“Honey…Is This Funny?”

By Dobie Maxwell – www.dobiemaxwell.com

    One of my current students reminded me today of an age old problem that needs to be brought up and discussed. It’s gone on for ages, and I’m sure it will never fully stop – even though it sure needs to immediately. The lesson to learn is that you don’t have to fall prey to this giant mistake.

   What I am referring to is the natural but highly mistaken desire to consult someone in your life you are close to for comedy advice. This could include anyone from spouse, lover, friend, parent, sibling, neighbor, coworker to third cousin’s brother in law’s uncle twice removed by marriage.

   Do NOT ask these people to help you with your comedy. The absolute worst thing any newbie can do is keep asking “Honey…is this funny?” I totally see why this happens regularly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a mistake. It is, and it will stunt your comedic growth far more than help it.

   The fact is the people closest to you know you far too well to offer any useful advice. First off, odds are extremely low any of them have ever been on a stage before doing anything much less standup comedy. They have no idea what the process is, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.

   It’s exactly like some blithering buffoon on a barstool, bus bench or at a bowling alley blurting out ‘expert’ medical advice or ‘secrets’ how the local sports teams can win a championship with no problem if they’ll just ‘make the right moves’. Would you listen to that halfwit? I’d hope not.

They Just Don’t Know

   No matter how well their intention, someone who has known you for a long time can’t offer an accurate opinion or useful advice to be used in front of an audience of strangers. If anyone wants to pursue a career of any length, he or she needs to learn early to depend on their own instincts.

   That can be extremely difficult at first, and I get that. What’s funny? Who can say, other than a live audience? Since there isn’t one readily available, the next best alternative is to ask somebody close by what they think of a particular line or concept. This is a great way to develop bad habits.

   Other than maybe once, that person is never going to be in your audience. They wouldn’t know how an audience thinks, and they might not know the basics of what funny is. What if you asked if something was funny and they said no? You wouldn’t have asked if you didn’t think there was some funny in it somewhere, so chances are your instincts told you to try it. GO with that hunch.

   You might guess wrong, but that’s totally ok. You’ll guess again and again, and again after that until you learn what works for you. This is a crucial part of the comedy process, and one that can never be rushed or faked. It absolutely has to be earned, and no spouse alive unless he or she has been through the actual process can ever offer anything of real value. It might be good to develop relationships more closely, but when it comes to comedy – keep a distance. “Honey” can come to your show, but if so let he or she be surprised by your jokes like everyone else in the audience.

It’s ALL a Guess

   I once had the chance to work with Jackie Mason, and it was an unbelievable education. At that time he was celebrating fifty years in the entertainment business, and we were talking about what he’d learned. What stood out for me was that he said every joke he ever writes is always a guess.

   Even after fifty years of practice, he said he was still never 100% sure an audience would buy a particular joke. He said he might think they would, and he’s got fifty years of shows as a point of reference, but in the end the audience is always the final judge. They call the shots completely.

   I would agree from my own experience. Over the years I have had audiences remember certain lines or pieces of material and come up to me after shows and recite them. They wouldn’t be the lines or bits I would necessarily choose to be representative of what I do, but I’m not in charge.

   The same will happen to you. After a while, you will see what audiences will accept from you and laugh at and what they won’t. Every audience is different of course, but with time you’ll see specific and well defined patterns develop. This is what will shape you into the act you will be.

   The sooner you can learn to start listening to what your audience tells you, the farther you will progress. Unfortunately, it takes time for this process to play out, and the only way to play it out is on stage. Asking your sweetie pie if they think your latest fart joke is funny will not help a bit.

But I Just Can’t Wait

   Countless hordes of aspiring comedians have made this mistake, and I’m sure there will be that many more that do it in the future. That doesn’t mean you have to fall into that common trap, and I sincerely hope you avoid it. A smart student will rely on the comedic instinct they’re born with – not the half baked ill informed suggestions of some clueless mope they work with at a day job.

   I realize these are harsh words, but I can’t think of any other way to get the message across. It’s hard to be a comedian, but even harder when bad habits are developed before one even goes on a stage for the first time. I know it can be difficult, but resisting the urge to ask friends is correct.

   What’s funny to YOU? Chances are if you think something is funny, there’s a reason for it. If a joke or idea seems funny to you, my suggestion is to get on stage and TRY IT. It just may reward you with a face full of stinging silence – but at least it is accurate feedback. You can adjust later.

   Standup comedy is very much a lone wolf pursuit. You’re up there alone, and live and die from what comes out of YOUR mouth and yours only. The audience has a part in the process, but you are the one leading the dance. If this frightens you, standup comedy may not be your true calling.

   Acting or improvising may be more suited to your needs, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Everyone is different and has different needs. I happen to love standup comedy and all that goes with it, and that’s always going to be my focal point. I have spent a lifetime observing everything about it, and I form opinions only after much thought. That being said – keep “Honey” out of it.

Keeping A Diary

By Dobie Maxwell – www.dobiemaxwell.com

   Another one of far too many things I now wish I’d done differently on my comedy journey is to have kept a detailed diary from the very start. I have done a thorough job in more recent years, and in fact have kept a daily journal since March 14th of 2006 that can be found on my website.

   It’s much easier to keep track of things now with the advent of technology, but when I started it was not an option. Still, with a little effort I could have had an outstanding chronicle of a lifetime journey which took me all over North America and allowed me to meet some legendary names in the comedy business. I didn’t realize how important it was then, and I think that’s true with most.

   I was fortunate enough to come along at an amazing time in history that will never ever happen again. The stars and planets all aligned and the boom of the ‘80s exploded with America jumping on board the standup comedy bandwagon. It was red hot, and I got to be a part of the explosion.

   None of us knew it, but we were in the right place at the right time and rode a wave that spread across the entire nation. There was no internet to distract anyone, and people came out in droves to experience standup comedy live. We were the flavor of the time, and that time lasted a while.

Big Names Weren’t Always Big

   I was just a beginner when the boom hit, so I missed out on the big money by a smidgeon. Had I had the solid polished act then I have now, I’d have been hauling in some serious bank. Still, it allowed me to make a livable wage while learning my craft and touring all over the continent.

   Not only that, I got to work with and become friends with talented people from every corner of North America – quite a few of them on their way to bigger and better things. Every week was a brand new adventure, and we never knew who fate would match us up with at any given time.

   Names I distinctly remember from those early days are some you may have heard of including Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Robert Schimmel, Drew Carey, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Jimmy Fallon, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Harvey, Richard Jeni, Frank Caliendo and Andrew “Dice” Clay.

   And that’s just off the top of my head. Other legendary names I crossed paths with at one time or another include George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and my very favorite comedian of all time Rodney Dangerfield. I was very lucky to come around at the time that I did.

