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

Laughter in a Comedy Club Does Not Make You a Comedian. You Can Be Funny Anywhere. Even on the Bus

by John Cantu ©

One of the major differences I see in the budding comics today versus when myself and Tony DePaul, Robin Williams, Dana Carvey and the rest of the ol' gang were starting out, is that today there is an over emphasis on playing in a comedy club - as if that were the only legitimate venue.

The following is an excerpt from the December 1, 2002 issue of Cantu Humor:

If you want to be a comedian, you must write AND perform - Period! Set some type of quantifiable weekly performance goal and hit it daily.

It's all about stage time. Perform anywhere you can wrangle stage time. Comedy clubs, but also in coffeehouse poetry open mikes, opening for a friend's band, for local charity events . . .

Maybe you set a minimum of 30 minutes of stage time a week. Five minutes at six different clubs or three ten minutes or two fifteen, etc.

Once again, at the end of a day the hack will still be a hack no matter how much performing is done. And the creative comic will be a tad more creative (but still may need more stage time).

So my advice - PERFORM TODAY. PERFORM TODAY. PERFORM TODAY. Anything else is self-delusion.

And the line: "Perform anywhere you can wrangle stage time" ties in with something I saved from a comedians' discussion list.

San Francisco based comic Jane Barbone wrote and posted the following message quite some time ago on David Sparks' SFComedy - The San Francisco comedians' discussion board. Her original post has been highly edited by me:

"You mean to tell me you haven't even thought about standing up on the Muni & doing your set just to lighten up the mood in that space? Not even once?"

Cantu here again. I have a 45 minute humorous motivation-inspirational keynote about my comedy club experiences titled Work in the Laughter Place. I stress the importance of success being the result of doing the best one can, with what one has where one is.

I talk about seeing the less than favorable acceptance from the audience to Robin Williams, Don Novello, and Sandra Bernhardt at the start of their careers even though they were in comedy clubs.

In the late seventies and early eighties' Doug Ferrari was well known for doing his monologue on the N Judah line. As he used to say, "They can't walk out on me till at least their stop."

Stand-up bus comedian, Doug Ferrari, won the 9th Annual (1984) Comedy Competition beating out Mark Pitta, Paul Kelly, Joe Alaskey, D'Alan Moss. (Of course Doug didn't perform only on the bus - he was doing the clubs as well, but he never fell into that comedian's myopia - it's not real comedy unless you are booked in a comedy club.)

So the idea of "You mean to tell me you haven't even thought about standing up on the Muni & doing your set just to lighten up the mood?" is neither weird nor as nutty as one would think.

And in a somewhat related note regarding starting your comedy career, I also run a discussion list on Yahoogroups, Laugh Lovers. Each week a topic is posted and members respond. (No longer run by

This topic was posted last week:

I would like each person to describe their first positive moment as a humorist. Relative to where we would like to be, we are all beginners. So I hope no one feels that he or she has not had any positive moments.

For example, your first positive experience may have been as simple as getting some laughter at the kitchen table. Or while you thought you were bombing at an open mike, you did receive a couple of laughs and you remember how good you felt, even for a few seconds.

One member, a comedian by the name of Ron Earley, posted this:

My first positive moment as a humorist must have been when I used that saver at an open mike. It was my third attempt at open mike and the previous ones had been greeted with mild, suspiciously polite, smiling faces.

On this attempt though, I had just tried three bits that got me nothing but yawns and quizzical looks. So I said, "You know, when I first started doing this, I was afraid people would steal my jokes."

Pretty simple, but it rocked the house. At least a third of the audience was made up of open mikers, and they must have had the same thought when they were starting out.

I almost didn't post this, since it is hardly remarkable. But what I do think is remarkable is that so few of the open mikers that I know like to use savers. They might be right about that, and I might be wrong, but I hardly think that's likely.

Cantu again I replied,

Ron, your comment "You know, when I first started doing this, I was afraid people would steal my jokes," is piss-in-your pants funny to anyone who's done open mikes for more than a dozen times.

Yes, surprising audience responses is one of the banes of comedy. Lines that we think are brilliant just lay there. Other nothings we toss off because of being flummoxed, scared, or lost - - - sometimes rock the house.

In the Great Comedians Talk About Comedy Larry Wilde interviewed Jerry Seinfeld who said, "I've been comedian for thirteen years, but when I do a new joke, it's like my first time ever on stage. I have no idea what I'm talking about. I don't know if there is anything funny about this.

"I mean that might sound strange to an audience, they think everything you do you just think of right then. But you know your material. It does take courage. It's very hard to do."

Laugh Lovers is an international email discussion group for humor professionals and non-professional who are fans and/or supporters of humor. A topic is chosen weekly by the LaughLovers moderator for discussion, and all are welcome to offer their ideas and opinions.

Pretty eclectic group. Rank beginners to working club comics here and in other countries and writers who have sold Pat Paulsen, Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, Bob Hope.

The above description of LaughLovers is how John (who founded the group) ran the group.
If you are interested in checking it out go here:

Cantu notes:

Another comic, Ted Gilchrist used to go to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf's Aquatic Park every day, (where the cable car line ended) with a sign "Impressions by Request."

Gilchrist would do impressions by request 3 minutes for 25 cents. That was Gilchrist's day job for a year or two I think.

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