Bringer Culture

Not long ago I did a late night show on a late weekend night. I don’t want to get too specific because, although elements of this story are directly aimed at specific people, I’ve always found being more general in your frustrations is more effective for understanding  how they can affect your own life and happiness rather than simply blaming others for being dicks.

Anyway, not long ago, I did a show on a late weekend night for a some total dicks.

I booked the show through an outside source, talked to the main guy who was running it about expectations, and then actually ran into him the week before the show at a comedy rap battle (where I annihilated onstage and he did so poorly he and his opponent were both deemed losers and their spot was given to someone actually worthy of moving on).

The show was a hard sell. It was a holiday weekend. It was in the valley. It was at 10:30 pm and it was $15 cash at the door. For a comedy show.

scam-artistThe only person I was able to “sell” that to was the man I date and that’s only because he’s like in love with me so he likes to support me even during B.S. shows. Everyone else I invited was out of town or got (understandably) too drunk to want to come to the valley at that hour and spend $15. Even my guy was pretty shocked at the price. He doesn’t mind paying to support me but I wasn’t seeing a dime of that money and I don’t like him paying more than $5 or $10 for anything. It was, after all, a no guarantee’s comedy show. For $20 we could have gone to one of the major comedy venues in town and seen some of the best comics in the world drop in.

But nevertheless, he paid it and I apologized to the booker (because I’m midwestern) for not having more people out there. He was rude and ignored me and acted like I was really being unreasonable.

There were only 4 comics including the host who showed up to perform. One was the man who booked the show, one was another guy I guess was also running the show who I’ve seen around town, another woman, then the host. That’s it. So you’d think, if we’re going to do an hour or so show, it would be pretty evenly spaced out on how much time we get.

I should note- I almost thought about not going. I didn’t want to leave my place on the westside super late to go to this because I was afraid it was going to be yet another shitty experience. I had a gut feeling these guys were dicks and wouldn’t respect me or my time at all. But I thought better of it, put down the delicious wine I was drinking, and gave up an episode of Game of Thrones to go do this show in the hopes it would be a really positive experience.

I got 4 minutes.

Four. Minutes.

I was told I’d get the light at 3 minutes and I had to get off after that.

I accidentally ran the light and did a whopping 5 minutes. But I had them laughing the whole time, so whatever.

The guy who actually booked the show went up after me. He did 20 minutes. He did not have 20 minutes worth of good material, but he stood onstage and talked for over 20 minutes. Then the next comic, the other girl, went up. She got a whopping 5 minutes, too, even though she was also really funny.

And then the last guy got up. And he talked. And talked. And talked. And talked. And eventually, after talking for a really really long time, he asked how long he’d been onstage. The host told him 38 minutes. He laughed and kept talking for at least 5 more minutes. My guy and I were tired and wanted to leave. It was way past midnight, we’d been up since 6 am working and doing lots of different stuff. So we did the “faux pas” of not “supporting the show” and left while he was still talking and the show was still technically going on. I tried to keep my face calm as I looked at the guy who booked me. I smiled and said thank you. He made eye contact yet still managed to ignore me.

I was shaking with anger as I walked to my car.

Here’s the thing. I get it. So called “bringer” shows, where you book 30 comics most of whom have never done comedy shows so they’re able to bring everyone they know who will sit through 3 hours of shitty comics interspersed with decent ones who are friends with the host while they pay exorbitant prices for tickets that their friends don’t see a dime of… suck. They suck. Also too many free shows in LA suck. A comic I’ve seen in the scene wrote a great piece about it. The best show I did recently was a tiny theater down the street from the shit one for a friend of mine who’s young and wants to book good comics and puts up shows every couple months. He brings a great, really supportive crowd who are happy to pay a little money and they divvy up the money at the end and split it amongst the comics (who all have about the same amount of time… about 8-10 minutes). That’s a great motherf***ing show. I make like $10 and feel like a king. Or a queen, depending on how much you care about royalty political correctness.

My point is this- stand up show culture in LA is weird. I don’t know exactly what the answer is. But I do know that there is a gross underlying culture perpetuated by a bunch of dicks who act like your job as an up and comer is to pay your dues to them, the so-called gatekeepers. And I also know it’s only a matter of time before we all see that these dicks won’t make it. Not because they outright lack talent, but because they’re dicks and nobody wants to work with a dick.

I certainly don’t. And as angry as I was, I’m also grateful. It was a reminder that I don’t want to waste my time with people like that in any capacity. I would have much preferred to stay at home and watch an episode of Game of Thrones with my boo while drinking cheap wine and passing out. That would have relaxed and recharged me. And I could have been more creative and happier the next day, not pissed off and tired and writing two new additions to my “NEVER WORK WITH AGAIN” list.

My friend Natasha and I have been working a lot together recently on a number of different projects. Her work ethic is part of what draws me to her. One of the things we talk about is how we only really want to create cool stuff with people we like to be around. Because that’s what it’s all about.

I did the show with dicks party because I felt obligated. I felt like the more I get onstage the better I’ll become. The more people I meet the better network I’ll have to “make it.” The more dues I pay, the more people will respect me. But I learned that night that most of that isn’t true or isn’t necessary. Everyone trajectory is different. Of course, more stage time will make you better, but sometimes you reach a point of diminishing returns. If you’re not respected as a comic (or even as a person) it won’t matter who well you do in this scenario. You’re nothing more than a person who didn’t “bring” enough people for the bookers to talk at for 45 minutes and take money from.

You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do what you love and what brings you to life. For me, that often means staying at home to write and hang out with the imaginary friends in my head. Or spending a day blogging and catching up on the events in my life. Or reading. Or getting tipsy off red wine and watching Game of Thrones on the couch with my man. These are all things that fill my well of creativity.

