Teaching Local Celebrities Standup

After the show with some local media types who were there to support their friends. Perks!
After the show with some local media types who were there to support their friends. Perks!

(I have decided to not use names of the performers for this story, as I don’t want anyone to feel slighted. They gave up a lot of their time-some more than others–which I really appreciate, especially since they did it for free. You know, like all beginning standup comics have to do.)

Last year I decided to do a special standup show as part of my regular local headlining week at Crackers in Broad Ripple. The specific idea was I had some friends in the local media who had acted like they thought doing standup would be fun to try. Armed with 1 local big name friend who was totally down with this concept, I reached out to a few others and all of sudden I was hitting a brick wall. The reality of the thing made some of the people I thought would do it back off. After a lot of asking around, I was finally able to find a couple people who I had never met, but were adventurous souls. (They have now become good friends of mine, which is 1 big bonus that has come from doing this event.)

Well that first show went over really well, with all 3 doing a good job and the club making a fistful of money. So when it came to round 2, it was much easier to find participants. I was able to get 7 newbie media types, plus 1 of the first group coming back to do it again. I went with an all sports theme, as I know the most media members in this field, plus sports people are more willing to take a risk. News people are far more concerned about their images. I was a journalism major in college, so I get that to an extent, but I work hard to protect their images and help them present a great side of themselves onstage.

Here is where I pat myself on the back…I worked really hard on this thing. Here are a few of the things that makes up having this thing be successful.

  • Initially I have to call and email all around trying to cajole people to do it.
  • Meet with the celebs multiple times at the club during the weeks before the show to teach them stagecraft and answer any standup questions they have.
  • Have them send me ideas/stories/jokes and then I help them craft/write/tag their material.
  • Talk to them on the phone about their stuff.
  • Watched practice video and audio files that some sent me.
  • Went on numerous radio and tv shows to promote the event. (multiple is 6)
  • Was constantly pushing promotion on social media for the event.

Besides the time cost which was well-over 80 hours, I spent a decent amount of money hauling myself all over town to meet-up and promote, plus buying lunch for them at meetups. For all this I never made an extra penny…I actually made less. So why did I do it? I’m not on a door deal. (Hmm, why did I do it?) Well, I thought it would be a new challenge and I wanted to see if I could make my vision of it reach the levels I hoped.

Great news, it was a big success. We raised a nice chunk of change for 2 charities who mean a lot to me, Noble of Indiana and Special Olympics of Indiana. The club was way busier than it would normally be for a August week when these things were all happening. From my Facebook post…

In Indy at the same time I was at Crackers Comedy Club this week was the State Fair, Gen Com (over 30,000 nerds), Moto GP (35,000 at Indy 500 track), plus a couple big concerts. There are 3 other comedy clubs in town which included my buddy James Ervin Berry and Larry Reeb. Greg Hahn was performing close, as well. Oh and did I mention that some of my good comedian friends like Matthew Alano-MartinKevin BurkePaul Strickland, and Stewart Huff  were kicking off their Indy Fringe shows. Despite all this and AMAZING weather we had BIG shows all week.

I’m proud of how all my hard work paid off at the box office for those who reaped the rewards. Here’s something else I was very proud of…every one of the celebs had at least 1 really good set that night.

Here’s my breakdown of a few highlights.

I knew going into it that I had 2 money in the bank performers. The person from last year who had killed it I knew would replicate it, so I had him follow my 10 minute hosting/warm up the crowd MC work. Another person who was kind of my ringer, since he had done standup for a couple years before he got into TV, I had toward the end of the show. Even though he hadn’t done comedy in nearly 2 decades his performance was one of a total veteran, despite being away from it for that long. I’ve worked with quite a few comics that weren’t as good as he was. I guess standup can be like riding a bike…

I tried to stagger the order having people that were higher energy follow people with lower energy and then have myself in between really selling them before they hit the stage. I am very committed to having everyone succeed and to leave with a good feeling from the thing. I appreciated them giving up their time to do this. It helped that everyone seemed to look at it as a bucket list thing to do. So both my money in the bank performers totally delivered, as I suspected, but what was really great was that some people I wasn’t sure would do well, performed at the peak of their abilities. That was very gratifying.

