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Don't Shit Where You Eat! ™

Laying a Minefield

Comedy Posted on Mon, November 20, 2023 05:49:42

I mentioned this story several months ago, but a quick reprise: I once had a conversation with a comic about why I rarely do crowd work while hosting (or ever). I told her I like seeing it done well, but most of the time it feels artificial and forced, and talking to people in general isn’t a particular strength of mine. She encouraged me to do it anyway, since I could find valuable information for the other comics on the lineup. I said I agreed with her in theory, but the problem in practice is that comics don’t pay attention.

This came to mind last Saturday as I hosted Maffia Comedy Club. During my intro, I told the crowd I was 48 and a guy directly in front of me shouted, “So am I!” I made fun of him for not looking as good at his age as I do, I asked him his name, I even asked what he does for a living. Anyone who has known me for an extended period of time would know what a monumental change this is in my behavior.

He told me he worked in robotics. Again, I made fun of him for being a traitor to humanity, said that was probably had aged him so much. I asked him how long we had until the apocalypse. This was, to me, a long conversation! I was passing along a ton of info to the other comics on the lineup, about a guy sitting front and center. It turned out to be perfect, because both the second and third comics had jokes about the robot apocalypse…. and neither spoke to the guy. It’s a curse, being right all the time.

Back to that conversation I had with a comic about why I don’t do standup, as evidence that comics don’t pay attention, I mentioned an example of which she was very much aware. There was a comic, kind of a Big Deal, who would come to Maffia on a semi-regular basis. He would arrive late, talk to someone in the crowd who had already been spoken to, and then leave immediately.

One night, I decided to set up a trap for him. He was on the lineup but naturally not in the room when the show started, so I made a point of asking the names of the five or six people closest to the stage. Then I told them we were going to play a game and, if any one of them did it right, I’d buy them a drink. “Now we all heard your names, so if anyone else asks you again, I want you to quote one my favorite movies: Glengarry Glen Ross. If they ask, ‘What’s your name?’ you say, ‘What’s my name? Fuck You, that’s my name.’” I asked a girl in the front row to practice with me once and she stammered out “fuck you!” through giggles.

Sure enough, he walked in later, went on stage, and asked the very girl I’d chosen to practice what her name was. She immediately broke down in giggles, which confused the hell out of him, only for someone else aiming to get a free drink to yell, “Fuck you!” The crowd loved it, I loved it, the club owner not so much, the comic continued to be confused, asking if he was being pranked. Again.

When he was done, he walked to the back where the comics hang and asked what had happened. Not me, of course, as, despite hosting him again and again, I’m not cool enough to rate more than a hello now and then. (No sarcasm intended there, I’m legitimately not cool enough.) I was and continue to be quite pleased with myself that a well-laid trap had been sprung and I continue to wonder why it’s so hard to make friends.

Nature vs Nuture

Comedy Posted on Mon, November 13, 2023 05:26:02

It was Father’s Day in Sweden this past weekend and while talking to my kid, she joked that this week’s blog entry should be about her. I decided to take her seriously, which just goes to show how joking with me can go terribly wrong.

One might think that fatherhood would be a vein I’d be all too happy to mine for material, but I never do. I’ll gladly lampoon my wife, but she’s also a comic and can take it. I know I’ve mentioned my daughter in two separate jokes in the past, both being complete fabrications, and I’d be surprised if I even told a third joke once. I can joke about marriage and pretty much anything else, but being a dad is something I take very seriously, maybe even too much.

When Eva and I got married, we had a roast during the reception. People were surprised that we wanted to do that, but modern roasts originated from Jewish weddings. I doubt they were as raunchy, however. Anyway, during the roast, one of the comics mentioned my kid in a joke. Not making fun of her at all, only me (in fact, there’s a photo of Eva and I reacting exactly after the punchline), but my immediate thought was, okay, she mentioned my kid, the gloves are off. When it was my turn to retaliate, I was meaner than I’d first intended.