Feeling guilty for not providing enough audience for a bunch of dicks… does not.

So thanks, you dicks, for reminding me of what I love to do and what I no longer want to waste my time on.

Lesson here: Every dick can be a teacher.

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10 Reasons Your Comedian Friend Does Not Want to Perform For You Right Now

dancing monkeyI’m not mad at you. I don’t blame you. I get it.

You’ve got a comedian friend. You poor thing. You put up with their constant invites to shows in shady neighborhoods at ungodly hours for normal people so you can watch them do the same jokes they’ve been saying for months. You patiently let them go on emotional rampages because they clearly need to practice a new bit on someone and want to test it on you without explicitly asking.  You listen to them complain about how they’re broke while paying for an over-priced drink at a comedy club. You diligently “like” their Facebook statuses and follow them on Twitter to stroke their gentle egos. You allow them to ramble on for hours about the minute details of an interaction that they are obviously exaggerating in their own over-active imagination. You tell them they were hilarious and the audience was terrible after they clearly bomb onstage.

On behalf of all comedians everywhere, I thank you for your service.

But also on behalf of all comedians everywhere… please stop asking us to perform for you and your friends at any given situation. Here are just 10 of the thousands of reasons why that is a ridiculous and unfair request.

1. We are not at a comedy club

There is a bit of magic that goes into creating a successful comedy experience. The temperature has to be right (a little cold so you’re awake but not so cold it’s distracting). The ambiance has to be right (a little dark so you don’t feel self-conscious and plenty of booze to go around). The seating has to be right (close to each other- it’s proven to make people laugh more). The sound, stage, hecklers, smell, noises outside- you name it- they all have to be in a perfect (often impossible) synergy with each other so the comedian is the only thing everyone is focusing on. Of course these are never always correct and comedy is often done in a loud back corner without a microphone at 4 pm to a sober lunchtime crowd of hecklers… but at least the comedian usually knows what they’re getting into.

Your dinner party is not the time or place for a stand up routine. It will feel forced. And like I’m trying really hard. And I will be trying hard. Because I will feel on the spot. And I will desperately want you to like my material because you’re all my friends or friends of friends who have been supporting my career. And since nothing else in this environment will be working in my favor… I will likely get little more than chuckles with jokes that get big laughs in the right environment. And everyone will think it’s “adorable that I tried.” And  I will be resentful and drink the rest of the available alcohol. And someone will have to drive me home or pay for my uber because we all know I can’t afford it.

Good comedians are excellent at making jokes they’ve been carefully practicing and crafting for months (and years) seem off-the-cuff and natural. It is a skill. But what they are doing is not off the cuff or natural. It is practiced. Just like a duck seeming to glide above water with their feet going crazy below the surface, there is a lot going into a successful comedy show. And none of those factors are likely present at your party.

So please don’t put us all through all that. Please.

2. You all are not a comedy audience

Crowds that gather at comedy clubs are mentally prepared to laugh at stand up comedians telling jokes. What actually happens during the set largely varies. But at least we’re all in agreement about who goes where and who’s supposed to do what.

In a dinner party setting, the roles are not specified and people’s intentions are not so laser-focused. So it’s gonna feel weird for everyone. And, again, does nothing but set the comedian up for failure.

Please. No.

3. It will be awkward for everyone

In case the first two points didn’t make it clear enough, asking your comedian friend to suddenly perform stand up at a party will feel very awkward for everyone involved. Where the comedian stands will be weird. How much people will feel obligated to listen and how many people will actually be listening will be weird. It will be awkward starting and delving into the routine. It will be awkward ending it. Even if you get laughs, it will be awkward reading them like a comedian normally can with an audience. It will be awkward for whoever suggested it if the comedian does poorly (which, as I’ve said before, is likely).

Everything about this will be uncomfortable for everyone involved. Even if the comedian does alright and gets some laughs, it will be awkward trying to get back to the party like it was before.

Comedians often feel awkward interacting normally anyway.

Please don’t add this level of awkwardness to our day. Please.

4. I will feel judged

Doing stand up comedy already requires very thick skin. In a non-comedy-club (or something like it) setting, it will feel even more vulnerable. I’ll want to impress you more because I like you. Or at least probably like someone who likes you because we’re at the same party. And so the stakes are going to be higher for both of us for me to be funny. So I’ll feel judged and inhibited and nervous and it will all go to hell.

Please don’t make me do this. Please.

5. I will hate myself whether or not you laugh

Asking me to perform in this scenario is a lose/lose situation for me. As I’ve already mentioned, I VERY LIKELY will have a hard time getting the hearty guffaws you want and expect from the best comedic performances. But even if by some miracle I get some laughter, I will be disappointed in myself. Performance aside, I will have just spent the past few minutes making this party all about me. And, despite what perhaps the career choice would leave you to believe, not all us comedians are egomaniacs. When you say “dance, money, dance!” we want to please you and so we want to dance. But we will feel like dancing monkeys. And that’s no fun at all.

I love comedy and I come alive when performing. But I cherish the moments when I don’t have to be “on.” I love when I don’t feel the need to entertain. I can just relax and take in all the world has to offer. I can be a normal person at a party hanging out and taking in the sights and sounds. I can have conversations where I am present and listening intensely without any sort of agenda. I can just be me the person, not me the entertainer.

So when the party is transformed to center around me (assuming it’s not a birthday party or something that was already centered around me), I will feel like a real doofus for stealing the limelight. It’s not my time to be “on.” It’s my time to just enjoy and listen to the hilarity of people who have no desire to be onstage despite their fantastic senses of humor. It’s my time to be part of the crowd and just enjoy going with the flow.

Please don’t take away my “us” time and ask me to turn it into “me” time. I’ll feel like I’ve disappointed you if I don’t or if I’m not funny, and I’ll hate myself if I do. I cannot win. Please don’t make me play.

