John Cantu on Stevens:
“My MC was a problem. After a few weeks I replaced him with another comic but when Warren had to go into Kaiser for an emergency appendicitis operation I just pointed to a newcomer and said, You're the MC tonight. This guy looked like a frail choir boy but he turned out to be tough as a $2 dollar steak. That was the start of my friendship with Don Stevens.
Don Stevens is extraordinary erudite and I love his stuff (how many comics do chunks based on Thor Hyerdahl’s Kon Tiki raft trips, Jean-Paul Sartre, and The Louisiana Purchase?)”
Comedy Club Diaries is a backstage real-world look at comedy club life written by professional comedians. We started this miscellaneous series of essays with a delightful one written by Don Stevens who was the house MC when John Cantu was co-owner and producer of shows at the legendary (at least in the US) San Francisco comedy club, the Holy City Zoo.
The Zoo became a hangout for performers and often comics would stop by to do free guest shows before or after they headed out to paying gigs. Drop in visitors included: Robin Williams, Kevin Pollack, Jackie Mason, Jay Leno, Eric Idle, Freddie Roman, and more. Don Stevens introduced them all at one time or another
Stevens' essays were published at monthly intervals and were written by Stevens unbidden. Essays by other comedians were interspersed from time to time.
Clarification notes are identified by an introductory Cantu note: and when you see that remember this material was NOT in the original essay and only Cantu bears responsibility for that content.
An insider's view of the world of comedy clubs.
Written by comedians & published here in Comedy Club Diaries
All rights reserved. You must request permission to reproduce this material in any manner whatsoever.
- Running the Holy City Zoo Comedy Club's Open Mike - by Don Stevens
You want the job from hell? Be the producer of an open mike where you have to deal with 40 comedians constantly in your face asking, 'When am I going on!' and they're all convinced you're sabotaging their career because you didn't give them the most desired spot of the night.
- Running a Comedy Club - by Don Stevens
When Cantu was running the Holy City Zoo comedy club he had a very strict rule: no heckling allowed. He had too much respect for the time it takes to prepare an act to allow some imbecile to interrupt a comic's timing
- "Keep it Clean!" Rules Are Guidelines - by Don Stevens
Cantu had always taught in his classes - Don't swear on stage. There's no need for it.
- Why Are YOU Sabotaging My Career - by Don Stevens
Edwards was so incensed he called Letterman to explain the outrage of having to put up with Cantu... Letterman said, 'Frankly, Jim, he's right, and you're wrong.' That's one thing to Edwards' credit. He had the integrity to relate that story to Cantu and admit he had been wrong.
- Mistakes Comedians Too Often Make Part 1 - by Don Stevens
Cantu was trying to teach us that most performances, most stage personae, most new material, almost by necessity, are diamonds in the rough, and if you do not work on the nuts and bolts, your act won't go anywhere.
- Mistakes Comedians Too Often Make Part 2 - by Don Stevens
This is what I learned from Cantu when I was a young, uninformed (read: ignorant) full-of-myself, beginning comic: Don't blame the audience. If you bombed, concentrate on what you need to do to get your material over to them.
- A Comedian Talks Himself INTO Trouble.- by Don Stevens
Larry, being a new-found smug comedian, started performing for us.
- Reading Your Audience Part 1- by Don Stevens
In stand-up comedy (or public speaking), you have to learn how to read your audience. Which follows from knowing your audience...
- Reading Your Audience Part 2 - by Don Stevens
If you do not respect your audience enough to know about them, don't do the gig. Never go before an audience, be it comedy, business, pot-luck party, if you plan on speaking, and not know who you might offend.
- The Best of Comedy / The Worst of Comedy - by Don Stevens
I feel my lines from my point of view are probably three times less funny than any of the lines of these three comics whom I idolize - - - BUT - - - I now get three times the laughs that I used to get.
- So You Wanna Be a Comedian? - by Paul Giles
Looking like you know what you're doing on stage goes a long way toward having a good set your first time up. To do that, here are a few things to remember that may help you get through this rite of passage without too much trauma.
- Creativity: Inspiration for and Execution of - by Don Stevens
Having spent years in comedy clubs, I am fascinated by performing arts and behind-the-scene observations...
- Comedy - What Works Here Can Work Anywhere? - by Don Stevens
Stevens' essay illustrates why material dealing with sensitive topics is so risky. This essay is neither about religion nor racism. The entire focus of the essay is actually on that old bug-a-boo of writers: Simply trying to find the RIGHT word...
- Going from Toastmasters Clubs to Comedy Clubs - by Vince Keats, CTM
Recently I have taken the plunge into the wacky world of stand up comedy. Cantu has graciously asked me to write a column describing the similarities and differences between Toastmasters and Open Mike Comedy Clubs.
- Comedy Outside the USA - Edited by John Cantu
Jay Leno once said that standup is a 15-year program. Everyone wants to jump that, but you can't. You have to put that much time in.
