Day 826: Guy tells me he loved my work on Last Comic Standing

Right, I’ve never been on Last Comic Standing, but I’ll take a compliment when I can get one. After rocking a crowd of 7 in the Tenderloin in SF, a guy comes up and tells me that he had recognized me from LCS, and that he just knew it was me the whole time, because he remembers how funny I was on the show. I said thanks man, that means a lot.

Every now and then you’ll get mixed up with someone else in comedy…well unless you have some atypical look for a comedian, like being attractive or looking well rested. I’ve been mixed up with a fair amount of comedians, all of them being Indian. Not sure exactly why, as I am not Indian.

Most often it’s being mistaken for my buddy Hasan Minhaj, which I take as a compliment because he is good looking and has great hair. One night I was going to a show of mine at Red Rock on Sunset, and the bouncer said I had to pay $5. I say, no I’m a comedian performing. He looks at me skeptically, then looks at a show flyer on the door, which wasn’t even for the show that night, but it had Hasan on it. He quickly says, oh so sorry, I see you! Come on in!

Early in my career people would tell me I resembled an established comedian, Arj Barker. It was for a few reasons, because I had semi long hair and semi brown skin like he does, and when I started out I liked to yell on stage, and so did he. But people would come up to me and say I was a lot like Arj because I yell on stage. Funny because I could name about 30 other comedians who yell on stage, but I’m the only one who happens to look like him. People just have a hard time admitting being racist. It really used to frustrate me how much people liked me to Arj, so much so that I stopped yelling on stage just to get them off my back, and eventually I cut my hair. What bothered me the most is that I rarely watched Arj perform, but every time I did I had to admit to myself that I really did like him, probably because we had a similar outlook on things. But what else can you expect from two semi-brown comedians who grew up in the Bay Area? Arg, so frustrating.

However, one time in Pleasanton after a show a hot girl came up to me and said, I just saw you on Letterman! This was right after Arj appeared on Letterman. I was like, ‘thanks, but I don’t…’ She cuts me off, ‘no you were great!’. And so I didn’t say anything else. So we end up going on a few dates. Thanks Arj for that assist! Finally, after seeing each other a few weeks, we are about to seal the deal one night, and I’m feeling guilty, so I tell her that it wasn’t me on Letterman. She takes a step back, thinks about it, and then says, ‘eh it’s okay, I really like you anyway.’ Because as much as I look like any other comedian, this likeability is all Sammy Obeid.

Day 825: Choosing your set for a competition

Tommy T’s competition preliminaries, Friday late show. First rule of competitions, likeability precedes funny. Thus, ‘winning’ the crowd over is the goal as opposed to just making them laugh. So, personal jokes do the best, jokes about you, that are unique and memorable. That’s why you’ll always see me talking about being Lebanese in competitions, because people will grapple onto that in their heads when remembering me. Not Lebanese? Tough, just quit comedy.

After your set is laced with personal touches, make sure you do your best, strongest jokes. That’s my formula, start personal, and then work your way into those killer bits once you have them on your side. These are kind of general rules of comedy, but they become even more paramount in competitions. That’s why you’ll always see me talking about being Lebanese and later doing my bear joke. Don’t have a bear joke? Hang yourself.

Choose your jokes and order wisely, so that you don’t have to spend too much time on transitions. Packing in the punches is important so you want jokes that flow from one to the next with ease. Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen some egregious errors in this department, so don’t be one of them. Also make sure your jokes have variety, because people can see when you stick on one style or subject. For instance, I have a lot of racial jokes, and some of them are my strongest, must haves in a competition set, so I do my best to break them up. Like lebanese joke, then gay joke, then bear joke. Don’t have a gay joke? What are you, original?

Obviously closing strong is important, so do that. The trick here is closing with something that you absolutely know will work. Closing on a risk is no bueno. So for Tommy T’s late show, I knew closing with my history bit might be risky, so I chose closing on my raunchier horny joke, because I know it will kill at Tommy’s late show. Don’t have a raunchy joke? That’s right, of course you do. Everyone does. Everyone.

