This piece is going to come off very self-serving and egotistical. It kind of is, but I hope that it will also serve as some type of enlightenment for comic’s who feel they are being a bit disrespected.
When I started doing standup I was pretty good. I wasn’t one of those very few who are a natural performer from day 1, but I had some smart material and my jokes were decent. My biggest weakness was my material was written like the journalism student I studied to be in college. Too wordy. Despite this, I still was better than most of the people that I started with. I feel like that has been proven out, as no one from the group I started with in Indianapolis still does standup as a job. There were a couple 100 people that I did open mics with over that 3 or 4 year period and I’m the last one standing. I’m sure if you would have told the stage time decision-makers at that point that I would be the one who made it, they would have been shocked.
This was the early to mid 90’s as a time frame and standup in the Midwest was still pretty hot. Many early weekday open mics were actually busy. One I did was in a Ramada Inn. The guy that ran it was an old-time comic who as part of the deal with the hotel, they let him stay there and eat for free in return for putting on this open mic once a week. It was run pretty well, with the one problem being he would have too many comics on it. This old-time comic offered paid one-on-one tutoring, which a lot of comedians took him up on. I just never could see how his retro thinking on standup would be of any use to me, so I never paid him a dime. This didn’t help me get on his good side, but other newbies like myself didn’t either, but he gave some of them of them good spots on his lineup card. I would consistently go up last or next to last, which wasn’t good since almost all of the audience would be gone by the end and I would have to wait 2 to 2 and a half hours to hit the stage to do my 5 minutes. I did it, though, because it was often my only place to do my act.
Now after a couple years, I started to get some one-nighter work, combined with MC work at some local clubs. He started to treat me with a little more respect, though I know he never got what made me funny, as he wasn’t into the Bill Hicks-type bent I had to my material at the time. As I started to feature clubs, he started to tell other local comics how he always knew I would be a success and that he helped shape me into the comic I became. What a bunch of bullshit. I realize that not everyone is going to dig every good comic’s act. There is subjective elements in any type of art form, but I promise you that most of the comics that went on at that open mic each week sucked. Still, the guy treated me like shit until I became somewhat successful.
In the Midwest there was one great Showcase night and that was at Comedy Caravan in Louisville. These were the days when Tom Sobel had at least half a year of work and the level of comics that would come there to showcase or to work out new material for the sold-out audiences was really great. The only thing like it now in the Midwest are the Columbus Funny Bone showcases that Dave Stroupe does. What made Comedy Caravan showcases even better was there was a guy named Bill Sacra who hosted most of these shows and he was dynamite. The best way to describe him was he was kind of a mix between Frank Caliendo and Andy Kauffman. He wasn’t on the level of either one of these guys, but there was something pretty magical about him hosting these shows. He would do characters in full-makeup like Cap ‘n’ Crackpot and Sal Minella which were his funniest moments.
Since the club was only a couple hours away I would make the drive down there once a month. It was probably a mistake that I chose to do this too early in my career, as I believe Sobel made his decision on me at that early point. He claims otherwise, but my lack of work from him over the years is the ultimate scale I judge it on. I always warn comics not to do big showcases or send promo to booking agents until they are confident they are better than at least half the people that booker already uses. First impressions are a bitch to move beyond. The last night I went down to the Comedy Caravan showcase the crowd was smaller than usual and they had too many people on-stage. By the time I hit the stage there was not many people left in the club and these people were burned out by comedy at this point. I get up there and I don’t get much from them and after the 3rd joke I start to hear cricket sound effects coming through the speakers of the club. This continues a couple more times, so at that point, considering I had invested over 4 hours roundtrip in my car to come here, only to go on well into 2 hours of the show, I had little patience to deal with this type of disrespect. The next time the crickets played, I mentioned to the audience that these sound effects are proof that it’s not a smart idea to FUCK the sound guy’s girlfriend. Biggest laugh I think I could have mustered up with the few people left, so I said my name and walked off-stage. The sound guy was actually a pretty cool guy who later on helped me record my first comedy cd at that same club, but at a certain point you have to stand-up against being disrespected.
The 3 clubs I played in Indy were great in allowing me to MC 15 weeks a year in town. Having said that, a couple other local comics I started with eclipsed me in moving up to feature act status. I can’t say I was ever seen by any of the decision makers at any home club as someone they wanted to cultivate. I was just someone who did a solid job and was very responsible about picking up the Headliners at their hotels and getting them to the clubs. They never picked up a phone and helped me get any work. I was never a NFL Number 1 pick who they thought was a future star. I’m more a Drew Brees-type who they thought could be a solid starter, but I don’t think they perceived me as someone who could close the show. It was in other markets that I started to get some real respect. I think there is some truth that it’s hardest to get props in your own hometown, probably because they see you when you start. Some markets like the Twin Cities actually have always been extra-supportive of their local talent which I have to think is big reason why it’s been the best breeding ground of original standups over the couple decades I’ve been in the game.
I realize I sound like I have a big chip on my shoulder. I kind of do. For those of you that would say, Dude, get over it. You are doing fine now. Let it Go. My response is I think this chip helps me. It helps motivate me. I know this isn’t from some Tony Robbins book, but negativity and rage can fuel you to greater heights. You have to be careful not to be one of those comics who lets it totally consume you, but I know that tapping into the lack of respect I feel some have given me in my career can drive me to achieve more. I’m not saying this way of thinking is for everyone, but the next time you think no one helps me and boo-fucking-hoo, keep in mind that I really never had anyone help me go above MC in my career. It was all on me and I’m cool with that. Standup comedy is more of a production based field than most, which is all you can really ask for. I hope someday you (my readers) reach the point of success where you can write something like this. A story basically where I stick my tongue out at the people who didn’t give me my just due and then throw them the bird by yelling, suck on it, Fuck-wads. I know, I should be better than that. Well obvious from this piece, I’m not.