By Reid Faylor
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written this, and as I again sit in an airport (for avid “reiders” (HA) this is the third I’ve written from such a place), I figured I would again open myself up to you, as if an open face sandwich, but no lunch meats here, instead: emotions.
That is the best opening line I have yet written.
Though plenty has happened in the last few weeks, I’ll keep it focused on a couple key events. In the second week of December, two comics from my home scene of Cincinnati came to visit –Alex Stone and Mike “Meat” Cronin. They’ve been filming a web series enticingly titled “Web Series” and came to visit in part to film a couple segments with Andrew Short and I. It was good to see them again, it felt like no time had passed, and pretty quickly we were cracking jokes and filling each other’s lives with smiles.
Alex and I talked fairly intensely after a show about the benefits of living in New York. He remarked that there are clearly plusses: stage time, opportunities, and multiple shows a night especially can help you refine your jokes. But the audience and the kinds of shows you perform at left him ambivalent. Do you really get a good reid (HA) on a joke? Does it only acclimate you to performing for comedians, leading you to craft material for only the back of the room? I argued with time you begin to get a feel for it. It depends largely on the kind of comedy you do – if it’s simpler in nature, it may not get a rise from hardened comedians; if it’s more challenging or strange, it may be easier to find common ground with other performers, inflating the laughs you would really get. Then again, some jokes that make comedians laugh are in reality just really good jokes. I tend to do material that’s more abstract in nature, so I’ve been working hard to distinguish what category I fall into. Of course my good shows fill me with confidence, but I’m also led to wonder whether the laughs they receive are genuine.
A week ago, when back for the holidays, I had a chance to test this. Performing a set at my roommate’s “Dave Waite and Friends” show at Go Bananas comedy club, I had eight minutes to really assess my new material in front of a real crowd. Through some Christmas miracle, the kind that devalues other, more significant miracles, the club was packed nearly to capacity. I went second on the bill, and felt great on stage –I was completely at ease, in control, could improvise and enjoy the set. My first two jokes worked perfectly, and my closer did well. The third joke though had some rough spots; people were on board at first, but at the turn to the absurd were lost. It finished out well, but the reactions after the show let me know what kind of joke it was. My girl friend (a “real person”) said subjectively that the joke lost her; another comic watching told me it was his favorite joke of my set. It was a joke that clearly fit into that second category –one meant for the back of the room.
Performing at my home club, I was reminded how important a good club and a real audience can be. After just one set, I had so much more certainty as to what was a good joke and what needed work, and moreover, how to fix the weaker material. This is definitely the advantage of a smaller scene for a newer comic –to learn definitively what works and what doesn’t. Yet, my performance was still marked by what I gained from New York City: better stage presence, increased confidence, more control.
There was one other advantage Alex proposed to doing comedy in New York I had never considered, a benefit to smaller shows, open mics and smaller audiences. He said that in some ways it’s good not to have a big crowd, a good club and an earlier opportunity to get paid for comedy; in an environment with those opportunities, you perform for the crowd, to please them. In a scene like New York, on the other hand, where the rewards are harder to come by, you perform to please yourself. I guess that’s actually pretty comforting –a benefit to dealing with failure. In some ways before it looked like an issue of quality versus quantity, but there obviously is some quality to the quantity you get in New York. And again, these are just the open mics –booked shows are something else. I’m starting to get booked on some, so I’ll have to see how the dynamic changes.