Comedy Ain't No Joke 
By Jeff Carroll
 
I know it’s a corny title for a story but, this story deals with what happens when funny comics get corny or hits a slump. This is the subject of a new film by RBG Promotions (An Entertainment Agency) called “Holla If I Kill You”. The film is about a comic named Hollaback, obviously taken from his stage show call back saying. In the film Hollaback loses his fame and humor edge. This triggers a killing spree. The film is non-fiction but, it has some very real dialog in it as well as showing how rude the world of a comic can be. Even though no comic has gone on a killing spree in real life the pressures displayed in the film are real. I remember at a taping of Def Comedy Jam I saw Chris Rock make fun of Shucky Ducky (another comic) who bombed while Chris was hosting. Shucky Ducky a well known comic would say “Shucky Ducky” and the audience would say “Quack, Quack”. After Shucky Ducky got off stage Chris Rock said Shucky Ducky wack, wack. Needless to say Shucky Ducky’s set never aired on that season of Def Comedy Jam. Although, Shucky Ducky was effected by the incident he is now on tour with the Universoul Circus.

Becoming a successful Hip Hop stand-up comedian is not as easy as you would think. I have talked with some veterans of the game. These are comedians who have spent most of their adult lives trying to be the next Richard Pryor. For most of us we see these comics on stage entertaining audiences and getting paid. We see them performing before large audiences where we paid a good ticket price to get in. We start adding up the money from all of the seats. Then we imagine how delightful it would be to get paid thousands of dollars for just talking. (Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth). We don’t even notice the comic that doesn’t make us laugh. We don’t know how long it took for this funny comic to find his niche and become funny. Not, only is there finding their flow that is challenging it is also doing it over and over again and getting better at it which is the hard part. The ladder of success for a Hip Hop comic is laced with drugs, family stress and exploitation. Climbing a ladder with no top is very difficult however, many comics have learned how to make it work in ways other comics have not. 

Most Hip Hop comics start in a club as opening acts or “New Jacks” in a Black Comedy Club or Room. This is a very humiliating position that they pray to graduate from. At this position they wait to get noticed or become remembered by the audience or club manager. After the New Jack stage is passed the comedian’s talent determines the next stage. They can become a regular feature at a club or travel as a opening act to another big name comic or even hosting a night for comedic hopefuls. In each of these positions the pressure is on to become funnier and funnier and never look back. If a comic fails at this stage it can be very hard to start over again. It is this pressure to always have to improve, think of new jokes that push some comics to drugs. This up and down status can reek havoc on a comics personal life. Not only do comics have to worry about staying funny and writing new jokes for audiences to love them they also have to defend themselves from other comics who playa hate and steal jokes. 

I asked three veterans a variety of questions which will give us an idea of some their real life experiences. 

Willie Brown a 5 time BET Comic View veteran is a well known ventriloquist has been performing for over 20 years. He gave up a career in Business Management to pursue a stand-up career. Willie Brown has 3 children and one dummy. 

Shang a BET Comic View Grand Stand winner, has appeared on DEF Comedy Jam and does the warm-ups for HBO Def Poets. He has been performing for over 14 years. Shang has one son. 

Arnold Acevedo a veteran of over 10 years. He has performed for BET Comic View and all of the top Latino and Hispanic Comedy shows. 

I asked them the following questions: 
 
What did you want to do when you started doing stand-up?
To get free drinks and maybe laid, Ok no that is not it. I wanted To bring a message in the jokes, and still be funny!!!  - Shang
 
Be on a TV Sketch comedy show and meet hot women. - Arnold
 
What are your goals now?
To take it another level, to be one of the hottest comics in country. - Shang 
 
Willie Brown just wanted to be funny when he started doing comedy. Now he says “my main goal is to maintain my position and increase my national exposure. I’d like to use that to spearhead other projects for Television and Film.” 
 
