Why Are These College Kids So Damn PC?

political correctness

Today, I got an email from a student of mine:

The lesson I learned tonight is that university students are PC to the point that it is unnatural. These are the people posting PC crap all over Facebook! At first I was confused about my inability to connect with the crowd. I felt it from my first joke (about marriage/children).


Some of the other comedians were outright angry at the sensitivity of the audience. This was the first time any of us had performed at a college.

If comedy is indeed a “veiled attack”, then these 19 year olds don’t know comedy! But I got to thinking: If it is funny TO THEM, they will laugh. One guy got up and talked about how after eating chicken vindaloo, his “asshole was blistered”.

At the comedy rooms he never gets a huge laugh with that bit. But last night the crowd loved it. What the fuck? They seem to love descriptive vulgarity … so long as you only make fun of yourself.

Then he went on to say, “After the show I read an article in which Seinfeld says stay away from college campuses at all costs. However there is money to made at such places…

So how do we make this work?”

First, for all the brilliance that is Jerry Seinfeld, he is wrong on this. Jerry is old school and seems stuck in an era that–as far as the 18-24’s are concerned–doesn’t exist. And it seems the more interviews I watch, read or listen to with Seinfeld the more he’s turning into his stubborn old Jewish Dad on his show ‘Seinfeld.’

Due to Jerry’s celebrity, he will continue to be able to work no matter what, but if he doesn’t adjust, he runs the very real risk of becoming mainstream obsolete.

One of the things you learn as an artist, writer, musician, is that different generations have different perceptions of life, therefore their tastes for what’s considered acceptable, changes.

Change, Update or Become Obsolete

Political correctness is nothing new. I started to see this clearly about 23 years ago. Don Rickles did an appearance on Comic Relief in 1992. Rickles is the original ‘insult comic.’ But of course the crowd was filled with people who were at the event to support the benefit to raise money for the homeless and disenfranchised; a very ‘politically correct’ crowd, indeed.

Rickles spent his 7 minutes fighting several groans.

Rickles is a fast and funny comedian, but his inability to play that type of audience was evident.

Rickles showed how out of touch he was with an evolving society.  Trying to explain his insults by saying, “I love the ‘blacks;'” (in fact, candidly using a politically incorrect term to explain his act), exposed him as severely dated.

He reminded me of my grandmother when I brought my friend over to dinner. She referred to him as the ‘Colored boy.’ Which was totally weird because he was Puerto Rican. (Kidding).

Being out of touch made Rickles obsolete in the mainstream. He still plays Vegas, but mostly for the crowd that fits his age group and remembers Rickles for Rickles.

Don’t get me wrong, I hold Seinfeld and Rickles in extremely high esteem. I just want to call it how I see it.

Adjust, but don’t lose your voice or your edge!

George Carlin was able to continue to fill venues and remained a college favorite until he died. He kept his voice, kept his edge but also had something for everyone. Carlin was never only one voice.

I remember him saying. “You gotta put in some observation, some wordplay, some fluff. Fluff is important to remind everyone that although you think religion is bullshit, it’s still a comedy show, so lighten the fuck up.”

At some point Carlin also, said, “I don’t give a shit what the audience thinks…” The moment Carlin groomed his act to get on Late Night T.V. and did the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine for two years, I knew as far as that statement was concerned, Carlin had to eat those words. He adjusted and chose the material that was right for that audience.

In fact, we’re all full of shit if we don’t think we care what the audience thinks. Because, at the bottom line, isn’t that why we’re on stage in the first place? If we don’t get a laugh, we figure out the joke until we do. In essence, we all pander.

But I digress…

It’s About the Audience

Yes, the college kids are overtly PC, but it’s not “ruining” comedy. As a comedian/writer you should learn the acronym M-A-P, Material-Audience-Performer. The material has to suit the performer and suit that audience. When the audience changes, the material has to adjust.

I once played a corporate in Salt Lake City. The guy who hired me said that this was a very hip group and they like to make fun of everything, (famous last words, right?).

In my act, I started doing my Mormon section of my set list, (making fun of Mormons). The audience wasn’t laughing.

Evidently, the audience that likes to make fun of everything, did not like making fun of Mormons.

