A Look Over Your Shoulder
Over 40 & Funny
Published on Jan 8th, 2016 | by Free Standup NYC
Article by: Dave Lester
Follow him on Twitter: @davlester
In 3 weeks (February 1st) I celebrate my 42nd birthday and my 17th year in stand up-which is pretty shocking given my place in the game. The adage goes "Stand Up is a Young Comics game..!" Which is both misleading and incomplete.
17 years isn't 17 years though-not when you factor in the 5 shows I averaged years One thru Three. There weren't a whole lot of mics back then-You bombed in front of people!
In my defense; LIFE happened to me while I tried "making other plans..!" There were a couple of well paying but demanding post-college jobs, crazy relationships, parenthood and finally-marriage-the coma of comedy. Not to mention an completely unrealistic timeline about how long it was going to take me to BLOW UP. (Haha-yeah ur not alone young cats with grand delusions!)
This country has an unhealthy obsession with youth while simultaneously dissuading all things mature and experienced. This creates a silent (or not) civil war where both side loose because of the lack of balance. Everyone can learn from each other.
The comedy business grind is a moving foot race that favors both the fleet of foot and those that (with help) know where their path is forged. I do remember being a student of comedy and going to see as much as I could. How in awe I was-the reverence I had for these guys. When the stand up bug bites you-you're bitten.
TV shows (MTV IFC etc) like booking comics with a young look because they are selling to younger viewers but name your Top 5 working Stand up comics you love and most; if not all will be over 35yrs of age! Why are they this good then- Because Stand up is a journey to self mastery applied in conversational form. That's what binds a comic to the work and binds them to their audience. This person is making fun of my hilarious journey and we've never met-(Louis) CK & Patrice (O'Neil) are great because they KNOW THEMSELVES, good bad & ugly!!! We play back their jokes like old songs that take us back to when it happened or happens to US!
Finding your comedic voice goes hand and hand with finding your natural place in the world and what makes us memorable. That takes time. Comedy is wine.
Let me not paint with such a broad brush-Stand up is a vast business.
Road Comics, working comics that do the road and drop a TV appearance annually and stay close to the heat to keep their phones ringing- the Chitlin Circuit, the Alternative scene and blends of all the above. You could have a decent career having never been on TV but an appearance makes you more marketable and thus busier.
Comics over 40 face an ever closing window due to age discrimination from a shrinking fan base (market) to younger bookers, promoters and producers who want younger disposable income having fans. That's why I pride myself on my appearance. My face on a flyer doesn't scream "Grown & Elderly" as an older comic you have to be flexible and light on your feet while still sticking to your convictions-which is a very thin line and varies person to person. We love to try and prescribe what's acceptable but until you walk in that persons clown shoes and pay their rent-you don't know their struggle.
I have a day job. Comedy just wasn't getting it done for a while two years back and honestly-I've never been happier with my work! I go onstage with purpose because it has to count. I pick my shows carefully as to get a fair return on my investment of time & talent. A lot of greasy people will use money to manipulate a desperate person but I circumvent this by taking that option away. I have a family, people that depend on me. I need to be effective now WHILE setting up later. I took off 10 years. Now I don't take off 10 days. This is it. One more 5 year push. All or nothing. There are levels to this thing-every day I ask "why are we still doing this?" Every night I perform I get my answer-because I'm an activist. This is my sword.
The world is a big loud scary place-I get to go into it like a diamond mine and dig and craft together beauty to encourage myself and others to dig deeper to find more beauty,
At 42 I'm at peace but not satisfied with my work. I'm fulfilled but not at all satiated-I want to get back on TV and tell important jokes. I want to be around comedy and laugh deep into the evening of my life. I'm gunning for the Moby Dick of sets! Every great comic had THAT set. That defined all the work that culminated to a fevered crescendo! The NBA Champion, Super Bowl, World Series set!!!
Then, I will happily pass everything I know, seen and heard to the next team of stage gladiators. I will watch and cheer happily and I will always have notes. That's what a lifelong student of stand up does-stay present and willing!
"This is why you don’t need a sense of humor to be a comic."