podcom becky donohue

Post 4: The Death of Live Entertainment

Stand up comedy has changed a lot over the years.  I know this because when you are a comedian you will constantly hear about stand up comedy’s “heyday” and that heyday was the roaring 80s.  From the way it’s been described to me, every comedian who is at my level (currently) – a feature or a headliner – was making a killing working the club scene.  The money was pouring in.  The kings – Robin Williams, Andy Kaufman, David Letterman, Wood Allen, etc, were all running around New York city playing show after show and doing line of cocaine after line of cocaine off of a showgirl’s breasts.  It was high times, from what everybody says.  I wouldn’t know since I was around ten in the 80s.  I didn’t start comedy myself until the late 90s.

 

robin williams

 

By then, comedy was dead.  That’s what some people said.

 

In the 90s, into the new millennium, that’s how you often heard comedy described.

 

“It’s dead.  Comedy’s dead.  Television killed comedy.”  The comedy market is saturated – too many comedians and too many clubs.  The problem – not enough audience members to attend them.  Plus, why would people even leave the house to see a show when they can watch as many comedians as they want on television in the very comfort of their own home?

 

When I was coming up (I guess I’m still coming up?) that’s what I was told again and again.  Television was why comedians were making less and less money on the road.

 

Then came the internet and all hell broke loose.

 

Now, there are guys that are famous on the internet.  If you only watch television, you don’t know who in the hell they are.  It has changed the game.  Prior, you worked your way up the comedy club ranks by becoming a “draw.”

 

youtube star

this guy may be famous…

 

A draw means that the club can put your name in the paper and your name is so recognizable that merely the mention of your name sells out all the shows within days.  Usually, you had to be on television to become a draw and you had to be on television a lot.  Typically that meant you had your own tv show like a Seinfeld or a Tim Allen.  Not anymore.  Now you can make thousands of youtube videos and “draw” at a comedy club.

 

It’s kind of amazing.  And, quite frankly, I’m all for it.

 

Anything that kills the “gatekeepers” – the industry people, the casting types, who are often very nervous about “promoting” a comedian unless everyone else is promoting them, anything that kills that scenester/ popular among the very few / schmooze fest and puts the “burden” of choosing or “promoting” who is funny on the audience is a GOOD THING.  The audience should be the final answer and not an executive who only likes white guys or Asian girls.  That ain’t right.

 

There’s only one problem with the youtube and comedy linked tsunami that’s currently happening and that is the question of – is it killing live entertainment?

 

Let me explain.

 

Another way comedians make money is through the University circuit.  Universities, unlike comedy clubs, have HUGE budgets for student affairs programs.  More importantly, if they don’t use that money each year, they lose it.  So, universities need to book acts – musicians, comedians, jugglers, hypnotists, speakers, etc.  They need us to fill out a school’s programming calendar.

 

If you are a live act, you need an agent that specializes in the college market for this type of work.  I have one of those.  Now, truth be told, I find myself moving out of this market.  I’m not sure I’ve had much success in it, to begin with, at all, to be quite frank.  Sure, there have been years where I have booked a string of colleges and spent a couple of weeks driving from school to school making a decent amount of money.  There were other years were I barely made a thing through the university channel.

 

There are a couple of reasons for this…

 

1)  I just may not be the right act for that market.

 

2)  (…and #2 is linked to #1) Colleges and universities have become too PC.

 

Let’s talk about #2 for a second.  The PC nature of colleges, currently, disturbs me.  In my mind, our schools of higher learning should be breeding grounds for radical thinking and new ideas.  They are not.  Often, our schools have become institutions of whining.  Anything, even if it’s pro this or that thing, is automatically deemed offensive at the mere mention of the word.  At the mention of the word!

 

For example, talking about any type of minority can often be misunderstood as “offensive.”  Talking about sex, talking about drugs, talking about voting or political parties, talking about sexuality or gender, using colorful language – all of these things are now topics that can be considered atom bombs for comedians performing at universities.  To be safe, we mostly just keep them out of our acts when doing a school.

 

So, what topics does that leave university-working comedians?  Well, mostly we get to talk about highlighter pens and how shitty their dining hall food is.  In my opinion, this type of performance also equals BOOOOORING!

 

The problem is that this type of watered-down comedy is, to me, the exact antithesis of what good comedy can be and that is – transformative, transcendent, and provocative.

 

Transformative, transcendent, and provocative is exactly why I got into comedy.  Disarming someone on a thorny issue through the power of humor has always been a thrilling experience for me.

 

podcom

 

However, last night, I performed at a school and something new happened.  Something all together different.

 

As I walked into the sparsely populated showroom, 12 students sat there holding out forms.  The program director was signing them.

 

I asked what the forms were all about…

 

Credit.

 

The students were in essence receiving “credit” for attending a comedy show.

 

As if seeing live entertainment and new ideas, is now a CHORE that must be forced upon people.  As if seeing live comedy is now something that has to be stomached with a chaser to rid yourself of the taste like a bad medicine.

 

What the hell has happened to us?

 

To me, there is nothing more compelling than the tight rope experience of live performance.  The exchange of emotion and ideas between a performer and a room full of strangers is a completely unique one, but NOT when you’ve been pulled away from your dysfunctional attachment to your tiny screens and forced to watch a tradesman (a craftsperson, quite literally) who has honed his or her skill over thousands of live performances, not when you’re FORCED to watch him or her.  When you’re forced, if you don’t want to be there, in my opinion, the whole beauty of the thing dies.

 

Listen, my show last night was great.  Those twelve kids had a good time AND received “credit” for attending.  I’m not saying the credit kills the experience.  It didn’t.  But, I am saying the IDEA of having to exchange “credit” for attending a live performance, something which I think can be a life affirming moment, well, that just leaves me cold.

 

What do you think?

 

And be honest…

 

When was the last time you went out to see a live show?

 

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Sweet Mother is updated daily on the quest to 365 posts, only 80 or so left!  If you’d like to follow this blog, you can do so by clicking the “follow” button at the top of the page.

 

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Photo creds:

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robin williams, youtube

 

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51 thoughts on “Post 4: The Death of Live Entertainment

  1. We were at a show last Tuesday and will be seeing Bobby Slayton tomorrow night. I think that when the venue, the crowd and the performer are working together you have a rare combination that is hard to beat. Market saturation makes it even tougher to compete for repeat business.

    1. i couldn’t agree more, allan, on both points. i’m so glad that you go and see live comedy. there is some REALLY good live comedy up in the bay area. i play there once a year myself. i’ll let you know the next time that i do. and that bobby slayton is a funny man… xo, sm

  2. Last year we had tickets to see Dana Carvey at the Win Star casino about an hour away in Oklahoma. I was so excited to go with another couple for that show. Alas, I was unable to go. My son used my ticket and went with my husband and the other couple. It was when my friend passed away and I traveled there instead.
    About nine years ago, my uncle had tickets to see Seinfeld in Colorado. We found them in his personal belongings when we were called to his home by the coroner. Alas, he didn’t get to see the show. It would have been awkward to enjoy the show using a dead man’s tickets. So, we gave them to some friends who didn’t know him. Comedy isn’t dead our sense of humor is.

    Sweet Mother, I bet you killed. Of course, it might not be PC to say that anymore. :)

    1. addendum: it was the weirdest thing, tonight Jon informed me that he recorded Dana Carvey’s HBO set. we watched it. some of it I’d seen before, but he is so hilarious. Right now we don’t live in an area with much opportunity for live entertainment, but whenever we have the chance, YES we go to the theater to see live performances and I think as long as there are people willing to put themselves out there, there will be people like us who want to see the show. God SM, you are courageous. I think you are awesome.

      1. honie, you are wonderful. period. i’m not sure what i do is so courageous, but i do TRULY love the live exchange that can happen with an audience when people are truly listening and truly there for the show, it can be an amazing experience. wifesy and i try to go and see music too, since she’s an ex musician, but i wish we saw more to be honest… xo

    2. wow, that is a crazy story, honie. and yet, it renews my faith in humanity somehow. so thank you for telling me it. i so understand you not going to that particular show tho, i wouldn’t have either… xo, sm

  3. I saw Kevin Smith when I was at UC Berkeley and he was awesomely un-PC. He even smoked on stage for the entire show. My perspective is that the college administrations are over-the-top PC while the student body is far more provocative and outgoing.

    1. i think there is truth there, lyssa. but, i will say this — the administration is the one that pays us. so, you can un-pc it, have a great set, enjoy yourself, and STILL not get asked back because it ruffled the admin’s feathers. this i know for sure. i’m glad kevin did that tho. i did too the other night. but, i’m at a place where i no longer care too much about the college market for the reasons that i described above. xo, sm

  4. I am a one person advertisement for live entertainment. I am constantly telling people to go see some LOCAL acts. Not the big names! Go see the ones that you never heard of. You will not be disappointed. This is true for not only stand up (but I happen to love that), but also music, storytelling, plays ect. Get over the hipster shit that you have to brag to someone that you saw so and so famous and start bragging that you went to see a total unknown.

