Welcome to Your Comedy Layover...

Washington D.C. may not be a city that embraces comedy with open arms, but you knew that already. That is why you found us. Here you can get information, interviews and insights on the best local stand-up, improv and sketch comedy this city has to offer... 4 Now. You can reach us at dccomedy4now(at)gmail.com. LET'S DO THIS, DC!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Tyranny of the Majority

By: Jeff Maurer

Andy Kline recently wrote an excellent blog about “genre shows”— shows that play to a specific comedy niche. I recommend that you read the whole blog, but, basically, his point is this: genre shows hurt comedy because they allow comedians to hide from challenges.

Andy’s complaints about genre shows are dead on. Most genre shows are obnoxious. They’re first and foremost about reinforcing the audience’s identity. Moving merchandise is the second priority, and launching terrible movies is the third; providing good comedy is maybe seventh or eighth on the priorities list. And genre shows are only part of the problem—more and more these days, comedians are selling themselves as genre comedians. Think of some of the comedians who have gotten really big in recent years: one is the redneck guy, one is the frat guy, and one is the Mexican guy. The fact that you don’t need their names to know who I’m talking about just goes to show how much their identities overshadow their comedy.

But the self-segregation of comedy is only part of the story. Andy calls out genre shows, then discusses how comedians used to challenge themselves by “crossing over”—playing rooms that draw different types of audiences. He’d like to see more of that nowadays. That’s where he and I differ. I don’t like genre shows, but I’m also not eager to return to an era in which comedians are obsessed with crossing over.

[Hit the jump for more thoughtful deliberation! Do it!]

Here’s what I think of when I think of crossing over. A few years ago, I was emceeing in a Def Jam-type room. Please note: “Def Jam” is not a euphemism for “black.” “Def Jam” is a euphemism for “combative.” To explain this to non-comedians: black crowds are like white crowds; they come to a show to see comedy, and they give bonus points for comedy they find relatable. Def-Jam crowds, however, aren’t there for comedy at all: they’re there to judge the comedians. They use the first 30 seconds of your set to decide whether they love you or hate you, and they use the remainder of your set to either cheer you like a war hero or boo you mercilessly. I got booed all week.

After one particularly rough set, I brought up a guest act. I had met the guest act briefly before the show; he was a non-descript white guy from California wearing a baseball hat. But that wasn’t the comedian who came to the stage; the comedian I brought on stage was a strutting, swaggering jack-ass wearing a backwards baseball hat and speaking with what I call the “MTV accent.” His first joke was about how bad I was. His second and third jokes were about whitey. From there, he did some of the hackiest, dirtiest crowd-work I’ve ever seen, culminating with this line: “I’ll bet black women’s pussy taste like fried chicken!” He was a god—the crowd absolutely loved him. He had successfully crossed over.

In comedy, this man will judge you.

Now, I’m positive that Andy isn’t advocating this type of comedy when he encourages comedians to cross over. That story is an extreme example. And Andy isn’t encouraging comics to play different rooms so that they can pander to the audience; he’s encouraging comedians to challenge the audience. But I think an implicit part of Andy’s argument is that crossing over makes you a better comic because you’re forced to learn the tastes and preferences of different audiences—you learn to adjust. And that’s all fine, but I think that this also needs to be said: there have to be limits on how much a comedian changes him or herself to please the audience.

As many comedians have noted, comedy mixes styles and genres more than any other form of entertainment. Most comedy shows are advertised only as “comedy”—no other form of entertainment does this. You’ll never see a Cineplex marquee that just says “Movie!” No concert has ever featured four unnamed musical acts that turn out to be a metal band, a rap group, an opera singer, and a country jamboree. But this type of thing happens all the time in comedy. The range of tastes that comedians are expected to satisfy is already ridiculously broad.

It isn’t good for comedy when incredible breadth is a prerequisite for success. We had that atmosphere once, back in the 1980’s. Back then (and, obviously, I’m relying on the recollections of people who were actually there), there was only one way to make it: you got on The Tonight Show, and if Johnny waved you over to the couch after your set, you were in. Of course, The Tonight Show, even then, featured very broad humor; remember, it was the only game in town for the entire country at 11:30. So, basically, you either wrote jokes that appealed to everyone in the country—including 14-year-old boys, 60-year-old widows, soccer moms, drug addicts, and everyone in between—or you didn’t make it. Period. That’s unbelievably constrictive.

To be fair, that era produced some truly great comics. But it also produced a remarkable number of hacks. Remember all the guys in sweaters doing observational humor on Evening at the Improv—the comics Jerry Seinfeld made fun of on SNL’s Stand Up and Win sketch? Those were all guys who were trying to get on The Tonight Show. When comics try too hard to be all things to all people, comedy gets limited to the five topics to which everyone can relate: TV, work, dogs, relationships, and air travel. It’s pretty bleak.

What’s the deal with this thing? Do we really need this much Mountain Dew?

But the hacks don’t bother me as much as the true tragedy of the 1980s system: all the great comics who didn’t make it. The system back then put so much emphasis on breadth that there wasn’t much room left for comics with a great deal of appeal to a narrow segment of the audience. When I ask myself whether a lot of my favorite comedians—such as Paul F. Tompkins, Eddie Izzard, and Todd Barry—would have made it during the 1980s, the answer is probably “no.” They just aren’t broad enough. If the Balkanization of comedy is bad because it rewards jokes that aren’t funny, then the homogenization of comedy is bad because it punishes jokes that are funny.

That’s not only unfair to the comedians—it’s also unfair to the audience. Putting aside your opinion of Kat Williams for a minute, ask yourself: who was the Kat Williams of the 1980s? I don’t think there was one. Or, more accurately, there probably was one, but we never heard of him because he wasn’t broad enough to make it on The Tonight Show. There is obviously a market for Kat Williams’ humor; it just happens to be a deep, narrow market instead of a broad, shallow one.

The Maria Bamford of the 1980s.

Of course, Andy and I aren’t actually very far apart on this issue. I don’t think that Andy is arguing for homogenization; I think that he wants comics to challenge themselves, and he’s also reacting to the arrogant “I’m above the audience” attitude that some comics adopt. And I agree with both points. Comedians should challenge themselves—anyone can make their friends laugh, but comedians are supposed to be able to make strangers laugh. And a comedian should always go onstage with the goal of making the audience laugh; if you want to create high art, go write a symphony. Comedy is entertainment.

What I’m advocating is essentially a balance. Comedians should challenge themselves by trying to make different types of crowds laugh, but they should stay within the parameters of their actual personality and taste. And I’m okay with genre shows, but only if the comics use the opportunities those shows provide to produce quality comedy instead of pandering crap.

Andy ends his blog with a music analogy: Nirvana, he says, made great music because they weren’t afraid to challenge their audience. He’s right, but there’s more to the story. Nirvana became Nirvana because they didn’t care about cultivating broad appeal. Seattle in the late ‘80s was a second city without a lot of “industry” floating around (sound familiar?). There was no hope of making it, so there was also no point in making the type of music that was likely to get you a record deal. So they made the type of music that they liked, and it’s a good thing, too: Kurt Cobain probably wouldn’t have been any good at teasing his hair and playing virtuoso guitar solos. There was a segment of the population that was never going to like them, and they were fine with that. Which is something that comedians should always keep in mind: after all, during the best set of your life, 20 percent of the audience hated you. In comedy, you can’t please all the people all the time. So, fuck it: don’t try.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Another Vote to Barack

Oh, not a fun night for Washington Capitals or Barack Obama fans last night. I blame YOUUUUU (a la Soulja Boy), PENNSYLVANIA!!

Fortunately, Obama is still in it.... unlike the Caps. Did you see that B.S. Philly goal after they sacked Cristobal Huet!?!? WTF?! Sorry, I digress. We have a race to the White House going on apparently.

I am glad to see that Barack Obama supporters are still keeping their eyes on the prize, especially when they are some of DC's favorite local comics. Travis Irvine sent along a video he produced for MoveOn.org's "Obama in 30 Seconds" contest. It may have some faces in it that you recognize. The winner gets to have their ad broadcasted on national television. Pretty cool.

Was that Matthew Lesko?!

Click on the link below and vote for Travis's video, people! Then vote again in a week for something else related to the election. Then vote again in another 3 weeks when someone asks you to vote in a poll that they are conducting about one of the candidates. Then vote for American Idol. Then vote again for the President in November.


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Monday, April 21, 2008

I Know I Was Terrible; I Was There!

I recently did two shows, the likes of which I will document for you here.

About two weeks ago, I did a college show. Now, you know how I feel about college shows. Actually you probably don't, but here's a helpful, yet condescending reminder. So one was a college show and the second was a bar show. Ah yes, the versatility of the stand up experience! From the glowing halls of universities lit with lamps of knowledge to the Miller-lighted, wood-paneled taverns of sports spectatoring! To be fair, the college show was an outdoor luau event. There was nothing academic about it, son...unless you consider "Cupcakes for the Cancer Cure" and free t-shirts educational!

