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Don't Shit Where You Eat! ™

“New material!!”

Comedy Posted on Wed, October 03, 2018 04:13:03

About midway into the Team Amerika tour, my comics-in-arms
began mimicking my act. ”He’s so
gooooood!” they’d say to me, referring to a line in a bit I call Bad Wife. Since we were on tour, performing for people
who’d paid to see us, I had put together my best twenty-minute set and was
doing the same thing over and over again.

Hearing that from the other comics made me very
self-conscious when I said the line on stage later. Especially since I could often see them out
of the corner of my eye, offstage, lip-syncing the line and giggling to each
other.

———-

Offstage, and unfortunately onstage more often than I like,
I mumble. I’m from the East Coast of the
US, we’re known for a high rate of speech.
I’ve had to slow down when talking to people from the Midwest so they
could understand me. Obviously, living
in Sweden forces me to slow down even more, and I’ve been here for so long
that, for the most part, speaking slower is second-nature. But I can slip into old habits when I’m
nervous, or excited, or drunk; sometimes I’m all three at once.

As a performer I have to be clear onstage, even more so
performing in English in Sweden. The
overall level of English comprehension here is embarassingly high, which is the
only reason I’m able to get away with it so often. Still, not only should I not mumble, I have
to be careful which words I say. Even if
the average Swede speaks English much better than I’ll ever speak Swedish, that
doesn’t mean they’re going to get complex or unusual words, at least not
quickly enough for a joke to land.

When I write, I find the best wording and the best way to
deliver the bit, then I find the best way to put all those bits together into a
long set. I think of it like watching a
band in concert: the songs might be a bit different live, but essentially the
same as on the album. When I’m just
doing a few minutes at an open-mic level club, I’ll try new things, or bring
back jokes I haven’t done in years, but when I’m performing for a paying
audience, I want to give them the best set I can.

The upside is that I’ve been fortunate to increase the
number of paid gigs each year. Mostly
hosting, but also the occasional headline spot or gigs like the aforementioned
tour. The downside is that I’ve become very
tired of the sound of my own voice.

———-

This became painfully obvious to me a few months ago, when I
performed at the Lund Comedy Festival for the third year in row. I’m proud of that, of course; not everyone
gets a chance to be part of the festival once, let alone three times. The first two years I was there as part of
Team Amerika, this year with Cash Comedy Club, sharing the stage with four
other comics. We agreed to have ten
minutes each, so I put together the best ten minute set I could.

I was well aware, long before I stepped onto that stage,
that my set included one thing – one thing – that I hadn’t said onstage both
the years prior. On stage, as I was
wrapping up my planned material, I checked the clock and saw I had done just
over eight minutes. I was satifsfied
that I’d done well, but I had to make a quick call: do I end my set now, or
should I end with Personal Question (one of my favorite bits), even if it means
being onstage for eleven or more minutes in total? It would’ve been fine for me to have a longer
set than the others, since we eventually ended the show with time to spare, but
I chose to end without doing the extra bit.
Partly out of respect for the others, but mostly because I didn’t see the
sense in ending my set exactly how I’d ended my set the first two years.

One thing I respect George Carlin and Louis CK for is how
they masturbated in front of other people – kidding – is how they developed a
new hour of material every year. As I
said, on the open mic level I’m constantly changing things up and trying new
material, yet my core, go-to bits haven’t changed and I haven’t added any new
ones in a long time. It’s
frustrating. I know it’s because I’m lazy
– I host often and I found a way to do it that I’m happy with, so each time
it’s almost a brainless routine for me.
Muscle memory. I’m not
challenging myself enough. I can live
with not having a new hour for Lund, but not having a new goddamn ten minutes?

———-

”Much of your pain is self-chosen,” said Khalil Gibran, and,
boy, is he right about that here. I know
a lot of comics who haven’t changed a word of their acts in years and seem
pretty content. This will sound like a
passive aggressive swipe, but I mean it sincerely when I say I envy them. They want to do well, found a way to succeed,
and enjoy getting laughs. It’s enough
for them! It is, after all, supposed to
be our job to entertain the crowd, so if it’s not broke, why fix it?

