Would You Compromise for Comedy?
In performing for a corporate comedy gig I asked my corporate comedy clients, “What did you like and didn't like about the comic who performed last year?” My client then went on a rant, “Oh, she bombed because she did all this Jewish material. My people are Catholic, they didn’t care about her Jewish grandmother.” So, there went my Hanukah chunk. I didn’t feel good about doing that.
I think of Larry David before he was the creator of “Seinfeld” and the star of “Curb.” Working out material at New York’s Catch a Rising Star, David made it a point to play above the audience’s head and work for the comics in the back. He kept to his brand of comedy even if it meant bombing. But then again, there are hundreds of comics who use the comedy stage for self expression and one of them, actually, does my taxes. Need I say more?
The extremely talented Suzanne Westenhoefer, a lesbian comic quiped in her act, “Looking at Ellen’s career, I realized that you come out, after you’re famous… Oops!” Westenhoefer is a star in the gay market, as well as having achieved much success, her own HBO special among other TV credits, but her joke made me think, “Would Ellen DeGeneres have become such a successful star if she had free discussed her personal life earlier?” Perhaps not.
The comics who have achieved super stardom seem to have found the intersection between their personal lives and the topics that are core for their “group.” George Lopez used his talent to creatively market his act to the Latino community and built his audiences. With his grass roots efforts in creating a huge fan base, he then crossed over into expanding his image to appeal to the masses.
Do we change our acts for the audience, or keep true to our material no matter what? Do we do that lesbian, Passover, S/M joke when performing in the Bible Belt? What do you think?
Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.