Never Too Old to Learn

I know this sounds like I've been sprinkled with fairy dust, but my friend Dan Cummins is inspiring to work with.

My experience has been that most people that had some natural instincts for standup, but never became professionals were too lazy and lacked enough drive to succeed.  Harsh? Yeah, but it is the truth that I have experienced.  My experience has been that most professional comics who have the talent to move up from middle act to headliner, but never make the move, lack the drive and don’t spend the time needed writing to become better.  Harsh again.

Now I’m not saying hard work and drive will make you a success at comedy anymore than those things will make you a star in the NBA.  You do have to have some natural ability and aptitude for anything you are going to succeed at.  What I am saying is that I think comedy is pretty fair, especially compared to real world jobs where it is harder to quantify who are the best at what they do.  It’s pretty hard to fool an audience. Now there are plenty of comics on both coasts who get TV spots but can’t deliver at most comedy clubs.  That is just the way it goes. They might be great at doing 5-10 minute sets, but they can’t connect with an audience for an hour.  Now the comics that headline at the top clubs have to bring it every night and if they want to have even more consistent success, they also need to bring some fans to the box office, too.

I know it is egotistical, but I know there are very few nights where I won’t slam with an audience.  What I’m unable to do is draw my own fans outside of a few markets,  which leaves me scrambling finding work.  There are a multitude of reasons that you point to why I do well on-stage, but I don’t draw.

  • I have never moved full-time to LA or NY so I could build a TV following.
  • As much as I have tried, I don’t have a signature style that makes me stand-out.

The biggest reason I would point to for why I don’t have a legion of fans is that I haven’t worked hard enough.  I came to that realization this past week when I was hanging at a coffee shop with my great friend, Dan Cummins.  Dan has all the ingredients to be the powerhouse comedian that he has become but the part you probably don’t know is that he works harder on his writing than any comic I’ve ever met.  He spends a few hours a day while he is on the road working on his act and his other comedic projects.  He’s not in his hotel room during the middle of the day smoking pot,  watching Law and Order reruns, and updating his Facebook.  Dan treats being a comedian like a job.  He puts in the hours and it has brought him all the way from a guy who grew in tiny Riggins, Idaho to a comedian with a couple great Comedy Central specials and headlining weeks at some of the top clubs.

It has been my experience that my closest friends in comedy who have had the greatest success have also been the most focused and worked the hardest at developing their careers.  Dan and Frank Caliendo have pretty much nothing in common except that they are both great friends of mine.  The one thing they do share besides this is a spectacular work ethic.  Frank is the best comedian I’ve ever heard on radio and the efforts he made to promote himself on the medium were truly Ironman-like.  I bet for a close to a decade, Frank never slept more than 4 hours a night, as he would be up early doing call-ins all over the country.

When I toured with him, I would have other club managers consistently tell me about how he worked harder promoting himself than any of their other acts.  There were plenty of times where the managers would act a little put-out that they would have to drive us around to different radio shows early in the morning, even though Frank had done a lot of the legwork himself getting on these stations and it was going to make the club a lot more money.  Just like a lot of comedians, there are a lot of managers and owners who are just doing enough to get by.

When I put a magnifying glass on my own career I have been fairly prolific and I’ve tried many avenues to develop my act, but I have never been consistent sitting down and working on my act on a daily basis. I think I’m more prolific a writer than most comics, but I don’t think I’ve done enough to compete with the elite of my profession.  I’m not saying I would have had Dan Cummins or Frank Caliendo success if I had worked harder, but I do know I would be a better comic if I would have.  The positive thing is it’s not too late to become more of the comedian I want to be.  2 decades in and I’m still evolving.  I’m not huge on cliches, but you really are never too old to learn.

One thought on “Never Too Old to Learn

  1. Amen. I spend a lot of time in the clubs and I have seen a lot of stand ups, and you can tell the ones phoning it in, and the ones that work. After you watch forty minutes of a headliner leaning on the mic stand, telling tired jokes, and pimping drinks from the crowd you feel bad. I have had bad nights and heard crickets chirping but you keep going listen to your play back, and polish it up for the next crowd.

    Very nice article, Ken.

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