Several months ago, I remember overhearing a visiting comedian say, “There’s so much bad comedy rampant in LA.” Initially, I became defensive as there is a plethora of comedic talent within the City of Angels as frequently pointed out here at the Comedy Bureau, but, after a few seconds in flashing back through all of the many awful, horrid showcases that I happened to be dragged to, I understood what the visiting comedian was commenting on.
Pictured above is both a message (all pertinent information regarding all identities concerned has been redacted to protect the parties involved) that asks to trade stage time in one room for stage time in another and what is an unfortunate cancer on the comedy scene in LA. Comedians and those constantly around comedy might not be surprised by this happening, but to the casual passer-by, it might shock them to find out that a certain show isn’t really the “Best Up and Coming Comedians” as advertised in their, most likely, grossly designed flyer. Instead of the billed “killer comedy show”, there are spots booked on the show not because the particular comedian is funny, but rather because he/she runs another room.
Despite independent production taking place all over the world and various state sponsored incentives drawing entertainment ventures away from California, Los Angeles is still very much one of the main hubs of the entertainment industry. As this is still the case, many comedians from all over the world have bought into the idea that LA is where they will make it, which is a notion that is reinforced every once in a while by someone getting a Comedy Central special that moved out here.
This mass migration of comedians to LA has brought about an overflow of many talented deserving people combined with an even bigger overflow of cutthroat, backstabbing, and, most importantly, unfunny people vying for stage time without the promise of any decent pay. The unfortunate result is some comedians becoming desperate and jaded and resorting to unsavory measures to get ahead, which is, in this case, promoting a comedy show that has unfunny people in it, letting those unfunny people continue to be horribly unfunny.
Some reading this article might take offense as they are of the school of thought that says it’s common courtesy to book someone that has booked them. Interestingly enough, in many much more tight knit comedy scenes in much smaller cities than LA, comedians that are starting out aren’t really allowed to talk to established comedians that regularly perform. Until those newbies develop a little, they’re forced to become better in order to avoid the uncomfortable situation where many bookers/comics/booker-comic hybrids that they were “friends” with would have to tell them they’re not funny. The result in this scenario: only funny people to get to perform in an environment where they’re supposed to be funny. This way, the word “unfunny” never enters the equation.
The sheer size of Los Angeles allows for “trading spots”, as mentioned above, to run rampant. Many audiences/comics/bookers have no idea of whose funny to them or not because they’re not willing to make the trek from wherever they live to wherever the show might be, which could amount to several hours of driving. Unlike a tight-knit community where the word gets around quickly, many comedians based somewhere in LA can basically “fly under the radar” and get their spots by trading without too many people knowing immediately whether they’re good or not.
Now, I understand everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who starts out in stand-up comedy sucks. All comedians have bad habits, get nervous, panic, etc. because performing stand-up comedy is probably the most extreme version of public speaking, which is still one of the biggest natural fears of people everywhere. The impetus of live comedy is not only to keep a group of strangers engaged, but physically laughing for a period of time. This is an incredibly unnatural act and developing a comedy act is a grotesquely painful process, which requires time to grow and mature. This is why there are open mics, which are also grotesquely painful like they’re supposed to be.
I also understand there is great deal of subjectivity as to what is funny and a great deal of elitism can derive from this. While the Comedy Bureau has been accused of being elitist (some go so far as to call us “haters”), I would say ask why would you want to promote something that you don’t think is funny? Even if a certain comedian kills on a certain night, in a certain room, at a certain portion of the show where the crowd is really “warm”, if you don’t think it’s funny, why should you be guilted into changing your opinion?
My answer: You shouldn’t budge your opinion as long you’re well informed. Don’t hate someone’s 10 minutes of dick jokes unless you have given it a fair chance. It might be funny. However, if it’s still not funny, I find little reason to promote their comedy just because they make a certain crowd laugh. With that being said, if you, as a comedian, can get a crowd to laugh and begin to follow you, you don’t really need to worry about the opinion of others including the Comedy Bureau’s because those other people think you’re funny, which should be, again, as a comedian, one of your primary concerns.
“Trading spots” makes being funny to any number of people a moot point, which I don’t understand since, and this might be oversimplifying the whole issue, as comedy shows are supposed to be funny.
FYI: the comedian who sent the message pictured above did not get to swap rooms like they wanted.