Hollis, Hollis, Hollis. I’m just now hearing about Comedygate. My friend, you are constantly getting into trouble. How many misadventures does this make since I’ve known you? Seventeen? My favorite is still the time that you were chased by a love struck garbage truck driver while you were glued to a purse filled with bees, but I guess this one’s pretty good too.
The message I received about Comedygate was excited and garbled and confusing as hell, so I clicked over to Paste Magazine and tracked down your article “A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Stand-up Comedian”.
Your article was nice and short. Pithy, like everything on the Internet these days. Remember when magazines expected writers to produce really long pieces so they could sell more ad space? These days all people want is an Imgur link to 43 pictures of a safe.
After finishing your article I reported back to my excitedly garbled friend that, while it wasn’t your finest work, it was a pretty good overview of Atlanta’s current homegrown comedy scene.
She directed me back to your article, instructing me to read the comments section, which as anybody who knows how to internet will tell you is a bad idea.
But I did it, and WOW but the Atlanta standup comic network went CRACKERS about your article!
Reading through the comments made me think that I’d read the wrong article to begin with, so I read the stupid thing three more times to see what I might be missing (for which I am charging you, by the way. I am serious, look for a bill, my time is expensive).
There has been such a fascinating disconnect between the words you wrote and the way they were interpreted that I have been compelled to walk through it forensically, section by section, to see if I can figure out what exactly pushed this off into bitchcakes mode.
The Bad News: (Local publications don’t cover the comedy scene well)
As one of your only friends who is an honest-to-gosh native Atlantan I take offense to the allegation that our city is “notoriously horrible about supporting local talent and artists”, particularly the comedy scene. It’s carpetbaggers like you who don’t know a damned thing about Atlanta!
I’ll have you know that we also do not support our local sports teams (unless they are heading into the post season as winners).
We do not support the preservation of our historic buildings (especially if our politicians are friends with the developers).
We do not have a theatre district and do not support our theatre scene (unless one of our busty actress friends wheedle us to come out to see them in a play, and even then they NEVER TAKE OFF THEIR TOPS SO WHAT’S THE POINT??).
I’ve never been to a comedy club in my life until you started inviting me to attend, so despite your hateful accuracy I will concede that you do not owe anyone an apology for your opening remarks.
The Good News: Comedians are tough and don’t need press
Okay in this section you opined that comics are “immensely inventive and resilient” and are driven by needs other than press coverage.
That pretty much sounds like a compliment to me.
You even threw in a link to the Atlanta Comedy Open Mic Night calendar.
Now I’ve worked with lots of entertainers in the movie business. When I worked with Flight of the Conchords Producer Troy Miller on Run Ronnie Run, the stars David Cross and Bob Odenkirk (both comedians) were genius on camera and pleasant off camera, but you could tell that they were also dark and brooding, which is a trait I’ve commonly heard mentioned in regard to comedians.
The “resilience” you speak of is a trait of professional comedians, fine-tuned by touring and lots of tough experiences. If your article ruffled folks’ feathers this badly I suspect they will be eaten alive if they ever play a club in Los Angeles.
If you owe anybody an apology at this point it’s probably to the folks you called “seeping ass sores who run Atlanta’s main news outlets” for not reporting more about Atlanta’s comedy scene.
Step One: Try out an open mic night, there’s one near you.
I found this section to be the most fascinating, because I didn’t realize how much comedy was happening all around Atlanta. I’ve been many times to improv and have several friends who perform burlesque and have gone to open mic nights but I just haven’t paid all that much attention to this scene until Comedygate exploded onto the front page of… um, Facebook?
I’m almost not kidding though – you really are the first person to inform me that there is a “burgeoning” comedy scene in Atlanta and that the performances aren’t constrained to comedy clubs, but can be found in coffee houses and art galleries and other cool places.
I love the sound of this and would like to catch a small standup routine in a coffee house sometime – how cool would that be?
Step Two: Be aware that there will be a pecking order
Of course there will be a pecking order, there is always a pecking order.
