Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What an Emcee Can do to Suck the Room Dry

The community in comedy is small. Someone you work with at a coffee house open mic this week may be the big star on some sitcom next week. Case in point, Jim Carrey was working at Thrifty Drug Store in Los Angeles WHILE he was on In Living Color because he had been burned by the Hollywood Promise before and wanted to ensure Janey, his daughter, and his wife Melissa, (this was a while ago...wayyyy before Holly and McCarthy), had food on the table and a place to live. Melissa was waitressing, and I remember meeting the little kid -with her dad a few times in front of the Comedy Store.

The place has an open area, where there's an outdoor bar, and on any day you'd find Eddie Griffin chatting with Bruce Baum chatting with Emo chatting with just a newbie from Boston hoping to make it big on the stage someday. The place kept everyone on one level- a casual, real, warm, we do this too place. No one was a star, yet everyone was there, and it was time when John Pinnette was just as new as anyone else, even though he was a star in his New England home. We all were. All the people who worked that club during the late 80's had a modicum of success. We had road gigs and college gigs and late night bar gigs under our belts.

And, we each had stories. We had stories about the worst emcees who had ever walked onto a stage, taken the air right out of the room, and still work in the clubs we left behind us. We had stories about the people who like to use the word "comedy" to describe what they provide, despite the truth- the long winded, uninteresting, street-joke spewing, ego stroking nonsense that never amounts to anything other noise. It was a relief to see that the most seasoned and the newest members of the club each shared one common bond- Bad Emcees ruin shows, and they are our common enemy.

The MC is the Master of Ceremonies. Some are expected to monitor the time of comics, some are supposed to ensure that the club is in communication with the comedian. Some are supposed to set up lights, run sound, and even ensure there are comped drinks to VIPs.

The nightmare emcee doesn't understand the role first of all. S/he has an idea that the show is secondary to their needs. An emcee isn't supposed to take a show and turn it into "Love the Emcee, screw our guests this evening."

S/he isn't supposed to do twenty minutes, then give the comedians on the bill less time than a commercial break so he can continue his next twenty minutes. Then, s/he closes the show with his "real set" which ends up being another 30 minutes of ranting, without any obvious signs of humor in any of it.

The Producer Emcee usually is someone who has a bit more stage experience, but I've been in shows when the Producer Emcee is someone who hasn't even done comedy before but thought his friends thought he was funny, so he figured he would talk a restaurant into letting him host a show. The ego is enormous and the talent is just dismal. If s/he gets that the audience isn't giving a great response s/he will keep his intros short, and let the comics do their jobs. However, the bad emcee will suck the room dry from all laughs, be obviously uncomfortable with material or public speaking, and use stage time to humiliate and annoy audiences and comics alike. They are poison.

There is a road gig I took with three other people who happen to be from Boston. The guy emceeing kept trying to imitate JFK, and expected us to prattle on about being Democrats and eating Clam Chowder. That was his perception of Boston. None of us had the plan of playing to his whims. The guy showed another aspect of crappy emcees. He had no idea of the comics he was introducing, put assumptions in his intros, and just sounded like an idiot. He used his scintilating understanding of the English language to see how many cuss words he could fit into one intro. Pleasant. He also hit on every single female in the audience, so many left by the time the headliner made it to the stage.

Emcees who heckle are fairly common, whether we want them to or not. They'll scream out punchlines, make wisecracks about waitresses, or worse, they'll simply be just as obnoxious as the most ardent loud mouth. The excuse is usually, "I thought you could take it!" Or they'll sit in another part of the room, with a friend, or a member of the staff, ignore what's going on stage-wise, and talk sport scores, sex acts, and manners of cleaning bodily fluids from the floor of the club.

The ones who drink nonstop, during a show, and then show their inability to handle liquor as the night progresses are embarrassing to themselves and the club. They certainly aren't funnier, and often they just come across as frat boys pretending to be comics. If they're so stoned they forget to speak words, have drunk friends in the audience, and only talk to them, or if they are dogging the bartender for not providing enough liquor they're space wasters, and should be replaced. (That is, unless of course, the club caters to stoned, drunk frat boys who can't speak words, mostly books paranoid schizophrenic comics, hires only waiters who are selling drugs, and runs between the hours of 3 and 5 in the morning. THEN it's cool.)

When an emcee has solid material, it's a joy. You are part of a show that is warmed up by someone who has comedy chops. The audience can tell, and the rest of the line- up knows, the show will work out great. If a comic has a bad set, a good emcee usually can rewarm a room. If there are problems with an unruly crowd, a great emcee knows how to shut down the worst and call security on the seriously vile. And, a great emcee will make a cursory attempt at learning about your previous work and material so as not to do similar stuff, or not to trample on your act by introing with your punchlines.

But there are times when the emcee thinks it would be okay to use YOUR material to introduce you. That's bad. Nothing is worse than hearing the crowd zone out during the second tellling of your tale.