   In addition to the big names, I also got to work with some wonderfully talented people who are no longer here including George Miller, Ron Shock, Ed Fiala, Zack and Mack, Shirley Hemphill, Dennis Wolfberg and my early career mentors C. Cardell Willis, Jimmy Miller and Gary Kern.

   All of these people touched me in some way, and almost all of it was good. I learned how to be a professional entertainer by interacting with all of these names and I wish I’d kept better track.

Change Is Constant

   Another part of the journey most everyone neglects is the actual venues where we perform. For example, the first place I ever did standup comedy was a jazz club called “Sardino’s on Farwell” in Milwaukee. It’s also where singer Al Jarreau began his career, but it’s since been torn down.

   The first place I ever got paid to do standup comedy was just a few blocks down the street also on Farwell Avenue called “Teddy’s”. It was a rock club that would eventually become a comedy club a few years later called “The Funny Bone” where I would end up cutting my early chops.

   There were also plenty of local dives, toilets and hell holes I worked along the way that are not around anymore – and probably shouldn’t have been around when they were. Looking back, they were all part of the journey and it wouldn’t have taken much to snap a photograph of all of them.

   One of my very first road bookings was at a nightmarish old hotel in Iowa, and my cousin rode along to keep me company in the car. It was filthy and rickety, and the room they tried to put me in had stains I was afraid to try to identify. My cousin and I still joke about it all these years later, but how hard would it have been to take a few pictures? I would truly love to possess those now.

Record Your Journey. If Not For You – For Others

   In painful retrospect, I wish I would have recorded every single place I ever worked, and every single comic I worked with – good or bad. I wish I had pictures of the slimy booking agents who chiseled us for anything they could, and the tiny radio stations I drove to at 6am to go on and try to promote my show between farm reports. It was all part of the trip – and it was all fascinating.

   There was only one comic I ever remember doing it correctly, and his name was Chip Chinery out of Cincinnati. Chip always took pictures of the comics he worked with, and then would send us one in the mail a few weeks later. I always thought that was neat. He was way ahead of us all.

   Today’s world is completely different. I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but the opportunity to record the journey of life is not difficult at all. I highly suggest anyone embarking on the epic life long journey that is standup comedy start keeping detailed records and keeping them early.

   Anyone who is in the entertainment business for any amount of time will experience the same things we all do. There will be people of all kinds who come in and out of the game, and some of them will rise to great heights. Others will die unexpectedly, and still others will quit or vanish.

   Memories will evolve or get fuzzy over time, but having the picture to refer to will bring things back into accurate perspective. Good and bad events will all morph into good in time, and having the record will be a wonderful souvenir of a life spent chasing a dream. I speak from experience.

   If you drive through a blizzard or stay in a crappy hotel – take a picture and file it away. You’ll relive it later and laugh. I know I sound like an old fart – and I am. I have a lot of great memories of a life doing what I always dreamed of, but I could have easily kept a better trip log. Do better.

What To Do?

   Had I to do all over again, I’d have put my complete heart and soul into cataloging my journey. I put my heart and soul into taking it, so why not record it for the future? It’s like taking a doggie bag home from a fine restaurant. You’re full at the time you leave the restaurant, but later on it’s an unbelievable treat to sample a few more bites of that delicious food. This is the same thing.

   How many people get the chance to chase their life’s dream? Maybe that’s the wrong question. How many people actually DO it? I did, and I don’t regret one second. Even the stupid mistakes I made along the way were an education, and I’d rather do that than suffer at a miserable day job.

   When I started, I was a naïve punk kid who thought he was bullet proof. Now I’m the war torn grizzled old cuss I never thought I’d become. I’m a seasoned veteran of many missions, and I put everything I had into learning my craft. I lived what most people only dream of, and it would be a tremendous treat if I could look back over it now from this perspective – but I blew my chance.

   While it was all happening, I was too busy dealing with whatever was going on at the time. My eyes were always looking forward to the next thing, when in fact I should have been enjoying the events one at a time as they happened. I had a lot of fun adventures that are only a memory now.

   It wouldn’t have taken all that much to keep better records, and I’ve proven that with the diary I have kept every single day that’s now in its eighth year. I’ve got over 3000 pages packed with detailed stories of my life on the road and on stage, and it has become habit like taking a shower or brushing my teeth. I may fall behind a day or two, but I always catch up. I’ve been consistent.

Record It ALL!

   My advice to anyone and everyone would be to make a point to record everything about one’s journey from the earliest point possible. If you can have your first time on stage recorded – do it! I’d love to have a recording of my first time on stage, but it’s gone forever. That ship has sailed.

   I also missed out on taking a picture of the venues where I started, and most of the comedians I started with. When I started to travel, I wish I’d have recorded the places I worked, the less than ideal places I stayed, the rattletrap cars I used to crisscross the country and everything else I did.

   I should have kept track of all the out of the way restaurants where I had delicious meals of the highest order, all the sights I saw, the people I met and more. I stopped at every oddball museum, tourist trap and roadside attraction I saw, and I should have it all chronicled – but I totally don’t.

   I also made remarkable progress on my act. I could easily have monitored what material I used where, and what I may have ad libbed that later became a part of the show. That happened often. I also vanquished an endless string of hecklers, and it would have been fun to keep track of those as well. I’ve had some legendary stories I wish I’d be able to examine from my perspective now.

  You have a chance to do better. I highly recommend you take this opportunity and keep track of your personal journey as it unfolds. You won’t even notice after a while as you’re doing it, but at some point in your future you’ll enjoy looking back and seeing what a fantastic voyage you took!

Time

By Dobie Maxwell – www.dobiemaxwell.com

   There are so many aspects of the entertainment business that have nothing to do with the actual act itself, yet end up having lasting impact on one’s career as a whole. They’re often very simple details which by all accounts should be classified as ‘common sense’- but that’s rarely common.

   A very important detail that needs to be discussed is time. I am not referring to tim-ING – as in comedic timing – as that’s a whole other topic in itself. We’ll dig deeply into that sandbox in the future, but for now I’m talking about plain old time as in the clock on the wall or a wrist watch.

   The reason I’m bringing it up at all is that as I write this I had an example pop up last night at a comedy contest I was a part of. I’m not fond of comedy contests as a whole and never have been, but again that’s another topic for another day. Something happened at the contest that I have seen happen countless times before, and it immediately let me know I needed to bring it to the table.

   It’s the simple matter of showing up on time. This can be a major issue with certain people, but there’s no reason it ever has to be. Part of being a professional entertainer is to know not only the time the show starts, but also what time you are expected to be there. I have heard actors refer to it as ‘call time’, and that’s fine. Whatever title you want to give it, you need to show up on time.

