Went to the LA Riot Fest tonight. Which, in my humble opinion, seems like a poor choice for a comedy festival. Especially one in downtown LA. Um, the LA riots of 1992. Are all the comedians doing their sets in fire bombed bodegas while people can catch rides home in hijacked semi trucks? because that is not the festival I bought tickets to . . . right?
Anyway, the Not A Comedy Festival Named After a Horrible Race Riot That Changed The Landscape of Los Angeles was featuring the Team Coco writers. It was a really fun show. Usually, I steer clear of stand-up shows, but this was worth the tickets. Totally worth it.
See, as an improvisor, I have this love hate relationships with stand-ups. On one hand, I have immense respect for them. They are all on their own on a stage of intense light where their only support is the stool holding up a bottle of water/beer/whiskey. Improvisors are lucky in that they always have at least another person backing them up. Stand-ups? No one. If they fail, it’s their fault. No one to blame but them.
Stand-ups have to write material and hone it for years before it’s perfected. That perfection doesn’t come form silly little group readings and classes. No, the perfection of stand-up material comes from live trial and error. Also known as failure . . . over and over in front of an audience. Like Lettermen said once, he was literally booed off the stage a 100 times before he started getting laughs. That takes guts.
Improvisors, as performers, can have a bad show and know it will never happen again . . . I mean that show will never happen again. That way, they can just forget about it and never have to dwell on it. It becomes a reflection of your performance and you learn from it and let it go. Stand-up’s bad shows are a reflection of their material and they have to keep at it, never letting it go.
Yet, on the other hand, stand-ups can be so God damn self absorbed. Rarely do they leave their routine on the stage and it feels like they are ALWAYS on. Whenever I listen to a stand-up being interviewed, the whole thing sounds scripted — as if they’re regurgitating their act. Everything gets recycled. And don’t think about putting them in an improv show — they ruin it everytime because they don’t understand that the scene isn’t about bits and punchlines. It’s about the relationship, the game . . . the other person(s) on stage.
And who can blame them? That’s what they know. Their job is to get their joke out and make themselves look good. It’s what makes them great stand-ups . . . but lousy improvisors. There’s a saying in improv, “Who’s the least important person in the room? Me.” Meaning, our job is to make everyone else look good. If everyone else has that same attitude, then we all look good. Stand-ups don’t have that luxury.
Still, as I said, I have so so so much respect for stand-ups. It’s the toughest comedy job in the world. I only wish they felt the same way about improvisers. I think they think we’;re all smoke an mirrors — hack if you will — selling snake oil to the masses . . . but the again, it takes a showman to sell snake oil.