There are times when Crappy Emcee will use your material after you have left the club- and do it badly. That's not only bad for you, but bad for any other comic who has to work with you later, and didn't know the lines were lifted. Not good.

There are times when an emcee uses a microphone badly- getting it wet with beer, or sucking on it, or another nasty trick that not only causes tech issues, but health issues. One woman in some state, we'll call Texas, thought it was funny to wipe her running nose on the mic. Ugh.

There are times when an emcee will prattle on about how badly he is doing- so much so that it's not funny, and begins to sound like a forced group therapy session. The audience doesn't want a life story they want to laugh. They're trying to get their own lives out of their head for a while- and laugh. That's why we do this, not to work out what our bosses said to us that day that made us really sad. (Well, unless there's a lot of material there..then...you know...use it.)

And, a really bad emcee will con a club into thinking he has years of experience and is a funny person, when really his ego trip is just wasting everyone's time. If the guy claims he has a radio show, but it turns out to be a podcast, and the podcast is produced via his cell phone- run. This is not the person you want. And, if he says he's really funny, make sure you get written proof of this from legitimate press, comments on his online videos, and something other than a business card to prove his experience. Again, the comedy community is very small. We all know what happens in one town soon gets talked about in the next. Maybe not always by the most famous comic on the tour, but a bad emcee will be the reason other comics won't do a club date again.

To all who are great emcees- we talk about that too. You are what makes a show worthwhile for many comedians. Thanks to the good emcees good rooms exist. You are the heroes of the club, and all of us- comics, audiences, bookers, and club owners know it. Thank you.

A Comic Walks into An Atheist Convention

On February 22, 2009, the Atheists United hosts their monthly get-together at 11am, at the Center for Inquiry. Comedian and author, Cathe B. Jones is the featured entertainer, providing comedy relief, and discussing her books, Godless Grief, and My Doctor Is Killing Me. The event is free, and the day show also serves as a luncheon. Cathe's humor is described as vibrantly witty, thought provoking, and emphatically not politically correct, taking on the topics of atheism, racism, and political satire.

Led by indomitable Bobbie Kirkhart, the Atheists United (a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization) has a three-fold mission:

* To promote atheism through education and outreach;
* To promote the First Amendment and the separation of government and religion;
* To create and support a vibrant atheist community.
AU has a full schedule of events, often inviting vibrant speakers, and highly evolved discussions. The meeting on February 22nd is held at Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angles CA. This general meeting is Free and open to the public, and begins at 11am.

Kirkhart is currently the president AU, but also led organizations including Atheist Alliance International, Secular Coalition for America, and serves as board member to Humanist Studies and Darwin Day Celebrations. Her first article published nationally was "I Protest: A Santa Claus God", and was written by a woman who was devoutly protestant. Later, she learned through the efforts of her work as social worker, that her world wasn't created by any religion or gods, and since 1983, she has been a member of AU. As public speaker, author, and leader she continues to inspire atheists here and abroad with her wit, fiery sense of purpose, and ability to reach even the most ardent of the religious right.

Cathe B. Jones has performed stand-up comedy in three countries, since 1981. She has three shows in Las Vegas, performing several times a week. As an Atheist Author, Cathe works to inspire other atheists to proactively promote the idea that kindness and free thought should be practiced in all aspects of life. As a writer, her themes are action-based and humanitarian based, serving advocacy pieces. Godless Grief is the first book written about loss for and from the atheist perspective. My Doctor Is Killing Me is a patient advocacy hand book for those who have not been heard by the medical community. Her husband, Mike Jones, is the music director for Penn & Teller, and they reside in Las Vegas with their pets and pianos.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Test Run at Fitz Room- ROCKED!

Tanyalee Davis, personal hero, awesome gal, and all around kick-ass comedian and I had a show at the Fitzgerald Casino ("Fitz of Laughter") room run by Kevin Burke, Roland Witt, and John Bentham. Kelly Hunt, and up and coming impressionist comic, whom I met through the Short Bus Comics show, served as the opener- and she also, rocked.

We were test-running the room for a show we're putting up starting in February. Kevin Burke, aka Defending the Caveman -Vegas, has worked 7 nights a week since he's lived here, and finally had an idea- he should, could, and may be able to have a night off if he found competent comedians who could take the show over for him. His Caveman show runs at the Excalibur, recently moved from The Goldent Nugget. After his grunting walk-through the world of a couple-psyche, he trapsed over to the Fitgerald Casino, to pick up on the stage that certainly gives a great space for comedy. He's helped build an audience, and certainly, John and Roland are capable stage managers and room managers.

