When I first began in standup, I wanted to be George Carlin or Bill Hicks. I wanted to pontificate my socio-political views to the masses. I actually had some success with it, because I never strayed too far away from what Hicks referred to as Dick Island. (Dick jokes can always pull you out of a hole) I might have had more success with this type of comedy, but when you are in your 20’s, there is only so much preaching an older audience is going to accept. When an audience has a bunch of people in it with mortgages and kids and other stresses, it’s hard to hear some person in their 20’s bitch about how the world is fucking them over.
I can remember being one of the youngest headliners on the circuit, but that is no longer the case. I’m guessing I’m about the median age now. I’ve seen a lot of people I started with fall by the wayside over the past decade, as they began to not connect to younger audiences. Either they didn’t write enough new material or they never updated their references* because they were still stuck in their classic rock/classic sitcom style. I’m fortunate that it’s my nature to always be looking for the newest thing. I love new music and pop culture. I don’t act or dress my age. Now, you have to be careful not to push it too far on the hip front for the actual age you are. You’ve seen the Grandma’s at the Mall dressed like they are a backup dancer for Britney Spears. Don’t be too hip for your artificial hips—you know what I mean?
** I worked with a guy just 3 years ago who had jokes about Ronald Reagan. Come on dude!
The best test for if you are still connecting with younger audiences is when you are performing at a college or college bar. I’ve had great shows recently doing these shows, so it makes me feel like I’m not appearing like the old dude. I did a show last year where a bunch of coeds invited me to go out to some club after the show. I told them I was flattered, but I was too old to go out to techno clubs anymore. They responded by saying I wasn’t too old. I decided to play a game with this conversation. I said, ok, how old do you think I am? They said 33. I said try adding a decade to that. You are that old, they said in unison. I mean I get it. When I was in college, anyone over 35 seemed ancient. The battle to seem relevant with younger audiences is important or you wind up competing to perform for the few gigs on Holland America cruise ships.
Since I’m so music-crazed, I often compare standup to being a musician. Did you see Mick Jagger on the Grammy’s? He’s 67 years old, but he was prancing around the stage like he was 4 decades younger. Springsteen has figured out a way to come off like a virile rock god who also doesn’t look like some ridiculous poseur like Steven Tyler does. While you don’t have to go that far as a standup, it’s not a bad idea to have a show and a stage presence that makes you still seem fuckable to the women in the audience. The days of being George Gobel or Marty Allen are over. After a recent show, I had a young woman come on to me. I’m not going to pretend it didn’t feed my ego. I did respond to her that the whole bit about my wife and kids is still the case after the show. I also said I’m way too old for her, anyway. I then told her my age to which she responded with, OMG, you are older than my Dad! And so went the ego boost.
I’m off to do a college gig in Ohio on Wednesday. Hey, I might not be Brad Pitt, but at least I’m 3 years younger than him.