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(From Part 1: I ran the open-mikes at the Holy City Zoo for roughly 10 months, which might seem like a short time - until you are subjected to dealing with egotistical, clumsy and often-pathetic examples of attempted humor or even worse - purported thinking humor. Then it becomes a lifetime, encapsulated.)
Off the top of my head, this is what I learned from Cantu when I was a young, uninformed (read: ignorant) full-of-myself, beginning comic:
Don't blame the audience. If you bombed, concentrate on what you need to do to get your material over to them. (Eventually, I never could do that, which is why I stopped doing comedy and started doing professional speaking.)
Comedy is the one profession where you are judged instantaneously and constantly the whole time you are "working." Think about it - no other profession requires you to show results every 15 seconds (even football has a huddle, and you have the support of 10 others). He presented that as simple reality. A warning, if you will.
Every night you go up, you're in front of a different set of critics (audience). Compare that with "real" work, with the same old cast of bosses and co-workers you can depend on for typical reactions to some degree, unless they suddenly walk in with an Uzi, which does happen at work now and again. (One thing to say about comedy: I do remember reading about a comedian/rapist, but never one with an Uzi, maybe because what with what they're paying in clubs nowadays, plus the background records of comics, they can't get an Uzi.)
The changing audience is why you need to do the same material over and over again, to find a way to homogenize it to present it to whatever audience you're dealing with. That took me a long time to learn - the audience paid to get in and buy drinks - they are not the responsible parties, they do not serve the comic's need. You are there to please them. And I do not exaggerate when I say that this point is lost on too many comics.
Unless you carve a niche in stand-up and therefore can do whatever you want - I happen to like Richard Pryor, Stephen Wright, Bill Hicks (now deceased), Dexter Madison (obscure), Paul Krassner (who is more a brilliant story teller than a comedian), and Rudy Reber (more on him in a bit) - ferret down and find out the rules that are either being hinted to you or thrust in your face and even though you think you're above them - pity those poor people in charge who have been doing it for decades who might know... at least something. They may know something you don't.
I did not like Rudy Reber when he first started performing. Cantu did, for all the reasons I didn't like Cantu when I first subjected myself to having him educate me when I really didn't feel he could teach me anything because I was a genius and that overrides any thought of perfection of craft.
By the time I stopped producing shows for groups like the ACLU, Rudy was my comic of choice. He wrote brilliantly insightful lines (read: they appealed to me) which, if you concentrated on his stage appearance instead of what he wrote, you'd miss.
Examples (as best as I can remember them, so therefore, I'm probably not getting it right):
This has nothing to do with comedy per se, it is just comedy trivia. Earlier this year, Reber was on "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" and up for the $500,000 question: Who directed Michael Jackson's, video 'Bad". I do not remember who the possible directors were or what the correct answer was.
I do know for his a life-line call, Reber called his buddy San Francisco based Will Durst who does topical political humor. Will gave his answer. Reber asked, "Are you sure?" Durst said, "Positive!"
Reber went with it. It was the wrong answer!
email from Don Stevens regarding a Cantu Note in last issue
In the September 15, 2000 issue, Don Stevens wrote:
He (Cantu) later told me, although he denies ever saying it but I had more vested interest in remembering it, that I "was the worst comedian" he had ever seen, and there was no hope for me, and he would have kicked me out of his class to spare both of us, but he needed the $5.
In the same issue, John Cantu wrote:
I can't imagine ever saying that to a student - thinking it maybe, but saying it? No. I'll write about my philosophy on that some day in my web column, "Backstage Pass"
After the September 15, 2000 issue was published Don Stevens emailed Cantu:
You waited to tell me that you felt I had been so horrible that you wanted to kick me out of the class until well after I was entrenched - running the open mikes, writing PR, and filling in for you when you couldn't teach. It was your way of saying, "I would have made a mistake; I'm glad I didn't."
But you do remember that
Not only did I not take that comment as an insult, I used it extensively in Toastmaster training sessions - I was educational veep three times and was called upon to do training at area sessions. I especially liked to tell it when there were new members in the club who were, well, pathetic, and who would look at my speeches, how I ran meetings, whatever, and get dismayed.
I think I would introduce it by saying, "I once knew a person who was trying to do public speaking. He was so bad..." etc. I'd watch them squirm because they felt "so bad" and then I'd say, "That person was me." It was great to see the jaws drop. Nearest thing I ever did to come close to one of those detestable motivational speeches.