6. I cannot transform into my stand up persona because you all have spent the past couple hours getting to know a different person

This happened to me not long ago. I was at a party with my then significant other’s friends and family. I was quiet. I didn’t speak much. Not because I was uncomfortable, but because I was enjoying the other people’s conversations. I talked to him sometimes, talked about myself a little, but mostly enjoyed listening and not having to create any sort of entertainment.

As we left, my guy mentioned we were leaving because we had to get to my stand up show. People were suddenly really interested. They either hadn’t known I was a performer or didn’t actually believe I was actively performing or WHATEVER. The point is, they asked me to do some of my set for them right then and there.

Now remember the first part of this story. I spent the whole night in quiet-mode. I actually enjoy being quiet sometimes. I wasn’t “on.” I was very much “off.” I was even being borderline “shy” because I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt anyone.

So I was supposed to immediately snap into my confident, chatty, extroverted, loud-mouthed, highly-physical, high-energy stand up persona and start spouting out jokes right then and there. Aside from all the reasons I just listed above for why this would be a disaster, I especially didn’t want to do this because I wasn’t in the zone. I wasn’t anywhere near the zone. I wasn’t in the headspace. I was in quiet-mode. The performer wasn’t available at the moment. She was taking a nap upstairs to prepare for the later show. And any attempt to suddenly jump into that persona would have felt really forced and I would have had to push myself big time and the change-up would have not only been confusing for everyone, but would have been disastrous (for any reason listed here). She was napping. If I wake her up suddenly, she’ll be all groggy and not make any sense and be confusing and disappointing to everyone.

Please don’t ask the magician to perform tricks when he doesn’t have his special deck of cards available. It won’t be as cool and it’ll make everyone think he’s not as impressive as he actually may be.

In this case, I smiled and kindly declined. Several times. Luckily, I could turn on the charm easily and get out of it without any hurt feelings. In fact, they all began telling each other jokes. Which leads me to…

7. This will lead to utter chaos

Let’s pretend we’re in a fantasy scenario where this went well. Your comedian friend obliged and charismatically did a well-received 5 minute set and found a gracious way to end it.

Wow. Congrats. Mark this day for thou hast seen a miracle.

Now, everyone is going to want to tell their jokes. It happens whether or not the set actually even occurs. The second someone brings up jokes- especially if people have been drinking for a bit- everybody’s gonna wanna try on their old comedy sea legs and tell jokes. And it will turn into chaos. I could go on about the ridiculousness that will likely ensue, but I’ll just leave it to your imagination. You know yourself. And you know your friends. And you know what you all get like when you’re drunk.

8. Nobody will talk to me about anything other than comedy for the rest of the night

As I’ve mentioned before, I cherish my “off” time. I spend so much time thinking, writing, and investing in good comedy performances, I love when I can just relax for an evening. If it comes up that I do comedy- and especially if I do some sort of “performance” everyone is just going to want to talk to me about comedy for the rest of the night. But I don’t want to. I talk comedy all the time. I have comedian friends that I live and breathe comedy with. I analyze it. Spend my free time watching and writing it when I’m not performing it. When I am not in the comedy world, I’d rather not talk about the comedy world. I’d rather talk about the bajillion other things that exist on this planet and I am completely ignorant to.

Please don’t make me have to listen to your joke ideas that I could include in my next set/sketch/improv/screenplay. I’d rather hear about things you’re passionate about and your world and your life and your experiences. That’s MUCH more interesting to me that what you think will make a funny joke. Let’s please keep the conversation about you. Please.

9. You’re not paying me

Bottom line here is, performers should be paid for our work. Sure, it seems like it comes so “naturally,” but good performances are a result of hours and hours of investment of time, energy, and money. Yet it is so undervalued that actors are the only profession that have to have the label “working” in front of it to give it any validity. To ask me to suddenly perform for you without any expectation of compensation is like walking up to a surgeon and being like, “You know how to medicine. I have this tumor. Get rid of it for me.” That sounds absolutely ridiculous because it hasn’t been diagnosed, we’re not in a surgical room, he doesn’t have his tools, and there is no discussion of compensation for the valuable work.

I know comedians aren’t doctors (I’ve dated enough and split the bill to know that…), but what we offer is valuable too. And you’re inherently devaluing it when you ask me to give my services for free. Of course I love laughter and of course I relish in it, but it doesn’t keep my rent paid.

I am daily working toward having my creative work monetarily valued, even if it’s just a little. I, too, am providing a service and spending hours (and thousands) crafting it to perfection. Why shouldn’t I expect the same currency that everyone else gets paid?

Please don’t devalue me or my work by treating it so flippantly. I know you don’t see it that way, but please try to.

10. I don’t want to

In case it isn’t clear enough from the amount of energy and effort I poured into this list, I don’t want to do this. Most comedians will not want to do this. It will shatter our fragile egos and eat away at our soul. I just don’t want to. I promise you… no matter what the scenario is at the party, if it is not a club or a specific venue where people are there to see stand up comedy and know what they are getting into and I am there as a performer who knows what I’m getting into, I don’t want to do my set for you.

Please don’t make us do this. Please.

So don’t take it personally the next time your comedian friend declines performing at your party. Remember: It’s not you. It’s us.

Brains Behaving Better

brain badNot long ago there was an article circulating the comedy community called “Brains Behaving Badly.” I, like many of my peers, read it. Unlike many of my peers I didn’t take it to heart. In fact, I passionately disagree.

I do not believe you have to be deeply damaged to be truly great. I believe you have to be you, whatever that means to you.

Now let me start by making something very, very clear. I do not believe depression is a weakness. I believe it is a malfunction. Something just isn’t firing correctly and many people truly do need medication to fix it. If you suffer from depression, as many of my near and dearest friends do, please seek professional help (http://www.sccc-la.org/). I do not believe you can will yourself out of a legitimate disfunction.

