Flexibility and Naked Truths

Last weekend I did the “Barebods” show in Hollywood. This is a naked show – performers and audience. I did naked standup at Burning Man several years ago, so the “naked” part wasn’t that big a deal. (Well the audience was much better looking than at that Burning Man show, but that’s not important to this post) The naked truth is – it went only fair.

The show was both improv and standup. I was scheduled to do one 7 minute set. Two other standups dropped out, so when I got to the venue, the director said I had a 7 minute set and a 5 minute set each before a similar set by the headliner. You have to be flexible in this business. Fortunately I have plenty more than 12 minutes of material; but I have to take time to arrange it so I have strong openers and closers for each set.

Then we found out our standup headliner (and one of the stronger improv performers) had a minor accident on the freeway. He wasn’t injured ,but would be late. So the show schedule was being revised as we ran it – can’t do that piece, have to substitute someone for his role in this piece etc. You have to be flexible.

I did my 7 minute set early on. Lukewarm reception. The naked truth is that if I can’t get the audience on board with the first two or three jokes, I never recover. it’s something I need to work on.

The improv sets in the first half of the show went from pretty good to really flat, in part because of the on-the-fly changes to the show schedule. The cast was assigned specific improv sets so they would be doing what they were good at, so the substitutions meant that some were in improv sets that didn’t really fit their talents. It showed. We lost some people at intermission.

Our other cast member showed up during intermission, but we still weren’t following the show schedule. So when he was called out to do his standup set (he was billed as the standup headliner, remember) I assumed that I would not be doing a second standup set. After all, you don’t put someone on after the headliner.  But about halfway through the second part of the show, I was announced for standup. You have to be flexible. Since I wasn’t expecting to do a second set, I didn’t have a chance to look at my notes before I went on stage. I kind of stumbled through my 5 minutes. The naked truth is I have to prepare my set; I’m not a performer that is always “on”. A few laughs, but some of my “surefire hits” missed.

The second half of the improv went slightly better than the first, but still not up to what I know the cast can do.

The naked truth is not every show is fantastic. I had some friends (on full price tickets) in the audience, so I wish this particular show had been better.

I need to work on being good with less preparation. I need to work on getting the audience back no matter when or how I lose them. I plan on doing more shows with improv next year. I think it will help me with both of those.

Between the improv and acting in a drama in a few Fringe festivals, the naked truth is I may be doing less actual stand up in 2018. My hope is that I will become a better performer though the other work (i.e. improv and Fringe) and that will make me a better standup.

Naked or not.

Script or no script

The open secret of standup comedy is that we act like we’re making up all our jokes and observations right there on stage, for the most part it’s all scripted. And I’m comfortable with that. Even though I try to do a different show every time, it is composed of pre-written sections. Sometimes it has taken dozens of re-writes to get each of those sections to a point that I like.

When you’re doing standup, you live or die by yourself on stage. While a really great performer (think Robin Williams) can read the phone book and make the audience laugh, for me a good script is the only protection I have against totally bombing. But you knew that, right?

So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to do an improv show last weekend. Oh, and it’s a competition between teams of improv-ers. No script – say what’s on the top of your mind. No taking it back once it’s out there. Be ready for a total change of direction. Yeah, it’s completely different set of skills. At least you’re not out there by yourself. I managed a few fresh-from-the-cerebrum lines and actions that elicited some serious audience laughs. Although my team did not win, it was a valuable and fun experience. I will do it again. And I’ll have some trepidation again, but that’s how you grow.

One of the organizers of the improv show wrote a play that he’s going to take to several Fringe festivals. I was asked to do a video audition and we had a table read of the script last week. So despite the detour into improv-land, I may be back into script mode.

Sunday afternoon

October was another “how did it go by so fast” month – a weekend in San Diego, Gay Days at Disneyland, a ‘just a few chores around the house’ weekend, a regional Burning Man campout, and suddenly I’m putting together a Halloween costume.

But in the middle of all that, I was invited to another show at Flappers. This one was a Sunday afternoon. With a mostly gay lineup. I mean, it was barely after brunch time.