I've known Kevin for a lot of years. For a majority of the time, we never even met in person- it was through our comedy that we're friends. I got to meet a few dozen great funny folk through an online newsgroup, Alt.comedy.standup. Some of us were seasoned pros, others were newbies, and still others were fans who always wanted to be comedians, but were afraid to try. Some of my Space and Facebook friendships are through that very source. It's been a great way to network for jobs- Steve Marmel, the Nickelodeon Darling, was a regular in one of my rooms in Orange County, for instance. I did a regular stint in a club in Sacramento, and San Francisco through another comic. We shared war stories, Tribble Run stories, and of course... Vegas stories.

So, years later, Kevin and I are both in the same town, and we're hanging out a bit more. Friends do that. We have him over for dinner, and superbowl, and that stuff. But we haven't worked together at all. He called me and said, "I need, I think, to have a break, do you want to book the room on Sunday nights so you can bring your crazies to the stage?" My crazies are the Short Bus Comics, and friends in town- and of course, YES. I would.

Kelly Hunt and I have been planning out ideas to bring another "Women in Comedy" show to the area. It was perfect timing. Tanyalee Davis is in town, Kelly and I are prepped from the months of working Short Bus, and it would be a great run to try for the first time whilst Kevin enjoyed a show, for one of the the first times since he's been here, that was on his day off. We could do a one-night of the Women show, and if it worked out, and they liked us enough, we could start February, a new weekly show.

We got to the venue, and Roland was generous, offering us his skills as a warm-up. He did fine, and Kelly took to the floor. She's got a few bugs to work out, but they're minor, and her set was ably done- lots of laughs, and the audience got her impressions. I went up next, and the crowd- unsure as to what to make of the ADHD style seemed to really appreciate the energy, and laughed lots. Lots. Lots and lots. Too much! I went over time! I never go over time! But it was happening! They were a great group- laughing in spots I had hoped were funny, and laughing at the riffing. Loved those people. I intro'd Tanyalee for the first time since I think- the show we did at the Greek Isles. I honestly don't remember if that was it, or if it was another show. Regardless... she gave me what to say, I said it.

The crowd adored her. She'd already done a few nights in the room, and the club BUILT her a stage. Whilst Kelly and I worked around it, the audience wasn't quite sure what to make of it. We gave no hints. She took to the stage and the crowd went nuts. She did her set wonderfully- with the facial expressions only Tanyalee can do. She used the word "Midget" and one lady just about fell out of her chair. Fellow comedians Greg Stevens and his friend, Chris "CJ" Jones, (yeah, I thought it was funny too), were laughing so hard, they bounced out of their seats a few times.

Afterwards, we went to the doorway, so she could sell some DVD's, and we could hear what the crowds were saying. It was a hit. We did a great job, and the room was happy. The opener was happy. Everyone seemed delighted, so we're definitely going to have a lot of fun with the new room. I still haven't emailed Kevin yet to see how his day off went... I'm guessing great.

More to come!

Friday, January 9, 2009

2009 Las Vegas Comedy News....

For all who are contacting me regarding jobs in Las Vegas- if you live here now, please PM me as there is a new club opening up at the Palace Station. The chain, Bonkerz is working to hire local comics, not just the east coast/LA bunch, and they've invited us to the grand opening on Jan. 14th. If you are in Las Vegas, and want to be included on the guest list, please PM me with your name.

I am NOT booking this club, and I am NOT managing this club. It's just a way to support and assist the local LIVE COMEDY COMMUNITY. If you are going to the opening, the owners and booking agents WILL be there, and will take DVD's and promo materials from comics. You can also leave your promotional materials with the club during nights it's open and the right people will see you.

For the locals who were there when it was Laff Trax, LA Comedy Cabaret, et al- I don't know if the stage is different or if the club will be in a different room. The issues with the stage primarily was the height. You tower over the audience, and it's also not wheelchair accessible, but the techs are good about helping people get up there. The station casinos generally have good sound people.

Other news- Improv-Vegas has classes starting up. There's some great Second City folks involved, and starting this session, there's stand up classes. Okay- for the nay-sayers- it's not a "write a joke" class- it's a performance class. You learn to work, onstage, with a mic, with audiences, and with a little confidence. You learn about booking, road work, and getting college gigs. And you learn about speaking in public without feeling like a dork. I know, I'm teaching it.

You can sign up for classes by visitinghttp://improv-vegas.com/Classes.html
and calling the school

Onyx Theater news- The Short Bus Comics show is monthly for now but we're also hoping for another venue to add more shows. We had a near full house Friday night, and filmed some promo materials. Roman the Serial comic books the show, and you can reach him by emailing VegasComedians@yahoo.com or visiting ShortBusComics.com

The venue I'm working for- it's still not running yet... and I don't have any news. As soon as I'm aware of what we're doing , I'll post it here. The Fitgerald's room now has Kevin Burke nightly. Tanyalee Davis did a run there, and would be a great regular for the stage. I also know that there is a new Women in Comedy show starting up, with Kelly Hunt, me, and several other locals to the area. More on that as we know more.

Happy New Year, y'all- keep laughing-cheaper than gas, and better for you in the long run.