In the past nine and a half years I’ve performed in a lot of clubs and a bunch of them stand out for one reason or another because they do something so incredibly right. I just wanted to point a few of them out and apologize preemptively for any of the ones I forgot. When I write these, I type as I think and don’t even really go back to proof them unless a word gets underline in red! These are my thoughts as I have them. I guess what I’m saying is please book me again even if you slipped my mind this morning. Please…
The Skyline in Appleton, Wisconsin doesn’t do a check drop. If you’re not a comedian you might not know what that means. If you are a comedian you haven’t closed a show yet, you might not even know what this is a big deal. The check drop is when the waitstaff drops the bills off at the tables. In a restaurant it’s not a big deal because everyone comes and goes at different times. Being a wait person at a comedy club seems like one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Every single person is arriving at almost the same time and every single person is leaving at the exact same time! When you’re on stage, you go from being the focus of everyone in the room to losing everyone in the room at the exact same moment. At each table someone is fiddling for money. It can be very distracting. A lot of clubs do it really well. The club that does is the best is The Skyline because they don’t do it at all. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but it has something to do with table numbers. When the audience leaves, they tell the cashier on the way out which table they were at and then the settle their bill then. It’s fast and efficient. While they have their money in their hands and are in spending mode, they next walk past the comedians selling their merchandise.
During slow times a lot of clubs will “paper the room”. What that means is they give out free passes to get butts in seats. Clubs make most of their money off of drink sales, so it’s not usually a huge deal. Sometimes it sucks for the performer because if people haven’t invested anything financially into a show, they sometimes forget to invest their attention. The two clubs that stand out for me with papering are Lansing Connxtions and Dr. Grin’s. Lansing runs silly contests on their Facebook page. A lot of times the contests will coincide with the comedians that are there. The week I was headlining, the theme for the contests was nerdy movie trivia. This is great for a couple reasons. First is I’m getting to perform in front of people who share my interests. That’s going to make for a better experience both for me and them. My first show that week there was a woman front and center with a Futurama t-shirt on. I couldn’t have been happier! She’s going to have friends who she’s going to tell about the show and next time I’m there, maybe she’s back with an even larger group. I win and so does the club! The second reason is because people still feel like they “earned” a show even if they didn’t invest money in it. I think it makes the audience more engaged.
When I started, Dr. Grin’s in Grand Rapids had a house emcee who used the moniker Dr. Billy Grin. Billy kept a stack of free passes with him everywhere he went and he passed them out to beautiful women all around town. When people asked where all the hot chicks in Grand Rapids hung out, people would tell them, “Dr. Grin’s.” They were packed almost all the time! And Grin’s is the perfect experience for this because it’s in The B.O.B. with a bunch of other bars. It was one stop mating game…or whatever the kids call it.
Some clubs have staffs that honestly seem like they hate comedy. The Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase is just the opposite. They love comedy there! This is great for both Roger who runs the place and the comedians. Roger has a fleet of people recommending people for him to bring in. It’s great for us too because if you can make that staff laugh, particularly Jay behind the bar, then you know you’re doing something right. It’s a great way to test material on something other than your cats…who will never laugh because that’s physically impossible for cats to do. If you look at the line up at any time on the calendar at that club you’re going to see people who are on the verge of breaking big or are currently the secret gem that only people in the know know about. Roger was booking Lynne Koplitz way before she was doing television with Joan Rivers. Roger was booking Jackie Kashian years before everyone in LA had a podcast and found a way to mention that Jackie is one of the best out there. You can see the best of the best at Ann Arbor and be like the cool kid who can say the comedy equivalent of, “I saw Green Day at St. Andrews.” By the way, I did see Green Day at St. Andrews.
Reach out to the community. Joey’s Comedy Club is open more days a week than most comedy clubs in the world. That’s largely due to the fact that Bill Bushart who runs the place does Comedy For A Cause better than anyone I’ve ever met. Being a comedian himself, Bill knows how much better it is to perform for a full house. Since I’ve known him he’s been working at Joey’s doing promotions. Probably a week doesn’t go by where there isn’t some sort of fundraiser going on at Joey’s. Those fundraisers fill the place. It’s great too because then it becomes someone else’s job to fill the seats and not the clubs. If there’s a group that wants to do a fundraiser first show Saturday, then the club is now freed up to focus on second show Saturday. Both shows benefit! When the fundraisers go well, there’s invariably someone in the audience that thinks, “damn, this was a fun way to raise money. I should do one of these too.” They get in touch with Bill and another one is booked. Comedy For a Cause is so successful at Joey’s that many times they end up having to do a third show on Saturdays! I’ve been to clubs where they’ve had to cancel a second show on a Saturday because of lack of audience. Joey’s is open six days a week and has at least eight shows every week.
