lineup. On the flipside, I’ve met comics who never mentioned the club on social media, would come a few minutes before their spots and leave immediately afterwards, all but expect someone to throw rose pedals on the floor as they ascended regally to the stage… which would, of course, lead to me not wanting to book them.

To sum up, pride and self-respect are good things, but so is perspective. You don’t have to accept stage time in exchange for grunt work and club owners don’t have to book you just because you want to be booked. It’s up to you to decide how much effort is worth each opportunity, how much value you have. But if pride is the only reason to turn down a gig, it probably isn’t a good move.

Komedy Krutches

Comedy Posted on Mon, October 31, 2022 06:02:26

Imagine it’s 2012 and you’re at the premiere of Marvel’s first Avengers film. Exciting stuff! Several years and several films have all led up to this climax of the Earth’s mightiest heroes battling alien invaders from outer space. You’re thrilled as the Hulk smashes a massive creature in the face… and then the film stops and director JJ Abrams walks onscreen and tells you there is no Hulk, it’s all just computer generated images. Then he tells you to enjoy the rest of the movie and it resumes.

It would be very difficult to enjoy the movie from that point. After all, the whole appeal of film is losing yourself in the story and never giving a thought to the entire industry it takes to tell that story on a big screen. Now, not only had the illusion been ruined for you, it was the director of the movie who had purposefully screwed you out of your fun.

Standup is very similar. We’re selling an illusion to the crowd, that we’re just winging it on stage, just saying whatever comes to mind. We’ve never said it before and will never say it again. For the overwhelming number of comics throughout history, this is utter bullshit. Jokes are written long in advance, are told again and again until we find the best way to word them, and then again and again.

For me, Richard Pryor is the most natural storyteller I’ve ever heard. Watching Live on the Sunset Strip, his funniest but not best album (there’s a difference; his best is Here and Now but that’s a topic for another entry) I absolutely believe he was saying everything for the first time and would never say it again. Except I also know that, not only had he worked out that material over a long period of time, the album itself was recorded in two different clubs, months apart, and cut together to make it seem like one show.

Bill Maher said that standup is a double-edged sword, that the crowd is impressed that we’re just talking up there, but also not that impressed because, after all, we’re just talking up there. That the only difference between comics and civilians is that we’re not afraid of public speaking. I see his point but, at the same time, I don’t think natural storytellers suffer from a lack of respect.

Unfortunately, comics often ruin the illusion of standup for the crowds, consciously or unconsciously, like French New Wave film directors who wanted audiences to be very aware of how much effort it takes to make a movie. Some of the greatest films in history came out of that era, but those directors were also pretentious twats (and way to go French people for dispelling that stereotype). Here are some things you can avoid to not be a pretentious twat.

– Telling the crowd that what you just said was a joke. “That joke was funnier in my head,” is a standard excuse for jokes that don’t work and a cheap way to save it by getting a giggle. It’s fine to use it sparingly, but I’ve seen comics continue to do the same joke that doesn’t work, followed by the same excuse, in set after set. Believe it or not, it’s okay to tell a stinker and just move on to the next punchline, or to dump a joke that doesn’t work. Kill your darlings.

Explaining jokes is another way to shatter the illusion and I’m not above criticism here; I have a joke that’s a few weeks old at this point where the punchline doesn’t get much of a reaction, but explaining the joke gets a laugh and also leads to a new punchline, that I purposefully deliver in over-the-top, THIS IS A PUNCHLINE fashion. I enjoy doing it, probably more than the crowd does, but hey, I should be allowed to have fun sometimes, too. Still, it’s pretty lazy. If I could come up with a better initial punchline, I could cut the whole explaining part out and be better overall.

Yet another example is when comics tell a joke, then tell the crowd a story about what happened when they told that same joke at another club. I’ve been guilty of this myself- back in the day, I used to close with an admittedly sexist joke, but it always worked, except for the time a woman threatened to throw my own beer in my face. I told that story a few times, because I wanted the crowd to be just as interested in the joke as I was. The fact is, no one will ever be as interested in the mechanics of our own jokes as we are.