Unfortunately, it’s not enough for me. Making the crowd laugh maybe isn’t enough of
a priority for me, I’m more concerned with making myself happy. To be fair, I’m not doing the crowd any
favors if I’m bored on stage – they’re smart enough to recognize it, and react
poorly, if my heart’s not in it.

With all this in mind, I headlined a show last night and
started with eight minutes I’d never said before on stage, hadn’t even rehearsed
(except in my own head). The crowd didn’t
pay for the show, but I got paid for it, so it feels irresponsible to me to
gamble like that, to invite a bigger potential for bombing. I performed for twenty-five minutes, so everything
else I said was tried and true, but at least I chose bits that I haven’t done a
million times before, and not recently either.

It was reasonably successful. I didn’t slaughter but I didn’t bomb, either. We all had fun. Maybe the crowd would’ve had more fun if I’d
done a safer set, but I would’ve been unhappy.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask the crowd to meet me halfway.



Am I a Nice Guy?

Comedy Posted on Tue, September 25, 2018 04:40:29

”I don’t think Ryan likes me very much, but I don’t know
what I did wrong,” said a rookie to one of my partners. My partner told him not to worry, I’m just
shy.

I wrote long ago how people could get the wrong impression
of me based on how I am onstage. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that
people can get the wrong impression of me offstage as well. Or maybe they’re right and I’m wrong, which
is a scary thought.

In that last entry, I told the story of the coworker who
told me, ”You are SUCH an asshole! And
the worst part is, you think you’re a nice guy!” I’m not going to keep repeating the same
thing over and over, it’s just, I’m not great at making good first impressions. Apparently, I’m not good at making second or
hundredth good impressions either, since people I’ve met many times over still
haven’t figured out what an amazing, generous, caring and social individual I
am.

In other words, I’ve realized that I’m the one with a
problem.

—————–

Recently, a comic posted something like this on FB, ”This
week I was at Power and had a bad gig, then I was at Big Ben and had a good
gig. Guess that makes me an average
comic.” I commented ”BANNED”- as a joke-
and when I met him later I told him, ”Don’t EVER mention Power in the same post
with another club ever again!” Again, as
a joke, but I could tell from his face that he didn’t know I was joking. He looked like a dog that just got screamed
at by his master. ”Did YOU make this
mess?!”

(And yes, I’ve also covered before the issue of jokes not
being understood as jokes, so I’m not getting into that here again either.)

At least I was aware of this time, immediately, and told him
it was a joke. It was based on another
club owner I know who means it when he tells people not to mention his club in
the same breath as another, for any reason, at any time. I need to stop assuming everyone knows what I
mean all the time.

—————–

”I ran into [a regular at Power] today, he works down the
street from here,” I recently said to one of my fellow club owners. ”Oh, he has a job now?” he replied. ”That’s great! He’s been out of work for a long time, I know
he wasn’t feeling good about that.”

This is someone I’ve seen almost every week for months and I
had no idea. I don’t know anything about
his personal life, we don’t have conversations.
The only thing I know about him is his material, which by this point I
could do myself on stage.

We have a lot of regulars at Power, which makes me extremely
happy. We wanted to have a place where
everyone had an opportunity and I love seeing the same faces week after
week. When Power opened, it was the only
stage available to most of them, but we’ve seen them since get new
opportunities elsewhere, chances they likely would not have had if they hadn’t
been at Power week after week, month after month. I’m proud of them and proud of us! ..and I barely know any of them.

After the show each week, there’s usually a gang of comics
hanging out until the bar closes, and sometimes beyond. I love that too! It’s been a long time since I was in club
where comics liked to hang, I really miss that, and I’m proud that we
established a fun place! …and I never hang out.

I keep saying that I will and haven’t yet. Mostly it’s the fact that I live so far away,
my options for getting home are limited, and needing to wake up at 6 AM to come
back into the city the day after. As it
is, I’m lucky to be home by 1 AM after Power, and by the time the show is over
– a show that has run past midnight on more than one occasion – I’m pretty
burned out and don’t feel social.