I’ve thought many, many times, and will always continue to do so, about nature versus nurture. Those things my daughter and I have in common, how much of that is in the DNA, how much did I teach her, intentionally or otherwise. Probably the last nice thing my ex-wife ever said to me, she’d seen our daughter laugh so hard she literally fell off her chair, and that reminded her of me. She got her sense of humor from me, for sure; I often “joke” that she got all her good qualities from me exclusively, and I put quotes on “joke” because I believe it and my kid is all too aware of that. Because she’s clever and insightful, which she gets from me.

Our taste in music is extremely similar, not necessarily in specifics, but because it’s so broad. We also hate being DJs, because when you like a little bit of everything, it oddly makes it difficult to put together a playlist that appeals to a general audience. The weird thing is that, over the years, my wife was much more likely to have music on at home, and while her taste in music is also broad, it doesn’t quite line up in the same way.

I’m relatively certain that sarcasm is taught and she can go toe-to-toe with me. I’m not exactly sure how to feel about that. Example:

Her (loading the dishwasher): Hand me that wineglass.

Me: I’m still using it.

Her: Of course you are, because you’re an alcoholic. Get it?

Me: You’re going to get it.

Her: Yeah, because it’s a gene.

On the one hand, I’m glad I handed her such a powerful weapon. Life can really suck and being able to laugh at problems is a proud family tradition. On the other hand, it’s a double-bladed sword, and sarcasm requires a degree of viciousness. One doesn’t need to shoot to kill, but no one shoots anyone peacefully. I sometimes wonder if giving my kid abilities in the Dark Arts really qualifies me for Dad of the Year, but I doubt it was something I could’ve not passed on to her, one way or the other.

She has a great sense of humor, she can be sarcastic, and she has a great head for standup. She told me of one comic, “He spends more than a minute talking about something and then it goes nowhere,” which is something I’d hoped the comic would’ve realized after saying it two hundred times. Unlike me, however, she has zero desire to go on stage. It took me until my mid-thirties to grace a stage for the first time and I while never particularly sought out the spotlight, I never minded public speaking or being the center of attention. We are polar opposites in that regard, although she’s improved with age. For example, while it took most of her life, people can now sing Happy Birthday to her without her bursting out in tears.

I can only see her reluctance to do standup as a good thing. I had a good upbringing and don’t have any serious notes to give my parents, but as I’ve said to death, comics are broken. Everyone wants to be loved and accepted, but it takes a special kind of damage to seek it from drunk strangers and then also not accept it when given. It’s not a world I regret stepping into, but it’s not for everyone, and I’m glad it’s an interest for her that she can observe from the outside. Not to say I’d be disappointed if she does try it someday, of course, but it must be a positive that she doesn’t have a need for it. I know that parents typically want their kids to follow in their footsteps, but maybe my legacy can be that she doesn’t have the Darkness.

The Joy of Sets

Comedy Posted on Mon, November 06, 2023 04:10:50

Throughout the years I’ve maintained this blog, I’ve touched often on the differences between hosting and doing spots. A graph of my “career” would look like an X; at the start, I only did spots, and it would take some time before I had the nerve to try hosting. Flash forward to the present when, nine times out of ten, I’m spending my stage time as host.

The biggest reason for that is quitting the grind years ago. Even before I burned out and needed a break just before covid debuted (don’t ever accuse me of having bad timing), I had already stopped hunting. Between my own club, Maffia and Standup Star, four nights out of seven were booked. I didn’t have the time… well, I would’ve made the time except I didn’t have the will, either, to chase more than the occasional gig now and then at other clubs.

Just getting back into the standup scene at all was a different grind all on its own. Looking back, it’s hard to understand yet easy to remember the anxiety I’d feel as I left my apartment to spend a few hours in a comedy club. Those tenuous first baby steps were almost exclusively hosting gigs, which set the tone for the next few years, leading to present day. My social media activity is pretty much posting this blog every Monday and a selfie on my story here and there. I think I can count on one hand the number of clubs I’ve performed at since 2020.

