Versatility is My Game

Most weeks I work Thursday through Saturday doing standup.  During football season I’m writing Sunday-Wednesday on the Frank Caliendo sketches for NFL on FOX, so 20 weeks a year I’m working 7 days a week.  When I started in standup, there were plenty of 5 day clubs, but most are 3 or 4 now and those non-weekend nights are generally pretty slow.  The busiest weekday shows I do anymore are generally one-nighters in small cities where you are often the only game in town.

Last week was a rarity, as I started my standup week on a Wednesday and finished on Sunday night.  I won’t go too far into the details as you can read each day to get a feel, but here was last week’s bullet points.

  • Wednesday I did a Methodist college in Missouri.  (PG-type show)
  • Thursday I did a bar show in a college town in South Dakota. (R-rated show)
  • Friday-Saturday I did a comedy club/bar show in Minnesota with the age group being 20-60 and most having a blue collar bent. (Soft R-rated)
  • Sunday I performed at a room seating 20 small-town, well-educated people in a bed and breakfast.  (PG-18)

While 50% of my material was the same for each night, the other 50% changed each show and definitely the tone and style I used on-stage was very different. It definitely helps to have been doing this job long enough that you have built up enough material that you can attempt to custom-fit the show that you think your audience will respond best to.  Just as important is being able to change the tone you use, as sometimes being aggressive is what works best, while if you are working a corporate show or a small audience, it’s best to be more conversational.

One of the best questions I get from non-comics is do you change your show depending on the audience? I do.  Having said this, if I had an act that was more TV-friendly, I wouldn’t need to be this versatile, as I would have built my own audience.  Without going completely on the couch, I believe that my desire to kill an audience every night has hurt me overall as a comedian, as I haven’t been willing to create an act that is more defined.  When you write jokes that you know almost everyone will get it keeps you from bombing and it keeps you getting good reports, but it doesn’t appeal to the hipsters that get you on TV.  I’m not knocking these decision-makers, as often a more defined performer is better doing a 5 minute appearance.  Most of my material fits one of 3 things. Pop culture attacks which feature commercial products.  Dark admissions of my past and present.  Sex jokes.  Not exactly the type of stuff that puts you on TV talk shows.  Now you give 45 minutes and I’m confident I will do better than most comedians out there.

What I’m not trying to say is what I do is better or worse than other forms of comedy, I’m just trying to explain where I see myself in the grand scope of standup.  What I do really well is deliver pretty much every night I’m on-stage.  I’d like to claim that I try so hard on-stage because I want to give the audience their money’s worth, but it really comes down to me wanting to walk-off stage getting the adulation I crave.  I can’t tell you that it isn’t as desperate as it sounds, but most who know me realize that I’m actually pretty well-adjusted and less narcissistic than the average comedian. (And this would be proven by me having a blog discussing how I’m less narcissistic than others. I know, not the best example.) It is a crazy notion that you would go up in front of people for an hour and entertain them with just your thoughts and words.  I have no idea who is interested in this or not, but I’m trying here to take the veil a little bit off of what the fly-over country stand-up comic’s life is like.  I promise I will be less meta in tomorrow’s post.

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