Live From New York…It’s Ben Konstantin!
Ben Konstantin has been my peer from the very start of my time in comedy. Like I said previously regarding my friendship with Bob Phillips and Steve Lind, Ben is a guy who I don’t see me interacting with in any other world outside of comedy. We’re just two very different people. Honestly, he rubbed me the wrong way until I started to get to know him. What I viewed as off putting, was really just focus and determination. I’m glad I managed to overcome my preconceived biases and got to become friends with Ben before he moved to New York. I’m a fan of the guy and I was curious to see how the Big Apple was going to treat him. A handful of Detroit guys have made the jump to New York, but I wasn’t as close with any of them as I am Ben. So now that he’s a couple months into his new residence, I picked his brain.
How is comedy treating you so far out there?
It’s been tough and great at the same time. Recently I had a week where I was on stage seven times in five days and mostly good shows.
What kind of shows?
A couple guest sets, one bringer, an audition/new talent type show and a couple shows that were produced by other comics. That was my best week in NY. But my first reaction to your question was like some Norm on Cheers line, “like a puppy treats a rug”. It is very, very different and very, very hard. It’s like wrestling a gorilla.
I’ve heard it’s basically like starting over.
It is completely starting over in many senses, but not all. Networking-wise – I am completely starting over. Whatever I did before, whichever clubs I worked in the midwest or frankly anywhere, whoever I opened for at big venues, – meaningless. It is really, really hard to get stage time in front of bookers or agents or frankly an audience. There are a ton of open mics and they are almost all in front of other comics at wierd times, like 5:30 pm.
How are those shows?
A lot of what’s good about those is, just meeting people, getting a feel for doing something different, different place geographically and different type of room and approach – ie do I just accept that these guys won’t laugh or even listen? Or can I try and get a reaction? You’re also still stretching the muscles so to speak – but sometimes when you’re trying new material it’s like you can’t even tell if it works or not. I’ve done a couple guest spots at real clubs in front of good audiences and they felt like gigantic breakthroughs.
That’s pretty awesome! Are you getting out a lot?
Some times I go to the good clubs and just hang out, try and meet the people who work there, meet the comics, watch. You will see some of the best stand up comedy. It is inspiring and it feels like a light at the end of the tunnel. Because it is so, so competitive, every single comic at the top is really strong.
What are some of the better experiences you’ve had so far?
Some of the cooler things that have happened are I got to showcase in the later rounds of the Montreal festival auditions. I didn’t make the festival, but just getting that far felt like an upgrade and something I may not have had the opportunity to do in Detroit. When I was taking the subway home from the audition, there usually are a bunch of people waiting for the train. This night there was only one other guy and myself. He was another comic from the audition. So, we started talking and he was in LA the last ten years and moved here in January. So I asked why he moved from LA to NY? And he said he got a job writing for a TV show. That’s not the kind of thing that I hear at home.
Is this your first time there performing?
I performed in NYC a couple times when I still lived in Michigan. Twice in the NY Comedy Contest and just did “ok”. Not sure why, really. I think there is an adjustment process going from the midwest to NY or LA. And I needed to do more than just a show or two to figure things out. I also performed at a little show in Hells Kitchen that was put together by other comics – everyone else was kind of alternative and some, not even comics, someone read poetry, someone had a ukulele, it was a fun experience.
Is that why you picked New York?
Those reasons aren’t what made me decide to move to NYC. I spent a lot of time visiting here and LA before I moved. I spent a ton of time talking to everyone I could in and about both places. I could’ve easily gone to L.A.. It was a really, really hard decision. I just had sort of a connected feeling to NY. There is an agent in LA that I’d been talking to for a while and his advice was: “You can make it from either place, so you might as well go to the one you want to live in”. Plus, they always said NY was the stand up Mecca, and LA more of a combination for acting, writing and stand up. And I really wanted to push stand up.
What ultimately made you decide to make the jump?
After I was laid off from my day job a few years back, I made the decision that I wanted to pursue comedy and see if I could make a living doing it. I worked the road somewhat and after a couple years I came to the conclusion that I needed to move. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to or that I think it’s the only way, but I felt I had to. There was a point where I was frustrated because I felt I should’ve been moving up and I wasn’t and I talked to a comic friend of mine who has been one of my more successful comic friends and she said “You gotta move. Either L.A. or NY, just pick one”. So I did.
After I had decided to move to New York, but about a week before I had left, I decided to take Jeff Singer – The Producer from the Montreal Festival’s stand up seminar. Jeff reviewed my material a couple years before and he was pretty tough. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time, but I decided to take the seminar this time around anyway. Before I went in, I decided to think about what he had told me in the past. And this time it went really well. I found his feedback to be really good preparation for what to expect in NY.
People have compared their hometown scene and then the New York scene as junior college and grad school. Are you finding that to be true?
Yes. At least for me. That’s not to disrespect the Detroit scene. But, my goal in coming to NYC was to continue to grow as a comic and get on TV. And to get on TV, I need to raise my game. I feel like I was a pretty good writer and performer, but there are just so, so many more comics here that to stand out you just have to do something different and better.
It’s like being a good college athlete then moving up to the pros. Everyone around you is better, so you have to be better to stand out. It didn’t matter what you did before, you have to prove yourself all over again and prove at a higher level. Another comic friend said to me recently that he didn’t think the talent in NYC at the open mics was any better then in Detroit – maybe, but there are just so damn many more comics that just by sheer numbers there’s going to be more talent, more at the top and more competition. I’m sure this answer would apply to L.A. too, maybe even more so.
