Monday, September 17, 2007

Returning Home- The Improv Pt 3

On Friday, I'm recovered from a weird event in Las Vegas. The A/C went out in my rat room. Two of my chinchillas didn't make it, and one of my rats wasn't looking good. He finally died in the morning. Mike was a wreck, and the guy helping him wasn't much better. I was the one who was cool about it, because I get that the A/C was not anyone's fault, and the animals just didn't make it. When I finally got home, I found out my favorite girl survived, so I'm relieved, but that's another story, and the sadness I feel is huge, but there's no blame to be had anywhere, so life is life. The hubby was a wreck and expected me to be, but I've been through this for years, so I guess I'm just trained more in how to deal with it.

Anyways... that done. It's Friday and I meet my friend Gulden for lunch at a Greek restaurant in Larchmont off of Beverly. I needed the boost. She's awesome and beautiful, had just met with her pal Marc whom I know casually from another board. We're having comedy chat and we're talking about life, and it's good. I got the boost I needed, and she got some she needed. I headed out to the Improv.

I didn't know Richard Villa before the show. I had to go early because I need the space. I had to get my bearings again. I haven't played that stage since 1998. Seriously. It's been that long. I was last at the Santa Monica Improv and it's not there anymore. Eddie the bartender is still there. He didn't remember me and that's okay. I didn't really drink at all so I usually sat in the restaurant, and wrote there back then. I did recognize the waiter who was there, and he saw me and recognized me and forgot my name but quoted a line I use so I know we knew each other and that was good. But Eddie and I had a great talk.

We talked about the changes in comedy in the last five years. Clubs have stopped working the way they did when I was in LA. It used to be a packed room, and lots of people. Now it's hit or miss, and very few nights of steady headliners. In fact, there are shows which are "bringers" now. That is NEVER something you'd see at the Improv in the 90's. No one was ever told, you can play here if you bring 5 guests. NOW it's expected. We talked about comedians we both knew, and where they are now. It's either road, ships, or college. Even Charles Fleischer, my absolute favorite comedy hero... hands down the smartest guy on stage you've ever seen.... is no longer closing on Fridays and Saturdays. Not at all. The people who have taken over booking decided he's too "old and smart". Are you kidding me????

I used to go to the Improv, then to the Comedy Store JUST to catch both of Charles Fleischer's sets. Not stalker like, just because he was someone to learn comedy from. He knew how to turn a single idea into a forty minute set unlike anyone else I've ever seen in my life. If anything, he was more than brilliant..he was inimitable. And, he's a genius. Absolutely, one hundred percent, timeless, genius. How could anyone NOT close a show with Charles Fleischer? This makes no sense to me. Lenny Clarke and Steve Sweeney are Boston, and Charles Fleischer and Paul Mooney are Los Angeles. Yet, where are they? Not here.

In fact, the comics here are just young, new, and the acts are not timeless. The material is no different than the frat boy stuff at an open mike kegger. It's the material of a generation of kids who don't write, and don't have anything to say. It's the material of "shock jock" and quick fame via the internet. If you say the right, shocking thing, then someone out there will post it online, and make it a clip on YouTube-mentality. That's the saddest part of stand-up. It's not about the writing, it's about the viral ability. It's changed from writers becoming story tellers-- which it's been since Ovid and Euripides, to Woody Guthrie to Will Geer, to Phyllis Diller and Moms Mabely, to well... Charles Fleischer, and now.... it's just guys drinking beer on stage and making wise cracks about butt and vagina cracks. Not exactly life changing stuff. Not exactly timeless. Not exactly material that will last through out their lives.

So I meet with Richard who tells me my ten minutes is now cut to 5 because Chris Rock is going to do a guest spot. Okay. I can deal with that. I'm going to go up late, okay. Then he changes that to first. I can do that. No big deal. I take time and read the audience, and figure out my set. I do material I wrote back in 1997. I use that because in 1997 it worked. When you write material that's timeless, it doesn't matter what year you do it... it can translate. I did it in front of Martin Moreno's room in Long Beach back then...when I was token white chick and it was just a riot... I had a 20 minute set and I had five cholos just up on their feet laughing beer out of their noses. So I figured.. I'd do some of that set because five rather large cholos walked in and reminded me of those guys. I was right to pick that set.

Richard had a packed house. The room was so full, and happy. He had some low energy to start, and wasn't really feeling it. But I figured, I'd turn it up for him. I was feeling my best, and hadn't really been part of that room at all, so they had no idea. He didn't know anything about me and barely introduced me at all. So-- I gave him and them... a taste of Gimp-energy. The room lit up, and I was on. People were fired up and suddenly energy was all over the place. I had laughs where I wanted them.

With only five minutes I cut a LOT of the set down. At 4:57, I said goodnight, and handed the mike back to Richard. I never ONCE need the light because I am one of those few people who does exactly the time I'm told I have. ALL of my sets are designed to be in 30 second intervals. I know where it ends and starts. You could see Richard's face-- he was floored- expecting a favor for a friend, and not expecting the comedian. Well, that changed. Afterwards, he told me that he had other rooms and asked when I was going to be in town again. So I guess that means I "passed" the audition..and better than that. I AM BACK. And what's better-- I feel better about being on stage than I have in years.

Last week, I was thinking I was yesterday's news, and this week-- at the Improv, in front of a full house-- I rocked the room. It was a blast. I had fun, the room had fun, and I was asked back. It doesn't get better on a Friday night. What's more.. younger comics came up after and talked to me about starting their careers...just like the old days. Richard gave me a few videos for the Benefit. Chris Rock never did show for the second set. Not even a drop in. I figured he was still doing the hour at the laugh factory.

Saturday, I drove home... triumphant. Relaxed. ready to hit it on Tuesday and Wednesday. And yet... still irked by the unprofessionalism on Thursday. At least now, I know for sure, I'm ready to hit it in Boston. Finally. Now to work on the material!!

Returning Home- The OC Files- Pt 2

Here it is... I leave Motel 5.342 and I head out to Anaheim to find my second hotel, which is directly across from Disney..at $41 a night, and well worth it. Seriously. The hotel has an ATM, a gift shop, and a great view of the Harbor Blvd. And, it's not going to be until 3pm that I can get into my room. It's 11. I'm so beat. I didn't sleep, so I use their computers, at $17 for 10 minutes to check email, because in my haste, my machine is sitting up on the counter at the house in Vegas. Great. S'okay. IHOP is next door so I have myself some breakfast to kill an hour, and work on some material. I have a show to do. And, I call Mike cos I do that when he needs me to do that. And he always needs that.

I get into the room, it's great.. got a patio.. it's quiet..opposite of motel 5. And.. head off to the club. I LIKE getting there early because I like sitting alone and writing. That's when I get a feel for the room, the space, and just tune into what I like to call, "the time", and just zone out. Usually I grab something to eat on the way, and I had a great little Asian chow at a place called Lotus on Golden West. Very nice. I was set to write.

My plan is to make Tuesdays my story night.. I will set up the new material on Tuesdays, tell the stories and video tape. On the disc, I view where the natural laughs were, and where I can plug in tag lines. Then I can play more, and really do it up. Well I wrote about 15 index cards worth of tags off of the story, so it's got quite a bit of material. Some are fun, some are risque, some are just goofy. And I mean Goofy. The story is about getting arrested at Disneyland. And, since I did the bit in Orange County EVERY ONE seemed to have a Disney story this week. I don't know how that works but it does. If you come in ready to talk about shoes, everyone talks about shoes. If you want to talk about cumquats, everyone else is, too. This week, Disney.

So I did the Disney, got a few chuckles where I didn't think I would, and that was that. Then I watched everyone else, and got happily surprised by some of the newbies, and had a great time listening to some very talented up and comers. At least here, there are people WRITING material. Unfortunately, as I learned at the Comedy Store, the clubs in LA aren't ready for them yet. I wish that wasn't the case. The road is friendly to those who write.

But I head back to the hotel crashed, and went over to Leila's the next morning. On the way over, I got a call from a new comedienne who was sweet, and asked if I would mind some "tag lines" for my material. She's unfamiliar with how I write, and has only known me from a couple of the new material nights-- never saw me on TV or anything. She had no idea I'd already had about 75 or so tags written already, but I said, "sure" and figured why not see what she'd had. I never had anyone offer to write anything for me before. I keep forgetting that I've been out of the public eye in LA for awhile so the people I used to know aren't really there.. and those who are new don't know me as a regular in clubs. So I guess it's kind of weird... it's just another new face for them. And...they really don't know me from radio..and that's the weirdest part.. going from being an afternoon fixture to not having anyone recognize the voice.... that's really funny... but it's all good. That was ten years ago. I understand.

So I am at Leilas and I finally get to meet her son, Jack who is all of 3 months, but looks about 5 months, and he's 100% smiles. Heidi's there, and doing great. It's fun... we are having gal chat, and I really needed that too. There was a lot of down time.. destressing. They were chuckling about the material offer because they know how prolific I am. That was pretty funny. But, still... we had a nice time together. It's been so long that since I had any time without any stress, or demands put on me. I was just enjoying time alone with friends, and no one was expecting me to take care of them, or the things around them. I didn't have my computer or the benefit going on, and it was just quiet time with friends. But I did have a show to do..so I knew it wouldn't last very long.

