I hate it when comedians refer to their shows as “gigs.”
Gigs are for musicians. And as much as comedians would like to think that they are rock stars, they are not.
A musician must have some quantifiable ability in order to be allowed to perform in front of a paying crowd. He or she must be able to play an instrument, or carry a tune, or he or she will be quickly removed from the stage they have been given the opportunity to perform upon.
Stand-up comedians must meet no such requirements.
I have spent the better part of the last four years pursuing my life-long dream to be a comedian. I was terrible the first time I got on stage. I’m better now, but I still have a long way to go. And a lot of work yet to do.
Over the course of the last four years, I have met some talented, hard-working people who are serious about mastering the art of comedy.
I have also met many people who call themselves “comedians,” yet they are not funny. Not even a little bit. They can’t (or don't) write, have little or no stage presence and are not particularly intelligent. In my opinion, you need to have all of those things before you can call yourself a comedian.
I am not trying to be curmudgeonly. I believe in the power of aspirational thinking. “You must BELIEVE in order to ACHIEVE,” or whatever motivational drivel gets not-particularly-intelligent passive people to buy books written by not-particularly-intelligent aggressive people. But, stand-up comedy seems to attract a number of people who desperately want fame and fortune, yet have no particular talent, other than the ability to speak.
Because, when it comes down to it, as long as you can speak you can ostensibly call yourself a stand-up comedian.
Stand-up is unique in this respect. If I can’t play the bass, I can’t call myself a bass player. I can, but it would soon become obvious that I was lying. I would like very much to be able to play the theme from “Barney Miller” to impress the ladies, but I can’t. So I don’t call myself a bass player.
Many comedians do not let the complete let lack of any recognizable talent stand in the way of being a “comedian.”
I am not saying that I am the best comedian in the world. Far from it.
As stated previously I don’t even think of myself as a comedian. Yet. I would like to be a comedian some day, but I am not one yet. I am well aware of where I am in terms of my development - as a comedian and as a human being.
Only a truly intelligent person knows how intelligent he or she really is.
Pursuing a career in stand-up comedy is an endurance test. It’s a hard fight, and the best man (or woman) does not always win. In fact, in New York City “club” comedy, the opposite is often the case.
Many comedians would never write something negative about an established comedy club in a public forum (like a blog). That’s because many comedians live in fear. And rightly so. They fear being banned from this club, or that club. Or they fear someone in a position of authority engaging in some sort of mafia-style hit against their reputation. Again, rightly so.
In my experience, the people in positions of authority in standup comedy (at least here in New York City) are some of the creepiest, low-rent weasels I have ever had the misfortune of interacting with.
That saddens me, because stand-up comedy is an art form I have always loved, and had enormous respect for. But today, in the strata of the entertainment industry, stand-up is one level above stripping.
Actually that’s not really true. Strippers make money. Comedians don’t.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Jerry Seinfeld did very well for himself with a sitcom you may have heard of. And Dane Cook made it to the cover of “Rolling Stone” by playing every college in the country. But behind the handful of comedians who have been promoted to the next level, there are thousands and thousands of others bottlenecking up The Comedy Highway.
This creates what an economist would call a “buyer’s market.” If there are one hundred people who are willing to do what you do for less – or no – money, why should I hire you? Because you work hard? Ha! Because you write every day? Ho! Because you’re funny? Who cares? Because you’re smart? Definitely not!
Comedy clubs, for the most part, have been colonized by the low-brow. The level of discourse in your average comedy show rarely rises above that of magazines like “Maxim.” But at least “Maxim” has hot chicks to look at.
Too often, stand-up comedy is ugly, mean and ignorant. And the smart person who wants to raise the level of discourse must navigate this minefield of stupidity and ignorance and bear down in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, just to be able to pursue their dream. And often they must compromise their personal integrity in order to achieve any degress of success
Most intelligent, well-educated people I know would never even consider going to a comedy club. Why? When did this happen?
This dilemma gave rise to the “alternative comedy” movement, but that did not solve the problem. I have watched - and performed in - many alternative comedy shows, and I have learned an important fact: “alternative” is frequently a euphemism for “not funny.”
And comedy that is not funny is not comedy. They call it “stand-up comedy” not “standup weirdness,” or “stand-up thoughtfulness.” I have no issue with performance art. It’s a completely viable form of self-expression. But it’s not standup comedy.
Standup comedy is a truly unique art form. It is a combination of well-constructed writing, engaging stage presence and a unique point-of-view, the combination of which results in the involuntary response of laughter.
Anything less is a pale imitation.
Becoming a working, professional standup comedian is sort of like becoming president. Does the best-qualified person get the job? Of course not. It’s all about who you know, and how much bullshit you’re willing to put up.
Somewhere, in an alternate reality, George W. Bush is doing a "gig" at P.J. McYuck-Yuck's in Des Moines.
And he’s doing a shitty job there too.