Posts Tagged ‘Comedians’


It’s always a wonderful thing to be proven wrong. You learn something when that happens.

For years, decades, I assumed Ellen DeGeneres was horrendous, to be judged by her awful TV show, cloying, idiotic, and pandering to the lowest common denominator. But my buddy Mick Berry, a brilliant writer, musician, and comedian, kept insisting that I was wrong, that DeGeneres was a great comedian.

I didn’t buy it.

Then the DJ on local community radio, KXCI, a couple of days ago played an old comedy clip by DeGeneres. It was wonderful. The jokes were crisp, inventive, and her timing impeccable. Here’s the best one:

“People are stupid. A traffic cop stopped me yesterday and asked me, ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’ . . . . . . . ‘Because of the dead bodies in the trunk?'”



Mick Berry head shotMulti-talented, San Francisco-based Mick Berry was a professional standup comic for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. He’s also been a professional drummer for over four decades, and has written and performed three critically acclaimed one-man shows. His new one-man show, Keith Moon: The Real Me, will go into second-stage production in 2016, and he’ll be performing another of his one-man shows, Dad Fought Hitler, at the national World War II Museum in New Orleans this coming Spring.

He has co-authored two books, (with Jason Gianni) The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco (very probably the best-selling drum book of the last decade, with over 20,000 sold), and (with Michael Edelstein) Stage Fright: How You Can Beat America’s #1 Fear.

He’s currently working on a new standup act, and will be appearing on Bay Area comedy stages later this Fall.

S&P:  You did standup professionally for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, and are just getting back into it now. What’s changed in the standup scene between then and now?

MB: Back in the ’80s, the roof was blowing off with opportunities. In the mid-90s they started going away. It’s not as explosive in terms of novelty now. But I see just as many people going after it. I think the biggest change that I can put my finger on is that a Tonight Show set under Johnny Carson used to guarantee a career. That was the one showcase that could put you head and shoulders above everyone. Now, one TV appearance on The Tonight Show helps a great deal. But up to the end of the 1980s, it was a guarantee. Comics are no longer gunning for that one slot like they used to.

S&P: What was a typical road trip like when you were doing standup, traveling from town to town?

MB: After I did it a few times, I realized that it mattered a great deal with whom I worked. If I was performing with a comic I didn’t particularly like, the show itself wasn’t as much fun, and traveling was quite lonely. I quickly started partnering up with comics that were close friends. It made the traveling so much easier. You only work an hour and a half, and split between the two acts. If you don’t like the act you’re with, and you don’t like the personality you’re with, it’s a major drag. The one nighters are spread out from town to town, without (hopefully) too much distance in between. You pull into town and check out the bar/restaurant where you’re performing. If the sight lines aren’t good (pillars in the way if it’s a restaurant or bar and not designed as a place for performing) and the sound system is lousy, you could immediately tell it would be a challenging night. Likewise, when the place set it up so there was a stage (even a portable one) with adequate lighting and sound, it was much easier to pull off. You never knew until you got there what you were in for, although, word would spread among comics about what the best rooms were. I remember hearing about a comedy club in Wichita (Slapsticks) that everyone said had one of the best audiences in the country. I made sure to get booked there. Sure enough, the laughter was deafening. I also remember working in a place in the deep south (I won’t mention the name) where the bartender asked me if I knew a certain comic (name withheld), and how great his act was. I won’t say his name, but the stage name alone that he used made me realize this was a “hell-room.” The name of the comic the bartender mentioned was something like “General Smut Mouth.” Not a good sign.

S&P: How did you get started doing standup?

MB: It looked like loads of fun. Plus, you’re in charge of the whole show. As a drummer, how often to you get to say that? Never.

S&P: What do you like best about doing standup?

MB: I remember the first really big laugh I got. It hooked me. This is the same as every stand-up I’ve ever heard interviewed. When you get that huge laugh, not a little chuckle, or even a decent size laugh, but a HUGE laugh, there’s nothing like it. And when you string together laughs so you find out what it’s like to be on a roll, it’s a massive charge. Great great fun. The energy between you and the audience just bounces off the charts.
S&P:What else do you like?

MB: When I can surprise myself and make myself laugh along with the audience, that’s when it’s extra special. When’s the last time you laughed so much you had to beg for mercy? Who doesn’t want that?

S&P:What do you like least about doing standup?

