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.


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'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 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'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.

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."


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 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.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

the Power of

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, 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 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 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 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, 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.