Monday, June 13, 2011

Where Is Comedy Today?

I've been kind of observing the scene as much as participating in it for nearly three decades now. It's funny watching the phases and faces- those who think that saying "fuck" is funny, and those who think that it's IMPERATIVE to be squeaky clean. I've seen those who dress in t-shirts, and others who believe that it's best to be as Gucci as possible. Make-up, facial expressions, hair-- it's all been a great study in personal need- How do we make people like us before we even utter a word? If you have seen my shows- you have seen me dressed up, but mostly I'm a jeans or jammie's girl. If you heard me on the radio I'm squeaky clean, but on stage, I just say whatever I want to say and sometimes it doesn't translate well into the Disney-speak.

The audiences whom I adore the most are the LGBT, and the Latino crowds. The reason is simply that when these folks come to a show they WANT to be there, love the atmosphere, dress up and play with the performers. This has been true whether I've done comedy or music, and I stand by that statement as prejudicial as it is to every one else. The comedians I enjoy working with don't have any particular look, sound or topic- they just enjoy writing, and enjoy working with other people. People who WANT to laugh are much more interesting than those who want to compete with the comedians via the heckle. That's kind of boring to me- and I suggest hecklers get a gig a few times before even trying to interrupt someone else.

There's a trend now for comics to be rock stars. It is kind of a tragedy. Dane Cook and Comedy Central may have much to do with this, but the fact is, the coolest, funniest, smartest, and best comedians aren't always the ones with the best Facebook or My Space following. They aren't the ones who have multiple television credits. The best comedians are the ones who have worked the local clubs in the cities the rest of us tour in- the Steve Sweeneys and the Diane Amos' people are the ones who always and I mean ALWAYS make people consistently laugh. Tony V- the comic I really wish I was most days- in Boston has bit parts in friends shows and films, but Tony is a comedian - A REAL comedian. He puts out his life in words all of the time and his comedy is always, if not perfect, then worthy of everyone's attention.

Since the early 2000's, it seems most clubs prefer us to bring a minimum number of people to ensure we get "paid" at best or "a spot" at worst. Even clubs that created the comedy scene- Carolines, Gotham, The Comedy Store, Laugh Factory- seem to give the slots to those who pay-to-play. It's great for the clubs, but it's bad for the audiences. The audiences who could see an up and coming Jim Carrey or Robin Williams are now getting the same five faces over and over. It's not interesting. It's not conducive to creativity. Sadly, just as it is in music, comedy is now a matter of Social Media Clicks rather than actual enjoyment of a medium.

Music that is built on the same five samples of music, put out by the same six labels, from the same twenty 'stars', thanks to shows like American Idol isn't much different from clubs that put out comedians who only write or perform -"white boys are angry" "women hate men" and "hey I'm black, whitey!". It's not interesting. It's not a great way to keep audiences. It's not that exciting. But, there is a new trend in comedy that IS exciting.

In the last three years or so, comedians who are great writers are evading the standard clubs, just as in the last five years or so, musicians who can read and WRITE music, are evading the regular expected gigs. You are more apt to find a great comedian in a club that started in the back of a garage, or in a restaurant by the comedians themselves. You can find great musicians singing in gazebos at parks, or in cafes, just as Bob Dylan did back in the 1960's. We're discovering what poets have known for decades- smaller houses, self-created events, and self-produced shows are the ways to get our work seen by the people whom we want to see, too.

In Las Vegas, the best shows aren't on the strip, with big lights, productions, dancers, and piped in music. The best shows are the open mics or booked mics. Some comedians here have taken to hitting restaurants in the casinos rather than the stage rooms, just to put out high quality entertainment. And, for many of us seasoned pros, the best shows we find ourselves in are the ones that start late night, after the regular shows are done. We gather ourselves in low rent venues, or donated spaces, charge a nominal cover, and put together something you'd never find at a chain comedy club- real talent.

Sure you'll get the usual "I'm great love me" ego maniacs, and you'll find the people who really should be considering a career in shoe shining, but by and large- real artists are performing where no artists usually would. Local libraries, lodge halls, even schools are turning into regular, really well attended venues. A hint for Vegas tourists- check out Big Al's on Sunday night in the Orleans or if you want a venue that's going to be musical more than comedic- Bootleggers has a Cabaret night on Mondays, and that is where you can find the biggest headliners, (including those whose names are the largest on strip marquees), both performing and watching.

Every city seems to be popping up with venues in the same way. The next Jake Johannsen, Patton Oswalt, or Maria Bamford is going to be there. You can't beat a great night where the only reason both the performers AND the audience is there is to laugh and to support each other. That trend seems to be the best thing that has happened to comedy in many years, if not since stand-up became a career choice.