MB: The traveling is terrible when you’re alone. And if you have to resort to dick jokes to go over, because you’re playing to a crowd that doesn’t really care to be there anyway, or the venue has  super low standards of acceptable behavior, such as fighting in bars, is when it’s terrible. You go through much of that, and you see start seeing it as just not worth doing.

S&P:What else do you dislike?

MB: I remember driving to Cheyenne, Wyoming from San Francisco. Just after I left SF, I learned that Donner Pass was snowed in, so I wasn’t going to make it by showtime the next night. (I’d given myself enough travel time to sleep at a rest stop on the drive to the gig.) So, since I was so desperate for any work I could get and wanted to impress the booking agent, I made a U-turn south at Vallejo (about an hour northeast of SF) and headed down I-5 to Bakersfield, and essentially drove around the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I slept one hour at a gas station parking lot in Las Vegas, went up through Utah, and got to the gig at 6 PM for an 8 PM show. I put in a 7 PM wake up call at the hotel desk, slept for an hour, took a shower, and did my show. But none of that was the bummer (if you can believe it). The biggest downer was I was working with some comic in his mid-sixties who obviously had no life outstide of the dumpy town-to-town routine. I realized I could never resign myself to playing seedy or lackluster one-nighters across the western United States for the next 30 years. Finding something more rewarding was imperative, and I started thinking about other ways to make a living. [Editor’s note: Prior to working full time as a comic, Mick had spent years as a drummer touring the U.S. and Canada with second- and third-tier musical acts.]

S&P: How do you handle it when you bomb?

MB: Sometimes you don’t handle it. In fact, I’d say that’s the most common reaction. Comics blame the crowd, get depressed, think their life is horrible. And until they have another good set, they are quite down. Now, that’s the worst reaction. The best reaction is to remember one set (especially in a minor venue) doesn’t make much difference. And if you can learn from it, then you’re moving forward, because the crowd can often be right. So you need to ask yourself, even if you can’t find the answer, “What can I do differently?” Once in a while you have a bad set where you can’t learn anything. When that happens, you have to remember that the sun is still going to rise, and if you don’t over-react, you’ll be OK. If you remember that stand-up is a choice, it lightens the load considerably when you bomb.

S&P: How do you deal with hecklers?

MB: Ignoring them often works really well. If they persist, there are some stock put down lines, such as “I don’t show up where you work and knock the dicks out of your mouth.”  [Editor’s note: A few years ago I heard Kathy Griffin use that one live on CNN during the lead-up to the New Year’s Eve dropping of the ball in Times Square.] But the best way is if you can come back with a topper on their comment. I remember one time in Reno, somebody was talking loudly in the back and disrupting the show. So I said something like, “You want me to give you the mike to share your conversation?” The heckler shouted “He’s talking about your dick.” I responded, “He’s talking about it and you’re thinking about it.” That was the end of the heckling.

S&P: How do you deal with near-empty venues?

MB: If the people are into the show, it can be great fun. I remember a club in Corpus Christie Texas, where there were about six people. But they were really into the show. It was as much fun as having a full house. The risk is, with only six people, you might get the wrong six, and it can be deadly.
S&P: Why did you stop doing standup?

MB: I did a one-man show that was so personal, and meant so much more to be that, I enjoyed it much more than I  do on a stand-up stage. The laughs had so much meaning for me. And the whole experience made me feel so close to the audience, it was so much more rewarding than stand-up. So I just stuck with the one man shows.

S&P: So, why are you going back to it now?

MB: The thing about stand-up that makes it different than any other type of performing is that the audience knows immediately if it’s working or not. They’re laughing or they’re not. It’s hands down the most immediate form of performing art. With music, or dance, or theater, you can dig into the material and make that work even if the audience isn’t with you. But the immediacy of stand-up makes it the fastest way to succeed or fail. Stand-up comics stand out, literally. They know what it’s like to bomb, and to risk bombing every time they get up. If the audience isn’t with you, everyone knows it. All you can do is keep trying. When you can gracefully weather bombing, and even work with it, you can handle whatever’s thrown at you (not literally). I once saw Will Durst take the stage, after everyone before him had gone down in flames. And he was the headliner, so he had to do 45 minutes. Just like everyone else that night, he bombed horribly (for the first 30 minutes of his set). By then, all the comics were thinking, “This is a night to write off. Nothing worth keeping. The only thing left is to have Will do 15 more minutes, and then we all go home.” And then Will Durst, somehow, brought the crowd around for the last 15 minutes of the night. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen a comic make that transformation from a lousy first 30 minutes to killing. It was the last 15 minutes of a two hour show, and Will pulled it off. There’s a reason he’s been around forever. So, to encapsulate an answer: Why am I going back to it now? Stand-up comedy is immediate!

