Hey guys. Look, I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but what the fuck are we doing? I mean, seriously. Are people even thinking before they do things? Does one thought enter their brain before it makes their body perform destructive, useless actions? I seriously don’t know. Not to sound all over-arching and Glenn Beck-y but this has to stop.
First, the comedy part. As many of you know, I co-produce a weekly stand-up comedy showcase called Comedians You Should Know. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important things of which I am a part and it is something in which I take deep pride and satisfaction. In a nutshell, that show (and group) is the manifestation of comics’ hard work, determination, perseverance and talent. We have, collectively, poured our souls into that show, ripped each other’s throats out over that show, but ultimately created one of the best independent stand up shows in Chicago with our own unlovable hands and bipolar brains. That’s something. We should be proud.
I was recently made aware of a show called “Stand Up Chicago.” They run their showcase on Saturday nights at Ole Lounge around Lincoln and Diversey. (Now, I should note that I am aware that by even mentioning this show here I am giving it more publicity than it would ever receive anywhere else, but I hope that the content will negate any positive awareness this “plug” creates.) So, I checked out the website of this show: http://standupchi.webs.com/
I’m not sure if it will be changed by the time this blog is posted, but on their front page here is the “description” I found:
Sounds like a show I might want to see. Descriptive, enticing, etc. Not bad, right?
Yeah, no shit. I fucking wrote it.
Here is the ticket link to our upcoming showcase on Wednesday, May 18th (my birthday, coincidentally): http://www.fanfueled.com/Event/Details/306-comedians-you-should-know-timothy-otooles-51811
(This link is not working. Here is the relevant snippet from our press materials:)
Comedians You Should Know, the premiere Chicago stand up comedy collective, is independently produced by a cast of six local comedians: Marty DeRosa, Danny Kallas, Joe Kilgallon, Mike Lebovitz, Drew Michael, and Michael Sanchez. Since 2008, the group has established a prominent presence in the local arts scene. Circumventing the tired, stale brand of comedy clubs, Comedians You Should Know delivers original, fresh, showcase-style stand up comedy every Wednesday at 9:00 PM in the back room of Timothy O'Toole's (622 N. Fairbanks Ct.), a classy downtown bar in the Streeterville neighborhood. Their weekly show has garnered frequent sold-out crowds and a loyal local following.
Comedians You Should Know features a DIFFERENT LINEUP every single week and thus makes it a must-see event every Wednesday!
Notice anything? Yeah, they ripped us off word for word. This is the description we originally used on our website, the one we use on all our email blasts and press releases, etc. It’s blatant plagiarism, plain and simple.
I did some further investigating and apparently Stand Up Chicago offers college and corporate bookings! Wow. Well, I typed their “descriptions” into Google and found that they plagiarized those descriptions from this website: http://www.selectcomedy.com/
Now, I have no idea who comprises this “collective” called Stand Up Chicago, but they did have a contact name, Steve, and a phone number. (The name and number have since been removed from their website and replaced by an email address.) I called this man to inform him of his (website’s) blatant plagiarism. He played dumb, passed the buck, and said he would look into it. I told him, “There is nothing to look into. I know you ripped it off because I was one of the people who wrote it. Take it down immediately and stop promoting your show with my words.”
Look. Anyone who blatantly rips off the descriptions of his/her show is NOT going to be doing good work anywhere else. What is the long term plan here? Just rip off your way to the top? It’s a fraud’s mentality and someone looking to make a quick buck off of a broken, no-barrier-of-entry industry. I looked at his lineups and they are, predictably, atrocious. The “collective” is something like 35 of the most inexperienced comedians in Chicago. Nothing wrong with being green, but be honest about what it is. Also, I love how they offer college and corporate bookings seeing as all 35 of their comics have about 60 seconds of workable material COMBINED.
I then went on to explain the problem with doing things as he is. Not only is his show a complete sham and a fraud, he’s doing a DISSERVICE to Chicago stand up shows at large.
Around here is the point that he hung up on me.
However, this is an important and more general point I want to drive home to all comics and potential producers in Chicago (and anywhere, for that matter). When you tell people you are doing the best show in Chicago or you are the “premiere stand up comedy collective” in Chicago and people come to your low-rent, run down, under-produced, under-promoted, “comedy show” where the 8 people you do somehow convince into sitting through 90 minutes of the manifestation of your worthlessness while they stare awkwardly at their dates and contemplate pulling the fire alarm just to have an excuse to leave your godforsaken show, those people then equate that show with ALL Chicago stand up shows. And why wouldn’t they? You’re using the same lofty language as the shows that actually merit it.