Punctuality is Peace of Mind

   The situation last night was rather typical of ones I have seen happen over and over again. The show was scheduled for an 8:30pm start, but contestants were told repeatedly to be there by 7:30 at the very latest for a group meeting with the show’s producers to go over details of the event.

   There were a lot of things to go over like how the judging would take place and where the light to signal one minute remaining was. It wasn’t complicated and the whole thing only lasted about ten minutes, but it was important for us to know as contestants and I see why they had us come.

    I can recall three separate times when I was informed of the 7:30 meeting during the last week. I had both a call and a text message from the club manager, and also an email from the producers of the event. Not only that, it was clearly listed on the event’s website. There were no surprises.

   Wouldn’t you know it, there was one contestant who wasn’t there for the meeting. He ended up getting to the club about 7:50 – just a few minutes after the meeting had ended. He had some sad story cooked up about how he had to drive in from all the way across town and that traffic was a nightmare but he needed to stop and drop his mother off at her heart doctor and blah, blah, blah.

   The show’s main producer and he went into a back room and before long we all heard shouting and then the door opened. The contestant came out first and stormed off, and the producer calmly informed us that there would be one less contestant for the show. Not one of the rest of us was in any way upset in the least, and the show went on fine without him. Actually, I happened to win.

It’s Not That Difficult

   The point I’m trying to make here is the only one who was even the least bit upset was the guy who got booted. The producer wasn’t angry in the least. He told everyone to be there at the time he named, and we all knew it – even the guy who wasn’t there. He missed it, and it’s all on him.

   Could the producer have cut him a break and let him slide? Sure. The ‘meeting’ was really just a brief run through, and only took a few minutes. It wouldn’t have been a big deal for somebody to walk the late guy through and move on. But they didn’t. And he was out. And nobody cared.

   I happened to win the contest this particular time. Could the other guy have beaten me? Maybe he could have, but we’ll never know because he wasn’t there to even have a chance. This kind of thing happens all the time, and I’m sure the guy thinks he got screwed over. He screwed himself.

   Bert Haas is the booker of Zanies Comedy Clubs in Chicago. He has a ‘Rising Star Showcase’ a couple of times a month on Monday nights so he can see up and coming acts in person. Before those 8:30pm showcases, he has a 7:30 meeting with everyone going up to tell them exactly what he is looking for as far as time, content and the like. I can think of no other booker who does this.

   That being said, once every two or three showcases someone shows up a few minutes late. Bert is never angry, but he politely tells the comic he’s off the show for the evening and continues his presentation. Even if it’s 7:31, the comic is out of luck. I’ve seen it happen with zero exceptions.

   I have often been the host of those showcases, and had the comic who was booted complain to me about how ‘cruel and unfair’ Bert was in doing this. I can feel a bit for the comic at times, as I have been in situations where sometimes being a few minutes late is unavoidable. But again, if a booker or club owner or anyone else running a show makes a deadline – it’s their prerogative.

   I’ve talked with Bert Haas about this at length, and his reasoning is simple. ”Hey, I’m trying to find acts I can depend on. If they can’t be at work by 7:30 at night, there’s a problem. How could I know they’re going to show up at an actual show if they can’t make it on time for a showcase?”

   I can’t find any holes in Bert’s argument, but even if I could he’s the one in charge and he has the right to do things as he pleases. Everyone else does too. If they want the acts there at 6am for calisthenics and a yoga session, they can do what they want. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.

   I’m sure there are aspiring comics in Chicago that blame Bert Haas for ‘ruining their career’ or ‘keeping them down’. I wouldn’t doubt the guy from last night who was shown the door is still a bit salty about it today and blames the producer. This is insane, but I’ve seen it over and over for years and years. I know it will never end, but it doesn’t have to be you. Let someone else blow it.

   Another thing to talk about is reputation. If you build a reputation as being reliable, you’ll earn some leeway when an emergency actually does happen – and they do. If you’re known and liked, people tend to let things slide. Be smart, develop good habits. Punctuality is a worthy aspiration.

Respect Your Stage Time

   Another crucial part of proper time management is being aware and accurate with your time on stage. This is another potential career killer that doesn’t have to be an issue but unfortunately has to be brought up because a certain percentage of idiots fail to get it. They think they’re special.

   Sorry, NONE of us are special – at least not starting out. Everyone needs to learn to stick to the exact amount of stage time allotted, no more and no less. That’s another part of being a pro that’s not going away any time soon. The sooner you ace stage time management, the better you’ll be.

   Most comics starting out get five minutes. That’s about all anyone can handle at the start – even if he or she thinks they have “hours of material”. Sure. And I can “make love all night”. Let’s get real and stay there. It’s ok to make things up for your show, but for business there are no jokes.

   You need to DO YOUR TIME – whatever that is. If you’re slotted for five minutes, make sure you know how long that is. Also, make sure you know how a particular venue might signal time to performers. Most places have a ‘light’ of some sort, but you need to know exactly where it is.

   I was on a national TV show recording once, and nobody told us where the time warning light was located. We were instructed to do six minute sets, but the first act up went way long because he had no idea how long he was up there and didn’t see any lights. He ended up going way over, and that made it difficult for everyone else. There was no excuse, so learn to keep time yourself.

The Unpardonable Sin

The best way to infuriate as many people in the shortest amount of time is to be what I refer to as a ‘time bandit’. Other people have other names for it, but none of them are complimentary. What I’m referring to is the loathsome practice of going short when the audience is bad and going long when they’re good. This is a great way to torch your reputation in a hurry, so think before doing.

   It’s not so much an issue at the very start, but it does happen. Five minutes isn’t very long, so it doesn’t make a big difference if one goes a bit short or a bit long. It takes a while to master stage timing , and we’ve all made mistakes. That’s acceptable, but those who are abusers tend to make themselves known early in the game. Don’t change time depending on the crowd. Be consistent.

   If there’s ever a doubt as to when to leave stage, 99.999% of the time you’ll never go wrong by erring on the side of going short. On rare occasions, there will be times you’re asked to go longer because an act is en route and has been delayed, but that won’t happen until later when you have more experience. Most newbies would never be put in a position to go longer than five minutes.

   But as one rises up the ranks, time constraints can be an issue. Comedians are impatient when a fellow performer goes long, and I can’t say I blame them. Stage time is hard enough to get, and it isn’t polite to go over yours and into someone else’s. Trust me, it’s way better to go a bit short on time and do just ok than it is to go way long and kill. This is comedy etiquette you need to know.

Maxwell’s Law

By Dobie Maxwell – www.dobiemaxwell.com

   I think it’s safe to assume most people have heard of ‘Murphy’s Law’ – that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case for everybody, but I’m living proof old Murphy was on to something. I have had my share of problems in life and then some.

   One thing I have learned after spending a lifetime in standup comedy is that no matter what the situation should happen to be at any time – it will ALWAYS pop up again in the future without a doubt. It may take years, but it will happen again. This is a word to the wise for future reference.