Neither show went quite as spectacularly as anyone hoped (speaking on behalf of the organizers, myself, the other comedians, and the audience members), but I think we all had unreasonable hopes involving mild success. However, the pertinent question was raised: How do you make the most of a bad show (speaking only as a perfomer this time)? Now let it be known that I mean no offense to any of the show organizers involved here. Let's be honest, you can only control so much when it comes to the conditions of nature and human temperaments. Still though, is there any way to salvage some good from a show that occurs under less than ideal circumstances?

think outside the box!
photo courtesy of Flickr and kushwaha

[Hit the jump for foolhardy hypotheses, show rec(r)aps, blasphemous conclusions, and other assorted ballyhoo!]

So this college's spring luau event committee made one costly decision. They expected the D.C. metro area weather to cooperate with their revelry efforts. Sierra optiMists! Fair enough if you're only about eating, drinking, and general behavior wherein communication is not a priority. However, the art of stand-up comedy solely depends on the ability to communicate "jokes" to an "audience", preferably a seated one, but hey, we're not choosy. So when I saw the small platform of a stage with a microphone (albeit a working one, thanks goodness) at the bottom of a giant hill (i.e., nature's own audience arena), and witnessed the scattered nature of the event, I started to feel a tid bat anxious (dyslexia intentional).

But when it was time for the show to start, a beautiful and attentive medium-sized crowd did assemble (shout out to flyering on college campuses). Unfortunately, right at about this time, also entered: A mighty wind. That's right. Cut to a small-scale Hurricane Higher Education. The MC handled it beautifully. He did some crowdwork with the kids, but also with the wind. From what I could hear anyway, and he generally got the crowd on the same page as the stage. Two comics later, people were starting to leave, and I had yet to go up (the "headliner" of the evening, weehoo?!) By the time I was onstage, I couldn't even hear my own voice let alone speak the start of a premise without some huge piece of equipment losing its footing behind me. Buckets were rolling (you can cross them all off yer bucket lists), signs were flapping, people were huddled together into one large amoeba of warmth. Needless to say, I lost my bearings several times, both in my set and literally onstage because of the turbulence. The remaining crowd was magically supportive and the organizers were thoroughly apologetic afterward, but nonetheless, it still felt a bit like Stand Up Boot Camp.

what a blustery eve it twas!
photo courtesy of Flickr and bcmom

My only thoughts are I could have done more wind jokes or pantomimed more vivid despair, in real time. This one seems to fall under the ever-popular "Just Suck It Up" method of handling difficult shows. I liked the "Is she going to fly away?" closer though. I might keep that. Oh! I should have also worn more layers.

So there were a few problems with this show, but nothing insurmountable. The show was inside! Huge plus! There was a working microphone. It was in the back room of a bar so nothing in the way of ambient noise pollution. The lighting was a little iffy. It was a new lighting system, and it still had some kinks in it. Other than that, the only poo factor was a typical one: small crowd. Not tiny actually, but not huge. But in terms of response, definitely a small crowd. There were some card-carrying non-reactors/default expressionists. And one back table was holding up the entire audience in terms of any audible laughter.

this was NOT the crowd at the show
photo courtesy of Flickr and Sreejith K

This show plainly fell under the "I'll just have fun messing around" clause. Unfortunately, my "just mess around" skills need some severe work. I tried commenting on a framed picture of beer in the room, but that went flat quickly. I tend to deflate suddenly in the face of disinterest so of course, chalk it up to a learning experience (I have so many...me so lucky). I thought the other comics handled it very swell. In fact, the illustrious Jon Mumma did one of the most beautiful impromptu act outs I've ever seen where he went and tickled a grown man's belly in the hopes of eliciting anything in the way of a positive emission. Now that's commitment.

I realize this whole post comes off as extremely whiny and high-maintenance, but stand up comedy is a whiny and high-maintenance art form. Yeah I said it! I'll self-deprecate an entire art form if I feel like it.

Anyway, please share your thoughts about particularly trying shows, and whether you were able to emerge with both your dignity and your resolve intact. Links to previous blogs are acceptable, you lazy clods.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

FIST Champions: Polygamy

That's right. The compound in Texas didn't even get as much attention as the recently crowned F.I.S.T. 2008 Champions did last weekend. Polygamy Rules! Congrats to Mike Bass, Ken Hays and Michelle Swaney!!

They are the last team standing in WIT's largest F.I.S.T.'in ever, beating out 26 other teams. Wow.

For those of you that missed this year's tournament.. sorry, your loss. Crowds were rowdy, shows were sold out and teams came from all over the area to compete. It was awesome. Mad props go to the Commish, Justin Purvis for keeping the madness going all through March and April.

Don't miss next year's tourney in March '09. Start getting your groups together now!

RIP: Blue Cop Town and Dar, Blunkeet & Hilbiern

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

4 Then Interview: Cissy Fenwick

In this installment of the 4 Then Interview series, DCC4N hopes to shed light on a question that many improvisers in DC ask themselves..."Should I move to anywhere other than Chicago?"

Washington Improv Theater alum Cissy Fenwick, who one year ago made the big plunge to the other coast, compares the comedy scenes between her native DC and her new sun-drenched home of LA; talks about some of her favorite past improv shows in DC; and reveals what excites her now about being in a brand new city, with all new comedic possibilities.

Why did you choose to move to LA?

I chose LA because my best girlfriend in comedy chose LA. Sounds semi-pathetic right, but honestly, I just consider it lucky. LA gets a bad rep on TV and in the movies. It comes across as this den of sin, this town full of flighty entertainment people who are fake, lie, only care about being tan, and just sit in traffic all day. It is completely false. LA is an amazing city. Every day feels like Saturday out here, and pretty much everyone I meet is nice, friendly, and open to networking and sharing advice. So maybe some people might be fake, but you will find that everywhere; and personally, I'd rather people be fake and nice then fake and rude. Since most of LA is centered around the entertainment industry, there is an incredible community of actors, actresses, and comedians. Sometimes you run across the occasional douchebag, but they are easily avoidable.

[Hit the jump, dudes.]

Where did you get your start doing improv?

The first class I took was at the DC improv with Shawn Westfall. It was short form, and a lot of fun. From there I ventured over to Washington Improv Theater to audition for One Sixty One. Luckily, Natasha Rothwell took a chance on an unknown kid and cast me in Caveat instead.

How long were you performing in DC, and what were your favorite shows/troupes/venues?

I performed in DC for about 2 years. My favorite show to watch is Dr. Fantastic. I just laugh straight through the whole show―such an amazing ensemble cast. As far as good improv, you can't go wrong with pretty much any show in WIT. Even now, living in LA, and seeing some of the best improvisers in the country―the professionals if you will―I still haven't seen a show that is better then a WIT show. Biscuitville might be the best improv I have seen in my life, and any show with Mikael Johnson or Dave Johnson is sure to be incredible. I think the most fun I had doing improv though was in a summer show I did with WIT called WIT Hot American Summer with Topher, Jason, Patrick, Julia, Alice, Zack, and the incomparable Mike Bass. I realize now that most of these shows don't perform regularly, and that makes them like awesome holidays―a reunion of sorts. The all-female troupe, The Shower, which I was lucky enough to be a part of and play with at festivals, was such a fun experience, I had gotten so used to just playing with boys that it was liberating to play with all women. Of course Caveat will always have my heart, those guys are just the best group of guys a girl could ever ask to play with.

When did you decide it was time to move?

I decided to move in the Spring of 2007. I grew up in DC/MD, and went to school in MD. I knew I wanted to experience more of the country. I seriously considered Chicago for a while, and still think it's an amazing city. Julia Bensfield, my writing partner and one of my best friends who I met doing comedy at the DC Improv, decided she was moving to LA over the summer, and asked if I wanted to come with her. I was at a great point where I had nothing to lose and everything to gain―not having a super serious job nor a family to support―I said yes almost immediately. I think when it's time to move you know even before you admit it to yourself, and once you do you realize, you have been subconsciously preparing for it for a while, and it's this incredibly exciting feeling. It can be stressful and sad because the whole idea of starting over can be frightening, and for me personally, I was devastated to leave my family and friends in DC. Once you know you can do that though, you know you can handle anything.

What types of comedy have you gotten involved with since you arrived in LA? Did you feel it was hard to get started again?

Since moving out here in September, I have been taking improv and sketch writing classes. I started by taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. It was not hard to get involved in, actually it was the easiest thing I did. In any city you live in, if you are looking to meet cool, fun, smart people, I highly recommend taking an improv class. It's how I met a lot of my friends in DC, and how I have met the majority of my friends in LA. LA has a great and fast-growing improv scene. It used to just be the Groundlings in the old days, but in the last 10 years, Second City and IO have opened theaters out here. Then in 2005, UCB opened.