I have been lucky enough to not have to deal with those issues (yet) in my life. I recognize this is pure luck of the draw. In no way do I want to seem like I’m belittling those who really do fight those demons. I am simply trying to voice the creative journey through a different perspective.

So here’s my response. Because I feel like I need to say something. I realize my piece isn’t going to be featured in Rolling Stone and probably won’t reach the same number of people his did. But maybe it’ll reach a few. And that’s what matters to me.

Mr. Gould, I’m so sorry for your loss of a friend and peer in Robin Williams. He truly was a spectacular performer and I can only imagine how tough it would be to lose such a seemingly good man and good friend. And I am so sorry for the loss of other friends of yours to suicide. And for your own struggles with depression. As so many performers have begun openly discussing their own struggles with depression, I in no way disagree with you that depression amongst people who have an uncanny ability to bring so much happiness to others is very real.

But I wholeheartedly refuse to believe that my creative brain will cause me to “self-destruct.”

I said it before, but let me reiterate. I love my creative brain. I love my creativity. I’m grateful every day for it. I do not yet know your level of success, but I can vouch having an overactive imagination. And I know the times it can start to work against me. It takes little more than a look for me to create an entire backstory of a stranger I walk past and a life for us together. I have several imaginary personalities on Twitter who sometimes fight each other. I have gotten so enraptured in writing that I’ve almost burned my kitchen down on more than one occasion because I forget that I’m actually living in the real world. I can vividly picture what will happen when I’m driving near a cliff and how it will feel if my car veers off suddenly or any number of creatures that could be waiting for me outside in the dark as I walk alone at night.

I understand imagination. Both the good and the bad.

But I love my imagination. And I am grateful for it. And I have spent years of my life cultivating it so it stays strong while simultaneously cultivating a strong foundation outside of my own mind so I can reel it in when I know it’s going down a dangerous path. I know how it feels when I let it run free so I’m careful- no, meticulous and disciplined about being proactive about my own positivity.

Yes, it sometimes wins out and I can go in a tailspin. But I’ve created an environment of support around me who can help me quickly get out before I go too deep. And I do everything in my power to stay self-aware of my emotions so I can communicate them openly and do my best to stay balanced.

Comedy gives me the voice to vent and understand my frustrations and pain. It keeps me away from the abyss rather than plunging me into it.

My creativity and imagination are the tools I use to give myself a voice in this world. Even if my conscious mind is in denial about a feeling or an attitude or the status of my life, it will come out clearly in my work. I can’t hide from it. And when sometime goes awry, I know that I will use those same tools to try and understand it and maybe make light of it. Even if it doesn’t work, comedy is how I view the world. It’s how I cope. It’s how I bond. It’s how I communicate. It’s how I comfort. It’s everything to me and does everything for me.

I refuse to believe that I am only as good as my level of anxiety. Of course my imagination can create a number of anxieties when I let it run free. But because I know it can, I do my absolute best to keep in check. I talk to friends and family to make me feel loved and safe. I protect my active imagination and train it to work when I want it to and how I want it to. Then I’m grateful for it and protect it. I protect it from me and from itself. And I do that by constantly, diligently being careful about my friends, my environment, my feelings, my thoughts, my time, and a thousand other smaller factors that are choices I make beyond what I pursue career-wise.

It’s important to talk about depression. And I’m glad we are. But let’s not make unfair generalizations about the nature of any particular brain. I want to be very careful not to feed the already fragile minds of so many up-and-coming creatives who may allow their minds to get the better of them in an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy of needing anxiety and depression in order to be accepted as a true comedian.

The imagination is a beautiful thing. To squash it preemptively out of fear it will turn on you is a disservice to yourself and the world around you. And to believe if it doesn’t turn on you that you’re somehow not as good as those who have had it turn is just false.

I think it’s not only a slippery slope, but one that doesn’t even guarantee greatness. There are plenty of other slopes on this mountain. Just look around.

Depression affects everybody no matter how they interpret the world. It’s very real and very serious. It’s even more dramatic when it affects those who are able to bring so much lightness to others while carrying such a heavy weight themselves. I recognize that I lucked out and was dealt a brain and body chemistry that are more balanced than others. Yet it is my imagination helps me to continue to keep that balance and to, whenever I can, bring more light through lightheartedness to those who feel they need it. It works with me, not against me.

I vehemently refuse to believe depression is inherent or inevitable in the mind of the best creatives. Depression, like alcoholism, is a debilitating disease that should be treated with care. But, like alcoholism, it would be unfair to say that just because many great entertainers were alcoholics, you have to be an alcoholic if you want to be a truly great entertainer. It an inaccurate and unfair conclusion that could cause more damage than good.

There are a number of extremely famous comedians who have made millions laugh who have gone on to lead particularly balanced and healthy lives. Lucille Ball, Ellen Degeneres, Carol Burnett, and Mel Brooks are a few that come to mind immediately. Of course they’ve had their ups and downs, but they’ve used their creativity, their comedy, and their gift to be resilient in the face of difficulties and to continue to bring light and laughter to millions internationally.

When I was a kid, I saw Aladdin in theaters because I was part of that lucky generation when Disney was creating their classics for exactly my age group. I remember laughing so hard at the Genie that I was nearly crying in my seat. I saw the move two more times in theaters. And bought the VHS the week it came out. And I had every line the Genie said in that movie memorized in no time. I was mesmerized by the energy, the charisma, and the creativity it took for a human to make that character come so alive to me. And it is no exaggeration for me to say that that Genie is one of the major factors in why I want to dedicate my life to bringing that same laughter and light to others.