   Whenever you happen to encounter an oddball scenario of any kind – and you absolutely will – file it away in your head and know that at some point you will relive this same scenario at some point in the future. That’s what the term ‘experience’ is all about. It takes a lifetime to learn it.

   The question is, what does one do with that knowledge? Johnny Carson was known as a world class ad libber. He could pull out the perfect line for a specific moment like few others. He had a razor sharp wit, and knew how to use it. But not everything he said was made up from scratch.

   I read an article about him once that said he would file away lines in his head, and knew when to pull them out of the archives at exactly the right time. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t the writer of every line, what mattered was that he knew how to use them and more importantly – when.

Start Simple

   There are certain scenarios that are absolutely sure to happen to every live speaker of any kind. Being prepared with a line – even a mediocre one – at the right time can make you look like one of the ‘wittiest’ minds of all time. I’ve seen it happen countless times, and it always amazes me.

   There are lines that have been used for decades and probably centuries that continue to work as long as they’re used in the correct context. Here’s an example: someone comes in a few minutes after the show starts and distracts everyone’s attention. It happens all the time, and will continue to happen as long as there are humans inhabiting planet Earth. It’s safe to say you’ll encounter it.

   The line (or any variation thereof) “Hey, glad you could make it! Can I get you anything…like a WATCH?” is a common comeback. I’ve heard this line literally thousands of times, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it not get a laugh. Is it original? Not anymore, but it’s still very effective. It doesn’t matter if it’s original in that scenario. The audience doesn’t know it – but you do. Use it.

   Another common situation is someone coming from or going to the bathroom smack dab in the middle of your set. That’s another all timer that will never ever go away. Sometime, somewhere, you will have to deal with this one too. What do you say? Again, it doesn’t have to be brilliant or ground breaking. It just has to be quick and make the point. Here’s an example for someone that gets up to leave during your set. It’s quick and to the point. “We know where YOU’RE going.”

   Is that necessarily a funny line? Not at all. There’s no joke there – it’s just a statement. It isn’t off color or mean spirited, and depending on the person delivering it there is a possibility of that line being milked for more than one laugh just by using pauses and/or goofy facial expressions.

   Lines like that used at the right time can get powerhouse laughs over and over again. It’s up to you to file away a list of those lines, but if you take the time to do it you will never be sorry. I’ve never regretted having an archive of ready to use lines in my head. They always come in handy.

Build Your Arsenal

   My mentor C. Cardell Willis was a master at using lines like this. One night I was on stage at a show he was hosting, and someone got up to use the bathroom. I’d never had that happen before when I was on stage, and it rattled me. My timing was thrown off, and all I could think of to say in my confusion was the line I’d heard Cardell use so often – “We know where YOU’RE going.”

   It got a big laugh, and I was able to continue with my bumbling set. I was a very new act then, and didn’t have much in the tank at that point. The bathroom line quite possibly could have been the biggest laugh I got all night, and when I got off stage I went to apologize to Cardell for using ‘his line’. Before I could apologize, Cardell congratulated me for using it to manufacture a laugh.

   I’ll never forget that night, as Cardell’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He was proud of how I knew when to use a line like that, and told me so. His words of wisdom were passed on to me, so now I’m passing them on to you. He said “There are all kinds of lines that a comedian can use to get laughs that aren’t jokes. Be good to those lines your whole life, and they’ll be good to you.”

   Boy, have they ever. Time after time, year after year, situations come up again and again and it feels great to have lines ready to go that I know will make me look brilliant when in fact I’m not even close. Audiences don’t know these tricks, but I do. Every time I use them, they work again.

   Know now that there will be all kinds of situations that arise unexpectedly, and pay attention to whenever they do. Maybe you won’t know what to do the first time they happen, but that’s not a big deal. Nobody will care at the time, but you can be sure that same situation will happen again.

   It may be years later, but eventually you’ll be in the same scene and if you’re smart you’ll have a killer line to pull out of what seems like nowhere and it will blow the room away. That’s what being a professional entertainer is all about. It’s knowing what to do and when you need to do it.

  There are all kinds of situations in your future that you will have NO idea are going to occur as you start out on the comedy trail. Had I known I’d have to deal with so many unforeseen hassles, I may not have continued. It makes me wonder how I made it this far but I did – and you will too.

   As my gift to you, here is a partial list of situations that will undoubtedly arise on your journey. There will be others, but for now this is a great starter list. See if you can plan ahead and think of what you’d say if you were in that situation. Be good to those lines, and they’ll be good to you.

A Partial List of Scenarios That Can (And Will) Happen When You’re on Stage

   These are all actual situations that have either happened to me personally or somebody I know. Some, most or all will eventually happen to you, so try and store up some lines to use when those moments occur. They don’t have to be the most brilliant lines in the world, but if you’re prepared it will make you look like a genius. Nobody has to know you saw it coming. Be smart. Be ready!

-The show will start much later than expected

-There will be an audience much smaller than expected

-Someone will arrive late

-Someone will go to the bathroom

-Someone will come back from the bathroom

-Someone will be texting during the show

-Someone’s cell phone will ring, even though they were told to turn them off

-There will be problems with the sound system

-There will be little or no stage lighting

-There will be a bar in the room, and blender drinks will be made

-There will be food served while you are on stage

-An inexperienced server will walk in front of you and/or talk loudly during the show

-A server will drop a full tray during the show

-There will be a television on within eye and earshot of your performance

-There will be a police/fire/ambulance siren in the middle of your show

-Someone will have a coughing or sneezing fit

-One or more wheelchairs will be right in the front row

-Someone will have a seeing eye dog

-Someone will have a medical emergency, and the show will have to be stopped

-There will be a baby, child or children in the audience – usually in the very back

-There will be someone extremely old in the audience – usually right up front

-Someone (or group) will be from another country and not understand a word you say

-You will be in front of a group who are completely of a different ethnicity than you

-You will be in front of a group who are radically different in age than you

-You will be performing outdoors, and there will be many unforeseen distractions

-You will be in front of an audience who is not there to see comedy (charity events, etc.)

-You will be performing in front of a window when the sun is still up

-The room will be way too hot

-The room will be way too cold

-The room will be next to a room where loud music is being played

-The act on before you will be absolutely horrific

-The act on before you will be absolutely terrific

-A celebrity other than a comedian will be on right before you

-Someone will announce a death or tragedy right before bringing you on stage

-Someone will mangle your introduction and badly mispronounce your name

-You will be asked to cut your performance time drastically on very short notice

-You will be asked to stretch your time indefinitely because the next act is not there yet

-Someone will buy you a drink, and it will be brought to the stage during your show

-Someone from the audience will try to come on stage when you didn’t ask them to

-A fight (verbal or physical) will break out in the room at some point in the evening

   Again, this is in no way a complete list of all the things that can happen during a comedy show. That list doesn’t exist, as there are always new and wacked out scenarios happening all the time. It’s part of what keeps things interesting I suppose, but it’s also the source of unbelievably high stress – especially for the new performer. Hopefully this will give you a head start on everything.