S&P: What will you be changing about your approach to it, and why?

MB: I’ve gotta make this personal now. I had an act that worked really well, but it meant nothing to me. The jokes got laughs almost all of the time, but nothing was rewarding about it. No one in the audience was getting to know me. I wasn’t sharing anything about myself that mattered to me. I was quite lonely as a performer. I remember killing in Milwaukee, getting back to my hotel room, and pounding the bed shouting “I hate my life! I hate my life!” When I did my first one man show, about attempting to attain spiritual enlightenment along with attempting to levitate, through 14 years of Transcendental Meditation, and graduating from Maharishi International University, that loneliness of performing disappeared; there was no possibility of it existing with that material. Embarrassment, yes; lonliness–only from people not being into the show, but not from a void of substance on my part. So, I want to have much more guts now to do what I want on a stand-up stage. It’s going to be outrageous in many ways, because I’ve got some ideas that scare me. [Editor’s note:  I’ve heard parts of the new act–it’s hilarious and shocking.]

S&P: What’s the funniest thing you ever witnessed while doing standup?

MB: Sometimes the audience is funnier than the performer. I remember Mark Curry (Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper star) doing an open mike in Oakland. He was warming up the crowd and talking to an audience member who was complaining about his job. Mark asked, “Is your boss white?” The guy shot back, “Everybody’s boss is white!” Every comic in the place split a gut. Another time I was doing a show in Tahoe. And the guy who followed me (Paul Lyons–great comic) got on stage doing some stupid looking dance move. Some woman in the audience started doing it, too. He invited her on stage, they went behind the curtain, and started throwing out their articles of clothing. All impromptu. Best opening I’ve seen, and that was 20 years ago. I met Paul that night, and he’s now one of my closest friends.

S&P: What’s the strangest thing you ever witnessed while doing standup?

MB: Two people, at a table, having full on sex during the middle of a show. (I’m kidding, but I’m sorry it didn’t happen.) I can tell you the dumbest thing I ever did. I was hired by a movie theater to do stand-up for their employees (all teenage high school students) before their Saturday morning meeting. I should have turned down the gig, because it screamed of failure. But I had only been doing stand-up about two years, and I figured I should take every gig that came my way. Some kid heckled me, and I should have said “I don’t show up where you work and knock the popcorn out of your hand.” It would have been the perfect comeback, because it was literally true, and right in front of me to use. But instead I used the standard comeback about knocking dicks out of his mouth. The management couldn’t believe I said that in front of teenagers. They never mentioned anything, but I didn’t get rehired there.

S&P: Who are some of your favorite comics, and why?

MB: Woody Allen, George Carlin, Mitch Hedberg, Wendy Liebman. With these people, you come to really feel you know them, with the possible exception of Mitch Hedberg. But he was so out there that I didn’t care if I knew him or not. His jokes were so fall-on-the-floor outstanding. I’m still mad at the guy for having such lousy personal habits that he killed himself accidentally with drugs. He was headed for one of the biggest careers in the history of the genre, and there was no one else even remotely like him. I just saw Wendy a little over a week ago. And she was personable, hysterical, warm, inviting, charming, and several other adjectives I could dream up.  I was swept into her world, absolutely thrilled to be there. That’s when it’s brilliant. It doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, the audience and the performer know they’ve experienced something unique. It makes life worth living. I haven’t experienced that on a stand-up stage yet; with one man shows yes, but with stand-up, not yet.

S&P: Other than “Don’t,” what advice would you have for people who want to get into standup?

MB: It’s such a sacrifice that the only reason to do it is to have the time of your life. Remember what it is about stand-up comedy that makes you want to do it. Ask yourself what is it that will make it the most fun for you? That’s what you need to hold onto, and strive to return to when it’s elusive. And it is going to be elusive, whether it’s one night of bombing, or two years of trying to find your voice. We mess up our lives in remarkably similar ways (drug/alcohol abuse, depression, fear of attempting to achieve our most cherished goals, etc.) But the ways in which we can enjoy ourselves are infinitely varied: mountain climbing (I’d never want to do that) parachuting (not for me, I throw-up at the thought) horseback riding, swimming, writing, playing music, or whatever the hell it is that turns you on. What is it that would make stand-up thrilling for you? That’s what you need to go after. And don’t sell yourself short by doing what you’re supposed to do. You’ve got the microphone; you can say or do anything on the stage you want short of physically harming yourself or anyone else). So do it! Say and do whatever you really want. If it doesn’t go the way you’d like (and it probably won’t), listen to the audience’s reaction, and learn from it, and try again. Use your head, and eventually you’ll figure it out. In everyday living, impulses are often best kept in check. On stage, they should be unleashed.


