by Ramon Rivas
Cleveland has always been a great city for comedy. It was one of the premiere vaudeville cities and is where legends like Bob Hope, Jerry + Meara Stiller, and more honed their acts. It produced many more prolific comedians (including Drew Carey) until the comedy bubble burst in the mid 90s. Then, Cleveland lay dormant for a number of years.
There were still the comedy clubs (Improv in the Flats, Hilarities downtown) but there weren’t many more hometown heroes. In the early 2000s, a renaissance of sorts began to happen in town. Once Hilarities opened up in it’s current location, a new batch of comics began plying their trade. Over the next decade their names would become familiar to most- Bill Squire, Jim Tews, Mike Polk Jr., Ryan Dalton all started to congeal about the same time. Those were the names on the rise back when I started performing in 2008.
My name is Ramon Rivas II, and I love stand up comedy and Cleveland. Back in 2010, I lived in Chicago and witnessed the depth of not only the club comedy scene in that city, but the ever-expanding independent scene, and it lit a fire under me. When I came back to Cleveland, I began producing Chucklefck comedy shows at venues all over Cleveland and haven’t looked back. As a result, Cleveland now has three strong figure heads bringing top flight national + regional acts to town (Improv, Hilarities, Chucklefck.com) and an underground scene that has grown from having just one open mic a week, to having just one night when you can’t work on your craft. Something very special is happening in Cleveland right now, and I’m honored that Cellar Door has asked me to cover the comedy scene as it grows and evolves in the national eye.
Comedy has seen resurgence in popularity the past few years. The advent of podcasting combined with the continued growth of social media like Twitter and Vine have created a whole crop of content to be consumed by the masses. This means there are more people trying comedy than ever before. I get a lot of questions, so this week’s section is all about GETTING STARTED.
Here are 9 actual tips for comedians regardless of race, gender, or personal conduct.
1. Find your cities open mics and observe.
A lot of people are like ‘oh how do you start?’. You start by going to an open mic and seeing how bad most people are. Then, you get the notion that you can at least do that poorly.
2. Just do it.
There’s no way to practice comedy. You can write for days, rehearse in your mirror for hours, but the only way to learn is on the job. After watching a few shows you should have the nerve to sign up.
3. Edit, revise, re-write.
You want to be able to get as much across in as few words as possible. Towards this end, listen to your sets and see where you are verbally diarrhea’ing on the audience and try to cut those parts down. In the beginning, those parts will be everything in your act.
4. Bomb. A lot.
You’re going to be terrible at comedy for a while. I like to compare it to being reborn; you have to re-learn how to walk, talk, stand, breath, and think- except on stage, in front of people. People learn those in different orders, but a few tips: don’t look down at the ground, look above the audience. Also, make sure your fly is up. The audience listens at whatever pace you speak, so don’t rush. Speak clearly. Explain yourself fully.
5. Keep your head down.
It’s easy to get a full head of steam after a few solid shows and wonder “WHY AM I NOT WORKING AT THIS COMEDY CLUB? HOW COULD THIS SHOW NOT BOOK ME?” The fact is, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of comics in your city. And the fact is, no comedy booker (speaking from experience) is in a rush to make sure you get on stage. NOR IS IT THEIR RESPONSIBILITY. Find any mics that will let you on them, and do those until you’re noticed.
6. DO NOT BUY A WEBSITE/BUSINESS CARDS/ETC.
Let’s keep this all the way 100% true: if you were to decide to get into ANY OTHER PROFESSION, you would have at least 4 years of skill development (law school, medical school, vocational training) before you bought a store front office and started advertising yourself as open for business.
The sad fact is so many new/fresh comics have this overzealous passion to get onstage that they actually do themselves a disservice. Sometimes your first impression is your last impression, and no one wants your Vistaprint impression in their wallet. Don’t get a business card until you have an act. If you’re unsure what an act is, you don’t have one yet. See #2 and #5.
7. Surround yourself with people that are better than you.
You tend to play to your companions early on in comedy, so make sure they’re actually funny and not just middle aged dads and moms that are doing this as a hobby. Unless you’re a dad/mom doing this as a hobby, in which case please see #6.
8. Understand that you’re rude and no one knows you.
I’m really stand-offish in general towards new comics. They arrive full of zest, eagerness, and a rudeness that borders on hilarious. They’re taken aback when I tell them there’s a process for doing my shows (that consists solely of emailing for a spot). Many who just show up and experience this NEVER show up again and never email me. This isn’t an affront to you.
Producers have a responsibility to their audience to make sure the show is enjoyable. If you show up after a show is already running, understand you’re asking someone who has no idea what you’re capable of to add you to something that is already in motion, hoping you don’t get stuck in the gears and ruin the fluidity of the evening.
The folks who come and just watch shows, and ask after performing, and email me, then keep showing up, guess what happens? I know they’re a comic, I see they’re actually interested, and if there’s a fall out, I have no problem putting them up.
9. Do you.
This is hard to explain but it shouldn’t be. Talk about what you’re passionate about. Talk about what you’re interested in. Keep it REAL. There are a lot of funny comics in the world, there are not a lot of memorable ones. The memorable ones are the real ones. That being said, if ‘you’ is a person who is doing this as a hobby, know that you’re probably not meant for this and enjoy it at your level. Not everyone is a professional golfer. A lot of people just enjoy going to the driving range or putting green. Figure out why you’re doing this and pursue it accordingly.
If you drink, tip the bartender. If you smoke weed, don’t do it in a manner that’s disrespectful to the venue. If you try to have sex with the wait staff, wait till they’re off duty. If you drink a lot, don’t make a mess of yourself at the venue. If you are on a show, be there early. If you aren’t on a show and you’re just watching, don’t talk like a dickbag in the audience.
I guess that’s it. You’ll find out many more tidbits if you’re fortunate enough to be cut out for this thing.
(Editor’s note – Check out the trailer for the standup comedy documentary called “Make Fun” that Ramon produced with Jim Tews. It debuted at the Capitol Theater last month as part of the Accidental Comedy Festival.)