Not feeling social, I think that’s my biggest problem. I don’t feel social most of the time. There are clubs I go to – and I should note
here that I rarely go to clubs if I’m not on the lineup – where I never feel
social. I show up, I don’t talk to
anyone, I play Candy Crush if no one’s looking, I do my set and leave. I’m uncomfortable the entire time I’m there,
because I feel like I should be talking to someone, but don’t know what to say.

(For God’s sake, I’ve covered being socially retarded before
too. This blog is getting repetitive.)

ANYWAY. What I’m
trying to say is, if I am giving people the impression that I’m a cold prick,
it would be a good idea to stop acting like a cold prick.



How Do You Want to Use Your Time?

Comedy Posted on Tue, September 18, 2018 04:40:05

I’ve been running comedy clubs for several years now- note
that I wrote ”clubs” and not ”a club”; they weren’t all winners- and I’ve had
the chance to meet a lot of rookies. My
ego being what it is, I really enjoy passing along all of the wisdom I’ve gained
in my nearly eight years as a standup.

(Yes, nearly eight years and still rocking the open-mic
circuit, plus two failed clubs in five venues do not make me a guru, but
rookies don’t know that.)

When I give my sermons on the mound, I tend to repeat the
same things again and again.
Appropriate, since I repeat the same material over and over on stage,
and repeat the same stories off stage again and again. A friend of mine lost patience with the
latter, so I can be halfway into a story and hear her say, ”Make it better,”
which is my cue to add something new to
the story she’s heard five-plus times before.
To be fair, I’ve interrupted her when she’s telling me a story I’ve
heard before, and her additions aren’t nearly as creative as mine.

I also ramble on stage and off, as you can see from this
post.

Anyway, one thing I’ve said to 367 rookies over the years
is, ”You’ve got this little bit of time- 3 minutes, 5 minutes, maybe even 15
minutes- on stage, and in that little bit of time you can talk about literally
anything. You can say what you want, how
you want, you can be yourself or a character or happy or angry or sad… the
possibilities are nearly endless. So how
do you want to spend that time?”

If you have a penis and done less than fifty gigs, it’s
extremely likely that you want to talk about anal.

It’s easy to become spoiled in Stockholm. There are a lot of opportunities for stage
time and very little expected from comics in return, beyond showing up. Stage time isn’t as valuable to us as it
should be and I am no saint, either. I recently caught myself thinking, ”I am just here for a paycheck,” just before a gig when
I wasn’t feeling well, was emotionally drained, and not at all excited to
perform. I reminded myself that there
are a dozen comics that would give up a testicle/ovary for the same shot I was
so clearly taking for granted.

I think it’s important to stop now and then and just think,
ok, I’ve got this little bit of time… am I taking advantage of it? The things I want to say, are they worth
it? Who do I want to be? Just what the hell do I want?

Maybe you just enjoy making people laugh and you found the
perfect ten minutes and you never get tired of the sound of your own voice, so
you never try anything new. Great! You’re still putting that time to good use.

Maybe you just really want to let the crowd know that anal
is a pain in the ass, amirite? Get
it? If that’s how you want to spend that
time, great!

Actually, no. Enough
with the anal. You will find more gold
in an actual asshole than in that subject.



Political Correctness and its Gift To Comedy

Comedy Posted on Thu, September 13, 2018 10:49:11

I’ve mentioned this earlier in my blog- I had a joke I used
to close with in Sweden, where I told women that the reason they can’t find
nice guys is because they turned all nice guys into assholes. The actual target of the joke are the men who
actually believe all women want assholes ”and not nice guys like them,” but
that may have been too subtle; I know I came across as bashing women. Despite that- or maybe because of that- the
joke was always successful in Sweden.

In Dublin and London, where standup has been around longer,
the joke didn’t fly. I was just yet another
dude doing yet another women-bashing joke.
In Berlin I was literally booed off the stage.

——————-

One of my fellow comics in Stockholm has a rape joke he’s performed a hundred times. I’ve seen crowds react with applause, I’ve seen women laughing so hard that tears poured from their eyes. He’s always gotten away with it because there’s a certain charm to him and no one has ever seemed to mind he’d done a joke about rape.

