“You’re either in or you’re out.”
You probably think you’ve heard that one before. George Clooney told his gang in “Ocean’s 11” the same thing before he and his crew took down Las Vegas. Or maybe it was “Ocean’s 12.” I can’t remember. But I like the full quotation attributed to Anonymous a lot more.
It goes like this:
“There are only two options regarding commitment, you’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as life in between.”
I happen to feel the same way about stand up comedy. I don’t think you can be successful in this business if you don’t jump in with both feet. To me, that means working hard, respecting the craft and your fellow comedians.
I was listening to The Joe Rogan Experience podcast the other day and Jamie Kilstein was on the show attempting to defend his decision to speak out against Daniel Tosh in light of his recent rape joke fiasco at the Laugh Factory. It wasn’t much of an “attempt” as he continually dodged, changed, and deflected the subject and even pathetically attempted to paint himself as a victim at times instead of standing up for his original remarks. As the podcast ended Joe offered Jamie one last attempt to realize his mistake, “Pick a team son, you’re on team standup.” In other words, “You’re either in or you’re out.” I couldn’t agree more. Our “team” is a very small community in the entertainment industry. Why start attacking each other and essentially arguing over free speech? Didn’t Lenny Bruce and George Carlin already handle this for us? You want to tell me what I can and can’t say? Fine. Then jump out of the boat. Get on the sidelines. Go be a critic. Sit in the audience and heckle me if you like. You can’t do both. Sorry.
It couldn’t have been easy for Joe to attack Jamie. You can tell by watching, the two genuinely like and respect each other. But Joe realized the impact of Jamie’s flawed logic. A line had been crossed, one that is not only fundamentally wrong and misguided but a dangerous precedent to comedy and comedians everywhere. Today it was rape. Tomorrow it might be pedophilia. It might be obesity next week. You want take a stand? Then defend something worth defending. Try the war in Afghanistan or global warming. Better yet, craft a bit that is as hysterically funny as it is sublime. That’s what Bill Hicks did. That’s what Doug Stanhope does. So do a lot of other brilliant comics too numerous to mention. But claiming you can’t joke about rape or “rape culture” and more importantly not having an argument to back it up just smacks of pride. Jamie wasn’t able to make one valid or logical point defending his beliefs. He shot his mouth off on national television for his own selfish reasons, got called on his bullshit and continued to talk in circles instead of admitting a mistake.
We’re the outcasts of society remember? I’m not saying you can’t have opinions about other comics. We all do. I’m just saying keep them out of the media. We’re the ones that will drive three hundred miles to perform for thirty people for a hundred bucks because we love what we do. The last thing we need to hear when we get there is an audience member interrupting the show and telling us some things can be joked about and some things are off limits. I think the tragedy in all of this is that Jamie fails to realize how powerful his words are. They have a tremendous influence and they do more harm than good. America’s a dumb fucking country. It’s completely capable of believing four windbags on a daytime talk show declaring what is and what is not acceptable material for a comedian to espouse upon. If you’re a comic and you don’t get that simple idea then please get out.
I love being a comedian. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That’s why it feels so good when you do it right. I tend to work fairly blue and rape jokes happen to be a part of my act. And you know what? They get laughs. I’d like them to continue to do so.