We at Comedians You Should Know have worked our asses off for over three years, on and off stage, to make sure that our promotional description was not a lie. So why are we allowed to say those things? Why can we call our show awesome? Because it fucking is. There are a few shows before ours that helped lay the blueprint for our show and have earned that right as well. Chicago Underground Comedy is one. It’s been around for 6 years or something and it’s consistently great in an awesome venue. The Lincoln Lodge is another, which has been around for 11 years and has done countless numbers of phenomenal shows. I’ll even throw Entertaining Julia into that list even though I think they just promote with hipster lesbian aura. But it is, nonetheless, a show that executes exactly what its producers intend. Props to all those shows. (I don’t even want to mention The Red Bar Comedy Club because in a short year and a half it’s become a full-time weekend comedy club with such a high production value that to place it in the category of “independent showcases” would be insulting, even though most comics don’t even know where it is. It’s the same reason I don’t mention Zanies or Jokes and Notes in this discussion.)
So when you put either our literal description on your website or something similar and then people come into watch the tornado of nervous knees and might-as-well-be-stolen jack-off bits, you are diluting the legitimacy of the good shows and leaving the city with a bad taste in its mouth when it comes to stand up. That’s very bad considering how much quality improv and endless entertainment exists in this city. We already get our asses kicked by sports, summer festivals, Second City and Jager-fucking; we don’t need to be cannibalizing our own heads with our asses.
Now, I understand that not every show can feature the “best” comics in Chicago because then the newer comics won’t ever get good stage time and won’t improve. True. I will lay out the blueprints to deal with this issue:
First of all, brand new comics, go to every open mic! You are not better than any of them. Write your bits and try them out at every open mic. Go bomb. You have to get used to it because it never stops so you might as well do it a lot when the stakes are nonexistent. That much is a given. If you aren’t at every single open mic (or trying to run your own) then you don’t even deserve to be working on a show.
If you decide to run a show there are a few ways you can do it which I think are fair.
1. Run a straight up “New Faces” showcase. Tell the public, “Hey, these are brand new comics and we need your support in order to get better” or whatever. Some people might bite. Some people are legitimately supportive and kind in these types of scenarios. It’s not that sustainable because there are little to no redeeming qualities of a show like this other than the pseudo-charity of sitting and smiling at a nervous virtual virgin. But at least it’s honest.
2. Run a “best of” showcase. This is what ChUC and CYSK have done. For the most part, there are very few brand new comics doing time on either of these stages. It makes for a really good show, but it’s not very conducive to new comics’ growth as they won’t get any stage time. Which brings us to number 3...
3. Run a hybrid of 1 and 2. Book a show and stagger it. Say you have a host and 6 comics. Book a brand new comic to open with 5-6 minutes. Book one or two green but not BRAND new comics to do 8. Then book 3 really good comics to do 12-15. That way, each week you will get up 3 new comics to get time but you will also reward the audience by giving them 3 really good comics so the show as a whole is still enjoyable. That will provide you a sustainable show that can actually build a following as well as provide opportunities for both new comics AND good comics. It’s the best of both worlds. This is how CYSK started in 2008 where we were the new comics. RIOT Comedy started like this initially as well. I think this is the best compromise for newer comics looking to get stage time and wanting to strengthen the comedy scene.
The idea of a stand-up showcase itself is not original. I’m not claiming that CYSK was the first ever showcase or “collective” of its kind; it wasn’t. BLERDS existed and left before we ever existed. ChUC and The Lincoln Lodge predate us. The Elevated existed before those. Doug Stanhope posted a blog in 2007 that we essentially took and ran with. Your show doesn’t have to be revolutionary, just don’t be an idiot and steal other show’s descriptions. I have no problem with a carbon copy of a good show existing in a neighborhood that doesn’t already have comedy. But be good. Don’t book shitty comics. And, more importantly, if you can’t tell the difference between a shitty comic and a good one, don’t book a show. You’re not helping.
(Please remember: PROMOTE YOUR FUCKING SHOWS. The lineups do little to no good if there is no one there to see it. That’s another issue entirely and I don’t feel like getting into that now.)
So, I want to thank Stand Up Chicago for providing a perfect example of how to NOT run a stand up comedy show. You have exemplified, to a T, everything that is wrong with these types of shows. I honestly don’t think that I could have described a better example of the wrong way to do this. Steve, your show is a blessing to the community. If there were an infomercial for running a comedy show, your show would be the black and white “way” where the guy is hurting his back or the girl is frustrated and the big red X shows us how wrong it is. Well, now there is an easier way. It’s really simple: don’t be a moron.
Look, either we are a community or we are not. I like to believe that we are. One of the best parts of Chicago is that we can do these things and experiment and fail and learn and grow and help each other but you have to pull your weight. Be hard on yourself. Push yourself. Make things as good as you know they should be. Don't settle. Work hard. Have fun. Be funny. Laugh. Make others laugh. Appreciate when someone writes a great bit. Appreciate when someone runs a great show. Learn from them. Write better. Promote better. Get better. Live. Be present. After all of that we can die like the faggots we are. We might as well crush it while we're here.
Note: When I say “Chicago” I, like most people, mean the north side of Chicago. Unless you’re black or have 150 drunk cousins, you rarely go south of Madison.