And of course you should figure out what that pecking order is so that you can (if you so choose) play the necessary politics to be near the people who make decisions. It’s like having a business plan. It’s like Heather Graham’s character in Bowfinger.
Pecking orders are established the minute there are two or more people sharing the same space. Humans are self-organizing systems. Politics is people.
Pick your aphorism, they’re all true.
Hollis, if you’re older than most of these other comedians (as I now suspect you are) then that might be part of your real problem. Young people tend to push older people out of the way. I think it’s biology at play.
At the heart of things, none of us want to be the boss (or the peer) of someone who is older and more experienced (and possibly more established and more successful) than we are.
It can be uncomfortable.
I have watched this age disparity happen in business, and it often works out badly (and silently) for the older person because younger workers simply cannot bear to have someone who is older and more experienced watching them because the young person feels as if they’re being judged.
Step Three: Identify the Gatekeepers
Your advice to identify the Gatekeepers (the people who have connections and influence) references a fundamental part of human tribalism, yet I now believe that this may have been the trigger word that launched this entire Comedygate debacle.
I am frankly astonished that the gentleman you referred to in your article took offense at being nominated a Gatekeeper, because I read it immediately as a compliment.
You and I use the term because it has long served as a very apt description for people in society (or Society, if you’re fancy, which I know you are not) who are in positions of power. In the example you provide the “power” is simply the ability to provide introductions to other people or groups, but that in itself is extremely helpful for those who don’t have those connections.
For that to be interpreted negatively is confounded, so something vital was lost in the translation.
I wonder if your article would have been better received if you had used a more neutral term like “Guru” or “Mentor” or “Guide”?
Step Four: Try out for a comedy festival
In this one long paragraph you explain what will be expected of performers at a comedy festival, how comedy festivals can be a bit disorganized, and that you shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations of winning a comedy festival, yet you should not be afraid to give it a whirl.
As an outsider to the scene I was momentarily inspired to consider entering.
I have to say that Marshall would have probably preferred that you not suggest he was going to get rich off of the entrance fees to his comedy festival (because he probably won’t, owing to equipment and increased staffing costs). But by simply mentioning the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival (as I have just done) and then suggesting that there will be a crush of entrants helps to sell the idea (at least to me) that participation in Marshall’s event is a legitimate milestone that aspiring Atlanta comics should seek out, because maybe it is?
Step Five: Bombing in front of an audience
Well, you bombed.
You provided a pretty straightforward assessment of the city’s comedy scene but in doing so you managed to alienate the very people you were attempting to support and befriend.
Perhaps things would have gone better if you’d waited a few more months to get to know everyone in the scene better, but there’s no telling if they’d have reacted any differently even then, and at this point it’s all idle speculation because what’s done is done.
Is this what standup comedians are really like? I thought they were cooler than this, but I guess they’re normal people like the rest of us.
We both know that I can’t be impartial in this situation, so I don’t want to delve too deeply into the reaction to your article other that to say that it is confusing and oddly comforting in its parochiality.
This is the biggest thing to happen in Mayberry in years!!!
Should Hollis Gillespie Apologize for Comedygate?
My first reaction to this question is to say “Hell no! Screw those assholes!”.
But that’s not productive, and you did rather startle some of them with the unexpected attention, so there’s that to consider.
Ultimately, I think that you SHOULD apologize for your article. In return, Atlanta’s standups should apologize to you for a variety of reasons exhibited in their shrill and angry comments.
Go out there and apologize for Comedygate, Hollis.
Own it, and then move on so that you can be free of the entire silly affair – and just look at the material you got out of this!!
Heck, THINK OF THE MERCHANDISING!!!!
(By the way, you’ll see that my invoice also lays claim to 50% of merchandising profits, net)
PS – I cleaned this up a bit this morning but probably left some errors in it. I would re-read it again but I’ve reached the end of caring about this and need to go have some coffee. Have a great Wednesday everybody!