This whole Dane Cook fiasco is all about crybabies. Self-entitled, whining, bitchy little crybabies. Or more importantly, opportunists attempting to capitalize off another comic’s stardom for their own selfish reasons. T.J. Miller’s friend gets bumped and what does he decide to do? He acts like a crybaby. In truly classless fashion, he reaches for the twitter. So did comics Daniel Kinno, Jenna Marbles and Ali Waller. Mr. Miller stood out from them all and took to his mobile phone and decided to become a play-by-play man like he was reporting from the sidelines of a sporting event. He probably broke a Guinness record with his 17 plus tweets. Get a fucking life. I wouldn’t be surprised if his agent was sitting next to him and suggested it. And it wasn’t just bitching he got specific. He took offense to an abortion joke. The horror! Sorry if that offended your delicate sensibilities but some of us swear during our sets. Then he went into full-blown attack mode, calling him damaged, arrogant, and misogynistic. And if that wasn’t enough, he started playing psychiatrist and suggested Dane might benefit from therapy to figure out how not to be a hateful person. Who the fuck does this guy think he is? And let’s not forget the display of ultra-douchiness when he decided to throw on the film critic hat and claim that Dane’s recent box office failures have “sealed his fate in contemporary culture.” Thanks Roger Ebert. Can you tell us if the Mayans were right about the world ending later this year while you’re at it? I understand critics criticizing comedy, they get paid to, but hearing such responses from another comic completely baffles me. It’s about respect for the craft. As comics we all know how hard it is to be funny. Sometimes you go out with your “A” material and eat it. Sometimes you go out with a premise or germ of an idea, start walking out on the wire and you crush it. For another comic to attack another comic with such vitriol when they’re clearly “working” on material is as low as it gets. Sorry he didn’t perform his snake bit for you, or a collection of his greatest hits. I guess he felt like working on his craft. Sorry you didn’t get the memo.
Let me continue by saying I’m not a huge Dane Cook fan, but more importantly I’m not a whining crybaby hater. (To be truthful I’ve always been indifferent. I liked his early stuff but feel he was cannibalized by his own success) I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes when his handlers said, “Nice work on that last album and TV special. Can we get another one in 6 months.” It has been clear to me for quite some time that it’s become vogue to hate Dane Cook. Especially if you’re a comic that has been passed over. All the cool kids are doing it. And when’s the best time to hate? Right after the man crashes and burns. Right when people are talking about it and you can get your name out there.
As a comic I’ve been bumped. Guess what? It sucks, I left the club and went to an open mic and moved the fuck on, probably got a little drunk too. I sure as hell didn’t stand on the twitter soap-box and start screaming at the top of my lungs and attempt to ruin a man’s career by suggesting that he needs professional psychological help, might have anger issues and a hatred toward women. Those are fighting words. Words you need to say to a man’s face and be prepared to duck a punch if you truly believe they need to be expressed.
You want to complain T.J. Miller? Then go to the manager of the club. You’ll look like a douche but that’s the place to go. I wasn’t there, but from what I read in the avclub.com article, there’s no mention of him running the light. If that was indeed the case, then management made the decision to let him work. He’s a star. Like it or not, he earned the ability to bump other comics. If you have the talent, work hard enough, and get lucky, then maybe one day you can do the same thing. Hopefully you’ll be on your game that night and won’t have to suffer the character assassination you put Dane Cook through.
I’ll start by saying I didn’t know Patrice very well. But in the short time I got to work with him he had a profound impact on my life.
We met in 2008 when we both performed at The Nasty Show at Just for Laughs during the Montreal Comedy Festival. Montreal had been a goal of mine since I started comedy. All the young comics wanted to be on the New Faces Show. New Faces is where you would get the TV deals. I’d been auditioning for six years. Two years earlier, I was told I was being considered. Not for New Faces but for The Nasty Show. I was beyond excited. The Nasty Show was a bigger show with big name comics and a lot more shows. Something like fourteen shows in six days. Plus, you got paid. They told me it was down to me and another comic and they were considering flipping a coin to determine who was going. A couple days later, they called and told me I missed out but that I’d be on the short list for 2007.
A year went by, I submitted for the festival and I didn’t get a call. Not even an audition. I was pissed. Snake-bit really. 2008 came around, and I auditioned five times. Then, I got the call. I was in. Finally! Not only did I make it, but I was going to be opening for Patrice on the second half of the show. I’d heard of Patrice but had never really seen him. I’d followed the New York scene from afar lurking on the Cringe Humor boards. I headed to Montreal confident that this was going be the stepping stone I needed to take my career to the next level.
My first set was solid, or so I thought. My second set of the night was mediocre. I thought I had some minor tweaks to make and I’d be fine. All of the comics went out that night and we had a blast. The next night, my first set was mediocre and I flat out bombed the second set. Hard. I was devastated. That didn’t matter to Patrice. He went out and crushed. As a comic, you always think that bombing is just a part of what we do and after a while you become immune. Not that night, however. I was an absolute wreck. Shell shocked. I didn’t feel like going out. I was determined to fix it. I went back to my hotel room and reworked my bits and then I fell asleep. The next day around eleven-thirty in the morning, I got a call from the front desk.