   Try to put yourself in each of these scenarios and imagine what you’d do if it really happened. It wouldn’t hurt to write a few lines for when it does, because you just never know. Also, be very observant when watching other shows, as any of this could and will happen to somebody else out of the blue and you can learn from that too. Always be on the lookout for things to learn. You are never past this stage, and I still learn things myself. I wish I had this list when I was starting out.

How To Handle Hecklers (Part 1)

By Dobie Maxwell – www.dobiemaxwell.com

   By far and away and without a doubt, the two most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten over and over since I started teaching standup comedy are: “When will I need a manager?” and “What do I do about hecklers?” I laugh every time I hear either question, but they get asked constantly.

   Nothing could be less important in one’s first year of comedy than these two questions, but I’m going to deal with the heckler issue now only because so many people feel they need to know the ‘secret’ when it comes to ‘defeating’ this perceived peril that will be an issue during every show.

   In a word, RELAX. There are no secrets, and there is no peril. It’s all a myth – just like the one that says women like men with a sense of humor best but that’s another topic for another day. I’ll focus my energy on stomping out this fire before attempting anything else. This needs attention.

   First off, there are far more important things to think about when learning this insanely difficult craft. Getting heckled should not even begin to be part of the conversation until much later. Does it happen? I’m not going to lie, of course it happens. Every standup comic eventually has to deal with this issue to one degree or another, but in one’s early stages of development it’s a non issue.

   Let’s compare it to learning how to drive a car. Do multivehicle spectacular flaming accidents involving violent bloody injuries or even fatalities happen? They absolutely do, but can you ever recall one happening in a Driver Education car? Maybe it did – but it was a very rare exception.

First Things First

   My point is, if you’re reading this there’s an overwhelming chance you’re a beginner. There’s nothing wrong with it, and in fact every single entertainer who has ever stepped on a stage was a beginner at some point. You’re in first grade right now, so let’s worry about first grade lessons.

   There are plenty of lessons that need learning before you have to deal with any heckling in the next little while. It will happen soon enough, so let’s not rush it. Dealing with it on a professional level can absolutely be learned, but it’s like calculus or physics. A first grader isn’t ready for it.

   First graders need to learn the very simplest of the basic fundamentals of everything. They will have enough to deal with learning their ABCs. After that, then they can start to work up to bigger challenges. Nobody expects a first grader to know how to dissect an isosceles triangle, and that’s equally true with a newbie comic. Audiences won’t expect a greenhorn to have to deal with that.

   What kind of lowlife slime would heckle a new comedian anyway? I hate to admit I’ve seen it done on rare occasion, but the audience will always support the comic. Most people have an idea that comedy isn’t easy, and seeing a rookie get heckled would be like seeing a child get attacked. Most decent people wouldn’t stand for it, and the same is true in this situation. All a new act has to say is something like “I’m very new at this. I hope you feel like a big person attacking me.”

   That alone usually takes care of it more than effectively, but I’ve also seen comics get frazzled and leave the stage prematurely. That’s their choice, and I respect it. Usually, the person hosting the show has some experience, and can deal with a heckler accordingly on a more even platform.

Why Does It Happen?

   Why anyone would want to come to a live show and purposely try to disrupt it always has been and still is a befuddling mystery. I would never dream of doing anything like that, but I’m a huge fan of live entertainment in general. I know from years of experience how difficult it is to put on a live show of any kind. I have respect for all performers, and want to show all the support I can.

   Unfortunately, this is not true with a frighteningly large percentage of the public. I’ll remember a quote my grandfather told me when I was about ten years old. He said “The masses are asses.” I didn’t know what it meant then, but I’ve since learned to embrace it in my journey through life.

   I thought Gramps had come up with that himself, but it was actually a quote from a gentleman named Alexander Hamilton. Does that name ring a bell? He’s the guy pictured on a US $10 bill. He said it in 1790, so that tells me a lot about the human race. We were stupid then, and still are. All those ‘asses’ from 1790 bred and we’ve perpetuated generation after generation of imbeciles.

   My grandmother grew up on a farm in a small town in Central Wisconsin. She wasn’t much on mincing words, and usually got straight to the point on any topic. When it came to her opinion of the masses she said “The cattle on the farm I grew up on knew how to behave better than most of the American public.” I hate to admit Grandma was right, but she was – and it’s getting worse.

   For whatever reason, there are idiots who walk the planet freely that seem to think they’re why the rest of us are here and it’s our job to cater to their every whim, urge or impulse. That must be why they have no qualms whatsoever about yelling out incoherent gibberish during a live show.

   I will say from experience that alcohol often contributes to this scenario, but not always. I have seen more than my share of sober simpletons start babbling idiocy without the aid of intoxicants. It never ceases to amaze me how often people feel a need to contribute to the collective dynamic.

Three Basic Types

   I’ve had a lifetime of experience with hecklers, and I can’t think of anyone who can speak with more authority than me when it comes to this topic. I’ve gotten things thrown at me, started a riot or two and been escorted to my car by security on several occasions. I’ve played this game often, and have a rich backlog of experience on which to draw from. I know well of what I’m speaking.

   I’ve thought it through at length, and my conclusion is there are three basic types of heckler:

         The Bully/Coward

         The Intoxicated/Idiot

         The Contributor/Helper                           

   There can be subtle variations on all these themes, but they basically boil down to one of them in the end. I’ve dealt with all three extensively, and here is my advice from the front lines so you can hopefully get a head start for when this will be part of your world – and it will. Don’t rush it, it will get here soon enough. There’s nothing to worry about though, as you can win every time!

   Let’s examine the three types:

   ‘The Bully/Coward’ – this is the type from which the stereotype heckler is drawn. He (rarely if ever she) is a mean jerk type who allegedly brings the bag of rotten fruit to throw at the stage. I must say I have never seen that in all my years, but I have had other objects hurled stageward.

   This type of heckler is almost always a frustrated performer who lacks the guts to get on stage or is too lazy to put in the massive effort it takes to become a professional entertainer. It’s easier to just sit in the crowd and toss out caustic remarks. I absolutely love these types, as I’ve learned to verbally squash them like the cockroaches they are. I’ve laid out countless bullies in my day.

    Part of the reason I can deal with this so easily is that my father was a bully. Quite often in my early years I’d go after these kinds of hecklers so badly the audience would actually sympathize with heckler after a while. In my mind, I wasn’t just squelching the heckler. I was getting back at my father, and I’m not going to lie – it felt REALLY good! I have since softened my demeanor.

