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McDonald & Carney: Live at Ephrata Main Theater

 

Comedians Joe Carney and Rich McDonald are joined by Natty Bumpercar for an improv show to benefit the Ephrata Performing Arts Center, Ephrata, PA. Filmed by David Gerz of Wavy Gravy Productions.

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Do you bringer?

Of all of the types of shows in the comedy community, none is more polarizing than the ‘bringer’. (I saw a couple of you twitch from just reading the word.) If you don’t know, a ‘bringer’ is a show where the amount of time that you get is dependent on how many paying people you can get to come to see you at the club – even to the point where if you don’t hit a certain threshold, you don’t get to hop on stage at all.

When I say ‘polarizing,’ I mean that comics seem to not like the concept, and producers/clubs do like them. It is where comedy isn’t about friends – it’s about money, attendance, and maybe getting a nice video of your set for a nominal fee.

A lot of comics loathe the idea, but see them as a necessary evil that they have to do as they meander down their comedy path. They resent having to cajole their friends, family, acquaintances, racoons, homeless people off of the street to come to a club where – depending on how many of the people who say they are coming actually bother to show up – they may not even get to go on stage.

What? Yes. Many comics started grinding their teeth when I brought the subject up and went into a rant about the time at that eight o’clock show, where they only had 4 out of 6 people show up – and the producer kept them around until eleven-thirty under the auspices that they’d get up later in the evening – only to end the show and then feign confusion that they had ‘totally forgotten to put them up’ and that they should definitely come out to next Thursday’s show where they would definitely be put up – if they made sure to bring the proper amount of people, of course …

Rules are rules – but – listening to these similar stories over and over, where the comics feel cheated and used – because some of their friends had come out, paid the cover, dealt with the drink minimum, and then stayed out – only to not see their pal perform because they hadn’t hit the established number … I could definitely see where their anger and frustration were coming from.

One bit of advice that I’ve heard is that if you are booked to do a ‘bringer’, you should always over confirm the amount of people who say that they are going to come out – because – on the day of the show, most people won’t bother to go. Even though they promised, and you texted them ten times, and were going to pay for their drinks and admission, and they are your parents …

If you do find out that people are bailing, and that you aren’t going to have the necessary number, get in touch with the producer and let them know. Don’t waste you time, their time. or your friends time by showing up at the club and trying to get onto a show that you shouldn’t technically be on because you broke the contract. Have a night wandering around the city – and if you are hell-bent on doing one of these shows, then try again next month.

On the flipside, from both a producer and a club’s perspective, they see it as an opportunity to get people who are really green stage-time, and fill the club (make money) in the process … They have bills to pay – and most of the comics on these types of shows aren’t ready to perform at a professional club – but who knows – maybe someone will stand out, and catch the eye of a booker and actually move forward in their career. At the very least, they get the chance to hang out in the club, around people who are making their living in the comedy industry – and so – regardless of anything, it’s a learning experience. And – if people don’t like the set-up, then they don’t have to come back … There’s always a line of people just starting out who are more than thrilled to have their office come out to see the funny girl from the mailroom strut her stuff on stage.

Clubs are businesses, and producers need to eat … So, I can also see where they are coming from in this game … They also have a seemingly limitless pool of people who are willing to go through the process – and who have a great time doing it.

Where I start to worry is where it seems to end up being a practice that especially targets newer comics, people who are desperate to get any kind of stage-time that they can – who are less sure of themselves, their talents, their place in the industry, and the path that they need to use to get to their pearly dreams … And, I’ve seen comics hurt because they let the producer (who they mistook as being a friend – instead of the temporary business partner that they are) down – and that just stinks all the way around. Comedy is super-hard enough to do as it is … So – to guilt people who were only responsible for fifty or sixty dollars coming into the door of a Tuesday night show, instead of the one-fifty that was being banked on leaves a sour taste in the mouth of not only the comic – but also of the friends of the comic that spent money to come out and didn’t even get to see their friend perform.

For younger comics (and not just dabblers who want a chance to bring their family (who are visiting from Kansas), or their entire office (where they really just want that one girl to see how hilarious they are) – there is no reason to do a ‘bringer’ show … There are a million places around the city, and just outside of the city where you can get stage-time, to work on figuring yourself out – who you are, what your standpoint/voice is, work on writing your material, honing it, polishing it, and get to a point where being seen by someone in the industry is beneficial. Also, just because you did a bringer at a club in New York doesn’t mean that you get to add that club to your comedy resume … You were there, even performed there – but – you aren’t THERE (yet). So, avoid that pothole.

For producers/club – I don’t think that you are doing anything wrong … You are offering a type of dream/wish fulfillment for people. It’s not really that different from the people that pay go to Florida to play in an Adult Baseball Camp for their favorite team. They pay, they play. You are a business – and live in a world where there are a million distractions and you have an imperative to get butts into seats …Otherwise, you lose your seats.

In the end, the responsibility to bring the agreed upon amount of people is on the comics. You aren’t forcing them to be on the show. My only nudge that I would ask is that you try to not be predatory about it by over promising the opportunity to bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kids who can feel pressured by someone in a position of power in the industry (perceived or not) when they feel like this might be their only opportunity to get into a club, to move up the ladder, to get to their pearly dreams.

So – do you bringer? I’m curious as to what your experience has been, what you’ve gotten out of it, and if it is something that you’ll continue to do – both from the comic and the producer/club perspective.

Do I bringer? No, not really. I did a couple when my eyes were brighter, but really didn’t like how nauseous they made me feel. The added pressure of ‘where are my people? are they coming? what do i do? do i tell someone? am i even going to get to go up’ – on top of the normal butterflies of doing a show made the experience miserable for me. Then, on top of that not knowing any of the other performers and being socially awkward, and I stopped doing them pretty quickly. I have hosted and done guest-spots on several bringer shows, and anytime I do that, I make sure to talk to all of the comics – to build them up and relieve as much of the pressures as I can from the night. Because I get to have more fun when they are having fun – and because it’s nifty to live vicariously through people’s dreams.

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Stand-Up Might Be Ruining Me: Perceptive perceptions.

My brain is a whirling dervish. Most of the the time, it jumps from this to that and from over here to over there in a random and ridiculous fashion. The rest of the time, I’m asleep – having scattershot dreams within mish-mash realities where the only sense is nonsense and I hardly have a leg to stand on. It’s exhausting.

It can also be annoying. Mostly to the people that I’m around – because I tend to be hyper-aware of the situation that I’m in, and how each piece and part of that situation is affected by all of the other pieces and parts. Sometimes, I’ll even let my imagination start inventing how all of the intermingled bits will continue long after I’ve left the room – and then all of the variables that come out of that create different trajectories that don’t always make the most sense. The annoying part to the people around me? That comes when I either try to explain what I’m noticing, or, when I get flummoxed that they aren’t noticing all of the things that I’m noticing – and putting the same amount of weight onto those things.

Perception is, to me, such a major part of doing comedy. It’s where people’s voices come from. It’s the one thing that really makes people stand out in a crowd of other comics. Because, in the end, everyone is just taking words and presenting them in a way that they hope will make people laugh … But – it’s the way that it’s done that can really be the differentiating factor.
Most people walk into a room, do what they need to do, and move on with their day. A comic can walk into that same room and notice all of the askew minutia that is everywhere in life, and make-a-go at fashioning all of those things in a relatable way that people will enjoy. That squirrel in the park that a hundred people walked past and ignored wasn’t anything until someone perceptive noticed that the squirrel had picked up a discarded banana and started holding the peel and eating what was left, like a tiny little furry person, eating a giant banana … Ho-boy, comedy.

My problem is that my brain already does all of this all on it’s own, so, when I throw into the mix that I need to constantly develop new material, it puts everything on overdrive. I’m always on the hunt for something that will trigger the next quip, or that will provide context or connective tissue for some joke that I’m working on … Yes, I think that comedy might be ruining me – because – it makes me think too much.

It’s comedy’s fault that I’m bo-nonkers … right?!

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Stand-Up Might Be Ruining Me: Talking to people is hard.

Talking to people is so weird and difficult. You have to stand there and listen to all of the words that are coming out of their mouth, and shift and contort your body and expression to imply that you are not only listening, but also that you might have the slightest bit of interest in what they are saying. Seriously, what a chore!

And, that’s just the half of it – the incoming part of it. The rest is having to insert your parts into the conversation, at the right times, that are basically inline with what they are talking about, and have all of that make a lick of sense. Talking to people is an almost impossible scenario. There are just way too many variables, and complications, and distractions.

Did you know that you aren’t supposed to eat squash when it has gone squishy?

I digress.

Back to the point. Whenever I get onto a stage, it immediately cuts the trouble that I have in half! Instead of having to talk with people, I just get to talk to people. Right at them. it is so liberating, not having to figure out what they are going on and on about.

And, with that being said, it is clear that comedy is ruining me – because instead of being an active member of society who can communicate openly, honestly, and authentically with my fellow societal members, I choose to seek out a microphone and a stage from which to yammer on about how fishy it is that I found a penguin sleeping in the crisper drawer of my Frigidaire last weekend … I am doomed.

Some thoughts about Robin Williams

It’s interesting to see what bubbles to the surface when unexpected things happen in the world. You are sitting there at the end of the season, looking at the sand on the beach after a storm has come through in the night – and there are the tips of some toys sticking up that some families have already forgotten about, that important part of the umbrella that makes it work, a wubby that was stolen from a stroller by the winds, a necklace whose shine has been dulled by the coarse grit of the sand, bits and pieces of left-over life. Things as memories that are there – but that aren’t there …

Then – the focus shifts to reactions and to how other people react to those reactions. People get sad about the storm for a thousand different reasons. People are angry that people aren’t reacting in ways that are deemed as proper by rules that they are establishing on the fly to help them channel how they are feeling. They get angry because they don’t know what they are feeling, don’t know how to express how they are feeling. People make it about themselves to try to establish a touchstone of understanding – to prove that they know how people of affected by the storm feel … Raising their hand in the process to say that ‘they hurt too’ – because they don’t want their pain to get lost in the chatter. People make light of the event – because that is probably how they deal with things … People cope how they cope – and now – it all happens in real-time on social networks. There is no grieving, or processing – there is just reaction – which leads to reaction of initial reaction and on and on. The snake nibbles on it’s tail, lines are drawn in the sand, camps of thought and reaction are established. People move on to the next storm in the night.

I wanted to write about Robin Williams – but – am having a hard time coming to terms with my thoughts and feels. I enjoyed his work, his energy, and his presence – but am not sure if he was an influence. And – that isn’t to discredit him at all – I just can’t think of any bits or specifics. But, in the end, I think that it is important to point out that people are so much more than ‘bits and specifics’ … That stuff is just window dressing and minutia … It’s the person, to me, that’s important.

I have a hard time when people ask me the question of who has influenced my stand-up, because I think that the world influences me – my life and experiences influence me – my brain influences me. Beyond that, the holes in my colander are too big to grab specific things. I’ve heard people call him a ‘force of nature’ – and can relate to and appreciate the off-the-cuff madcap bedlam that he brought. I’m just not sure. All I do know is that he was a man, a father, that he brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, and that he carried sadness. I also know that my eyes have been burning since I found out that he died.

When things happen in the world like the death of Robin Williams, Facebook becomes this maelstrom of posts, likes, comments, and profile pictures changing – it’s something that didn’t exist a few years ago. It is immediate, it is raw, and it is as real as can be expected. I sat in my driveway, in my car for a long time,  just reading and refreshing last night, riding little waves of emotions up and down. Trying to figure out where my brain was with everything in the world. It was comforting to read all of the different angles that people were coming from – even if I didn’t agree with them all of the time … I was fine with that – because I don’t expect people to react the same way that I do to the world. A lot of times, I simply don’t know how to react to things. So I watch, and read, and let my emotions do whatever it is that they are going to do. I get teary, sometimes (this has become more frequent since I had kids).

People sometimes say that comedians have a darkness about them  – or even cooler, that they have demons … But, people in general have some demony darkness somewhere in them, somewhere. It would seem, to me, to be impossible to make it through the world without anything bad happening. It’s just how you deal with the darkness that matters – it’s kind of one of the main things that matters. Do you push it down so that it can explode at some point? Maybe take medication for it, or talk to someone about it? Do you use it as a weapon and take your darkness out on other people? Or, do you just ‘deal with it’ (Whatever that means)? Comedians are just people in the end … People who get on stage with their hearts on their sleeves who are potentially coping with their darkness by poking fun at the foibles of the world around them. Or, maybe, they just want to make people laugh … Maybe that’s it. Sometimes – the simple answer is the right answer … Things don’t always need to be made to be overcomplicated.

As a quick aside, last night, I had just arrived in an alley to get headshots with my pals. They had already been there for about twenty minutes and were wrapping up with their first set of pictures – so – it was my turn. We were setting up, and the photographer was about to take her first shot, when someone from the studio ran up and said “Hey, did you guys hear that Robin Willams died?” … I can’t wait to see the first few photos … I was quite watery. Timing is everything.

Mental illness is no joke. If your wires are crossed, or your chemicals are not balanced, do something about it. Go to a doctor. Take your medication. Talk to someone. Realize that you are part of the world and no one wants to see you fail because you decided that you were starting to feel better and would start to self-medicate. Realize that you have to take care of yourself and that no one is out to get you. People can’t force you to take care of yourself and that you not taking care of yourself doesn’t just affect you – it affects the world around you. And, suicide is just miserable … all that you leave behind are questions and emptiness.

I’m not trying to be obtuse, but I’m pretty sure that I’m being obtuse. I’ve got no answers, here … Just some words that were in my head that I typed up, half-baked in an attempt to capture the confusion and fumbling that I stumbled upon while careening towards the gestalt. It is tough to express a range of emotions … It is tough to pull one clean piece of yarn from a knotted up ball of yarn. Today is a tough nut. The metaphorical storm blew all of my metaphorical sand all over the place … and, I’m still trying to find all of my toys.

One thing that I can be sure of is that you should try to find the happy in the world. Actively seek it out. Sometimes, it isn’t obvious or easy to get to – but – it’s important. Even when everything is miserable and the world feels like it just won’t stop kicking you … try to take a deep breath and find a sliver of light. If you can’t find it by yourself, talk to someone. You are never alone in the world … At the very least, you’ve got yourself – and – you’re great.

Yes, you are.

Now, go be nice to someone – because everyone is always going through something, all of the time, things are happening. Pick that wubby up and put it back on the stroller – because someone is definitely going to miss it. Make the world better for other people – and – it’ll be better for you. I promise.

Hugs and hearts, friends … Hugs – and – hearts.

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Stand-Up Might Be Ruining Me: I’m not a big laugher.

socksI’m not a big laugher. I mean, I do laugh from time to time at random things – but at jokes? It’s tough. I tend to listen pretty well to what is being said, how the words fit together, to the cadence, to the word choice, to the context and the intent – and in doing all of that, my brain is usually too busy to laugh. I analyze, squint my eyes a bit, and cock my head to the side like a dog who just saw a magic trick – but laughing can be hard to get to. I’m weird.

At open mics, a lot of times, I pull into my brain and dissect what’s happening on the stage, the mood, the environment, who’s there, what’s working, what’s not, how I’m going to get home, and bladder control. I can’t make myself laugh at stuff that I don’t find funny. I don’t have that skill in my toolbox.