I once saw a comic deliver a joke and make a woman in the crowd get furious at him, so in future sets he’d tell the joke, followed by the story of it making someone mad. During one of these later sets, another woman got pissed when he told the story of a woman getting pissed at him, so in his following gigs he told the joke, the story of a woman getting pissed at him for telling the joke, then the story of a woman getting pissed at him for telling a story about a woman getting pissed at him. Damn, if that cycle had continued, he could’ve put together a whole hour from one joke.

– Not knowing your own material. If you’ve been performing for less than a year and you’ve got keywords from your set written on your hand, fine. I’ll even give a pass to experienced comics with some version of a cheat sheet if they’re about to do an hour for the first time. But if you’re about to do the same ten-minute set you’ve done a hundred times already, why the hell do you need to look at your hand several times on stage?

More times than I can count, I’ve walked off stage, feeling good about how it went, only to suddenly feel like shit as I realized I’d forgotten to do a joke or two. The reason this happens is always the same- either I didn’t prepare enough before the set, or the joke wasn’t in a place where it would flow naturally from the bit before. I don’t expect everyone to have a mind like a steel trap- I certainly don’t have one myself- but scribbling on your hand is a crutch, a way to ignore the fundamental issue.

You should also know how long your jokes are. Not down to the millisecond, of course, but a general idea. More often than not, we don’t know how long we’ll get on stage until just before the show starts, and even then, things can change. Maybe someone before you did too long and now your time got cut, because comics are assholes. Maybe you suddenly got even more time since someone else is late or didn’t show up at all, because comics are assholes. Or maybe you’re in the middle of your set and suddenly realize that a joke you hadn’t planned to do would work better than what you’d planned. Your jokes are like Lego pieces you can mix and match and move around on the fly, and you can do this to your benefit and also respect the club and other comics by not going over your time! Unfortunately, I’m giving this advice to comics and, as I said, we’re assholes.

– Trying to look cool. Surveys have shown that people are more afraid of public speaking than of death. Standup is a step beyond- not only are we not afraid to get up in front of drunk strangers, we’re trying to make them laugh. That’s pretty cool! Know what’s even cooler? Owning the stage, showing zero fear, total confidence, expertly delivering material.

Why comics, deliberately or otherwise, do things to seem cool, bugs the shit out of me. First of all, the mic stand is not your friend. The way comics cling to it often reminds me of when I played Tag as a kid- the front steps were a safe spot, if you could make it there, you couldn’t get tagged. Sorry, as much as you wish it were true, the mic stand offers no safety. And I know you feel cool when you hang on it casually, like it shows how comfortable you are up there, but trust me, you’ll look much cooler without it. Take the mic out of the stand at the start of your set, move it out of reach and don’t touch it again until you say thanks and good night.

Also, leave your notebook off stage. This applies to knowing your material as well, but I’ve seen comics use it as a prop. They know what they’re about to say but pull out a notebook anyway. Look how cool I am, I don’t even care that you see how unprepared and unprofessional I am! You do you, I suppose, but you’re cooler without it.

And for God’s sake, don’t sit down during your set. It’s called standup for a reason. The only comic I give a pass to is Bill Cosby. He would sit during his shows because he was very old and tired from all that raping.

Taking Unserious Shit Seriously

Comedy Posted on Wed, October 26, 2022 11:13:36

Anyone expecting a bitter diatribe here is going to be disappointed. Full disclosure: I would love to be nominated for a standup award, would be thrilled to win. Everyone loves a good ego stroking and I’d be suspicious of anyone who claimed otherwise. To also be recognized by one’s peers, that adds an extra layer to it. Despite it not being the point, I love hearing other comics laugh at my jokes more than hearing the crowd laugh, although, nine times out of ten, I’m hearing other comics laugh because the crowd is very much not laughing.

For as long as I can remember, the club Oslipat has arranged the Standupgalan as an annual event. This is a club that has a limited number of shows each year in a few different cities, with a very limited number of comics performing. They cater to a young, hip crowd that loves standup and if they’ve ever had a bad night, I’ve not heard of it. It is very much a klubhouse for kool kidz and if you needed further proof that I am not, never have been nor ever will be cool, just look at that spelling. The triple k’s are coincidental.