Again I head out early enough to write. BUT, I didn't get that time. I didn't get to detox and turn off the head and stop thinking. I had to deal with a very attention starved person who wanted to be the center stage for whomever was in the room. Unfortunately I am that person for whomever that attention starved person is no matter where I am, many times. This time it happened to be another disabled fellow. I was enjoying a nice chat with a young lady who was telling me about her career, and she also was prepping so I figured it was going to be a nice short chat, and we'd be doing our own thing. BUT, this kid was sweet-- and just clinging. I couldn't breathe, and it bugged me. He was nice. But just smothering. You know how it is when you're at a birthday party for a four year old and there's one kid who always clings to your leg, and won't leave? that's what this guy is like. Nice, but you've had enough an hour ago. Finally someone else he knew showed up, and he moved on.

But by then, his time was drained. I did a different set, and was on fire a bit. I had a lot of laughs and it was fun. The set was good. I was starting to feel like my old self again. It was as if I was back at the Laugh Factory and not in Huntington Beach. I played a bit with the audience, and did a little bit of newer stuff. The crowd was a little out there. Some folks were doing great with them, but they were drinking hard, and only there for ONE comic so it was hard to win them. I did fine. Two or three other people did just fine, too, because they didn't try to play against them. When they played with them..they loved them...when they fought them... it was death. I play WITH them, so it was fun. But it as death for others and that was so hard... I had that exact reaction last week, and boy that was not fun.... in a bar in Whittier.

So Thursday, I am supposed to play in a bar in OC. I have a fun day hanging with Leila again, and I catch up on a little email, but mostly it's about writing. And winding down. I have no idea what this club is like. I get there early...and... I end up in a corner of the bar, which is nearly empty. Not a good sign. (Bar and being empty..so two not good signs.) Then, I'm sipping ginger ale, and this guy sits next to me and proceeds to not stop talking about being a plumber to the stars. For an hour. Nonstop. Doesn't come up for air to breathe or even so much as to even nod that there is any thing else going on in the world other than HIS conversation about plumbing. I'm going to poke my eye out with scissors at any minute. Finally someone else shows up and he decides to leave. I have no time to even write a set list. Fine. Okay. whatever.

The guy running the show seems nice enough. But he does the thing I hate. He has full loud conversations during everyone's set, and the room seats 20 people so you can hear everything he's talking about. It's not cool, and not pro, and very annoying. THEN, there's a guy complaining about what everyone else is talking about. Another not pro thing to do. You don't bitch about new comics. They're there to learn, and they need to find their way. You talk to THEM not about them. Instead he whines and complains. Loudly. And it's easy to hear him from any corner too. So that's two non-pro things that are happening. THEN the guy running the room tells me he's having me and this other gal as headliners because we have the experience. ..okay I can deal. Doesn't tell people how long we have. Fine.

The guy up goes up for 30 minutes. No lie. A thirty minute set ina bar with 20 people in it. WOW. Are you kidding? He's really good, but that's really long, and he's lost the audience for everyone because ... he just made himself the headliner, and he's the third guy up. Okay.... he doesn't know because he's new, and the guy running it is new, and is talking over his set, and doesn't pay attention. Okay that's fine. I'm just sitting there, and enjoying his good parts and hoping he realizes that he's got some good material but he's made it a full 30 minute show. Okay. He doesn't, I found out later. If he could learn to keep time, he'll be fine. He is going to be a good comic and he's got some great stuff going.

There's the guy who is bitching about everyone else. He's in a bar. He does the show I've seen him do in the other club, and he's got some good material. It doesn't fly in a bar because he's not pandering to the drinking crowd. He's a writer, and he writes real material. He's not a bar comic. That's not good here. It's okay but not here. And, he isn't doing great. It's good for stage practice, and he's learning. No one is listening except me and another comic. The guy running the show is talking to someone else. So he talk about giving tickets out to another show he's doing.

I go up to do my set, and he literally takes people OUT OF THE ROOM, and has people talk to him OUT OF THE BAR, in the parking lot.... both he and the guy who run the show. Neither of them are there for my set, so I'm there with like six people. There are two people at the bar, a guy in the booth, and a couple of others... and I had written some jokes SPECIFICALLY for the people who were in the front section. Those people are gone now because the non-pro folks have decided this would be the time to chat out side. Are you kidding me???? So the guy who was complaining had made the point that he didn't like "blow" jokes. I made sure that when they walked back in that my material was NOTHING but those jokes. That's what the whole set was about... I was just all about that material... because that is something you just don't do in that setting to another comic on stage EVER. E-V-E-R. never. Just not cool. And then the kicker was, the guy running the room had the balls to tell me he wants me back in his rooms for the next 9 dates??? Are you kidding me??? First you have me up when you're talking then you have me up when you're walking out of the room with my audience and you want me back?? I know, let's have the show in the parking lot and let the cars just keep circling while I do the act... at least then you'll know my vicinity. That's probably NOT going to happen. Thanks.
part 3 coming up-- my return to the Improv.

Cathe B

Returning to Los Angeles- Part 1- Comedy Store

Odelaley Mijas! Okay, I"m back from LA and it's Mexican Independence weekend, so all the gringos in town are hiding. Me inclusive. But, the week was intense. I was having such a hard night last Sunday that I didn't sleep and it just took me over. I drove to LA a day early, and hit the Comedy Store-- my old home, staying at a Motel 6-- more like a 5.23-- in Hollyweird. It was a very enlightening, and cathartic visit. First, it started with a trip to the ATM which will make for a material like no other. (Parking cost 10 bucks to get 20 for the admission to the comedy store lot for 10... that's just a start).

When I worked the Store in the late 80's...Original Room, Belly Room, and Main Room were packed 7 nights a week, with Mitzi upstairs, Argus laying at her feet, and the lobby bar, the patio bar, and the two green rooms hopping with people. The back lot had a guy who would stand there and make sure that audience folks didn't sneak back and steal cars. The place had dozens of headliners every night. Monday night was notoriously wild because the Original room was open mikers, but the main room was, after 10pm, when Robert Townshend and Paul Mooney would bring in their friends, so it got really wild and you'd see things like Dice boo'd off stage so that Tommy Davison, Eddie Griffin, and Mooney could go up longer. That was a wild time. And people loved it. The place was always packed. This Monday? I got there at about 9:10, thinking I'd just miss maybe a half hour. I missed about an hour. It was one room, and the Belly Room had a smaller show going on with a more X-rated type of show, I guess.

I opted for the Original Room, because the Main Room was closed. Closed. Not even opened for business. What??? Are you kidding me? The Comedy Store in Hollywood on Monday?? It's only been nine years since I've been there. Nine years. I thought about that a minute when I said it to the guy... and I looked for my picture on the wall. It used to be on the side by the women's room in the back bar area. It was moved. It's over by the belly room side now. It's there. I saw it. They didn't take it down. My signature never made the wall... that always bummed me out. BUT I did see my friend's-- Roz Browne. Right there in back when I walked out side to answer a call..there she was! I was pretty stoked about that. Big blonde hair and bangs there, no signature..and wow No Main Room. What a change.

So I go in... there's no audience. Okay there's 12 people. I counted. TWELVE people in the COMEDY STORE. The biggest Comedy Club in the country-- the one that every comedian in American aspires to go to--- and it's echoing. I was just heart broken. Here was the place I called home for so many years. Bruce Mikelson, and Steve Moore-- Steven Kravitz, and Bruce Baum, Wild Willy, Buster Brown, Karen Haber, Lois Bromfeld, Greenstein, Steve Pearl, Piper and Tupper, (yes I dated one of them, who hasn't), Robert Townshend, Paul Mooney, Pryor, Sam, and... then... 12 people in the audience, and no one I recognized at all. Not a soul knew me and I didn't know them. My picture on the wall, and no one had an idea who I was, so I asked to sit up front, where I could just be, and enjoy...and learn. I wanted to see what has changed so much.

I did. I certainly did. I saw at least 15 people. Everyone had three minutes or so. That was it, because it was pot-luck night. Pot luck night is when comics who have passed the open mic auditions are invited back to work on stage time, to build on material until they're considered funny enough to be 'regulars'. I've been there. I'm one of those who have the battle scars. I did about a month of this myself here, in the Belly Room, though, not in the Main Room. In the Belly Room, 12 people sound like a hundred and you feel the crowd, and it's a good way to meet other comics, and you learn so much. In a room that large, that seats 100, you feel lost, and hear the quiet, and distractions can be huge- like one time during the night-- an ambulance went by the large window behind the stage, so a comic got to talk about that for a moment, and his time disappeared. When you're in the Belly Room, you could hear Mitzi in her office laughing and she'd come in to hear you if the laughs were huge, and say, "kid, you don't need this room anymore, go downstairs and tell Argus you're going up tonight" and they'd give you 10 minutes. THAT was a compliment. Or, "I want your avails by Friday or you don't work next week." Then you'd get your $25 a set and you knew you were a regular there.

But there were these young guys..and it was that...all guys... just doing one liners, and talking. No one really stood out except two people. The former waitress who worked with Dice, and whose name slipped my mind was VERY good. She has material, and is just great with audiences. She's also too funny to be doing Pot luck nights. She was looking at a table and because she was the head waitress for the Store, at one point, she kept saying "I'm getting nervous you're not being served properly." It made her personality more endearing, so she was likable right away. The laughs from her words were genuine and not forced. Another one who stood out was a young lad with glasses, who just didn't have much to say, but did have a lot of personality, and used his line of "I just got hired to play a retard" very well.