When I host, I’m a cheerleader. There’s only one mode I can be in when I host. When I do a spot, I can be any way I like. Angry or upbeat or low energy or whatever, the sky is the limit! Or so I’ve said many times in the past. And it was true in the past, but a side effect of it being so comparatively rare to just do a spot now is that there are really only two ways it can go. Either I take it very seriously and I end up having the same energy I do as host (and also material), or I just dick around and get a poor reaction.

I experienced both in the last few weeks, starting with the latter. I’d been booked at Big Ben Comedy Club by a host who claimed, “It’ll be a special Halloween show, we’ll all dress up and roast each other!” I love Halloween, but I knew what was going to happen, that no one, including the host, would dress up. I was almost right; one rookie wore a Spider-Man shirt. I would not be denied, though, and went on stage wearing a suit and Venetian mask. I even roasted the host.

Naturally, it went over like a lead balloon. I’d recycled the outfit from another Halloween show years earlier and it worked great then, but only because everyone else dressed up. Wearing a mask cut me off from the crowd, starting me with a handicap, one that I might have been overcome if I hadn’t made everyone hate me by first insulting the host and then telling the crowd, “If America had a cock you would suck it.”

At least I didn’t mind bombing. I liked my roast joke and glad I followed through with wearing a costume instead of just doing a proper gig. I couldn’t help reflecting on the fact, however, that the rookie before me had spent five minutes talking about nothing other than shitting, yet he got an applause break and I got zero laughs. Still, I take a perverse sort of pride knowing that, though it be next to impossible to bomb there, I manage to do so on a fairly regular basis.

A few nights ago I had two gigs and I can’t remember the last time that happened. First at Maffia, then at Laugh House. I was doing spots, I took them seriously, but I also took risks, in both clubs trying out jokes I’d thought of just before going on stage. I love being on stage, of course, but there’s little thrill in getting a good reaction to a joke you’ve said a hundred times or more already. I don’t want to take risks when I host, because if I bomb I not only set a bad tone for the comics, the crowd has to see me again and again. Doing a spot, if a joke doesn’t work I can save the set with material that does work, and if I fail at that also, doesn’t matter, there’s a host and other comics to save the night.

Fortunately for me, not only did both these spots go well, the risks paid off too. You’re only as good as your last gig, as they say. I can congratulate myself knowing that, when it matters, I can do well.

Baseball Isn’t Complicated!

Comedy Posted on Mon, October 30, 2023 04:57:39

The first company I worked for in Sweden, I was based in their sales office just outside of Stockholm. When I visited their factory in the south of Sweden, very much in the middle of nowhere, my guide for the day drove me twenty minutes to the nearest restaurant for lunch. As we headed to car at the end of our meal, he mentioned that he’d once tried to watch baseball on TV but found the rules too complicated to understand.

“What? Baseball isn’t complicated!” I’m far from a fan of sports, but even I grasp the basics of a game as simple as baseball. I began to explain the rules and, noticing that I was still explaining them as we arrived back at the factory twenty minutes later, I realized that baseball actually is pretty complicated.

I was reminded of this during a recent conversation with a female comic about the current state of women in standup. I told her I’d just spoken to another female comic on the topic, said I wished every lineup was a 50-50 split between men and women and that it was a shame it’s so complicated. While the first woman had agreed with me outright, this time my comment was met by, “It’s not complicated!”

Twenty minutes into the subsequent conversation, I said, “Aaaand this is why I said it was complicated.” She begrudgingly agreed.

Let me paint a picture of a perfect world. Comic wants a spot at a club. Comic goes to club, meets owner, politely asks for a spot. Owner asks for a clip, comic provides a short clip showing them at their best. Owner judges that the comic will likely do well in their club, gives the comic a five-minute spot. Comic does well, gets another five-minute spot. Does well again, gets an eight-minute spot. Continues to do well, gets a support spot. Then headlines.

Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are a lot of variables that get in the way of each of the above steps. Not all comics aggressively hunt for spots, but GENERALLY SPEAKING (really have to emphasize that) men are more likely to hunt. I’m not big on the biological arguments here. I think it has more to do with the fact that female rookies are significantly more likely to be offered unsolicited gigs as they are unsolicited feedback, much more so than men. I’ve never met a club owner who didn’t want any women on the lineup, although some are more proactive about it than others, of course.

Comics of all genders flake out, cancel at the last minute, or don’t show up at all, but I’ve heard club owners complain about female comics blowing off gigs more often than men (and that’s club owners of all genders). I don’t know if women really cancel more often or if it’s just more noticeable when it happens, since there are so many more men on the lineup. At Power Comedy Club, I used to take pictures of everyone that had a spot, and there was a night when two female comics were prebooked but neither showed, and no female comics walked in for a spot. I brought up a woman from the crowd and took her picture just so we could say it wasn’t only penis owners on stage that night.

Women in the audience want a woman on stage so that they have someone to whom they can relate, but not too pretty because of competition. I’ve heard this blamed on the Patriarchy and it can be, for all I know, but women compete with each other in ways men do not. I remember a night when a female comic was on stage who happens to be objectively lovely, there was a couple in the front row and the girlfriend sat with arms folded and a scowl fixed on her face. Her boyfriend, however, sat leaning forward, laughing at everything. After a few minutes the girlfriend stopped staring daggers into the comic and began staring daggers at her boyfriend instead.

That competitiveness affects how female comics treat each other as well. When I’m in a club and a male comic walks in that I’ve never seen before, I don’t have any reaction other than, if I end up talking to this guy before he goes on stage, I really hope he’s funny. I’ve talked to women who said they either felt threatened by other women, or that other women had made them feel they were a threat, since any new woman on the scene is a new competitor for that clichéd one female spot on the lineup.

Then there’s the fact that the typical comedy club has an aggressive atmosphere by default. Comics are enjoying alcohol and other substances, trying to one-up each other. I once saw an ad for a course, Standup for LGBQT+, and my immediate reaction was, is standup for CIS really so different? It isn’t, and that wasn’t the point, and I knew that as well. It was a course for people who wouldn’t feel comfortable trying out standup in the average open mic environment. That’s why I don’t mind niche clubs, just so long as they don’t advertise, “Of course [enter protected class here] are funny and we’re here to prove it!!!” First of all, no one should need to prove something that’s obvious, and secondly, niche clubs attract niche crowds. You’re preaching to the choir.

I had these two conversations and while they took different paths, we reached the same conclusion- yes, having diverse lineups takes work, probably more than one would think is realistic, but it’s worth it. More clubs, more welcoming, more comics of all stripes. Until we get to the day that, as one female comic put it, “there are so many women in comedy I don’t have to like them all.”

Not with a Bang but a ChatGPT

Comedy Posted on Mon, October 23, 2023 02:56:37

There’s a certain owner of a certain comedy club in Stockholm that hasn’t always been known for his flawless writing online. Quite the opposite, in fact, to the point that I’ve often wondered if he’s dyslexic. Imagine my surprise recently when I saw a lengthy event post for the club on Facebook, full of flowery prose and glowing praise of that evening’s host. Perhaps he’d begun taking Adderall?

Someone else noted that he must’ve used ChatGPT to generate the text and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it, as he’s far from the only comedy club host making use of that tool. I even received a newsletter from another comedy club that had clearly been authored by it. Despite being AI, ChatGPT has a certain voice, a certain style, and it’s consistent whether it’s generating text in Swedish or English.

