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Comedian

by Elliot Steingart

March 6, 2014 | 9:56 am

Right after college I moved to LA and started performing stand up. Monday nights I would hang at the bar at Barney's Beanery long enough to perform a five minutes set at 11pm. In one night I might drive from Santa Monica across town to Pasadena leaving my fate in the audience's hands. I worked in the grill room as a waiter at Braemar Country Club, and served scoops of Tuna in the West Golf Course snack bar to bring in what little money I could.  I started hosting my own shows and exchanging spots with other comics.

While most young comics new to LA were relying on open mics for stage time, I had my own show at MBAR that I controlled (most of the time). Once  Jeff Garlin berated me on stage in front of 100 people because I mistakenly gave him the light 10 minutes into his 25 minute set. Another time I contacted one of my favorite comics on Myspace to see if he wanted to drop in to my show. To my surprise he showed up, and I got the pleasure of introducing Louie C.K to the 15 people in the audience. Beyond MBAR I made elderly black folks laugh at a retirement home in Compton, headlined an hour long show at Temple Beth Israel in La Jolla. I performed twice in front of packed audiences at the World Famous Hollywood Improv, and even at a comedy club in Israel.

Many times I bombed, sometimes miserably. I couldn't land a laugh at the HaHa Cafe. My old summer camp flew me across the country to entertain 100 7th graders. The camp director told me before I took the stage that the previous year they booed the magician off the stage. I thought the Apollo was a tough crowd. That was the only show where I was forced to contend with a beach ball, and a fist fight breaking out in the front row.So much for my routine about flagpole.

At a vegan cafe I once performed in front of more cockroaches than people. There were three people in the audience one night. One of the three crossed his arms in judgement. After the first three jokes felt flat I put the mic back in the mic stand and said, “Fuck this,” and walked off stage. The host, Alex called my name to come back. I kept walking. I sent him a message the next day on Facebook apologizing for my gravitas. “Can I come back?” I asked.

I heard Jeff Garlin--the same comedian who told me if I had a comedy album it would be called “Not Ready Yet”--say it takes 10 years before a comic is any good. I put in four years and thought I was  George Carlin.

My sets weren't fluid. I mentioned how I made out with my girlfriend waiting in line at Six Flags and then jumped to a tangent about NPR not playing music. I rushed through a bit about how my polticial views are whatever the studio audience applauds at during an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher then riffed about knowing that my Persian dentist accepts HMO patients because I saw a framed photo of Dr. Ilyassi and Coolio.

When I was single my on stage persona became that of a serial dater living in house with two roommates and a pitbull. “I tried buying condoms at Whole Foods,” began one of my bits. “The only condoms they had were organic. If I wanted organic, I wouldn't use a condom.”

After working eight hours at my day job at Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters I didn't feel like driving to Skinny's Lounge in North Hollywood to do 7 minutes in front of a crowd of only comics. I found a new venue, Melgard Public House, and focused on transforming my little bar show on Melrose to become a night where I could test out new material and invite friends and comedy fans to see my favorite comics. I stopped offering gigs to comedians just to trade spots. They stopped inviting me to do their shows.

I would drink throughout the show mangling the few bits I wrote the night before. I relied more on the gimmick of handing someone a pint and calling them “Audience Member of the Night” than working at a craft I once really cared about.

It's hard to believe I haven't performed stand up in three years. The thought of performing in front of strangers today gives me the jeepers.

I convinced myself the reason I stopped performing comedy is because I no longer crave the attention of an audience--quite a statement coming from someone who counts how many people wished him happy birthday on Facebook.

I prefer a small and loyal audience. Killing these days is making three good cracks during dinner at my girlfriend's parents house. I'm still hard on myself like when I was performing. Why I did I become so quiet during dessert?


Ironically, I live walking distance to weekly comedy shows hosted at the Chinese Restaurant, Fish Taco stand, and Falafel Joint. I attend these shows from time to time half expecting to be recognized from playing the Vegan Cafe.  To relaunch my stand up career all I need to do is make a reservation. As indifferent as I feel towards audiences, I do love ethnic food.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Elliot Steingart is a Los Angeles based comedian and writer who hosts a monthly comedy show, “Melgard Mondays” at Melgard Public House. Steingart has written jokes for...

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