Posters, posters, posters. The Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin has a great graphic artist who makes posters for every show. The posters are beautiful and are hung prominently on the street in a great location. The Comedy Castle in Royal Oak has great posters inside as well that are also works of art. I was just at Laugh Comedy Club in Bloomington. It’s a smaller club on a limited budget. Adam that runs the place is hyper aware of how much of a difference a good poster can make. The person that was designing them used a text heavy design. Adam told him that he really wanted logos of the credits each comedian had. Now you get great posters there that really stand out. Bloomington, like Madison has a lot of foot traffic and those posters hang right on the street where people passing by can see them. They jump out at you too and generate buzz. A good poster can make a huge difference.
A nice green room is heaven! The Ice House in Pasadena has nice comfortable seating in there. We had a tray of cheese and crackers. If my memory is correct, there were beverages too. The Comedy Castle has a little fridge that always has water for the comedians. The lighting in there is perfect. There’s a television in both clubs where you can watch the show. The Castle even has it where you can tape yourself right from the green room via a ceiling mounted camera pointed at the stage!
And finally, say, “Thank You”. I absolutely love The Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin and always will because my last memory of the place every time I leave is an amazing one. When they pay you, they pay you in an envelope with a Thank You card. I still have my cards from every time I’ve been there. They write you a note and the management staff all signs it. It’s a small gesture, but it’s one that makes me happy every time I think about it. When a club makes an effort like that to show that they appreciate you, it makes you want to do everything you can to let them know you appreciate them as well. Whenever I’m on stage I want to do my best, but when I’m on stage in Madison I want to do better than my best.
So thank you to these, and all the clubs that have been keeping me steadily employed all these years!
Nine years ago today I had my graduation show at Joey’s Comedy Club. Since then I’ve done over 1480 shows.
Some comedians argue about the benefits of comedy classes. I like them, but with an asterisk.
I don’t believe you can teach someone to be funny. I think it’s like playing a musical instrument. You either have an ear for music or you don’t. It’s the same way with comedy. Either you have an ear for what a joke sounds like or you don’t. Yeah, like with music, you can teach the mechanics, but some people just are never going to get it. They don’t have that natural ability.
Believe me, I wanted to play bass so badly. Practically all my friends when I was a teenager and in my early twenties were great musicians. A lot of my friends to this day are still great musicians. I just don’t have a natural affinity towards music. I practiced and practiced my bass until I was passable in a punk band where I wrote most of the songs so I knew I didn’t throw anything out there that was beyond my ability. My first passion is music. If I could do that, I would. I hate that I can’t. I took guitar lessons and tried, but at the end of the day someone else with a natural ability was going to have a much easier time and go a lot further.
It’s the same way with comedy classes. Some people take the classes with no ability, but they want to be a comedian so bad. They’ll never really figure it out. Some people have that ability and just need little pushes in the right direction. Some people may be amazing writers and just want to conquer their fear of public speaking. For that matter, some people may have no interest in comedy at all and only want to conquer their fear of public speaking.
I believe comedy classes are a good thing…as long as their being taught by a comedian. There was, for a time, a stand up class being taught by a local actor. I guess that class was for students who wanted to learn how to act like a comedian.
Bill Bushart taught my class. Bill himself is a great comedian, but what makes him an even better teacher is his ability to almost immediately tap into a student’s sensibility and punch up the material in their voice. Bill is a master of tagging jokes and in my opinion the best teacher out there. I don’t know how things would’ve been different for me had he not been my instructor.