I needed to figure out why this audience wasn’t laughing or I was sunk.

A guy brought up a piece of paper and I read it. It said, “This crowd is mostly Mormon.”

So I looked at the audience, read the note out loud, took my set list out of my pocket and said, “That explains why that part of my act isn’t working.” And I tore up the set list.

The audience laughed at the candid remark, (because I made fun of myself), and I went back to my act, and instead, made jokes about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

They felt superior, loved it and laughed!

I adjusted my material to fit the audience, but if I took that experience and I said, “Wow whatever you do, avoid doing corporates at all costs,” because I’m unable to adjust to the crowd, I might as well get out of the business now.

Does this make sense?

My point is this: learn to work the crowd. Learn to adjust your material and shift gears so that the audience follows your trajectory.

In the email above, my student said “if comedy is, in fact a ‘veiled attack,’ then they don’t know comedy.” Allow me to talk about this briefly because comedy is a veiled attack; we’re attacking something. Even ourselves.  But the key is to attack UP. Attack above yourself.

  • If you’re white, don’t pick on minorities
  • If you’re male, don’t pick on women (without recourse)
  • If you’re female, male, hispanic, black or other… don’t pick on Special Olympics kids.

This is a shortened version of the attack philosophy and it’s only if you don’t have a valid reason, (IE: If you’re a male don’t pick on your wife or ex unless they cheated on you or did you wrong and you share this information with the audience; now you have reason to pick on them and the audience will actually crave for you to retaliate; simple story telling.).

One Solution: Lot’s of Self-Deprecation!

That being said, you should check out my deconstruction of Daniel Tosh. He’s loved by the college kids and he’s soooo NOT PC!

So why does his material work?

One reason is that he provides lot’s of self deprecation. The edgier the attack the more Tosh picks on himself. The reason he does this is to remind the audience that he really doesn’t take himself too seriously. This allows him to ‘step over the line’ then knock himself down a peg or two.

When you watch his act, you’ll see this pattern repeat. For those who are struggling with the idea that comedy have definite structure, it’s a great lesson. Tosh is masterful at this!

Second Solution: Double Down!

The second is when he does hit on something that’s politically incorrect, he doesn’t bail on it, he doubles down. He pokes at it and pokes at it until the audience (mostly 18-34 males) laugh out of the embarrassment that they shouldn’t be laughing at that joke.

They are also laughing at the ambivalence of Tosh; that Tosh doesn’t care that they didn’t laugh, (or instead, groaned), at the original joke. They audience recognizes that same ambivalence in themselves and since recognition is a top laugher trigger, they laugh.

Doubling down could be as simple as saying something like, “I’m going down this road with or without you people…” Or “Hey I’m twenty-one, this is the shit I talk about,” or “One day you’ll look back and laugh at this, like maybe the day when you actually become adults.”

The point is that all audiences have a degree of overt political correctness corrupting their ability to laugh openly at certain jokes from a comedian–

Be Unstoppable, Don’t Give up… Just figure it out!

Remember Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes? He ate it!
Did he say, “Avoid the Golden Globes at all costs?” No. He came back the very next year and had a great time making fun of the previous year’s performance!

College kids might be more PC than usual, but the object is to figure out what they laugh at, then figure out out of the stuff they laugh at what resonates with your persona, then approach your college set that way.

Go to a college show! See what the kids are relating to and write some stuff that fits your persona but also resonates with the crowd.

For the last two years. Comedian and former student, Tony Ming, produced some shows at Cal State University, Northridge.

He had five comedians doing sets for around a hundred and fifty college kids who were just starting their college careers. All of the comedians were our students…

I gotta tell you right now, none of our students bombed. That’s right, none. I’m not saying that to blow smoke up anyone’s ass. It’s just the plain truth. Each one went up on stage and had terrific sets with solid laughs every 18-20 seconds.

Their sets were all about their obstacles, and their struggles to figure stuff out.

The first year, Brian Kiley was headliner. Brian is the head monologue writer at Conan O’Brien. He performed for fifty-three minutes and  EVERY JOKE WORKED!

His jokes worked despite the fact that Brian doesn’t really have any dynamic change in his emotions. His jokes are just nearly perfect in their structure.