“Let’s pretend for a moment that God exists.”

–Comedian Bob Goldthwait, in his stand-up special, “You Don’t Look the Same Either,”  on losing an audience during a performance in Utah


Cover for Stage Fright:40 Stars Tell You How You Can Beat America's #1 Fear

(Excerpted from Stage Fright: 40 Stars Tell You How They Beat America’s #1 Fear, by Mick Berry and Michael Edelstein, PhD. The book includes interviews with Jason Alexander, Maya Angelous, David Brenner, Olympia Dukakis, Melissa Etheridge, Ron Paul, and over 30 others.)

Larry “Bubbles” Brown is a San Francisco-based comedian. In first grade, while watching clouds at recess, he realized we are all going to die. He then lied in under the swings until the teachers brought him back to class and sent him home with a note.
His stand up career began at the Holy City Zoo in San Francisco in l98l, and he rode the comedy boom of the ‘80s. He explains it crashed because “anything in life you like will be taken away from you.” Brown stayed at it because “you can’t beat working half an hour a night.”

He has appeared on over 25 TV shows (three times on David Letterman), in the movie Kiterunner, in numerous clubs in California and Las Vegas, and frequently opens for Dana Carvey and Dave Attell. He holds the record for the longest gap (over 20 years) between appearances on Letterman.

He hopes to start a vegetarian minimalist pessimist movement. His philosophy of life: “Expect the worst and you will never be disappointed.”

MB: How long have you been performing?

LBB: Since March 3rd, 1981. It was a Tuesday. Absolutely true.

MB: What were the circumstances?

LBB: I always wanted to do stand-up, but I never thought I could. Then I heard about open mikes. So I started to hang out at The Punchline and the Holy City Zoo. I think I watched the open mikes for about a year. Then I finally put a few minutes of material together and I went up on March 3rd. The rest is history. A toboggan of failure.

MB: Tell me about the first time you were anxious or nervous on stage. What were the circumstances?

LBB: I just remember the first few months I did stand-up—I had a day job then—and I remember being so nervous about going on that night that I didn’t eat for the whole day. Then I came home after I did my set and ate like five pounds of food at midnight.

MB: So how did you feel? Can you elaborate on that?

LBB: I just remember feeling anxious until I did the set, then after I did it, it was a real relief.

MB: How anxious?

LBB: Not being able to eat. And I’d be thinking, “I’m going to be doing this for five minutes in twelve hours.” That’s all I could think about the whole day. In fact, I used to walk up to the Holy City Zoo on days I wasn’t performing, and I’d be nervous just being in the area.

MB: So what were you telling yourself? What were your thoughts?

LBB: Just “Please don’t bomb.” That was the big thing.

MB: So what was so bad about bombing? What were you telling yourself about that?

LBB: It’s like it is today. Although the first few times I went on stage I did pretty well. I don’t think I bombed until I got six weeks into it, and I remember how traumatic that was.

MB: What were your thoughts then?

LBB: Well, when you’re standing up in front of a bunch of people who are staring at you in silence, you look like a complete dork. And my humor tends to be somewhat personal, so I take that as a real personal rejection.

MB: How did your nervousness change as you continued to perform?

LBB: It just lessened. The more you do it, the more you get confidence.

MB: What were the circumstances when it lessened?

LBB: I don’t remember. I just remember before the end of the year [1981] I was actually able to have a meal before I went on stage. And keep it down.

MB: So how did you feel then?

LBB: It got to be kind of a good nervous. That was when the comedy boom was starting, so it was an exciting place to be around.

MB: So what were you telling yourself? What were your thoughts then?

LBB: After I started doing well, I thought, “Wow. It’s so cool to get paid to do a gig.” And after three years, I got to where I could quit the day job, and I actually made a living doing comedy.

MB: So were there any thoughts you were telling yourself that made you feel more excited than nauseous?

LBB: No, I think it was just doing it for a few months and getting over that initial horror of going on stage.