Then came my theme for the week, and the real reason for the comedy store visit. At about 11 or so, the guy who parked near my car started his set. Chris Rock is working on new material for an upcoming special. Now, when he first started doing stand up, I'm not ashamed to say, I HATED his work. He bored me to tears. Oh, geez, a black guy talking about how stupid whitey is, yawn. Right up there with a white guy hating things and a white girl doing valley talk. BORING. But, he's in his late 30's now, and he's not a kid anymore. He's got kids, he's married and he's probably a lot wiser than he was 20 years ago when he was first bouncing around on the stage in front of me, making me wish I drank.

And, he is. Much smarter. He is wearing a silk suit and now has been in Hollywood long enough to know that things aren't going to be handed to him. When I first met him, he was full of himself, and telling me how great he was, and that he was going to prove to Hollywood that he was the king of the funny, and Cosby had it wrong, and blah blah blah. Well. He's been burned a few times now, and the battle scars are starting to show. He's wiser, and he's worn. He's not as bound to be full of bravado, and instead, he's removed himself from the LA life to remain on the East Coast. Smart man. Chris grew up. And, he grew up enough to start his set with, "Here I am in a Comedy Store, where I started, because this is what you HAVE to do, if you want to do comedy the right way, you just got to do this."

I needed to hear that. He didn't know that I needed to hear that. I did need to hear that. I was having the shit-gig-from-hell nightmares all night, so much so I couldn't sleep and had to drive to LA a day early to go to the Comedy Store to find out what the hell happened to comedy, that I couldn't catch my stride. I needed to hear someone who has been in the river the entire time, swimming upstream just as hard as I was, even though he has the success behind him. He was struggling with this too. He was sitting in front of now, 8 people, because before he got on stage, the bus to Sherman Oaks must have left. Chris was going from club to club, asking for stage time, just like I was doing, and working on sets, just like I was doing, and putting on shows in whatever atmosphere he could, just getting his groove back. Just like me, he was working it out. I needed to hear that. And, I liked him better for it.

The show was great. All 8 of us, laughed hard, and all of us, were enjoying his work. He had a few premises that he was still ironing out. I didn't agree with some of them, but that's okay, he was firmly committed to them, and that's cool. They weren't the black/white things... they were the husband/wife things. He's grown up. Being in front let me be his token female/white audience member. That was okay too. He tried all that material on me, it seemed. I was okay with that. I let it play, and it was fun. Afterwards, we didn't chat, or anything. I figured, I'd see him around. And sure enough he's everywhere I was all week.

More on that later..but Yah. Coming home to the Store. What a world of changes. The people are just not the same. The club itself. ... I stayed to see what was next. Again... one or two comics afterwards... then this weird show from the Bellyroom came downstairs and amounted to ... well.. I got to see Brody Stevens for the first time in years. He looked great. I haven't seen him since Wired For Laughs days... and I think Emery Emery days.. .and the couple sitting behind me made the night kind of like living back here in Vegas..so it got a bit over the top for me. I was done, too tired. Hadn't slept since Friday, so I was going back to the Hotel 5.465, and hang it up for the night. Gave Mike a thumbs up via Verizon, and just called it a night. Maybe the comedy store is done. Who knows. But I guess I'm not... round two coming up

Cathe B

Monday, September 3, 2007

Doing Time in Los Angeles/Orange County

Well Gang. Set your calendar and watches. If you want to see LIVE comedy, I'd recommend you get your butts up and out of your couches and head over to Huntington Beach each Tuesday during the month of September because I'll be playing there at Martini Blues, 8pm, for a measley $10. Seriously cheap show! 21 and over, only, tho. 714-840-2129. Visit my iJoke.tv page for more information. iJOke.tv/dielaughingbenefit


And, I'll be playing the IMPROV in Hollywood hosted by Martin Moreno. That's a hell of a great host, and a KICK ass show. I know because about 12 years ago, Martin started in my rooms back when he was a mere latino fledgling. NOW he's a headliner, with his own night out. You'll love him, and I know this...because he has a great following! People like Pablo Francisco, George Lopez, and even Gabriel Iglesias love this guy and work with him on Comedy Central. I'll post the dates on iJoke.tv under events.

This is the start of my return to the stage after a three year absence. It's weird being back, and it's great. I'm getting my foot back on that stair master, and riding the horse bareback. The material is bigger, better, honest...and what's funny? (besides the material?), is watching a few hundred of my peers and realizing, WOW, I have so much more to say. SO so SO much more. It feels like there is a void now. Just empty space being filled with nothing. Now I know why I wasn't getting anywhere...I had something to say. People on television are lacking substance in so many ways. There are some who are making a career saying, "Yeah, you know, like, you know, right?" as part of their entire gimmick. It's nutty.

If Mark L. saw me audition with THAT at the Improv in 1986, I'd have been told never to return. In fact, when he sat there, at 2:13, after my big audition, on morning, he said, "gee, where's your material.?" I said, "Gee, where's my audience?" I was disgusted because at the time, my act was 50% based on reaction from people..I needed to talk to audience members to get a reaction...and there wasn't a soul...sole..not one. Used to go out, pick people, and talk to them about their genetic make up. There weren't any people to talk to...so I had nothing to say. I had ten minutes to say nothing. He said, "don't use anything 'blue'" so I couldn't use my other material...because it was somewhat turquoise. Not exactly cobalt. Not exactly royal. Just somewhat hued. He gave me another shot.

He saw me in NYC, and said, "I want you to come to California and play our Santa Monica Improv! I've never seen a woman do that in a room!" This from the man who says, "I never forget an act." He had forgotten that not two weeks before, he had given me the 2:am set from hell. I reminded him, "Oh I just played...uhm..yes, I'll be there, thank you." He hadn't remembered me and my friend was punching me in the arm to shut up. Honesty is a very bad trait at times. My pal said, "Shut up moron, he doesn't forget people and he had no idea who you were. Shut the hell up you twit." So I'm in Santa Monica two weeks later, where I'm back at Second City, and Budd is there this time, and he says, "Young lady, that was very nice. You should come back here again." Then he looked at Mark who had shaken his head no, "Maybe not yet." Make up your freaking mind, Mark!!! "Why didn't you do what you did in New York?" "I had different people in the audience this time, and there weren't any bus drivers, bagel makers, and an authentic Armenian with long blonde curls. This time, there was a Mexican show girl, a plumber and a dancing chihuahua. It played differently." "Oh. I see. Well, come back again in a few months." So this time, it wasn't a complete dismissal, just a shrug of -- nevermind.

Fortunately, years later, it's changed, and I've since had many a set at Improv's around the country. I don't recall if Mark had been in any of the audiences. Frankly, it doesn't matter. My career seemed to do well regardless. I've now got some time in the future at the Hollywood Improv. I'm pretty glad, as my friends who are there are warm, great, terrific comedians and the audience is just as wonderful. It will be a great show, just for that alone.

I hope that some of you will be there. That will make it perfect.

cathe b


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Writing the Sixth Hour of a Single Topic

I have been doing this stand up stuff since I was 17 seriously. I have been getting regularly paid for it since I was 19, so that's pretty okay, I guess, considering I only had about 10 times on stage from the time I was 17 until I was 19. That's not too bad. I was able to pay for a car in cash by the time I was 23. That felt really good. It was a Chevy Sprint, but it was mine. ALL three cylinders.

In all of that time I probably have a full 40 hours of material written that is usable, and I've been on stage a total of 2,315 times. I know this because I've just checked my calendar program. It verified every date I did for 20 years. For some years, I was working every night, two or three shows a night, while other years, it was a little sparse. But it adds up. That's a lot of stage time, and that gave me a lot of time to work out what material was working well for me, and what was toilet matter.

I have some video. I didn't keep a lot of video materials. I have some of it on 1 inch because the quality of the larger size was so much better when that was the way they recorded it. The original I have from MTV is still on SVHS, and the the one from Carolines is on 3/4". I have yet to transfer that to DVD. That's going to happen sometime this year, I guess. My family keeps asking to see it again. I keep hoping that it will air on tv so I don't have to dig it out, but you know, that was the 80's, and chances are, unless I get to be suddenly hit with a huge movie deal or something... it will never re-appear. Maybe if one of the other folks who was on gets hugely famous.. . who knows. But, it's up to me. And my lazy buns to get to the transfer place.

Then there was the many radio spots.. I have all of that on cassette. I mean ALL of it. I have a full bookshelf of material on cassette from every show I ever did. Some of the time I guested on other shows, I just don't have that. I figured I could download it later, and poof... the websites disappeared. Gee, who saw that coming?

But, this week, I found that I was able to complete the sixth hour of material on one particular topic I've been writing on for years. Six HOURS on the same topic. I just wrote my sixth hour. It struck me that when I first started it was killing me that people would say, "What do I write about?" and just get on stage and stammer. They'd stammer and stare and look at nothing.

And I just wrote the SIXTH HOUR on a sole topic. There is still more that I could say. Every time I think of it, it just kills me. Absurdity. Goofy. I mean, politics- It's easy nowadays because you just quote Bush- he's just giving you material daily. He is hilarious, but he's also tragic, so I stay away from him and his white house. Jimmy Tingle does his work so very well, as does Durst. The pair of them could make me laugh so much, and add Lewis Black to the mix, and there would be no point in having me write a single word on my thoughts on politics. They've covered my feelings so very well.

