I live in New York. I am a comedian, writer and actor. My day job is blogging for VH1.com. I write about the silly things celebrities and pop stars do, so you know...God's work.
You may have seen my writing on many other reputable websites (McSweeney's, The Huffington Post, Hello Giggles, xojane.com, The Hairpin, Splitsider, The FW, etc.). I also write crazy blogs about Game of Thrones, Magneto and Jeff Goldblum.
Life's weird, right?
…if you’ve ever wanted to visit Rockefeller Center, and take in the lights of the Christmas tree, and examine the gorgeous art deco architecture, and stare at the gorgeous window displays, and wonder at the gallant ice skaters doing figure eights like it’s nothing, but you hate crowds, other people and slow-poke, bottlenecking tourists…
YOU NEED TO VISIT ROCKEFELLER CENTER AT 8 AM.
Trust me. Unless Justin Bieber is playing the Today show, Rockefeller Center is only slightly, sparsely populated between 7:45 and 8:45 am. It’s mainly just commuters rushing to work or a tightly packed group of people surrounding the Today show windows. There was literally not a single soul around the tree this morning except for the tree’s two personal security guards. I would have enjoyed it, but I had to haul ass to FedEx.
Tonight I saw ten short plays written by school children and performed by professional actors. It was unbelievable. Each play was original and unique and it was really charming to see how the kids interpreted adult pathos and themes. It made me really, really jazzed once more to be slightly connected to the arts. Like, God…it’s about joy, you know? It’s all about love and joy. Even when it’s about darkness or evil, those stories are the ones about why we need love and joy. Just incredible.
Oh, and the last play had Jonathan Groff as a Late Night talk show host who proclaimed, “Curse my epic rap battle skills!”
So, yeah…awesome show. Check them out.
My life is now officially past the point of ordinary.
This is part three of a FAQ series of questions that I am unqualified to answer, but somehow still keep getting asked.
Oh, cool. You want to do stand up. First thing’s first: GOOD LUCK. Second thing: Bad Slava.
Bad Slava is considered the best online resource for open mics in NYC (and I guess, America?). I can’t really help you outside the major cities. If you live in a small town or rural college, google and keep a weather eye on the horizon for leads. Or, if you are in college and can’t find a campus mic…um…start one? All you need is a microphone in a room. Also, decide if it’s lottery (meaning people put their names in a bucket and it’s drawn at random) or first come, first serve (meaning people show up hours early to put their name and their friends’ names on a list). That’s all.
Third thing: The Creek and the Cave.
If you’re a comedy nerd and you’ve read about places like Luna Lounge or Rififi being the place where all the weird, groundbreaking people of the alt scene intersected, know that both are gone (physically) and that the current nexus is a restaurant and bar in Long Island City, Queens called The Creek and the Cave. Also, they have FREE open mics and shows (stand up and improv) every night of the week. Also, MARGARITAS.
Fourth thing: Facebook friend everyone you can without looking like a freak. There are more mics than what are advertised on Bad Slava. Facebook is the most popular way of promoting new rooms and it’s also a professional networking tool that links the comedy community together. Besides, most comics just friend anyone who asks them anyway*. They don’t care. Just friend request them.
FIFTH THING: YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO BUY MORE THAN A DRINK TO DO AN OPEN MIC.
When I was new and dumb, I posted on this here blog that I didn’t mind paying because I felt stagetime was privilege. I was new and dumb. (NB: I am still new and dumb.)
Don’t pay. I mean, why pay when there are so many FREE MICS in the city? Even the idea of buying a drink is open to debate, but hey…I always feel that if I’m in a small room with a bunch of people trying to be funny for over an hour, I’m going to need a diet coke or gin and tonic anyways. I don’t mind supporting the hovel putting us up. “Supporting” is the operative word. A mic or show’s relationship with a venue should ideally be mutually supportive and not parasitic.
Now, there is a hiccup to the “refusing to do cash mics”. It’s similar to my “refusing to bringer shows” line. You definitely close yourself off to potential stage time, and more importantly, comedy club connections. I say this because most comedy club mics do charge $5.00. I have avoided those. As such, I have next to no knowledge of the NYC comedy club world, and the NYC comedy club world has next to no knowledge about me. Choosing to do free mics pretty much seals your fate as an alt room comic**. Because my favorite comics all started in alt rooms, I really have no problem with that. That said, I am hoping to work in clubs because those rooms definitely work different muscles. I want the experience of it.
And to finally address the “I’m nervous and terrified” issue. Um…so am I. WE ALL ARE. You kind of have to find your inner Gryffindor if you want to do stand up comedy. If you’re more of a Ravenclaw, you can hang, but you’ll probably fare better just writing comedy. Hufflepuff? You will LOVE improv. Slytherin? Don’t even think about comedy, because fame and money and power are not going to happen, and if they do, you need to have either more guts, wits or charisma than ambition to make it happen. Actually, you would need all three and a ton of patience and perseverance. Just saying.