- Cantu's One Big Mistake at the Holy City Zoo - by Don Stevens
Cantu, Rebecca Erwin and I would work in running the comedy club from around 2:00 PM to 2:00 AM seven days a week. None of us had a social life; none us had a chance to date. But we did get perks to make up for that and our low salary - if we got paid...
- Comedy Technique: Reconnaissance - by Terry Williams
If I'm booked at a venue I've not been to before, I always check it out in person if I can. Often I'll go incognito as an audience member.
- Pay Attention to All Criticism; There's Value in it - by Don Stevens
Whether you are a public speaker or a comedian - pay attention to how people perceive you.
- Letting people know about your talent - by John Cantu
You wouldn't think anyone as big in the entertainment industry as Jay Leno or Kenny Rogers need to do something for nothing, but they do. You have to keep letting people know about your talent. And taxis drivers answer a lot of WHAT'S GOOD IN TOWN questions from visitors.
- The Making of a Humorist - Rituals - by Don Stevens
Most comics are influenced by one or more successful comedians. And it is quite common for the newbie to adopt the mannerisms (i.e. rituals) of the star. But too many comics I see in clubs and on TV are still using someone else's rituals. So their words and gestures comes across as rote, pat, and bland and essentially unexciting.
- Are Certain Comics Being Targeted Because They're Too Brilliant? - by Jeff Kreisler
Preventing Thefts of Comedy Bags from Cars
- Secrets - On Becoming A Stand Up Comic Part 1 - by Becky Donohue
Your audience has no obligation to remember you, but rather you have a obligation to make sure they don't forget you.
- Secrets - Producing Your Own Show Part 2 by Becky Donohue
How do you fill a room? Start a mailing list. I don't know why all entertainers don't create these automatically.
- How Be an Open Mic Comedian... Forever! - by T.Mike
After living here in Los Angeles and attending many, many open mic nights and listening to many, many stand up comedians, I have decided to distill my accumulated knowledge into the following handy guide for anyone who wishes to perform stand up comedy at open mic nights.
- The Open Mike Comedian's Mantra - by Don Stevens
Cantu was performing a service for amateur comics by running the open mikes. He did it because he loved comedy, he loved teaching it, and he loved coaching them. Billy Farley told me, Nobody... nobody is better at helping comics than Cantu. Everybody went to him for advice.
- "The King of Comedy" NOT - by Don Stevens
How many times have beginning comics bought good jokes from professional writers and then complain that the jokes DIDN'T GET LAUGHS! Because THE COMIC didn't know how to deliver them, or worse, they EDITED them to make them FUNNIER...
- Comediennes I've Loved - by Michael Bass
At the start of every class, I scan the faces and wonder: Are you the one? The one who will so stand out that I remember your face for years? Michael Bass was just such a person. He went on to write for many comedians including Bob Hope and Pat Paulson.
- Comedy and Camus: Comics On The Road Part 1 - by Jeremy Beth Michaels - a woman's view point
My dad taught me that humor is a tool, a medicine, a broken heart mender and great way to influence people to either think like you do or at least make them ponder what you think about, if only for a minute.
- Comedy and Camus. Comics On The Road Part 2 - by Jeremy Beth Michaels
- a woman's view point: Women are constantly having to prove they're funny, whereas men seem to get more stage time because of the fact that they are male. I do sense women can progress in this field too with determination - - - and - - - courage - - - and a lot of makeup.
- "Is Comedy More Difficult for Female Comics?" - NO!!! - by Mike Loder
- a man's view point: Comedy is cruel and in a close industry we all know where we stand in status week by week re our individual ability
- T. Bubba Bechtol -Speaker Turned Professional Comedian - an interview by June Cline
People will forget what you say, they will forget what you do for them, but people will never forget how you make them feel. Laughter makes them feel great in both arenas, and if you make them 'feel it' they never forget you in either one!
- George Lindsey "Mayberry RFD's" Goober an interview by June Cline
The job comes first, then the character is developed as the confidence comes. I spent four years on The Andy Griffith Show, three years on Mayberry RFD, and 22 years on Hee Ha. That's where I developed Goober as a character.
- You Should Do Commercials! - by Joe Ditzel
It is important to know yourself so you can predict how casting agents will see you...
- Robin Williams - at a Loss for Words - by Don Stevens
There are intelligently aware comics, but since they aren't the norm, I didn't think of them off-hand right away. Robin is in the shy and then aware comics. He's either performing, or, you wouldn't even know he's there.
- Tom Finnigan... Comedy Writer Extraordinaire! - by Don Stevens
Finnigan is absolutely the best comedy writer ever to come out of San Francisco. On a whim, he sent two pages of his material to the Tonight Show when Carson was still there, and got hired. He went from being paid $5 an hour to making $200,000 a year.
- Comedians - The Jokes On THEM! - Edited by John Cantu
Why did the comic cross the road? Never mind, you wouldn't get it anyway.