There is also an abundance of stand up venues such as the Improv, the Laugh Factory, and the Comedy Store, as well as a ton of small open mics. It's not super hard to get time out here because everyone is looking to be discovered or discover someone, so there are plenty of opportunities.

I find that there is a much bigger sketch writing scene, and I have enjoyed learning the ropes and discovering that. I am now starting to venture into writing digital shorts. Since most people are interested in making movies, pretty much everyone you meet has a skill you need to make a movie. I don't know the first thing about editing or cinematography; however, I have met people and have friends who do so it is a collaboration. Even if you do it yourself, it's a fun process and you can put up videos on Funny or Die or ucbcomedy.com. The improv classes I have taken at UCB have been incredible. It's a different philosophy than WIT; they are much more "game"- oriented at UCB, so while it was a challenge to learn a new style, it has certainly been an incredible learning experience. The teachers are all seasoned improvisers, and working actors and actresses. UCB is very encouraging of its students, and pretty much the whole theater revolves around having fun and creating an environment where you can showcase and hone your talent, and, as a result, get hired for jobs.

How did your time in DC prepare you for being in a bigger market?

My time in DC prepared me for a bigger market mainly because I got to work with such incredible people in DC. I learned from the best, and had a solid foundation to stand on out here in the big city. I was able to use what I learned at WIT, especially from Natasha Rothwell, my director while I was in Caveat. DC was a great place to start because I think the best place to learn is onstage. In DC I had the opportunity to perform every week in a variety of shows. In DC, I realized not only was an all-female show a fun idea, but a prosperous one as well. I am now rehearsing a three women show out here, and while it's not "The Shower" yet, it is getting there.

What are you now able to do that you couldn't do in DC?

I think with a bigger city comes more opportunities. There are more theaters, more auditions, and more people all interested and passionate about the same things you are. Passion is an addictive and inspiring trait, and for people in LA, you know whatever they are doing in terms of acting or comedy, you knows it's not just a hobby. They are going to put as much into it as you are, if not more. There are also a lot more classes available out here. Since moving here, I have taken sketch writing classes with Matt Besser and Paul Rust. I am also currently taking an Improv for TV and Film class with Shira Piven. The opportunity to learn from these people has been a major highlight of moving out here. Plus I am able to tan outside on a regular basis. That's huge for me.

Aside from the obvious, what are some of the other differences between LA and DC in terms of opprotunity and comedic growth?

LA is the entertainment capital of this country. If you are involved in comedy or acting, and end up working on a regular basis, at some point, you will end up out here, at least for a little while. That means that there are going to be more opportunities for a variety of classes and venues out here then there are in DC. More opportunities to audition for commercials, shows, and movies. Its also a lot easier to find ways to support yourself financially while doing what you love. Obviously most people want to be the biggest and the best, but what people don't often realize until they get out here is that there is a "biggest and best" of a lot of things. There are so many opportunities behind the scenes; working on a TV show or a film is a great way to make connections, meet people, and climb the ladder to the top. Being a writer's assistant is a great way to break into the writing world, or being a production assistant is the quickest way to learn the ropes on a film or TV set.

What do you miss most about DC?

Family, friends, Five Guys, performing a lot, knowing short cuts while driving, being close to NY, going to improv festivals, and different seasons. Although the last one is debatable. I'm now super tan year round.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Top Shelf Tonight!!!

TOP SHELF is happening tonight at Solly's Tavern. Remember, the most eye-bleedingly hilarious stand up show in all of DC? Where the performers respect the audience enough to dress up in suits? Who's on the show, you ask? Well that's a little rude so I'll just tell you and be done with it.

-DC comic made good in NY Ryan Conner comes back to show everybody how it's done. How is it done? Well.
-Funniest person in Baltimore Larry Poon's been doing this a long time people, he'll be honest with ya.
-Kojo Mante uses Top Shelf as a platform to lobby for more statues of homeless people in his neighborhood.
-Already a famous cartoonist, Hampton Yount hangs with the little people for inspiration.
-John McBride may or may not have destroyed your host in a rap battle that your host had no business being in.
-Southern Gentleman Jay Jay Hastings is still relishing his recent turn as Shecky Shmastings.
-Your host Nick Turner probably won't throw beer in his own face this show but he can never say for sure.

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
8:30pm doors
Show starts at 9
Solly's Tavern
1942 11th St. NW (11th & U St.)

Don't click this jump!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Jake Young presents: Secret Comics Done at Work

[click to enlarge]

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Not Hating Just Saying: DC Comedy: 4 Now

Guys, I'm so happy! What do I love? Life and all of the beautiful creatures inside of it. Which is why I'm so glad I found this blog on Gawker this week. It's all about not hating on things and just saying stuff! Isn't that what this world needs, a blog about just straight up loving your common man? I agree. Which is why I couldn't have been more excited when they deemed us worthy enough to write a blog entry about! Oh my, we here over at DCC4N have never been this excited about the possibility of greatness in humanity. I actually haven't read it yet because I was so excited to share it with the world. So here it is...

Not Hating, Just Saying: DCC4N!
I'm not hating on DC Comedy 4 Now, but what the hell were you thinking? You kindly asked us to do a guest blog hating on you and your site!? We can barely contain ourselves. The funny thing is we already hated you! In fact, we had already written like 90% of this post. Our original plan was to hack into your site by figuring out your password which we are sure is probably something like "IthinkIm2good4DCbutIwillbeinDC4ever" and just put up the post ourselves. But thanks guys, thanks a lot 4 giving us the opportunity to shit all over your site…even though pretty much everyone is already shitting all over your site behind your back; but we are really glad that you are letting us bring it to the 4front. Maybe you can learn a thing or two about not hating on stuff.

[Hit the jump for more hate you can appreciate.]

Now be4 y'all get all pretentious with comedy and all your "success"...why don't you, oh, I don't know...get a "gig" doing comedy? You know what that is? Where a club will see you per4m and "like" your "jokes" and ask you to do more. 4 money! I know this is a crazy idea. I know you're all into the "art" of it all. And any sellouts who do something as shallow as get "paid" to do their art are probably hack comedians, and shouldn't be referenced on your site. But why not give it a try? Who knows, you might like it?

In fact, with that money, maybe you could pay to get some bigger names 4 your "Spotlight" posts. My favorite part is when you ask why they first tried stand-up. You should change that question to "Why did you have some free time 4-to-six months ago?" Don't worry―you'll get the exact same answers.
I'm not hating, but honestly, what kind of spotlight are you using...because the "stars" you're getting aren't all that bright. Is it burnt out? What is it― six, eight watts max? As much as I love to hear the expert opinions of a 20-set vet, maybe you could go ahead and wait until that kid you play "RockBand" with has a little more experience be4 you give him the "honor" of being "worthy" of being "spotlighted" on your "website" run by "comedians" who tell "jokes" that are "funny" and make an "audience" "laugh" "without" being "encouraged" by Nick "shouting" at them. Oh, sorry, we put too many quotes in that previous sentence. Some of them weren't needed―Nick really does literally shout at audiences.

The "spotlights" are so weak that you even have "spotlights" on all 3 of us! I have to say we had a hard time answering the questions because no one has ever asked us those questions before, because I am pretty sure that no one really gave a shit about what we had to say, and that is mainly because no one knows who the hell we are. How did you get the scoop on how John McBride's parents felt about him doing comedy before the the Washington Post did? I know they were all over that story! The weird shit is you guys do get legit interviews sometimes: Todd Barry, John Mulaney, Ted Alexandro...but then you follow it up with Bryson Turner AND Seaton Smith! That is senseless.

Really though, do you even have an actual "spotlight?" Or do you just use your cell phones as your spotlight, like you use it to light all the comics after their awkwardly silent 5-minute sets at your open mics at Chief Ike's, where DCC4rest-of-this-bulky-and-burdensome-acronym really draws its "multitude" of fans. Clearly this site is thriving when you can't even get people to go somewhere 4 free.

And it's not even just free! People who go to your shows actually get something, and you still can't get anybody to come! What do they get, you ask? Well, a lot of them get some really valuable in4mation regarding some inventive uses 4 cooking oil. Oh wait, that's not a good thing. No, but not only does that 70-something creepy lady in the red coat keep showing up to your guys' shows, but none of you will even admit that she's with you. Look ―so things aren't going that great 4 you in life, socially speaking. That doesn't mean you should be ashamed of who you're with.

And I think of all the people involved with your site, Aparna is the one we hate most. You know why? Because there is absolutely, undoubtedly, unequivocally, without question....nothing whatsoever to hate about Aparna. Believe us―we tried. We spent days trying to come up with some hate 4 her. Nothing. She's unhateable. It's like trying to hate on a fluffy blueberry muffin that spends its days feeding the homeless and nights hugging child burn victims. You can't hate her. You just can't. Do you know how bad that makes us look, as the ultimate deliverers of hate (non-haters division)? Terrible! That's why we hate you, Aparna. Because we don't. And that's the worst type of hate (But not really―we love you! We hate it, but we do).

