BACK to The Big Move   BACK to the Columnist INDEX ARCHIVE

"The first thing I've discovered is that to succeed out here you have to play by the rules. The problem is there really aren't any rules."
TOMMY JAMES made the Big Move to Los Angeles.

#3 IN A SERIES . . . . . NEW BIG MOVE EVERY MONTH! I thought I had my column for this month finished last night. Then after doing a set at Da' Big Smoke on Melrose I had a revelation, an epiphany if you will, which has caused me to scrap my previous attempt and put together this last minute effort one day before my deadline. I don't know how this column will turn out, but one thing's for certain; this article will be better than my set last night.

Last evening's revelation, you ask? I learned that have a lot to learn. There's so much I thought I knew about comedy and the fact remains, I don't know crap. I can construct a witty joke and develop a funny premise for sure, but that's not everything out here. What's most important, I'm beginning to see, is that you have to have a nice car. No, not really, but a nice car helps make the heinous traffic more tolerable. Plus, if you're driving a nice car you won't look like as much of a schmuck when that little blonde vixen Tara Reid pulls up next to you at the corner of LaBrea and Melrose in her silver Porsche convertible. Oh yeah, I could tell she was digging me in my Saab.

Everyday out here is a lesson for me. I learned quite a bit on the road the last several years, but unfortunately, there's so much you of this business that I simply could not ascertain hopping from town to telling jokes and peddling my t-shirts. In the short time I've been here, I've picked up more info and made more contacts than I had in the previous five years. Putting it all to good use will be another task, but at least I'm learning.

The first thing I've discovered is that to succeed out here you have to play by the rules. The problem is there really aren't any rules. Yes, rules do exist, but no one really knows what they are-- A challenging enigma indeed. I've asked 100 comics the so-called rules and gotten 101 different answers. Why 101 answers you ask? Well, Tom Ryan decided to give me two completely contradicting answers as he's always fucking with me. Come out here and see for yourself. Nothing makes sense in Hollywood. Trying to decipher so much arbitrary information can be frustrating, although I'm loving every minute of it.

Another thing I've determined, with the help of such comics as Flip Schultz, Matt Davis and John Wessling, is that LA is nothing like the road. When I was playing in cities such as Boise, Atlanta, and South Bend I always performed with the mentality that it was kill or be killed. Because of this, I had always tried to cram as many jokes into my set as possible. I'd tell a joke and let the audience laugh for a moment. Then the instant that I noted they were coming back down I'd hit them with another one. Never was I truly conversational. I'd just keep firing with joke after joke.

Here it doesn't work that way. I've already done enough sets and what I've heard is true. LA will beat the road out of you. No one wants to see a "road act" in Hollywood and God-forbid you tell a "dick joke". In the City of Angels, Road comics and "dick joke" purveyors are looked upon with scorn and contempt. I'm pretty certain that Republicans have more empathy for pro-choice advocates than Los Angeles comedians have for road comics.

For those of you unfamiliar with the comedy scene in Hollywood, let me tell you that it's not at all what you might imagine. Hip nightclubs filled with beautiful people willing to laugh at anything and everything are few and far between. More often than not, if you plan on getting up on stage, you'll be doing so in half-empty bars, coffee shops, and restaurants that have comedy night once a week. As I mentioned earlier, I did a set at Da' Big Smoke last night and of the seventeen people in attendance I assure you that more than half of them were comics. As a matter of fact Carrot Top was in attendance, though he asked me to call him Scott. We're tight like that now.

Interestingly, I once saw Carrot Top at a 2500 seat theater in Athens, GA and now he's seen me in front of seventeen at a cigar shop in West Hollywood. It all comes full circle doesn't it? Don't get me wrong though, as I was thankful for the opportunity to perform. And since the beginning of April Wednesday's at Da' Big Smoke have attracted several top comedians including, Arj Barker, The Sklar Brothers, Rick Overton, Al Lubel, Fred Stoller, Jackie Kashian, Jimmy Dore, and Jann Karam who runs the show. If you're in the West Hollywood area, go to Da Big Smoke on Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM as you never know who might show up. On a side note, I'd suggest getting there early so you can stop next door at Albano's Pizza. For my money, Albano's makes the best pizza I've had in years, plus Jennifer Love Hewitt frequents the place. I've seen her there on several occasions and I've got to tell you, she's dreamy.

Back to last night's lesson. I did my set and no one laughed. Truth be told, the lack of laughter was nothing out of the ordinary for an LA crowd. For those of you considering making your own "big move," please note that nobody laughs at jokes out here. Trust me, not a soul will truly laugh, giggle, guffaw, or even chuckle. Be thankful you get the occasional acknowledgement of humor-- it'll make your night. So when you finally get out here after years of killing on the road, remember, nothing is funny to these people. OK, they laugh at "Celebrity Boxing" on Fox, but who doesn't enjoy seeing Screech mix it up with Horshack? That's just good television.

I started to wonder why no one out here laughs. Are LA's residents that jaded? Well, yes and no. You see, most everyone in Hollywood is trying to make a name for him or herself and the fact remains when CBS renews a show like "Baby Bob" we can't help but be pissed off. I've literally met dozens of comics who've had pilots that weren't picked up or not made for one reason or another, yet this crap averages almost 13 million viewers a week - it's no wonder no one is laughing. We're all crying on the inside.

Laughs or no laughs, you've got to let the audience get to know you. And last night I didn't do that. I started with a few new bits about myself, but after receiving limited laughter I all of a sudden found myself drifting into my preprogrammed shtick. I felt the road comic in me break out-- Like the Hulk from David Banner. It was horrible and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Rest assured, I didn't do "dick jokes," but I went into cruise control and simply did my material as if I were playing in front of 200 rowdy drunks at a club located in a strip mall in (insert your favorite middle America city).

Afterwards I spoke with someone from the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Yes, believe it or not, amongst the seventeen in attendance was someone who worked on the Aspen fest for five years. She's now working on bigger and better projects, but the fact is you never know who's watching which is another lesson in itself. She spoke with me for over an hour and asked why I made the decisions I made during my set and truth be told, I didn't know. She explained to me that out here I should make it my priority to convey my personality on stage. I should let the audience know more about me and above all, don't go into cruise control. She added that I should try to be more conversational, and not let the audience affect how I go about doing things. While jokes are good, POV is just as important if not more so. Easier said than done indeed, but I understood completely. Now I just have to figure out how.

Am I going to change completely? No, of course not. But I must figure out what works best out here and learn to use that to my advantage. See you next month.

See you then.

Tommy James HOME Back to the Top