Fifty-three minutes in front of a PC college crowd. Rocked.

The following year, I was the headliner in that same room. This time there was an even larger audience. I actually struggled with a few jokes. In my head I was like, Wait a minute. This shit kills at the clubs. What’s up?  I then shifted gears, made fun of myself. Made it more interactive, (within my material), with me encountering or sharing similar obstacles with the kids in the crowd and the set went well.

Bottom line is, while still staying true to my style and my voice, I adjusted.

Because after all, this is show business. If the material doesn’t resonate with the purchaser, then, in order to survive, you have to adjust.

I learned a long time ago to approach my comedy as both an art and as a business. Most comedians miss this part of it.

Show Business is two words

Most comedians approach this business like,  “Screw the audience, this is about my art.”

To a certain extent it is, but… “Show-BUSINESS” is two words and ‘business’ is usually in all CAPS.

Every performer, must understand is the the “Golden Rule,” which is: “He with the gold, makes the rules,” and if the one with the gold wants it clean or very PC then you have to be able to adjust.

You might consider having several different types of sets:

  • A set for the clubs (Can get blue, (use profanity or graphic sexual situations), maybe edgy, or politically incorrect)
  • A set for Colleges (Extra sensitivity toward being clean and very politically correct).
  • A set for Cruises (Two 45 minute sets; one clean, one a little edgy for the midnight show).
  • A set for Corporates and Fund raisers, (clean and focusing on theme and interests that usually appeal to the business or industry you are performing for).
  • A set for Late Night, (A set on late night is 4-minutes, 30-seconds. It’s ‘T.V. Clean’)

It’s something to consider and take seriously, because those college kids will be out of college soon and be the primary audience members of the clubs and mainstream performance venues.

A comedian interested in having longevity should adjust when necessary or resolve to becoming obsolete.

The Best Way to Write a Comedy Act if You’re an Absolute Newbie


Got an email from a kid, (I say, kid but for all I know the guy could’ve been fifty!), it said, “Hey Jerry I’m new in comedy. What’s the best way to start building a comedy set? Should I write it down first or just do stuff that my friends think is funny?”

This is a great question and one I receive a lot.

One of the benefits of people leaving me comments at the bottom of my blog posts and sending me emails is that I can then turn around and answer them on my comedy blog.

So how do you write a comedy act if you’re an absolute newbie?

The thing is that there’s no single answer to this question. Comedians work different ways.

I emphasize writing, because that’s how I started.

I studied other comedians then started taking the things that happened in my daily observations and wrote them down.

I didn’t begin performing until I had what I thought was an hour of material. I didn’t think you could start until you had an hour, because that was about the length of all the comedy albums I was listening to at the time.

Of course we know differently now. You can begin to perform in comedy if you have three to five minutes.

I started by doing observational, external material, because I wasn’t yet comfortable talking about myself.

Two things that stand out in my recollection:

1. When I was twelve I went to the Post Office with my father and there was a sign on the door,  it said, “NO DOGS ALLOWED, except seeing-eye dogs.”
I said to my father, “Dad, what’s a ‘seeing-eye’ dog?”
He said, “It’s a dog that helps blind people get around.”
I then said, “Then who’s this sign for?”

My Dad thought it was funny. I didn’t even think it was a joke. Years later I heard Garry Shandling do almost an exact version of that which I didn’t even think was a joke and he got big laughs.

But at that time I was playing soccer and music and didn’t have any interest in performing or writing comedy.

2. When I started studying comedy another Garry Shandling joke stood out. The joke was, “I just sold the house I live in. Got a great price for it too. Made the landlord mad as hell…”

The first Shandling joke just stuck out to me as simple observational humor, (which I now know is more than just a simple observation; it’s more paradoxical, possibly tipping into irony), which is more powerful than simple observation.

The second one is pure structure. It is a perfect reverse. Being armed with this information changed the way I went about creating my early comedy sets.

I still have my very first performance on VHS. I watch it and it’s okay, but the structure is sloppy and it just sounds unorganized. It was me telling stories and observations that weren’t economized and reduced to what I know a tight bit should sound like now.