Days 823-824: Killing at Places you once Bombed

Feels good doesn’t it? You were too new, or the vibe was off, and you ate it that night. But then you come back to that same venue, maybe the next night, maybe years later? And you absolutely….don’t suck…you do well. Maybe you kill, that’s even better. For me it’s kind of a necessary part of marking my progress. If I bomb somewhere, I absolutely have to go back to make sure I kill there. Sometimes it was just the crowd that night, but sometimes it’s that particular venue/stage/type of crowd, and you need to go back in for redemption.

Last two nights I headlined Club 9 Lives in Gilroy and the Morgan Hill Playhouse, in Morgan HIll, a two night run. Now I never bombed at either. In fact I’ve done well every time. But the first and second time I headlined these rooms, in 2010 and 2011 respectively, I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, as I should have as a headliner. I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t strong enough to handle that smaller, older, more conservative crowd. But now with 2 more years passing, and over 700 days of comedy, I come back, and get those applause breaks I was looking for originally from that same crowd. And it felt effortless.

Am I reducing success in comedy to objective standards of killing it via quantifying laughter or applause breaks? Maybe. Sure, there’s many qualitative aspects to comedy. But what matters the most, is if it felt natural and effortless, and this did. So what I’m saying it. Keep performing as much as you can, and if you bomb somewhere, go back and kill it there, and don’t accept your results until it feels effortless.

I just realized how ridiculous I sound right now. Like, yes, kids, work hard, and you too can one day do a two night run in Gilroy and Morgan Hill. Ugh, I should go back into teaching…where you just keep bombing no matter how many times you come back to the same room.

Day 822: B material

‘I’m just working out some stuff tonight’ Of course you are. Famous last words before bombing.

Well sometimes good things come to fruition when working out stuff, but most often, you’ll turn a show into a war zone, where nothing is certain. That’s why when I do my B material, I make calculated choices.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to work on your B’s. Because B’s can one day turn to A’s, which can turn to A +’s. I’ve seen it happen many times. My Indian puns bit started off as a B, and then I added, trimmed, and structured and now it’s an A+. My belief actually, is that any B can be an A if you find a way. Yea, that rhymes for a reason

So yea, work out your B’s. But make sure you choose a show that’s low pressure, the crowd isn’t too big, or they are very merciful. And have back up plans. Intersperse with A’s. I’ve been doing this for so long, so I take greater risks. I’ll do C’s interspersed with B’s, and then if I’m really losing them, throw in the A’s.

How do you know if a joke is a B or an A or a C? It depends on your standards. For me, A’s kill, most of the time. B’s get some laughs but don’t really kill. C’s seem funny, but don’t really get that many laughs. D’s suck. You thought I was gonna say D’s nuts didn’t you? No, that would be a B joke.

Day 821: Fake Laughing

I’ve been accused of it many times, the fake laugh. Look, I’ve been around comedy for 820 days straight, do you really expect my laugh to be pure and pristine? You’re lucky if you get a fake laugh from me, that means I care!

Some comedians despise the fake laugh, because they take it as an insult. I actually prefer it to silence. I mean I’d rather have a crowd of fake laughers than a crowd of silent susan’s (I made that term up). Many fake laughs at once just sounds like regular laughs, so what difference does it make, just show me that you’re alive.

My comic piers don’t like pitching jokes to me because I don’t laugh. First of all, I’m sorry that your joke didn’t make me laugh, jeez. Maybe write something more edgy or ridiculous, or a really bad pun. That’s the kind of stuff I laugh at…really bad comedy…the backs of laffy taffy wrappers. I tell comics that if I really laugh at your joke it’s probably horrible, and when I don’t laugh, you might be on to something.

