My Mom never had a girl. At a young age I would spend a few hours a week shopping with my Mom. I never had any real interest in the engine of a car or inside of a toolbox. If it wasn’t for sports and poontang, you might think I was gay. So while I’m not a ho-mo, it would me fair to call me a half-mo. I still like to shop. I don’t get pedicures or Brazilians, but I buy a lot of clothes.
This definitely bleeds over to my standup career. I think the way you dress does make a difference on-stage. I wear clothes that are probably too hip for a guy my age, but I think it is also helps connect better with a younger audience. I don’t think it helps to stand up on stage and present yourself like you are someone’s Dad. This is especially the case when you are a comic who says a lot of irreverent things. I often compare comedy to rock music and the bands that have legs feature people who don’t seem like they ever really grew up.
Recently I did a great gig in Danville, Illinois. 200 people is a larger crowd than almost any big city comedy club would draw on a Thursday night. The funny comic who opened for me was a guy from Chicago named Ryan Budds. Before the show, Ryan had mentioned he had worked at a club recently where the big-draw LA headliner offered him 200 at the end of the week, if he could burn the outfit Ryan currently was wearing. Ryan thought it was funny. As a half-mo, I would have probably ripped the dude back or punched him in the nose, but I had to admit to Ryan that the comic might have had a point. What was wrong was the LA comic said the 200 bucks should go to buying a 600 pair of designer jeans. When Ryan said are they comfortable, the LA hipster said no. This is a good place to get started on my theories on what to wear on-stage.
The first thing you should be concerned about is wearing something comfortable—to a point. Standing up in front of an audience for 30-60 minutes under the hot stage lights is tough enough that you don’t need to feel squirmy in your clothes. You also should never wear something that you feel stupid in, even if it’s something that your girlfriend said would look good on you. Now, being comfortable is important, but that shouldn’t include sweatpants or shorts. I have seen comics wear shorts on-stage and it is just feels strange to see, as it takes the audiences focus away from your jokes because naked legs are distracting, no matter if they look good or not. Another distraction is wearing t-shirts, especially if they have funny sayings on them. Your duty is to sell those shirts after the show, not to wear them during it. Having a funny shirt doesn’t make you funny any more than wearing a Harvard sweatshirt makes you smart.
Second thing I would point out is know how your audience is dressed and don’t dress too differently from them. When I do a corporate show, I always ask how people will be dressed at the event. I never want to be the best dressed or worst dressed at a show, as I think it’s important to not come off like an alien. Now if every guy is wearing a tie, I won’t go that far, as I just don’t feel comfortable doing comedy with a noose around my neck. I will wear a nice suit and that seems enough. When I play a biker-type bar, I’m going to probably just wear a black t-shirt and jeans. Know your audience goes farther than just your material.
Next I want to discuss my thoughts on the latest fashion. You can dress like you are right off the pages of GQ, but I wouldn’t pick any clothes that make it look like you spent an hour choosing your wardrobe. There is a fine line between looking cool and looking like a dandy. A recent example of this was Bill Maher’s recent HBO special. The material and the presentation were great by Maher, but Bill was wearing jeans that looked too 2012 and his MMA-type t-shirt didn’t fit his material. He looked like he should be on Rock of Love, not delivering great topical material. I can only think about how dated he will look when this special is rerun in 5 years. I have mentioned to friends when they did a Comedy Central special to try to wear the most classic-type clothing, which is in the black and blue color palate. You don’t need to be looking at your special a decade later and wonder why you were wearing the acid wash jeans of the decade. I know Eddie Murphy could have used this advice when he taped Delirious and Raw. Red leather meet Purple Leather.
Finally, let me get back to Ryan Budds. While the LA hipster comic was wrong in saying Ryan should buy 600 dollars skinny jeans, he was on the right track. As you can see from the photo above, Ryan is a handsome guy wearing a flannel shirt. When I first saw him I thought he looked like he would be in a Mumford and Sons cover band. After watching his set, I had to agree to a certain extent that the LA hipster had a point, as Ryan did well, but I thought he should have gotten an even better response than he received. The clothes he wears on-stage are a negative factor, as it doesn’t fit the comic he is. If he was some alt. comic who did Zach Galifinakis-type jokes, no problem, but Ryan is a smart-ass with attitude. I like his act, but the lumberjack look was not helpful selling his material. Ryan’s a guy who doesn’t really care about clothes, so he had never really considered the impact they can have. I’m sure some of you think clothes or hair make no difference in your presentation, but I would just respond by saying have you ever seen a movie where the look of an actor didn’t go with the role he was playing? There is a reason that the entertainment world has stylist, hair and makeup people.
**It should be mentioned that if you look at the both of us, Ryan would appear to be the better dressed of the 2 of us. I know most people over 50 would think so. I’m wearing a Triumph motorcycle thermal shirt, which I think is a good fit for what I talk about on-stage. It’s not about being the best dressed, it’s about being a good fit for your act. George Carlin mainly just wore a black t-shirt every night, but that was a great look for his point of view. Now a preppy, sweater vest might look good on Kanye West, but it would take-away from most standup comics. It’s all about what works best for you.
Now I should mention that I have seen comics who break all these rules and become big successes. Considering that I toured with Frank Caliendo, off and on, for years, I feel like I know him as well anybody. Frank was always about comfort and he did plenty of shows where he was wearing a radio station t-shirt, a pair of pajama pants and ratty-ass clogs covering his tootsies. Didn’t seem to matter much, though, as he would still destroy a room on a level that few comics will ever experience. So if you have a one-of-kind talent, it doesn’t matter if you dress like MC Hammer, but those few are the exceptions. By the way, the current version of Frank wears suits on-stage, as he only plays Vegas, theaters, or corporate events. If are a comic who isn’t getting quite the response that your material deserves, I would suggest you find a successful comic you respect and ask them their thoughts on what you could do to get more out of show. I think a lot of comics who are going through this are hurt by their outer presentation not fitting the type of material they are delivering.
Author’s Note: I am fully aware that I sometimes come off like I’m full of myself. I would be less than truthful if I didn’t respond to this by saying I am kind of full of myself. Don’t worry, though, I have enough inner self-doubt that I am not the pompous ass I can come off here.