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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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