I honestly can’t even tell when I’m genuinely laughing anymore. That’s why I can’t wait until I quit comedy, to get my laugh back. I let you all have the laughs, and had to sacrifice mine for it? Not fair. I’m gonna get it back from you all one day. And then I’m gonna go to these open mics and show these open mikers that I care. I really don’t care though. I just don’t want anyone to hate me. That’s why I fake laugh. And if everyone in the world would were like me, no comedian would ever bomb.

Day 820: Stage Presence

A starting comedian may often hear this after a show, “Hey! You’ve got great stage presence.” It’s often a polite way of saying, your jokes suck but keep trying. Some comedians may never hear this because even their stage presence is lacking.

What exactly is stage presence? People would say it’s the way you command people’s attention when you’re on stage. You have the ability to captivate people just by being up there. Part of it has to do with being calm and confident, part of it also may be your look, are you wearing a bright color? Are you fun to look at?

How does one increase their stage presence? The answer is simple: go on stage more. I’ve come up with a simple mathematical formula to prove it. Stage presence is the sum of all the time you’ve spent on stage during your life. In math terms, SP = ∑(mi) where mi is the number of minutes of your ith set, and we add across all i’s that you’ve done.

Reasons why this formula works? Because the more time you spend on stage the more you will feel comfortable, focused, and present. It’s that simple. Just being on stage, even if you suck, or are not well received, or not even saying anything, but people are watching, it counts. Heck, I’ve lied down on stage and closed my eyes at a few open mics just to clock in more time.

So essentially, stage presence is a quantity of time. I’m currently wielding over 3,000 hours of stage presence, hoping to get to 10,000 one day. It’s easier said than done, and I’ve accomplished about 1,000 of those hours during this streak. Note that acting, doing improv, playing music, and other kinds of performances count as well. Get those hours!

Tonight I did two really rough open mics, and honestly don’t feel like I got much out of them joke-wise, but I know my SP did nothing but surge (by about 15 min).

Today a girl who saw me at a show recently, texted me, “Hey, you had great presents up there :)” Now, I think she was flirting, though not entirely sure…but I’m pretty sure that she mistakenly wrote presents instead of presence. If she really meant to write presents, then she was DEFINITELY flirting, because that has some suggestive innuendo behind it. But I think she made an honest mistake. So I texted back, I’m glad you enjoyed my gifts. And she didn’t get it. Because even with 3,000 + hours of SP, I still can’t attract a girl who speaks proper English. But hey, she may not be great with words, but she’s got some great off-stage presence.

Day 819: ‘I’m a Comedian, I have no Health Insurance’

Comedians get to enjoy a lot of luxuries that 9-5’ers don’t, like sleeping in, setting our own hours, and ample vacation days. But we also give up some of the perks of real jobs, like health insurance and respect. It’s a classic comedian line, ‘I have no health insurance’, usually used when you ask them to go for a jog or a hike, or give you a ride somewhere. ‘I have no health insurance, so I can’t take any risks’. You can’t go for a walk to the store?

A few years ago, after not being able to stay on my parent’s plan (the age 26 cutoff), I signed up for health insurance through Kaiser. I recommend to other comedians, if you don’t have insurance, you should get it. Because you’re a comedian. You already don’t know how to take care of yourself. You could die next week with the lifestyle you live.

Last night was a big scare for me. This will probably sound stupid. I was hosting my show at Three Clubs on Vine, which returned after a year hiatus. In the middle of the show I had ordered thai food from a restaurant across the street. The back patio of Three Clubs is guarded by a chain that is strung between two poles, and it’s about hips height. So upon one glance, I’m thinking, yea I can clear this sh*t. So i get a running start and then jump over the rope, and I make it! As I’m in the air I realize I made it! Oh wait, no I didn’t, my right foot didn’t clear the chain and now I’m falling straight face down on the pavement. The chain cuts into my shin as my arms and legs break my fall. There’s blood and agony and 3 comedians laughing at me. Dammit, why did people have to see that?