There are three primary techniques I use when creating a comedy routine. The first way is to always write down things that are funny. Usually when I’m with a group of friends and something occurs that makes me and them laugh, I will write it down to possibly use later.

The other technique is to sit down and write jokes. I prefer this technique because I don’t have to wait for the coincidence of the moment with friends or a funny situation to just happen to ‘occur’ to me. I can just sit down and generate material.

I do this by utilizing about 23 different approaches, but for the sake of this blog post, I will just write about two approaches. Here they are…

They are simple called “Fifty Facts” and “Fifty Random Lines.” That’s where I will write down fifty facts about me. The procedure usually goes like this:

  1. Write down 50 facts about me; just facts.
  2. Sometimes I will get the facts from answering questions on a personality profile quiz.
  3. Select 10-25 of those facts that seem to antagonize or inspire me most.
  4. Put each of those lines on a page and try to utilize 3 primary comedy structures:
    1. Double-entendre  using the implied meaning of a word and turning it into the comedic meaning. (Ie: Came home from work the other night and I say to my wife. “How you doin’? She’s says, “Having some gas pains. I’m like, “Everyone is, it’s like four bucks a gallon again.”).
    2. Incongruity (finding and juxtaposing 2 or more contrasting ideas that are in the line ie: “I’m Irish and American Indian. You know what that means? I pretty much have VIP seats waiting for me at any AA meeting.”).
    3. Reverse (as in the Gary Shandling joke above. Ie: “You know what my baby loves to play with? Chest hair and she’ll yank on it too. Finally I had to say to my wife, ‘You know, you might want to get that shit lasered.”).
  5. After I have several jokes written, I go back and flesh the jokes out with tags, toppers and act-outs, to bring the jokes alive and get more laughs per minute from each.
  6. I will then repeat this process with the 50 Random Lines which are external facts, headlines, ad copy, statements from leaders, etc.

This is of course the simplified version and a lot more goes into it. But this is the beginning. After I have about five minutes (a page and a half at a 12 point Times New Roman font ), I then rehearse it out loud. When we say our material out loud, different creative parts of our brains are being accessed and new ideas will be inspired. I audio record all out loud rehearsals so I don’t miss anything. After I rehearse it 25 times all the way through, I then perform it on stage…

Remember I said I used three techniques? This is the third; performance.

When you’re on stage in front of an audience you, once again, have new sensations that are occurring and your brain is in somewhat of an altered state resulting in new impulses and ideas which will continue to help you to shape the act even more.

So in answer to the “Kid’s” question, you can use what works for you, but for me it’s a combination of writing jokes, recording coincidental observation and letting the act evolve in performance.

This is a simple approach I also look for paradoxical situations, comedic irony and one of my favorites, benign retaliation.  To really dig deep into all of the available laughter triggers and comedy structures dig into my eBook writing system, “Breaking Comedy’s DNA” and start to really break into comedy writing.

If you have any questions about getting your act started, leave me a comment below. Love to talk to you!

Conan O’Brien Just Could be a Stand-up’s Best Friend


Doing your stand up on Late Night T.V. can be your big break as a comedian. Well, unless you’re Madonna doing stand-up on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

I won’t get into that face-plant into a steamy pile of dog food by-product. I think that gimmick–at least for me–dropped my opinion of Fallon’s show; certainly with regard to it’s appeal for comedians.

When Johnny Carson was still on the air. The Tonight Show was the pinnacle. If a comedian could get on the Tonight Show and get that nod from Johnny to sit on the couch, then you could almost write your own ticket.

Currently, for comedians and their futures, it seems that Late Night has lost that sizzle…

Or has it?

Here’s a great article over at Paste Magazine that gives you a glimpse, from the inside, of how Conan OBrien’s show has now become a “stand-up’s best friend.”

This little post is not to imply that none of the other shows give a comedian that extra boost on their resume, because they do, but Conan seems to be the only one of the Late Night hosts who has followed Carson in his avid support of stand-ups.

Letterman doesn’t have that many on, Fallon would rather have famous people on the show than give a new comedian a shot, James Cordon hasn’t been on the air enough to gauge his propensity and Kimmel–well, Kimmel does support stand-ups, in my view, and seems to give them the freedom to bring  a little more bite to Late Night, a little more edge than some of the others, but still doesn’t have as many stand-ups on his show as Conan.