On the one hand, it seems a little counter-intuitive that comedy club owners – who are almost always comics themselves and allegedly creative – would use AI to generate promotional material. On the other hand, most comics look for shortcuts by nature, even the ones who work harder than others, and writing copy is fucking boring. Just as so many sci-fi authors have predicted, we’re handing off the boring jobs to the robots.

Not that I find writing this blog boring, but as an experiment I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post about standup “in the style of Ryan Bussell’s ‘Don’t Shit Where You Eat’.” It was nice that the robot didn’t respond with, “Who?” although I wouldn’t say it captured my voice. Not that I’m surprised by that, of course, and rather than find its own comedy topic it seized on the name of my blog.

After reading through the first result I asked it to generate a second response on the same topic. Without further ado, I now turn over the rest of this entry to ChatGPT, an early iteration of what will become our evil AI overlord in a much shorter time than we expect. Below you’ll find both responses; they certainly include some good advice I would’ve appreciated early in my “career”!

Title: “Don’t Shit Where You Eat: The Unwritten Rules of Stand-Up Comedy”

Hey there, folks, it’s your boy Ryan Bussell, and today we’re diving deep into the wild, wacky world of stand-up comedy. Now, I know you’ve heard the phrase “Don’t shit where you eat” in the context of workplace romances, but let me tell you, it applies to the comedy scene just as much. So, grab a seat and let’s dish out some comedy wisdom.

In stand-up comedy, “Don’t shit where you eat” translates to something like, “Don’t mess up the comedy community that supports you.” This isn’t just some abstract rule; it’s an essential guideline for aspiring comedians, and here’s why.

Your Comedy Family

Think of the comedy scene as your dysfunctional but lovable family. You’re all in this together, sharing the same stages, mics, and green rooms. It’s a close-knit, occasionally neurotic community that values camaraderie, trust, and loyalty. And just like in a family, if you mess up, it’ll come back to haunt you.

Support, Not Sabotage

Stand-up comedians often help each other out, sharing gigs, tips, and feedback. It’s a support network that can make or break your career. When you break the “Don’t shit where you eat” rule, you’re effectively sabotaging that network. It’s like bringing drama to a family dinner, and nobody wants that.

Avoid Feuds and Backstabbing

Feuds can be entertaining, but they’re better left to reality TV. Comedy is a place where you can make people laugh, not cry. When you start drama within the community, you’re going down a dark path. So, remember to keep things professional, and avoid those bitter rivalries.

Respect the Bookers

The bookers and club owners are the gatekeepers of your comedy dreams. If you disrespect them, it’s like trying to bite the hand that feeds you. Don’t make their lives harder by causing drama. Play nice and you might get more stage time and better opportunities.

Maintain Good Karma

Comedy karma is a real thing. When you’re kind, professional, and supportive of your fellow comedians, it comes back to you in the form of goodwill, better gigs, and genuine friendships. Being a jerk, on the other hand, is a surefire way to ensure you’re not invited to family gatherings.

The Power of Laughter

Remember, we’re all in this for one thing: making people laugh. The world is a crazy place, and comedy is our way of coping with it. So, instead of bringing negativity into the scene, let’s focus on what unites us – the power of laughter.

In conclusion, “Don’t shit where you eat” is more than just a phrase; it’s a guideline for life in the comedy world. To succeed, respect your fellow comedians, maintain a positive attitude, and play nice with bookers and club owners. After all, we’re one big, dysfunctional, and endlessly entertaining comedy family, and the last thing we need is a feud or drama.

So, keep your sense of humor intact, and let’s create a comedy community that’s as fun and supportive as it is hilarious. Stay funny, my friends, and I’ll catch you on the next open mic night!

Title: “Don’t Shit Where You Eat: The Art of Stand-Up Comedy”

Hey there, folks! Welcome to this no-nonsense, straight-talking blog entry about the wonderful world of stand-up comedy, as told in the inimitable style of Ryan Bussell. You know, it’s been said that comedy is like the best kind of food – best served fresh, and never where you eat. [EDITOR’S NOTE: The best kind of food is never where I eat? Fuck you ChatGPT!] So, grab your beverage of choice, sit back, and let’s dive into the secrets of the stand-up comedy world.