That moment where I’m on the ground in pain, was scary. I thought oh sh*t, if I broke my leg, am I covered? Will I ever walk again? Can I afford an ambulance? Is this the end of my career? And then I realized, it’s all good, I have health insurance! That’s why I got it. Because this types of sh*t happens. I don’t think my leg is broken but I can see it swelling up, and feel it throbbing. But I can take pain, cmon! I’m a comedian.

Still hearing the laughter of my comrades, none of whom have come to help get me up, I pull myself up like nothing happened, and limp into the Thai restaurant to get my food. Life goes on.

Day 818: Montreal Audition, Take 3

Back when I started comedy, the industry was simple, there were 3 things you had to do to make it. Work hard, get on myspace, and get to the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival. Once you get to the festival, your career is taken care of. It’s not that simple any more.

Now there’s all this other garbage, like twitter, youtube videos, podcasts, blogs, i-tunes, xm radio, and just too many comedians. Not every one of us is gonna make it, in fact most of us won’t. The same breaks that used to matter a lot, simply can’t anymore due to the sheer number of us trying to make it. Even a great festival like Montreal can’t always propel you like it used to. But it’s still worth a shot.

This is my third year auditioning for Montreal. The first time I was 2.5 years in, back in SF, and I wasn’t really focused. Then last year, 4.5 years in, made it to callbacks in LA, and then didn’t get chosen. Now I’m 5.5 years in and I did my first round audition yesterday. It’s taped, and sent to the producers, so you won’t know if you are moving on for a while. I performed at the West Side Theatre in Santa Monica, near the promenade. There was maybe 30 people in the crowd, and I feel like I did well, but who knows how it will look on tape. It’s one of those situations where I can choose to think negatively or positively about it, because it’s not like it was clear cut. So I’m kind of putting this one in the hands of fate.

They say 3rd times a charm, but they also say 3 strikes your out. But if by out, they mean out of the country, then I’ll be seeing you soon, Canada!

Day 817: Practicing Good Sets on Bad Crowds

When you have an audition or a special show coming up, it’s a good idea to practice your set…on a real crowd, not in front of the mirror. Starting comedians always think that you can practice ‘your lines’ to yourself. Haha, I remember those days. No, you need a crowd. And fairly often, a good crowd will not be available.

Being an underestablished comedian, when I have to practice for meaningful sets, usually the best I can do is at open mics. I have to do my A+ 7 minutes in front of 3 people, 2 of which are on the phone. These sets always go quicker than they are supposed to, because no one is laughing. So remember, add 30 seconds for laughter when you do the real thing.

Tonight I was practicing my Montreal audition set. I did 2 runs of it at Marty’s open mic, once for 3 people, and again for 6. I got a laugh here or there, but it was painful, and I plowed through it. But it was well worth it, because then I ran over to the sold out Irvine Improv and did the same set for over 300 people and watched it explode.

A lot of comedians will avoid doing their good sets for bad crowds because they are afraid it will lower the confidence of their material after watching it bomb. True, we’ve all been there. But at some point you let that go, and the point at which it doesn’t even matter if you watch it bomb once or twice or maybe even more, but you are still confident in that material…that’s when you become infinitely stronger, in my opinion.

I told my roommate Nick West the other day, a good joke is one which, even if it bombs at a given time, you still have the balls to tell it again. Because good is always subjective. You can’t please everyone. Even my best jokes will bomb in the right situation. But because I believe in them, they are good. And sometimes you just have to watch your jokes bomb to see just how much you really believe in them. The same goes for your favorite comics. If I bomb and you still believe in me, then you are a true fan. Though, if I bomb every time and you still believe in me, you have a twisted sense of humor.

Day 816: Social Media and Timesucking

Have you ever gone on your computer to get a file, and then less than a minute later you’re on facebook, scrolling the news feed wondering, wait, how did I get here? It’s like a black hole where all your friends are. In 2009, China banned facebook…same year, China becomes the world’s leading economic superpower. Coincidence? No that’s what happens when people actually do work at their work.

As a comedian, being on social media sites is pretty inevitable, if you really want to make something of yourself. It sucks, because otherwise I would have banned facebook completely from my life. But no, because I have to go on and promote myself, and interact with people for business purposes, I also have to see my friend’s little doggie pics. And I admit they are cute.