At the gala they give out a few awards to nominees who would have a shot at performing at the club and/or are liked by the club owners. In other words, you have a handful of comics running the club, nominating comics from a pool that is tiny in size compared to the entire community of active comics. Inevitably, another annual event occurs: a comic who would never have a shot at performing at Oslipat complains on social media that the whole thing is unfair, and then several others in the same boat add to the noise. I imagine that far many more feel the same way but don’t say anything because see the name of this blog.

A change was made to the nomination process a few years ago, perhaps in response to comics criticizing the whole thing as a bit incestuous. Now, comics who were members of a certain Facebook forum would be able to nominate whomever they wanted… and then a jury hand-picked by the club would decide the official nominees and winners. I’d like to think they have the best of intentions here, wanting to avoid a Boaty McBoatface situation, but without seeing what everyone submitted, critics could say the process was just an illusion and nothing had really changed. To be fair, Oslipat never claimed that democracy would rule and, anyway, it’s their show to do with as they like.

Obviously, the nominees are selected on more than just laughs per minute, which just adds fuel to the grumbling. Maybe you noticed that you got more laughs than the Comic of the Year but you didn’t even get nominated, that’s not fair! Yeah, but you also might be kind of an asshole, or didn’t have as much impact in other ways. Every winner deserved their win. You can complain it’s just a popularity contest, but I’ve known several comics who are super nice and super sociable and bomb on a regular basis. Social skills get them gigs but not awards.

After taking some time off due to covid, the annual tradition resumed this year, complaints included. All of this tempest in a teacup nonsense is meaningless because, ultimately, the entire thing is meaningless, except to the nominees and winners. Even for them, that honor only goes so far. As host of a regular comedy night, if I would introduce them as, “Next on the lineup we have someone who just won Comic of the Year at this year’s Standupgalan!” that comic would murder me to death. First of all, because few in the crowd would even know what that means, and secondly because I might’ve well said, “Aren’t you lucky, the next comic is the funniest person in Sweden!” No one wants the crowd to have high expectations, especially in this country.

Standup is an artform, I love it to death, but as I’ve said before, it’s an artform where Downs Syndrome is a punchline, where we talk about our penises and vaginas and how much we hate public bathrooms. It’s extremely unserious shit we take extremely seriously and we can have one, two, thirty award shows a year where we heap praise on each other and clap each other’s backs as much as we like, but it’s not something the general public cares about. Nor should they.

Again, I’m not portraying myself as a virtuous person above being congratulated. Back when the nomination process changed, I thought my two partners and I had a real shot at Club of the Year, or a nomination at least. We’d run Power Comedy Club for a few years by that point and it was the most unique club in Stockholm at the time, if not the country. We were popular with comics and, since we’d have twenty comics on a slow night, I figured we could earn a nomination by sheer numbers alone. I was disappointed that we didn’t get nominated and not surprised by the club in Stockholm that did. Run by the koolest of kool kidz, it featured comics from a small pool performing to a hip, young audience that loved standup. It had Oslipat’s spirit and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

I can make a thousand excuses but the reality is that club had something we never had: an audience. The place was packed week after week and, meanwhile, I’d be happy if we had ten people in the room who were there to just watch the show, not waiting three hours for their spot on stage. The other club absolutely deserved the nomination. On the other hand, plenty of clubs drew crowds and didn’t get nominated, so there’s that.

I also have no idea how many of our regulars were able to take part in the nomination process or how many that could even bothered. I had the opportunity and ignored it, not even to vote for myself. I have no idea how many comics take the time to fill out the form but I’d be surprised if it’s a large number. If you don’t vote you can’t complain, right? Wrong, we can always complain. Especially in this country.