And what about Jay Hastings, you ask? I feel like this is the point in the post where we reference a scene in one of those animated tv shows. You know the scene, when someone is so evil, that they meet up with the Devil, and you expect the guy to be really scared of the devil, but instead, the Devil gets really intimidated and is afraid of the guy and tries to kiss up to him like he's the Devil's boss? Well, I guess we're the hating devil, and all we have to say is...is there anything we can do 4 you? Coffee? Danish? Anything at all, sir? But seriously Jay, we love how you masterfully weave in racism and homophobia to your jokes when it's not even necessary. It's not even hating when you do it…It may actually be the only time where people feel sorry for the person being racist or homophobic. "Awww did you hear that? Poor little guy, he still thinks words like 'faggot' are funny."

And Jason I have this set at the DC Improv, can you do me a favor and let everyone know you walked out on it but still found the time to critique it? Please? I mean in your standup comedy experience that equals that of the time it takes to heat my coffee in a microwave, we wonder at Not Hating how it is you were able to sit through ten minutes of a twenty minute set of the opening act, and not be able to sit through the next half and watch Bill Burr. We were baffled to come to a conclusion; is it drugs or sex or both? No, we figured it out. You must have not realized that feature acts are only onstage for 20 minutes. Maybe you got your feature and headliner title mixed up, and you thought he was gonna do an hour. Cause it's just sad you couldn't sit for ten minutes. TEN MINUTES. You could have done anything to pass the time of ten minutes. I mean you could have walked in the lobby; made a phone call; called your aunt whom you haven't spoken to in years; made a play date; updated the resume; or stood in line in the bathroom, and jerked off in the stall, cause you sure as hell jerked off on your blog entry the next day.

Oh and Nick Turner, what's going on with him, you are wondering. Well, hell if I know, nobody does. You can only find him at one of the shows that he puts on. You know it's funny…you don't ever see him out at anyone else's show…I mean it's not because he isn't getting booked…right? I mean he's Nick Turner! The man who came down from New York to save the DC scene right? Wait…why the hell did you go from New York to DC? I've heard of alternative comedy be4, but not really alternative career choices. I hear all the aspiring actors are moving from LA to Omaha so they can really get their careers back on track. What's your next blog Nick? Bangkok Comedy 4 Now? Well, we can only hope. Have fun trying to get booked out there; I hear the Thai don't like being yelled at.

But seriously, way to go guys. Great site! I mean, you know, we're not hating, DC Comedy 4 Now, we're just saying.

Not Hating Just Saying

Read more!

Shows That Make You Go "Hmmmm"


Classic American Comedy
Parker's Classic American Bistro in Bethesda, MD
10pm FREE
This is one of the greatest showcases in the country. If you are a fan of watching great comedy, or performing on great comedy shows, please check out Parker's tonight. It is a young show and as all young shows are, on a probationary period. We need to pack the room to tell the owners that stand up is as important as we the readers think it is. Do it for your country (or at least your friends.) Tonight, check out John McBride, Brandon Ivey, Nick Turner, Shotgun Tom, Andy Haynes, and Tyler Sonnichsen


DCC4N presents: DC Comedy Festival Showcase
DC Improv Comedy Lounge
8pm $10
Featuring the best stand-up comics in DC auditioning for spots in the DCCF '08. Line up includes: Jason Weems, Aparna Nancherla, Jay Hastings, Bryson Turner, Kojo Mante, Nick Turner, Tony Gracyk, John McBride, Tim Miller, & Hampton Yount.
Buy tickets here

Flashpoint Theater in Chinatown
9:30pm $12
The Final Two Teams in the 2008 F.I.S.T. tournament go head to head to crown the ULTIMATE CHAMPION. The audience votes for the winner!
Buy tickets here


Read more!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Interview of the Century: Curt Shackelford

Curt Shackelford: the man, the hero, the WaPo legend. For the past six years, Curt has been producing live stand-up comedy shows all over the D.C. metro area through his company, "Stand-Up Comedy to Go". And when I say producing, I am not talking about finding some dive bar w/a PA system so you can bring your dumbass friends, dress in a suit, and splash PBR in their faces. No, instead Curt brings a serious business approach to his comedy ventures. Anyone who has seen Curt pull up in his patented yellow truck knows exactly what I mean.

For inside it, Curt has everything he needs to put on a comedy show. Mic stand and mic? Check. Stage? Check. Fake brick wall? Check. 200 pens? Check. Just give Curt the go ahead and he will put up a show, like some sort of "big top" ringmaster.

These shows have been the launching pad for many local comics. Some have jumped to bigger and better places for comedy. Others are just thankful for the opprotunity to have consistent shows at which to perform. Either way, Curt has been an instrumental force in helping young comedians find their voice in D.C. for many years.

Curt has found his niche, and because of that, he won't budge on how he feels a comedy show should be run, and has no problem telling you that in almost every way possible. From the novella-sized attachment he emails to comics; to his grade school–like roll calls; to the "Everyone's a Comedian" audience-prying conclusion to his shows; you know it is Curt's three-ring circus, and he will run it as he pleases. Even if the clowns get upset.

And there have been many upset clowns over the years. Each one having their own reasons for why particpation under Curt's tent is not worth the price of admission. You may have heard some of them already. You may have not. But, this is not a post about them.

This is a rare interview with Mr. Shackelford. A no-holds barred event where Curt has the opprotunity to answer some of D.C.'s biggest questions as well as give his take on how the D.C. scene has changed, and how he views the world of comedy. Grab your popcorn, folks, you are in for a spectacle!

[Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages.....hit the jump.]

For the unfortunate minority who have never heard of you or what you have done in D.C. over the years, please introduce yourself.

Hello, my name is Curt Shackelford….and I’m a compulsive organizer.

I started my first open mic at Parkers in Bethesda 5 or 6 years ago after tiring of schlepping to Wiseacres from Bethesda to compete with 20 other comics for 12 slots. I wanted my own show that I could MC, guaranteeing stage time each week. I found a local Bethesda bar that was game, and proceeded to run the absolute worst open mic ever—made many mistakes but really learned to run a room. The show ultimately sank for many reasons. The primary reason being that it was on a Monday night. Only alcoholic single people go out on Mondays.

Ironically the new Friday show at Parkers will prolly be a huge success cuz it’s on a great night—

What rooms do you currently run ?

Ri Ra Irish Pub in Clarendon, VA; Wed nite open mic

Topaz Hotel in Dupont Circle, DC; Thurs nite open mic

Hyatt Hotel in Bethesda, MD; Saturday nite showcase

What is your comedic background?

I did stand up for a couple years then started running my own shows to guarentee myself stage time cuz there was only one open mic back then—Wiseacres. Quite by accident, I discovered I was the greatest comedy show producer that ever lived.

Who are some of your influences comedic or otherwise?

Martin Short, Todd Glass, Brian Regan, etc.—goofy/silly comics—Will Ferrell—are some of my faves.

What's hacky comedy to you?

Not so much material-wise cuz that’s obvious—everyone agrees what is hacky—but what really annoys me is the hacky lines that comics feel they need to say:

“Keep it going for…..”

“Are you guys having fun?”

“How you guys doin tonite?”

“Who’s drinkin tonite?”

...and a dozen others that only annoy the audience and eat up the clock.

You give us your reasoning for producing shows over performing, but why do it at all? What drives you to be involved in comedy?

I went to the Ticonderoga Pencil Factory when i was a kid—the sight of all these yellow pencils rolling out on the assembly line was mesmerizing, cranking out perfect pencils by the hundreds every minute—they had to pull me away from the viewing glass. Aspergers again?—a fondness for systems, uniformity, and patterns...

Anyhoo, there's something satisfying about cranking out a fine product every week, whether it's a pencil or a show; in that respect, it's "fun."

What do you look for in a space when you approach a venue?

Separate room away from the main room is the big thing. My big mistake with Parkers was it’s a big open space. I naïvely thought that everyone in the place would be enthralled and thrilled to hear great comedy for free. Nope. Some people would rather not hear comedy—even great comedy. They’re on a date or they’re with a friend they haven’t seen for a while, and wanna chat, etc. So you need that separate room so these folks can have a place to go to get away from the show. At Parkers, it was seen as an intrusion by some folks…like “Hey…I’m eatin' here!!”

Let's just get to it, shall we? Recently, you wrote to me that you "[are] responsible for the renaissance of the DC open mic scene...five years ago there was only one open mic at Wiseacres...I copied them and made some improvements on their system...then people copied me, made some improvements on my system, and it snowballed from there."

