by bryson turner
Ready for a harsh blog from somebody that you could have sworn was a nice person? Good. Let’s get started.
I had a really good conversation the other night with a fellow comic about why comedy scenes – DC being no exception – can often become very clique-y. A lot of times, there is a feeling among new comics that they are being excluded or that they aren’t welcomed by other comics. I believe that I have found the reason why – because they are. And furthermore, I think I’ve found a reason why new comics are often ostracized – they’re really annoying.
It’s a scientific theory, I know. But before you assume I’m being a huge dick by painting such a broad stroke, let me explain my theory.
[oohh boy. You betta hit the jump and read the rest of Bryson's post!]
Anybody who starts doing comedy probably does so because either their friends have told them that they’re “the funny one”, or because they’ve anointed themselves the funny ones in whatever social group they’re in.
Up until they arrive in the stand-up scene, they’ve used this skill to their advantage. Humor can get you a lot in life – it can diffuse a bad situation, complement a good one, and whether speaking romantically or platonically, it helps make people like you. New comics have learned to hone this skill, and their having become so good at it is usually a reason they decide they should try their hand at stand-up. “This humor thing is really working for me…let’s see what else I can do with it.”
That’s not a bad thought to have. That’s how almost every comic first got started – we wanted to see what we could do for ourselves by using humor. I once turned in a report on Walt Whitman over six months late, and I got an 84. Trust me – you don’t pull that off without the occasional well-timed quip.
But that’s exactly the problem with new comics – they come into this new social setting and try to use all the same tricks that have worked with regular people throughout their lives. They try to be “the funny one” and make friends on the scene by either being loud or being funny or gaining attention with the same “class clown” mentality that they’ve been using for years. It’s not that this is necessarily annoying, even though it often is. It’s that it’s insulting. It’s like, “Dude…don’t try to be ‘the funny one.’ We know you’re that guy. We’re all that guy.”
I remember when I first got onto the scene, there were people that I really thought it would be cool to be friends with. There were people who I really wanted to respect my comedy and see me as a peer. And there were people that I thought were dicks. I’ve ended up becoming friends with a few from each category. But it’s nothing you can control. I’ve become friends with lots of different people on the scene, but the legit friendships have to do with a lot more than comedy. I’ve become friends with Kojo because we like talking about sports and our failures with women. I’ve become friends with John McBride because we like talking sports and our occasional “why is this girl showing interest in me unless she’s working on a ‘She’s All That’-esque script and needs material” successes with women. I’ve become friends with Weems because we always have each other’s backs and can talk shop about anything. They’re not comedy-based friendships. They’re just friendships. When I get to an open-mic, I’m not trying to be clique-y. I’m just trying to hang out with my friends during the only time that we get to see each other.
I always think it’s funny when people I talk to from high school or work just assume that a life in stand-up comedy is non-stop hilarity, happiness, and fun. If we’re making people laugh, we must be happy, right? It can’t be like any other job, filled with stress, fears that you’re being leap-frogged by others, or doubts that your life is meaningless and you’ve chosen the wrong path…right? Well, wrong. It’s a terribly scary life, and any of us who are making a serious attempt to make it our livelihoods are naturally going to relate better to each other. And that’s the basis of a friendship – an ability to relate to one another.
So please don’t think the DC comedy scene is just one giant clique. It’s not. We’re just a bunch of different groups of friends that, when we see each other, like hanging out. We probably come off like we don’t like new comics. It’s not that – we’re just not your friends.
Okay, that kind of makes me a dick. But we all can’t be friends with everyone. That’s not how the world works.
What I think young comics often don’t realize is that we’ve all been there. I still remember doing a set in front of a terrible crowd and wanting to go up to every more-established comic there and say, “Look…I’m a lot better than that set suggests.” I still remember how demoralizing it was to get put on at the end of a show and then watch all the comics who I had hoped to impress – one by one – leave after they had finished sets of their own. “If they were really all about improving this scene, they would stick around for the rest of the show,” I would always think to myself. And there’s truth to that. But we’re not robots. We have jobs the next morning, and TV to watch, and girlfriends – or boyfriends – that we want to be with. I always thought comics not letting me into their circle was hurting this scene. But, as I was thinking that, I was making sure I was (at least somewhat) prepared for open-mics, and I was becoming a better comic because I never knew when the chance to impress would come. For those strong enough and patient enough to tell jokes for their own satisfaction, and not just to be cool, those perceived “circles of superiority” can be as good a motivating tool as any.
This blog isn’t so much for the young comics in DC now. Trust me – I feel your pain. Like I said, when I first moved into the city, I felt like Dan Aykroyd, in the freezing rain, looking in at Eddie Murphy during that scene in ‘Trading Places.’ And not just because it was at Nema.
Look. I know it’s frustrating. But if you love stand-up enough, you stick with it, and you eventually earn your stripes, along with the respect of your peers. I still remember individual compliments I received from Ryan Conner, Justin Schlegel, and others. Those expressions of respect meant the world to me, and they wouldn’t have if they had come on my first night in town. No, this blog isn’t for the guys that are new to the scene now – it’s for all the people who I thought were dicks when I first got here. And the message is this: My bad. I see why I had to earn my spot now.