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Comedy: NYC vs LA

“So what’s better, comedy in New York or comedy in LA?”

Several people in LA have asked me that question. Last week when I was in New York, I was asked this question:

“What’s comedy like in LA? Do you miss New York?”

The third question is the easiest to answer. Of course I miss New York. It’s my favorite city and I bet it always will be. I also really like LA.

In New York, comedians like to repeat this advice: “Don’t move to LA until industry tells you to.” I don’t know who said this first or when, and maybe at one time it was good advice. But after living here for a year, I think it’s pretty off the mark. I think that the reputation of a place is always about five years behind reality. I remember hearing that comedy in LA is lazier and not as smart and that there’s not enough stage time available to really develop. If those rumors were at one time true, they’re not anymore.

It is true that the audiences are different in New York and LA. Audiences are more demanding in New York, and I like that. It sets the bar high and that’s one of many reasons New York is a great place to develop as a comedian. But LA audiences are not “easier because they are dumber,” which is another rumor that’s out there. I think LA audiences are more relaxed and willing to accept you as a good comedian because they are there to laugh, and that does make it easier to do well. I’m much more comfortable sharing more of myself onstage here, and that has helped my writing as well. It’s more specific, and I feel like it’s easier to write jokes in my own voice. Part of that is just progress, my third year of doing standup as opposed to my first or second. But I also think the supportive audiences have a lot to do with it too, as well as the supportive comedians who make up the LA comedy scene.

My first night in LA, I went to an open mic. The open mic system in LA is a lottery, so the host draws names out of a hat and you sign up for a spot when your name is called. If luck exists, then I have really bad luck when it comes to having my name drawn out of a hat. That first night, I was drawn dead last. Two and a half hours later, it was finally my turn to do my five minutes. Most of the comedians had left at this point, so the room was nearly empty. As soon as I got onstage, two more people came in the room. It was Jim Hegarty and Dominic Dierkes, two nice guys who introduced themselves to me earlier in the evening and made me feel a lot less awkward and alone. They had both gone up pretty early in the evening, but stuck around for an extra two hours just to see me. To be supportive. I will never forget that.

And if I wasn’t clear above, I am a girl and they are guys and they stayed to see me to be supportive. One thing I don’t miss about the New York comedy scene is hearing “Who did she fuck to get on that show?” Because I heard that phrase said about female comedians too many times in New York, and it’s gross and disrespectful. I don’t hear garbage like that in LA and it makes me happy. LA comedians are fans of each other. They even laugh at open mics, and when they go to shows it’s hard to tell them apart from regular audience members because they are also laughing and having a good time.

Why do comedians in New York seem less supportive of each other than in LA? The New York comedy scene is very competitive. Sure, comedians like each other and are friends with each other, but it seems like bitterness and jealousy come between friends often, openly or behind each other’s back. Taylor Williamson, who started in LA/San Diego, moved to New York, and is now back in LA, once explained his theory to me on why this happens in NY and not LA. In LA, the “heat” of the industry will be on a comedian for a little while and then it will move to someone else. While the “heat” is on you, you make progress that’s noticeable to others, and when it’s not on you anymore it’s ok because the tangible success you had, even if it was brief, is reassuring that you are moving forward. And other comedians don’t really have time to get jealous because the “heat” just keeps moving. And it often cycles back onto you again at a different time.

In New York, the “heat” concentrates on a few select people for a lot longer. When it gets hot enough, those people usually move to LA. Some continue to live in New York and build successful careers there, but they will still travel to LA fairly regularly for meetings. So most up and coming comics don’t get to feel “heat” in New York, and without tangible success to reassure them, it’s easy to get jealous of comedians who have success, especially if they have been doing comedy the same amount of time as (or less than) the jealous comedian.

By the numbers, there is more stage time in New York. There are more open mics and shows at alternative venues in New York and you can get up multiple times every night if you want, which is incredible. But if you were to tally up the number of shows at alternative venues in both places that are produced well and get real audience members, the numbers would be about equal. There are a lot more comedy clubs in NYC than LA, but there are lots of comedy clubs not too far away from LA, like in Orange County and San Diego that get great audiences and will give stage time to up and coming comics.

So which is better? Comedy in New York or comedy in LA? I think they are both great, and it depends on the person which is a better fit. If competition drives you, New York will make you better faster. If a supportive, welcoming environment makes you more comfortable onstage, LA is a better pick. For me, both are valuable and I need to get to New York more often than I do. I know really talented, cool people doing comedy in both New York and LA, and watching them develop their comedy onstage has helped me develop mine.

What about all the other great places to do comedy, like Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and other cities? Yes, I’m sure there are lots of great places to live and do comedy. I have only lived as a comedian in NYC and LA, so those are the only cities I can really compare.