I have to qualify that by saying Chris White’s starting of DC Standup was what made the renaissance possible. That site was like erecting a giant canvas, and suddenly everyone started throwing paint on it. I started Parkers, and I think other comics saw how easy it was to open a room of their own, so they followed suit in their respective neighborhoods. My shows were way better cuz I brought “real show” production values (stage, spotlight, etc.) to the venue. I wanted to copy that aspect of Wiseacres as well even though Parkers was just a bar.

Maybe you answered this already but you have also said that "open mics that are run by comics instead of non-coms like me will eventually & inevitably fail." Well Curt, you are actually right, because ALL open mics eventually fail/close.

So why then do you feel rooms run by non-coms are better?

If a comic splits his energy between practicing/perfecting his craft and running a room (read “selling food and beverages to justify your show's existence”), his craft will suffer. Every minute a comic spends on running a show is a minute he could have spent writing, rehearsing, or performing. This will eventually annoy the comic to the point he/she gives up in disgust, and turns his focus solely to his craft.

I tried to perform and run at Parkers, and I did both of them perfectly half-assed cuz it’s too taxing to do both well. I gave up in disgust but chose running shows over performing cuz I was great at it. I was a good comic, but a great producer. You gotta be great at what you do or forget it. Good is not good enough.

Then, please explain the success of an open mic like "Soho Coffee & Tea", which from what DC Standup has said was the longest-running DC open mic of all time (and that website is never wrong), and also happened to be run by a comic.

Soho—Paul Schorsch shut his show down fed up and disgusted. He wrote a blog about it called “Curt is right—I’m fed up and disgusted.”

What do you look for in comics when you book Topaz? How about the Hyatt?

Silliness, silliness, silliness.

You have expressed some strong feelings about new comics, in which you have said, "more stage time will *not* make you funnier. You are funny right out of the gate or not...and all the stage time in the world will not help you cuz 99.9% of what makes you funny is *beyond your control*".

This statement is gonna get me assassinated, but I firmly believe this.

Just one example:

Andy Haynes—it’s not his writing, his delivery, his whatever—it’s his default facial expression that has to do with genetics that makes everything he does/says “funny.”

Many more examples upon request.

You have also expressed to me your usual hesitation for putting up improvisers having a go at stand-up.

Not at all—I actually love improv comics who come into standup—they are usually stronger comics because of their improv background (yourself, Scovel, etc.)

It’s the actual art of improv that I find tedious beyond belief; it's like waiting for lightning to strike—too hit or miss. With standup, you just have more chance of regular laughs via punchlines.

As a former comic yourself Curt, what is your reasoning on the harsh approach you take with booking really funny, established comedians who have proven themselves time and time again vs. the notion that "newbies and their audience" dictate the success of a locally run comedy show?

When I ran Parkers five years ago I used nothing but the best comics—I promoted the hell out of the show, but we never got a decent size audience with any regularity. Newbies were not gonna get on my “quality” show cuz I didn’t wanna dilute it.

The show eventually died cuz we couldn’t bring in enough bodies—even though I did a solid year with nothing but the best comics. Ironically, the show would have *eventually* caught on and it would have been packed, but the word “eventually” does not sit well with venue owners. They no understanding of “eventually.” They only understand “within this quarter.”

Now my shows are a mix of newbies who bring the audience and veterans who make them laugh.

Every time I try to tamper with the mix, the show sucks.

Great lineup of too many veteran comics equals playing to six people.

Shitty lineup of too many newbies equals playing to a packed house of folks that will never come again.

So it’s a mixed bag—a combined approach. As the Devil Himself (manifested as Dick Cheney) said, "sometimes the answer is 'both'."

You have butted heads with many comics during your time of booking shows. Some have voiced their opinion, others have not. What are your feelings about Jay Hastings and the dispute that erupted between you two last year?

Art versus commerce—Jay is a comic who naturally champions art over commerce. I am a greedy producer who favors commerce over art. I try to keep a balance though; but commerce comes first.

“You can’t have a cupboard if there ain’t no wall.”

Comedy is supposed to be fun. When comics first receive your pre-show list of rules, they tend to think "holy shit, what have i gotten myself into." So my question is, why not get rid of them? Especially since some parts, like the dress code (no Timbalands, no doo rags, no black skin) seem to be targeting a certain group.

There were no rules when I started. Everytime I got reprimanded by the venue, I made it a rule to prevent it from happening again.

The rules are there to "set the tone," and the tone is, "This is not just another shitty open mic with seven TV's on and three drunk guys who don't even realize there's a show going on."

I want comics to treat it like a *real show*. I certainly do, and they should too. The 345 rules say that loud & clear.

Thankfully, there are 15 other shows in town where you can get stage time—but they aren't as good as mine, precisely cuz they lack "structure" (another word for rules). I don't want to make it seem like the Big Bad Venue made me institute that dress code; that was all my doing.

My shows are in white neighborhoods. White folks are frightened by the gangsta look—white-black-Latino-whatever; it's intended to look threatening and it works. "Threatening" is not a good vibe at a comedy show.

Ironically, I lifted the dress code language verbatim from a flyer put out by FUR nightclub, a black club, that read "no Tims, no skullies, etc."

My one black friend (I have pictures of me shaking his hand) had to explain to me what that stuff was, but I knew if the black clubs themselves didn't want that in their venues then I didn't either.

Some people in the community feel like you avoid comics who run their own rooms. Any comment?

This is true, but not for sinister reasons. They have their own rooms so they no longer are as “needy” as other comics. They have a guaranteed weekly slot; so I prefer to use comics who are more in need of stage time cuz they [don’t have] their own rooms.

Do you think there is ANY correlation between the success of Rory Scovel, Ryan Conner, and Danny Rouhier, and the constant rotation you kept those three comics in at all of your shows? Are you trying to do the same for comics presently? If so, throw out some names. Go ahead, who does Curt like nowadays?

We fed off each other. It was a perfectly symbiotic relationship—very win-win.

I think I speeded up their ascent to the NYC level by providing them with enough bodies in the audience (non-com bodies) every week so they could get real feedback on their performances, tweak them in time for next week’s show, etc.

My current fave—Hampton. Again it’s the way he looks, walks, stands, sounds, his mannerisms—all stuff beyond his control.

And he was blessed with the silliness gene—again something beyond his control.

Why don't you like watching basketball games?

Sneakers suction-cup “thwick-thwick-thwick” sound of running down the court plus the squeaking from the sudden stops, turns, and starts. I have mild Asperger's Syndrome that makes me sensitive to certain sounds.

Solution: Moccasins.

Why the hell don't you ever come out to other shows? I know you are a busy guy, but how can you expect to be on the pulse of the comedy scene in town without seeing it?

I would love to come watch other shows cuz I can’t really enjoy my own shows cuz I’m “working” and can never fully focus on enjoying a comic’s set. But I’m just too wiped out at the end of the day. I’m asleep by 8pm and up by 4am the next day to go pore over the topographical map of the DC Open Mic scene in my bunker’s war room in my poofy Field Marshall pants…pushing little plastic tanks around with one of those plastic tank pusher stick–thingies.

What is with the email blasts, really? Why ignore so many emails? Don't you think that it is mean and it undermines people's confidence?

I’m running my shows in the cracks and crevices of my day job. I gotta cram all my comedy work into very limited time; efficiency rules the day. If I had someone to do the booking, it would be great. They could take the time to be a bit more human about the whole booking process, but until I can afford to hire someone it will have to be mass email cattle-call style.

Aparna does a swell job running the lights at your shows, doesn't she? Quite the gal.

I picked her cuz she’s small, and can fit in the tiny crevices I reserve for the light lady—not taking up any unnecessary square footage that the audience could use.

Swell job?

She routinely falls asleep, talks during the show, gives more time to her friend-comics, but thinks I don’t notice cuz I am old and senile. But until a smaller comic comes along, her job is safe. I don’t like young people.

How do you see the open mic scene changing five years from now, and what are you doing to make sure you are a part of it?

There are shitty cover bands playing live “music” on every street corner. I’d like to see a comedy night on every corner alongside this plethora of live music. It should be as prevalent as live music. But live comedy is seen as a “wild animal” and also a “black sheep of the arts,” so venues are very afraid of letting this wild rabid dog into their fine establishment. But they have no problem letting in a lame cover band—safer I guess.

But the more rooms there are, the easier it will be for the next room to open, cuz you can point to the other rooms and say “Hey look Mr. General Manager, that place across the street is doing comedy!” So then it can snowball even bigger and bigger.

Read more!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Top Shelf 4-1-08 in pictures

Bryson Turner shuffled over after a nap, then did 90 minutes.

He crushed!

Read more!

Washington Improv Theater Auditions: Caveat

Caveat, one of Washington Improv Theater's premier longform improvisation ensembles, is looking to add new members, and is holding an open audition.

The Caveat Audition will be held, Saturday, April 26th from 10AM - 4PM at the Children's Studio School (13th and V St., NW).

The Audition will be comprised of varied group scene work. If you are selected to attend call-backs, you will be notified by 10PM on April 26th.