While I’ve never received an official award as a club owner (at least not yet! fingers crossed!), I did get something better. One night at Power my partners and I were surprised with a bedazzled bottle of prosecco each, along with a thank you card signed by over thirty comics. A few comics decided to organize a big thank you to us, taking donations and the time to make the bottles for us, and the money left over was handed to the bartender to cover our tab for the night. It did, barely; when you run a “proper” show that is an hour long, followed by three hours of comics doing five minutes each, you drink a lot of beer.

I still have the card and the unopened bottle, which will stay that way. They mean a tremendous amount to me. Plus, I know that many comics around today got their start at Power, not to mention friendships, podcasts, even other comedy clubs. Now, if I could just a plaque, I’ll be all set.

You’re Never Alone

Comedy Posted on Mon, October 24, 2022 06:13:54

In my last job in America before moving to Sweden, I was a marketing supervisor for Nintendo of America (dream job). I had ten people working for me and one of several that I’d end up firing for committing fraud (it was very easy to steal from Nintendo and many could not resist temptation) was also a bass player in a bluegrass band. They played a number of festivals each year, no original music of their own but covers of classic standards.

Over lunch one day, I asked him if they ever got bored, playing other artists’ work, over and over and over again. He said no, because he wasn’t alone on stage. He wasn’t just playing to the audience, he was playing with his bandmates. Although I was a decade and a hemisphere away from my standup debut, he knew it was a passionate interest of mine, and he said he couldn’t imagine trying that himself as, after all, a comic is totally alone up there. I agreed.

Years later, I’d realize that we were both wrong. A comic may have the stage to themselves but they’re never alone. They have the audience as a partner, for better or for worse. Partners whether they like it or not.

Standup as a genre is a massive umbrella term for a whole host of styles. Damn near anything can be standup, but the best comes across as a conversation between the comic and the crowd. A conversation being talking with the crowd, not talking to them or, worse, talking at them. For example, Hannah Gadsby released a brilliant standup special called Nanette, yet many critics said it wasn’t standup, it was a TED Talk. While I don’t agree, I do understand; at times it feels that the crowd is irrelevant. She could be alone in the room and it wouldn’t affect her performance at all.

Rookies and comedians who perform as characters tend to deliver on stage the same way they practice in their apartments to no one. One of the many laws of standup is to get the audience’s attention in the first thirty seconds; I remember a night when a comic failed to do so in the first thirty, or the next, or the next… she was bombing, hard, but didn’t seem to notice, nor care. As the minutes of painful silence wore on, the club owner went from shaking his head to pacing angrily. “What is she doing up there?!” he asked no one in particular.

“She’s going through her script,” I replied. I’d seen this act before and, to her credit, she was usually far more successful. But it was clear that it didn’t matter if the crowd was booing or giving her a standing ovation. She was performing in a vacuum.

Being oblivious to the crowd’s mood is not a skill(?) most comics possess. A conversation takes two and even though we shouldn’t blame the audience for our own failures, some crowds are worse than others and they affect us. I had a clear example of contrasts this past weekend, hosting a club Friday and Saturday night. I took the stage Friday night to a large crowd, only to notice a few had already nodded off. If someone’s asleep at the start of a two-hour show, it’s not generally a good sign. I’ve certainly experienced far worse nights there, but it was one of those shows where the audience would laugh briefly at a joke they liked and then return to absolute zero until the next joke they liked. There was no ongoing energy, just occasional laughs like sporadic gunfire. It affected the comics, who took the stage with an aura of “ugh, it’s going to be one of those nights,” which became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Saturday, though, what a difference. We’d had a big crowd on Friday, but Saturday’s was nearly twice in size and ten times the energy. They were awake and ready to have a good time and every comic was excited to get on stage and everyone did very well, a self-fulfilling prophecy once again.

It’s a tired cliché when a host tells a crowd, “The energy you give is the energy you get,” but this is where it comes from. Friday night’s crowd was dull and that should make us work harder to entertain them, but ask yourself: if you’re talking with someone and they look bored, how inspired are you to continue that conversation? On the flip side, if they’re hanging on your every word, you’ll be even more animated.

The audience is our partner in crime. But sometimes they suck and make us do all the work.

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