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Last year, in my January 2000 SHECKY! column, I resorted to a tried and true columnist crutch: I listed a bunch of resolutions that we (standup comics, the rest of the business, et al) might adopt. I went the extra 1.6 kilometers or so and elaborated on each of the handful of resolutions.
This year, in my January 2001 SHECKY! column, I will resort to a tried and true columnist crutch: I will go back over my column of one year ago and see whether any of the resolutions were indeed kept. Here we go.
2000: "Resolve that you will start behaving like a business and stop acting like a charity."
I cited a bumper sticker that we saw in Florida that said, "Support Live Comedy." We remarked how pathetic it sounded, like standup comedy was some sort of charity or, worse, an ancient craft to be kept alive via NEA grants or other handouts.
The "supporting live comedy" mantra has, unfortunately, wormed its way into the club culture to the point where club owners and emcees are working it into pre- and post-show announcements. They're tacking it onto "Thanks for coming out..." (as in "Thanks for coming out and supporting live comedy!") The "thanks" part is a phrase and a sentiment that we have no quarrel with. It is, after all, polite and proper that a club should show appreciation for the customer. It's the "support" part (and all it implies) we have trouble with.
Looking back on our suggestion from last year however, we realized that while we were quick to condemn it, we failed to do something crucial: We didn't suggest an alternative!
With that in mind, we submit the following phrase to be used by hosts, emcees, announcers, club owners and anyone else who feels the need to exhort customers to consume live standup on a more regular basis: "Thanks for coming out and seeing standup live the way it's supposed to be seen!" Admittedly, it's a bit cumbersome, but it effectively drives home the difference between seeing comedians on the telly and seeing them in a club. And, make no mistake, the main selling point of a comedy club is that very real difference. You can watch a thousand Evening At The Improv's but you haven't really seen standup comedy until you've sat in a room with 150 other patrons and watched it live and in person--the way it's supposed to be seen.
2000: "Resolve that we'll finally enter the 20th Century and GET ONLINE!"
The last twelve months have seen a jump in our subscriptions, an increase in our traffic and an exponential spike in the awareness of SHECKY! among those in the industry. But from what we hear when we are on the road and what we've determined by some amateur number crunching and anecdotal evidence, there are still an embarassingly large number of comics out there who are not online.
The cost of getting online plunged even further in the last year. As the sales of new computers carries on (at a slightly lower pace), the number of used units out there grows and the prices plummet. The number of Juno-type outfits offering free email is growing and there are a number of other companies that'll hook you up with free internet access! More comics online means more information being shared more efficiently. The same goes for bookers and owners.
As for the NG ( alt.comedy.standup), it still remains in a state of arrested development. In our opinion, the NG has a long way to go before it's fully realized. I'm not one of those net nazis that whines about wasted bandwidth and dreams about firebombing Amazon.com because "their profit-oriented site is an abomination and a perversion of the original intent of the Internet!" And I admit that I have also been guilty of occasionally wasting some time and bandwidth by discussing a subject or two on a.c.s. that had nothing to do with comedy.
It's not all bad. There are some positive signs (see below). I still maintain that a.c.s. could be so much more. Maybe it'll happen in 2001.
2000: "Resolve that we'll all start acting like adults."
I'll quote further from this resolution; here's the part about how I felt being at the Friars Club in Santa Monica the previous fall, during a screening of the documentary Let Me In, I Hear Laughter: "I watched one comic after another on the screen talk with intensity, with respect and with pride about standup comedy. And they were all very aware of the special talent they had and they were all very thankful that they were in such an interesting business. This kind of attitude is rare among anyone who still has his original hips. What the hell is wrong with the rest of us?"
Indeed, what is wrong with the rest of us?
I have been encouraged by some of what I have seen in 2000, though. There occurred in July an incident that demonstrated, at least to me, a change in attitude among a slice of the community. I had a lousy show (disastrous, really) and I immediately hopped onto the newsgroup and recounted, in excruciating detail, what went wrong and how it made me feel. The response was very interesting. There were the predictable cruel and unsympathetic responses (you know who you are!), but there were others that indicated that folks were eager to talk about bombing, failure, learning from mistakes, etc. It was a surprisingly mature, illuminating and heartfelt discussion of the worst thing that can happen to a comic, short of death.
Equally encouraging was a slight increase in the willingness of a few comics to come forth with their bombing stories. I've heard comics talk about bombing in the past, but it seemed that there was an uptick in the amount of honesty in these recountings and an absence of the usual macho posturing or defensiveness. The fact that this all took place on the newsgroup was a good sign.
Another encouraging thing has been the response to the Reunion. (The SHECKYmagazine.COMICS-Only Reunion, for details go here.) The idea, in case you still aren't familiar with it, is simple: We are encouraging anyone who is, or ever was, a comic to make it to Las Vegas for three days, April 1, 2 and 3, to hang out and just be with other comics. From all indications, comics are excited about the prospect of a gathering like this one. One that takes place on neutral turf, that doesn't involve showcasing or auditioning or gladhanding industry types. Of course, there are some who, after hearing the idea "nutshelled," ask "Why bother?" It is our fervent hope that they have something else to do those three days.
Most people get it, though. There hasn't been any event
remotely like it--at least not among this generation of comics.
Any time a significant number of comics get
together, it's always at the behest of networks, agencies and others.
We always have a wildly good time, but we've never really just
converged merely to celebrate being comics and being friends. It is
our hope that such a congregation will have the effect of
energizing us, strengthening us and renewing our appreciation for
the tremendous talent and creativity we all possess. That, and we'll
drink beer and play cheap craps until the sun comes up with people
we haven't seen in nearly a decade!
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.