The decay of the influential comedian: four types of comics you should avoid

By | February 6, 2013 at 11:15 am | 16 comments | feature slider, Features, Opinion | Tags: ,

Periodically stand-up comedians will go through the rigors of the newspaper interview in which the writer will ask the inevitable question about our comedy influences to complete the article. Citing people like Pryor, Carlin and Hicks is a lot more sexy than Captain Rowdy, Danny Martinez and Jimmy Pineapple– but these guys were awe inspiring, and I wanted to be each of them, together.

As a young comedian I was fortunate to be around the likes of Charlie Shannon and Sam Cox who personally helped me cultivate the proper attitude about the work ethic that is crucial to the success of a comic. They urged me to maximize on the expectation of success while respecting the stage and all those who stood there before me. However, my most prominent influences weren’t the comics I wanted to be; instead, they were the comics I never wanted to be. Below, are four examples.

THE PLAYED-OUT INFLUENCE
As a young comedian I never wanted to be that older bitter comic who would bask in the glow of what stand-up used to be while criticizing the status quo. Those guys were around all of the time, watching in the back of the room and highlighting obscure reasons as to why failure was imminent to those who dare trespass on that particular stage. For the most part they were substance abusing narcissists whose claims to fame were in association with comics of status.

They never really did much on their own other than years of sporadic road work and part-time jobs that enabled their pursuit of chicks, alcohol and personal delusions of grandeur. Confusing for the young comedian was the older comic who consistently bombed on stage but was critical of how others made people laugh. They were quick to vilify the fart joke but would routinely do an antiquated Cosby impression to close a less than mediocre set (everyone knows that a fart is more original than a Jell-O Pudding Pop).

Their artsy community of failed writers and musicians would gather in judgment of young comics, tossing around advice like they’ve been there while being silently envious of an undiscovered talent. Their tweaking groupies would secretly pass along their number to said amateur for an afterhours rendezvous at a neighborhood bar, normally ending with a romp in the back seat of her roommates car – and a request not to let her performance end up in the next show.

THE UNDERACHIEVING INFLUENCE
As a working comedian I never wanted to be the comic who based my success on that of others. These guys watch TV religiously, criticize sets on late night TV and scoff at the notion that anyone would be more deserving of an opportunity than them. Their petty jealousies move them to lie about network deals and non-existent career milestones.

Normally, these are the comedians who are “on” all the time. They routinely distribute comedy club passes and misplaced one-liners to future audience members who ultimately realize that they aren’t as interesting on stage as they are off. They make up credits for things they’ve never done and weave farfetched vanities into their sets.

In desperation they replace a creative work ethic with patterns of plagiarism, but are most likely to recognize a hack by the bit he wishes he’d stolen first. They want to have the look of prosperity, however will often claim that all comics are derelicts, because for him, martyrdom is far more impressive than anonymity.

THE OVERRATED INFLUENCE
As a headliner I never wanted to be the prima donna who because of a few career accolades carried around a severely warped sense of entitlement. These guys are normally on the cusp of greatness but are self saboteurs who complain incessantly while alienating the very people who can best advance their purpose. They normally wear the same pair of jeans every night but complain about inappropriate bedding.

They refuse to stay in the comedy condo but require rides to the show from the comic who is actually housed there. They manage the show by monitoring what ‘s done before them while blaming whatever goes wrong on something other than the obvious – Karma. You end up knowing far more about them at the end of the week because their massive volume of self-indulgence comes with its very own non-compete clause.

THE OBLIVIOUS INFLUENCE
As an open miker I never wanted to be the comic who allowed my opinion to outweigh my actual talent. These are normally the hipster types who are inherently more negative than creative and after a few years of hanging out at floating one nighters they often consider themselves the undisputed authority on the anatomy of stand-up. Tragically for them, laughter is merely a footnote for the comedians who can actually provoke it.

They often lead lives of quiet desperation after failed attempts at conventional acceptance and view the abstract nature of stand-up as the perfect platform to validate their awkwardness. These archetypes are self-proclaimed geeks who twist knowledge to their advantage while ignoring the concept of entertainment. They crap on everything sacred for mere shock value and mock an institution that won’t honor their “work” with actual work.