Rule #1: Keep It Real

Now, I’m not one to sugarcoat things. Comedy is all about keeping it real. If you want to make people laugh, you’ve got to be authentic, and by that, I mean, be yourself. Don’t try to imitate anyone else. Don’t borrow someone else’s jokes. And for the love of all that’s funny, don’t go mining your own personal life for laughs if you’re not ready to let it all hang out. Keep it real, and your audience will respect that, even when they’re gasping for air between laughs.

Rule #2: Timing is Everything

You ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it?” Well, in stand-up, it’s all about timing. That’s where the magic happens. A well-timed punchline can have an audience in stitches. But remember, timing isn’t just about when you deliver the punchline; it’s also about pacing the whole act. A good comedian knows when to speed up and when to slow down, keeping the audience guessing and hanging on every word.

Rule #3: Embrace the Uncomfortable

Stand-up comedy is like poking a hornet’s nest with a stick – sometimes you’re gonna get stung, but you do it because the thrill is worth it. Don’t shy away from the uncomfortable stuff. In fact, lean into it. Comedy often thrives in the places that make people squirm. If you can make an awkward situation hilarious, you’ve got the golden ticket.

Rule #4: Don’t Steal Material

You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: Don’t steal material. It’s like a cardinal sin in the comedy world. Respect your fellow comedians and respect the craft. You don’t want to be that person who gets a reputation for thievery. Trust me; you’ll be toast in this business.

Rule #5: Be Prepared to Bomb

You know what’s great about bombing on stage? It’s a rite of passage in stand-up. Every great comedian has bombed at some point. So, embrace it. Learn from it. Failure is where you grow, and it’s where you learn the most about yourself and your act. Plus, it makes for a hilarious story later on.

Rule #6: Know Your Audience

Your audience is your lifeline. You’ve got to know who you’re performing for. A college crowd is different from a corporate event. Tailor your material to your audience. It’s not about selling out; it’s about connecting with people through humor.

In the world of stand-up comedy, you’ve got to be prepared to take risks, embrace the uncomfortable, and find humor in the everyday stuff. But above all, don’t shit where you eat – don’t steal jokes, and don’t compromise your integrity. Keep it real, and you’ll go far. So, if you’re thinking of taking the plunge into stand-up comedy, remember these rules, and let the laughs roll in.

Damned if I Do…

Comedy Posted on Mon, October 16, 2023 05:00:24

At one point during my tenure at Nintendo of America, I led a conference call with district managers based throughout the US. I was interrupted several times by colleagues in the Midwest who couldn’t understand me, despite the fact that we spoke the same language. This due to folks on the East Coast, like me, speak twice as fast.

As you might imagine, if I need to slow down so my fellow Americans can understand me, I have to crawl so Swedes can understand me. That’s been a process for sure. In regular conversation I’m mostly successful, but the East Coast speed tends to reassert itself when I’m nervous, or drinking, or just very comfortable with the people I’m speaking to.

Another problem I have is mumbling. Speed kills there as well, like my mouth can’t open fast enough for all the words to spill out. This is bad enough when I speak English but it’s catastrophic when I speak Swedish. I never feel like myself when I speak Swedish and how can I, when I have to find the right words AND think about how to say them AND actually pronounce them correctly AND speak at a human pace.

Naturally, this is an issue in standup. Combine nerves and booze and a limited set length and I can get into a bad state of mind. “I have to hurry to say everything I want to say!” instead of, “I should focus on the quality of my words instead of quantity.” Kind of unfair, when you think about it, that I need to slow down instead of other people focusing more to keep up with me. Selfish of them, really.