But Conan, hands down, takes it win it comes to the real showcasing of new stand-ups. He’s even booked two stand-ups on one episode, more than once. Not as a double-booking, but as part of the production.

Who does that?

I think every comedian should groom their four-and-a-half minutes to get it prepared for Late Night. That should be a target goal.

Getting a set on T.V. is a game-changer.

When you get into the article you’ll discover how many comedians got other breaks in the business once they got their set on Conan.

But before you run over there to Paste to check out the article consider these suggestions:

  1. Make note of the Talent Coordinator at Conan, (Put him into your contact database)
  2. Read attentively and look at the suggestions of what they look for at Conan
  3. Run over to TeamCoco’s page on YouTube and study the comedians and their Late Night sets.
  4. Notice their structure and their pacing. (Late Night pacing is a lot slower than you might imagine; bigger pauses)
  5. Start putting together your own idea of what your 4.5 minutes will look like.
  6. Be sure to keep in mind that on Late Night, that first joke is crucial. Gotta be tight.
  7. Finally, realize that the sets use tight structure.

So set your goals and your target for Conan (or any Late Night show), and get to  work.

In the meantime, give a shout-out to comedian, Grant Pardee, (the article’s author), and follow him on Twitter @grantpardee.

Nobody Has the Credentials to Tell You “You Can’t”


It Starts with Rejection.

Rejection. We’ve all had our fair share, right?

Being in the business of entertainment; being a comedian a writer, an actor, exposes you to more than your fair share, I believe.

Some of us are more affected by rejection than others. We take rejection as ostracism and we can do damage to ourselves and our careers if we take it too deeply to heart. I don’t know about you but I know some people who have given up after too much rejection.

The problem is sometimes too much is only once.

But the good news is I think we can learn to smash through rejection and overcome it.

In order to help overcome rejection, it would first help to have a handle on what it is so that it doesn’t seem so ominous and out of our ability to control it.

Understanding the Science of Rejection

Psychologists say that the fear of rejection is hard-wired into our brains and was established as some sort of survival mechanism.

Not to dwell too much on the primaeval science of rejection and the fear of it but for the sake of understanding and overcoming it, here it goes:

Back in the day when we were hunter-gatherers, we relied on tribes to survive. If you were rejected by the tribe it meant ostracism, which meant you would lose access to the fire, the food, etc. Which would lead to your ultimate demise.

Therefore the rejection mechanism is sort of an “early warning system” according to Psychologist and author, Guy Winch, Ph.D. When our behavior might get us ostracised we feel rejection and that feeling is supposed to trigger us to change our behavior so we stop being rejected.

To top it all off we humans are social animals, so the rejection can really be harmful. So much so Winch has actually labeled rejection as a psychological “injury.”

He’s not too far off considering that rejection affects the same brain regions and neurotransmitters as does physical pain. Which explains why during a break up you can actually feel physically ill, get a headache, collapse.

Also during rejection, our brain produces natural painkillers; Opioids, that can help us cope with the pain and continue on… or like me, make me sleep.

How Not to Let Rejection Get the Best of You

I was fortunate to have very supportive parents. They encouraged me to get up and face the day, despite rejection. I grew up in an actors’ family and got to see my Dad go to auditions, not get the part and not let it affect his tenacity, and belief in himself. I was able to witness him bounce back the very next day and book two out of three auditions.

So when it came time for me to audition, I didn’t allow the rejection part of it to knock my self-worth. And without conjuring up visuals of Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley and “Affirmations,” the popular sketch on Saturday Night Live back in the day, I would tell myself that I’m good enough and that the reason I didn’t get the part is not that I couldn’t act, but because I just wasn’t the right match.

Psychologists have a similar approach. They say you can prepare for rejection better by identifying the qualities you believe you bring into this world. Write them down.

Hell, write them down several times! Own them and know them. That way when you do receive some rejection, you can walk away from it a little stung, but with your head held high, ready to tackle the next challenge.

You should really take a moment–right now– and write down five to ten values you bring to this world! No really. Right now!