Here’s the thing…you’re going to suck. Think of your favorite comedian. You know, that untouchable guy or preternaturally perfect gal. You got them in your head. They spent years just sucking. Eating shit. Hell, most of them still eat shit sometimes. And even when they’re killing there are people in the room or watching on TV who hate them and wish they would shut up already. I’m not saying this to dissuade you. I’m saying it to inspire you. Sucking is part of the process. Fear is also part of it. Learning to be okay with failure (by constantly setting yourself up for it, experiencing it and ruminating on it) is the only way to find success.
So, ride the fear. Know that’s it part of it. Perseverance is also part of it. And again, GOOD LUCK.
*I DO NOT accept most friend requests from people I have never met, heard of or corresponded with. It’s just the way I keep it from being ridiculous.
**Also…here’s a secret for ladies out there hoping to do stand up…there are more girls in alt rooms and the guys tend to be more respectful and less into “women suck” and “rape’s no big deal” jokes. That said, I went to one free mic last night, where a crazy dude had a knife, I was the only girl and two of the last three comics awkwardly tried to make rape jokes funny. (They didn’t.) I mean, shit still happens, but alt room dudes are stereotypically more into talking about Pac Man on stage than pussy. Just saying…
(p.s. If you’re the kind of person who says to me, “Wah…how can I make a mic in the Village? It’s so far from where I live in Greenpoint!!” GTFO of comedy. Harsh? Yeah, but if you think a subway ride is too onerous for you, you really should not be doing comedy. It doesn’t get better; it gets worse.)
This is part two of an inadvertent series. The more you answer questions, the more people ask them. I will create a tab on my page to link to all of these soon enough.
Oh my God, how the hell am I supposed to know what improv school is best for you? I don’t even know what improv school is best for me. Basically, check them all out and GO WITH YOUR GUT. Don’t go where your idols went. Hell, don’t necessarily go where your friends went. Go where you feel most comfortable in your own skin. Get a groove going, and when it stops working at one place, go to another. Learn all you can (and don’t be snobby about different groups or styles).
As for my personal feelings (and yeah…I might reveal some snobbishness here so bear with me)…
People have asked me before on the blog to breakdown the pros and cons and styles of the big three NYC improv theaters. I pretty much stand by a lot of what I outlined over a year ago. The UCB is still the big man on campus. I’ve heard them actually referred to by writers outside the scene as a “comedy mafia”. There was a moment earlier this year when I though the PIT was gaining a lot of traction on the UCB—due to the fact that the PIT had a new space that afforded more stage time to new people. However, the UCBeast opened and so far is doing really well with audiences. It’s brought new life into the UCB in the NYC scene.
That said, I like the PIT because of the fact that I do honestly believe it’s easier to break in there if you’re new. Also, the PIT’s most famous alums are Kristen Schaal, Kurt Braunohler and Ellie Kemper. You don’t look at their stuff and go, “Oh, yeah…their comedy is obviously from the PIT”. You look at them and say, “That’s what Kristen Schaal does.” I think you can more easily see the UCB training in UCB grads and for that matter, Groundlings training in Groundlings grads, and Second City training in Second City alums. I like that the PIT really wants its people to find their own voice.
The Magnet continues to produce some of the best improv performers anywhere, but they also continue to be in their own insulated nexus. If you really love experimenting with longform and just the artistry of improv, go to the Magnet.
If you want to be a great improviser and you aren’t interested in sketch or stand up at all, I would bluntly say, “Don’t go to New York. Go to Chicago.”
Don’t get me wrong, New York has some of the finest improvisers and improv instructors on the planet. But the best improvisers and improv instructors are currently in Chicago. That town respects improv because they produce the best improv. I studied for only a week at the Annoyance this summer (with Mick Napier, Susan Messing, Rebecca Sohn, Rich Sohn and Mark Sutton) and learned more in that week than I possibly did in eight years of Boston and New York improv. Okay, that’s a hyperbole, but you know what I’m getting at. Also, right now there are tremendous solo performers and teams at iO that…um…kind of blow 95% of NYC improv out of the water.
I’m going to offend a lot NYC improvisers by saying this, but in NYC (and I say this as someone who also hangs in the stand up scene and who writes and who hopscotches from theater to theater socially—so I’m culling this from a wide array of opinions), improv is seen more as a means to an end than as an actual art form. There are a few really great improvisers who are heart and soul improvisers and that’s all they’re into. Those guys and gals are usually the best (and usually came from..ahem…Chicago first). I mean, most improv people in NYC (unless they are at the Magnet) don’t go, “I saw TJ and Dave do this one set and it changed my life and I HAVE TO DO IMPROV.” Most people in the improv scene are in it because they want to be on SNL or like the guys in Human Giant or they just want to fuck around and be funny.
There is great improv in NYC (Death by Roo Roo, Stepfathers, Big Black Car, The Scene, Armando Diaz Experience), so just check it all out and pick what you like the most. Take classes. Jam with friends. Remember it’s supposed to be fun. You’re not going to get paid for doing improv, so make sure you do what you want to do with it.
That is my long-winded, complicated and possibly controversial opinion on that matter. It all boils down to “HOW THE FUCK SHOULD I KNOW? DO WHAT YOU WANT”.