So I disagree with you, but thank you and your generation- alive and passed- for the world you’ve carved out in comedy for me and my generation. In many ways, it’s your creations that have allowed me to become my best self. And when I’m my best self, I’m balanced, happy, and loving. And I want to bring as much of that to others that I can.

Steve Hofstetter is Hilarious

MetaPhysicalComedyHofstetter copyI was lucky enough to interview Steve Hofstetter for my podcast Metaphysical Comedy which I co-host and co-produce with Jose Sarduy.

Steve has a new comedy show on Fox called Laughs.

And he has an interesting perspective on what lies beyond. Check it out in his podcast and show notes.

If you get a chance, be sure to listen and subscribe to the podcast.

From Idea to Reality

metaphys 1This week, the first Metaphysical Comedy podcast was published. And I’m really friggin excited.

I’m excited because not only is a fun and interesting show that I think will make a lot of people laugh and be entertained. But I’m also excited because it marks another of those fun journeys from concept to reality that the creative process allows.

I wanted to do an interview-style podcast where, basically, people just told me ghost stories. But then I realized that probably wouldn’t sustain itself and I still wanted to interview people who maybe hadn’t simply had ghost interactions- but just on what they believed. I got an idea for the name, Metaphysical Comedy, wrote it on a post-it note and stuck it to the cork board above my desk where lots of idea reside. Many ideas make it into some form of reality while others sit there in idea purgatory for months and years never seeing the light of day.

But this idea kept nagging.

Then I met Jose. And he and I got along splendidly. And we talked about metaphysical things. And we disagreed on them but in a delightful and entertaining way. And I finally saw how this show would pan out.

He was as enthusiastic and added some great elements and ideas you can see at our website (metaphysicalcomedyshow.com)and has been an awesome partner. We’ve been interviewing people for a couple months whenever our schedules allow. It’s been a delight to talk to friends in a different way and to learn about my own mind while learning about theirs. We finally chose a launch date (this past Monday) and now it’s a thing that’s in the universe. And will continue to be in the universe as we release each episode.

All from an idea written on a post-it note.

Keep pens and paper around to write down your ideas. It’s exhilarating to see an idea become a reality.

Also subscribe to Metaphysical Comedy and share it with your friends 🙂

Feminine Advantage

rosieAs I may have mentioned once or twice on this blog (hint: I mention it all the time), I do comedy. I improvise, do sketch, do comedic acting, write my own comedy pieces and series, have a comedic solo show and podcast, write silly stuff and perform stand up constantly.

I’m not writing this post to reiterate that. I’m writing this post to clarify a concept I’ve been hearing too much of lately.

I’ve been told by a few friends in these various comedy worlds that I have a distinct advantage in comedy because I’m a woman.

I don’t want to go into the (asinine, outdated, and pointless) debate about women in comedy.

What I do want to make clear is- it is not an inherent advantage to be a woman in comedy.

Please note: I’m about to talk in stereotypes. Not because I think this is always (or even often) the case. But because I have been stereotyped. So I want to respond to the issues as they were presented to me. So we’re going into the language of stereotypes to do so. Please give me a little leeway here.

My friends in the sketch community tell me that my wait to go through a particularly long program will be significantly less because I’m a woman. I’ve been hearing this for the year and half I’ve been waiting. Which is, funny enough, the same length of time my male counterparts have been waiting.

I know there are fewer women in the program and that they tend to keep the classes even gender-wise. So they say. I also know that mathematically speaking, their excuses don’t make sense. If the classes are kept even, meaning the same number of men and women are going through the program, how do I have an advantage of waiting less time because I’m a woman again? Think about this and get back to me. Because I can’t seem to find the logic in it.

But I also know as I look at the people who have gone through the program that there are significantly less women in the company than men. So my advantage- if we can figure out that little illogical mathematical glitch I mentioned above- is that I get to move through the program more quickly? Not that I stand a better chance to actually make it to the top of the ranks? I’m confused. Because given the option, I’d rather take more time to get through a program I stand a bigger chance of performing with than moving through it more rapidly just to be “done” and not get to perform regularly.

They sometimes say it’s an advantage to be a woman in sketch comedy because sketch groups are often men and they need to meet their female quota. What they forget is that the pieces men often write for the women in their group are often over-simplified and over-sexualized, emphasizing our womanliness over our actual comedic talent.

I was also recently told by some stand up comedian friends of mine that I have an advantage as a woman in stand up. I get more opportunities and gigs because shows need to meet their female quota.

They seem to forget that every open mic I go to, I have to set up clear boundaries with every male I interact with that I will not, in fact, sleep with them for stage time. I have to deal with the fact that when I stand in front of that group of men, they are going to be looking at what I’m wearing and the shape of my (albeit luscious) body before they listen to what I’m saying. I have to deal with the fact that a lot of these comedy mics take place late at night in somewhat seedy areas of Los Angeles. I also have to deal with the fact that I’ve (usually) just listened to a bunch of jokes about penises, masturbation, and how difficult women are. And if I stand up there and mention something about my own hormones, I toe a very delicate line between sounding “whiny” and being a “bitch.” If I’m not overly friendly to the other comedians, I’m a bitch. If I am overly friendly to the other comedians, I’m a tease.

Not to mention, bookers will cut women comedians from shows if they feel there are too many. They’ll cut women comedians from shows because a different female comedian didn’t do well so they’re taking a risk by putting up another. This is still happening.

I am not complaining. I love what I do. I love being around comedians (male and female). They’re my favorite people on the planet. Some of the most important people in my life and career I’ve met through these comedy outlets. Many of them have been male. Many of them have treated me with nothing but love, respect, and support. Many of them I have nothing but love, respect, and support for as well.

