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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Every Day You Don't Do This Is a Day You're Not Getting Better at It

I turned 45 on the 13th of June. In comedy years, I'm headliner age. I recently was passed from being a showcase comic to being an opener at our local club. But I've only been pursuing comedy since I was 37. The problem is, most people in the industry will look at me and do the comedy math and think that I've been doing comedy around 25 years, in which case, I should be much more accomplished than I am.

In 1996, I saw Blaine Capatch and Patton Oswalt open for Rick Overton at the old Cobb's. I was 26. I thought, wow, I would love to be a standup. Too bad I'm too old to start something now. You see, I had tried standup once.

The week I turned 21, I went to the Holy City Zoo on Clement Street and signed up on their open mike list. I went on next to last. I didn't do well. I never went back. I had a whole other life in the poetry world. I was good at it. In the poetry scene, I could meet women, there were drugs, and I had success. The Zoo was all guys and if anyone had drugs they weren't sharing. Fuck it.

At 32, I got sober. There's a step where you have to take full inventory of your life. Most of these are resentments and fears. Through this process I also made a list of everything I quit because of addiction or fear. Comedy was on that list. I had a nagging "what if" in my heart. But school was also on that list. I spent years clearing my finances, getting back into school, and graduating. After that, I was in a "what's next" phase.

Three things happened:
  • I saw Matt Besser's "Woo Pig Sooie" one man show.
  • I saw Patton Oswalt four times in three days, including two shows from backstage at Cobb's.
  • Christopher Titus' "Norman Rockwell is Bleeding" aired on Showtime.

All three shows were great for different reasons. Three different approaches to comedy. But they all had the same impact: this is something I should be doing. But hell, getting where I wanted to be would take me ten years or something, right?

I was 37. I thought back to that Cobb's show. Had I started then I would have had 11 years in comedy. I may have been headlining clubs, who knows? That's when I had to say "fuck it" again. Fuck it, I'll start now. Today.

In a few months, I'll emcee a show at the Punchline for the first time. It took me longer than I thought it would. The rest of my journey probably won't go as I think it will, either. But it will happen, and I'll experience it at every moment.

Blaine Capatch told me when I started comedy, "every day you don't do this, is a day you're not getting better at it." It's true. Every day you're not moving toward your goals and dreams, every day you don't start your wish machine, is a day you're going to be a What If instead of an I Am. I can't live with What If. I can live with I Am a Failure, if that's the worst case scenario. If you're the same way, start now. Whatever it is.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Is Long Form Comedy?

One of the attendees asked me last night why the comedy at The Business is different from other places. It's a question with a lot of answers. A lot of it depends on what you think comedy is before you come to the show. The short answer: it's long form comedy.

Long form comedy doesn't have a strict definition. If you Google it, you will find articles about long form improv. I don't have the time or patience to explain that as well. The term is so new that it doesn't show up in Internet searches. But if you say it to a comic, he or she will likely have a good idea of what you are talking about.

Long form comedy revolves around a concept, idea, or story, and the comic explores it onstage in front of people, unfolding it and twisting around, wringing the laughs out of it. Short form comedy is centered around a setup and a punchline. Long form often doesn't have one payoff punchline, but rather the laughs that happen along the way.

It's not a new idea. My favorite example is Bill Cosby's "To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With" from the album of the same name. It's one cut. It's 26 minutes, the ENTIRE SECOND SIDE of the record. It was recorded in 1968. Long form wasn't called that at the time, it was just called comedy. But as the storytelling has gone out of vogue in standup, the label does serve a purpose.

There are also plenty of headliners currently doing it. Patton Oswalt, Dana Gould, and Janeane Garofalo all have long bits that I would consider long form comedy. But none of these would consider themselves long form comics...just comics. They wouldn't consider themselves "alternative comedians" either, even though they were big in the alternative comedy scene. Does that make sense?

So what happened? If long form was around, where did it go? Why did it fall out of favor with comics? I think we'd have to go back to the eighties, right before the comedy boom happened. The comedy boom is also something comics talk about I don't want to get sidetracked with here.

There were a lot of years in which comics tried to hone a tight five to seven minutes that would work on television. Talk shows were the way to stardom. Then came the standup show glut of the eighties and nineties. With a few of these credits, you were a headliner, doing forty-five minutes on the strength of five minutes on a show.

There were a bunch of people who did comedy for the sake of getting into acting. They only needed as much standup as it took to get cast as the weird neighbor on a sitcom. From Freddie Prinze getting a hit sitcom deal off one appearance on The Tonight Show to Drew Carey getting his deal, there was also the possibility of not only being cast, but becoming the star of the next big show. The problem with this was there were a lot of people who didn't want to be comics, just wanted to be on television.

There's no room for this in long form comedy. If you don't like being on stage and making people laugh, you can't pull it off. If you don't genuinely like telling stories to strangers, there's nothing in it for you.

The problem is there are few places to do it. Once you're a feature act or headliner at a club, sure, you'll have time to work out long bits. But before then? Open mikes won't cut it. The crowds aren't ready for it, and you don't really have the time to do it.

Thus, the Business happened. Even comics who don't normally work this way jump at this chance to try it out. In our first year, I remember Reggie Steele telling a long story about his childhood that I've never heard since. It's been exciting for me as a comic to watch other comics take chances and go weird places with material. Hopefully, it's exciting for the audience as well.

--Bucky Sinister

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hello World!

This is my first blog for The Business.

I'm one of the founding members. It started with four of us way back when.

I was two years into standup and getting nowhere. I couldn't get stagetime on a regular basis. Any comic of any genre or era will tell you stagetime is the key to developing your act, material, and voice.

I kept looking at how people got their first regular timeslots and it wasn't relevant anymore. There aren't as many clubs as there used to be, and there are more comics. Comics in the '80s were able to get feature gigs for giving rides to headliners. They were able to get onstage in timeslots that don't exist in clubs anymore. Neither of the clubs in San Francisco had an open mike night. So what to do?

Luckily, I found the help of three other comics: Alex Koll, Chris Garcia, and Sean Keane. I was good at running shows and they knew much more about comedy than I did. They helped me learn not only about the craft, but about the politics of the scene as well, which is vital. Together, we rented out The Dark Room and started the first of hundreds of shows.

As people's careers and lives changed, so did our lineup. Nato Green, Anna Saragina, Caitlin Gill, Mike Drucker, and Chris Thayer all joined the crew. Nato still remains, and now, we have three new ones: Natasha Muse, David Gborie, and Jules Posner.

There are also Business shows in three cities: New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Alex, Caitlin, Sean, Anna, and Chris Garcia are all still part of the action. New York also includes Kara Klenk, Jared Logan, and Michelle Wolf.

It's become much bigger than the initial four of us. It's evolved on its own in weird ways. The reputation of the group as a whole has grown organically. It's been a fun ride so far. I'm excited to see what happens in the future.

--Bucky Sinister