Because the name “Harry Terjanian,” is too odd for people to remember or look up,
my website is “IHateComedy.com.” It’s not done to be ironic; it’s true. I’m a comedian who hates comedy. Bad comedy. Comedians are a jaded bunch. We don’t start out that way. But when you love something so much, you hate seeing it destroyed and you hate being denied the opportunity to make it better. But every once in a while, there comes an opportunity that reminds you why the hell you go through all this in the first place. For me, that event was the great American Comedy Festival.
For five days in Johnny Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska, 19 other funny, talented, and unique professional comedians and I were treated to everything that comedy should be. Professionally, financially, and artistically. And while being Mr. Positivity goes against every fiber of my comedic being, I have to be honest, bad or good. Thus here are some of the lessons I discovered and/or was reminded about in the world of comedy thanks to my trip to the festival.
There are still people in comedy, who care about comedy
Eddie Brill (comedian, booker and organizer of this festival) didn’t just find a town and some microphones. He had a vision; a place to showcase the smart, witty style of comedy that was favored by the legendary Johnny Carson. There was a concerted effort to find the best kept secrets in the comedy world and it showed.
A funny thing happens when you book good comedians. Everyone steps up their game and becomes a better performer. There was not one comedian I watched perform and thought, “What the hell are THEY doing here?” They were more than just people who told jokes for a living; these were people who worked hard on their craft and poured everything they had into their comedy.
There are still places where comedy is a real profession and not the circus
We were well taken care. I won’t say how much because frankly, some of us have ex-wives and needy relatives. But it was more than necessary. Most of us would have done it for a free trip and chance to perform at theater shows alone. But this “small town” ran a tight production which rivals a lot of festivals whose extent of preparation consists of “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted into the Smiley Face Comedy Festival. If you can find a way to get to Roanoke, Virginia and a place to stay, you’re in!”
We were legitimate working comedians and not amateurs. Eddie made it a point to not treat us like of group of contest winners getting back stage passes and a quick picture with the Rolling Stones. We were the Rolling Stones.
And when you put on good shows year after year, good audiences come out and bad audiences stay home. It was a nice change of pace to perform for audiences who wanted to see good comedy. They weren’t there to drink their troubles away while a comedy show played in the background. They were there for every subtle nuance of every joke. They were there for a good show and because of that, we delivered.
Funny is funny
There’s a reason for alternative rooms, mainstream clubs, city rooms, black rooms, Hispanic rooms etc. Some people’s styles are appreciated more by a specific demographic. However, the best comedians can branch out. The best comedians learn to adapt and make the audience get them.
Everyone had a different style, pace and unique voice. They had something special that was interesting and used their experience and skill to command those audiences, no matter what style or where they were from. Comedy isn’t just a New York or L.A. thing. I got to see some of the best new comics from Cleveland, Denver, Minnesota, Indianapolis, etc.
Not all of us are backstabbers and jerks…some of us just want to create art
Eddie went out of his way to not make this thing a competition. He made sure all of us were paid equally (with a little bump up for finalists and winners). “Art is not a competition, so don’t worry about that. You are all here because you deserve to be here. Because you are all the best.”
Eddie didn’t just find great comedians, he found people with a passion for comedy. People who want the best comedy to succeed. To put it simply, everyone on the shows were…nice. Since the trip I’ve had several of my new friends help out by calling in favors and I hope to do the same for them when I can. I have a couch that’s always free for anyone who wants to make the trip (I hope you like dogs though).
We were all willing to share advice and info with one anther about how to be more successful or how to get more work. Everyone offered suggestions on ideas or lines that would make a joke stronger or a smoother.
We made sure each of us didn’t miss anything and had a ride to the next event (Thanks Kevin McCaffrey).
We reminded those of us that were slightly nervous to “knock it off because you’re good and funny.”
We’d find medicine for those of us with headaches, upset stomachs or the myriad of injuries that result from the full court basketball game. That’s right. 20 out of shape, un-athletic, uncoordinated, alcoholic, smoking comedians….playing full court basketball…after a hotdog picnic. If we made good decisions, we wouldn’t be doing comedy.
And let’s not forget the wise decision to turn a 2-hour bus ride back from a great show in Omaha into an impromptu 30th birthday party for Kevin McCaffrey by stopping off for Jack Daniels, some balloons and a cake shaped like a monkey. The festivities were capped off by Tom Waits style rendition of “Happy Birthday,” immediately followed by Tom Waits renditions of classic hip hop and pop songs.
Between the treatment we received from everyone, the respect for the craft, and the skill level of everyone involved…we were free to just be people. The best kind of people: funny people. There might have been several hundred ongoing bits or lines of comedic genius:
- Ryan Dalton’s mission to visit “Steak Buffet USA,” despite appeals that he avoid it.
“I have to, man. It’s ‘Steak Buffet USA.’ I love all three of those things!”
- Headliner Jake Johansson preforming a one of the shows in his newly purchased overalls. Yes, really.
- The comedic tragedy of terrible bookers and road gigs.
“I told that jerk that I’d rather headline a show on the Hindenburg.”
- Dave Wait’s ongoing bit about Pete Lee’s likeability with the locals.
“Uh I think he’s out campaigning for mayor,”
“Hey Pete, how was the city council meeting today?”
“The town’s in trouble you guys.”
“The town’s in trouble you guys.”
- The trend that grew daily of comedians buying sleeveless Larry-the-Cable-Guy-style flannel shirts.
- Comedian Ben Bizuneh admitting on the long 2 hour confessional from Omaha to Norfolk that he’d never been to a strip club and Owen Smith’s response of “Well maybe Nebraska shouldn’t be your first.”
I’ll admit that I suffer from severe depression, for various personal and professional reasons. Don’t worry, I won’t every go on a rampage or anything, but it’s something that most performers and especially comedians deal with. If you have any real perspective on the world around you (which is what you need in order to be a good comedian) then you probably have some form of it. But for five days of my life, I was cured. No meds, no meditation, no therapy. I was just too busy working and laughing.
Am I now “Mr. Happy-go lucky, life is great, cease the day!” guy? No. I’m a comedian. We only feel as good as the last set we did, and we’re too stupid to stop after a good one because we hope the next one is better. But as the people of Norfolk bid us farewell with pleas of, “Please come back next year,” I couldn’t bare to tell them that we won’t be back next year. Next year’s fest, which will only be bigger and better, will host 20 other comedians. I’ll be envious them for sure, but also be happy that someone else will get the rare opportunity to be one of the Rolling Stones.
If you’re looking for great new comedy, please check out these comedians from the Great American Comedy Festival competition. It’ll definitely be worth your time:
Pete Lee, Harry Terjanian, Brian Hocker, Amber Tozer, Andrew Orvedahl, Dave Waite, Tom Keller, Andrew Sleighter, Amber Preston, Kevin McCaffrey, Gary Peterson, Denise Ramsden, Janine Brito, Sasheer Zamata, Owen Smith, Ben Bizuneh, Stephanie McHugh, Ryan Dalton, Johnny Beehner.
Also I documented some of our offstage activities in 360 panoramic video with my new toy, the Kogeto Dot. Swipe with your mouse or fingers to view the full 360 video and pass it along.
Outrunning the sprinklers
Talking about pigeons on a hayride in Nebraska.
Comedians meet cows. Cow meet comedians
BUS TRIP TO OMAHA
Ticks and Redbox
Mookie in the Morning
Country Music in New York
Are you ready to tear some groins.
This was a bad Idea:
So what’s the plan: