I just came back from performing in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival in Canada, where I was named one of the BEST of the FEST. I came away from this tour with the realization that there is not only a market for what I do, but a real appreciation for it, too.
In the UK and Canada there is a respect for comedy as an art form in and of itself as well as a respect for comics of all ages and points of view. In the UK, audiences listen as if they are watching a theater show. There are short intervals between acts for folks to grab a drink or two and bring it back to their seats. The standing room only audiences lining the walls of the clubs listen appreciatively. No talking during the sets. No wait staff walking in front of the stage. No checks being dropped during the headliners act. Civilized.
No one is particularly impressed with your television credits. As the booker of Edinburgh’s The Stand said, “Why do the clubs in the US only care what TV credits comics have? Who gives a crap? Get on stage and show me what you do.” The fact that I’m a comic in my 40’s is irrelevant. What I bring to the stage is what matters. I love that.
On stage at the Comedy Cafe in London
In the states you need the television credits to get the headlining gigs that pay the bucks. Being good without national television exposure won’t get you far or pay your bills. The difference in the UK is that people come to check out comedy for the love of it, and the comics are paid well for being good, not for the credits they have.
Tom Stade, brilliant UK Comic
I met comics from New York, Ireland, and Canada now living and working in the UK and doing well. Tom Stade, a brilliant comic and transplant from Vancouver and New York, who’s been hitting the stage for over 20 years, told me he is making great green headlining clubs and sold-out theaters in his new homeland. Keith Farnan, a lawyer turned comic, said that after five years in the biz he’s making nearly as much as he did as a lawyer. Perhaps he was an underpaid public defender, but I don’t think so. I’ve been at this for 14 years and am hoping to make as much as I did when I had a paper route.
Payne & Pue - Funny!
In Canada, I was impressed by the originality of the comics: Nikki Payne, Rob Pue, John Hastings, and Ryan Belleville. See Nikki once and you will know why Canada goes crazy for her. (Having to follow her one night, I told her I wish I had a hair lip, too). Pue is a powerhouse whose work is original and smartly written. He did a bit about having his catheter removed by a young nurse with sparkling blue eyes who held his manliness in her hands like soft little clouds. The bit was terrific and Rob didn’t lose an ounce of testosterone in the telling, but showed how brilliant he was to convey it as he did. The same goes for John Hastings and Ryan Belleville. These are young, hip guys, but they’re not too cool for the room. They have careers and they aren’t talking about “jerking off on their roommate’s computers,” which is a premise I’ve heard too many times at clubs in New York.
Langan & Tingle
Belleville asked me why he doesn’t see more of a range of performers on American television, particularly Comedy Central (and this is a guy who could easily get on Comedy Central). He pointed to the diverse group, myself and the great political comic (and gentlemen) Jimmy Tingle included, gathered at the Pantages Theater in Winnipeg for a national Canadian television taping. I said I know that Comedy Central, in general, caters to the male, college demographic. But what about the late night shows? I used to think it was an over 40, female thing, but I’ve spoken with a number of U.S. male comics in their 40’s and 50’s—accomplished, seasoned, funny guys—guys you know, who said that they’ve been told directly that they are no longer the right demographic for late night television. Craziness. Where would we be comedically without the greats who had careers based on their abilities, not their ages: Jonathan Winters, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Don Rickles, Bob Newhart, George Carlin…and on and on? They came up at a time when comedy, I believe, was considered more of an art form, much like in the UK and Canada today.
The late night shows should be putting MORE over 40-comics on their shows. The boomer generation is the largest market in the country, and they are considered largely obsolete by advertisers and the TV industry. Do these folks really think the 20-something tech geeks are watching TV? They’re iphoning, Facebooking, blackberrying, notebooking, and ipadding and huluing. It’s the over-40 sect who is tuning-in and then tuning-out because there is so little for them on the tube (and in the clubs). They have disposable income, and women make most of the major buying decisions in their homes. Yes, I’ve done the research.
But there are exceptions. There always are. And that’s what keeps me going. When I see a talented comic of a certain age on television, I am inspired. When I perform at a club or theater and someone stops to tell me they relate, I am inspired. When I recall the respect with which I was treated in the UK and Canada, I am inspired. So for now, if you don’t mind, I will hold on to my dream of performing on The Tonight Show. If it doesn’t work out I can always move to London.
I had a great chat with Robin Williams about the current state of comedy which I will post soon….