Standup isn’t as bad as speaking Swedish, since I perform in my native tongue. When it goes well I still feel like myself, but a better version of myself where I find the right words AND think about how to say them AND actually pronounce them correctly AND speak at a human pace. Rehearsing helps in that regard and while I don’t rehearse entire sets as often as I used to, it’s not unusual to find me wandering around my apartment or even walking down a street saying a new bit aloud.

Except that has disadvantages as well. I want to perform standup, not theater. I know comics that have one delivery, whether there are five or five hundred in the crowd. The crowd matters to me and I want to be in the moment. Also, a woman once told me that she preferred my wife as a comic than me, because while my wife seemed very natural on stage, I felt too rehearsed. To be fair, this was several years ago and also she wanted to sleep with my wife, so I took that with a huge grain of salt, but the criticism stuck with me. Because of course it did.

Ethical and Immoral

Comedy Posted on Mon, October 09, 2023 03:12:29

I love an exchange in the film Election between two teachers. One accuses the other of acting unethically and immorally and the other asks, “There’s a difference?” I was reminded of this a few nights ago, having the umpteenth discussion with comics about ethics and morals in standup.

Put simply, ethics are the rules, logical and objective and black and white. Morals are how we feel the rules should be, emotional, subjective. Take this classic thought experiment: man has son, son needs medicine to survive, man can’t afford medicine, but he could steal it. Is stealing ethical, in this case? No. There’s no room for debate. Stealing is against the law, even the Bible says so. Is it moral to steal, though? We could debate that until the cows come home.

It makes me chuckle when comics – who are, by and large, both unethical and immoral by nature – launch into a diatribe about injustice in the comedy community, since their complaints are (a) based on morals, not ethics, and (b) quite selective and biased. It doesn’t take much to notice a pattern in complaints about clubs in particular. All clubs act the same, but you’ll bash a club that doesn’t book you, look the other way for clubs that do.

No comic gets to perform everywhere and not every club will book every comic. There’s nothing unethical about that. Club owners have no ethical responsibility to develop talent or promote diversity. We can debate whether or not they should (for the record, I think they should) but that gets us into a zero-sum moral discussion. For example, it was once proposed on a comics’ forum that a list of all female comics in Sweden would be made available to all club owners, so that lineups could always include a fair representation of women. There was much rejoicing until someone asked, “What about the gay comics?” and then another, “What about the disabled comics?” If the list was ever completed, it would just be a list of every comic who isn’t a straight, white, fully-abled man, and the whole thing is moot anyway because no club owner would ever book a comic by picking a name off a list.

There’s that club that has a cover charge but doesn’t pay all the comics. Oh right, that’s every club that has a cover charge, and there’s nothing unethical about it. Immoral, sure, but when it comes to money and/or the lack thereof, our outrage is selective. There’s the comic who runs a daily podcast featuring other comics. The podcast is fan supported, the comic makes a good chunk of money, the comics who provide daily content get nothing, and no one is outraged because being on the podcast means prestige and the infamous exposure. It works for everyone, at least for now.

There’s the club that had a cover charge when it first opened, but in later seasons became a free show. One might think that was done to attract a larger audience, but one would be wrong. Shows were just as well-attended before and after the change. Naturally, the club owners aren’t doing the show for free, but by getting rid of the cover charge, they can take the moral high ground when not paying comics and keeping all the money for themselves. In other words, becoming moral through ethical and immoral means. Machiavelli would be proud!

The bottom line is that it’s up to each of us as comics to decide, not only our own worth, but our own ethics as well. And thank goodness for that! Imagine if there were laws in place like, “Thou shalt never cancel a gig,” and, “Thou shalt always place the audience’s enjoyment over your own.” Man, we’d be in trouble.

Living, Breathing Clichés

Comedy Posted on Mon, October 02, 2023 04:00:58

A recurring theme of the past week was noticing walking stereotypes around me. Alcohol seems to turn people into characters. When you play an RPG with a massive open world, like Skyrim, you notice certain types of NPCs pop up, over and over again. Sweden was like that to me last week.

