Often referred to as a “skin thickener” or, by people who don’t have as a fond of opinion of it, one of the worst rooms in the vast LA comedy scene, The Big Fish Bar & Grill in Glendale, CA was profiled on This American Life on Showtime in May 2009. In this segment, it’s almost haunting to see the likes of Kyle Kinane, who is about to do an hour special for Comedy Central at The Fillmore in San Francisco, argue with a bar regular/angry heckler about Jimmy Buffett.
Also in the clip, Brody Stevens who just had a killer set on Conan and Erik Charles Nielsen who was in several episodes of NBC’s Community as well as DJ Douggpound who has performed around the country and they all still continue to do stand-up quite well around LA.
Some of you might think it’s a necessity to do shitty rooms like to become a great stand-up comedian and that’s true. However, it isn’t because all the hilarious and talented folks we just named did that room and, as a direct result, got to where they are now. This is one of only hundreds of rooms they’ve all played, some great, some worst than Big Fish, and through all of that, they persevered, dedicated to their craft wholly.
Big Fish is still at 5230 San Fernando Rd. in Glendale, a place more akin to a small rest stop of a town along an interstate highway, and still has a comedy show that is pretty much the same as the clip above. You can still get violently yelled at, potentially get into fights, told you suck, and hear the contrast of silence between you finishing a joke and the sound of pool being played if you so wish. It’s a useful skill to be able to deal with terrible conditions when performing comedy as it’s art form heavily reliant on connecting with an audience.
However, playing a shitty room and being able to tough it out doesn’t make someone a great comedian. There are plenty of terrible comedians that think that shouting bigoted opinions in a cadence is great comedy and in a dive bar with plenty of booze flowing, that might just work. Yet, the rest of America, and the world for that matter, is not a dive bar in Glendale. In fact, most of it isn’t.
What makes a great comedian, as opposed to just building a thick skin or “crushing it” at at their favorite open mic only with their friends, is that they have found a way to make both audiences and themselves laugh wherever that may happen to be.