Monday, August 29, 2011

Carolines

I performed at Carolines on Broadway last Monday. This marked the fourth time I made a trip to the Big Apple for comedy. The first trip was last August when I did a bringer show (a show that requires a performer to bring a certain number of people in exchange for stage time) at Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan.

My first trip to Gotham was a great experience for me. I was only six months into my stand up "career" when I made this venture and there was a lot of excitement in being at that club on that stage. It did not matter that it was a six o'clock Saturday show that required I find four friends in NYC in order to perform or even that it was a low turnout of forty people in a club that holds over three hundred. The rush of performing on a famous stage like Gotham and passing pictures of every performer that ever performed there (including Steve Martin) on my way to the bathroom made this trip more than worthwhile.

Since this initial trip, I went back to perform in New York three times at venues such as New York Comedy Club, Stand Up New York and Carolines on Broadway. Being the home club of guys like Louis C.K., Bill Burr and many great guys before them, performing at Carolines was a huge landmark for me.

I first perormed at Carolines this past April and it was a crazy time for me. I was getting married in less than three weeks and because of that overbooked myself in March and April. I knew I would not be performing much in May and June (wedding, honeymoon, life, etc.) so I took every show I could leading up to that. This culminated in a trip to New York and performing at Carolines.

Though a great experience, I did not have the set I wanted to have. I was burnt out and tired. I had been performing a lot, worked a fulltime job, helped my wife with wedding planning and was forty-five pounds heavier than I am right now. This and the pressure I put on myself made my Carolines debut tight and tense. It wasn't a bomb but it was mediocre at best. Instead of going four for four with two homeruns... I went two for three with a strike out. Though it wasn't my best, the booker invited me to come back and I did so less than a week ago.

This time I went into Carolines in fighting shape and incredibly sharp (getting a weekend at Magooby's where I did five shows in three days certainly helped the crispness of this performance). My set was supposed to be six minutes and it ended up being ten minutes of constant laughs and a really solid performance.

Like my set at the Mencia show last month, I drew on the learning experiences of the past eighteen months and used them to put on a good show. The reason my set was long was because I never got the light (the mark tells you if you have anywhere from one to five minutes left in your set). There was a time when this would have rattled me. I would have been constantly looking for the light and not focused on the task at hand: having a good set.

In watching the video back, this is the most comfortable and engaging I have been on stage to date. I did a good job selling every joke and worked each side of the room filled with over two hundred people. The critique I give myself is with my closer. Because my set was longer than it was originally supposed to be, I closed on a joke that I typically would not have closed on. The joke did not bomb by any stretch of the imagination. In sports terms it was a bunt single after a stream of homeruns and line drive doubles.

After my previous set at Carolines, I was met with indifference by the other comedians. This time I was met with fist bumps, high fives and handshakes. I'm a guy that is hard on himself about a lot in life. I judge myself harsher than anyone does with comedy... but this time I crushed it at Carolines. To have a great set on that stage meant a lot and is a feeling I won't forget.

The highlight of the night for me was meeting Bill Burr. After my set, I walked out of the showroom to go to the bathroom and hang out at the bar. The first person I saw at the empty bar was Bill. He could not have been a nicer or cooler guy. We made small talk about comedy and a radio show we both did in Baltimore (Slavy Seconds). The thing I'll take away from this meeting is Burr's love of comedy. The man just finished taping his sixth appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman and he had an endless list of possibilities of things he could do to celebrate. He's in New York. There are a million bars or restaraunts he could go to. Hell, he could go back to the hotel and hang out with his girlfriend. Instead, he went to a comedy club to "hang out and eat some tomatoes." I hope this is the place I decide to hang out after Letterman when I'm two decades into the game.

Towards the end of the show, Judah Friedlander (30 Rock, American Splendor) stopped by to do a set. It was fun seeing a bigger name comedian coming by a room to work on his new material. It's a friendly reminder that in comedy we eventually end up at the same level. Despite money or television success, whenever a comedian starts that new set or new joke, he ends up at this comedic version of ground zero. I didn't get a chance to talk to Judah as much as I did Bill, but it was fun to watch his set. He is a really funny guy.

In the end, I got as much as I could have gotten out of this trip to New York. I got to meet a great comic and one I look up to in Bill Burr. I got to hang out with my wife and my great friends Will Carey and Ben Rosen. I had a great set and a great video of it on a stage that probably means more to me personally than any other one in comedy. Did I mention that I got invited to come back in October? As far as comedy Mondays go... this past one was a good one.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Show #119, #120 & #121: Carolines on Broadway, Baltimore Comedy Factory and Terra Cafe

I wrote a really long epic blog but a combination of Hurricane Irene and Blogger's ineptitude caused it to vanish forever.  I promise a really blog (that will mainly focus on my experience at Carolines in New York) is coming very soon...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Shows #112, #113, #114, #115, #116, #117 & #118: Ragtime, Red House Tavern and Magooby's Joke House

After a brief family vacation/getaway, I had a busy week of sets...

On Tuesday, I hit Ragtime in Arlington, Virginia.  This room is run and organized by Rahmein Mostafavi at Cool Cow Comedy.  This is a great and intimate room that always seems to have the best lineups in local comedy.  My seven minute set went over well and was used to mainly go over and polish some of my older bits.  Besides one bit that could have been worded better and tightened, I did a good job delivering and remembering these jokes. 

