Too Much Monkey Business
Musings on Time Wasted in the World of Stand Up Comedy

By John Saleeby
John Saleeby in better times
John Saleeby circa 1991

I was a stand up comic in the late eighties - early nineties and, HOT DAMN!, was I funny! So how come I'm not a big success like Mitch Hedberg? What? Oh, you never heard of Mitch Hedberg? The guy's a freakin' riot! But see, that's a big reason why I lost interest in stand up comedy right there - Who wants to be in a business where you can be one of the top men in your field and a virtual unknown at the exact same time? Professional Bowling is more prestigious than stand up comedy. Lap Dancing is more glamorous than stand up comedy. Writing for humor web zines is more . . . Well, maybe not, but I don't need comedy to support myself, man, I Got Da Skillz Dat Mop DA Spillz, ya know what I'm sayin'?

Another reason I got nowhere - I was really good at writing jokes and telling those jokes to an audience, I just wasn't very good at another important part of stand up the public may not know about - Talking to other comics without letting on that you want to kill them and feed their rotting corpses to the rats. See, a comic can't just walk right into the club, hop onstage, tell a few jokes, step offstage, and then go home to hang around with his nutty buddies Kramer, George, and Elaine. Noooo - Before you can finally get up to do your act you have to drag around the goddam club for three or four hours making political chitty chatter with every Tom, Dick, and Howie in the place and LAWD HAVE MUSSY! that is one hell of a tough way to spend three or four hours. Say what you will about Howard Stern, but at least he got where he is without spending the best years of his life pacing around The Improv staring at dusty old headshots of Freddie Prinze and Steve Landesberg until three o'clock in the morning. But, no matter how funny you are, if you are going to earn a living doing stand up comedy you are going to have to be One Of The Guys and by this point in my life I was getting pretty sick of The Guys. I was in my late twenties - I'd been in a frat, I'd spent four years in the US Army, I was the lead guitarist in Aerosmith while Joe Perry was out trying to have a solo career - I'd just about had my fill of hanging around with The Guys, ya know? I didn't go to New York to hang around in some smelly dive with a bunch of creeps. Hell, I'm from New Orleans, I was sick of hanging around in smelly dives by the time I learned to walk (My first step - Toward the door!).

Now, just to give you an inkling of what a dismal scene I wandered into when I began doing stand up in 1986, here is the name of the comic considered by his peers to be The Number One Most Funny Guy In All Of New York City at the time (Get ready for this one, it'll knock you flat on your back) - COLIN QUINN! Yeah, Colin Quinn, the same broken down doddering old Alzheimer's patient you saw soiling his diaper trying to do Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live before they finally wheeled him off to the nursing home. How dispiriting! I took one look at him and damn near packed up and went off to Eastern Europe to get in on the ethnic cleansing. Looking on the positive side (Something I only learned how to do after getting out of New York for a couple of years), Ray Romano was starting to break out of the pack in those days and I once made out with a French girl on the subway (Sorry, couldn't think of a second positive thing to say about stand up). Some funny guys starting out around the same time as me were Dave Attel, an A One Comedy Bad Ass who has certainly made you laugh your face off every time you've seen him on TV over the years, Jim Gaffigan, a good guy whose been in about a hundred million commercials and is now on a CBS sit com called "Welcome To New York", and this surly little prick who always pretended he didn't see me everytime I was dumb enough to say hi to him named Jon Stewart. He isn't good enough to shine Craig Kilborn's shoes for a living.

Throughout my life I have always strived to maintain as wide a distance between my immediate physical surroundings and myself as possible, a policy which may explain why I was so out of sync with these people. My big comedy heroes were John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Christopher Guest. They weren't even stand up comics! All that Neurotic New Yorker jazz like Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, and that darn Richard Lewis was nothing to me. "Seinfeld" is My Dad's Fave Show so I gotta give that some respect, otherwise I wipe my Cajun-Irish-Arab ass on that hokum. I had just gotten out of The Army, I had really long hair, I was always drinking beer and smoking pot so I put together a "Just Got Out Of The Army, Really Long Hair, Always Drinking Beer And Smoking Pot" stand up act to hopefully set myself apart from that "So what kinda schmuck eats corned beef with mayonnaise?" garbage. When in Rome do what the Vandals do, right? Consequently the response I usually got after auditioning at the major comedy clubs was "Funny act, John! Good material! I bet you'd do really well out west, down south, or in Australia! Yeah! Write some kangaroo jokes and get the hell outta here!"

So I'm a writer now, not a comic. But if chickens were snakes they'd still taste like chicken, so I have no illusions of writing for TV or the movies. Too much monkey business, as Chuck Berry wrote, too much monkey business for me to be involved in.

Hey! Here's something I bet you've never heard a stand up comic talk about - I'm such a dope I found standing onstage in front of a crowd of people that loved me every bit as uncomfortable as one that hated my guts. Now, how is that for neurotic? Of course you want the audience to laugh at every little thing that pops out of your mouth, but after a while it just gets to be suffocating, like when some sad sack has a crush on you and they say everything you do is so cute and they follow you around and call you on the phone at all hours of the night. Creepy! Sometimes I'd be up there with everybody laughing and laughing and I'd want to tell em "Hey, take it easy! It's not like it's Monty Python or Groucho Marx up here! It's only John Saleeby, for cryin' out loud! Have some perspective, awready!"

You always hear old school show biz cornballs like Tony Orlando and Nikki Sixx carry on about how much they need the love they get from an appreciative audience. Sorry, folks, I've had great parents, terrific girlfriends, cuddly housepets, and I don't that "love from an appreciative audience" shit! Jesus died on the cross for your sins but you can't sleep at night without getting called back for an encore by a room full of drunken tourists? This ain't no Love Thang we're talking about here, this is the kinda flat out gratification of your big fat ugly ol' Ego that will poison your spirit and demolish your soul quicker than crack cocaine and hard core kiddie pornography. A comic walks off of the stage after a successful performance and for the next twenty four hours it's "I am the GREATEST! I am the BEST! I am a COMEDY GOD!!! EVERYBODY KISS MY ASS!!!! BLOW ME, WORLD!!! BLOW MEEEEEEEE!!!!!" I don't know, maybe this is UnAmerican of me, but that is not an aspect of my personality that I particularly care to cultivate. We've already had too many examples of what this particular love buzz will do to the inside of a person's skull. Back in the sixties they made a gigantic fuss over a pretty good singer and just a little while ago she threw a temper tantrum because the President Of The United States wouldn't postpone a summit meeting in Red China to attend her wedding ceremony in Malibu. She could have spent all that time huffing roach spray and be in better shape.

And that's the whole enchilada in a nutshell. So, what have we learned from this experience? Show biz people are shit wrapped in skin, that's what I've learned. Don't want to be one of them, don't want to be around em, and as soon as this once proud nation comes to its senses and I am appointed All Powerful Super Supreme Absolute Dictator we are going to round em up and send em off to Death Valley where they can imagine there's no Heaven until the water runs out and we send in the Fifty Foot Atomic Mutant Black Widow Spiders.

Except for the Girl on "Two Guys And A Girl", that Shawnee Smith chick on that "Becker" show, and those twins from that "Sister Sister" sit com.

Everybody else, screw em.

P.S. Lenny Bruce was no big deal.

John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier.
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