I think back at when I was sitting in Nicks, sucking on the ginger ale I ordered, and looking at the scribbles on my napkin, the first time I thought about writing. I thought, "What about art" and just doodled some ideas. When I got on stage after Steve Sweeney called my name, and started hearing people react, it was then I knew that had something. there was some reaction to how I presented my thoughts on art. It began there.

Now, I have a masters degree in art, and a bachelors degree. I can speak on the topic from different perspectives. I also worked in animation. I've been in the film industry, and web design business, and even was hired as a graphic designer, despite my disdain for straight lines. (that was part of the routine for years). I just wrote about art in a new way tonight. I'm on the sixth hour. New, and better, and it still works. And people get it. And it's not foreign. There aren't a lot of people talking about it. It's my topic. I've got more life experiences. And now I'm up to six hours!! The fact I even taught at university level in this stuff? Just makes it better.

I'm on my sixth hour. Take that Michealangelo.

CB

Researching the Las Vegas Stages Part Two

I went to see another comedy show in Vegas for the local comedians, and of the local comics. Jeremy Flores, Davey O, Michelle West and Don Tjernagel were the stars, and Travis, whose last name never was revealed also featured, as did a guest set by Don the Song Parody Guy of the Howard Stern Show, who happens to live in Vegas part time. The event was at a former strip club, off of the former Industrial, now Dean Martin Rd. The place is called ROX, and it's gorgeous inside now. It's got a great feel to it, and Led Zeppelin DVD aside, it really was set up for a great night of comedy.


Don Tjernagal..great name that no one in their right brain could pronounce.. is prolific. He has several CDs to his credit, self produced, but rightfully so. He looks like a mad Marine, clean cut, and buff, but with a cynic's eye, and a deviant grin. He's been a road comic and he's a Vegas guy who apparently has opened stages in town just as DavyO has..there was a need for censor-ship free expression. He's worked his ass off to fill that need. And, he's really funny. He thinks on his feet. He calls himself rated R, but he really is too bright to be considered JUST a blue comic. He is a smart guy. He had Jeremy Flores, from the DavyO open mic the night before? The guy who had great material, but didn't use the mic right? Emcee...

Great choice. I got to hear the guy this time. Why? Rox has a sound guy. They also have a lighting guy...same guy. It didn't matter. There were all of six people at the club. Welcome to hell. This is the problem with the marketing of comedy in Las Vegas. When you don't understand proper marketing, you don't get the press, the PR, and the people. The club did have ads, and the MySpace promo sent the DAY of the show didn't do much to get anyone into the club. I found out about the show ONLY because I was looking for local venues, found a local comic's name, and looked up where he was playing. Had I not done that... I think I'd still be wondering.

BUT that aside...Jeremy Flores is an Improv comic. As in Budd Friedmann's Improv. He does not belong in Las Vegas. He's done this for eight years, has material, has timing, has his set down cold. He knows how to talk to people when he's on stage. I have NO idea why he is not doing this in Los Angeles because he looks much younger than he is and could easily get television. HE's a HE. Everything he needs to succeed in LA is there. So my guess is the only reason he needs is the confidence to do it on his own. Or he'd be there. He mumbled something about the Ice House. He's well past that stage. I LOVE the Ice House and I think he would KICK ASS in the Hispanic nights there.. but I think he's mainstream, too. Whatever is holding him back..it's too bad. He so deserved not to be in Las Vegas in an open mic and in a room with six people.

The next guy up... I know how the local scenes are when you are supporting your buddies. There is always the guy who is starting out, and you give him stage time, and he's sort of there, but he's just sort of not. This guy Travis is like that. He does one liner angry white boy material done in dry monotone. It almost works. It doesn't work because he doesn't connect with two things.... he stares at the back wall, so he doesn't identify with anyone he's talking to, yet his lines are "Don't you hate it when..." So no, I don't hate it when... I have no idea who I'm hating or why or when. And, the lines he elected...well...the room was 78% women, and he picked women on cell phones, women driving, and that was pretty much it. If your material is to attack the audience, in monotone, without eye contact, it won't go over. It was kind of sad. He had some good lines, though. What was endearing is that when he did get a chuckle, he gave a single chuckle back...like he cracked the bad boy act...and that worked. That made it funnier. That's when he won the crowd. (crowd?) But he didn't look at people so he didn't see that. And he left the stage just as he won them, and they started to listen.

Michelle West... I really liked her because her stage personna is natural. She comes across as the slutty girlfriend everyone has, and no one admits to being. Her parents were there, and I think part of the laughter was, "Oh my gawd she said that in front of her MOM!??" because she talked about balls, cum, cock, and blowjobs, in front of her. She identified her people at the bar, bonded with them, talked to them, and made them part of her stories. That was good. But, she stuck to her material. It got a little weird when she started getting off page and talked to her friend sitting with her mom more. But mostly she was dead on funny, and just came across as very pro. She's not ready for hollywood, but I can see her doing some shows in some of the late night Vegas shows soon. I give her a couple of years before she's on TV.

Davey O went up. He kept telling me the night before he was going to show me his A game because he was telling me he wanted to be at the Store. That was my first sign. Well, when you're used to working a crowded room of drunks, your A game material isn't always the same as when you're in a room of 7 people, 4 of whom are comedians. Davy is still new to comedy despite being on stage for 8 years. He's an emcee, who writes the standard setup, twist, or setup punch, twist, punch. He uses a lot of the formula material because that's how he hears jokes in his mind. And, he comes across as desperately looking for a laugh when he needs to just tell his material in a way that's natural. BUT that's his voice. He is the Shecky-o that people expect him to be. He loves comedy, he loves jokes, he loves laughter, and that comes across, and it's endearing in this town. So when he is on stage, as campy as he is, it isn't offensive, as some comics make it. It is a guy who likes to tell jokes, on stage. And it's okay. Not terrific, not a-game, but okay. He didn't suck the air out of the room. He didn't make people laugh until they're crying. But he didn't really do as well as he could have, and I think he put too much pressure on himself, and it showed. And, that's okay too. That type of room gave him the room to do that.

Don Tjernagel is the headliner. He's the guy who runs the room. The gorgeous room with Led Zep vids playing as you walk in is now his. But it isn't. Here came problem one for Don. He is dating Michelle. Michelle now has had a few drinks, and is with her friend, and her parents, and has been ragging about Don with them for a bit. He starts up on stage, and is pretty funny, but The Song Parody guy walked in, just in the nick of time....and he has him come up for a few minutes.

The Parody guy doesn't sing, and instead does a Brooklyn Boy, Jewish comic act, that's a typical comedy club set from a Howard Stern writer guy. It's okay and he's funny, and very East Coast. He had some really good lines. Like Davey he does the standard Setup Twist writing, but his flow is more experienced, and it comes out smoother. He uses his mike like a pal, and he plays with the stand a bit. His set is short, rehearsed hard, and very much what it is.... sweet NYC jewish boy on stage. It's an open miker's tight five, and you can see it. He's done it a dozen times and it was great. He knew where he'd get the laughs, he knew where to be self-depracating, and he was sweet about it. And, he brought back Don.

So Don comes back up and does another few minutes of slick material, that's very funny, but he kept getting interrupted. He's having a great set, and his gal pal started shouting at him. Suddenly she's editing his act! It was a bit weird for all of the people in the room because A. no one knew if it was planned. and 2. the gal at the bar who was drinking thought it was time for her to join in. THAT's when it got REALLY bad. The drunk at the bar went from being a woman who laughed to some one who wanted the guy on stage dead. It was just very uncomfortable, and she was getting cheered by the girlfriend, now heckling the boyfriend, and the rest of us, were just in the Twilight Zone of bad comedy night. Oh it was hell. Very bad hell. Very uncomfortable, why are we in their domestic drama hell?

So his response? Get Michelle on stage with him. The pair do an impression together ...it's weird, and bizarre and drunken and odd. Almost funny. Almost creepy. It's hard to figure out if it's planned, or if they're happy, or if they're miserable. Regardless. The bar drunk is miserable. The show is over. We're done. I have four more places to check out this week. Two more hosts to meet. There's still crazy J, and boomers.

But wow... I'm hopefully going to get a video done. Maybe it will be in a BIG empty gorgeous room with drunk bar people. Maybe it will be in crowded drunken room where no one will hear anyone. OH I didn't say the best part. Jeremy has a gal pal with him. Davy introduces me. She says, "Wow did you hear the women last night..what was up with them... one was obnoxious..then I couldn't hear one..." Yeah, I was the one no one could hear. At least I wasn't obnoxious. too bad, then I'd be remembered!! She didn't know I was onstage!

Lucky me.
CJ

Researching the Stages in Las Vegas Part One

I spent an hour yesterday working on a blog to make up for the ones I haven't written in weeks. It's missing. I have no idea where it went. I hit preview. I hit post. And voila. Gone. No idea.

But I wrote about stuff that I've been doing and about the update on the Benefit. I wake up every morning, and I am on the computer, on the phone, (those who know me well are probably spilling coffee or soda at this moment... I am NEVER on the phone as I hate that tool).