Callbacks will take place the following day, Sunday, April 27th
beginning at 11AM at the Children's Studio School (13th and V St. NW).

no later than 4 pm, Friday, April 25th.

Read the FAQs online. If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact Justin Purvis via email, LaughRyott1@gmail.com, or by phone, 443-831-6796.

Do it. Audition.

DCC4N Read more!

Monday, April 7, 2008

4 Then Interview: Andy Haynes

In the 4 Then Interview series, DCC4N hopes to answer the question on many DC comics' minds..."What happens when I leave DC? Mainly, do I still exist?"

In this edition, jetsetter Andy Haynes, who is in town for a few must-see days this week, compares the comedy scenes between his native Seattle and his home-away-from-home DC; reveals the secret to getting booked (not to be confused with The Secret); and talks about the next destination on his comedy frequent flier map.

So what have you been up to since leaving DC?

I've been living in Seattle, in my mom's basement, telling jokes about that, and lots of other things, as often as I can. This past November, I did the Seattle International Comedy Competition. Because I was a semifinalist, a lot of doors opened and I was able to start featuring around the Northwest, and a little farther beyond. In fact I've ruined my evil mother's evil Subaru driving all over to perform. Also I've dabbled in a couple of improv classes and sketch too, but it's been mainly standup. The scene here is really great, very open.

[Hit the jump for more of Andy's wisdom pearls!]

When did you start doing stand up and where did you do your first open mic? How did it go?

I started in December of 2004, at the Comedy Underground in Seattle, which is my home club. I did good enough to want to do it again, but it will probably be a funny metaphor for my career in the future. On the drive home from that, I was listening to the BBC, 'cause I'm smart. They interrupted the program to announce the tsunami. So that's my anniversary; the same night that the single largest natural disaster occurred. Here's a mad lib: [Fat Person You Hate] is now the largest single natural disaster! [Rim shot].

When did you decide it was time to leave DC?

After I won my month in the showcase, November '06, and nothing came of it, I went home to visit for the holidays. There was time everywhere, and this amazing indy/alt scene; weekly shows in venues the size of the 9:30 club, with hip young audiences, and then all the clubs were letting people go up. Then when I got back to DC, I felt like I was getting better, 'cause everyone is good there, especially discipline-wise, but there was no upward mobility outside of the Improv, and I wanted to get better, so moving home seemed like my best option.

How would you compare the comedy scenes in Seattle and DC? How would you compare the audiences?

Seattle is definitely on a smaller scale as far as the clubs go. They're all tinier venues, and we don't get the names that the Improv does, at least not as often, but because of this, there's a lot more access. There's no contest-style selection process. There's open mics, and then when the bookers like you, they book you. Except all the hosting is unpaid, so that's basically first-come, first-serve. But its more of a meritocracy, although shitty people do seem to get up a lot still, so that's the cost of it.

Then there's the alt/indy scene, or the Peoples Republic of Komedy, which is known as PROK out here, and its basically union-style, except they are on good terms with two out of three of the clubs. Imagine if Curt Shackelford broke into twenty 20- to 35-year old comedians that smoked and drank too much, and never mimed typing. They have rooms all over, lots of open mics, and showcase style things in rock venues. The Laffhole, which is the hallmark of the alt-scene, fills up a 300-person rock venue every Wednesday. The show is probably the most successful alt-show in the country based on attendance. Because of that, when anybody from the LA or NY scenes is in town, they usually perform there.

I've been very spoiled by them, and the audiences are hipsters and comedy nerds, so it's nice for working on that kind of act. But the clubs round it out, 'cause they're still as bad as any Friday late show, so you learn a lot. I think there's just a lot more access, but the caliber isn't always as high; but I think it helps people grow, and there's somewhat of a community, based out of the clubs.

What do you do to get booked?

Its mainly been through going up a lot at all the clubs, and either the booker or a headliner liking me, and booking me or taking me on the road. There's a lot of one-nighters out here, and if you can throw a decent twenty five up, they'll most likely book you again. Otherwise, through PROK, I've been able to book things like comedy and music festivals, and the occasional benefit. Having a home club you can hang out at helps a lot too, cause the managers usually know other gigs, and if they like you, they'll throw them your way. I've been working since November, and I've never sent out a press kit. I don't even have a headshot, if that says anything, other than that I'm completely unprofessional.

Here's some of Andy's work with comrade Scott Moran as the comedy duo, Scott & Andy:

Would you like to branch out into improv or sketch? What has your experience been like in these two areas?

I would love to branch out, and I've been trying forever to do so, but I've never had the time to do them seriously. I've taken four or five entry level improv classes, and other than the Poonanza, have done no sketch. If I had the free time I would though. Every time I've tried to do improv outside of a class, I just suck, 'cause I've never really performed regularly. I think you have to, to get out of your head, just like standup. Most of it has manifested into either working off page onstage in my standup, or videos. I'm moving to New York, in June, and I plan to enroll in UCB classes as soon as I have the money. I think it's the most beneficial tool for a comic.

Have you ever run your own room/produced your own show in Seattle? How did it go?

I've helped the PROK guys with some shows, but that's about it. I've been very greedy, 'cause all I really want to do is perform, and for some reason people have let me get away with it. I think you have to help a scene though so everyone can gain. I'm happy to help, but I rarely have to; though if I'm asked, I do.

What was one of your favorite rooms in DC?

I loved all of them really; Dremos, Rendezvous, even Soho, but I will always remember Bossa on Thursday nights as the first place I felt like a comic. Seaton Smith ran the room, and he was always good to me about time. It seemed like the whole crew there was all learning together and getting better every week. Before it closed in September '06, I spent every Thursday of that summer there, and it had become a great show. The upstairs was hot and crowded, dark like a jazz club, and the bartenders were hot. We just had so much fun, I was gay for it. I can remember the first time I ever killed, I got off the stage and my heart was close to exploding, and there were all my best friends. I couldn't have been more content. It closed the weekend that I first emceed at the Comedy Factory, and it was so tragic, I felt like I had been dumped in absentia.

What's on your plate next, in terms of comedy?

I'm moving to New York in June. I guess that means I'm starting over in a way. Contentment doesn't challenge me, so moving to the hardest city to do this seems like the right move. I'm gonna try to go up as much as I can, and like I said, do improv and sketch or whatever I can. I've met some guys that said they'd bring me on the road to middle, and hopefully I can get out of the city to do that. But NY is probably going to be a full plate just trying to break in.

How would you describe your style of stand up, and how has it evolved since you started?

I'm not sure how I would describe it. I'm just trying to have fun, and occasionally sneak something relevant in. As for evolving, not sure either, I just know I'm getting better.

Here's some of Andy's video work!

You can catch Andy in the DC area this week!

Andy will be at Topaz Hotel on April 10 and the Hyatt in Bethesda on April 12.

Also, Andy wants you to know he will be anywhere else there is stage time to be had.

Read more!

Nick Turner Says: Use comedy to excuse your shitty life!

(photo by Aaron Webb)

Now, we all know that comedians are the scum of the earth, yet every time you tell someone that you're a comedian you somehow get treated better than you did mere seconds before the revelation. Why is this? Because people haven't seen your act yet. It's that simple. You suck, you know it, but they have no idea until they see it for themselves. This window from when they first hear that you're a comedian until they first see you bomb is what I call the "sweet spot." But the good news is that the assholes at your office aren't the only ones who can be tricked into thinking you're not a loser. You can trick yourself, too! Here are a few helpful delusions that can put you on the path to not slitting your wrists after you've made the terrible, terrible decision to pursue comedy.

Delusion #1: It's fine that you're a 27-year-old receptionist/college dropout because at night, you make people laugh! You aren't just the guy answering phones for the people with degrees/wives/kids/money/lives because almost 8 people will be forced to hear your thoughts on the MySpace revolution tonight. Who IS this Tom guy, anyway?

Delusion #2: You aren't watching too much television; you're doing research! How are people gonna know that I detest Rock of Love, unless I watch Rock of Love, and then tell you guys how much I didn't enjoy watching Rock of Love while setting my Tivo to record the most intense elimination round yet on Rock of Love?

Delusion #3: I have tons of friends because everyone says hi to me at open mics! Those people definitely aren't just saying hi because they're nice, and I'm standing in front of the sign up sheet. They are my friends. They could be anywhere tonight but chose to be here because they know that I'm probably gonna have a pretty sweet joke about the final four. The black teams did better than the white teams!

Delusion #4: I would be getting laid tonight if it weren't for the fact that I had a show! Well, I mean, I don't have a show per se, but I do have to go to a show. Well, I guess I don't HAVE to go to a show, but I really want to check out Flip Orley at the Improv because then I can figure out how to get a stand up comedy career without actually doing stand up comedy!

Delusion #5: I'm gonna make it one day!

Do guys have any delusions that you use to help yourselves get through the day? Let me know in the comments because everyone is definitely gonna read the comments, and it will be worth the time spent writing them.

