Ian Douglas Terry is not a nerd. He’s a cool guy that does cool stuff and likes cool things. Some of those cool things include stand up comedy and programming comedy festivals. Since he’s a cool guy he doesn’t just like comedy. He likes punk rock and wrestling and other cool things. But sometimes cool things shouldn’t mix. -ed.
Live music and live comedy are two things that theoretically go hand in hand, but rarely work out together. It is well known in the comedy world that doing shows with bands is normally going to be a disaster due to the significant differences between audiences at music and comedy shows and venues not really understanding how to properly handle stand up comedy. People go to watch bands to drink, be loud, and party hard. People go to watch comedy to sit, be absolutely silent except for laughing and to hopefully have something they are wearing or doing be pointed out by an angry alcoholic. These are two radically different worlds.
In my time as a comedy boy I have opened for multiple bands including Omaha indie rock legends Cursive (twice). The majority of the shows were a straight up battle involving yelling over 20-year-olds who came to watch some dudes rock. My buds in Cursive (Sorry, we are friends who text and I’m super proud to be the only comic to ever do non-tour shows with them. I’m a dick) had me go up at their live album recording (which never came out, not my fault) a few years ago but they put me in a terrible spot between hour long sets. An audio recording of me yelling at drunk and tired indie rockers exists somewhere and I think I managed to tell two jokes/ideas/rambling premises (they made it up to me by letting me open for them at O’Leaver’s on a secret show that was real cool, sorry I know that is unfair and braggy but it is a historical event).
That experience pales in comparison to a show I took part of four years ago that had the genius idea to mix comedy and bands that violated so many of the “Laws of Comedy Common Sense” that I sloppily made up and will now break down one-by-one.
1. Comedy shows need seating. This particular show was on a huge stage with zero seating in “the pit” and scant seating on the sides roughly 20 feet away from the stage. Comedy is an intimate thing and being able to see and hear how the audience reacts dictates how the comedian handles the set. If the comedian can’t really see or hear the audience you basically feel like you’re screaming into a void, which seems cool but totally isn’t’.
2. Comedy isn’t suitable for all events. Comedy should be considered a dark art. Most of the language and subject matter isn’t suitable for the kiddos or super sensitive weirdos. This show had 10-12 children freely running around “the pit” in front of the stage making doing any normal material extremely awkward. If the comedy portion would have been put later on the event (pretty sure this was at a 6 p..m on a show that went until midnight) a bunch of children would not had to watch a group of amateur Omaha comedians struggle to not say “fuck” or talk about anything involving semen. I gave up and just started listing everything their parents and Disney movies were lying to them about.
3. Comedy is not a sideshow. Well, it is on most music festivals because people are there to see music, but it’s about time comedians start training bands and venue owners that comedy deserves a little more respect than a karaoke machine gets. There wasn’t really any thought put in besides having a “comedy segment” where we were kind of introduced by an indie rock mega babe to then figure out how to change the energy from “awesome pixie gals singing Christmas tunes” to “white dudes in plaid ham-fistedly analyzing human sociology”.
Two great tastes sometimes taste like shit together and are just off putting. I’ve had way too many interactions with bars/venues that don’t understand how a good comedy show works and just expect it to happen in a dimly lit corner by a dart board and draw 100+ people on their off night. If you’re doing shows like that, good for you, you are a trooper and the new Louis CK or whomever, but use some of that bravery you use to tackle topics that other people are afraid to address to either work with the venue owner to create an environment where comedy can flourish or to find a new venue with someone more cool/chill. The night ended with us comedians feeling like idiots and some parents and people in chill local bands thinking that comedy in Omaha was pretty sub-par and we really only had ourselves (and of course that audience, that’s who all comedians blame when they don’t have the skill or talent to pull something off) to blame.
In closing here is a thought I had about why comedy will never be an equal to music. When most people watch live music they think “Wow, that is so cool. I could never do that!” When most people watch comedy they think “Pffff…I could do that. Everyone in my office thinks I’m hilarious and I’ve watched most of The Family Guy”. This is why heckling exists. That person feels they are more or just as funny as the person on stage because they do not understand how difficult and time consuming it is to create and perform a stand up act. Being funny will never be the same as playing an amazing guitar solo (unless you’re Rory Scovel). Both forms of art/entertainment/self-worship require skill, and according to people who make things up, all comedians want to be rockstars and all rockstars want to be comedians (I want to be a pro wrestler). Comedy is extremely subjective, music is much less so. Anyone can rock out to Aerosmith. In the immortal words of my very close friend Tim Kasher, “Art is hard.”
Photo by Ryan Brackin