But I want to set the record straight. There are no inherent “advantages” to being a certain gender or looking a certain way. Sometimes, I do get “lucky” and fit a particular mold people are looking for that can help catapult my career in a certain direction. And the reason that person thought of me in the first place was because they’d seen my work and knew I was good. And they saw my work because I’m actually doing the work.

And sometimes I do get a gig because of some superficial factor nobody has control over. But that’s showbiz, kid. You need to appeal to certain audiences and demographics. And sometimes that means meeting certain criteria.

So to all the people who think women get advantages in comedy by only having a tunnel-vision perspective and seeing what you want to see as if somehow our success is taking away from your opportunity… I have but one simple thing to say to you:

Go luck yourself.

Meaning get out there and work your ass off and odds are you can get “lucky” once in a while too.

Push it

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I may be pushing myself a little this next month.

I’m on a roll. I’m more motivated than I’ve ever been- and more free to follow through on that motivation than I’ve ever been. The result… I’m putting too much on my plate.

I’ve always been an overachiever. I have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends of the stick. I know this about myself. I accept it. I’ve never really understood what boundaries are in any sense of the word.

I assume I can do anything, so I just put my mind to accomplishing something, and I do it.

In some ways, my blind stubbornness serves me. I tend to produce. A lot. And in producing a lot, I improve a lot. I learn by doing and because I do a lot, I learn very quickly.

In other ways, it works against me. I can find myself razzled and spread out. And I’m very often thrown off balance because I get so obsessed with any number of projects and deadlines I’ve arbitrarily created for myself. And in the midst of it all, I add more. I’m not a balanced or interesting person when this is happening. I get tunnel vision and it’s hard to get out of it. I repeat myself because my experiences beyond the imaginary world I’m living in are limited for the time being. I’m not the best friend or partner during these times. I get so focused on what needs to be accomplished, I tend to overlook everything else. I don’t return text messages in a timely manner (if at all). I don’t tend to call you back. I don’t want to go get coffee and chat. All I want to do is go into my little bubble and create.

These phases don’t always last very long. Partly because they’re emotionally and physically exhausting to uphold. But when I’m in them, I’m completely immersed. No coming up for air.

I don’t know why. It’s in my nature. I’ll probably always do it. I enjoy it. It makes me feel the most alive.

I often joke that if I have 1,000 things to do, 998 of them will get done. If I have 1 thing to do, it will not get done. I will do anything but that one thing. So I keep a long list of to do’s to make sure I get things ta-done.

November will be a month where I know in advance I’m pushing my limits. Here are just a few things on the docket: I’ll be performing in two sketch shows with Second City which will require some rehearsal and prep time of course, four stand up show cases which will require keeping my skills and sets sharp and almost daily open mics, a short film, two podcast episodes, a few segments for a potential pilot, writing/starring/filming/co-producing a web series, and writing a novel on top of all of it and recording/editing/uploading daily vlogs documenting the writing journey. And, if I’m lucky, more things will be added to that list.  All in the span of one month.

Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping up this fabulous blog, my Femoir blog, and working out regularly.

Did I mention I have a full-time day job and spend most weekends babysitting? That, too.

The most wonderful time of the year will be especially wonderful if I can pull off the miracle of accomplishing all of the above-listed stuff.

I’m going into the abyss. I’ve already started by descent. My apologies for my temporary absence. I’ll see you again in December.

Wish me luck.

Have you ever found yourself so completely focused on a particular project, that you let so many other things fall by the wayside? Do you care when this happens? Do you notice it? CAN YOU HELP ME?

Your Sh*t Stinks

Everyone’s does!

I went to an open mic last week where you get a little feedback afterwards. I find feedback can be super helpful. I’m lucky enough to get out in the comedy world enough that now many of my friends are comedians so they’ll give me ideas and feedback offstage even when it’s not considered part of the mic itself. Sometimes just a simple word choice can make a big difference in a joke. But sometimes it’s great to hear from strangers you don’t know at all what ideas they may have for your bits and how they perceived your act. Getting feedback is absolutely necessary in this world. Especially when you’re still hitting up open mics so the feedback you’d normally get of laughter (or not) isn’t as easy to elicit because it’s not a regular show with regular people.

I’m getting off my point.

So I went to this open mic and a person went up with their notes and did their set. I’m deliberately keeping this as neutral as possible because this is not an attack on the person itself. It’s an attack on the idea they represented-fairly or unfairly- in the small interaction we had. And their set was fine. It was pretty well structured, they had clearly taken the time to write their jokes out and put them in an order that fit well within the time limit they were given. It was pretty ok. They had some good ideas and some ok jokes.

I was not totally sold on the performance. The biggest reason being they were so practiced and so rigidly on their notes that it didn’t feel like a conversation. And as a person who has a solo show and who does stand up as well, I have learned to feel the difference as both a performer and an audience. No matter how structured and rigid the jokes may be for the best stand up comedian who has practiced them thousands of times for hours, most of them still deliver them like they’re in a conversation with you. The good ones at least. That’s what differentiates Bill Burr’s one hour stand up special from Jon Leguizamo’s one man solo show. Both are essentially one man talking onstage for a long ass time. But one feels like a conversation where you can jump in and participate at any time, and the other feels like a confession where you need to stay quiet and listen to take it all in. That’s the general difference.

So this person felt like they were performing a crafted jokey solo piece. They weren’t really making eye contact. They were choosing a point in the room to look at when they weren’t looking at their notes. They listened for laughter but seemed to expect it and didn’t enjoy it when it happened. They were present for themselves but not really for the audience.

And- like I said- they’re jokes were ok. But just that. OK.

Then they got feedback. And this is when they lost me. I didn’t say much because I didn’t really know them and I would have to see them a few more times to know their style and voice before I think I could say anything helpful. And there really is no wrong in this world so they could theoretically create a stand up voice that’s more rigid and solo showy. I could buy that. But some other people gave feedback. And the look on this persons face was so… cocky. Like “Yeah. I know. I’m pretty freaking awesome at this. I’m pretty freaking awesome at everything I do.”

