Since I started doing comedy, every few years there is a successful standup that young comics are trying to emulate. Here is my chronological timeline of how it has gone since 1992.
Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Hicks, Dave Attell, Mitch Hedburg, Dane Cook, and now the most influential for young comics is Daniel Tosh.
Tosh has an amazing ability of saying horrible things about unfortunate people and not only gets big laughs with it, but even women in the audience buy into it. Doug Stanhope and Jim Norton hit similar targets, but they don’t play well to a large section of the populace. Stanhope and Norton have their fans and are doing well, but I can’t see either one of them with a huge smash TV show. There are a few reasons for this but I would say a big part of it is they lack Tosh’s smile. (I’m not joking here.)
That toothy fucking grin of his lets him get away with shit no other comic I’ve seen been able to do. It’s like one of those Julia Roberts smiles that captivates people, especially women. This is no shot at his material or his delivery, as both of them are top-notch. I am not writing this to slam Tosh, I am writing this to tell young comics, find someone else to emulate. Writing dark fucking jokes are fun and work with your other comic friends, but unless they are brilliant, they aren’t going to play well with the audience. And they definitely aren’t going to play well as the MC or feature act, which is the first jobs you are going to have.
I am not in any way telling you to be soft with your material, what I am saying is you aren’t good enough yet to offend an audience who didn’t come to see you in the first place. Take it from someone who tried to be Hicks when he started, I quickly found out I wasn’t going to get club work doing 15 minutes of social ranting to start the show. What I did find out was I might be able to put in 5 minutes of the edgier stuff, with it working subliminally as I had enough other stuff that was sillier to seduce the audience into liking me.
Look, you can be Johnny Artist and only do what speaks to your dark, dark soul, but know that unless you have a megawatt smile or something else that will keep you loved by the audience, you won’t have a paying job in comedy, unless you call being a prep cook at Chili’s a comedy gig. Not saying you should throw this material away, just don’t make it the lone focus of your act. I have seen some really funny guys who played only to the back of the room and they never got past that level.
So try to keep in mind that first off, you aren’t as funny, charming, or experienced as Daniel Tosh. Even more importantly, no comedy club is desperate to find you, so don’t blow your first impression by being a reject from the Unbookables Tour. If the only material that strikes you as funny is demented, at least try to include stories about you being involved in evil, as that will humanize you to the audience. For example, by exposing so much of himself and telling the crowd how much of a creep he thinks he is, it has helped Jim Norton, immeasurably.
Wow, this is great advice. I should teach one of them comedy classes or something…
I’m really impressed with the acting chops of Louis CK on his show, but this past week he was even eclipsed by Doug Stanhope. I think Stanhope is a great comic, but I don’t drink from the kool-aid that he’s the best around, so I think I’m pretty unbiased on him. His acting in the part of a struggling, cynical road comic who decides that life isn’t worth living anymore was spectacular. Better acting than anything I’ve seen this year. Seriously. Now I’m not saying I think Stanhope could play the part of anything else but a hateful prick, but anyone looking for that type character should call him. He hits all the notes playing this type of nihilistic dude.