   ‘The Intoxicated/Idiot’ – Steve Allen said decades ago that sooner or later everyone who does live entertainment will get sick of entertaining drunks. Amen, Brother Steve! I reached that point years ago, but it continues to go on. I don’t judge people, and just because I’m not a drinker I am not crusading against all those who choose to enjoy a cocktail or two. Being a drunk is different.

   Dealing with a bully requires one method of defense, and this requires another. Bullies are very aware of what’s going on, and they want to outsmart the comedian on stage. Drunks don’t know they’re being out of line, and depending on how far gone they are can be a difficult challenge to keep control of the show. Many venues won’t bounce them, and it’s up to you to work through it.

    Other times, alcohol isn’t the reason and they’re just plain DUMB. Sometimes it goes further than that and it’s just plain old mental illness. That can be extra difficult, and requires a delicate and experienced hand. I will go into much more depth in the future on all of this, but not now.

   ‘The Contributor/Helper’ this has always been the most baffling type of heckler. Once in a while someone will say something out loud during a show, but it’s not a heckle at all. In fact, it’s a major compliment to the performer. The audience member relates to something the comic said and says something in response like an actual conversation. This is usually not a problem at all.

   Then there’s the weirdo who for some reason thinks the comedian needs ‘help’ and decides to volunteer his (and too many times her) ‘services’ as a verbal punching bag throughout the night. They’re the first ones to come up afterward and look for kudos on their ‘performance’. This has never made sense to me, but it does occur with alarming frequency. Run from these crackpots.

Embrace The Situation

   It may sound crazy, but part of me really enjoys dealing with hecklers. The main reason is that I know before any situation ever starts that I’m going to win no matter what happens, and that’s a position of power. It’s like being a seventh degree black belt. I’m not afraid to walk home alone.

   But just like with the black belt, that power and knowledge is never to be used to hurt anybody. It’s not like I look to go around making fun of random strangers just because I know what to say. I’m just saying I know how to defend myself in heckler situations, and I’m not afraid to exercise my combat muscles when necessary. I don’t ever start it, but should another do so I will finish.

   Every comedian has a different opinion. George Carlin talked about his preferential method of vanquishing hecklers. He said “Some comedians like to have a stockpile of witty lines stored to use when they need them. I always prefer to use a verbal sledge hammer to the base of the skull.”

   And that was his right. Jerry Seinfeld chooses to deal with it in a totally different way. He just stops the whole show and says something like “Are you alright? You seem upset. Can I help you in some way?” This is a great way to disarm almost any situation, and you can choose to use it as well if you like. Personally, I would never do this. I enjoy the challenge of barbecuing the idiot.

   But that’s me. Not everyone is as warped and twisted as I am when it comes to enjoying such a frightening scenario. It’s like someone walking through a bad neighborhood looking for conflict. Maybe they get off on the excitement, I don’t know. For me, I have no problem going toe to toe.

What Should I Say To A Heckler?

  Students constantly ask me what to say in heckler situations. Like I said earlier, it won’t be your concern at least in the very beginning. Focus on your comedy first. My friend Bill Gorgo has one of the best answers I’ve ever heard. When someone asks him what to do about hecklers, he’ll say “Simple! Don’t get heckled.” Then he’ll wait a few seconds as his wisdom penetrates a skull.

   Most students don’t get it, but Bill is 100% correct. What he means is, have a well constructed funny act and get the audience laughing soon and often. If they’re doing that, nobody will have a chance to heckle. The whole idea of standup comedy is to get laughs from the crowd, not insults.

   Again, does heckling happen in standup comedy? Definitely yes. Does a bear defecate rurally? Is Seven Up? It will always be a part of comedy just as accidents will always be a part of driving, but that doesn’t mean you have to worry about it every time you get behind the wheel. If you are careful and focus on DRIVING, 99.999% of your trips will be trouble free. Comedy is the same.

   If you focus on your act and getting laughs, hecklers won’t have time to interrupt you as there won’t be the opportunity. The audience will be enjoying your show, and their laughter will act as insulation so one lone nut’s comments will have no way to penetrate that force field. I’ll leave it alone for now, but I still have a lot more to say on this subject. Next time I’ll share combat tips.

Your Comedy Anniversary

By Dobie Maxwell – www.dobiemaxwell.com

   It is of my strong opinion that everyone who does standup comedy for any length of time needs to set aside a specific day, week or month each and every year to be designated as their “comedy anniversary”. It’s a fantastic tool to use throughout one’s career to maintain steady improvement.

   It makes absolutely no difference what day or time of the year it is, but there should definitely be time set aside annually to both review and reflect but also plan ahead for the coming year. It’s far too easy to get off course in one’s entertainment journey, and this helps keep things on track.

   My first time on a comedy stage was November 7th, 1983. The only reason I know that now is I somehow had the foresight then to write it down. I don’t know why that particular thought would happen to pop into my empty naive brain which knew nothing about anything then – but it did.

   I remember consciously thinking that if I were ever to become a big star somebody somewhere would want to know when and where it all started. I knew I could have just made something up, but I figured since I could tell them the actual date I would keep it factual. That’s the actual date.

Why Would Anyone Care?

   It doesn’t matter in the least when or where anyone starts out in comedy – or life in general. It’s always where one finishes that anyone remembers. Most entertainers have humble beginnings of some sort, but that just adds to their legend. Talent with perseverance can take someone very far.

   There are two giant reasons I think keeping an annual tally of one’s progress is of importance. First, it’s a way to keep a much needed eye on yearly progress. If there’s a clear marked map laid out for the next twelve months, it allows for much steadier progress than just wandering without a target like most entertainers do. I know I did, and it ended up being a lot of valuable time lost.

   I was completely clueless, and thought everything would ‘just work out’. That’s NEVER going to happen in any generation, so I’d suggest getting your head out of your aspirations immediately and start mapping out some kind of journey. How can anyone help you get there if YOU have no idea where you’re going? It took me years to grasp this concept, but I suggest you try it sooner.

One Just Never Knows

   The second reason to keep track of your progress is for those around you. You maybe couldn’t care less about outlining a path where you’ve been as your eyes are always looking to the future. That’s a very common mindset for most entertainers, and I think it’s good. It strives for progress.

   But if you do indeed make significant progress, inevitably someone will want to be able to look back and see the path you took to get where you got. Keeping tabs along the way will never be a waste of time, and I say that with the utmost sincerity after spending a lifetime chasing a dream.

   It takes a lifetime to chase (and hopefully catch) any dream of significance, and there will be a wide variety of personalities that cross your path during that time. Some will leave behind some wonderful memories while others’ names will stink behind them. The majority will be forgotten.