When it comes to rejection, I like to simply say to myself, “No is not an answer and it’s unacceptable.” Of course this is when dealing with the industry of show business, (getting a script approved or getting an audition), and not when I’m with a woman trying to get to third base!  And why am I still trying to get to third base with my wife? When you’re married, isn’t third base where you start?

But wait, we were being serious in this blog post, Dude!

You are ‘Perfect’

I think psychologists have a point when they say you should write down your valuable traits. I believe it’s something that will help you deal with rejection.

I tell my students and myself that they are ‘perfect.’ I’ve said it so much to myself that I inherently believe it.

Now before you get weird on me on that, let me explain…

What I say is, you must believe you are perfect in all your flaws. I encourage my students to own that of themselves.

I honestly believe that about myself and I have a ton of baggage. There are stores in the mall that wish they had as much Samsonite as I do. I have skeletons and massive failures. But I believe that has made me who I am and I’m pretty freakin’ happy with that because I am constantly trying to learn from my mistakes, sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.

But that’s okay, because if I take the time to assess and evaluate, I can probably learn.

Your biggest mistakes are your greatest lessons. So when you do screw up and you do fail and you are rejected, you learn valuable lessons and if you walk away from that rejection focusing on what you learned rather than focusing on the rejection and self-talking yourself into depression, you’ll do much better with rejection and succeed more often.

Yes, focus on what you learned, move on, continue believing in yourself. Psychologist have determined that rejection is real. It exists, but how deeply we let it affect us is up to us.

We Can Cower or We Can Conquer.

The reason I wrote this blog post is that I’ve seen people–friends of mine–give up their dreams because they were rejected… even once. Then when they hit middle age, they shoulder this huge burden of regret.

When I first auditioned for the Improv, I was rejected three times by co-owner Mark Lonow. If I let that rejection get me down I might never have continued. But on my third rejection from Lonow, I looked him in the eye and said, “You’re not the only way into the Improv, Mark.”

I don’t recommend ever saying that, by the way! I did it because I was hurt (one of the side effects of rejection) and I stupidly lashed out.

But the very next day, I went into the Improv, waited three and a half hours to see Bud Friedman. When I finally saw him, I introduced myself and begged him to let me audition for him.

He said, “Come down tonight and do twelve minutes.”

I thanked him and came back that night with my twelve.

When I was up on stage, after six minutes, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Bud Friedman walk out of the showroom.

My heart sank.

When I finished my act, audience members high-fived me. I heard compliments. I was confused. Why did Bud walk out of the room?

I went up to the bar and waited for Bud. When he finally showed up, these are his exact words: “Very nice set, Mr. Corley. I tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to start you in Vegas and go from there… Oh, and I want you to do the show.”

“What show is that, Bud?”
“A&E’s ‘An Evening at the Improv,’ of course.”
“Of course.”

On the night of the taping of the show, I was in makeup sitting in a chair right next to Bud… as I looked into the mirror, creeping up to me was Mark Lonow, the co-owner, who rejected me three times before.

He leaned into my ear and said in this disdain-filled voice, “How’d you slip through the cracks?”

Bud Friedman looked at him in the mirror and said, “Mark, the last time I checked, my name is first on the Marquis.”

I did the show that night and had a really solid set and after that set, my first T.V. set, my career changed. I haven’t stopped working since.

I share this with you because rejection is a part of this business. We must learn to cope with it and not let it get us down.

And just like the picture way up at the beginning of this post, when we encounter the obstacle of rejection when can either give up, go around or break right through.

There are few things I love more than this business. One of those things is the artists who journey through it. If this blog post gave you some inspiration, drop me a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts and your obstacles and how you overcame them.

I would also like to share with you the article that inspired this post. It is a post that shows original rejection letters to famous people. The post is very appropriately titled:

“10 Painful Rejection Letters To Famous People Proving You Should NEVER Give Up Your Dreams”

it’s by Averi Clements at Distractify.com.

I hope it inspires. Go get ’em!

Sneak Peak: Jerry Seinfeld-Worst I Ever Bombed

Everybody Bombs!

Take a look at this quick video with Jerry Seinfeld on Jimmy Fallon talking about “The worst I ever bombed, then read about my worse bomb ever and then go ahead and share your worse bomb ever!