If you are an up and coming comedian in New York, I think you should come out to LA and do some shows. Just a few days, a couple of weeks, or even a month. Don’t wait for industry to call for you, you can start learning about all that now so that when you are called for, you’re ready for it. And LA comedians should go to New York for a bit. There is so much to observe because so much is happening all the time, it’s easy to spark your creativity there.

Good comedy has a clear perspective and if you only stay in one place, it’s easy to lose perspective. Comedy has no rules, there is no set path for a career in comedy, but the more experiences we have, the more we have to joke about, right?

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Joe Powers

I’m thinking about Joe Powers today. I think of him often, but today it has been 2 years since his accident. I am able to see the things people google to get to my blog, and besides “pregnant masseuse” and “peruvian parasite,” “joe powers accident” shows up pretty frequently. When I run into people who know Joe, they ask me how he’s doing. We live across the country from each other now, but I try my best to keep up with all his progress. I visited Joe’s parents in Oregon a couple of weeks ago and I got to see the home Joe grew up in. I had a really nice time that I won’t soon forget.

Joe and I did standup comedy together in New York City. In fact, he was my inspiration to start doing comedy. He’s the best storyteller I’ve ever known and we used to tell each other stories for hours, or when we were at work, email stories back and forth all day long.

On August 22nd (late at night, so actually the 23rd), Joe was at a party after a comedy show when he fell two stories off the roof of an apartment on the east side of Manhattan. I was not there. No one is exactly sure how it happened because no one saw it. At first, his friends thought maybe he just went home without saying goodbye, but one friend said that wasn’t possible because they lived near the same subway stop and Joe would have asked her if she wanted to go also. So they looked for him, found him, called an ambulance, and saved his life.

Joe’s bones have healed, but he is still recovering from a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). When I lived in New York, I would go to Queens about once a week to visit him at Park Terrace, a rehab/care facility. For the first year, Joe’s memory was very much impaired. But I knew all his stories, so I would spend the day retelling the incredible stories he had told me from his life. When his family couldn’t be there, I would stay a few nights at the Holiday Inn across the street and spend my days with him so he wouldn’t have to be alone.

But almost a year ago I moved to Los Angeles. Luckily, Joe made so much progress in his first year of recovery, he was able to move as well– to an amazing facility called the Northeast Center for Special Care in Lake Katrine, NY. His wonderful parents and siblings travel to New York to spend time with him, but if there’s a week that no one is able to be there, Joe is ok by himself. He’s much more independent. I got to visit him for three days in June for the first time since I moved. Since my last visit in September 2009, Joe was now pushing his wheelchair by himself, speaking more complex sentences clearly, and his memory was very much improved. We watched Last Comic Standing together and he even remembered some of the comedians on the show (the year prior to his accident is still the hardest for him to remember.)

He has been in recovery for two years now, and he continues to make significant progress. He is the kindest, most patient person and his attitude is remarkably positive. He jokes around a lot, and when he is ready to move on from the rehab facility, he would like to move back to NYC and continue doing standup. While I was there, Joe was preparing a list of questions to ask one of his fellow “neighbors” at the center. He wanted to ask him to name five realistic goals for the next 10 years and five “if I could do anything” goals. So I asked Joe what his realistic and “if I could do anything” goals were. He said, “To get out of my wheelchair, to use my left arm again, and to start doing comedy again. That’s it.”

I talked to Joe on the phone yesterday. He sounded good, he was hanging out with his dad. He has met all his speech therapy goals, and will receive more botox in his left arm and leg and additional baclofen that will help with relax his muscles so he can strengthen them and eventually walk and regain the use of his hand. Joe is left-handed, but he can do a lot of things with his right hand now, including send text messages, emails, and write words by hand.

I’m so proud of Joe. He has made wonderful progress, and it is inspiring to see him treat everyone around him with so much kindness and respect as he works so hard on his recovery. I am also inspired by his family, who are so supportive and encouraging.

For those people who are looking for more information, his parents do a great job of posting updates to http://www.carepages.com/carepages/JoePowers/.


This was taped a few days before his accident. Joe still remembers this joke!

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Good

Tonight I fly back to LA from a great week in New York and I feel good.

I’m also feeling good about this show tomorrow. Charlie Sanders and I have been producing “This One Time” since December and it’s great each and every time. If you haven’t seen it, tomorrow would be a good one.