   That’s exactly the reason to keep track of your journey so you can keep in touch with those that are valuable contacts. It’s not just about them helping you either. Maybe you’ll be able to offer a name to someone who needs something or someone you’re not, and spread some good karma.

   One never has a clue what is about to happen to anyone in the entertainment game at any time. Trust me from experience, amazing things happen to people you’d least expect, and having them as both friends and professional contacts is a major way to move ahead. Talent alone is useless.

   Keeping a yearly outline to monitor progress is just plain smart business. It’s easy to look back on if needed, and also useful to make important career decisions like when and where to move to to keep making progress. The days of ‘go with the flow’ are long gone. There needs to be a plan.

Building Your Foundation Properly

   The first few years of keeping track of your comedy anniversary are ‘show’ related much more so than ‘business’. You don’t have much business in the first few years, as that’s when everyone has to learn the basic skill set that will be built upon for a lifetime. That is what requires focus.

   Keeping track of things like how many times you got on stage and where in a given year along with (hopefully) objective grades of how you did and descriptions of each situation will prove to be a valuable asset as you go over the big map of your entire journey. Never ever underestimate how important this will be years down the road, so take it seriously and keep accurate records.

   I’ll bet I had been in the business a full fifteen years before any of this occurred to me and boy is that frustrating. The year I decided to do it, I saw major progress. I listed every show I did that year and where it was, along with a few brief notes of what happened and a grade of how I did.

 Example:

Friday March 13th, 1998 – Funny Bone: Pittsburgh, PA                                                        Position: Headliner (50 minutes)   Opener: Jeff Schneider   Feature: Chuck Krieger

8:00 – 160 people, mostly blue collar between 30-50. Hot crowd. Ad libbed a bit about having to get my clutch changed and knee surgery because of all the hills in town. Fit perfectly into my car bit, and there’s more to add there. Switched around a bit about Packer football games to Steelers and it worked great. Closed with Greyhound bus bit instead of usual closer. Solid set. Grade: A-

10:30 – 90 people, much drunker than the early show. They talked during the feature’s set, but I took control in the first few seconds and they got the message. Had a slight heckler issue during my regular closer, but by that time I was in my groove and I just talked over it. They were tired, but I slowed down and was more animated. Not my favorite show, but they liked it. Grade: B-

   It wasn’t difficult to do, and I kept it up all year. I worked anywhere and everywhere, and it added up to a grand total of 268 stage appearances of all kinds from headlining comedy clubs to opening for a couple of music acts. I also hosted some shows (34) and did three corporate shows that year – one a summer picnic and two holiday parties in December. I didn’t do any colleges.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

   The most shows I did were in Chicago with 46. The next most was Pittsburgh with 12 (I went back in December) tied with Milwaukee. The places I liked working most were Houston, Ann Arbor, Tucson and Colorado Springs. The places I didn’t like were Albuquerque and Nashville.

   The most money I made that year for one show was one of the holiday parties. I got $1250, but had to send $250 commission to the booker who got me the gig. I didn’t have merchandise then, so that wasn’t an issue. The most I made for a club week was $1500. Most others paid $1000.

   I kept track of everything from how many miles I drove back and forth to gigs, (37,577) to the number of new clubs I worked that year (3) to what specific bits I did in a particular situation or location. I still keep records like that now, although not quite as detailed. I have different needs.

   For a while I listed the hotels where I stayed and the radio or TV shows I did in a certain town, but that got to be a bit much – at least for me. Had I to do it all over again, I’d take it even farther though. Years later it’s fun to look back on it all, both for the one who lived it and ones seeing it.

You Choose What To Catalog

   As your career progresses, you can choose to add or drop things you keep track of each year as you see fit. For example, it’s not necessary to keep track of the money you make the first couple of years you start making any. It’s going to be a low total, and sometimes that depresses people.

    I personally laughed at it, but I see why others could get upset. As I came up the ranks I kept a running total of how much I’d make and where, and unfortunately that number has shrunk in the past few years as gas prices and everything else continue to rise. It’s getting to be rather insane.

   Here are a few things I’d suggest keeping tabs of as you come up the ranks. You’ll learn a lot, and also have a few laughs years later as you look back and see how much you’ve grown. That’s always the main goal – to always keep growing. It’s easier to keep track of that in yearly doses.

Suggestions of What To Keep Track Of As Time Passes:

-Year 1: Just focus on times on stage. When, where, how long, and how well you think you did.

– Years 2-5: Set goals as to how much new material you want to add (5-10 minutes is realistic).

– Years 5-10: When is it time to quit the day job? Move to a bigger or better city? Name the new venues you’d like to work, and/or new subjects to add. Review previous years and look forward.

Here are some examples of what I’d suggest you keep track of in years 1-5. More to come later.

COMEDY ANNIVERSARY SHEET OF: ____________________________________

Calendar year: ________   Years in the business: ____  Home Base: ______________

What are my 3-5 realistic goals for the coming year?

 

What are the 3-5 biggest obstacles I see for the coming year?

 

What were my biggest successes of the last year?

 

What were my biggest mistakes of the last year?

 

Who are the 3-5 most important people in my comedy life right now?

 

Who would I like to have them be one year from now?

 

How much solid polished material do I feel I have now? (Always answer this honestly)

 

How much can I expect to add? What is my strongest joke and/or bit? My weakest?

 

What is my ultimate goal in the comedy business? (This can and does change frequently)

 

What’s my strongest point, my ‘show’ or my ‘business’? How can I make both stronger?

 

   These are examples of questions to include on your own annual list, and there are no right or wrong inclusions or exclusions. The point is to start keeping tabs on yourself year to year, and in just a few you’ll start to see a definite pattern of positive and negative habits and be able to make adjustments accordingly. Oh, how I wish I’d have done this earlier than I did. But I didn’t, and it cost me time and frustration. Be smart, have a plan from the start. You can always change it up.

Returning From Time Off

By Dobie Maxwell – www.dobiemaxwell.com

   I want to discuss the matter of taking extended breaks. Everyone that invests a lifetime chasing the standup comedy dream will have reason to take some sort of break along their own individual journey. How long it ends up lasting doesn’t matter. It could be weeks, months, years or decades.

   As I write this, it’s been close to six months since I’ve written an article about standup comedy. Not a single word. I’ve been busy performing all over North America, teaching classes and doing all I can to improve my craft onstage and off. But I haven’t sat down to write about it. Until now.

   That being said, I’ve been dreading it all day. I knew I’d have to work through the rust and get myself back into an instructional groove – even though I’ve been teaching live classes frequently and also writing my daily ‘Dented Can Diary’ like I have been for seven years as of this writing.

   It’s not like I’ve been goofing off and doing nothing. I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been most of the time since my last article, but it’s just been at other things. Whatever groove that may have been established is now completely gone, and I’m starting from scratch. I have no doubt I can get my stride back, but I know it won’t come without hard work. The adage “use it or lose it” is true.