I’m glad I took comedy classes and started this pursuit of this craft. I’ve never worked hard for anything in my life before this. Everything I did, I did because it came easy to me. I’ve sacrificed more for comedy than anything else or anyone else in my life. I don’t know that I’ve made the right decisions always. At times I’m almost certain I’ve made the exact wrong decisions. Comedy has given to me and it’s taken from me. I’m so deep in it now that I don’t see a life without it. I love comedy like a junky loves their fix. At moments of lucidity I see comedy as the Symbiote that at first helped Peter Paker and then later tried to destroy him. But when I’m on stage, I’m high and I like it there.
Looking back, if I were to give anyone advice starting out, it would be to set boundaries. Look at the things that make you happy now and never let comedy step on those things or take those things away from you. When you sit down with a note book to write new bits, write yourself reminders about where you are and what’s important. My personal experience is it’s hard to balance the life of a comedian with the real world. I think the people who have are the people whose real world really started once they reached a certain level of success. I don’t know.
All I’ve learned in the past nine years is that I’ve amassed a lot of opinions about things and an ability to spew them without having any real knowledge of anything at all. And that’s what comedy is really…when you break it down. One person in the spotlight spreading their thoughts to a somewhat captive audience.
Well…this return to the website took a weird twist, eh? Welcome back.
This past week I did a handful of shows.
I started at the Castle on Wednesday where I was working on a five minute clean set. It was basically the set I did at the Ice House in Pasadena last month minus the opening joke. It killed in Pasadena to the point where it threw off my timing. I couldn’t keep the faux anger thing going on because I was so overcome with delight that the Latinos were enjoying me so much. It ate shit at the Castle. I recorded it. Christine and I watched it. Her guess is that the opening joke might not be the right opening joke. Back to the drawing board.
After that I headed over to Joey’s for Bill Bushart’s birthday. Bill was on fire on stage! It was a blast to watch!
On Thursday I spoke at the writing session at Laff Tracks in Novi. It’s a good group they have there. I had a really fun time. I’m glad they had me come out. I worked from my notebook and tried some new stuff. It probably wasn’t club worthy, but I could see it working more for rowdy bar crowds. With the exception of one joke that I did a couple more times this past week, I honestly can’t remember what the other things were.
Friday and Saturday I was at the Holly Hotel with the Scheen and Connoly portion of the Jeff Comedy Jam. It was a strong line up! I think it’s fair to say that we all have similar sensibilities and if someone liked one of us, they liked us all. That being said, one of the shows was a battle. I’m still glad that Beth who runs the room there is still super cool and nice and hasn’t turned to the dark side that comes from whatever bad mojo haunts the Holly Hotel! Previous managers…horrible people. The most recent one started off nice, but turned evil. Beth is still going strong and just a genuinely nice person.
My friend and newest writing partner Lesley Braden returned to the art of stand up during the Saturday show. I was really impressed. She came out with a brand new five minutes and it hit strong!
My brother brought out a bunch of his family and friends to the Saturday show for his birthday and I was glad that it went well. He and I are polar opposites, but one thing we did always have in common was our sense of humor. My first performances were acting out scenes from Saturday Night Live, Strange Brew and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure with my brother on our front lawn for neighbor kids. It always makes me glad to have him in the audience. This year for his birthday I didn’t make him get up on stage with me. Okay, at Holly you can’t really get up on stage as much as you can get over on stage.
On Sunday, Mr. Scheen and I rocked Maxie’s in Flint. The new general manager was complaining about the previous week show because audience members apparently left. My only guess is it was the heat. Maxie’s needs to fix their A/C. I was drenched when I got done performing like I had been in a sauna. It was a fun night. Jeff Scheen left me alone in the parking lot with a scary man, but I made it home safe!
This week I’m in Lansing at Connxtions. Come on out if you’re in the area!
I have spent close 24 in my car in the past week just driving from gig to gig.
On Tuesday, my buddy Dave Landau and I kicked off the comedy season for the Village Pub in Pentwater, Michigan. They’re over on the west coast of Michigan between Grand Rapids and Traverse City. Man, that place packs in an audience of people who really like comedy. I had a really fun set and then Dave crushed it as well. It was nice getting to travel a little with Dave again. That’s been happening a lot less since Funny Business moved me up a little. Dave and I have a really similar sense of humor, which is to say, dark!
After that, I drove home for some stuff and then headed back about an hour or so north of Pentwater to do the Leelanau Sands and Turtle Creek Casinos. It was my first time working with Todd Yohn. When Dave found out I was working with him, he had nothing but a lot of praise. Todd is a pretty spectacular showman, with a super positive attitude. He may be the only 30 year comedy veteran who has the same excitement level as someone maybe 30 weeks into it. It was really refreshing to meet someone so well put together both creatively and mentally. Todd took me out to breakfast on Thursday and we had a really nice conversation…for two hours. Todd can talk! He’s instantly likable and I’m glad that I made a new friend.
Friday and Saturday I headed to Merrillville, Indiana which is just south of the west coast of Michigan border. I’m working with my buddy, the great Bill Bushart. I figured out what Bill is to all of us in the Detroit comedy scene. If you listen to any episode of Jeff Conolly’s Nerd Comic Rising podcast, everyone idolizes and praises Bill. It’s like we’re all in the world of Oliver Twist and Bill has taken in all these scruffy little comedy orphans. Bill Bushart is the Fagin of Detroit comedy!
Now, I’ve seen Bill perform a lot! Friday night he was on fire. He knocked it out of the park. His timing was perfect and his goofy rubbery face and creepy eyes that work independently of each other really sold each moment and boosted the laughter from 100% to somewhere far off the chart. Every moment of crowd work he threw out there just landed hard. It was a humbling experience to go from thinking it didn’t get any better than what I did to just having Bill ride that wave of laughter like the most experienced surfer. That audience witnessed magic! Saturday night was amazing as well. He kept tying together seemingly unrelated threads from the audience. I was watching a master at work! I’m glad I was there to be part of it too!
This week I’ll be at Connxtions in Toledo working with Felicia Gillespie. I watched a bunch of her clips and I think this is going to be an amazing week of shows! I’m looking forward to it. If you’re in the area, swing on over!
On a completely unrelated side note to performing comedy, I’ve been working on a screenplay with my friend Lesley. I’m super happy with the progress on it. Lesley had an awesome idea and I’m so glad she’s letting me work on it with her. It’s a super smart comedy. I don’t want to say what it’s about, but think Bridesmaids meets The Social Network.
My buddy Jeff Conolly did an episode of his Nerd Comic Rising podcast right after he was part of the Deadpan wrap party. I want to include a link to it for a few reasons.
The first is because I thought it was interesting hearing another person’s take on the evening. I was glad he was able to do it. He mentions that he knew I would have been understanding had he not been able to be there. He’s way wrong on that. He would’ve been dead to me.
Seriously though, probably the biggest reason I wanted to include this is because I think he articulates very well the therapeutic value of doing comedy and being part of this family of entertainers. I always idealizes my time in radio saying that it felt like a family, but that wasn’t really the case. Comedy feels different to me. I’m so grateful to be part of this thing. If I don’t get on stage, I get depressed. It’s addictive. The happiest place in the world for me is on a stage in front of an audience with a mic in my hand. Jeff feeling that is what tells me he’s in this for the long haul and I’m glad because he’s a great guy.
The third reason I’m including this is because I think he did a better job at getting inside Bill Bushart’s head than I was able to. Simply put, Bill is the den leader of Detroit comedy. We all owe a lot to him.
So good job Jeff. You can listen to the episode by clicking here.
Every comedian in Michigan knows who Bill Bushart is. He is the Godfather of our comedy scene. He’s mentored either officially or unofficially just about every one of us at one point in time or another. Not only is he a phenomenal comedian who takes charge of a room like no other, he’s also the Marketing Director at Joey’s Comedy Club in Livonia. There are two vastly different sides to Bill’s persona. There’s the on stage Pitbull who owns a comedy show and then there’s the St. Bernard who will make sure you are safe on your journey.
Off stage, Bill is the person I try to model myself after. When a newer guy comments that I’m considered one of the nicer people in the scene, I merely tell them that I’m just returning the favor that Bill did for me. And honestly, I wasn’t always this nice. I’d shit on newer guys and Bill would call me on it reminding me that he remembers when I sucked. Bill not only is a great comedian, but also a great human.
I sat down with Bill before one of the shows at Joey’s Comedy Club. If you only know him from his act, this look into the man behind “Uncle Billy” may surprise you. Now go pick up your hair.