I also wrote about the Las Vegas comedy scene, and Davy O, who is one of the two people who seems to be keeping it flowing. Well, maybe it's better that I get to do a rewrite. I have a better perspective after seeing Davy after five years. And, I have a better respect for what he's been doing.

You see, I'm trying to work on new material which for any comedian means, working on stage. To do that in a city like Los Angeles... you can get to a comedy club, get a slot, and do 10-15, and you have an audience that is VERY willing to listen to comedy. They are there because they are ready to laugh. They know that the comedians are working on new material some nights, and some nights they are getting old timers, or newbies. BUT, regardless, they are there to watch and take part in a night of laughter. Same with San Francisco. One of my favorite sets was in a little gay bar, on an open mic nite, just off of Market Street that I did as a favor to a friend.

The little gay bar set was perfect because the room was wrong, the lighting was terrible, the mic was broken, and the audience LOVED comedy. No one talked over anyone's set, and everyone was just adored...even the people who had poor material and weak stage presence were given respect for their attempts- and it was just great watching the camaraderie between the folks who were there week after week, and those who were doing a one-nighter, and getting paid, like me. It was just a little wine bar, and it was brilliant...I did 15 minutes, some material wasn't great, some material was perfect, and it was the best set I have ever had because the audience was the best I had ever had. They wanted to love every word, even when I was failing them on the one or two bits I flubbed. (In a comics mind, you falter on one sentence and you think you've blown 10 minutes... but in my tape.. it was just for 12 seconds I didn't get laughs! that's comedy mental block.)

But, then you get the flashbacks to the days when you are an open mic virgin. I worked one night in this club in Oklahoma, about 10 years after starting out. I was doing a show, on a weekend off from school at Calarts. It was me and two GUYS. Big burly bus driving looking guys. And they had these three local guys who were supposed to be the openers, and I guess one was supposed to do some bits at the end. So the show had way too many people on the bill, in a truck stop in Oklahoma...and I was terrified. It was probably my fifth or sixth road gig which didn't help.

There was wall-to-wall beer, and it was Alamo style. There was two kinds of food, burgers and brats. The room that they set us in for sleeping was a dorm style room that used to be the store room for the old "ice cream parlor" and it had five cots in it... and since I was the only "chick" they've ever had, they didn't have anything separating me from the two truck drivers at all, one of whom had picked up a comedy-slut for the evening. That was an adventure all its own. BUT, the best part of the night was the stage... They piled up four folded up tables, and put a table cloth cover on it... so we wouldn't scuff the tables.. which made them very slippery. The microphone was a radio shack one, and they didn't know they needed to put that into a sound system, so it was in the radio amplifier... because that's what they used for the BINGO night, and it worked. Okay.

Comedy was new there, and it was new there because they heard they could make a LOT of money if they had comedy. Well, Tulsa had comedy, and why not? Well, the audience consisted of a nearby college dorm of students, a local VFW gang of vets from the Spanish American War, the local bowling team, and The Sooner Spooners or something.. I forget, but some sort of booster club. Seriously, the place was packed with people... and it sat about 200. There was an ice crushing machine, for the slushies. And, there was a frozen drink being made at least every 2.3 seconds. I got handed a "Frozen Blue Hawaiian" which had at least a half gallon of vodka. The barkeep said, "I watered it down for you sugar, because I know you have to speak tonight."

Thanks.

So I am the third one on the set. That would mean I was the Middler for most nights. But in this club, I was the opener because the two local guys were going up, and one was emceeing. Each were going to have ten minutes, and I figured, okay, I'll get it over with first. BOY an hour later...I get intro'd. It was painful because not only had these two guys sucked the air out of the room, but each had been sufficiently drunk enough to just have the locals singing drinking songs by the time I got on stage. Just madhouse stuff. There I was in a town named Norman, and I had no idea what had just transpired... just to get onstage after being introduced as someone else, by the way, and the audience as I guess, expecting me to continue to lead them in drinking songs. It was awful.

It was just like being an open mic-er. I could have been up there doing crossword puzzles or doing Richard Pryor's material and gotten the same response. They were just into drinking. The two guys after me, one of whom is a huge headliner is hearing the drink mixing machine and finally starts singing bar songs, too. He gives up. He actually doesn't even bother doing his act at all. He didn't beat them. He joined them. Nothing could win that crowd. And what killed us, as we were babbling on the plane back to Burbank, was we each got a thank you letter telling us we were the best comics they had there yet! The club didn't last... go figure.

Well, last night, I made the mistake of actually saying "sure" when asked by Davy if I wanted to do a set at his open mic at a local venue here in Las Vegas. First of all, the venue was a bar, where comedy isn't king, and the audience is primarily into the "suck my cock" mentality. Otto and George, yes, chick talking about art, life, and society, not so much. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if I took it up on the first or second set. But I made a second mistake. My charming hubby who has seen many of my recorded comedic moments, hasn't seen my stage act, was off of work in an hour, I figured, "Oh I can wait for him."

WELL, charming hubby had friends at work, and wasn't coming to the show for another hour. BIG problem. You see, when you wait for any amount of time during an open mic in a bar to work on new material, you are pretty much shooting yourself in the ass with an elephant gun. You are saying, "Oh, drunk people, please, pay me not attention, go about your business, have some chit chat with your buddies, and by all means, argue with your boyfriend about where he left his car keys this morning." It was very loud, very weird, and there was no way to gauge where any reactions were to know if the material was even getting anywhere. You can't develop your material without knowing what the reactions are. That's the entire point of having stage time, and those who have experience know this.

The other issue was another open mic gal did the courtesy of dissing every comic who was on stage before while she was on stage. She did this as the fourth or fifth person up there. First of all, she was new, has a beautiful figure, and look, but her material-- she has no confidence in it, and it's so blatantly apparent that she doesn't believe in what she's saying, that she's making herself look as though she doesn't want the audience to care about it. The problem with that is-- when you're in a bar with people who are drinking, and you get on stage, and star yammering that "I know you hate me just because I'm a woman in this town, you pricks don't get it. shut up"-- when you do that you are cutting the ovaries off of anyone else who happens to have them. She absolutely set the stage of "Women in this room suck." THEN the next guy gets on stage, and started teasing her, so what does she do...she heckles him...but she's a bit drunk herself, so she heckles him very badly. And it just turns into this really weird space of WEIRD girl heckling funny guy with guitar... just made it bad. The bad part was? The crowd had a very big contingency of women...who could have been very supportive of her if she didn't start berating them.

I get up there... and my material isn't for the drunk crowd. I do some of the new stuff, and i hear a spattering of laughs. I have the women in the front laughing so I guess I won them back a bit, and I play with the comics a bit. I probably could have done my usual emcee bit and that would have been fine, but I was there to work on material and not to really win the room, which sucks because I put myself in that position. I wasn't really going to win a room of drunks. But what did I have to lose... I said a few lines.. got laughs where I wanted them. That worked. I said a few more.. realized I missed a tag.. I need to learn the material more. So that's something I learned. I ended with a bit I haven't used in 5 years. They laughed, so that was fine. I didn't completely suck the air out of the room, and I did as well as could be expected in a room that was trained to hate women after that other gal's set-- I untrained them after that. But it was a bar, and it was small, and smoky, and man it reminded me what those first years were like.

I am so glad I don't have that to do again, yet if I don't go back to doing SOME stage time, I'll never get this material going. And, if I don't get a real stage, the material won't work right because I won't be able to hear where it will work right, as in correctly...as in when the crowd is actually hearing it. So you have to give Davy O props for doing that year in and year out here in Las Vegas. He gets to see all of the open mikers. There were some that stood out as having potential.. a couple who really need to realize The MICROPHONE can make the sound and the voice doesn't have to be so damned loud. The guitarist, Lemy, is really very good. The girl who hated her own material needs some self confidence and to not hate her audience so much and she'll do so much better. She had some great premises, but didn't develop any of them. It was as if.. "I like thinking about X", and I wanted to hear more of that....but she dropped the topic without going into it, which was too bad because they were smart.

Tonight I'm checking out another room to see if it's more to the way I want to work.. and maybe by the end of the month I'll find one I can do a set in, but maybe not. I may have to go to LA. I don't want to drive there, but it may be my only choice. It's just a necessity at this point.

CJ

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

the Power of iJoke.tv

I stumbled across something amazing the other day. It was a reminder of the exact reason I loved the stand-up world. It was the patio of the Comedy Store on a summer afternoon, when Bruce Mikelson would be smoking and taking about taking a ride up to las Vegas to do a set at a strip show. (I don't mean a show on the Las Vegas Strip,- I mean a show at a club where girls dance around a metal pole. ) It was the stair case, just outside the annex by the Ice House in Pasadena, where Steve Pearl and Jeni would be talking about some event in Florida regarding a palm, a coconut, and someone named Luigi who couldn't spell Budweiser, but refused to use the word "Bud" as it was "vulgar and pedestrian". It was the diner, somewhere on the 40, near Kentucky, or New Mexico, with Blake Clark, or maybe it was Anthony Clark, or Lenny Clarke, or even Clark Anthony, or someone named Clark who was explaining the reason why he carries his own sheets when he hears "we have a small condo near the club, but I can't guarantee the condition because Jackson Perdue will be in the night before you."