A little background on the preparation was that 4 of the performers asked and got a lot of help from me and all of them did great. I didn’t come up with premises for them, but I did really help shape their acts and chop away the stuff that would have made them seem like the amateurs they were. I actually tried to push them to be cleaner then their initial instincts because I didn’t want anyone getting in trouble at their real job for a bit they did. It would have been a lot easier to just throw them to the wolves, but as I said, their success I took as a total reflection on me. I spent over 3 hours one night re-working one person’s act. I did close to the same for another. They both ended up doing awesome. I felt like a proud papa for everyone, well almost everyone.

One of participants I reached out to last year, as I’ve always thought he was really funny and wanted him to be part of it. Well this year I was able to pin him down and he said yes, but he basically ignored all my texts/emails and I didn’t write anything for him. He never even got onstage. (Which is why he was the 1 person involved who complained about the lights being bright when he took the stage and at points while pacing would actually go out of the spotlight—all things I covered with the others.) So did he eat it? Nope. The guy has his own comic voice and his desire to not bomb when he was behind the mic made him power through. For his first time onstage, with no training tips, he was pretty fucking great, especially during the second set. Fuck him, though, if he would’ve let me help him some he would’ve been even better:)

Not every set was perfect, but every person involved had some great moments. As I explained to them they had a great opportunity that no other first time open miker ever gets. They got to perform for big crowds who were all fans of theirs the very first time they hit the stage. I’m sure all the comics reading here are jealous of that opportunity. It took me a decade before I ever got a crowd that had both of those things working at the same time and it still is rare when I get that situation. One of my participants from last year’s media celeb show did a guest set for me at a show I was headlining later that year. It wasn’t an event like the one he had done before and the MC didn’t do anything different to really pump up the crowd to love him, like I do at these events. It wasn’t pretty. He got to feel what it’s like to do a guest set on a Saturday night, which still isn’t anywhere as tough as doing an open mic, but isn’t like doing one of these shows where the crowd is rooting for you.

Here’s a fun thing that I realized after this year that I hadn’t contemplated before. They all spoke to the rush they felt from doing this. These are people that have jobs that so many people think are awesome. They might not all be getting rich, but they are doing pretty well and have a job that I think they love most of the time. What standup offers that these very highly-public jobs don’t is the instant gratification of an audience (and the other when it doesn’t go well.) I’ve been in the game for so long that I forget that doing standup is akin to bungee or parachute jumping. This was the case even for the radio and tv people involved who talk for a living. There is no job quite like going up by yourself and trying to make people laugh.

The only way the show was going to work this year I figured was for me to host the show and then close it. I know that sounds like a mass egotistical effort on my part, but I had to MC the thing because I knew all the celebs and was connected to the charities. I’m a good MC and know how to bring the energy up and down when needed, depending on what is best for the performer hitting the stage. I had to close the show because I’m the fucking man! Ok, well I opened the show because I was doing what was best for the show, so even if it wasn’t best for me to close it (which it was), I still would’ve done it because I needed the glory and needed a chance to plug my merch at the end. (I was donating 5 dollars of each sale to the charities, so that makes it a little better, right:) I should also mention that the first 10 minutes of the show is the hardest spot to get laughs, closely followed by going up when the checks are dropped. I got to do both. Not exactly glamorous, especially when you add that the audience is rooting for pretty much everyone but you–the non media celeb. I got better response every other show I did that week than I did during the Saturday shows, despite having double the audience at those shows.

I was thrilled for the success of the whole event, but was totally exhausted by the end of the night. I hardly slept at all during the days prior to the Friday event, trying to help do last-minute tweaks to material and making sure all the details were covered at the club. I hadn’t seen my kids since Wednesday morning, as these things, plus all the promotion I was doing had me away from home the whole time they were awake. Now I have a bunch of other local media celebs that would like to do it next year, but I’m leaning on closing shop on these thing. I think just showing up and doing my standup every night seems really appealing. I’m proud of how it turned out and I can’t imagine it going any better than this year. I will leave you with this. If you haven’t set up a big challenge in your life, you are missing out. Pushing yourself to do things  you’ve never done before are where the biggest rushes come from in life. If you don’t believe me, ask the 8 celebs who were part of my Media Celeb Night.

Postnote: I want to thank Broad Ripple Comedy Club Night Manager Chris Miller and Day Manager Gwendolyn Smoot for going out of their way to help me with some of the details. I also want to thank FOX-59’s Chris Hagan for being my support partner in helping do this thing. You 3 should take a bow.

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