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BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief

"Ambassador of Comedy"

HERESY ALERT: Rick Rockwell is the best thing to happen to the standup comedy business in nearly a decade.

Before I explain why this is so, allow me to explain why it might be heretical.

(First, full disclosure: As I write this, Mr. Rockwell has several interview questions in his inbox from us here at SHECKY! He's had them for some time and so far he hasn't returned them with answers. Regardless of whether he eventually complies, I still have the same opinion of him. This column is not intended as incentive for Mr. Rockwell to comply. Now--on to the column.)

When this whole Marry A Multi-Millionaire thing started, we were thousands of miles away in Hawaii. However, they actually do get newspapers down there and we were able to read about (and see photos of) Rick Rockwell. We were stunned. "It really is him! It's the Rick Rockwell," we exclaimed over our breakfast buffet at the Kauai Outrigger. Like many in the comedy community, we were forced to recall exactly what we had filed away in our minds on Mr. Rockwell. Not an easy task since Rockwell's standup star hadn't burned very brightly for several years. His high point (Star Search and other TV appearances, movie roles, etc.) had been at least six or seven years prior.

In the Lihue airport the next morning, I tapped out a brief news release for posting on SHECKY! which mentioned Rockwell's "marriage" and his history of questionable fashion choices (flaming jumpsuits, circa 1990) and a quote from editorial cartoonist/occasional comic Steve Kelley that alluded to Rockwell's habit of "borrowing" material. We also wished Rockwell and his bride all the luck in the world.

An illustration of media bias

It is interesting to note that, in the initial reports about the Multi-Millionaire show, Rockwell was identified as a "real estate speculator and a motivational speaker." However, once rumors of a restraining order started circulating, he was identified as a "standup comic." Does anyone need a clearer illustration of media bias against standup comics?

Anyway, since the made-for-TV union rattled apart, I have noticed a significant difference in the way Rockwell is portrayed in the media. This is partly due to the media's tendency to take sides on high-profile stories like this one; and they are definitely NOT taking Darva's side! This is partly due to her crappy behavior. It is also due largely to Rockwell's skillful handling of the media. This guy is GOOD!

His first stroke of genius was taking the high road. In spite of the carping from disgruntled WWTMAM-M host Jay Thomas and the shots from Kelley and others, Rockwell has been restrained. His live act is rife with clever shots at Darva, but he has consistently avoided outright trashing of her to the press. His second stroke was buying pizza for the reporters. Rockwell returned from his "honeymoon" to find a herd of mediastock out front of his the rain. When he emerged to make a statement, he simultaneously distributed several hot pizzas to the reporters. Is this guy slick or what?!

Rockwell: A pro who delivers and gets positive press

Since then, he has made dozens of appearances at comedy clubs across the country, engendering press coverage at each stop. I have had the pleasure of reading four of the stories that were written about him on this tour. At each stop, Rockwell has been tirelessly hitting the morning radio shows and television shows (sometimes doing two and three of each) and he has charmed the print media as well, gaining (sometimes grudging) respect from reporters who witness his act and watch him interact with audience members during and after the show. One theme runs through the stories: Rockwell is professional, he delivers, he makes no unusual demands, the crowds are ecstatic and the electronic and print media can't bring themselves to say anything hideous about him. And, believe me, they are aching to say something bad about him!

When was the last time you heard the press treat any comic this well or this fairly? In a recent article by Michael Precker of the Dallas Morning News, Improv manager Trey Belew is quoted as saying he's "amazed by the response to the five-night gig, which is nearly sold out and has prompted a crush of requests from local media." Belew says that his Addison Improv has "a lot of people come in who are famous from TV shows." but that Rockwell's case is different. "This is more of a rock star. He's still very hot news and everybody's interested." Precker also reports that Rockwell's publicist is "overwhelmed with interview requests. A recent standup gig in Phoenix, he says, got a bigger response than Jerry Seinfeld's last visit."

Regardless of what you might think of Rockwell's comedy modus operandi, he has been a very good thing for the business of comedy. He's attracting new customers, customers that leave the club happy and come back again! He's getting press for comedy clubs in particular and comedy in general--positive press, both local and national. (Richard Leiby's piece in the Washington Post was carried over the wires to cities all over the country.)

Shaking an undeserved image

This much ink hasn't been expended on a standup comic in a decade or so. I'm thinking of Andrew Dice Clay. And that coverage was largely negative. The business still suffers from that hangover. The rhetoric that sprang forth in every A.D.C. article (the basic theme of which is that "comics are racist, homophobic, loud, loutish and so are their fans") still serves to this day as the backbone for stories about, and references to, standup comedy. Rockwell is changing perceptions. For the first time in a long time, people are reading about a comic in a positive light!

There's a lot of insider grumbling on Standup Street about Rockwell--grumbling that focuses on Rockwell the artist. A heroic tale is circulating about a comic that followed Rockwell at a prominent showcase venue in a major market and heaped abuse on him, thereby defending the art of standup and winning the crowd and holding the line against those who would besmirch the noble art of the professional hilariator! I maintain that such behavior is shortsighted. It indicates that comedians don't think of themselves as part of a larger (business) whole, but only as individual units. Such a failure to grasp the big business picture is precisely what led to standup slamming into the side of a mountain in 1992.

Abuse like that which was publicly slung onto Rockwell should be reserved for the truly deserving--the John Wayne Bobbits and the Kato Kaelins of the world who pretend to be comics and who invite derision of comedians; those who advance the thinking that anyone can do comedy. Rockwell is not a Kato Kaelin. He's been at this comedy thing for a coupla decades and, while he may lack the keen insight of a Mort Sahl or the finely honed edge of the late Bill Hicks, he knows what he's doing. And no one can argue that, after nearly ten years of lousy treatment at the hands of the press, Comedy (with a capital "C") is benefiting from Rick Rockwell.

BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental. HOME Back to the Top