Setting the Tone
I'm gonna send a thank-you card to a booker tomorrow. She didn't book me, but when I emailed her about doing a guest set at her club, she replied quickly and asked me to call in so we could discuss things. Her club runs very clean shows, and I'm prone to salty talk, so we agreed it'd be a bad idea for me to come, but she was so damn nice about it. Professional, even. It was a nice change of pace.
There's a lot of talk about how newer comics are all about shock value and grossout humor, and some of that is true. It's easier to stand out in a crowded lineup of generic jokers if you're the most scatological freak in the bunch, right? The problem is, everyone under 40 grew up with an internet. We're all pretty much gross creeps now. It's hard to shock anyone. And when ten out of the twelve comics in a night use the F-word and do jokes about sex and poop, the edge is lost.
All that is pretty much inevitable, I think. But here's the thing. A lot of these free showcases I've been doing to hone my craft are curated affairs, run by promoters in various venues (bars, restaurants, etc). It wouldn't be hard for any of these people putting the list together to write up and distribute a list of standards, or a set of rules. Break the rules, you don't get to come back. There's a room on the western edge of Michigan that I wanted to try out, but the booker asked to see some video and had a specific list of things not to do. I sent him the link to my video, and that was the last communication we had. I'd have hoped for a polite turn-down instead of being ignored, but the point was made. This room's not for you. I'm okay with that.
I don't do really gross or over-the-top material, at least not compared to many of the dudes I see. But my big closing bit absolutely requires the use of the F-word, and I reference strip clubs, doggie style sex, elderly racists, dangling scrotums (scrota?) and other such fun topics in my act. I think I do it all with a certain cleverness that elevates in beyond juvenile shit-smearing, but then again, I would think that, wouldn't I? I'm a bit biased.
Again, I'd never tell anyone how to run their room. Your crowd is older and wants Jeff Foxworthy or Bill Cosby style humor? That's fantastic. I can't work for you, but that's fantastic. Your bar wants the raunchiest, grossest, most out-there shock value jokes? I'll come do the room, but I'm probably gonna feel like everyone's dad and sit in the corner drinking and disapproving.
My only real beef is when someone lets a room spiral out of control and then complains about it. If you don't give the comics any guidelines, or if you put up an MC who immediately launches into graphic blowjob pantomimes with the mic and crass jokes about anal sex, what are the other dozen comedians supposed to think about where the bar is set? If you want to rein it in and keep the customers eating wings and drinking expensive beers, then don't blow the doors off from minute one. Set some guidelines, stick to them, and actually listen to the people you put on stage, so you can tell them to tone it down or cross them off your list for next time, if need be.
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Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.