——-

As a comedian I never wanted to be a “comedian”. In social settings my sense of humor is subtle at best and I rarely self-promote unless it’s accompanied by purpose. I’ll only offer advice when asked of me because I’d rather be a friend to a comic than a critic. Deep down I love the attention I get because of what I think is entertaining while never taking opinions on my work very seriously, good or bad.

I’m thankful for people who are impressed by my work, yet people who brag on me in public make me uncomfortable. I’ve realized that I’ll never be rich based on stand-up comedy alone but I’ve been blessed with other talents that could make up the difference. If anyone patterns themselves after what I have done in this business I hope that they first understand the humility I take with me to every professional scenario while maintaining the authority it takes to stand behind that microphone for an hour. The silence that you hear in my act is calculated and the passion I exude at my close is genuine.

All influences aren’t good influences, but ultimately the best influence on the comedian is the calculated influence that he has on himself.

——

Billy is currently on the Ask A Black Man Comedy Tour, which hits Omaha on Feb. 13 (Tickets here).

About the Author

Billy D. Washington

Headliner Billy D. Washington is a 20-year stand-up comedy veteran. You can get more info at thebillydwashington.com.

  • B.T.

    What can I say that wasn’t already been said!! You are wordsmith Mr.Washington and a Damn good Comic!

  • tom simmons

    nicely done. Have we met before. :)

  • Mike Wally Walter

    capt. Rowdy ( Frank Lunney) was always a pleaseure to work with!

  • http://twitter.com/beersnobrob Rob Neville

    Yes! Concise article, Billy D.

  • Walt Maxam

    Excellent, Billy……..I may have seen a little of myself in one of the four. Thankfully, you pointed it out in time to for me correct.

  • PasP.

    Excellent article. Very well written and insightful. Would love to hear more about your perspective of the microphone.

  • Patrick Reddy

    Strong, useful and real.

  • http://www.facebook.com/funnycomicgirl Charlene Ward

    Nailed it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.lao2 Paul Lao

    I agree with the first three a lot. I believe that merit paired with kindness dictates the advice of another comic and even with that said you don’t have to take it.

    All four of these examples include bitter people who aren’t creative or funny.

    The fourth example of the hipster comic is prevalent in L.A. I just hate to see people categorize a person who is dressed as a hipster before they prove to be the condescending snob that shun’s all things mainstream. i.e. Andy Warhol before he was cool.

    great article can’t wait to read part 2

  • alicepeters

    Well, in MY 30+ years in clubs, every comedian I knew and worked with who was a dick engaged in virtually all these behaviors, and they did so whether they were in back at the bar, at breakfast at 4am, on the way to the beach at 1pm, or working a day job. By the same token, whether a dick’s focus is comedy, or auto repair, or the law, or dog grooming, it really doesn’t matter. All that changes is the terminology, not the complaints, the whines, the arrogance or the hubris. Oh, the terminology and the HOURS – that’s all that is unique to dickheads in comedy. Otherwise, a dickhead is a dickhead.

    My $0.02 worth.

  • Billy D. Washington

    Thanks for the responses! I never knew this subject would mean so much to so many people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/avery.dellinger Avery Dellinger

    Nice!

  • A. Havey

    Thank you Mr. Washington for taking the time to articulate what keeps most comedians, and, dare I say, most people from happily achieving the task at hand. In my opinion it all comes down to not facing the fear that rages inside anyone that dares to take a big daddy step into the world. You have identified the toxic walking dead and how they operate. Well done sir.

  • http://www.steviemack.com/ ComedianStevieMack

    Every comedian that reads this is going, “…wait..is that me?” LOL…but true.
    This article is great and so are you. Keep the good stuff coming! Gotta’ love the truth.

  • TimmyMightBeCrazy

    This was an interesting read.

    Just starting out myself, I found myself second-guessing the work that I have done while reading this article.

    I hope to be a half-way-decent comic that makes people think someday. Alas, I do have to work on my material. Thank you for your time and efforts in putting this Article together.

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