Now don’t get me wrong- I love confidence. I’ll buy all day long if you’re selling to me that you’re confident. But I think a major part of being confident is being open to feedback. Or even just being open to the world around you. Not being closed off and so sure of yourself that the mere peasants around you can offer you no help. The King isn’t confident. He’s cocky. The warrior who has to lead the troops in battle- he’s confident. Because he’s present. And practiced. And willing to take risks.

I was ok with this performance until I realized this person thought their shit didn’t stink. Then they lost me. Their shit stinks. Everyone’s shit stinks. That’s the whole point of going and trying is to get out all the shit and let it stink. And then you find the least stinky part and try to make stink a little less. And maybe, eventually, you can get a small bit of shit that doesn’t stink as badly as when you first started shitting. And maybe eventually parts of it don’t stink at all. Until maybe you have a tiny amount of shit that smells like roses. And you go show that to people. And it’s taken lots of hours and work and years. And you’re proud of it. As you should be. It’s very impressive that you somehow shit roses. And roses smell better than shit.

I really got on a poop tangent there.

My point is this- you have to be open to the fact that not everything you do or create is going to be good immediately. As much fun as it is to hear “good job” and as necessary as it is once in a while, it’s much more helpful to hear feedback that actually makes your performance better. You’ll know you did a good job when you feel it. When people are laughing. When you look over your set and see that every word, phrase, and intonation are perfectly in place as a succinct set up or punchline and nothing is lost. If there are any wasted parts or parts that don’t get giant guffaws- you don’t have a perfect set yet. There’s room for improvement. Your shit still stinks.

The greatest of the great in any craft recognize that they have to continue to practice in order to maintain their skill level and get better. And in order to realize you need to practice, you need to be open to the fact that there is plenty of room for improvement.

And if you’re a stand up comedian and you bring up notes, cool, but still make me feel like we’re in a conversation with each other. Make eye contact. Be present in the moment. Enjoy telling your jokes as much as we enjoy hearing them. Enjoy screwing up if it happens.  The audience is always doing you the bigger favor, so treat them with the respect they deserve and be present with them while you’re on the mic.

Enjoy bombing. And get used to it. Maybe at this mic with your friends you felt like you were awesome. Great. Good for you. Those feelings will keep you coming back for more and keep your hope alive when you do a dozen rooms filled with strangers the rest of the week who don’t care about you at all. Come do some of the other rooms in LA and you’ll feel what it is to bomb with material you thought was amazing. You’ll be humbled. You’ll realize you need to work more. You’ll have thicker skin in every aspect of your life. You’ll appreciate your friends and the nights when you’re on so much more. You’ll realize that this is all part of a journey of self discovery to find your voice onstage and off. And you can appreciate the ups and downs equally while on that journey because they both serve you. And you’ll be a better person because of it. 

Your shit stinks. And that’s ok.  Everyone’s does. Recognize it then get to work.

Please let the teacher teach

I went to a workshop the other day for stand up comedy. I’ve been becoming obsessed with it lately, and this workshop was just a one-time fundraiser taught by a guy who’s been doing stand up for over 30 years. I was hesitant to sign up at first because I don’t think you can “learn comedy” in a classroom setting, (despite the fact that I’ve literally spent thousands on improv classes…) but I figured even if I learned one thing from this guy, it’d be worth it.

And I was so glad that I went. I learned a lot of things from this seasoned pro. He didn’t treat it like a super-serious class where we all needed to walk out as professional stand up comedians, he basically just talked about the history of stand up in Los Angeles, gave us a ton of helpful industry and technical tips, and discussed how he comes up with and works on his material. It was fan-freaking-tastic.

The only drawback were some of the other people in the class. I do not consider myself an expert by any means at stand up comedy, but I was the only person in the room who even had done open mics, let alone a couple stand up comedy shows. Everyone else seemed to be there to get the courage to start doing open mics, or to hopefully hear that there is some loophole around having to do open mics in order to become a better stand up comedian (hint: Unfortunately, in this day and age…there is NOT. Do open mics. Learn to love their suckiness).

Let me be clear- I’ve got nothing against people who are at different places in their career or what they goals and motivations are for taking any class. We’re all there to learn and make new friends and connections.

My problem comes from people, like the ones in my class, who wasted my and everyone else’s time by arguing with the teacher on minuscule and meaningless points. For example, at one point we all approached the mic and held it as if to start our set. A quirky girl approached it in an odd way. Granted, she was all-around quirky so she wasn’t going to look like your average person no matter how she approached it, but our teacher said he didn’t buy it and had her try it again.

Immediately, several people in my class started arguing with him saying they thought she was funny and quirky and was being true to herself in her approach. Our teacher said he understood that, but his argument was that unless you’ve got a whole set about how quirky you are in place, it’s  a weaker start than the more “average” approach with confidence. And then a small amount of chaos ensued where students were arguing with the teacher about the issue.

Part of me gets it. Comedy and entertainment are arts, not sciences. If you back up any choice you make with total confidence, most audiences will buy it. As one of my favorite improv teachers says, “If you sell it, they will buy it.” I could see how you could think that one man’s opinion of how you walk to the microphone stand is too minuscule and that you didn’t see any problem with it and you should always and completely be true to yourself and audiences will love you. I’m empathetic to that perspective. I get it. And I sort of buy it.