Read more!

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Side That's Winning

By: Andy Kline

The first time I ever did stand-up comedy was back in 1994 at the age of 19. I did it basically as a hobby for about two years, then drifted away. In the spring of '98, I came back into it full force. I don't remember the exact date, but I think my first time ever on stage was the last Wednesday in March, '94 - about a month after Bill Hicks died, and about a week before Kurt Cobain did. The number one song in the country was "Wet Banana" by The Floaters, a loaf of bread cost -12 cents, and only the wealthy had knees.

To characterize DC comedy as a "scene" back then would be a disservice to the word. There was no scene. It was just a collection of comics doing a few open-mic's together. There was adequate stage time, but not much in the way of ambition or identity. The word most frequently used when discussing comedy wasn't hack, or original, or unicorns. It was crossover. Everybody was talking about crossing over.

There were a lot more black rooms in DC back then. If you were white and wanted to get on stage more than once or twice a week, you would have to venture out to Mr. Henry's in Adams Morgan, or one of the Comedy Connection rooms. You would have to risk getting booed or heckled. You would occasionally have utensils thrown in your general direction. Likewise, black comics looking for time would have to hit The Comedy Café on K Street, or Headliners in Bethesda. They would have to risk getting ostracized by the pervasive "Def Jam" label. But, we all tried to cross over. It was important to relate to unfamiliar crowds. It helped you grow. Sure, some people did it in a hacky way, but most of us had a fair amount of integrity.

old school comedy
photo courtesy of
Flickr and timparkinson

Historically, that's what comedy has been – people crossing over. Just look at the way comedy is marketed. The majority of comedy bio's you read say, in essence, that this is someone who is different from you. From a different background than you. With a unique slant and fresh perspective on the world. If you believe what you read, there are literally thousands of unique slants and fresh perspectives out there, playing every out of the way Hysteri-Hut and Tickle Trap in the country. The message a comedy crowd is given is this: you won't agree with everything this comic says, but he'll show you what's funny about his point of view. Not that comedy audiences have ever fully embraced that message, but it's essentially what they're told.

But, comedy has been changing for the last few years. It's being splintered into all kinds of various genres. Somewhere, on any given night, you might find yourself at an alternative show called, "Grown Men Who Still Watch Cartoons." Or maybe an urban show called, "Somebody Say Ha." Possibly even an all-female extravaganza called, "The Drapes Match the Rug-Pulls." In every city that has a comedy scene, comedians are banding together in neatly packaged little groups: the black show, the not-like-the-other-blacks show, the redneck show, the Arab show, the alternative show, etc. In some ways, it's no different than developing a hook; the "GIT-R-DONE" it's okay to like, if you will. But in other ways, it's killing people's growth.

this set up killed at the Trekkie convention
photo courtesy of
Flickr and Idea-Listic

The crowds at a genre show are agreeable. They don't challenge the comedian, and the comedian doesn't challenge them. And that's the dirty little secret: you don't have to be that funny anymore. They like you because of what you represent. If you're an alternative comic, you can get away with dropping transformers references and displaying fake creativity by talking about genies and robots and elves. The crowd is there to root for you. You're a cause more than a comic, and this is your pep rally. The same can be said for the black comic leaning on the white-guy-voice on urban night, or countless other examples. Genre shows advocate indulgence. And they stifle growth.

It's just like a national headliner who finally gets his own audience of devoted fans, then winds up catering to them completely. Listen to Sam Kinison's CD Leader of the Banned, if you need a reference. By the time it came out, he had reached a point in his career when he could just yell FAGGOT into the microphone and his crowds would cheer. His bits got lazy and the comedy suffered, yet he still destroyed (he did find his roots again on Live From Hell). Check out Dane Cook's Vicious Circle special. Not that he has ever been a good comic in my opinion, but that special lacked any creativity or imagination. It was a bunch of shared-experiences done with energy and an arched back. And his fans ate it up. Have you ever watched a Margaret Cho special and wondered what the hell everybody's laughing at?

Now, those comics had years of experience in comedy, and they still couldn't resist the temptation to indulge and cater to their crowds. But, what if you're a brand new comic who latches onto one of these scenes? You've just started comedy and you already have what is essentially your crowd. What happens when that crowd forgives your mistakes and laughs extra hard anyway? Well, what happens is a generation of thin-skinned comics who lack polish and development.

Bill Burr wrote a blog, roughly a month ago, about his early days in comedy. He mentioned that, once he found his voice, he deliberately went up in front of audiences that were hostile. That may have come as a revelation to some, but really, that's how everybody used to think. Things are so different now.

I've heard so many new comics write off a crowd because they were too old, or too rowdy, or too black. I've heard people bad-mouth crowds at A+ rooms, like the Improv, by snidely calling them "mainstream." It sounds to me like people are afraid to bomb, and they're sheltering themselves completely from that experience.

everyone can relate to nudity, am i right?
photo courtesy of
Flickr and Arbron

I deliberately mentioned Bill Hicks and Kurt Cobain at the beginning of this blog because they were two artists who constantly challenged and confronted their crowds. So does Bill Burr. Part of what makes stand-up comedy great is that it gives performers the ability to take real risks and provoke their audience. I feel like that ability is being traded in for safety and support.

I don't think the current direction of comedy is all bad. There are obvious benefits, and, if approached the right way, having a receptive crowd can be a great thing. In fact, my biggest hope is that this trend will lead to an established underground comedy scene, similar to what you see in music. The current power structure in comedy doesn't represent or expose the right people most of the time, and other avenues are sorely needed. But, does anybody even use the word crossover anymore? Does that idea even cross people's minds?

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

DC Comedy Spotlight: Shawn Westfall

Screw you guys. I don’t care what you “young people” think! With your Death Cabs and your backpacks with the seatbelt buckles on the strap and your new ways of shaking hands...you clench fists then hit them together? Bah! I am old school! You know why? Because some people never stop being funny. Some people just know comedy from the get go and ain't nothin' gonna change that. One of these people is Mr. Shawn Westfall.

Born and raised in Indiana, Shawn Westfall has performed improvisational comedy for over 14 years with a number of professional improv troupes as well as founding some of his own such as the sketch comedy troupe, Pretentious Actors Collective (P.A.C.), which played to audiences in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC and most recently Bright Young Things, an improv troupe specializing in long-form improv that played to audiences in Washington, DC (headlining at the DC Improv) and at the UCB Theater in New York City.

Shawn has also performed stand-up comedy in Texas and throughout the Washington, DC area, and has opened for comedian Adam Ferrara at the DC Improv.

In addition, this May will find Shawn marking five years as the exclusive improv instructor at the DC Improv. His classes (and the numerous DC Improv shows they've generated) have been featured in the pages of The Washington Post, The Washington Post Express and Washingtonian magazine and as well on Washington Post Radio, DC 101, WTOP, and on Mix 107.3’s “The Jack Diamond Morning Show.” He’s also the founder and primary facilitator of Improv Comedy Delivered, an improv-focused event-based business.

Shawn knows his shit, people. Sit down and pay attention. Learn something for once. Quit with your “hatin'” and your “just sayin'” for one gosh darn second.

(BTW, this is my cranky bitterness spewing forth, youngsters. Shawn always greets everyone he meets with warmth and vitality)

Shawn can also sing? What!? Fuck yes. Catch Shawn this weekend in:

Friday 8pm $15
Flashpoint Theater
buy tickets here

"I'm always stunned and amazed how this troupe of improv geniuses creates a musical in front of our eyes. Get thee to the iMusical." -DC Theatre Reviews

DCC4N interview with Shawn:
When did you realize that you wanted to do comedy?

Not sure the exact age, but I suppose it was very early on that I learned that I could get attention (especially from girls — and that’s really what it’s all about, right?) by indulging in what appeared to be a god-given gift for mimicry, making a fool of myself, and getting laughs. Some guys could dribble basketballs or throw footballs. I could do bad Steve Martin imitations. Though I did, and still do, a spot-on version of Burt Ward’s Robin.

But once you’re past that, comedy is something you sort of fall into it by default, isn’t it? You discover your tendency to locate the humor in the mundane, boring, banal, and irritating. You start giving in to this tendency at work, in the grocery line, with friends, with your girlfriend, etc. And suddenly what started as an occupational hazard then becomes an occupation, or at least a vocation. It’s weird. For most comedians or comic performers, comedy is something they discover that they can’t *not* do.

[Hit the jump for one of our most insightful interviews yet. Plus, there is a video for you Gen X-ers!]

Who were some of your earliest influences?

Well, two of my earliest influences were my parents, who saw fit to bless me with a downright awful childhood. Nothing, in my experience, is more useful to comedy than a bad childhood. When reality is alternately boring and horrific, one’s imagination tends to vividly intensify. At least mine certainly did. Just the way it is, I suppose.

