Topic: The craft of comedy
There is a lot of lying in comedy. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Really, instead of saying "I just flew in from Cleveland..." would you really prefer that a comedian set up a joke "I just flew in from Springfield - Oregon, not Illinois - which, of course meant that I actually flew out of the Portland airport, and I had to switch planes in Cincinnati, so I guess you could say that I just flew in from Cincinnati, though the Cincinnati airport is actually across the river in Covington, Kentucky..."?
Some of these lies are innocuous (see above). Some lies are a bit more devious. In the interest of pulling back the curtain and giving non-comedians a better idea of what to believe and what not to believe, I've decided to write a series of blogs covering some common comedy lies. First up: stage credits.
Stage credits are frequently wall-to-wall bullshit. Not always, but frequently. Even more frequently, they're not complete bullshit, but are willful exaggerations of the truth. For example, immediately after my second college show, I began having myself introduced (and this is an extremely common, completely overworked intro) as having played "clubs and colleges up and down the East Coast." I had played University of Maryland Baltimore Campus and Georgetown University. Two points make a line. Anything more than one is plural. Both universities are within 50 miles of an ocean, which is to the East of a prominent land mass. Bam. Intro.
Here are some other common intros and what they actually mean:
"This comic is a really funny guy" = "This comic showed up late and didn't write an intro, so I'm giving him an intro that cannot technically be disproved."
"This comic is a good friend of mine" = "I am aware of this person's existence, or at the very least I have a notecard with their name on it."
"This comic can be seen at venues throughout the area" = "This comic has access to e-mail and a basic knowledge of the English language, and is therefore capable of signing up for open mics."
"You may have seen this next comic on Youtube" = "This comic has a joke that's received 12 hits on Youtube, which means that the monkey with his finger up his ass is more than 14,000 times more entertaining than this next comic."
"This next comic comes to us all the way from New York City" = "Ooooooooohhhhh, pay attention, hillbillies! A real live New Yorker done took his auto five hours down the turnpike to show us small-town Washington folk how proper joke-i-fyin' is done! And y'all know he's good, cus he's down here doin' 7 minutes for free on a Tuesday night...just like that Seinfeld jew!"
"You may recognize this next comic from his online TV show..." = "There is no possible way you will recognize this next comic."
"You may have seen this next comic on Law and Order (New York)/CSI (LA)/The Wire (DC/Baltimore)" = "This next comic has played a dead body on Law and Order/CSI/The Wire."
"This comic has performed at venues all over the world" = "This comic drove up to Toronto this one time."
"You may have seen this next comic on Last Comic Standing" = "This comic tried out for Last Comic Standing. His elbow was in the shot when that blonde lady who sounds like the female David Brent was interviewing the guy in the diaper."
"This comic has opened for (fill in impressive yet semi-believable name)" = "A club did some open mic thing and (impressive yet semi-believable name) showed up at the end and did a guest set. Bryson told me that he also ended up banging that waitress with the red hair."
Other phrases/things to watch out for:
"Shared the stage with..." - If you're bullshit detector doesn't go off when you hear language this ambiguous, you need to get it replaced.
"BET's Comic View..." - Comic View will apparently let any black comic in New York do a 20 second set if they hang around long enough.
"Performed at (some notable club)" - "Performed at" does not mean "was paid to perform at." Most clubs do some sort of open mic.
"Graduated from ______ comedy class" - Contrary to popular belief, the matriculation rate from comedy and improv classes is surprisingly high. It's not West Point.
More than 3 stage credits - If a comic needs to try to convince you that badly, then they know that they won't be able to do it with their jokes.
Elaborate intros that require even good MCs to read from a notecard - if you can't write a short intro, then you can't write a good joke, either.
TV credits that are not comedy - Actors are not comedians...they're actors. The only good thing to come out of the whole Michael Richards thing was that this was proven definitively and very publicly.
Anything that sounds way too good to be true - Wow, he just had a one hour special on HBO and now he's doing 5 minutes at 11:00 at Cafe Japone? Looks like we showed up on the right night!
Of course, everything I listed above are sometimes legitimate - everything except for the online TV show one. And then, of course, there's the fact that some MCs and sound guys just make up stage credits without even asking you - I've been introduced as having been on HBO and having had a half hour special on Comedy Central. So, given that you usually can't trust stage credits, why not just do this: decide for yourself whether the comic is funny or not.