By Bill Spadea
The old saying is that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. This couldn’t apply more to the world of comedy. Comic legends like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock came through the ranks in our great city, playing to crowds at the Upper East Side Comic Strip Live. It’s a place with tables and seats so close together you might say they were sharing the stage with the performers. There’s even an iconic brick wall behind the performers. I had never been to the Comic Strip Live before being invited to participate in a contest called New York’s Funniest Reporter. What’s funny about it is I’m not a reporter nor am I known to be very funny. I’m kind of the straight talk guy who hosts morning radio and mixes it up with reporters on our late night TMZ-style show on Fox 5, Chasing News.
MAKE ‘EM LAUGH
It’s intimidating for the novice comic heading up to a stage where the mic sits alone on a stand in the center. When it’s crowded, it’s hard to navigate around the tables. If you’re making them laugh, it’s hard to hear the wait staff taking drink orders. If you’re not, well that’s another story.
I am not a comic. Nor do I play one on TV. But I did catch the performance bug a few months ago leading me to that famed stage at Comic Strip Live. And now I’m hooked. My journey leading me to the iconic scene on the Upper East Side started with two muffins. That’s right! I met up with comedian Tommy Johnagin, and I asked him if people approach him regularly with material for his routine. “Street jokes? Yes, I get them all the time.” After I had asked him if any stood out, he shared with me the classic which would lead me to the stage in our great city. The Muffin Joke. It’s a terrible joke (if you can even call it a joke). It’s only a few lines, and I loved it. I took it on stage with my first performance and got a standing five count from the audience. No kidding. It was exhilarating. I learned from that moment that part of comedy was building up tension and then relieving the pressure with a punch line—or the admission that a joke bombed.
Coming off stage after the Muffin Joke, Vinnie told me that the hardest part of comedy was handling a crowd that didn’t react. “You’ve got that down pat,” Vinnie explained barely holding back the smile. Now try this. He told me a joke about a talking dog. I walked back up for the next round and told the joke. Laughter ensued. I got this.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
It was soon after that Vinnie and my friend and podcast co-host, Jay Black pushed me to write some jokes based on my personal experiences. I’ve got a big head (seriously it’s how I got my TV job). I’m not always aware of what I’m saying in public, I inadvertently have insulted a few people, plus I work out at three in the morning. All the ingredients for some fun and slightly off color humor to engage the audience. I wrote a few minutes of material and pretty soon I’m performing on stage and learning timing and the rhythm of storytelling with punch lines.
Let me tell you—it’s hard. My job of radio talk show host and TV host is easy by comparison. Comics are up there all alone. No editing. No commercial breaks. Nothing. Just you and the judgment of the audience. And judge they do. Now I get cut a little slack for sure when people show up because of one of my broadcasts. But what about the comics who are entirely dependent and need to get the critical invitation back?
At Comic Strip Live, they call themselves a “Right of Passage” for new comics. They’re right. The bottom line is there’s a balance between making the comic earn the laughter and not treating them like trash. The first rule is no pity laughing. It doesn’t help the comic fine tune their material. And they know! Don’t heckle... don’t boo. And, please, stay off your phone. But as New Yorkers, you’ve got to make them earn it. Only laugh if what they are saying is funny. There’s a comedy club in just about every corner of New York. Check them out. Don’t always look for the famous headliners. You’ll be surprised as to how many new comics are hilarious. Get them while you can still get a seat—for under $20. See you on stage soon.
Bill Spadea is the top-rated morning drive host in New Jersey on NJ 101.5 FM as well as the Ringleader/Host on Chasing News which airs weeknights on FOX 5 and My9 in New York. Before he got into TV and radio, he was a successful real estate executive, political strategist and served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. Spadea graduated Boston University and has been married to his wife Jodi for 22 years. They have two kids and live in Princeton, NJ.