A comic's story:
From Houston to LA to NYC
Let's talk stories and drop some names!
Published in June 2018 | Free Standup NYC
Article by: Andrew I. Bayroff
Meeting Joe Rogan in Houston, 1998
I started stand up comedy in Houston, TX around 1998. And for a little over a year, I bombed at a place called the Laff Stop. And when I say bombed, it wasn’t to the sound of charitable applause, it was to the sound of awkward chatter and people figuring out who had the cheese fries.
The Houston comedy scene (if you could call it that back then) served as my first fore into stand up. Supportive comics, decent mics, and from time to time, you were able to meet some true giants in the world you so desperately want to be a part of. A few years before he died, I met Mitch Hedberg. As we talked, he actually hid his notebook from me thinking I was a crowd member. After I told him I was a comic he explained he didn’t like the audience seeing him looking at his jokes. He wanted them to think his act was memorized or off-the-cuff. Joe Rogan was readily available to chat with the local comics. A little shadow boxing in the corner before he went on stage and ripped it apart. Met Richard Jeni for the first time in Houston, as well as Jackie Mason. Jackie insulted me, and I loved it. After that year of horrible Seinfeld-esque jokes and trying to memorize a five-minute set, I moved to Los Angeles.
I hit my stride in LA. Three years taking classes at The Groundlings, voice-over work, all the while getting booked at The Comedy Store (thank you, Belinda!), passed at the Ice House, spots at HaHa Cafe, and nearly every bar show, as well as waiting outside The Laugh Factory at 2:30 am to sign up for their 4-minute open mic that night at 7 pm. The early morning signup usually paid off since the comics were invited to stay after the mic and watch the 9 pm show where Dom Irrera, Damon Wayans, and other headlining comics performed. A conversation upstairs after the mic with the club owner, Jamie Masada, was both odd and educational at the same time. He wasn’t so interested in his comics being funny, he was more concerned about finding a “character” he could sell to network TV. I was a nearly 30-year old Brooklyn Jew raised in central NJ. An original character I was not.
Being able to slip into the main room at the Comedy Store, both before or after my set, and watch national headliners was euphoric. Like flies on fresh meat, comics swarmed the Main Room. Drew Carey, Dice Clay, and Richard Jeni were just a few choice pieces of steak young comics were able to see coming and going, and once in awhile, interact with. Well before he made it huge in The Hangover, I met and had the privilege to perform with Ken Jeong. Damn. The man was hilarious just standing there. Nice guy, a great person to be around. I remember meeting and performing with Jeff Richards as well. He shunned schools like The Groundlings and wasn’t interested in relying on the rote path everyone seemed to be following. To date, Jeff is the only comedian to appear on both Saturday Night Live and Mad TV. Not bad.
Three years later I moved from LA to NYC and didn’t return to comedy for another 6 years.
I was done. Burnt out. Not just on comedy, but with LA, The Scene, and not being able to find a decent paying job. For me, it was comedy 24/7. Shows, clubs, writing, writing groups, open mics, road work, meetings, projects, everything. It finally caught up to me. So, I was NY bound and looking forward to the opportunities and being closer to my parents, brother, and familiar friends and faces.
I still loved stand up, however, life needed attention. That six-year furlough was spent interviewing, working full time, freelance projects, contracts, consulting, trying to pay bills, and dating. Lots and lots of dating. So much so that years later I published, “Check, Please!” A comical look at my dating stories and experiences. However, comedy is a bug, a virus that burrows under the skin and attaches itself to your central nervous system. There is no cure, there is no antidote, and you won’t find a single comic that is searching for one. Six long years later, I finally found myself back on stage in a new town, with new material, surrounded by new comics.
My very first show back was at Gotham Comedy Club, part of their “New Talent” crowd. I bought 10 people and they gave me 5 minutes on stage. And damn, what a five minutes they were. Ask any comic and they will tell you there are very few events in life that can mirror the feeling when the wave of laughter from a packed audience, 200+, washes over you when a joke hits. That night, luckily, all six of my jokes hit.
From there, it was LA all over again, but in a good way. Open mics, writing new material, meeting new comics, old comics, bookers, producers, headliners, club owners, hanging out and watching shows. At first, it was hanging out at Grisly Pear (the Comedy Village), then New York Comedy Club, then Stand Up NY (four bookers ago), Broadway Comedy Club, and auditions at The Comic Strip. Then The Stand entered the scene, and while Al Martin expanded his comedy arm opening Greenwich Village Comedy Club, he also sold New York Comedy Club to Emilio Savone. And oh yes, and there was Carolines on Broadway. And Dangerfields, which I thought closed years ago. Plus 300 or so bar shows throughout Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Suffice to say the comedy universe in NY was and still is a cacophony of produced shows, house shows, mics, and egos. And to be apart of that ecosystem adds your name and mark amongst some of the best comics around.
A year into my NY comedy experience, I started assisting at a bar show on the upper east side, which whet my appetite to produce shows. Since then, I have produced multiple shows, all with various themes and locations:
That Comedy Show: Various locations - 1 year
Laugh If Off: Broadway Comedy Club - 1 year
Comedy Smash: Stand Up NY - 6 months
The In/between Comedy Show: Mile 17 - 2 years
Project Laughs: Kenton Hall Men’s Homeless Shelter - 1.5 years
The Free Standup Festival: Local and International - 5 years
Coming soon: Mid Atlantic Mirth: Edinburgh Fringe Festival
I list these not to impress, but to show you that some shows are short-lived, while others, blossom and a find a true following. Soon after I created Free Standup NYC in hopes to corral all, or most, of the free shows in the NYC area. It was this site that would eventually give birth to The Free Standup Festival, starting in 2012.
Along the way, I have met some brilliant comics and producers, while on the other end of the comedy rainbow, there were also those who revealed their true colors right away and I am thankful for that. You’ll do yourself a favor by ripping the rotten elements of the comedy world by their roots and toss them aside. No time to waste on people who are here to simply siphon your time, energy, and most important, talent.
Now, a true confession? Even with all of the above comedy milestones, shows, producer credits, and other comedy projects, getting booked is still the most daunting aspect for me. As I post this article, I have 3 shows booked for 2 months — some have 3-4 shows a night, consistently, which is amazing. I’m well aware I share that unfortunately spotlight with far too many talented people, I am certainly not alone. I also know the game of getting booked, the hanging out, the coveted credits, knowing a guy who knows a guy, and seemingly bribing people with brisket. It’s sometimes an uphill battle to even get auditions, have an email returned, or compete with people who simply write articles about comics and shows and continue to be booked, or better yet, judge other comics. But I digress…
I hope you enjoyed my short trip down comedy memory lane. That said, let’s continue to support each other, surround ourselves with powerful individuals, and keep comedy what it is and always will be, a sometimes uplifting road of success as well as a soul-crushing endeavor that makes you question every decision you make.
Happy New Year
Cost of a festival
Mark Anthiony Remirez
"...comedy is a bug, a virus that burrows under the skin and attaches itself to your central nervous system..."