What I don’t get, however, is why a bunch of 20-somethings who’ve never even done three minutes of stand up comedy at an open mic, would waste everyone’s time arguing with a teacher who was already a seasoned vet before they were born. I didn’t pay for this workshop so you could get in an argument on comedy theory or philosophy. I like to discuss those things, but only when it’s two people who have actual performance and life experience under their belt. Besides, you don’t know how to be true to yourself onstage until you’ve spent thousands of hours onstage. Spoiler alert- your stand up persona is not actually you. It’s a persona. So choose wisely.

Eventually, our teacher just shut down the argument by essentially saying, “I hear what you’re saying. And I’m not saying it’s wrong. But I’m just saying, there is a part of me right in my gut that tells me it’s not a great move to make. I can’t give you logic or explain it further than that. That’s just it.” And since you can’t argue with a feeling, the other students shut up. Finally.

My point is, the teacher was there to teach us. If you disagree with him based on a huge amount of your own experience otherwise, then discuss it with him in a productive way or maybe during the break. Don’t waste my time trying to be told your ideas are right. I didn’t pay to listen to you talk. I paid to listen to the pro. Besides, if you really disagree, just don’t do what he says! Like I said, it’s an art not a science- so you could be right. Then again, you could trust that the 30+ year veteran comedian who has stood before crowds of thousands and thousands of people and has thousands of hours of experience might have an idea of how to help you when you’re first starting out. Once you have his experience, you can make up your own rules. Until then, maybe try his out.

You did, after all, pay him to teach you. So shut up. And let the teacher teach.

My Dearest Stand Up Comedians,

Hi. Briana here. Your friend and colleague. Your peer. Your buddy. Your fan.

I’ve been hitting up a few open mics in a great effort to get more involved in the stand up community and challenging myself. So far, I’ve done a handful and it has been a really great experience. I wanted to take a moment to dispel a little idea people seem to have about stand up comics once and for all.

Stand up comics are supportive, nice, open, kind, and funny people who love to laugh.

I’m not saying when you go to an open mic, immediately expect to have a room of people who are going to guffaw at you like a bunch of drunk non-comedians. That’s unrealistic and unfair. Comedians have a higher standard. Everyone who wants their 3-5 minutes on that stage spends a good portion of their free time studying, breathing, and practicing jokes. We’re going to have higher standards to get a laugh. We can’t help it. It’s what we do. If we think your joke is obvious- even if it would kill for a crowd of drunk hillbillies on a Saturday night- it’s not going to make a room full of comics laugh. And that’s not because they don’t want to. It’s because you have to do better.

If anything, comedians are people who love laughter more than the average bear. (And if I’ve learned anything from the Muppets, bears love to laugh) We’re trying to make a living out of laughter. We desperately want to laugh. We love laughing. We want you to make us laugh. Please. But in order to do so, you’ll need to do your homework.

I’ve been at a few open mics now where I see comedians start to get frustrated at the crowd. They make snide comments like, “Isn’t it great how supportive comics are to each other?” or “Great, a room full of comics. This should be great…”

Well, guess what, snide-commenters? You’ve got the worst attitudes ever and I hope you take some time to work on it before you go back onstage and blame me for your lack of preparedness. Because here’s the reality check: Comics are supportive of each other. I’m sitting in a podunk coffee shop sipping an expensive latte and quietly listening to you, aren’t I? I’ve left work early to make sure I can sit at the club and listen to you try out your material. Sure, I’m waiting for my time to get up, but in the meantime, I’m listening to you. You’re a comic. What more could you ask for than someone to listen to you? So don’t waste your or my precious time by blaming me for not being supportive. What more do you want from me? A back-rub and Hallmark card thanking you profusely for getting up and doing a rambling complaint about your insecurities with no foreseeable punchline or original observation in the entire tirade?

And sometimes, I’m smiling. Or chuckling. And that’s the most you’re going to get from me. No, tears are not forming in my eyes. I listen to and write tons and tons and tons of jokes every single day. I see the 1’s and o’s in your matrix pattern. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, it just means know your audience. And by knowing your audience, you can curb your expectations.

I’ve seen comics blame a crowd of comics for being a tough crowd after the person in front of them had everyone cracking up hysterically. How can a crowd be that tough if moments ago we were all laughing? Maybe you’re just not doing as well as the guy before you. Ever think of that?

The second a comic makes a comment about how tough the audience is because it’s a bunch of comics is the second I want them to get offstage and stop wasting their time so I can get a chance to get onstage and practice the jokes I’ve been writing diligently at home, hoping I could get three minutes on a microphone in front of anyone to see how they do.

I’m certainly not saying people who don’t kill at open mics should give up immediately. Not at all. In fact, I think it’s really exciting and fun to be there while people are brainstorming their ideas out loud. It’s thrilling, in fact, to be there the first time a comic realizes a joke works. And it’s even fun to hear how the same jokes told every day can transform and hit differently in different rooms (because we all know the same comics frequent the same places to work on their set).

Maybe you had more confidence delivering that joke today. Maybe you were really nervous yesterday. Maybe you were having a great day. Who knows! Hopefully you can figure out the choices you can make onstage that will get you the highest percentage chance of getting laughs the entire time and eventually you can build your set with that. That, to me, is what makes open mics genuinely exciting and fun.

So don’t worry if you bomb. Don’t worry if you screwed up the wording of a joke. Don’t worry if you forgot something. Don’t worry if nobody is keeling over with laughter. Don’t worry if you don’t get a standing ovation. Just enjoy your time onstage and see what happens.

If you need everyone to laugh loudly and hysterically at your every breath, go do five minutes in front of a bunch of seven-year-olds, have a bag of candy with you, and promise them the person who laughs the longest and loudest will get the most candy.  I promise you’ll get a great response.

So for the love of god my dear sweet fellow up-and-coming comics, stop saying other comics aren’t supportive of each other. Just keep working on your jokes and your voice, grow tougher skin, and relish in the fact that you’ve got a room full of people listening to you.

Dagnabbit.