When you watch comedy specials from the past, you see nice polite audiences in theaters listening to everything the comedian is saying. The comedian can take his time to set up long complex bits and stories, because the audience has a great attention span and there’s an aura of silence in the room so everyone can pay attention. Comedy in practice is NOT AT ALL like this. Maybe on a good day. Most of the time you are competing with something. The noise of a server ordering drinks in a club. The noise of bar scum yelling at the game in a bar. The noise of comedians chatting about their hopeless lives in an open mic. Sometimes rooms of people are just drunk and theres no usher or security to keep them in check. At this point its on you, the comedian to sink or swim. Some comedians are generally sinkers in this case. They will give up. If no one is paying attention, or its gonna take a shitload of effort, why try? Some will swim. Most often unsuccessfully, but they are going through the motions. My policy is always swim to survival. I’ll try my hardest to get everyone in, and then when I have their attention I can start to rest a little.
Tonight I did the Laugh Factory Casino in San Manuel. I brought Julian, my documentary director and filmer. Security scolded us for having a camera, and said we couldn’t film in there. There was 10 cops in the room. I’d heard horror stories of this place. That they dont pay attention at all. They will eat you alive. And there’s security there for a reason. My goal was just to get them the best I could and get out. I was up first. I go quick with the one liners and fast paced stuff…but note this is an ‘urban’ room, so higher brow shit won’t fly. You gotta bring that heat from the street. How I learned this growing up in Fremont, California, I don’t know. The mic volume is really low, and people start to complain, so I start to yell so they can hear me better. Finally, I”m starting to get them in. Joke, joke, joke, joke…rapid fire. One break and you die. Finally I have most of the room in, and then I do my History bit, which is a lot of detail, but I took a risk, fully committed, and it paid off. I got the applause break I wanted. Now the whole room wants to watch. They turn up the mic, and I finish off with 5 minutes of sex bits, yes, saving the best for last. Now I’m ripping it, I close with my eating p**** segment, which is gold for this room, and walk off a champ.
It was a nice reality check, after doing a bunch of pussyfooting rooms in Hollywood for a week. Its part of what I consider a healthy regimen for being a good comedian. Sure, anyone can play to a packed room of attentive audience members. Any funny words can get laughs there. But can your words tame the beasts?