MB: Did you feel different?

LBB: When you do well, you feel pretty good. But when you bomb, you hate the world.

MB: So you hated the world. Did you ever get to where you weren’t hating the world?

LBB: No. I still hate the world to this day.

MB: [Laughs] Now come on.

LBB: These days, whether I bomb or kill, I still hate the world.

MB: Do you get nervous when you perform now?

LBB: No, it’s like bombing is just really uncomfortable. You can’t wait to get off stage. But it doesn’t have the same effect it did twenty years ago. Same with killing too.

MB: So rather than being horrible . . .

LBB: It doesn’t mean anything. All you can hope for is to meet a hot chick after the show.

MB: So before it felt horrible?

LBB: Before, it was like a life or death matter. Like, “I gotta kill or die.” Now, it’s just, “I do what I do. If they don’t like me, screw ‘em; if they like me, great.”

MB: What’s different about your attitude now?

LBB: I guess I have the attitude “I don’t care,” which is supposed to be good. If I bomb, I think, “It wasn’t my night.” I forget about it in five minutes. Whereas in the old days, if I bombed I’d think about it for a week.

MB: What’s the worst case of stage fright you’ve ever had?

LBB: When I did Letterman, I was so wired up I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was so nervous, and I had dark rings under my eyes, because I hadn’t slept in thirty-eight hours. And they changed my set around. Fortunately, I got bumped. That may have been the worst. They brought me back a month later. Of course I took a Valium the night before and slept like a log.

MB: So under those circumstances where you didn’t get any sleep, and they rearranged your set, how did you feel then?

LBB: It was awful. I was dead tired, but I was so wired I couldn’t sleep. And I thought about bombing on national TV. It would’ve been horrific.

MB: So what were your thoughts about that?

LBB: Sheer panic.

MB: What were your thoughts connected to the sheer panic?

LBB: [Laughs] That maybe I could fake my way through it.

MB: But if you bombed on national television, what would that have meant to you?

LBB: I would have quit the business at that point; it would’ve been so humiliating. Back then, a lot of comics did bomb on Letterman. They didn’t have the audience miked, and I saw a lot of guys go down hard. I literally would have quit comedy.

MB: When don’t you get nervous now?

LBB: I rarely get nervous now. If there’s an audition for something that’s big, I get a little antsy.

MB: But aside from that you don’t get nervous?

LBB: No. I feel numb. I just go in and do it. I’m like a factory worker. Plop those jokes in and get out.

MB: What are your thoughts around that?

LBB: I just hope I can keep doing this. It’s a tough way to make a living, but I don’t want to do anything else.

MB: In considering your own nervousness, what role do your thoughts, beliefs or attitudes about yourself play in it?

LBB: Hmmm. I don’t know. The only thing that I think about nervousness now—and I’ve thought this ever since I first went on stage—is that I’ve never been able to remember all of my material. And that must come from nerves. I cannot go up and do everything I intend to do. I always go up and leave stuff out. And it’s always been very frustrating.

MB: So what role do you think your thoughts play in that?

LBB: A self-sabotaging role. They say a lot of performers have it [stage fright]. They don’t want success or something. I don’t remember all of my stuff, and I don’t always do the best editing. I’m going down like the Hindenburg.

MB: What advice on stage fright would you have for other performers?

LBB: Take lots of drugs.

MB: [Laughs] And aside from that?

LBB: Just keep doing it. It’ll get better with time. You’ll get used to it. It’s like hitting a baseball—just keep doing it and it won’t be as hard. You just get tougher. The more you do it, the tougher you get. You get rid of the stage nerves. It’s like anything. Like jumping out of a plane. I’m sure it’s terrifying the first time, but after ten times you might get to where you like it.

MB: As people become more seasoned, what do you think they’re thinking that helps them not be as nervous?

LBB: They might realize, “This is a great way to make a living; it’s fun. So why be nervous?” Although I think you need a little nervousness to give you a certain amount of energy.

MB: Is there any last thing you can mention that’s been really helpful to you in dealing with nervousness on stage?

LBB: I remember what Mike Pritchard told me when I was really upset one night. He said, “You’re in a small room. Maybe thirty people in there. Outside of that room, no one knows who you are or what you did. It doesn’t matter.” That made a lot of sense.

MB: What were you thinking to yourself before he told you that?

LBB: I was just thinking, “God, I suck. The world hates me.” And hell, the world hadn’t even seen me.

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