Have you ever thought about giving up or doing something else beside being a comedian?
I think we all have, but I enjoy being on stage too much. - Arnold
 
I have wanted to give up when I see the how reality shows make non talents big stars. It kills me, but what can you do. - Shang
   
Through your years of being a stand-up comedian what have you learned that you could do besides stand-up comedy?
I’ve learned how to be diplomatic and patient. - Arnold
 
I have written for TV shows, so I know I could do that, I have put together some successful shows, so I found I could be a great producer. - Shang
 
Has any comic made it harder for you or other comics?
Yes , quite a few... Comics that do low brow material and get huge from it, make it harder to do some thing different, the mainstream idiot industry expect a certain style of comedy from black comedians, Bugging your eyes is still funny to them, the fat black sassy woman is still in style. So if you are not in that vein, well the mainstream doesn’t feel you as much, no matter how hard they laugh, old stereo types die hard. - Shang
 
There’s cunts in every business. - Arnold
 
Have you seen any comics not take failure gracefully?
There are a lot of bitter comics. Even some of the comics at the top are bitter I think they fail to realize how far they have come and how blessed they are. - Willie Brown
 
What is the wildest thing you've ever done to get ahead?
Nothing, I haven’t gone there, and don’t think I ever will. That is why I think I will have to really have to work hard to make it to another level. I wanted to be a thinking man’s comic, and a comic that was funny as hell, but still had some substance, so it’s going to harder for me, I feel the mainstream wants black comedians to really cater and fit in a box, I have compromised myself in ways pertaining to mixing dumb easy jokes with the more clever intelligent jokes. But other than that, I haven’t slept with anyone, or degraded myself to get ahead. So It will be harder to make it in this business, but if I make it, it will be more gratifying. Now if Halle Berry ask me to sleep with her to get ahead, welllllll - Shang
 
One time I came to Los Angeles to tape BET Comic View during it’s first season with DL Hughley as the host, and I was with a friend from Los Angeles who talked me into taking my dummy “Woody” to the live taping of “Roc”. I sat in the studio audience with Woody and was embarrassed by the warm-up comedian J. Anthony Brown. I was mad at myself for listening to my friend who told me that I should bring my dummy because you never know who you might see you. I remember J. Anthony Brown holding the microphone up to my dummy’s mouth and saying “man you can’t even make him talk”. I wanted to disappear from that scene so badly. - Willie Brown 
 
Outside of being funny what does it take to make it as a comic?
Well, the real answer is “Sucking up to the right people, kissing the right ass, going to the right parties, being seen with the right people. All the bullshit you hear about Hollywood is kind of true. - Shang
 
You have to believe in yourself when nobody else does. - Willie Brown
 
Study your profession, know the business, always ask questions, and write quicker than they can steal it. - Arnold
 
The stresses of singers and actors is well documented. Even the results of a having hit song or a blockbuster movie on artist is something that everybody can understand because of artists like Maria Carey. So, when Phillis Hymen committed suicide the public can understand. Writing jokes can be just as pivotal for a comic. A comic can have only 20 minutes of okay jokes but, they get that one good joke and it can take there career places. Just like singers comics struggle to not be a one hit wonder. Even after their on top there is pressure to be funny and write better jokes. The stage is the hardest place to work for a comic. What happen to Martin Lawrence is a good example of what can happen. Most people could not understand his stress but, every comic could not only understand but, many could identify with him. For singers and actors there’s song writers and script writers. Comedians have the responsibility of writing their own jokes. Joke writing is a real profession but, it is as unheard of as “ghost writers” for rap artists. They exist but nobody talks about it. That’s why comics keep such a tight hold on their jokes. 

Becoming a stand-up comic can be a very glamorous career but, it’s not a guarantied success path. Most people would not image the stress that accompanies a job where your responsible to make people laugh. God does not discriminate with the gifts of humor. Their are comics who are drug addicts and perform in clubs to support their habits. I even worked with a comic you was in and out of jail all the time. I don’t believe that it is comedy that leads them to this life style but, I think its how easy it seems to succeed in comedy that sets up the stress. This is the stress that is found when they find out that its not that easy to make it to the top but, they have already quit their “day jobs”. Even though I have not known or heard of a comic who started killing people like in “Holla If I Kill You”, I have witnessed a few fights. With all of the pressures on becoming a comic and surviving in the world of comedy it’s like a line in the movie “doing comedy ain’t no joke”. 


“Holla If I Kill You” is good movie and a lot of fun. Check it online at www.rbgworld.com and
www.b-movie.com