One month, I took facebook off of my bookmarks so that I wouldn’t be tempted to go to it all the time. It backfired. I still went on just as much, but now instead I had to google ‘facebook’ and click on it, which added an extra 2 seconds every time…what was intended to be a productive move, costed me about 30 extra minutes that month.

The best way is to just say eff it, I’m not going on. But then you worry, shoot, what if someone is messaging me, trying to book me for a show tonight, and I’m gonna miss it! And then you check and there’s nothing. And then you stop checking for 4 hours, and someone messages you offering you free money, but you missed it. You can’t win.

That’s why it’s important to find some kind of balance. I aim to make sure that when I’m on my computer or phone its for specific, useful things…messaging someone, or blogging, or writing. Then keep social media secondary. I obviously haven’t implemented this plan yet. That’s why it took me 7 days to write this post.

Day 815: College Tour Day 1, UT Dallas

For years, I’ve wanted to play colleges, ‘get in’ the college market, build that youth fan base, play for those warm young giggling crowds, and get that college money…and now it’s finally here! After booking over 50 colleges at NACA nationals in Nashville last month, I’ve been getting mentally ready for a lot of traveling. Fortunately, this spring is light for me, just a few scattered colleges, and then for Fall term it will get heavy.

My first date, on the last day of winter, is at the University of Texas in Dallas. I was just here a few months ago and it was nice to surprise my grandma in Dallas with the news that I’d be returning. I wake up before my alarm in my LA apartment, one of those mornings where you just lay there not falling back asleep because you know you will be woken at any minute by a paralyzing alarm. I get out of bed and pack my bags, and my roommate Toby who I had no idea would be up at 7 am, walks in and sees me naked and quickly runs back to his room. My buddy Michael James Benson picks me up and drives me to LAX. I had no idea how bad traffic is at 730. It’s one of those rides where you keep loading your gps directions to see if the ETA changed, and it keeps getting longer and longer, it’s not looking at all like I’ll make my flight. But suddenly things clear up as we hit the carpool lane, and we make it just in time. I run to my gate and fly to Dallas!

My Nana and my great Aunt Ida pick me up at the airport. This was great, normally for colleges you have to rent a car. It’s nice that my first date is like starting with training wheels. They ask if I’m hungry I ask them to take me to a juice place. We find a real good one with lots of raw juice and homemade kombucha. The place is called the Juice Bar, and I get the Purple Haze, with blueberry banana, greek yogurt, and some other stuff. Yum. Then they drop me off at the gym where my grandpa goes. It was an old past time that I’d roll with him to his gym, it’s mostly really old people, moving really slow, I look like a star athlete. I can’t find him in the gym, but I do my thing, and then hit the showers, where I see him (provide your own mental image). We hug, he insists that I use the great lotion they have, like he always does, we get dressed and then drive home. I meditate for 15, and then Nana has cooked us a great dinner of roasted chicken, rice w/ vermicelli, asparagus, and focaccia bread. She’s part Italian.

They lend me the keys to my grandpas SUV (it’s Texas), and I drive to UTD. I’m greeted by the students, who tell me their mascot is the Comets, they don’t have a football team, but they have a kickass chess team. I like them already, my kind of school. Kids start pouring into the auditorium, and then comes in Nana, Ida, and their friend Beth, the golden girls coming in to see me in the midst of a bunch of kids.

The show is just me, so I can do as long as I want. And I do. A full hour. They were in it the whole way, not a dull moment. Colleges are sweet. They take a pic for me and insist I do the ‘whoosh’, which is their school pose. Afterward I sell my Abearica shirts that I just got. I sell 4 and give 2 away, and give out a load of cards. Things are looking good. I just increased my twitter fan base by 5 as of now.

So this is how you do it eh? Travel, perform, promote, and then you’ve made it. Cool. Just gotta repeat this 50 times.