John Cantu doing the door at the Zoo John doing the door at the Holy City Zoo

Male or Female, White, Black, Brown, Yellow or Red - Just Be Funny!

by John Cantu ©

Someone once wrote in a comedy chat room: "Comedy is a male dominated scene. Women don't get 1/10th the respect or work that the boys do."

Cantu says:

It doesn't matter who wrote the above - what matters is that this is classic comedy bullshit that comics throw amongst themselves.

I've also had comics over forty tell me "comedy is a young person's field." Hello? How old is Cosby? Dangerfield? Rivers? Letterman?

I've had various minorities list a host of OTHER minorities that one had to be in order to get noticed. (Of course the list never includes their minority group. And the next comic, recites the same list with the ethnic group of the previous comic listed, and theirs removed.)

I always said the same thing to them all - "Here's a novel, but simple solution. Be funny. Make the audience piss in their pants laughing."

Oh yes and one more thing - ignore the feedback of other comedians. It is the kiss of death to be admired by comics.

You want to be admired by people who will pay to hear you. If you want to know how good you are, after your set don't stand in the back listening to the "comedy guys and gals" because they know comedy better than the average audience member.

Stand near the door, out of sight and listen (or better yet go in the bathroom and wait in a stall and listen) to what real people - not comics - say about you.

No one says, "The men were funnier than the women." Audience members say, "The first comic was the best." Or they say, "I didn't like the first two comics, but that third one, the woman with the red hair was terrific." Or they say, "That black gal was the funniest," - i.e., the audience walks out comparing the comics to each other in the show they just experienced. Not to some hypothetical "men versus women" measurement.


In five years 90% of all the people you hate/admire will be out of the business. So why waste energy on them now? People hated me when I ran the Zoo. I used to get death threats on the club phone.

Guys calling me up and saying things like, "I got a rifle with a bullet in it with your name on it." "Oh you do huh? Hey schmuck, you know where the club is! You know my hours!"

Most of them are out of the business now (and out of bullets as well, probably).

Comedy Bribes

Ah yes, there is the eternal inclination to look for the shortcuts. An influential name comic friend can sometimes times get you a "good" spot. And yes, the less than honorable producer will take someone's money, drugs, sex, whatever and give them a "good" spot, perhaps even the one that you rightfully deserve, but fear not - - in the long run it is the audience who sits and judges.

When I was actively running comedy clubs, people sometimes offered me various goodies (sex and drugs and rock 'n roll - read "invites to good parties") for a good spot. But people who are that dumb don't realize that in comedy the producer (a good producer at least) doesn't have the power to give a comic a "good" spot, only the audience has that power.

You are getting evaluated every 5-20 seconds. Either the laughs are there or they're not.

If you are great, the audience will let you know.

If you're mediocre the audience might sit through your act, but not come back again.

If you are really bad, you empty the house.

Tag Team Comedy

I used to call this tag team comedy. I would do it from time to time at the Zoo.

After I left the Zoo, I did it sporadically at Cobb's - but never did much experimenting at Cobb's. Cobb's, in the Marina district of San Francisco, was in an entirely differently environment than the Zoo was in the Richmond district.

Cobb's audiences were not very much receptive to experimentation. When I was producing Cobb's, we were in the Marina and man, let me tell you, the Marina is San Francisco's community of down-town management tight assess if I ever saw one .

I never did a tag-team for the some half-dozen shows I produced at the ''Punchline" because those were full out regular three comic shows. (But I digress in my dottering old age.)

Introducing other performers and acts is a skill in and of itself and way too many performers are lacking in this skill. (Too many think MCing is their time to shine and they seem to bring up the next scheduled act/performer almost as an afterthought.)

So I came up with this way to expose people to a bit of Mcing.

Every so often I called the open mike, a "tag team" comedy night. I might have referred to it as a "round robin" occasionally as well, but same structure. The comic would end his/her set then, acting as if he/she had just done a few opening minutes, would then segue into being the MC and would introduce the next act and so on . . .

Thus each comic got a taste of Mcing by introducing the next act.

Today I'm surprised at how few good MCs I see in the current venues. A good MC can make or break the show and I don't mean just make it by being the funniest person. I mean by keeping the pacing and energy at a sufficiently high level of enjoyment for the AUDIENCE whose show it really is.

More important most comics don't realize, if you have good MC skills, you can often make "MCing non-comedy gigs" a lucrative part-time job.

NEXT: Some of the Unfunny Sides of Comedy