“This One Time”
Wednesday, June 9, 9pm
The Zephyr Theatre 7456 Melrose (@ Gardner)
$5

Comedians Charlie Sanders and Margie Kment host a night of incredibly true stories told by your favorite comedians from stand up, improv, and sketch. Life is stranger than fiction, and all good stories start with ‘This one time…’

Stories from:

DONALD GLOVER (Community, DERRICK)

TRICIA MCALPIN (UCB)

TAYLOR WILLIAMSON (Live At Gotham, Last Comic Standing)

and of course, your hosts…
CHARLIE SANDERS and MARGIE KMENT, two people who found each other and thought it would be nice to give you a show.

Email to reserve your seats at thisonetimeshow@gmail.com.

And starting June 20th, I’ll feel really good when I start hosting a weekly show with Zach Sherwin aka MC Mr. Napkins:

FRENCH TOAST
Sunday, June 20th, 8:30pm
at Taix
1911 W. Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026
FREE

Featuring:
Maria Bamford
Dan Mintz
Kyle Kinane

I know, RIGHT?!
Good!

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Honk Honk!

I get honked at a lot. Not the “Hey sexy walking on the sidewalk” kind of honk, but the “Hey you really suck at driving” kind. I’m not a slow driver, or absent minded, just bad. I’ve always been bad at driving, and it’s only sort of my fault.

When I was 15 years old, I enrolled in the mandatory driver’s ed course, the teacher never made me do anything more than parking lots. The other kids in the class always tried to sign up for driving practice in my group because whatever group I was in always got to stop for ice cream, “teacher’s treat.” One student would drive to the ice cream store, with the teacher in the passenger seat and me and another student in the back. Then I would drive successfully around the parking lot, and we would get ice cream. Then the other student would drive back to the building where class was held. Yeah it was weird, and no, the teacher wasn’t a creep. He just was really lenient with me and liked to buy me ice cream and give me A’s on all my tests. So I passed driver’s ed without ever learning how to drive on an actual road.

I never had to take a road test at the DMV either. Hopefully this practice has changed, but 10 years ago, in Iowa, the DMV would pick a random number between 1-31 each month. If the number was 22, for example, if you went to get your driver’s license and your birthday was on the 22nd of any month, you had to take a drivers test (on an actual road). If it was any other day, you didn’t have to. Why would they do this? My best guess is that way they only need to have one road test administrator every day and maybe a few more on the 22nd when a bunch of just-turned-16 year olds would be eager to get their license. Of course, if you weren’t too eager, you could always just wait until the next month when the number would change and avoid taking the test. I did take the written test. I passed it on my third try. But who follows those rules anyway?

So I was issued a driver’s license but didn’t know how to drive. My parents were aware of this, of course, and made me log in extra hours practicing with them before I was allowed to drive by myself. The first time I ever drove by myself, about a month after getting my license, I was on my way to work and had to cross Locust, which was a pretty busy street. I hadn’t developed my sense of timing as a driver yet, so my technique was “just close your eyes, push hard on the gas, and pray.” This was the first time I ever tried this technique, and I made it across the street and continued on. Behind me on Locust street, I heard the squealing of tires and honking. I’m not sure if the loud crash sound was real or something I imagined. But the local paper didn’t have anything about it the next day, so I think everything was probably ok.

Now that I’ve been driving for nearly 10 years, I’m a lot better than that, but still pretty stupid sometimes. I somehow memorized a rule I call “Left on red.” It sounds correct in my head, like “i before e, except after c” and I think I have finally re-trained myself that “left on red” is very wrong.

LA drivers have little patience with me, and I get honked at A LOT. But get this, I have never ever honked my horn. Not even once. Sometimes I want to, when someone tries to merge into my lane and doesn’t see I’m there, but I never do. I hesitate, afraid that my horn will startle the other driver and cause an accident. I don’t even honk when someone does something illegal, like “right on red.”**

**Just kidding about right on red. Mom, if you happen to read, this, I’m sorry if I scared you.

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Just got home from a three day trip to Tahoe to see my sister, Trace. She took a job at Heavenly this winter for two reasons: to have a good time and to become a better snowboarder. Let’s be honest. When she started the season, she was pretty awkward, maybe even terrible. But now she is an inspiration to anyone who sucks on the slopes. She’s a great snowboarder! I was very impressed.

Trace and I were never meant to excel on the slopes. We grew up in Iowa, where it snows a lot, but the land is flat. There is a “mountain” for skiing called Snowstar in Andalusia, IL. The lyrics to the theme song went like this: “Snowstar! You’ve got to ski it to believe it! Where to go for some ex-cel-lent SNOW!” I just checked out the Snowstar website, and it doesn’t seem as sad and terrible as I remember, but then again, maybe it was just my one experience there that was sad and terrible.

