Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Last Comic Standing
Susie Will Sit This One Out

I just auditioned for a Jay Mohr NBC show-to-be called "Last Comic Standing." It's set to be a reality show and competition that Mohr is hosting and producing. Comics live in a house in Las Vegas as they perform and get tossed off. By audience vote? Panel? No clue.

Cattle call was two days ago, booked auditions today. Reality shows frighten me to no end. They seem they are a great way to become a national joke and perhaps because maybe they help writers like me starve (still, I could stand to lose a few...). But I do have friends who have been employed as producers with reality shows. I have watched and even enjoyed them. So though I don't want to be in one, I'm not someone who thinks they're the work of the devil or even something to sneer at.

In all, fame for fame's sake is not important to me. If it was, there's lots of things I would do for my career other than self-sabotage. But I digress. I got the op to audition and decided to go because:

1. Convinced they would never ever pick me. I don't fit into the kooky standard categories. e.g. 12 white guys, 3 black guys, 5 hot chicks, 1 older/fat crazy chick and someone apt to get naked in the house...

2. I hoped someone new from NBC would see me. The few who do know me at NBC here like me (say you do!) I think, but LA doesn't know me from Adam. Actually, they probably don't know Adam either.

So I asked and found out beforehand someone new will be there. The two dudes who cast The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Now that didn't fill my panties with egg whites, but yeah, I did think that was pretty cool.

The Audition, She Is Near
Just got done with the audition ... in short...
Many lovely and accomplished comics there I knew, a few I didn't. A comedian I knew said he was very excited to make the "semi-finals" so I guess that was what they were calling today. Today was the booked auditions plus the few they carried over from the cattle call.

Before the audition backstage, a camera was stuck in my face, but I didn't mind because the cameraman was quite sweet, interestingly handsome and wearing a Yankee cap. Cam man looked a bit like a younger Father Ted and was with a nice chick who was something important. I knew she was important, because she had a clipboard. Anywho, he and the chick asked me questions. At this, I was hilarious. I wasn't trying, but I was totally calm and even enjoyed it.

Oh I was cracking them up. Yeah, I was a STAR! Well, the jokes were cheap. Judge for yourself. Only remember a few...

Camera dude: Do you want to live in a house with a bunch of comics?
Me: I'm not convinced I do actually... suppose it depends on what snack foods will be provided."

Clip Chick: Some people say women aren't funny, what do you say?
Me: I say tell me who they are and I'll mess them up bad.

Camera dude: How do you feel doing this audition?
Me: It beats hooking. No, kidding. Doesn't beat hooking at all. Hooking pays.

You get the gist...

The Audition Cometh!
Almost immediately I'm onstage. Two Tonight Show dudes up front in light, sitting at an elevated desk. Then in the dark, I use my bat sense and detect a zillion people milling around or sitting in the club. The Comedy Garden is large. Empty of most chairs and tables it was like a hip cavern. Holy crap-ola, thinks I! How many people are working on this show? There were about 7 upfront plus all them network children of the night in the club.

How'd You Do Already, Susie?
I was not horrible, but not very good. I'm pretty honest about that stuff. Like I didn't do wonderfully at CCL last Thursday, but I killed at the Charity Jam on Saturday. See? I can say both about myself.

A joke or two made them laugh, but the general impression I gave was someone who was nervous.

Damn. All I wanted was a fabulous impression on The LA peeps and I don't think that happened. After two jokes, I saw the guys at the table make a check mark on the paper. One looked back to someone for a nanosecond and then gave the "we're politely listening but let's hope she ends it" face. OK, Maybe I'm imagining that, but I don't think so. I wrapped it up quick, but know, we were asked to do 2-3 minutes of stand-up. That's it. No More. NEXT!

I got off the stage and cute camera dude asks me, "So was it fun?." I can't remember for the life of me if he was holding the camera when he did, though I hope he wasn't. I smiled and said, "If your definition of fun is a living nightmare, than yes. Yes, I had fun. Thanks."

In Conclusion
I blame no one but myself. But I have almost always done poorly doing comedy without an audience.

I can perform for 3 people, I can perform for 300. And I have. I love the rowdy crowds and I love the quiet "convince me" crowds. I hardly ever get nervous doing comedy. But I do lack the ability to get it up comedywise, to slay people who are not there to see a show. There, that IS my biggest fault. You know my weak spot, now you may fire at the little vent and blow up my comedy Death Star. But please don't

Still, I think auditioning, doing comedy without an audience, is torture. It's like making love to the dead. You might be able to get off if you can ignore the cold flesh and work really hard, but it's definitely nasty.

My, Is That Your Bitterness Showing?
OK, meant what I said in defense of reality shows.

Then again, anything and everything that was filmed there today on stage and backstage can be used in perpituity throught the universe without paying me or any other comic one red cent. Get it? NBC can use our embarrassing moments in every promo, during the show and the people on Alpha Centuri may watch our auditions and air it again and again and we get no dosh. Silly me didn't realize that before agreeing to the audition. Ah the humanity!

Years ago, please forgive me if I get this wrong as I can't find where I first read it, a comic whose name escapes me threw himself off a club's roof in LA and dies. A note attached to him says, "I played the Improv." Jay Leno then led a protest because the comedy clubs weren't paying comics. Or perhaps the protest came first? But still, WOW. Comics stuck up for themselves and there was a change.

Flash ahead to today. Comics who appear on TV and get paid to headline out of town or who write for major TV comedies can't get booked into the clubs unless they do a "bringer show." A bringer show is where a comic must bring paying audience members, or else. Or else they don't go up. Hence, the quality at the clubs, other than the headliners is often crap. No working self-respecting comic does "bringers." Or once in a blue moon they do, but for a tape.

And so the new talent rarely mixes with the old, unless they do Luna Lounge or the well known have a very bold spirit to branch out. The older stand-ups, most of them, have no idea about the healthy comedy scene that thrives here in NYC outside the clubs. Seeing the movie "Comedian" I thought, Orny Adams? This is who Seinfeld was exposed to? This is who is warming up for him? Oi.

There is an amazing, talented, huge, tight knit group of comedians right now. They know what good comedy is. They know why they are doing it. They are artists (no snickering). They are below the radar. Sometimes, but not often they get press. But since most newspapers regard stand-up and comedy in general is if it smell's like old 80's fish, it ain't often.

Open the weekend section of The New York Times. Dance! Opera! Jazz! Classical! Heck, right now if you dance around in your apartment long enough, they'll review you. But comedy? No sir.

(Don't get me started on papers that have an article where the journalist goes to try out stand-up at an open mic. The Times did one with a grotesque picture. Basically these articles come out all the time. All the boys who are too pussy to perform without ironic distance, do it. Then the article admits they weren't brilliant, but talks about how horrible all the acts were. I said don't get me started...)

Sadly, The New York Times doesn't carry the comics, either kind.

Well, there's one exception... the Times will review comedy films. so there's dance reviews up the wazoo next to long tracts about fare like "Snow Dogs" and "Kangaroo Jack." Double oi.

So from the days of a bold Leno sticking up for comedian's rights to now: most young working comics have given up on the clubs, make their way in obscurity and once in awhile do an audition that might exploit them just to say, "We are here!"

It reminds me of "Horton Hears a Who." Maybe if we comedians could be pursuaded by or heard by someone powerful... If we collectively make as much noise as possible we will prove our existence. I'm holding out for a Horton till the morning light.

*Fun fact about Jay Mohr! Years ago he venutred forth and played the Ye Olde Tripple Inn back when it was a really rough open mic. Forget Jerry McGuire, he had me at "Tripple Inn."