That said, my parents, perhaps because they were too drunk to care, allowed me to stay up to watch
Saturday Night Live during its very first season, and those first shows — indeed, the first show — stayed with me, are with me even now. I once won a trivia contest by being able to name the person who spoke the first words on the first episode. Most think it was Belushi. But it was actually the late Michael O’Donahue — twisted, crazed genius that he was — in a sketch where O’Donahue’s character is teaching Belushi’s character to speak English using phrases like “I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines.” For weeks I went around repeating this. I was ten.

Where did you first start doing improv?

I was fascinated by SNL and from the Midwest, but because of my rather insular upbringing I didn’t discover until late in life that there was a career-track to getting on the show, and that it, generally speaking, went through something called “improv,” which was done, generally speaking, in some place called “Chicago.” My first exposure to it was about 14 years ago: I was studying acting with a guy named Kent Bateman (Jason and Justine’s father) near Park City, UT. He attempted something approximating improv by occasionally asking his students, as an exercise, to take the characters we were working on for scene study and put them in audience-suggested situations with other actors’ characters. The results were usually monumental failures, my improv scenes in particular.

A few months after working with Kent Bateman I saw a show on the A&E channel, late at night, where some very gifted actors were doing short-form improv. Lights went on, bells went off, etc. The moment I saw that I knew I was born to do this style of comedy/acting, and that I’d find a way to get involved.

From Utah I moved to Hawaii. Just as I arrived I saw an ad in the auditions section of the
Honolulu Advertiser: a local improv troupe was seeking additional actors to flesh out their numbers for a 12-hour non-stop improv marathon to benefit a local theater. I auditioned, was told that my tenure would only be for this one show, got in, and was then given a six-week crash course in improv. The day of the show, though scheduled for only two hours, I ended up doing four hours non-stop, since the other actors refused to let me off stage. The troupe, Loose Screws (still extant and thriving, by the way) figured that since I had undergone this improv trial-by-fire, it was only appropriate to ask me to officially join. I’ve been involved in improv ever since.

What would you say is your improv-comedy style? What do you enjoy bringing onstage?

Given that I’m not really all that good at being me, and prefer, in fact, to be someone else, my improv is character-based, so I enjoy bringing as many unique, differentiated characters as I can to a performance. I’m very fond of Groundlings-style improv, where they seem to encourage strong, distinct character choices as the through-line for improv and sketch comedy. Some of my favorite comedic actors trained there, notably the late Phil Hartman, who is, in my opinion, the most gifted comedic improv or sketch actor we’ve ever produced, someone who could effortlessly go from persona to persona. People often forget just how brilliant Larraine Newman, another Groundling product, was on those first seasons of SNL. She created a different character for every sketch she was in. I also admire Peter Sellers, another character-mad genius, playing three (almost four!) different characters in “Dr. Strangelove.” And I don’t think it’s any accident that my favorite writer is the comic novelist Kingsley Amis, whose novels are basically catalogues of unforgettably rendered characters with distinct voices. Practically everyone who knew him testifies that in real life, Amis was an excellent mimic of voices and sound effects; one of his most requested parlor pieces was an impersonation of Franklin Roosevelt delivering one of his many fireside chats as heard on shortwave wartime British radio, complete with the buzzes, cracks, and whistles of signals fading in and out as they’re transmitted across the ocean. I actually heard a recording of Amis performing this. He could have easily been a master improvisational performer.

Do you enjoy the process of writing? How do you think your improv training has affected your writing style/process?

Well, no one enjoys the process of writing. Nearly every writer I know enjoys *having written.* However, about six years ago, I was involved in a sketch comedy troupe here in DC (Pretentious Actors Collective) and, had we not all had improv backgrounds and brought that to our collaborations, we would have killed each other (we did end up killing each other, but not over the creative process). It was basically understood that whatever sketch we individually brought was never a finished product, that others were given license to improve upon the premise in any way. In fact, there were a couple sketches I wrote that I was, at one time or another, ready to abandon when one or both of my partners would find ways to improve it, either at the writing stage or in rehearsal. We did this constantly. And that’s the collaborative nature of improv at work. You don’t own the comedy. And you have to be willing to check your ego at the door to find it.

What about performing live do you enjoy? Do you ever want to convey a message?

Basically discovering the right in-the-moment piece of information or character that I can bring to a scene. I’m usually listening intently for ways to help the scene or further the story (I’ve got an MA in English lit, so “story,” “three-act structure,” and narrative are things I’m kind of obsessive about). I took a workshop with Owen Burke of UCB last year, and he basically said that an improviser’s job is to serve the scene. Again: not to “be [individually] funny,” but to look for what the scene needs and bring it, so that the funny in a scene becomes something you create together.

Regarding messages: I have little patience for political art, “message art,” etc. Anytime I feel that I’m being exposed to propaganda, I just want to take a shower. And I don’t really care for overtly political comedians (standup or improv), either. Some do, but I don’t. I don’t think there’s any difference between comedians who walk on stage saying in essence, “wow, George Bush sucks” and getting a reaction and their saying “wow, isn’t DC [or geographic location X] great?” You’re just pandering. Of course, these tend to be the same comedians who mistake that for a successful gig, too. Plus, it’s all been done. Go look at Mort Sahl’s stuff from the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. Take out whatever politician he was trashing back then, insert one of today’s politicians, and you’re basically telling the same joke.

What's hacky to you?

Probably the same things that are hacky to everyone else reading this website. Topical humor, which, in my opinion, has a shelf life of last week. Dick jokes. I once commented to The Washington Post that nearly all beginning improv scenes default to either sex or poo, or both simultaneously. And because I have a pathological aversion to boredom, I get impatient when I see the same comic premises falling along those already well-traveled sex and poo routes. Indeed, one of the things I try to impress upon my students is that there are multitudes of paths towards the funny, and they don’t always fall along the cliché lines to which Hollywood — and by extension everyone else — defaults. It’s hard, but then a few weeks later, a light goes on and they get it. Of course, mea culpa, we’re all occasionally guilty of resorting to that.

You have been involved with DC comedy for years now. How do you feel about doing comedy in Washington DC?

Love it. I thought about leaving a few years ago, but I’m so glad I stayed. Whatever I would have achieved elsewhere, DC has rewarded me tenfold in other ways. DC may be, as the cliché goes, “Hollywood for ugly people” (which certainly explains why I’m here). But given that Hollywood has to have things like intellectual curiosity and irony imported by the truckload (nearly all of which is lost or damaged in shipment), I prefer DC and the East Coast. There are also some very personal, almost psychodrama-esque reasons for why I remain, which I won’t bore your readers with (not that that’s stopped me so far). But unless someone comes along offering me the standard rich-and-famous contract that necessitates my moving to either NYC or (Christ…) LA, I’m staying here.

You have been involved with DC comedy for years now. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen occur since you started here?

The biggest changes? More venues. More opportunities. A more vibrant and thriving community all around.

Eight years ago, there were only a handful of places where one could perform. The DC Improv hadn't started its open mikes yet, and if you wanted to do stand-up, generally speaking you went out to Wiseacres on open mike night, signed up, and got on a huge list of like 15 comedians who were given 6 minutes a piece. Then they added an extra night and you did the same thing. The improv scene wasn't much different. ComedySportz was in transition; when I got involved there, Liz Demery had just bought it, and was searching for a place to call home (one of my first tasks when I got involved in CSz was helping repaint the Victoria's Secret in Ballston to transform it into the Comedy Spot theater…we geeky theater types called it "The Old Vic"). And Mark Chalfant and Topher Bellavia were in the process of reenergizing WIT.

But from this came a groundswell of talent and desire to perform that manifested itself in a kind of DIY attitude. People began starting up open mikes in DC and online communities with information useful to local comedians; ComedySportz found a permanent home in Ballston; WIT began forming additional house troupes; and the DC Improv began offering more open mike opportunities as well as classes in improv and stand-up. Then suddenly we had this fantastic annual comedy festival.

There's not much practical value in pursuing an MA in English, but one of the things you learn is that great artists and performers usually do their best and most lasting work when they're part of communities. The myth of the lone writer struggling away in some garret far away who eventually publishes and is discovered is precisely that: a myth. It's no accident that writers, artists, and performers travel in movements, groups, and communities. The Romantic poets (Byron, Coleridge, and Shelley) all knew each other, vacationed together, and were audiences for each other's work. Post-War Modern artists hung out in the same Greenwich Village bars and championed each other's stuff. Bob Dylan and Richie Havens were buskers on the same New York City street corners.

This is one valuable way the community has grown and an equally valuable benefit of being part of the community. In fact, I tend to think the comedy community here in DC is like a family. Like any family, you're closer to some of your relatives than you are to others; like any family, there's infighting, squabbling, and petty territorial grievances. But we do a good job of defending each other to outsiders. And then on some nights we get together, tell stories about each other, have a few beers, and make each other laugh. And that makes the rest of the bullshit all worth it.

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