In 1998, my 8th grade class went on a ski trip to Snowstar. I had never skiied before, but everyone in my class seemed to know how, so I decided to just follow along and not take a lesson. You know, a lesson? What total dorks take? I’m sure that was my train of thought. Did I think about the fact that I was the worst kid athlete in the history of Holy Family Parish School? No. And what good would a lesson do me anyway?

I got my skis on and pointed them down the hill. I flew down the hill, way faster than my friends, proud that I seemed to have some natural talent at skiing. At the end of the hill, I just fell over on the ground because I never learned a proper stop technique. The fall really hurt too, because I was going so fast. But I had to go fast. I never learned proper turn technique.

My friend Mary skiied over to me at the bottom of the hill and helped me get on my feet. “You were going so fast, I thought you were going to hit something, go flying, and DIE!” Mary told me. It was that moment that I found out that skiing was dangerous.

We went over to lift, a two person chair. I ended up being odd 8th grade student out and had to ride the lift with a stranger. A man. We didn’t speak. The chair moved slowly, and I could hear my classmates in the chairs in front of me and behind me talking to each other. After what seemed like forever (it was a pretty slow lift), I could see we were getting close to the top. Without warning, the stranger leaped forward and high into the air, and skiied off. What a daredevil. The lift was now lowering to a level more comfortable for most skiers, no leaping necessary. I was almost comfortable, but decided to wait until the lift dipped just a little lower. It did, more comfortable for me, but it could still go lower. I waited patiently for it to go as low as possible when…it suddenly started going higher! And higher. And it turned around to face the bottom of the hill.

This is where someone is supposed to stop the lift and help the poor skiier get off. Today, the lift operator at Snowstar wasn’t paying attention. And so I rode around, ALL THE WAY AROUND, on that lift while my sweet sympathetic classmates laughed, pointed, and took pictures (for the yearbook). I was embarrassed, pathetic, and alone with a bunch of empty chairs.

Once I reached the bottom, I rode the lift back up, got off the lift correctly, returned my skis, and went to the lodge for six hot chocolates.

Years later, I took ski lessons in Canada. I’m a decent skiier now, but I’m very slow. I’m still very afraid that if I go too fast, I will “hit something, go flying, and DIE.” This weekend, I had a great time skiing at Heavenly with my sister. We had no problems with the lifts, but yesterday we decided to end early anyway and head into the lodge for our equivalent of six hot chocolates: a cold pitcher of beer. And a brownie sundae.

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Y2K + 10

10 years ago tonight, I partied like it was 1999. My mom dropped me off at Daniel’s house so I could ring in the new century with my “theatre friends.” If I told Mom I was hanging out with “theatre friends,” she would be certain there would be no trouble, so therefore, no curfew.

As she drove away, I dragged my large duffel bag on the ground toward the house. It was heavy. So many cans of food (including a seven pound can of chocolate pudding), bottles of water, a flashlight, first aid kit. It was my Y2K Pack, “just in case.” I was surprised no one else brought Y2K supplies, but I was relieved. If Y2K turned out really bad, and someone suggested eating each other, they probably wouldn’t eat me since I brought some supplies.

We listened to REM’s It’s The End of the World As We Know It, like we did every New Year’s Eve because TEENS RULE. We watched the ball drop in Times Square on tv and I imagined how I would someday go to Times Square every year to watch the ball drop. My dreams have changed since then. I decided never to watch the ball drop live once I learned that a lot of those people wear diapers so they can go to the bathroom on themselves and not lose their place in front of the action. That sounds like too much fun for me.

There was no Y2K disaster and eventually the seven pounds of chocolate pudding were eaten. I have lived in five places in the past ten years and I have changed direction on many things, like politics, religion, and whether or not onions taste good. But a few things remained unchanged, such as New York City is the greatest place on earth, I love the theatre, and chocolate pudding is amazing.

Happy New Year!

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Names

This is me, live from Spokane on Christmas. I know the holidays aren’t a pleasant time for everyone, but in general, I have a pretty good time.

The only time the holidays feel unpleasant to me is when I’m at the mall. It’s not the shopping or the crowds that bother me, though. It’s running into people I went to high school with but I can’t remember their names. It always happens. I’m not a jerk, I just have a really hard time with names.

Three years ago, while standing in line at Spokandy to buy some fudge, a guy came up to me and whispered “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!” I didn’t feel so bad that I couldn’t remember his name. He was nothing but a vague memory of a high school production of Godspell to me.

Sometimes I get lucky and run into someone I remember, and it’s such a relief. But I’ve had many more experiences hiding behind clothes racks, my heart beating fast, hoping that person I stood next to in choir wouldn’t come over and say “Hi Margie!,” to which I would have to respond “Hi—how are you? You have real talent as an alto, as I recall.”

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