Tuesday May 29th, 2012 – Chicago, IL
Anyone who claims to be a performer of any kind needs to get on stage regularly in order to get better, but it’s especially true for comedians. We need that dynamic of a live audience to develop our timing and tell us what’s working and what isn’t. We are a slave to what audiences will buy.
A musician or singer can practice alone for hours to improve his or her technical skills, then go up on stage in a live setting and do virtually the same thing they rehearsed. A comedian can’t just memorize some jokes or routines like a laundry list and expect it all to be a ready to go product.
There are always tweaks and adjustments to make, and the feedback of an audience is required to help us sort out what stays and what goes. That’s what ‘polishing up an act’ is about, and what makes it even harder is that audiences change every single show. Not every crowd likes the same things, and it can be maddening to try to please everyone – although most comedians try anyway.
This week I’m back at Zanies in Chicago for another engagement and I’m grateful for a chance to be able to perform six nights in a row. I have always enjoyed working on my craft, and if I had my way I’d get on stage somewhere seven nights a week for the rest of my life if they’d let me.
That used to be a lot easier to do, and I thrived on it for years. Club bookings used to be called ‘weeks’ for a reason. That’s how long we were hired to do shows. It usually started on a Tuesday just like this week did, and would often run through Sunday. Zanies is one of the few clubs in the country that still have that long of a week. Most other clubs are down to two or three nights tops.
A lot of the bigger club acts get booked for Friday and Saturday nights only. It’s for two shows each night, and they can make a very nice chunk of change for those four shows. That’s fine, but I would love to come into a town and sell out a club from Tuesday through Sunday consistently.
There’s a groove that builds up with regular performance, and it’s a feeling of power to be that razor sharp at any given time. Athletes talk about ‘the zone’, and I’m sure musicians get that way if they’ve been on tour for a while. The old adage is really true – if you don’t use it you’ll lose it.
The audience tonight was pretty dead, but that can be expected on weeknights. Zanies has their ‘Good Neighbor Night’ promotion where people living in the surrounding zip codes can come in for a very low price. I think it may be a buck, but I could be wrong. Whatever it is, it’s very low.
The other acts on the show are good guys, and pretty laid back on stage and off. That’s fine by me, as I tend to get pretty animated and energetic. I love nothing more than to pound an audience into submission and keep pounding them until they can’t laugh any harder. That’s what I live for.
Having people line up after a show and tell me they almost choked to death from their laughter or better yet wet themselves, even if only a few drops, makes me feel I’ve done my job. There is no better reward for a comedian than hearing a customer needs a change of underwear. Paydirt!
Tonight I had to work very hard to get and keep their attention, but I didn’t let up and took it as a challenge. This is what I do, and I gave them the best I had. I’m grateful for the chance to do it.