I followed this set by working on new material at Red House Tavern in Canton, Maryland.  This eight minute set was a series of awkward silences and chatty bar patrons interrupted by laughs.  I've enjoyed this venue a few other times I've been there... but it was sparsley crowded on this occasion and featured a table of talkers in the back of the bar (something that is hard to ignore when the bar is as small as it is at RHT).  This open mic was productive in the sense that I got to work on new premises and cut the fat on new bits I've been working on.  Also, the four people paying attention like me...

I ended the week at Magooby's Joke House for a weekend hosting run.  This was a very interesting five shows in a three days.  The crowds were small because it is August and at the end of vacation season (not to mention, the friday shows were competing against a home Ravens game).  The crowds were a little older and tighter than usual, but I still had a lot of fun.  I sprinkled in a lot of new bits through out the shows and did a lot more improv than I usual do.  I'm also glad that I ended the week on a high note and had great sets on Saturday. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shows #106, #107, #108, #109, #110 & #111: Hightopps Bar and Grille, Potomac Grill, Vespucci's, State Theatre, Sonoma's Bar and Grille and Red House Tavern

I stopped by Hightopps Bar and Grille in Timonium, Maryland on July 31, 2011 to continue working on new material. I asked my good friend and showrunner T. Brad Hudson for some extra time so I could work on stretching these new bits and incorperating them into my longer set. Brad was generous enough to do so and give me the feature spot before headliner Jason Weems.

If you do not know who Jason Weems is... I highly recommend looking him up. Jason, a Baltimore comic and finalist on Last Comic Standing is one of the best comedians working and a really nice guy to boot. When I started doing comedy in February 2010, Weems was one of the comedians on the line up at my first open mic at the Topaz Hotel in Washington, DC. Jason was already a headliner at that point and his career has gotten even bigger since then.

I'm also proud to call Jason a friend in comedy. Since we met, he has been extremely supportive and gracious with his time and resources. Always kind and open to giving advice, Weems has provided a bit of a road map for me in my budding comedy career. The dude became a headliner and legitimate working comedian in less than four s(something I aspire to do). He is a respected locally and nationally and is one of the hardest working people in the industry. He does all of this while gracefully balancing a busy schedule that includes a full-time job as an elementary school teacher, a wife and his first child on the way. The way he balances his life and career is inspiring and one that should be appreciated by anyone in or outside of the comedy realm. With a wife, a job and comedic aspirations... I certainly do.

My fourteen minute set (that featured ten minutes that were performed for either the first time or only a handful of times before) went extremely well. Obviously, there was stumbling. I'm still figuring out what some of the new bits are and shaping them. I told two jokes incorrectly by telling parts of them backwards (switching the set up and the punchlines). I also forgot to tell two jokes that I wanted to polish. Overall, this was stil a really good set. Not my best or most polished, but my deliveries and salesmanship of the bits were really strong and I got laughs on every joke but one (that has been dropped since that show).

I followed up Hightopps with a set at Potomac Grill in Rockville, Maryland on August 3rd. I drove two hours roundtrip to do 7 minutes in front of eight comedians and two audience members. I didn't make these ten people or the invisible folks in the back of the room laugh but neither did anyone else. I will file this set in the "character building" folder.

On August 5th, I did a friday night showcase at Vespucci's in Fairfax, Virginia. This was a very interesting night that opened with a twenty minute performance by a belly dancer. This middle aged woman put the belly in belly dancer and made me feel like I was a lead character in a Christopher Guest movie.  I ended up doing fifteen minutes that was made up of a lot of crowd work (something I could not have done a year ago) and I got laughs through out my set. Overall, it was a fun night and I have to give special thanks to my friend Jessica Brodkin for setting me up with the show.

I was at the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virgina the following night. This was a really good experience and a very strong seven minute set (which included all polished/established material) in front of one hundred and fifty people. The State Theatre is a beautiful venue and it made me feel like a legit performer. I entered the venue through a side door that read "Artist Entry". I didn't know that telling masturbation jokes made me an artist.

A classy picture Will Hessler took back stage
 at the State Theatre in VA.

I performed ten minutes at Sonoma's Bar and Grille in Columbia, Maryland. I used this set to continue working on new material. One of the bits I'm doing now incorperates jokes within jokes and has become a four minute bit. It has been getting a great response. I worked mostly on my transitions and remembering the order of jokes/bits during this set.

Despite the jokes still being raw and not polished or in their prime state, I'm getting laughs. I think my comfortability and joke selling is getting better and I am becoming more engaging on stage (I still have a lot of work to do on this but I'm light years past where I was at the beginning of the year). This was a set where I feel like I got by on being a good performer and not necessarily telling the best crafted jokes (something that happens when you're working on new material).

Tonight I did a set at the Red House Tavern in Canton, Maryland. This is quickly becoming my new workout room. I can just kind of show up and do time and throw out new ideas. I did fifteen minutes of the new jokes I have been working on as well as new concepts I was throwing out for the first time. It was a lot of fun.

I finally deleted a joke that I tried out three times and it never worked (that is a general rule in comedy... try something out three times before you judge it for better or worse). I still like the joke but in three attempts... it never got a laugh.

The aborted bit in question talks about wishing I was as excited about anything as my dog is about everything. For example: My dog wakes up in the morning and is excited to be alive. She wags her tail and is amazed by a life of eating, pooping and scratching her imaginary balls. On the other hand, I wake up every morning and am I mess. I'm groggy and tired. The first thing I say in the morning is: "Damn... well that happened again".

They all can't be winners...