Recently, there’s been an influx unlike any for quite some time of stand-up, improv, and sketch performers. This isn’t a bad thing (as it can be perceived by some more established local comedians) — in fact, it’s actually great. That is, it’s great until performers who haven’t really established themselves or won over multiple crowds get way ahead of themselves and take out their sociopathic or negative feelings on everyone around them. They expect — rather then respect — laughs.
First off, by established comedians, I mean they’re pounding the pavement and consistently doing decent work. When I say respect laughs, I’m talking about the comedians who blame themselves when they have a bad show instead of the crowd or other comedians. Yes, we all bomb sometimes. Yes, we all have audiences from time to time that are not feeling what you’re doing. But these comedians say afterwards they could have done better. They should have delivered something differently or used different material for this crowd. In 98% of the cases when you go up on stage, this is true. I’m also not saying that there aren’t vetted comedians that need this advice as well.
At this point, most of the comedians in our city have ambition that exceeds their current talent. In fact, that’s how it should be. Our ambition is what makes us sign up at Helium, get on stage at the Raven, try our sketches at Bedtime Stories or go to an Improv Incubator. Ambition also drives us to hone our jokes, expand them, tighten them or do whatever we need to do to make ourselves better, faster, and stronger at our calling. What worries me is when I see comedians who seem to think showing up is enough ambition, and any hiccup in their performances are always the fault of something other than themselves.
Recently there’s been a rash of verbal back and forth between comedians that has done nothing but give attention to bad comedians with negative attitudes. There have been essays written about how anonymous people can “fix” their jokes. There have been complaints about not getting on at open mics, being snubbed by other comedians, or telling jokes that are hacky. And in our internet age, it’s all posted on facebook walls, blogs, and cute little video diaries (at least I hope). And it does nothing but bring us down as a community.
Now I know it can be good to be critical. Everything can’t always be positive. And sometimes it’s necessary for an oppressed minority to call out people being hateful and offensive. But if we want to build Philadelphia to be a place to go to perform and see great comedy, we should be working together and criticism should be done like adults — privately and one-on-one with the person. All of this online posturing and fighting is like yelling into a well. There’s no growth and you’re just preaching to those who were on your side anyway.
So before you blame anyone else, think about what you can do to improve. Before you complain about the crowd, think about your friend who enjoys every joke but silently laughs. Before you say it’s the other comics’ fault that you aren’t doing well, realize how ridiculous that sounds. If you’re good, you’re good. No excuses. So put in the time, work hard, and don’t expect success too soon. And if you do get some success early on, be grateful for it. And whatever you do, don’t burn bridges with your fellow comedians, venues, or promoters. It doesn’t get you anywhere and honestly, if any of us want to succeed — we should be pulling each other up rather than tearing each other down.
Rob Baniewicz is a sketch comedian who used to work with women. He hosts T.V. Party! with Paul Triggiani and will be taking over Bedtime Stories in June. His opinions are his own.