Recently, though, I heard him deliver it onstage to just chuckles… followed by a few, loud, boos. He stopped his act, looked toward the booing, and asked, ”Why are you booing?”

”Because we’re women,” came the reply.

——————-

Comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have made it
clear- they’re done with performing at colleges. The kids are too sensitive, anything and
everything can be offensive, no one has a sense of humor anymore.

I’ve heard a lot of people, not only comics, say that
political correctness has gone too far.
That political correctness is the death of comedy.

I think it’s the best thing to happen to comedy since cable
TV.

——————-

I fell in love with comedy when it exploded on TV in the
80s. Most of it was clean- basic cable
was still censored- but I heard plenty of rough stuff as well. A comic like Sam Kinison would have a hard
time becoming a big star in today’s environment, at least with that material. Watching his specials now, some things hold
up but not everything has aged well.

Probably the one comic who felt the birth of the PC movement
most is Andrew ”Dice” Clay. He’s said
that, after seeing male comic after male comic go on stage, bashing themselves
as complete losers, he was inspired to go in the opposite direction and create
a character, a super-confident Real Man.
For a long time, he was a huge success.

Then came the backlash and the beginning of PC culture. ”It used to be,” he once said, in character, ”you
could say to a chick, ’Hey, nice pair of tits.’ Now it’s ’harrassment’. It’s like you can’t be a nice guy anymore.” Well, at least he still performs in casinos.

——————-

Music festivals are popular in Sweden. Unfortunately, sexual assault at those
festivals is also popular. In response
to this, there was a festival arranged with only women allowed to attend. Naturally, men’s rights activists and others
lost their minds, but the festival was a success. In fact, according to headlines after it was
over, ”Zero Crimes [of any kind] Reported at Women-Only Festival.”

As soon as I read that, I thought of adding, ”It was
reported by Anita’s friends, however, that she looked realy fat in her new
outfit but none of them reported this to her.”
Made me chuckle. Topical
humor! I could say it on stage this
week! But, nah, not good enough. I like the idea of the joke- based on the
cliché that women talk about each other behind their backs- but I thought, do I
want to make a joke at the expense of this event? Is it worth it? I decided it wasn’t.

It’s been said that when someone yells, ”Too soon!” they
actually mean, ”Not funny enough!” It
used to be that just saying something shocking, a pitch dark joke or graphic
talk about sex, was good enough for the stage.
Doesn’t fly anymore, people are used to it. If you’re going to do a potentially offensive
joke- and what jokes aren’t these days?- then it has to be really funny.

I’ve blogged before about the bit I did that included the
N-word. I still believe in the bit, I
think the subject of the joke is important, but using the N-word was too
much. The bit wasn’t good enough to deserve
that. So I thought more about it and
created a bit I love much more. There
aren’t many comics in this country that can get a crowd to scream, ”WHITE
POWER!”

That’s why I think political correctness is good for comedy-
it encourages us to think a little more, work a little harder, make better
choices. If the joke is good enough, it
doesn’t matter how sensitive the topic is.
My favorite jokes are the ones that make people think to themselves, ”I
know I shouldn’t be laughing at this but I am anyway.”

Which reminds me of the men’s rights activists’ rallying
cry, ”If you thought the guy was handsome, you wouldn’t say he was harassing
you!” Which is like saying, ”You wouldn’t
call it rape if you’d actually wanted and consented to it!” (By the way, women accuse attractive men of
sexual harassment and assault on a regular basis.)

In any case, there are plenty of rules in standup and no
rules in standup. No one is forced to
bother being politically correct, no one is forced to think about doing
anything or be smarter or whatever. We
all still do just what we want to do. But
don’t be surprised when you get booed off stage and/or an angry blog written
about you.*

*I’ve earned both



Comedy Mania

Comedy Posted on Thu, October 27, 2016 16:28:15

When Eva and I got married, we had a roast at the party. People wondered why we would do such a thing,
although roasts originated from Jewish weddings. People weren’t confused that we’d have a roast
despite not being Jewish, they wondered why we’d risk having awful things said
at our expense on a day that, traditionally, is a happy one. But we have thick skins and didn’t worry too
much about it.