Take the Swedish “gubbe”, for example. Think manly man, typically middle-aged (but not always), drunk at a soccer game at 10 AM. Quick with a homophobic joke, probably quick with a hand if the wife isn’t as quick with dinner. A gubbe is bad, gubbar – more than one of them – are worse. In a group they feed on each other’s energy.

Since it’s rare that I host game shows in Swedish at On Air, it’s equally rare that the groups are anything other than company gigs. If they’re drinking, I might get a gubbe or two, but co-workers are generally better behaved than friends. I once hosted a bachelor’s party, though, where one of the guys humped my leg like a dog. I could explain the context but it wouldn’t help; I was just glad that day that I was hosting and not one of my female colleagues.

I was listening to a show last week hosted in Swedish for a company of gubbar. At one point, the host speaks through a video feed to a man on the street, although it’s obviously pre-recorded. We make a joke of that by asking one of the players to shout out a question, which will prove it’s live. “How big is your cock?” came the question, followed by ho-hos and guffaws.

I was eating at Burger King before Maffia Comedy last Saturday, because show business is glamorous. Adding to the ambiance was another type of NPC- the older drunk couple. They only have one volume for conversation – loud – and the man’s deep voice was matched, or perhaps bested, by his female companion, like they eat cigarettes when not enjoying fine dining at BK.

Then it was time to open the doors at Maffia. In addition to hosting I was responsible for checking tickets, because show business is glamorous. Three cougars approached and I can’t think of a better word to describe them as they were, let us say, mature and randy. One of them wore a vest and nothing else as a top and must’ve used a spell to protect her modesty. She also asked me where the bathroom was and somehow managed to call me babe six times in thirty seconds.

They seemed fun, though, and I was glad to see them sit in the front row when they didn’t have to. Swedes avoid the front row like the plague and I really should’ve taken this as a warning sign, but the night prior I’d faced a front row that was half-empty. The three of them were chatting and laughing as the intro was playing, still laughing as I climbed onto the stage (and then noticed the empty shot glasses they’d left on the stage in front of them, like it was their table), still laughing as I began to speak.

I had no choice but give them my full attention. I started asking them questions but they couldn’t speak, only laugh, which was funny at first but quickly annoying. I reflected on the fact that people laughing too much is an interesting problem for a comic to face, but that didn’t help me much at the time. Vest Lady was the worst of the three, plus her fake tan and pale lipstick made her look like a laughing skull, which freaked me out a little.

Knowing that the crowd was just as annoyed as me was a concern to me as a host but reassuring to me as a comic. Since these drunks couldn’t speak, all I could do was talk at them. It’s no good to be harsh (Dane Cook said it’s like trying to enjoy family dinner after Dad punched Mom), so I just kept a smile on my face and openly mocked them. Eventually, however, I just had to ignore them and do my best to speak over them. At least I’d let the crowd know that yes, we all hate them, let’s get through this thing together.

They continued to be a problem throughout the first half but, as is standard with this type of NPC, a night out is marked by high highs and low lows. One comic paused mid-sentence to point out that Vest Lady had passed out, eliciting a laugh from the crowd, but all I could think was, please just let her sleep. If we could just get through the first half without major incident, we could make sure the three of them would not return for the second half.

We didn’t make it that far. While the last comic of the first half was on stage, he got irritated by them openly talking to each other in the front row and paused to scold them. I couldn’t hear what they’d been saying, but Vest Lady’s body language said she wanted to leave and her friends didn’t. Turned out it wasn’t just wishful thinking on my part, because soon thereafter she stood up while still talking to her companions, oblivious to the comic standing just in front of and above her. He grabbed her shoulder (and alarm bells rang in my head at that) but she violently threw him off, shouted that she had to leave, and the three of them walked out.

After the break, I told the crowd, “I hate to start the second half on a down note, but I’m afraid I have some bad news. Our friends will not be joining us again.” The crowd cheered.

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