Posts Tagged ‘vaudeville’

New Old Material

February 3, 2013

Friday February 1st, 2013 – Frankfort, IL

   Comedians and non comedians alike are constantly obsessed with who has ‘new material’, and it’s a waste of time. It’s natural to want to grow and expand, but there first needs to be rock solid old material on which to build. That takes years of work, and it’s a lot harder than it may appear.

Comedians of the Vaudeville era would often do virtually the same act for forty and fifty years, even though that might be a little obsessive in the other direction for today’s needs. What I mean by getting ‘old’ material is having pieces that are polished and can be performed automatically in any situation without having to think about them. Those don’t come overnight to any performer.

Standup comedy is not natural in that nobody gets up in the morning and plans what they’ll say to their spouse or their boss or the people at work. Conversation is spontaneous. Standup comedy gives the ILLUSION of one just making up one funny line after the next on cue without effort.

Real life just doesn’t work like that, even though when it’s done well standup comedy gives the false impression it does. A good comedian makes it look effortless when in fact it’s anything but. The public doesn’t know that and doesn’t care, but smart eyes and ears know comedy is a craft.

I performed with Mike Preston tonight at ‘CD & ME’ in Frankfort, IL. That’s a gig Ken Sevara has been booking for several years now, and although it’s always fun there are a lot of regulars in the audience. They only do comedy seasonally, and Ken likes to use the same core group of acts.

I totally get what Ken is doing, and it makes perfect sense. It’s not a comedy club per se, and to constantly bring in new people for a one night part time gig would be virtually impossible. It’s an economics thing, and the people he brings in are very good acts. It’s been a win/win for all of us.

That being said, I like to purposely switch my set around in situations like this because I know there will be a certain amount of people who will have seen me before and I like to make it fresh for both them and me. I might do some of the same bits, but I change the order and add new ones whenever possible. When I can keep them on guard it’s good for everyone as it keeps us all alert.

There’s no law that says I have to do that, and some comedians do the exact same jokes they’ll always do in the exact same order, even though they know they’ve done it at the exact same club. There gets to be a fine line between consistency and laziness, and it takes effort to identify where it is. Some acts will walk through their set to get the money. I’ve always tried to be a bit deeper.

I like to know where I am and who may or may not have seen me before. There are people who like to see the same bits again, and I’m to the point where I get requests from regulars to do some bits like ‘Doris The Porkasaurus’ or ‘The Greyhound Bus’. When asked, I’ll always try to oblige.

Tonight I went back into my archives and did some material I haven’t done in years. I can’t say why, but I knew it would work so I did it. And it did. A group who has seen me often came up to me after the show and said how much they enjoyed all of my ‘new’ material. If they only knew.

Evolution 9

August 5, 2010

Tuesday August 3rd, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL

Any good artist, or person in general for that matter, constantly evolves. Singers, actors, comedians, writers, radio personalities, anyone. Early Elvis and The Beatles are a far cry from their later stuff, and that’s good. Not all fans may like it, but growth causes change.

I’m at a point in my comedy where I’m feeling a huge need to grow. I’ve not had much of a chance to be an ‘artist’, because most of my ‘career’ has been spent trying to eke out a living. Part of that means playing it safe and not taking any artistic risks to get a check.

It’s easy to call that ‘selling out’, and in many ways it’s exactly that, but what’s so damn wrong about it? When push comes to shove, most people in the business would totally do it, and I can’t say I blame them. It’s difficult enough to make a living in the regular world, much less the surreal circus that is show business. I do see why a lot of decisions occur.

In some ways, some sort of conformity is good – at least at the start. It does tend to keep an act grounded in my opinion. It establishes a starting point to evolve from, and it makes it easy to chart progress. Early George Carlin or Richard Pryor weren’t even close to what they were at their end point, but they were both legends in the business. They evolved.

Even Bill Cosby has evolved. I saw him live when I was a kid and he was unbelievably fabulous. Then, I saw him just a few years ago and he was still funny, but talked about his childhood in a completely different way than the Cosby legend most of us are used to did.

He was still great, but in a different way. I think it’s necessary to keep growing or it will all fall in on itself and crumble. This is probably a major reason as to why bands break up, other than it’s extremely difficult to get people to work in harmony for any length of time. Fans want to keep hearing ‘the old stuff’, and musicians want to keep creating new music.

I’m lucky enough where I don’t really have that many fans. I have some, and I’m totally grateful for every single one of them, but in reality I’m a comedy mercenary. I get hired to do various commando jobs around the country, and I’m gone the next day. I’m in and out. That’s how it was in vaudeville, where comedians used to use the same act for fifty years.

Personally, that would be a prison sentence to me. I don’t care how well it paid. I enjoy working and tweaking and reinventing my show and also tailoring it to the specific crowd on that particular evening. That’s part of the joy of performing, and what keeps me going.

In my early twenties, I was extremely angry about a lot of things and out to prove to the world I wasn’t about to take it’s BS. I was green and inexperienced, and made all kinds of stupid mistakes, several of which I’m still paying for today. But I’m not that person now.

George Clinton’s famous quote is “Free your mind, and your ass will follow.” I tweaked it just a little. I have freed my mind, and my act will follow. I’m not sure where it will go, but it will go somewhere. As I grow and change, my act has to or I’ll be in comedy hell.