For the most part, there really wasn’t anything to worry
about. It felt like the participants
pulled their punches, nervous about going too far. All of them except Elinor Svensson who went
out for blood and, as a result, was unanimously decided the best of the
evening. One joke in particular hit home
with the crowd, but it wasn’t the one that hit me the hardest. It was this one:

“The thing about Ryan is that there isn’t anything unique
about him, not even in his DNA.”

She had no way of knowing, at least consciously, that this
was my bane, the feeling that I’m not special, have little to
no value. To not stand out in stand up,
there’s nothing worse. Maybe people are
right, I’m just yet another English-speaking comic in Sweden talking about the
politics of laundry rooms in apartment buildings and the Swedish obsession with
coffee breaks.

It’s not something that gnaws at me constantly, but when it
does it really sinks its teeth into me.
I’ve known a lot of people who deal with manic depression and I would
never compare myself to them, but I do think I have a touch of it. For example, I’ve never been able to sit down cold and
write material, but when I get new ideas they come as a flood. Last week, within a few days I
had two all-new ten minute sets that I repeated over and over during long car
trips since I didn’t have any gigs booked.

At the other end of the spectrum, I can suddenly drop into a
funk so deep I just want to lie in bed with the cover over my head for days,
apparently without cause. Fortunately,
Eva is sensitive enough- and patient enough- to know when I just need time to
myself and hate everyone and everything.
It’s not something anyone can help end, yet I do tend to send out “woe
is me!” messages to friends. It’s a Pity
Party and everyone and no one is invited.
At some point it ends the same way it began, for no real reason at all.

I’m not seeking fame and fortune, not even aspiring to a
career in standup, even if I think it would be fantastic to make a living doing
something that I love. Certainly I’m
passionate about it. Mostly I just have a drive to perform as often as I can,
as long as I can, in as many different places as possible. I don’t get every opportunity and don’t
expect to, but I am happy, and proud, over my accomplishments.

That being said, I am competitive, and when I see others
succeeding where I have not, I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealously. When I’m feeling good, that is. When I’m feeling low, that twinge magnifies
into all-consuming angst. I’m happy to
say that, even at my lowest, I never feel, “Why does so-and-so get to do that,
I’m way better!” What I do feel, though,
is, “Of course they get to do that, they’re special and funny and I’m not.” Naturally, when I’m feeling low, it seems
like everyone is succeeding on a massive scale.
I sign onto Facebook and see someone I helped get started in comedy
performing at a prestigious club I’ve never been to, see comics being invited
onto podcasts, YouTube clips with thousands more views than I ever got, new
clubs with crowds larger than mine draws, etc etc etc. Why not me??

All of which leads to the inevitable feeling that I should
just take a break, or quit, and no one would miss me anyway. Which I say to a few friends who tell me I’m
being stupid because, let’s face it, it doesn’t take a genius to spot an empty
threat. At this point I wouldn’t even
know how to quit if I honestly wanted to, and I’m smart enough to have recognized,
long ago, that there’s a flow to this, ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Comedy is manic.

Albert Camus said that life is meaningless and the only
choice one can make that actually matters is whether or not to commit
suicide. The Rebel is one who recognizes
this but decides to live anyway. Replace
“life” with “standup” and you get me, the Rebel. There’s no meaning to what I do other than
what I decide, it’s just something I have to do. Maybe I’ll have some success or maybe I won’t. It’s all just dick jokes anyway.

Here’s the punchline- I met Elinor recently and told her the
impact that joke had made on me and she didn’t remember saying it.



Foot-In-Mouth Disease

Comedy Posted on Sun, September 25, 2016 06:26:39

I went to a small high school and wasn’t very popular with
the ladies- surprise surprise- although they would talk to me, usually about
their boyfriends. One girl, though,
would never say a word to me, and she was a mystery to me. It wasn’t until years after graduation that
someone finally told me the reason- back in 7th grade, I wrote the
following in her yearbook:

Roses are red,

Violets get plucked,

Over the summer I hope you get…

You can figure out the rest

Mind you, we were both thirteen at the time and also not
friends. I was told that she scratched
it out so violently that it tore the book.
A year or two after graduation, she came out of the closet, but that
probably has nothing to do with me being a creep.