The place is called iJoke.tv, and it exists online. I found it through another place, called the Kvetch forums, which is very much the same feel-- except more like the Chatanooga space, or Cobbs, or someplace more homey and intimate and regional. Kvetch is based out of the Rich Jenkins world at TheComedyStudio.com/forum. I know I'm going to bump into people I worked with in both places, and I know that I'm going to find people who have the exact life experiences at iJoke.tv because it's run by people who started when I did, and who have worked all the clubs I have, when I have, and who have been burnt by the same flames. And, the people in both forums have the same kind hearted, "Aren't you sick of being screwed over?" mentality that I admire. There is an underlying sentiment of "We just want to survive, thrive, and stay alive." And, I think it's wonderful.

One thing I noticed is there is unbelievable support. Here I was just snooping to see if I could possibly get a tiny bit of support for a benefit, and I assumed I'd get the Hollywood, "Oh yeah, sure. uh, sorry, but have fun with it." Instead, it's been undying, and nonstop. I feel as if I have the most support in my entire career. It's as if the family said, "You never asked us for anything, so of course, we're here to help." And, I feel as if the support is a bit of acknowledgment for the years I've tried to help other people. after years of mentoring young comics, or putting road warriors on the radio shows, or hours spent emailing and blogging about writing, road trips, or clubs, or college touring. It's the pay back of having my door open to the folks who were looking for places to crash while they were gigging for their first time at the club up the road, or when I had people come in and do a set when I had a room, and they wanted to get stage time before a major gig in a big city.

The people at iJoke.tv are the same people who were on my floor, or in my studio. They are the same people sitting on the stoops outside of those clubs. They are the same people who came to the Wired for Laughs shows from the alt.comedy.standup reunions we'd have at the Improv in Los Angeles. They are the same people because they are Budd's people. You can find Marc Price there, and Budd, and a there's that gal who used to show up at the open mike with the note book who used to forget your name, but who used to tell you that she saw you in San Francisco at the Above Brainwash show, when you were trying out the material about your ex-husband, the trumpet player. The same fan who sent you a picture of yourself during your set at the Comedy Store from 1991 is there. These are real fans, of real comedy. These are real comedians, and real road warriors, and it's just like sitting in the bar at the Improv, in 1996, talking to Marmel, and Todd Glass, and Dave Little, and Rob Little, and Joannie Coyote, and wondering what you've ever done to stop playing in Los Angeles in the last years. It's the same voices and names, and same memories, and people. It's home.

And home is why I feel so supported here. I'm working on the benefit for my Aunt Jeannie back in Boston, at the Comedy Connection, the club that started the whole idea that some French-Italian-Irish kid, who went to art school, and was in the Navy, and wrote a book on Atheist Grief, could end up being a comedian, and for 20-something years made people laugh while living a strange and weird life-- it's this same woman, who found this online forum so she could talk about this benefit for her Aunt Jeannie-- who discovered she was always welcomed home, online, at iJoke.tv, by her crazy uncle Budd, and her long lost family-- the other comics, and her friends there. And, the best part? They are all just as eager to help Aunt Jeannie, and be part of the Benefit, and The Comedy Connection, and to make the future memories of this event, something to talk about for years to come.

That's pretty powerful stuff.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

comedy and life and crap and stuff and life and crap

Okay, so life events can change your world in a matter of seconds.
A car crashes and you can lose a car, a leg, and a license. Or, someone dies, and you end up homeless. Or, you get a letter from a college that offers you a free ride, and suddenly you are on your way to being the first graduate in your family. Or, you have a kid, or you poke an eye out with that thing, or you dye your hair blonde, or whatever.

This week, my chinchilla had her kit and I named her Koala, because she looked like the little clip-on things you had on your coats when you were a kid in the 80's. She's fuzzy, sweet, and loves to be held. She's much like her mom that way. I get a kick out of her, because at three inches, she's just the cutest thing I've seen in a long time. In a day we get about 18 degus. This will change our house a bit. We haven't had that many flying squirrel fuzzies ever. I'll change my view of cute. But I love them.

The same day, I found out my Aunt Jeannie has stage 4 cancer in her lungs and lymphoma. She's not just an aunt. She's my dad's aunt. This means she's my dad's mom's sister. She's also about 2-3 years older than my dad. His other aunt, Barbara, died a couple of years ago, and raised him. She was about twenty years older than him. His mom died recently, too. She barely raised him. She was the vain sister. She was not very attached to any of her children. She had them with different men. Dad was the first "bastard".

He never met his father. Only fifteen years ago or so did we learn his name, Morrison. That explained my father's middle name Maurice. He was an East Boston cop. But other than that, we knew nothing of him, but an obituary that rest in a drawer of my grandmother's bureau after her death. Jeannie has always been like a sister to my dad because his brothers and sisters- younger- seem so distant. So much so, that I think I've only met them on one or two occasions, and his youngest sister, is six months older than I am. She and I were in the same school. That was strange. We did know each other a bit, but we were never close.

I grew up knowing Jeannie's kids. They were my cousins. They were my friends. They were the ones I was closest to, as were Barbara's kids. When I think of cousins, they are the ones I think of, and when I think of family, Jeannie and Barbara are always the first faces in my head. Barbara is gone. Jeannie has cancer. Life changed in a moment. Just like that. So what can I do? I'm not a person who just let's things happen. I'm a do-er. I'm a participant in life. I am action verb, not a passive verb.

Passively, I was a comic. An ex comic. A former comedian. But, Jeannie needed to laugh, and the one thing I know of Jeannie is her laughter. I can't think of Jeannie NOT laughing about something. She was a waitress her entire life. She lived with my great grandmother for the later years of Nana B's life. Nana lived to be 101. When she was 100, Jeannie worked to get about 200 family members to Boston for a family reunion. It was pretty surreal. A room was filled with people no taller than 5 foot 8 inches, with the same shaped face, chin, nose-- all resembling this woman- black, asian, white- we're all mixed up. But we all had that face. Just a bunch of goombahs visiting Nana B. It was pretty amazing. Jeannie did that for her. And we all loved her for that.

Carl was Jeannie's husband for long time, but not her first. Paul was her first, but not her best. Carl was her best, but he was a goofball. I was at their wedding. It was a blast. They had fun with each other. He made her laugh. That showed. She loved Elvis, and he did an Elvis impersonation that was just awful, but he made her laugh. I don't know if they split up, or not, but he ended up with her in the end, because he had brain cancer. She took care of him. She nursed him, and stayed with him while he was going through chemo, and stayed with him while he was sick, and when he was nothing but skin and bones. She was with him when he died. She loved him. She still laughs that until the day he died he thought he was a ladies man with a bald head, and boney chemo body!

Four days after she had a biopsy last week, she went to work at Bickfords. She's been waitressing forever. If she didn't work, she'd be bored. She has to work. It's the world. If you don't work, you are on your ass, and homeless. She's about to go through chemo, and radiation. NEVER does she ask for a handout. NEVER does she ask for help. Instead she raised six kids. She cared for her mother until she died. She cared for her husband until he dies. She watched her sisters go, and her brother Georgie die years before. Her ex Paul, is long gone, of a heart attack or something about 20 years ago. It's just my dad, her kids, my sister and me, and her grandkids. We're her family. We have to help, we have to, because she's not asking us to.

So, I'm a comedian. I write. Alot. I write to a fault. I signed my contract to my publisher this week. Life changing. I contacted the Dana Farber institute where they are treating Jeanne, and asked them, "What do I need to do to get your backing for a benefit for my aunt?" And then I put it into motion. I put the message out to my past, and to Boston area comics, and I got positive responses from some wonderfully talented human beings.

Some of my favorite comedians on the planet are helping out. This October, Ian Harvie- one of the funniest human beings on earth is helping out. Chance Langton- The guy who is probably the first headline comedian I had ever seen on a Boston stage is going to help out. Jim Lauletta- a wild man, funnier than hell...is going to help out. Shane Mauss- the guy whose delivery is masterful is helping out. Jon Lincoln is helping. Courtney Cronin helped out. Rick Jenkins from the Comedy Studio helped out. Dennis Blair helped out. More people are offering, and it's astounding. And, I'll be emceeing. Yes, I'm dusting off the comedy chops. The new monologues are written. (egads, I've been writing stand-up again!)

There are others who are offering assistance. The MySpace page is DieLaughingBenefit. The Email address is JimmyFund@cathejones.com

I'll post the dates as I have them. More info will post on the Benefit MySpace page. Thanks so much.... Hopefully Jeannie will have some cash for the treatments and then we'll have her around for years to come, so then every year this benefit will take place in her HONOR, and not in her memory. The Jimmy Fund programs will support families going through cancer, issues facing cancer treatments, and cancer related care. The Dana Farber Institute is world renown for their work in this area.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Diary posting: I did Good Tonight: Open Mike 1979

The first time I was on stage was in 1979. I was 15 years and 8 months old. I know this because I have my diary. I have my diary because I kept every piece of writing like some day, somehow someone would find these words worthy. I still hope to find the thirty or forty manila sheets, folded, and stapled, crayoned and then made into "books" that were put together by the author before she was a computer geek. That habit started in kindergarten, thanks to a swingline given to me by an uncle. Piercing was a big habit, too, waaaay before the goth kids made it theirs. And, I had safety pins in my pierced ears long before Johnny Rotten, only because I was trying to keep the ear holes opened, while they were healing. Okay, that's enough of that reminiscing and tangent leaping. The following comes from that diary entry. Keep in mind, no one knew who Denis Leary was, and this is Boston, before anyone had a clue what comedy clubs were about to do to America.