Breaks Are Natural

   In any pursuit that lasts a lifetime, breaks are going to be inevitable. Life has a habit of wanting to be in charge, and often it grabs the wheel and yanks us in a different direction against our will. We can fully intend to want to devote ourselves to our particular craft or calling, but life may not see it our way. I have seen literally thousands of aspiring comedians come and go since I started.

   Most of them quit, and quit for good. This is not an easy pursuit, and that’s the understatement of the cosmos. It’s like saying outer space is ‘big’. Really? I hadn’t noticed. Standup comedy is a difficult undertaking you say? Who’d a thunk that either? Not only is it not for everyone, it’s not for most. Staying with it for a lifetime is a grueling marathon, and I can’t believe I have done it.

   Once in a while, someone will attempt a comeback. I’ve seen it happen more than once, but the results are usually the same. That person was funny enough to have carved out a place in a scene at a particular club or in a region, but then they quit for a multitude of reasons – often legitimate.

   They get a job transfer, get married, get sick, get sick of the business, get the bug to try another aspect of performing like improv, acting or music or any number of other reasons. Whatever it is, it takes them away from the consistent grind of regular stage time. Before long, they’re finished.

   I don’t mean they’re finished for life, but they lose whatever level of proficiency they’ve been able to attain through however much effort they’d put into it. Like physical exercise in a gym, it takes constant conditioning to feel any benefits. One has to keep going in order to stay in shape. Very few comics I’ve ever met have been able to keep their chops sharp throughout their lives.

I’m Abnormal

   My own case is a rare exception. I’ve been able to stay with it pretty regularly since I started at age 20. I thought about doing comedy before that, but I had no idea how to get started. I began at 20, and didn’t let up. Whenever, wherever and however I could get on a stage, I did – even when it wasn’t convenient. I drove, bussed, walked or hitch hiked to anywhere that would let me work.

   At first, it was only one night a week. There were no comedy clubs in Milwaukee where I grew up, but there was an open mic comedy showcase at a jazz club on Monday nights. That was THE only comedy stage in the state then, and I was there religiously. I ended up going on 57 weeks in a row before I got my first paid spot at a Sunday show down the street – a whopping ten bucks.

   After that, I got into the Chicago scene and eventually became a full time road comic. It wasn’t hard to get stage time at all then, and in fact I was working six nights a week if not seven. I’d not want any time off, as I was doing what I’d always wanted to do. My vocation was my vacation. I really grew during those years, and had fun doing it. What better life could there be for a comic?

   Then my life path changed, and I landed a morning radio show in Lansing, MI. The hours were torture, but I still kept doing sets at the comedy club there even though it would have been easier to just blow it off and focus on learning the radio game. I had the presence of mind to not get out of my comedy groove, and in retrospect I’m SO glad I didn’t. I never stopped honing my skills.

   Over the next several years, life was really unstable. I bounced around between the cesspool of radio and the road life of a comedian, but I never had a definite direction. I’d be doing really well at comedy, but then a radio offer would come and I’d take it. Then I’d get fired nine months later and have to go back out on the road again. It was insane, but I thought it might lead to ‘stability’.

   Stability??? Was I on drugs? If anyone wants ‘stable’, they should go raise horses. That’s about the only stable I can think of, and even then there are no guarantees. When standup comedy was my source of ‘stability’, I knew the radio business was a crapshoot of astronomical proportions.

   Then on top of that, I went through a very rough period where my childhood best friend chose to rob a bank he used to work at – TWICE – and blame one of them on me. I wish I were making that up, but I’m not close to inventive enough to be able to come up with a scheme that ballsy.

   It ended up taking several years for the situation to play out, yet all through those rough times I never ever stopped doing comedy. Any time I could get on a stage, I did. Even at my very lowest point when I was out of a job and there looked to be a possibility of me doing some prison time, I still had to go out and make the audience laugh every night. I could have given up, but I didn’t.

   I realize not everyone will have the severe obstacles I did, and it doesn’t make anyone a loser if they decide to quit – even temporarily. I never did, but that’s me. The only times I ever wasn’t on stage regularly were due to health reasons. Once it was because of a near fatal car wreck, and the other was when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Other than that, I’ve always stayed in tune.

The Rust Factor

   Both times I’ve had to come back from extended layoffs have been extremely unpleasant. I am notorious for not getting the least bit nervous before shows, and other comics have marveled at it for years. For whatever reason, going on stage never bothered me and I rarely if ever had trouble with stage fright or pre show jitters. I have plenty of other troubles, but that has never been one.

   I always thought that if I wasn’t ready to be funny by the time I got to the stage I didn’t belong there in the first place. Funny comes from within, not just saying the lines correctly. It’s a whole being performance, not just a few spoken lines thrown around. There’s a lot more to it than that.

   We’ll dissect all of this in detail in future articles, but for now I want to focus on what I started. It can be just as intimidating as or even more so to attempt and execute a comeback from a layoff than it can be starting out from ground zero. At least there are low expectations for the beginner.

    What gets to be a dangerous mind game is assuming one will be just as sharp after taking time off than they were at their peak of performance level. This just doesn’t happen, and there’s never a way to hurry the process. It will take time to get one’s chops back, and that’s just how it works.

    I’ve seen all kinds of acts take the stage after varying amounts of off time, and they all have an adjustment period to go through. NO exceptions. I’ve seen acts that used to have no trouble at all knocking down a solid high energy 45 minute headliner set night after night struggle to pull off a five minute guest spot in a club. The look of bewilderment when they come off stage is telltale.

    Nobody enjoys not being able to do what was once a breeze, but that’s a hard fact of life. The hot young starlet eventually gets old, as does the young buck athlete. Anyone with acquired skill can lose it if they don’t keep in practice. This applies to comedy, music, acting or brick laying.

Getting Your Groove Back

   I don’t think I can stress highly enough how important it is to keep DOING standup comedy in order to not only improve, but to maintain a level of proficiency. There needs to be a groove that gets established, and it can only be maintained by continuous persistent action. NO exceptions.

   Just because you went on stage once last January and now it happens to be December and this is the next time you’re doing it, you haven’t been doing comedy ‘a whole year’. I’ve had people tell me variations of a story like that all the time, and I have to correct them. Let’s get it straight.

   They’ve been on stage TWICE. Period. It doesn’t matter if that was in the same night or twelve months apart. Twice is twice, and that’s that. Go on stage two HUNDRED times in that year, and then we’ll talk. The only way to truly grow as a standup comic is and always will be stage time.

   Still, I understand that in the real world circumstances come up and sometimes extended breaks are unavoidable. That’s normal, but know that as one comes back there’s going to be some rough patches and it will be virtually like starting over. That being said, get out there and start working!