The name of my blog- Don’t Shit Where You Eat- is a dig on
myself. First, because my intent was to
write openly and honestly about my experiences in the standup world. Second, because my mouth has always got me
into trouble. I don’t make an effort to
be rude, I just don’t hesitate to say something that might be offensive or
self-destructive. Call it chronic
foot-in-mouth disease.

You might think that all comics have a wonderful sense of
humor and thick skins. I know I think
this, despite the fact that you and I should both know better. Comics are people too, dealing with all the
same insecurities as everyone else, and are even, arguably, more sensitive than
the average person. It’s very easy to
offend a comic and I’ve managed several times.
Recently, I put my foot in my mouth twice with two different people
within a few days of each other.

I was at the Lund Comedy Festival for the very first time
last month and had a great time. It was
packed with comics, from rookies to Big Names.
(I fall somewhere in the middle, leaning toward rookie, of course.) I’ve met quite a few of those Big Names over
the years, even gigging with them, but generally they were all too busy doing
Big Name things to bother saying hello to me, unless I said hello to them
first.

The festival had a mingle each night and the first one I
went to, a Big Name sought me out to say hello.
This is someone I’ve met only once, long before when we had a gig
together, and he gigged with my wife just once, yet still remembered us
both. He always struck me as a nice,
friendly guy, so I was a bit surprised when, just before the festival, a joke
of his had caused a bit of controversy and bad feelings, even from other
comics.

He came over to my table, big smile on his face, hand out,
said hello and didn’t call me Brian, all of which made me happy. I shook his hand, glad to see him, smiled and
said hello back. Then I immediately made
a joke at his expense about his current situation. Someone else might have hesitated, thought,
“Hmm, we aren’t good friends, it might not be appropriate to give him shit,” or
at least, “Maybe I shouldn’t say this, he might not know it’s just a joke.” Not this guy, I just go all-in and reflect
after.

Not that I had long to wait for reflection. The second the joke was out of my mouth I saw
his smile fade, saw how he pulled back, saw him go get some food and not come
back. I knew right away I’d probably
made a mistake, wondered if I should seek him out and apologize, but I wasn’t
sure if I was just reading too much into it.
Also, I was fairly drunk and comfortable in my seat.

It stuck with me though and I didn’t see him again at the
festival, but on the train home I decided to send him a message, said he might
not have given it a second thought, but I thought it was a shitty move on my
part. I’m glad I did, because he
responded right away, said the joke had made him very uncomfortable. Not the joke itself- I’m not that clever- but
since there are some in the community that are bashing him, I made him wonder
if my whole table was among them. I
hadn’t even considered that, but at least that was easily resolved.

A few days later, I thought I’d give insulting a comedy club
a try. What could possibly go wrong? Again, it was only meant in jest. There’s a club in town that has been showing
a ton of initiative lately, with theme nights and special shows, amongst other
things, to bring business and grow their brand.
I have a lot of respect for that, it’s nice to see people with ambition,
trying to do more than just, “Come to our basement for a few hours and hear
dick jokes.”

On the other hand, a result of this drive is that they’ve
become a bit, well, spammy on social media.
And that’s fine, except they’re posting in a certain comics’ community
forum almost daily as well. The guy who runs that forum is usually pretty
strict with club owners, holding us to one post per club per season, but for
some reason he hasn’t cracked down on this particular club. (Actually, I have a pretty solid guess what
that reason is.)

Anyway, figuring I wasn’t the only comic to notice this, I
made a goofy little joke on that forum at their expense. I wondered as I typed it, “Am I blacklisting
myself from this club?” which wasn’t at all my plan. Nah, they’ll know it was just a joke and
won’t be offended at all!