Mostly, I think that I think a lot. I enjoy observing because I’m super-curious as to how things either fit together, or don’t. I do break from time to time and laugh at certain energies, and at things that surprise me. Not shock, but surprise. (I could talk about shock vs. surprise for awhile – but – that’s a different article.)

bumpercarThis isn’t just at shows either, it’s in life too. People have come up and said “I’ve noticed that you don’t laugh.” or “Everything okay? You’re squinting a lot.” And in the end, I think that I just like to stand around and let everything sieve through my brain so that I can then make fun of it. I am by far the most comfortable on stage in front of a crowd blibbling and blabbing because there, in theory, I’m not even supposed to laugh – even if there are times that I do – because, sometimes I get surprised by the words that just rushed out of my mouth, their cadence, and how they all fit together. I think comedy might be ruining me because it’s the only time that I feel comfortable and like I know what I’m supposed to be doing – even if I don’t always know exactly what I’ll be doing. Probably blibbling and blabbing.
(The debate on comics who laugh at themselves on stage being proper or not is also another article.)

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Stand-Up Might Be Ruining Me: It’s my Birthday!

birthday-gsc-2Hooray for me, it’s my birthday! So – why am I so itchy and not bouncing around and whatnot?! It’s my big day. I get treats and prizes and presents and doo-dads and cake and ice cream and all sorts of special thing-a-ma-bobbers – right? I might even get a party with games or something – that would be phenomenal.

So – again – I ask … Why such a lump, Bumpercar?

It’s because – even though it is my big day … All I’m thinking of is where a mic might be tonight. Where can I drop in and do a few minutes – of nothing in particular? I don’t want to have a ‘birthday set’ where everyone is just thrilled that it’s my birthday and rides that wave of joy to laughter island … I’m just hungry to do some time, make some jokes, and enjoy the show.

birthday-gsc-1This could be because last year, I produced a roast of me for my birthday, and my brain just now assumes that birthday’s and comedy go together like nerds and frozen yogurt … I’m not sure. I can’t put my finger on it – but – one thing that I am totally sure of is that it is my stinking birthday – and – I want it to be the best day in all-of-ever – and comedy isn’t even letting me focus on enjoying my breakfast cupcakes …

Maybe tonight at hibachi, in between the shrimp that looks like a rabbit, or the smoking choo-choo, or the fiery volcano, the nice man with the knives will let me do a guest spot … because nothing goes better with jokes than trying to catch pieces of zucchini in your mouth that are thrown from a spatula – right?! No. Tonight is my night to try to enjoy watching someone elses show – with the ‘egg-roll’ pun, the ‘japanese ketchup’ joke, and everything else. Thanks for trying to distract me and ruin my birthday, comedy … But – this time – you lose!

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Stand-Up Might Be Ruining Me: All of my best friends are comics

best-1Look at your Facebook friend list. How many people on there are comics? Now, look through your emails/texts/tweets/smoke signals. How many of those are from comics or about shows? How many nights are you hanging out in a bar/restaurant/firehouse/back alley/club either telling jokes, supporting your comic friends while they are doing their time, or trying to meet the show promoter to try to get time for yourself? Yeah, me too.

There isn’t much time left for other aspects of life when you are a comic. Keeping dinner plans with friends is tough when there is a chance that you’ll pick up a spot at Chuckle Bunnies – and – after a few missed dinners, invites stop coming. Binge watching ‘New Nifty Show’ with your roomie or significant other gets totally thrown out of whack because “How could [they] possibly wait to watch what happened to the chicken on last night’s show while you ran out to do your 7 minutes for ‘industry special guests’?” when the internet will be ablaze with spoilers the next day?! You can’t expect them to wait. And – You shouldn’t.

best-2So – doing comedy is the life you’ve chosen? Then odds are, most of your friends are going to end up being comics. I have a friend (yes, a comic) who looks at comics as being his work friends and that totally makes sense and seems valid. Except – if that’s the case and all of these comics are just my work friends – and – I’ve ostracized all of my other friends away because I’m always busy ‘at work’ doing comedy – then where does that leave me?! I honestly think that it may be possible that comedy just might be ruining me …

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Stand-Up Might Be Ruining Me: Germaphobe

germsI am not a germaphobe. I have a dog that sheds and tracks dirt, dander, and various forms of whatnot throughout my house. I have small children that are walking disasters of germs, goop, yuck, and ick. I have an alarm set in my phone that reminds me to take showers and change clothes (and you wondered why I always have the same shirt on) … I am not a germaphobe.

