HOME   BACK to the Columnist INDEX SEP-OCT 2003 ISSUE

Bonnie McFarlane is a standup comic and writer based in Los Angeles.

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I'm always a little anxious about performing for New York audiences. I have been booed, hissed, screamed at and hit in the head with a packet of soy sauce. Once I tanked so bad, I stayed to the end of the set so I could shake everyone's hand and say, "Thanks for coming, you piece of shit."

Nothing tests your stand up skills like New York City. I mean, an L.A. audience can hate you just as much but they won't yell out that they'll kill your baby.

So when Comedy Central picked up the tab for me and a bunch of other comics to fly (coach) to NY, stay at the sweet Le Parker Meridien and tape Premium Blend at the John Jay Theater the week of August 6-10th, I decide to think of my trip as an interesting sociological experiment with L.A. comics and the New York comedy scene. And as an empirical study, I needed a "control group," for which I chose my friend, Rylee Newton, L.A. comic extraordinaire, who would be getting her first taste of the city, the clubs and the scene.

The night after Rylee arrives, she and I hook up and head uptown to The Comic Strip. She's procured a regular set for the following night but decides to sign up for a last-minute late night slot to get another performance under her belt before the taping. Nerves jangling, Rylee awaits her first ever New York set. She has the last spot of the night.

I've performed earlier in the line up so we have a lot of time to hang out, watch other acts and goof off at the bar. It's fun doing stand up with another chick. There aren't that many opportunities to do so in L.A. When we are joined by NY comics Lisa Lampanelli Rena Zager and Vanessa Hollingshead, it seems surreal. This is what it must be like for guys all the time, I think.

Sitting in the back of the showroom, we get a taste of the audience. They laugh at a guy with Seinfeld-lite observations and Rylee and I both comment on how good the crowd is. The next act is Rena and she gets hissed at the top of her set. At first it appears that this audience is going to get the best of her, but she is so funny dealing with the situation -- "Thanks for making this my Swan Song, sir" -- the audience ends up cheering as she finishes her set. But the upbeat mood is short lived and the room starts to really deteriorate as Rylee's late night set slowly approaches.

Late Night doesn't have a host. At a certain point the comics just take to introducing the next act. The act before Rylee is endearing but green, and even though she's got a couple of gems, it's not enough to keep the audience focused. When the room is good and loud, she introduces Rylee.

Rylee, like her act, is what one would label neurotic. It's her charm. And she immediately gets their attention. NY crowds are almost always addressed with loud, attention-getting comics. Here was someone displaying her neurosis quietly and without apology. That's not really true. She apologizes all the time. I think her first words at the mic might be, "I'm sorry." Whatever it is, it's funny and Rylee ends up having a great set. But you wouldn't know it talking to her in the cab on the way to The Cellar. "I just, I felt I didn't perform well..." she says and then a hundred variations of that sentiment. "This," she says catching herself," goes on for like, twenty minutes. Sorry."

At the Cellar I have a 1:30. Yes, a.m. And I'm not even the last comic on. Lisa Lampanelli is. I like Lisa. I love watching her. She's funny and ballsy, onstage and off. Rylee nearly fell off her chair as we watched Lisa greet a large black man with a 'Yo, colored dude..."

The Cellar is full of big personalities. It's like an underground pseudo-celebrity factory. The comics with TV shows are like rock stars. As the TV monitors upstairs are tuned into Insomniac with Dave Attell, Dave himself appears and is immediately swarmed by fans (3) as he heads downstairs towards the stage. Rich Vos gets recognized a lot, but often the fans (2) can't quite remember where they've seen him. "Last Comic Standing." he tells them without any hint of irritation. And then proceeds to hit on them. The table "For Cellar Comics Only" often mirrors the same day's Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. Tough Crowd also airs at the bar twice nightly and fans (4) stop by for pictures with Colin and the other show regulars. But here at The Cellar, you don't necessarily need a TV show to get recognized. Sherrod, a funny cellar comic with a big cock, (he told me four times!) gets complimented outside the club by several groups of fans (109) before his set that night. When I asked Sherrod what he thinks of the L.A. comics working the N.Y. clubs that week, he dismisses the whole bunch with a single sentence, "They're gonna eat their balls."

I want to make some fans, but it's so late, the crowd looks so young and I'm so drunk. (Well, not that drunk but it is 1:30 in the morning!) Artie, the show's MC introduces me like this: "Who's ready for some lady comedy??! Girls, you wanna see a chick up here??!!" I ended up having a good set so I've officially changed my intro to, "Who's ready for some lady comedy?!"

After my show, Rylee bocomes engaged in an unwanted exchange with Artie. The best that I can uncover is that it was after 2 and Artie had been hosting since 9 and he was a little on and Rylee and I were a little drunk. We jumped in a cab back to the hotel where…not one other comic is partying in the hotel bar!

My research subject was willing to stay up and that means so am I. Seems the New York comedy scene is a little overwhelming to Rylee's nerves and her neuroses are snowballing. Our remedy? Drink until the bar closes and then continue the discussion in my room. Rylee attempts to dissect her aversion to the NY comedy scene. All the comics seem too big, too on, too harsh. It offends her L.A. sensibilities (and probably her Midwestern ones too). "Everyone was just so inappropriate," she says again and again. . "Maybe you're in the wrong business," I tell her. I don't mean it as harshly as it comes out, but I've said it and now she's upset. "I can't believe you would say that to me," she stammers. "God, Bonnie." It's clear from Rylee's reaction that she's drunk. Noted. But also, and more importantly, so am I. I know Rylee's in the right business. Rylee is clearly talented and whatever roadblocks she's had to face, it's been worth something. She's in N.Y., getting sets and doing Premium Blend. But we don't talk about the fact that she should be happy. We talk about the tricky social politics, the lying, the backstabbing, and all those inappropriate personalities. For the record, it doesn't seem to help. At 5:05 a.m. Rylee declares she is having a nervous breakdown. All I can come up with is some basic philosophy of Eastern religions and the advice of every self help book ever written: Enjoy the moment. Appreciate the good stuff. At 6:35 a.m. I am about to kill myself for being so earnest, when Rylee declares she is taking a percocet and, thankfully, offers me one. I'm asleep before the drug even has a chance to work, which really upsets me. I hate wasting drugs knowing there are kids in third world countries who will never get to experience being high.

Fueled by several NY sets, precious little sleep and one extremely long conversation about comedy, Rylee and I are ready for the taping. We both kill. As did every comic who performed. The crowd applauded a minimum of seventeen times per set. And as I stood out there, killing, I started to get angry. "You're fucking up my rhythm, you morons." I think. I leave the stage shaking my head. "God, how irritating." I mumble to myself. "That audience was completely inappropriate."

Nope. We can't be happy. HOME Back to the Top