Of course they were offended. They don’t know me very well and couldn’t be
sure of my intentions, so I received a polite yet pointed message asking me to
explain myself. I responded that, yes,
it was just a joke, no insult intended, and while I had been concerned that it
might be misunderstood, I hoped everyone in the comedy business has a good
sense of humor. Crisis averted.

It was fun to see which comics would hit the Like button and
potentially blacklist themselves along with me.
One comic hit the Like button and then hit it again to take his name off
that list; a week later he promoted his show at that club. Don’t Shit Where You Eat, indeed.



Death & Taxes & Comedy

Comedy Posted on Mon, August 22, 2016 15:08:09

“In this world nothing can
be said to be certain,” said Benjamin Franklin, “except death and taxes.” That statement alone shows a third certainty:
comedy. As long as problems exist in the
world, comedy will be around as a defense mechanism to deal with them.

Stockholm is generous as far as standup is
concerned, with several open mics operating once or more each week. Once I got my foot in the door it was a great
feeling, to enter a community of comics hustling for stage time wherever and as
often as possible. Also, the levels of
talent and experience were, as they are now, diverse, so you have the
opportunity to talk to people just starting out and people who have done it way
too long (to crib a pretty standard emcee joke).

Over the years, I’ve seen more people come and go than I can
count. Sometimes comics go away for
a while and then come back, sometimes they get actual jobs and don’t have the
time for it anymore. Some move away,
some get tired of the grind and frustrated they didn’t “make it,” however they
would describe that. Sometimes they do
make it, land gigs on radio or TV, or gig far less often but in paying clubs,
or go on tour.

The fact that I can mark such
changes speaks volumes about a) how much time I spent in open mics and b) the
status of my own “career,” such as it is, but that’s ok. Slacker that I am, I am very ambitious but
not very specific with my goals; at 41, I still have no clue what I want to be
when I grow up. I do know that I love
performing, want to improve, want to try every stage and be up there as often
as I can. Making money would be nice.

It seems like there are phases when there is a flood of new
faces at the open mic, testing standup for the first time or tenth. Here I am guilty of doing something that,
while certainly not unique behavior, I still find pretty shitty. When I see someone for the first time,
waiting for their spot on the evening’s show, I rarely talk to them, despite
the fact that I want to be welcoming and encouraging to all. I might blame my lack of social skills, but
if they go on and do well (or, more importantly, I like them), then I will go
say hello, and they don’t do well, I don’t.

I’ve admitted this to other comics and they always react
with, “I’m the same way, don’t worry about it.”
It does seem shallow, but it’s not so hard to understand. If you see someone eat shit for three
minutes, chances are, you’ll never see them again, but if you do, they’re worth
your energy. (Someone recently told me
it reminds him of the “Replacements” episode of Band of Brothers, dealing with
the complete indifference veterans showed to new faces on the frontlines- the
newbies would very likely die right away, so why get close to them?)

Also, while I do want to
encourage everyone, I have a hard time lying to comics when they want my
feedback. I would hate to tell someone I
thought they had a shit gig, but I would equally hate trying to find a nice way
of telling them they had a shit gig. But
the absolute worst experience is when you see someone have a shit gig but they
bounce off the stage with glee feeling like they were the best comic in the
room, then look to you to validate that feeling.

There are all sorts of reasons for comics not being around
anymore, but here’s the simplest: sometimes, they die. It’s sad when it happens, and shocking, and
although I try to avoid making it all about me, I can’t help but wonder what
impact I’ve made in my time so far and how things would be after I was gone.

It’s a solid community, and supportive, but we’re also
competitive. Shit-talking is as common
and normal as it would be around any office, sometimes good-natured, often not. It’s rare that I hear a comic speaking
grandly about a fellow comic not present- alive, that is- but the amount of
reverence those comics receive after they die is uncanny. Not a bad word is shared, only fitting to
show respect for the dead, but it’s such a drastic change from how we spoke of
them in life I can’t help but notice it.