However, there are shows that I have been a part of, hands that I have shaken, microphones that I have talked into, and general environments that I have ended up in that have started to give my stomach a starting off point for doing a tiny heebie-jeebie dance.

I have started using Purell. But, it’s not like I carry any in my pocket. And – only on the rarest of occasion has my ‘fight or flight’ trigger actually go off – but – it has happened. Am I a bad person? (Don’t answer that.)

germs_2I know a bunch of people who are worse off than me and can’t stand to be around ‘glad handing’ and slapping people on the back but I don’t know if I want to join their club. When going to give people high-fives lately, my hand does this weird claw thing where my fingers bend down at the knuckle towards the palm. It is creepy and weird. I think comedy might be ruining me – and – I just might be a germaphobe.

Michael Winslow: Man of 10,000 Voices Rocked Jersey for a Good Cause!

There are very few people in the world who have not grabbed a microphone or at least cupped their hands together, and attempted to make some incredible and realistic sound effects. Admit it. We have all tried this at one point.  But for those who grew up in the 1980’s, we know that there is only one man on the planet who can take the claim as the best human sound effects creator in the world, and that man is Michael Winslow!

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The performers of the night, from left; “Big Rich” McDonald, Michael Winslow, Jerrold Benford, Natty Bumpercar, and Joe Carney.


Winslow stopped by the Crossroads in Garwood, NJ on Thursday December 5th, as part of their new Crossroads Comedy Series.  Proceeds from the show were given to the Local Garwood Police PBA.  From the man who is known to millions as the “Sound Effects guy from Police Academy”, Michael Winslow was happy to help raise funds for local law enforcement.
The Crossroads had a great turn-out on this evening and was literally standing room only.  Co-producer of the comedy series, Joe Carney wanted it clear that this was not typical of the quality of room he runs.  Carney stated “we would never ask audience members to come into one of our shows and stand.  That is not the way to run comedy.  But as more people showed up and we explained it was a sold out show, they just wanted to donate to the PBA and didn’t mind standing if it meant getting to see Michael perform!”

Joe Carney handing over the proceeds from the show to the Garwood PBA.

Joe Carney handing over the proceeds from the show to the Garwood PBA.

Michael performed for over an hour and his mouth did not stop for one second.  He kept the room rocking and laughing the entire time as he made some sound effects and noises most people did not believe were humanly possible.  Crossroads Sound Engineer Ben even joked “Winslow goes deeper and harder than some bands I have had in here.  I never thought I would have to work so hard for a comedian, haha.”

The night was hosted by Crossroads favorite Natty Bumpercar, and the crowd was immediately brought to laughter by the opening act Jerrold Benford.  Featuring on the show were the Dumb Kids in the Back comedy troupe, who performed short-form improv for the crowd.  The two man troupe featured Joe Carney and Rich McDonald, and was a hit with the crowd as they brought audience members on stage to participate in games such as Moving People, Couple Game, and Love Letter.

As expected, the highlight of the night was Michael Winslow.  He brought the house down with his renditions of Jimi Hendrix and his dubbing of the classic Star Wars.  Fans were very excited for the entire show, and then were treated with a performance by NJ based rock band, the JJO’s.

The Crossroads Comedy Series advertises that comedy will be at the venue every Thursday evening.  So far, the Crossroads has showcased Rich Vos, Dustin Diamond, Rich Carucci and Jeff Norris.  Upcoming shows already scheduled include the nationally touring Comedians At Law, Judah Friedlander, Otto and George, and the GardenStateComedy produced showcase Jersey All-Stars.   There will be FREE tickets given to a few lucky winners each month.  To be eligible, just sign up for the GardenStateComedy email list!