I have almost no homework tonight, but I can't do any because I want to float for another two hours, then sleep. I'll read some shakespeare, for Bari Hari's class, and write a poem. Wow that's hard. Seven to twenty lines? I can do that WHILE I sleep. Maybe I'll try that, and get another A? I guess it's meter but it's no matter to me, yuk yuk.

But I'm really funny and I know I am now. That Dennis O'Leary guy from the Comedy Connection finally said I could go up on the stage on the new comedians night. They let people perform auditions for a few minutes, then they flash a light at them when they should stop, and then if the audience laughs at them, they ask them to come back and do it again. If they don't laugh, they can come back during the "Open Calls" and try again.

Larry keeps telling me, "Not now, because you're too young to come in the bar, but if you wait at least until you're 17, then I'll let you try." Mark keeps saying, "She's jailbait, but she's allright" so Mark acts like he's my big brother tonight and pretends that I'm with him. Larry wasn't even there. Dennis said, he bet Mark that I could make more people laugh than Mark could. Mark said no way. Then Dennis said, "I'll bet you, she'll make them laugh." Mark kept saying, "I'll have them laughing, every minute I'm on stage."

I felt like a pig on auction. Dennis is always laughing at stuff I'm saying. He says I'm a natural smart ass. I just imitate Dad sometimes. Mark is making everyone laugh all the time, though. He works the bar, and can make a guy dying laugh about the blood pouring out of his head. Dennis has all these people always laughing, though, and nobody is funnier than Dennis. I think he had someone laugh so hard one night, they had an ambulance come in and give them oxygen. The guy was really big and just couldn't catch his breath, was really red, and just huge, and I wanted to see it, but I heard about it from Mark and Larry and everyone.

But I don't even know what to talk about, so I ask Charles, what the hell do I talk about? And Charles said to talk about the Red Sox. I always make him laugh when I talk about sports because I mess it all up. I know the stuff, but I still mess it up. Everyone only has three or five minutes or something so I figure, no big deal I can talk about the Red Sox. But Dennis goes and says, "Hey kid, I'll give you a buck for every minute you get people laughing up there." And I think he did that to piss off Mark because no one gets paid on Open Call except for Dennis and the bar staff. So Mark says, "Yeah, and I'll pay you $100 if you leave the stage in tears!" but Dennis tells him to screw himself. And he says, "Don't go over ten minutes because I hate greedy SOB's, got it?" and I say yah. But then he makes like he was going to make me go up, and he has Mark go up next. And he calls him up, and he says, "Mark, if you cry, then I'll pay you $100!" so he tries to get people to heckle Mark.

Nobody wanted to do it, so he was just heckling him alone. About ten people there were just people who were there to see new guys who never were on a platform except to ride the T. Mark was there for about 4 minutes and just gave up, but I was laughing. I like Mark, and I think he's great! Dennis didn't give him air for breathing. I thought he was going to kill me. He just looked at him and said "thanks shithead" and got back behind the bar. Dennis was going to get me in so much trouble and I'd never be let back in there again, now. But now, he called one more guy up, so the room got back to normal. The guy was from Vermont and pretty funny, and got invited to another week, David something. I only remember because he just LOOKED like a David.

So Dennis called me up and said, "We have to get her on stage before her bed time" then he mangled my name, "Bud-row" but it's okay because everyone does it. I had fun because I was in a room that was my home. Everything there was so familiar. I talked to my pal Mark, and the goofy guy Dennis, and Charles was there. I just talked about the day at Fenway Paaaaaahhk, and riding the T to Kenmooowah. Drinking my first beeeeyyyaah, and scarfing and rowlfing my first fenwaaaay fraank. That was the great American past time. Next thing I know, Dennis is giving me a round of applause and started handing me a ten dollar bill, and said, "Folks, that was her first time, her first time, and 3o men were there! And it was on stage. And I tipped her. So we all win."

I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life. I may never do comedy again, but I know I'll have the best memory of the one night I tried it. It's so wicked to be up there, though, so I hope I get the chance.


And that's the end of the entry. Two weeks later I went up again, and it wasn't as good. I didn't make that many people laugh, and I had a little ego thing. So I had humility lesson. BUT, I started to write, and learn. I began doing more open mikes, and I began writing more and more, and watching more comedy every week. In fact, I watched every night for nearly three years, and when I wasn't watching, I was on stage performing. I worked with other people who wrote. I played in clubs at colleges, and in coffee shops, and I studied other comics and learned about "getting a voice". I became known for being very physical and talking about sports, current events, and the entertainment industry. Later I was known for talking about Cancer, and Ehlers-Danlos, and doing more bizarre character work. ALWAYS writing, and always learning, I still write and I still enjoy watching others to see how well and how wonderful others observe.

CJ

Monday, July 23, 2007

What it's Like to BOMB!

Your best friend calls and tells you that you've been given a slot for a very prestigious open mike, that's by appointment only, in exactly seven weeks. So you spend about four weeks writing. Then you go back, and write another four weeks worth. Then you decide that it's probably better to just scrap this and start all over again.

What happens next is the frantic panic of "I got to remember every word of this." "I got to remember every word of this." "I got to remember every word of this." "I got to remember every word of this." That's the mantra you devour every breath, every microsecond of your day, every ounce of your life's blood. You can't sleep without reminding yourself, "I got to remember every word of this." And when you wake up, "I got to remember every word of this." Never once do you think, "The first word is...." which is the smarter way to go.

You should be doing things like paying bills, walking your dog, feeding the fish, or bathing. Maybe lance the boil that's seeping and crusting. Or, call your boss and say why you're not coming in and hope that being frantically posessed by a monologue is a valid excuse. Then, call your co-workers, and invite them to the show, because you're expected to have at least ten people on your guest list, or you won't be invited back to the club even if you make the owner laugh so hard he wets himself. And, that is, what you want to happen.

This is, after all .the wittiest monologue ever written by a human being since the dawn of mankind. No other comedienne alive today, or ever born has ever come up with such concepts, or such observations, nor likely will ever do so, and therefore this will be a historical moment in the club, if not the history of time. And are aware that no other comedian, living, dead, televised, or radio broadcast, could possibly be thinking of such things. Until someone brings you your birthday gift, of a 1965 recording of Lenny Bruce talking about the hacks of the 1950's who used to perform acts about the exact monologue that you just decided was the best thing ever written.

Then you go online and realize that nearly 345,568,321 monologues exist regarding your very topic, and in this year alone 2 million were posted on YouTube. You have three days until your big night, and you have to write something. You have to memorize something. You have to make it come from your voice. You have three days.

Since you have such little time, you think of the stand by stand up motto- "write what you know" and you begin to look around. You see a very hungry dog that hasn't eaten nor been walked in weeks. You see an answering machine with 32 messages from your boss, wondering if you'll ever make it in to work and if your monologue has been cured. You look up at the window, at the reflection of the massive boil, peering out from under your hair, and realize, YOU are a monologue, and begin to write long into the night, until your five minutes of material is complete.
Then you begin the three hour mantra of: "I got to remember every word of this." But, with time no longer a luxury, you must test this material out at an open mike at the nearby Bar & Grill. There is no way around this. No comedian can simply write and perform and expect the material to be perfect, unless s/he as skilled an improv artist as some get... Some are better at improv than writing. But newbies sometimes think they are, and just don't get it. They don't read the crowds, and come across as pompous, and lose the crowds. Or they come across as too stupid and lose the crowds by talking down to the them. You can be as hateful and awful as you want and still be one of them. It's just a matter of showing the crowds that you're part of their fun, not part of their anxiety..they spend their life in anxiety, they don't need it in their entertainment... but I digress.

You show up at the pub, and there are 11 guys playing darts, a woman with a note book sitting at the bar, smoking an entire pack of Camels, and drinking a Cosmo, while reciting three words she's been reading from the front of the notebook. She's there for the open mike. Another boy, about four, is grabbing her leg, asking her to buy a french fry, but she hasn't seen him in six weeks so she won't see him now. There is another pair of girls over by the pool table comparing breast reduction scars. By the microphone is a large Mexican man fiddling with a battery, attempting to turn on the microphone, not realizing he hasn't plugged it into the amplifier, still parked by the juke box. He's new. The man with the clip board is talking to the white boy with the guitar, who is just not pleased that there isn't a pickup amp. However, no one has ever used a guitar at this open mic before, so this is the way things are done. It's 9pm, and there isn't a single person sitting at the tables in front of the stage.

Clipboard boy mutters a bit, grabs the microphone from his brut-like friend, plugs it in, and turns it on. After the squeal stops, people realize, it's comedy time, and the dart game ends. The bartender turns off the Jukebox, and the breasty-girls get up and leave. You get pointed to, and are told, "You go first".

No emcee, no intro, just grunted, and that's it. You forgot your first sentence. Why? You're still thinking of booby girls and french fry boy. Then you remember you have a starving dog and you pick it back up. But it's too late. You have no rhythm. You need the rhythm to make the joke funny. Cadence is part of the funny. You can talk about anything you want if you say it right, and it will be funny. A single word is hilarious. Kumquat. Hilarious. It goes down hill. Not even the bartender, who usually laughs at anything said by anyone is just staring at you like you're bleeding from the eyes. then you wonder, maybe that the boil is just too big, so you reach for it. You've made the mistake, again. You grab a body part that you don't want noticed, and now, something no one ever knew about is what EVERYONE sees.