One comic in particular could be a bit of a dick sometimes. The operative word being sometimes, yet
that’s all we (yes, me included) talked about when he wasn’t around. The closest thing to praise I ever heard another comic
give him came at the end of a rant about him, “….and the worst part is
that he is very funny. Asshole.”
Now that he’s gone, it’s not just that only positive things are said
about him, the sheer weight of the praise is intense. I heard someone compare him to Bill Hicks,
which, had the comic been alive at the time, would’ve led to that person being
laughed out of the room. Instead, it was
met with solemn nods of approval.

All of this is not to say that the praise is unwarranted or
undeserved, it’s just a shame that we aren’t so generous with our goodwill
towards each other in life. I suppose
this is the point I’m trying to make: if you want to say that I’m very nice,
funny, talented, handsome and the Second Coming of Bill Hicks (despite the fact
that I was 17 when he died), I’d rather you didn’t wait to say it.



Gasping for Stage Time

Comedy Posted on Wed, June 15, 2016 16:21:41

A memorable gig is either really, really good, or really,
really terrible. The others just blend
into one another. I’ve had my share of
both but there have been a few that I look back on as trail markers, points
where I could mark significant change. I
had my first real turning point five years ago.

When I first started in standup, Big Ben was the only open
mic in Stockholm that I knew about. Now
the club runs three nights a week- with an English night as well- but at the
time there was no English night and, if I remember correctly, just two nights a
week. In any case, I went to every show,
asking the owner for stage time. The
answer, much more often than not, was no.
Or, “Hmm, it looks pretty full… ask me again after the break,” and then
I didn’t get on in the second half either.
But I kept going, kept asking, because sometimes he said yes and I got a
three-minute spot, or even a five-minute spot!
Meanwhile, I emailed him again and again to be put on the schedule, as
he advised me to do again and again, despite the fact that the emails went
unanswered.

Rejection, however, does wear on a person, and after months
of no after no with the occasional yes, I started to wonder why I was putting myself
through all of that. One particular
Thursday evening in June, I received the “check again later” line and I just
didn’t have the heart to stick around for the inevitable no. I left early, took a long walk along the
water, it was a beautiful evening. A
block away from Big Ben there is a fantastic vantage point and I took a picture
of Stockholm on a perfect summer night, posted it on Facebook with the comment,
“A night like this makes it hard to have a Pity Party, but I’m managing anyway.” I slunk back home with my tail between my
legs.

A few weeks later, however, I recovered. I reminded myself that it’s not supposed to
be easy, that I believed in chasing and nagging for stage time, that it was
worth it. I walked in on a Sunday night,
proudly walked up to the owner and got, “Hmm… looks pretty full, ask again
after the break.” I said sure, smiled,
and for some reason sat alone near the stage rather than hang somewhere in the
back, something I’d not done before nor since.
I was very early and the crowd hadn’t shown up yet, although there was a
large party of men sitting at the table next to me.

I noticed one of those men talk to the owner for a bit,
after which the owner walked directly to me.
“Are you ready to go on?” Turned
out, the large group was a bachelor party, and the groom-to-be didn’t speak
Swedish. The guy who’d spoken to the
owner was in charge of planning the party, thought standup would be fun, and-
oddly enough- assumed “Big Ben” would have English-speaking comics. On this particular evening, I was the only
comic in the room willing to perform in English.

I went first, it went well, I felt good. The owner suggested once again that I email
him to be on the schedule and from that day on, he actually responded to
me. When I left Big Ben that night,
another gorgeous night, I took another photo from the same point and posted, “What
a difference a few weeks makes!”

I still believe in chasing and nagging and it makes me happy
whenever I encounter a rookie doing just that, showing up, getting rejected,
and coming back anyway. Big Ben has an
online booking system these days and other open mics come and go, so I don’t see
this happen as often as I think I should.
I know, after a few years I’ve already become an old man in
standup. “Back in my day, we had to nag
and nag and nag!” So when I see these
comics I try to be as encouraging as I can, and I very, very rarely say no to
someone who asks me for time at a club I’ve run. I’m quite proud of all the comics I’ve helped
get their debut on stage, either at one of my clubs or somewhere else. I remember them all! Even the ones that have forgotten about me,
ungrateful assholes.

Kidding! Mostly.



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