“Excuse me, Mr. Neff. This is hotel security and we need to speak to you right way.” I asked him to repeat what he just said. I was still groggy and his French accent was very thick.
“Mr. Neff, we need to speak to you about your whereabouts last evening.”
“Why, what’s this all about?”
“Well, Mr. Neff, a young woman was raped in the hotel last night.”
“Oh my God, that’s awful. Why are you calling me?”
“The young woman in question claimed that she was raped on your floor.”
“Really?” I was completely confused.
“Yes, Mr. Neff, and I’m afraid I have some more bad news for you.”
“The young woman claims she was raped in your room.”
I shot out of bed like a cannonball. “What? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“I wish I were, Mr. Neff.” His voice trailed off and there was a long silence. Then the voice on the phone changed. The French accent disappeared. “Of course I am, motherfucker, it’s Patrice. Meet me downstairs, let’s get some lunch.”
I met Patrice in the lobby and he instructed me that we were going to lunch. I apologized for bombing the night before. He didn’t want to hear anything about it. We sat down in the food court and talked about everything but comedy. Where I was from, where I went to school, women. At some point, the conversation drifted towards food. I didn’t have much of an appetite. I was still stunned from the night before. He loved food, talked passionately about it, and told me it was probably going to kill him someday. Eventually, we started talking comedy and he got specific.
“What are you trying to say? Cut this, cut that, get to this joke faster. You don’t need to say this before you say that. Do this bit before this one.”
I took out my pen and paper and started taking notes. I literally recited bits, and repeated them with his changes. You could tell he not only knew what he was he doing but he enjoyed the process.
“And stop trying to be dirty. You’re a good looking dude, man! You’re a funny dude! Just tell your jokes!”
I went back to my room and made the changes. My sets immediately improved but there was still something missing. I couldn’t figure out why a seven-minute bit I was closing with (and only weeks before had been crushing with) was now just decent. The weekend shows had three sets a night. After a disappointing second show, Patrice pulled me aside. He could tell I was in a bad place. He told me to ditch the bit completely and do some other material on the midnight show. Material I felt comfortable doing. I told him I’d like to but I hadn’t been authorized to do different material. (For those unaware, Just for Laughs is a very specifically programmed show and unless you’re a name the producers know, they want to know what’s coming out of your mouth before you do.)
“Fuck them, Chris! Fuck them, Chris! This is your act. Do whatever the fuck YOU want to do. Do what works!”
He wasn’t cheerleading. He cared. We wanted me to succeed. So, I dropped the big bit and I immediately felt better because I was performing better. A cloud had been lifted. I could relax and enjoy the moment. I’d like to say that I crushed every single set from there on. I knocked a few out of the park, had some strong sets and a few mediocre ones in between. But I wasn’t going back to my hotel room and banging my head against the wall anymore.
Patrice, on the other hand, killed every time. It didn’t matter how I performed in front of him. I watched almost every single one of his sets. A lot of comics did. School was in session. The first time I saw him, I clearly remember thinking that I couldn’t figure out what the hell he was doing. I couldn’t figure out why he was so good. Everything flowed, everything worked. He’d walk out on stage and wouldn’t say anything for 30 seconds and the audience was already laughing. And it was contagious. Then he opened his mouth and said something that if you had read off a piece of paper wouldn’t be funny in a million years. But it was.
There are generic terms that people use to attempt to pinpoint and define a comedian’s greatness. Words like timing, presence, honesty, writing ability, specificity, likeability, etc. You couldn’t do that with Patrice. So many of those things and other things you can’t describe made him brilliant. It’s genius, really. If you could breakdown the formula everyone would do it. I think it’s that unique indefinable quality that sets the greats apart. Maybe it’s a combination of all those things. I don’t know. I stopped trying to figure it out and just sat back and enjoyed the show.
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