Rodney Dangerfield said he didn’t get any respect.
It was his most famous hook, and mostly a lie. Everyone respected Rodney. But only after he was famous.
The line came from his life, and was born in honesty: stand-up-comedy as a whole isn’t respected. It’s the only art form where heckling occurs. There’s an old line, “You never see anyone bring a guitar and amplifier to a concert and start playing back at the band.” At a comedy show, people yell out whatever enters their pea-brain. That doesn’t happen at the theater.
(“Yo, Hamlet! You suck!”)
Even worse than heckling, however, is the fact stand-up comedy is the one thing anyone thinks they can do.
Returning to the guitar analogy, no one grabs a guitar for the very first time and says, “Well, I haven’t practiced or know anything about playing, but I should get on stage and get discovered!” In Los Angeles, actors and actresses are told that very thing. Showcases are chock full of people whose agent barked, “Get seen!”
Which I understand; LA is about image. In Los Angeles, every studio and network looking for the next person who can play the kooky neighbor, the weird boss, or whatever slot they need filled. But they’re not looking for actual comedians. New York City is for comedians. Los Angeles is for actors.
I learned that my first week in California. I was at a showcase, and an actor a few years removed from an extremely popular television show was there.
“This should be good!” I thought.
It was anything but good.
But there he was, trying to re-boot his career and taking stage time away from aspiring comedians. He was a celebrity, and that’s all that mattered to the club.
Several years later, that man made national news for shouting a racial slur at a heckler. Everyone was shocked; “How could Kramer do such a thing?”
I was surprised by the response he attempted, but not by the fact he floundered. As a comedic actor, he was unparalleled. As a stand-up-comedian, he was awful.
Anyone and everyone who has an itch should try their hand at an open microphone, but “celebrity” shouldn’t automatically grant you a paid slot. Unfortunately, celebrity comedians don’t just get showcases in Los Angeles, they get actual gigs across the country. A celebrity two months into his comedic career can get booked on a gig before an unknown who cut their teeth for years.
Which brings us to Preston Lacy.
I’m a big fan of Jackass; I remember sitting at work in October of 2000 when my phone rang.
“Dude,” my friend Baxter said, “You have to turn on MTV. Like, now.”
I did, and immediately started laughing, wondering, who are these guys?
It wasn’t just the stunts and stupidity, it was the crew itself. They were charming. It wasn’t about watching idiots hurt themselves, it was about watching this particular group of idiots hurt themselves.
I saw all three movies in the theater, and was moved when Ryan Dunn left the world too soon. Then Steve-O started touring as a comedian, and I was turned off.
Steve-O is a wonderful clown. He makes me laugh when getting a tattoo while driving over rough terrain or when trying to tightrope his way across an alligator pit. But he’s not a comedian. And now Preston Lacy is following in Steve-O’s touring footsteps.
There’s always a flavor of the week hitting the road under the banner “Comedian.” Someone from a reality TV show, a washed up teen actor, a bit player on Saturday Night Live… someone who thinks stand-up comedy is easy.
It’s not, and I hear the fallout. The masses pour into the club to see the famous person, then leave feeling ripped off. Will those customers return to the comedy club? It’s iffy at best.
Worse for comedians: one celebrity can take up two slots at a club. Celebrity “comedians” usually have a rider in their contract stating they bring the opening act; that way they can use a friend. It’s usually a drinking buddy—someone they know won’t show them up—because nothing is more embarrassing than being upstaged by your opening act. I worked with a celebrity so unprepared that 15 minutes of his act was sitting on a barstool while his prank phone call CD played over the p.a. system. At the end of the night, just about every member of the audience whispered “I wish you had been the headliner” to me as they exited. Damn bet he changed his contract after that.
So why am I thanking Preston Lacy?
Because he is, hopefully, self-aware. As of this writing, his tour is only booked in two actual comedy clubs. For the most part, Preston is cashing in on his fame in bars and other similar venues. Maybe no other comedy clubs would have him, but I’m hoping that he knows his rightfully earned spot in the entertainment world and that his audience will find and appreciate him more in alternative venues. Places where getting hit in the face with a raw chicken can be laughed at, but not considered stand-up comedy.
The fact of the matter is: no matter how gifted you are, you cannot skip the maturation process. Picking up a guitar doesn’t make you a guitarist; standing behind a microphone doesn’t make you a stand-up comedian. For celebrities to skip to the front of the comedy line damages the system. It turns off audiences, and prevents actual comedians from getting work.
If you want to see a celebrity perform in a bar or coffee house, go for it.
But the next time you see one being offered at a comedy club, think about taking a pass, and maybe checking out an unknown instead.