That was OK for me since I got up early that Sunday. You see, I was at a Burning Man event in the mountains. I woke up with the sun, broke camp, and went home to get a shower before the show in Burbank. I’m sure the other comedians were glad I did that shower stop.

Being Sunday afternoon, the crowd did not fill the main room. Not by a long stretch. Still it was a good crowd, we had fun, and I had a pretty good set. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Florida Fundraiser

Last week I got an e-mail from Flappers asking for Floridian comics to do a fundraiser for those affected by hurricane Irma. Being a native Floridian, I replied that I would be available if they needed me.

On Friday, I got the e-mail saying they did want me. 6 minutes. Sunday early evening. I put up a few posts about it. The time of the show was smack during two football games and the Emmy awards. So I was pretty pleased that we got as many people; it was about 20 people. Still, it was a fun show – all the comedians were great and great to work with.

I did a few Florida specific bits. I had planned to do a longer Disneyland set and the Mim S&M piece, but since everyone else on the show had TV & movie credits, I decided at the last minute to do my IMDB bit. I guess it’s a good sign that I’ve got enough material that I can swap some in/out at the last minute.

It’s probably going to be a little quiet on the comedy front for a while. I am going to Sacramento this week for business (my software job), and next weekend we have a friend visiting from San Diego, so those will occupy my time. But I’ll make time if you want to book me.


The Best of the Worst

This summer I was back at Burning Man for the first time since 2013, and it was a busy week.

Monday I made my Center Camp Cafe debut. Ok it was on the spoken word stage, and I was between a guy talking about the “message” science fiction film he just finished and a woman talking about her transition from IBM executive to ‘clairvoyant business consultant’. So, maybe it wasn’t the best lineup for a comedy set. Still, I got to try a few new bits and found out that several others don’t work in the context of Burning Man. If you’re not learning you’re not growing, right?

I had a small (but spread out over a large area) art installation in Black Rock City. I haven’t received any e-mails about it, so I don’t know if anyone actually saw it.  Sometimes you do art because you need to get it out there and it doesn’t matter what the reaction (or lack of reaction) is.  Besides, it was at least as good as the disco goat someone else did.

Some of our San Diego friends put up a major art project – ‘The Journey’. It was spectacular. We helped with the breakdown & load into the truck for home part.

Our camp was mostly fire dancers. We were in the circle for the actual Burn. That was pretty amazing, especially during the explosions. Someday I may try to add fire dancing to my skills, but I -am- a klutz so it may be a while.

Then there was the self-proclaimed “Worst Comedy Show on the Playa”. Should I be happy or sad that I was the ‘headliner’ for this?  Because it was billed as the “worst comedy show”, I had to start with a light bulb joke; it was a Burning Man light bulb joke, but still…. Very little of my set overlapped my non-playa material; it was actually kind of cool to be able to do some Burning Man specific bits for an “in the know” crowd.It was a great set even though I was doing some of the material for the first time. Headliner at the “worst” show – I guess that makes me the ‘Best of the Worst’.  Until the next burn.

Beautiful Downtown Burbank

This week was the Burbank Comedy Festival, so I was up there three times this week – once to pick up my badge and twice for shows. I would have loved to have spent some afternoons going to the panel discussions and classes, but I was working. This is a good thing.

I was on two shows on Thursday night – “Senior Sillies” and “Unrepped” – and one on Friday – “LGBTQ and beyond”; all sets are five minutes at the festival. I made a point of doing three different sets. I used a variation on my standard closer on all three and duplicated a few lines, but basically I was able to do this.

So I have spent enough time in beautiful downtown Burbank for a while. My next set is in Center Camp at Burning Man. Oh, did I mention I leave in 7 days and I haven’t started to pack yet? So that’s enough for this post.

A not so long, strange trip

A utopian community where bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation, arts and intellectual conversation flourish in every corner, and Average Joes mingle with big name celebrities. Not Burning Man, but rather Chautauqua, NY. Strange.

The theme of the week at Chautauqua was “Comedy and the Human Condition”. Originally it was timed to coordinate with the opening of the National Comedy Center, but the latter is way behind schedule. Still, I got to hear Lewis Black, the Capitol Steps, and few others. I can’t say I have any new material, but I have some things to think about.  Strange.

I went with my friend Jim Peck, a UCC minister from Chico, CA, and a Chautauqua veteran. We each flew to Buffalo, rented a car, and spent the week in the UCC house next to the historic amphitheater. On one hand, I felt young because most of the people in the house were older than me; on the other hand, I felt outclassed because most of them had multiple college degrees. Strange.

I also took a day to go to the Jell-O museum; Jim & I took a day to go to the Lucy museum. Yeah, I’m strange.

We stopped at a Frank Lloyd Wright house on our way back to Buffalo, where we met a friend who I hadn’t seen in several years. He took us on a tour of Buffalo. It’s a much more interesting place than I thought. Strange.

Jim & I took the train together to Chicago, then he boarded the California Zephyr bound for his northern CA home and I boarded the Southwest Chief bound for LA. “Wait – you took the train across the country? That’s strange”.

The train was a lot of fun. Met some very interesting people, Who rides the train? Retirees, Hikers, Teachers on summer break, South Asian immigrants, people who live off grid, and adventurous couples from Flagstaff.  Sleeping was tough (I was in coach), but the scenery was great.

10 days, not long. Very strange. I love it. That’s me.


Just slightly overbooked?

I’m writing this from a hotel in Buffalo, on my way to Chautauqua tomorrow for the “Comedy and the Human Condition” week. No, it’s not a ‘how to do comedy’ thing, but more of a ‘why do we laugh’ thing. Then again,  Lewis Black is one of the speakers, so you never know.

On the two flights to get across the continent, I found myself making notes for stories I want to write, one of which might be suitable to turn into a Fringe show. Nothing solid – I’m purposely not committing to anything yet. It felt good to just sit and write for a few hours.

Between my last post and tonight, I did get on stage twice – once for the Comedy Heights Pride show in San Diego and once for a show on Melrose in Los Angeles. Great audience at Comedy Heights (I could say “as usual”) and I tried a few new bits that seemed to work pretty well. The LA show audience was mostly other comedians (it was a Monday, after all) and I struggled a bit in comparison, especially on the new stuff. Still, it is important to introduce new material regularly, so I’m glad I did it.

We got confirmation that we will be going to Burning Man this year, so after I get back from Chautauqua, preparations for that trip will pretty much mean that I won’t be on stage the rest of August. Oh, and I’m doing an art project for Burning Man. 

As usually, I’m just slightly overbooked. But as Leonard Bernstein said “To achieve great things, two things are needed – a plan and not quite enough time”. Maybe something great will come out of all this.

Fringe Final

Between the show at San Diego Fringe and some standup + MC + sketch commitments with the IAGSDC Square Dance convention in Palm Springs, I put about 600 miles on the car over July 4 weekend. I guess that’s what real road comics feel like.

Most of my Fringe shows went well. I got some of the script severely out of order on one, so it became a real exercise in improvisation. I had one show with literally two paying audience members (hey it was 10PM on a Wednesday – who wants to see a drama then?). Overall, though, it went reasonably well.

There are times when you just need to see an idea through. I started writing the Fringe show with an idea I wanted to explore. Three major (as in “throw out the old script and re-start”) iterations later – a short play festival submission (didn’t get selected), Tucson Fringe, and San Diego Fringe – I think I’ve worked it through to a place that I can move on to other projects.

So, it’s back to stand up…. Two shows in July and the Burbank Comedy Festival in August.

Crunch Time

Despite some (very) minor glitches, things worked out fairly well for our move. I’m sitting in the “new” place, albeit without much furniture (it’s still being used to stage the place we’re selling). I had a tech rehearsal for my show tonight (It’s really easy – one music and light cue to bring me on stage, one music and light cue to take me offstage)

But now is where it starts to get interesting – next weekend is the first show and I’m starting to panic. And I still need to write some material for the July 4 weekend events. Just determining which nights over the next two weeks I will be in San Diego, Long Beach and Palm Springs has been a challenge.

I’ll come up to breathe July 4. Have a great two weeks…. and come see a show.