Have you ever bombed?

I think all of us who’ve ever done stand-up comedy have bombed at one time or another.

Whether you have bombed or not doesn’t mean anything. What you do with that experience defines your character.

I remember the worst time I ever bombed. Sadly, it was voluntary. Well, the bombing wasn’t voluntary, meaning it was unpaid. It was very early in my career. (Here is where we see the wavy lines on the screen and the weird “time-travel” music).

My best friend, Adam had a band that played jazz and funk at restaurants and bars around L.A. and I used to do the breaks. So whenever the band took a break, I would get up and do ten or fifteen minutes while the band rested.

One of the worst gigs you can do is when nobody expects comedy and this is usually the case when there’s a band playing. But it was a mic, you know? To top it off, I didn’t have to fight 20 other comics for a spot to do 5 to 7 minutes.

We were at this place called “The Rusty Pelican” a seafood and steakhouse in Calabasas, California, right next to a Porsche dealership. The band ended their set and I went up to do comedy and nobody was really listening.

“Sharks Smelling Blood”

These three preppy guys saw that I wasn’t doing well and they were like sharks smelling blood. I think I actually heard them say, “Look, that dude is bombing, let’s go fuck with him.”

They came right up the the front of the stage and just kept saying the worst stuff.

When one of them ran out of breath, the other one started. It was tag team heckling and I wasn’t allowed to tap out.

I wound up saying something like. “Well, this isn’t going to work,” and I just said, “At least you can enjoy the music.”

I stumbled off stage, then I remembered I was recording the set. I turned around, grabbed my recorder and said to the audience,  “Can’t forget this. It’s my black box. It recorded everything that led up to the crash.”

I think it’s like the only laugh I got.

Some comedians, when they relive their bombing stories, talk about all their friends being at the event: “Oh my God it was the most humiliating thing I have ever experienced! I mean, my friends and family were there!” They came up to me afterward and said, “That was brave,” or “At least you had good stage presence…”  
Or worse, after an experience like that some comedians never step on stage again!

At the Rusty Pelican I didn’t have comments afterwards from my friends, because my friends who were there were so embarrassed, they left before the set was over.

The Lesson

So I went to the bar, grabbed a beer, went to a dark corner and sank as deep as I could into a booth. I was going to just sit there and get drunk. Then, half-way into my beer I sat up and thought, that is never going to happen to me again! 

Don’t get me wrong the thought was preceded with how I could break the beer bottle on the table and disfigure the bastards who heckled me.

But I thought it through and realized there is no way I would do that because if I did I would probably never be invited to play the band’s break again, I would probably go to jail and the most important reason: I’m way too much of a wimp!

In retrospect, for me, it was the worst experience and the best experience wrapped up into one, because I didn’t finish that beer. I went home, took that recorder, listened to every line those guys said, wrote them down and then wrote like thirty comebacks.

That exercise led me to come up with a bunch of responses that I could use any time whether I was being heckled or just not getting laughs!

One memorable line I wrote and can still use today is: “I don’t blame you guys for acting out. You’re probably still healing, trying to find a way to embarrass someone else the way you did your mother, when she popped you out of her vagina.”

That One Gig Is Not that Important

One thing we have to learn EARLY in our careers is this: That one gig that seems so important at that moment, isn’t. It’s just one gig.

Whether we bomb because it was a heckler issue or because we just had a horrible set, no matter where we are, at whatever level, it’s just ONE GIG!

We have to learn that everything isn’t riding on that one gig, because when you look back you will realize how insignificant that one gig really was, in terms of humiliation, because the humiliation is short-lived.

We take our biggest leaps from our biggest mistakes, but only if we embrace them, find solutions to the problems and apply the solutions.

That’s when you come out on the other side, sharper, smarter and faster. That’s what I did with the lesson from my worst bomb ever. And all I can say is I wish those guys would heckle me at a show today!

That gig at the Rusty Pelican was significant to me. It made me realize that I needed more tools to deal with hecklers. But as far as humiliation goes? I’m still here, working and making a living in comedy. The Rusty Pelican in Calabasas? They went out of business 15 years ago!