Posts Tagged ‘quarterback’

Nobody Has To Know

March 6, 2014

Tuesday March 4th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Once again I was called in for short term bullpen duty by Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago, and once again I answered the call. For whatever reason, they needed me to fill in for tonight only so that’s what I did. I always enjoy the chance to work, even though the crowd isn’t always stellar.

I’m not talking about Zanies crowds necessarily, but about audiences in general. There are a lot of variables that make up any particular group of random strangers, and each gathering is its own mini lottery with astronomical odds. Like hands of cards, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Sometimes a given group meshes perfectly with the act on stage, and when that happens life is absolute bliss. Depending on the experience of the performer, he or she can make adjustments to find the sweet spot of what the audience is buying on that night. Trying to find what that happens to be is part of the fun of live performing. It all happens in the moment, and it’s a calculated risk.

Inexperienced entertainers have a limited range of where they can go. They give whatever they have, and leave it to chance. Sometimes it’s the correct fit, and sometimes it isn’t. That’s part of the process, and why it takes so long to master the craft of standup comedy. It’s quite involved.

Matching wits with an audience is a tremendous challenge, and I’ve learned to respect it over a lifetime. It’s a constant mental chess game, much like how the quarterback takes on a defense in a football game or a pitcher vs. batter matchup in baseball. It’s a series of guesses and adjusting.

On rare occasions, it all works out right from the start. I’ve had nights I could seemingly do no wrong, and I can’t figure out why. It just clicks, and I run with it. Other nights nothing works no matter what I try, and over time I have amassed quite a stash of tricks to haul out in the moment.

Part of the process includes trying several tactics to obtain the most positive response. One that can be highly effective is interaction. A dead audience can spring into life with crowd work, and I’ve implemented it successfully many times. I’ve also had it blow up in my face too. It’s tricky.

This whole game is tricky – but that’s why I love it. It’s a constant challenge, and even when it goes right there’s always the next audience to figure out and they could be stone faced. I liken it to doing crossword puzzles – something else I really enjoy. There’s always the next one to solve.

Tonight’s crowd on the surface seemed very good. It was quite large for a Tuesday, but I found them to be one of those rare hands of cards that was difficult to play. Vince Maranto was hosting, and he’s one of the most experienced emcees around. They liked him, but he talked to them a lot.

Calvin Evans was the feature act tonight, a younger comic who is very likeable on stage. I saw him have a tough time keeping their attention, and he eventually had to politely ask them to keep the table talk down. He handled it very well, but I knew I would be in for a challenge and I was.

This was one of those shows when every little thing went wrong, and no matter what I tried fell flat. It didn’t help that the whole front row was chatting during the whole show, but that happens. They all clapped loudly at the end, but I’ve had far better audiences. Shhh. Nobody has to know.

Performing for live audiences is never the same twice in a row.

Performing for live audiences is never the same twice in a row. That can be good and bad.

Game Experience

October 24, 2013

Thursday October 17th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

Any craft that requires skill requires repetition to maintain and improve said skill. There isn’t a single exception to this rule, even though a surprisingly high percentage of beginners mistakenly like to think the rule doesn’t apply to them. This is as wrong as feeding chili to a newborn baby.

It’s fine to read articles and have in depth discussions – even take classes, but until one actually goes out and DOES something it’s all meaningless. The learning comes by doing, and there’s no way around it. It’s great to be prepared, but preparation alone is never enough. Action is needed.

I’ve forever heard pro football people say that NFL quarterback is the most difficult position to play in sports. There are a lot of subtleties to it, and the only way to learn them is by actual game experience. It’s a painstaking process of trial and error but it’s the only way to become seasoned.

Standup comedy is the same way. I believe it’s the most difficult of all entertainment positions, and like quarterbacking there are many subtleties involved. It’s not just a matter of spitting jokes out night after night like a robot. There’s a lot more to it than that. It’s a very complex process.

Circumstances change constantly, and adjustments need to be made. As in football, sometimes a last second audible at the line of scrimmage is necessary. The only way to know what is needed requires experience, and there’s only one way to get it – making mistakes. It’s part of the game.

If there’s one subject I’m qualified to speak on, it’s making mistakes. I’ve made more than my share – more than a dozen people’s shares – but I’ve learned from them all. I’ll still screw up on occasion, but I am able to hide it and recover because I have finally figured out what I’m doing.

Having game experience opens up all kinds of new doors, and makes being on stage even more fun than it was before – and it was intoxicating before. The rush of being on stage is like nothing I have ever experienced, and I have pursued it for a lifetime. It’s the most exciting buzz there is.

I had no idea how to control it when I started, but I knew I loved it. I wanted to be on stage any and all chances I had to do it, even if only for a few minutes. That’s all anyone gets, but that’s all anyone can handle at first. Five minutes can be a LONG time – especially when it’s going badly.

Now, I can do a solid hour without thinking about it and still have plenty of material left over – and that’s a rock solid polished hour, not “Where ya from?” or “What do you do?” Crowd work doesn’t count, even though that’s a skill of its own. I’m talking about an act. It takes a lifetime.

A lot of nasty lumps were taken in that lifetime, and I can’t honestly say if I knew what it was going to entail and had to do it all again if I would. The experience I have came with a very high price, but I chose to pay it and now it’s mine. What can I do with it? Other than continuing to do shows, hopefully writing about my journey (and many mistakes) will help others on the way up.

My perspective now is very different than it was at the start. I still love being on that stage, but growth never ends. No creative artist or performer is ever a finished product. There’s always the next lesson to learn. Game experience gives me confidence, but also helps to keep me humble.

Standup comedy is like being a quarterback - the most difficult job in the business.

Standup comedy is like being a quarterback – the most difficult job in the business.