One of my favorite sayings used to be,"Free is my favorite price." Unfortunately that other truism "Nothing is free" seems to hold a little more truth. I have another tool in my toolbox called "Fuck the truth", but that's for another day.
I quit my job and started a talk show with no real background in TV, internet, comedy, or show business. In hindsight, not the brightest idea, but I definitely had an experience, some great memories, and even learned some valuable lessons. The lesson I want to discuss now is the "no strings attached lesson."
I didn't have funding to start a talk show so I looked outside of the box. I went through savings and maxed credit cards. These two things obviously caused me headache and turmoil but it was the people in my life, who became contributors, that caused me the most pain.
I borrowed friends cameras, computers, time and anything else that seemed appropriate at the moment. It was great, I was putting on a talk show with a live audience and multiple cameras on a budget of $0. Free right? Wrong.
The worst thing for a a comic is bombing. It feels terrible. Sometimes a comic can see the bombing before the audience does. The audience is there to laugh and have fun. If a joke doesn't fly the comedian is supposed to make a joke about how bad the joke was, maybe make fun of himself or the situation or something going on in the room. Comics get in their own heads and get stuck there sometimes. Maybe something doesn't go over as expected and instead of staying in the moment they start thinking that everyone in the room thinks that the comic isn't funny or doesn't know what they're doing. That's thing about an audience, they need to feel that the comic is in control. If he's in control then they can relax and laugh. But if they smell fear from the comic the audience gets uptight and a little scared and won't laugh.
The problem is when the comic decides, in his head, that the audience doesn't like him before that thought even occurs to the crowd. Then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and the comic basically trips over his own dick as the saying goes.
I'm good at getting people to go with me if I'm excited about an idea. I can get so excited and be so persuasive that the most ridiculous idea seems to be something that could maybe happen. I'm so good that people were coming to me and offering to be a part of the show. They wanted to contribute. I felt at one point that I was helping people to grow, and to participate in something creative, and giving them an opportunity to do something they would never really do in their regular live's.
Friends would bring me their cameras to use. Comics were offering to write jokes for the monologue. My best friend offered his computer. He said,"Take it, when you "make it" you can buy me 10 computers." Only one problem, what if I don't make it? Or to phrase that sentence more to my liking, what if I don't make it in your time frame?
I can answer that question. If said best friend feels you are not going to make it on his time frame he will be an asshole to you and threaten to take the computer away from you if you don't do exactly what he wants. My life and identity are wrapped up into the show and my show is in the computer, therefore what I hear is "best friend wants to ruin my life!"
One of the lessons I learned, which I always say, is that it's hard to be funny if you're not having fun. Sounds easy right? Just go have fun. Problem is I wanted the talk show to be great. I talked to editors and got notes, I got notes from fans, and notes from friends. I'm talking about technical notes.
Position the camera here. Why don't you do a typical three camera shoot? Why don't you use wireless mics? Use pickup shots? Don't let the camera man talk. Hit the applause sign less. More applause sign. Don't let the camera man zoom in and out so much. Make sure the curtain isn't wrinkled. The guests couch is too low. The sidekick is too weird. You're wife is too mean. More wife. More sexy boobs. The house band plays too long. There should be more interaction with the house band. The monologue jokes suck. The audience is talking. Don't let guests or cast members talk, if they are not miked or can not be seen on the camera. Or better yet get another camera. Think about all this stuff while you are performing.
Johnny Pemberton, a comic I interviewed on my podcasts says that once any technical malfunction enters into your routine the funny gets completely wiped out.
If I'm focused on accomplishing all these tasks so I can have a great talk show, so I can rule the world, then the fun slowly begins to leave. I need more people to work for me but that's it, it's work. It's not as fun anymore. The magic is gone. But people stay because they want to recapture the magic. But they can't so they get mad. But who can they get mad at? Who's show is this? Duke's. But he gave us some great times. But not anymore, now we will be secretly mad at him. We won't tell him directly but indirectly.
I can sense this so now I'm scared to ask people to do stuff. I'm walking on eggshells. I feel like I owe everyone something.
I borrowed money from the in laws (It was actually my wife, but when you're married it's you too). Now I have to listen to their advice. (What I hear from them is, you're a loser get a job.) My mom babysits and gives us money for preschool. Now I have to listen to her right wing propaganda and how she needs her grandkids in church.
I can't tell cast members how I feel because I'm afraid they'll leave. I can't tell anyone who I am because I'm scared. We all know comics are funny when they don't let anyone know who they are. Not. (Rad "not" joke)
The bottom line is, when you put your hand out there you are allowing people to control you. I'm trying to cut all the strings, we've all got to do it at some point I guess. Maybe it's a part of growing up. See that, quit your job and start a talk show and you get to learn life lessons and grow up a little.
Lesson learned: When you don't have strings you have more fun, when you have more fun you're funny, when you're funny you can achieve success, when you achieve success people want to give you things for free.
So don't take things for free that come with strings, unless you're successful and have enough money to say "fuck you" when the giver pulls the string.
There's something that sounds so good about "fuck you" money, but that's for another day.