That’s a pretty bold move. Is there anything you would’ve done differently to prepare yourself for that?
Thanks. I don’t like to live in regret, but honestly, the only thing I would’ve done differently is, I would’ve made the move a few years ago – because I feel it takes a while once you get here (or LA, I imagine) to really get acclimated and make anything happen. It’s a marathon, an endurance test. So, if I could’ve gotten started on this part of my life and career a little earlier that would have been nice. But at the same time, I’m glad I made the move at all, and if I had gone earlier, who knows what might have happened? I may not have met my girlfiend, so, you can’t live life like that. But, generally and objectively speaking, that’s one thing I would’ve done. I couldn’t have researched it any more than I did though.
You’ve always been a person who practiced your short set as well as your 30 minute set. I only recently figured out the merits of having exercised those muscles. Are you finding having a strong short set is giving you an advantage in standing out in New York?
I think it does and it will, but I feel like it’s definitely still a work in progress – even as long as I have been doing comedy. Since I’ve been here I’ve gotten feedback from some industry types (TV scouts, agents, managers, etc) and even the previous couple of years when I started sending my showcase links out to TV execs – that’s the main reason to practice and have a tight strong short set – for TV auditons and other industry related auditions.
The open mics you go to here – when you’re trying to find stage time help practice that simply because there is potential to go to a lot of them and they are all roughly the same amount of stage time – 6-7 minutes. I think the fact that I’d been doing comedy for long enough in Detroit to develop a longer set/act that I can use to continually work and move up in clubs around the midwest is a good thing because I think it would’ve been way harder to develop that if I started here or LA. The environment here is more built for working and honing and chiseling the short set.
Now I feel almost like im a little out of practice doing the longer set than when I get out and do a booking or two that are not in NY, I get to stretch those muscles again – so the fact that you have both worlds I think is a good thing. but I’m still constantly trying to hone my set and figure out how to write in a way that’s original and honest and funny to me and in place with what will get me noticed by industry.
What’s surprised you most about the scene there so far?
I knew it certainly would be really hard overall, but just the simple fact that it is so so hard and such a process just to get your material in front of bookers at clubs, I didn’t know that part would be this crazy. I also didn’t realize that a lot of the mics (when you start here) are at early times like 5- 6 o’clock, so if you have a day job it could be a scheduling conflict. And its just something to get used too because you are so used to doing comedy at night and in front of an audience of paying customers as opposed to a bunch of other comics – almost every open mic. But again, it’s something that I feel will eventually make me stronger. I will also say that I think New Yorkers, are a lot nicer in general than the reputation. It’s still the big city, so there is all kinds of crazy stuff and of course not everyone is nice, but generally speaking people here are pretty decent.
Have you set or have you tried to set a record yet for how many times you’ve gotten on stage in one night?
To tell you the truth, no not really. Many of them are around the same time – between 5-6. There are a few later in the night but when you hear stories about comics hitting a whole bunch of clubs and doing a bunch of sets in one night- I think it’s more when they are working the clubs and doing sets. There is comedy every night of the week and a lot of the clubs have multiple shows in one night. Some places have three or four. There are also a lot of shows that are produced by different comics which can be at all different times. So, until I meet more people and get in with clubs, it’s a little harder to do a bunch of shows in one night. What I have tried to do being new is meet other comics, meet people who work at clubs and try and network when I’m not actually getting on stage.
A lot of Michigan guys have made that move already, have you gotten a chance to see any of our old peers and if so, how are they doing?
Well, not sure how many guys are in NY from Michigan. seems like more have gone to LA. I met up with Vince Averill and Jesse Popp one night – nice guys, they run a room or a space in the East Village area. the night I went was Easter, so couldn’t get a good guage on the actual show. We talked for a while, exchanged info, especially with Vince. seems like they are doing well, travelling here and there. Vince told me he’s doing some commercial acting, sounded cool. I hung out with Adam Sokol a few times – really generous, good guy. I know he is keeping really busy and getting on stage a ton. seems like he’s getting more and more fearless on stage when I’ve seen him. I talked to Brent Sullivan – also a good guy. I’ve heard he’s doing well and he was nice enough to pass on a bunch of info to me, but I haven’t seen him yet. I saw Ricarlo Flanagan – another really good, really funny guy, at the Montreal showcase where he did very well. We hung out a little. he hasn’t moved here, but seemed to be digging the scene.
What’s next for you?
The short answer is just keep pushing, keep writing keep networking, keep getting on stage. The whole process is like moving a boulder up a hill. I feel good about what I can do but no matter how much I do I have to keep moving forward and getting better and adjusting to the city and the comedy scene and trying to figure out what to do to cut through. What can I do to be different and good. My goal as I mentioned, is simply to be able to make a living doing comedy (which I am not) and be a really good comic. So, it’s really just to keep going and keep trying to get better. Keep try to hone in on what my voice is and get that down in a great showcase set. I’m not there yet, but I feel like I’m getting close.
I’m proud of Ben’s leap of faith. I’m proud of Ben’s drive. And I’m definitely proud to have Ben as a friend. I look forward to him breaking big because I’m sure he will.