My stay in New York is coming to an end. I have seen things. Smelled things, and with everything that I have seen and smelled in mind I know one this is for sure when it comes to comedy in NY. People like the idea more than they like the reality. It seems great at first right? You’re in the largest city in the U.S. Some of the best comics on earth have graced the stages here. People have become famous here. The reality is a lot harder for most to swallow though. Most of the people we see on TV and in movies are in NY. Few of them, however, got their starts here. A lot of these guys were grinding somewhere else and work or other opportunities got them here.
It is hard to see that when you are looking at NY from the distant dystopian landscape that is Spokane, WA. Spokane doesn’t have a 1/3 of the comics or 1/3 of the comedy rooms, but we do have way more love for the random comic. The guy that makes up about 85% of all comics on the planet. The guys that are just working and trying to catch a break so they can leave their idilic upbringings so they can get seen in NY. That is a terrible way of looking at it in my eyes.
People want to run away from the Spokanes and the Boises, and hell even the Seattles and Portlands of the country to get famous in NY or LA. Time after time, however, all you see if them doing the same shit they were doing in those other cities, just now they have to pay triple in rent (if you are comparing Spokane to NY) and you have to play in front of other comics in basements. The people you hear of or see on TV are the 1%. They worked. They caught breaks, but mostly they WORKED. They networked and push through all of the lazy sacks that just thought that if they did their 15 minutes about Mike Tyson that they would be discovered. The reality of the situation if much more grim then people want to admit.
See, the thing is, no one wants to admit that they are just an average comedian. No one wants to admit that they do not have the work ethic to actually get the chances that the 1% get. That is the problem. Humans can talk themselves into any corner, but rarely do we talk ourselves into reality.
Every comic that I met on this trip said the same thing. That they play in front of other comics and the only way out of the basements are to get lucky and save a famous comedian’s life, or you somehow end up on a showcase because someone saw you. Do you know how rare that is? Out of the thousands of comics that means only about 10-20 might get seen and thrown up on a bigger stage and if they don’t work that right they are back to the basements. Hell, in Spokane you can get paid a couple months after doing comedy if you are good enough an not a massive asshole. That same comic in Spokane travels here and he won’t see work for at least a year.
Another thing I noticed is that comedy isn’t a regional thing. If it is funny and well written it will play anywhere. A joke about blacks might not play as well in the midwest, but it will still be funny (I hope that made sense). I have done my stuff on several stages here and they have laughed every time. That tells me that it is good stuff.
Does that mean I should sell all my shit and move here? Hells nah! First, I don’t think I have the work ethic to make it in a town this big. Maybe I do, but I try to be real with myself. Second, this place is so fucking expensive that it is a miracle that people have time for open mics! I know of at least 4 comedians in this area that can barely afford where they stay and they are not even in New York City. The reality to me is that if I were to move to NY I would need to have all my ducks in a row. If you are not already a traveling comic with enough work to substain staying here you are better off not coming. Unless of course you just like the lifestyle of living in a shitty apartment with roommates.
This place is so expensive that if you didn’t over estimate the amount of money you were going to spend you would be broke. That is what I did. I thought about how much I would spend and then added 500 bucks. I didn’t spend as much as I thought (because I am a cheap old black man) that I am actually feeling fine. This place is not for the people that like to stay in bed until 2 and then think they can hop on an open mic or a show and make a little cash. There are already 300 comedians up and waiting before you have brushed you teeth. That is the reality. The 1% that make it here are the 1% that make it anywhere. It’s just that the 1% in Spokane means about 3-4 comics and the 1% in NY is about 100 comics.
Habits that are learned in a smaller town like Spokane will destroy you here. You can’t call an open mic 30 minutes before and say, “Hey, add me to the list!” You spot has already been taken, probably days ago. You can’t sit there and bitch about why you didn’t get on a show or why you didn’t get a spot. They will tell you why. Unlike in Spokane where we really don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Comics in Spokane have it good. You don’t have to pay for open mics. You don’t have to sign up a week before an open mic. You can get guest spots in front of real paying audience! You can do open mics in front of real paying audiences. Yet. All I hear is how if they can get to NY they can start making money or be famous. I won’t say you can’t, but with the work mentality that I see most comics (unless your name is Greg Beechler, Steven Tye, or Michael Evans) they would not make a red nickel in this city.
It sounds kinda messed up, right? I seem so doom and gloom this entire time. I am just talking though. Do you feel as though you are the exception to the rule? Then go for it! Nothing can stop you if you really want something. That is how I got work in the first place. I just kept plugging along until stuff happened. That will happen everywhere. It’s just harder here.