Stand-up breakdown

Posted: April 4, 2012 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Take a close look at Adam Carolla's earnings from his younger years.

I got it on with Adam Carolla over the weekend. Wait. That didn’t come out right.

See, Carolla is no longer known simply as “Man Show” or “Loveline” to people on the street, he’s now the purveyor of the most popular podcast in America (give or take at roughly 400,000 downloads per episode) – The Adam Carolla Show. His lead-in line: Get it on.

I tune in regularly, the rants, jokes and social commentary a welcomed 90-minute escape from my stuffy and stressful weekdays. It’s as thought-provoking as entertaining, despite the fact that Carolla is often portrayed as a neanderthal. (He’s probably that, too, just not all the time.)

I’ve become enough of a fan to make the trek to Lincoln, Neb., over the weekend to catch the Ace Man (his self-deprecating and self-appointed nickname) at the Rococo Theater. It was part of my furlough adventure series, an attempt to have fun during a week without pay. Plus, I’d never been to a stand-up show before. (Or a sit-down show, for that matter. Huzzah!)

Turns out, that lack of experience was sort of an issue.

To be clear: Carolla was good. Funny. Did about 90 minutes. Wore a flannel shirt, skinny jeans and purple shoes. Mixed in celebrity stories with every day observations, punctuating each with slides. (You can’t believe how much depth this adds.) He wrapped by displaying his year-by-year tax returns. Incredibly, he never made even $23,000 in any year prior to turning 30 – most were in the $5,000 range. The message: Find what you love, work incredibly hard at it and the rest will fall into place. To be honest, this rather sincere close was my favorite part of the show.

Maybe I was just more comfortable by that point in the night (even though the Long Island Iced Tea had worn off). For starters, we had fourth-row seats in the three-level, ornate venue. Fantastic vantage point. However, most of the seats were at tables, meaning we were essentially sharing space with two others. Make that one other. A dude from Omaha. Works in the restaurant industry. And he just broke up with his girlfriend. Ouch. That’s why the other seat went unfilled. (Although, to be fair, there were enough empty beer bottles – er, tins – to have placed in that spot. Might have made things a tad less awkward.)

Secondly, and more importantly, I was far more aware of the laugh level than I would have guessed. When to laugh and how much to laugh? That didn’t take care of itself the way I expected. Sure, it came easy at times, but far more frequently I found myself picking apart the situation. Even dumber than that, I considered what Carolla was thinking – did he view us as a supportive bunch? I hoped that he did, and acted on that with extra guffaws. And, yes, this makes me either weird or neurotic. Maybe both. So I forced it (more than faked it because, again, the set was solid).

This led to another revelation. One of the best parts about going to see a band you know and like is being able to sing along, belt out your favorite tune with a bunch of strangers. If that song isn’t played, you feel cheated. You want to know the material. Well, it seems that it’s the opposite in comedy. There were a few times where Carolla hit on something that he’s discussed at length on his podcast. That felt less funny because it was familiar. Perhaps surprise is a more important element in comedy than I realized. In hindsight, this seems obvious. In fact, that’s one of the things I like most about Carolla – his ability to improvise, think on his feet. Prepared material didn’t feel as natural.

To that end, I think the next time I go see a stand-up show, I’ll pick somebody with which I’m barely familiar. Meanwhile, I’ll keep listening to the Ace Man because I really do like to get it on. It’s just that things might have gone better if this wasn’t my first time.

  1. Rich Jensen says:

    I saw Seinfeld from the very back row at the Pavilion, and I got a different set of takeways from that. Primarily that delivery and showmanship is very important in provoking laughter. You can’t just say funny stuff. The opening act had plenty of funny stuff, but it didn’t feel like a show.

    On the other hand, Seinfeld was talking about how his wife finds his voice annoying, and the delivery really sold the punchline: “…and that’s why -pause- I’m out here, talking to YOU.” (with a broad sweeping gesture that was easily visible from the back row of the top mezzanine.)

    I agree, part of humor is surprise, but, IMO, part of it is exaggeration (think Gaffigan on Hot Pockets), and a good comedian can make that funny even if it’s already familiar.

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