Two more minutes left. Are they kidding? Is this torture? He gave you an extra two minutes to try to turn it around because he saw you there before. Do something you've done before. Do an older routine and get ONE laugh. You have done this, this is not your first time on the stage. If you blow this, it will be worse tomorrow. You have one last sentence in the routine, and you can save this. Nothing. Not a single response. Except. One.

The kid. "Mom, is he done yet? Can you go up so we can eat now?"

Uhm. I guess cutting your hair was a bad idea.

--
CJ

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Original Comedy Connection Person, 1979

"When Stand-up Stood Out" is running right now on Show time. or some station I have no reason to promote for they don't pay my bills. I did stand up in Boston from 1980 until 1982. I was technically doing it in 1979, as I was an open-miker, thanks to Denis Leary. I knew Lenny Clarke, and I knew Steve Sweeney. I knew them because I was the one who used to run downstairs and hand Larry the checks from Frank Shugrue's office. Who is Frank? Frank is the one who owned the Charles Playhouse. I was the "the office assistant" who helped Patty Ritz, who was there as a leftover from the Boston Youth Theater, who never left because I wanted to be a stand-up.

Let me explain. The Boston Youth Theater was run by Elaine Khoury, and they auditioned high school students, who would work in plays at the Charles Playhouse during the off season. Well, if you asked, the office there, they needed volunteers. Patty Ritz, the office manager, needed help running the office for Frank Shugrue. Charles Cohen was the Publicity guy. Dick Concannon and Smokie Bacon his wife, (no lie), were the Beacon Hill patrons who did everything in the world to ensure that a new show, Shear Madness, would get an audience in the cabaret theater just above the cellar bar. The bar was turned into a comedy club owned by a sort-of-comic and a bartender/business guy. Ned Farrington was the fix-it guy. Chip, nephew or son of Smokie and Dick, was the Boston surfer boy blonde fella who used to hit on me alot, but he was the gopher. And, then there was me. I would get everyone lunches, do mail runs, do anything and everything that was asked as long as I could stay and watch the comedy club, or at least get to see some of the shows.

And I did. I saw everything, and was aware of all of the aspects of that club. I learned about the business. I knew what the bouncers did. I knew what the "comedy sluts" wanted. These women would hang at the doors all hours of the night just to see which comedian they could go home with that night. It was amazing. I would watch the bartenders on the nights when they were funnier than the guys on stage. I listened to Denis Leary, and how he just made the crowd pay attention to every word out of his mouth. Denis was the star of the Comedy Connection.

Shear Madness was the improvisation show, but it was also the local's show..even though it was out of Philly, originally. It had Ted Reinstein, a very hot local actor, whom everyone expected to be a Hollywood superstar. Then Three Penny Opera came to the Playhouse, with Geraldine Fitzgerald directing, and Andrea McArdle was supposed to star! But she got into a "rehab" situation, pre -rehab years. So she was replaced by local favorite Maryanne Plunkett, an actress now known for a Tony Award and Law & Order appearances. Every year, local boy Gene Rayburn directed and starred in The Christmas Carole. This was my Charles Playhouse. I was as a part of it as the black walls, and the red chairs and the little eaved rooms above the stages in Something Brewing in Gainesville during Harry Chapin's run there. I was there for that, and even dated Jim Lauderdale, (as did three other women in the club).

But, I watched Fran Solomita's film about my club, and watched Janeane Garofalo talk about my room, and I don't remember her there. She may have come after my years. I guess it had to have been. She could have been in the audience, but there were very few women in my club. My club had lots of men in it. There were very few women because it wasn't a place women went to hang out yet.. comedy was new. It wasn't a date place. It was where Belzer was still being a wise ass, and it was where people like me were allowed to talk about things like "fear of blowjobs", which was my first set, thanks to Denis Leary who said, "I'll give you a buck for every minute you stay up there, but stop at ten, because I hate greedy people.".

I got $10 my first night. I bombed my second night. But I learned. I learned I was too young to play at comedy clubs, and I got shit for it. I was told I wasn't allowed to be where they served alcohol, so people like Cohen and Patty would bring me in with them, and they'd bring me on during open mics at weird hours. I'd tell my dad I was at a friend's house, and my friend's mom would drive us to Sam's or Nicks, or I'd just take the T, and crash at my friend Karen's house afterwards, so my dad would see my bike at her porch. I was 16. I was in college. So it was okay, but it was that I was 16.

But, I had to change jobs, because I had to pay for school. Then I had to figure out what else to do. I had been asked to sing in a band, so I was doing that at TT Bears. I would sing in the band, then go across the street, and do a set, and then come back and do a set at TT's. Then, I'd go to work at the Hebrew Rehab Center. I did that for about six months before it was too much.

Then it was a real bad day when my dad said, "We're moving to the cape". I was already out of school because I was too broke. I decided to go into the Navy just to afford school later on, but I was doing comedy and music, and that was my world at the moment. Dad had no idea, just thought I was working a lot of hours. I was, but that wasn't all. I was doing comedy and music, which is all I wanted to do. I couldn't figure out how the hell I could do a club on the cape. Where? How? I was so screwed. I moved my start date up by a full year. I had enough. He was married, they had her kids, my sister, and I was on a couch, stuck, working a full time job, no car, no license to drive yet! All I wanted was to be creative, and I was just stuck.

So bootcamp and the Navy, and then the strangest thing happened. I got married and divorced within 18 months. Yeah, I know. I was nuts. I think I just had to have a world of my own for a bit, and to break away from my father's life, and my birth mother's world, and just all the life that was in Boston. My step-mothers', (yes plural), were both head-tripping me pretty good, and one of my dad's girlfriends was mailing me pretty regularly about their break up, and that was rough. OH and when I was going through all that.. I hid behind bible thumpers just to really screw my head up. So I had about two years of a complete mental break down. But when I snapped out of it, I fell in love with a guy who was a poet, and into the best music ever.

His name was Erich. The problem was, everyone was in love with Erich. I was just an item on a conveyor belt to him, but he was the first major monster love of my life and he completely destroyed me when it was through. But when I was with him and regrouping, and de-churching again, and getting my life back into the creative, I did stand-up again. I met Henry-the-Bull-Del-Toro, who got me back on stage. I got involved in improv classes, and learned about Second City. I hadn't heard about Spolin games or all that, so I learned and got into that. I NEVER wanted to be an actor, because I figured it was hard enough being me, never mind someone else. I did acting, but it was always just to get used to being on stage. I learned about real music, like blues and folk, punk, and this John Mayall guy. We went to concerts, and he was just a great man to be involved with for so many reasons. But when I left the Navy, and I left Virginia, he was already involved with someone else. Literally, as he packed me up and moved me out of his house, he was moving someone else in to the place where I had slept the night before. I think I wrote my first monologue the next night, driving my parrot home to Boston.

I worked clubs, and I worked clubs, but it wasn't the same three and a half years later. I couldn't find an improv group that wasn't part of a college. I went back to MassArt, but there wasn't a group there. I was lost. But I did play Nick's, and I was back at the Connection, but Denis wasn't there as much, he moved over to Nicks full time, and Sweeney was the Connection. My regular people weren't around anymore. There was a bunch of LA people playing every week, and they didn't know me there anymore. Paul Reiser, Elayne Boosler, and even one of my heroes, Belzer started playing MY club. MY Connection was becoming a NEW YORK club. It pissed me off. It really did.

So, I started going to the clubs that weren't getting the big names. I started playing places that still had local guys who weren't getting attacked by drunk idiots who came in from the bus from Framingham State, or Fitchburg, to see if they could heckle the LA guys. I worked church basements, like Trinity, or Copley Square. There was a bunch of us over at Brattle Station when that was a new stop on the T. We would hand out flyers and do shows by TT Bears, or other spots at Central Square. There was a place by the Science Museum..I can't remember the name of it...someone reading this please tell me..it's probably a Staaahabux now. It was a little bistro thingy. Like Bobby's Bistro? Near the jail? Storrow Bistro? Something like that.. we'd go there, and there was this one guy from the Law School who would do these literary puns...oh man, he was just uhm... different. Witty, but weird. Was it Barry Wilson? Someone help me? He did the SAME puns every night and maybe a twitter of laughter, but he was sticking with it dammnit.

I stayed with it until school got too busy, or work got too busy. I had to pay for school, so it was imperative that I pay the bills. Then I started dating a guy whose brother's favorite thing to do was ...go to Nick's and heckle the comics. His favorite was a new guy named John Pinnette. Well, John's still doing much of the same material he was doing back in 84. Still great.

When I got the opportunity to test for Calarts...it meant, LA, Second City, and a chance for the Comedy Store. It also meant, I had to graduate a year early. No sweat, as I had done that for high school. So I completed two semesters in one, and a semester during a summer session and graduated early. Then in 1988, I started Second City, and the Comedy Store.

I haven't played the Comedy Connection since 1986. I haven't played Boston since 1988. I watched Fran's movie this week, and it all came back to me. .All of it, except I don't remember ever seeing Miss G. Maybe she was in the audience during one of my open mic's. Maybe I was in the audience during hers. Either way, it was a wild ride. I hope Patty remembers me. If she reads this, EMAIL !!!!

CJ