    There is nothing like the live experience. Nothing. To feel the energy of the room is fantastic. The human interaction is missing is in so much of our lives today. That makes it important that we make a real effort to connect with things like live entertainment. Time to lose the ear buds and get connected with each other.

    To answer your question I went to a show this past Friday night. Chris Coccia, Sonya King and Marc? Sorry cannot remember his last name. GREAT show. Very small but happy audience. Chris Coccia is fun and works a ton in DC, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Philly area. Sony King was great loved her.

    1. Well said. I totally agree and go out to see local shows here in Austin, TX as often as possible. Plus most are like $5. How can you beat that?

    2. i feel like i know chris. or at the very least, i know the name. i think it’s so cool and IMPORTANT that you do that joanne. people have no idea how many really SOLID comedians there are in this country who are completely unknown to the general public. sometimes they’re doing some really cool and original sh*t too. truly, you just warmed my heart. xoxox, sm

  5. Teen went to see a play at school for credit. I remember going to see every play we put on and loving it. Alas, Teen does not agree. The last comedy show I paid to see was Kathy Griffin a couple of years ago. I had nosebleed seats, but it was still amazing.

    1. i DO wonder if it’s a generational thing. i hope it’s not because i think you lose out when you only watch things on a screen and never take in a live performance. maybe it’s just a phase for teen? anyhoo, seeing kathy live is awesome. i’ve had the pleasure of seeing her a couple of times in small venues and she’s just drop dead funny. i’ve also met her a couple of times and she’s totally pleasant and exactly what you see on stage, which isn’t always the case with huge names. anyway, you have very good taste in comedy, fishes. ;) sm

  6. Oh goodness. When I was at university we were given credits for attending seminars and concerts too. We were actually required to attend a certain amount of each every semester. It was a way to guarantee that there would be a good number of students at each speaker’s/performer’s presentation and to make sure we were attending events that were “appropriate” to our programs.

    I have to say, that as an undergraduate, I probably wouldn’t have gone to any of the events at my school if it weren’t for that (graduate was a whole different story I went to everything I could). That’s not to say that I didn’t want to go to live performances! I just didn’t want to go to the ones at school. The ones that I went to outside of school were far more exciting and way more “up my alley” so I preferred them greatly.

    1. it is probably because of the ‘pc problem’ that i talked about above, that’s probably why you didn’t like them. i find these programming boards are constantly booking things that won’t ‘offend’ instead of stuff that is good, shakes you up, makes you think, and makes you belly laugh. i hate that about the university circuit. tho, i would agree wholeheartedly, the best shows are in little bars somewhere that people find out about through the grapevine… in my opinion, anyway. i’d love to see you do your thing live sometime too. if you ever play in la, give me a holla. xoxo, sm

  7. The last live show I saw was also my first: Gabriel Iglesias. February, 2010 in Austin, Texas. The next show I aim to attend is one starring some funny lady by the name of Donohue. From what I hear, she’s sure to be featured on Comedy Central next year. I look forward to seeing her show.

    Now to get to Los Angeles…

    1. i’ve been on comedy central – premium blend, tough crowd with colin quinn, and shorties watchin’ shorties – all back when i gave a sh*t. loooll. see, you missed me. it’s so easy to do when there’s comedy on every frickin’ channel ALL the time. but, i am flattered, foster, that you or anyone would take the time to see me at all. but, you in particular. ;) so, how was iglesias? i don’t know his comedy that well… xo, sm

      1. Why me in particular?

        He was hilarious. Had me and my then gf laughing our asses off. My ribs were aching. He even pulled out some of his classics from his specials.

        Speaking of which, where can I find some of your stuff? I wanna see it before I come out there.

      2. because you interact like a real person on here and i think that’s a rarer quality on the internet than people realize and as such, i like you. if you youtube ‘becky donohue’ or ‘rebecca donohue’ you’ll get my stuff. or easier still, go to http://www.beckydonohue.com and hit ‘videos’. it’s a pretty old, static, site of mine, but the videos are decent. xo, sm

  8. I’m probably the wrong person to comment here because I very, very rarely go out, even just for a dinner, but I know we have comedy festivals here in Australia, and if the broadcasts afterwards are anything to go by, they are really well attended. They are seen as a ‘great night out’. However if you compare the numbers going to a comedy festival to the numbers going to a live music event…. I’d say it’s like hundreds compared to tens of thousands.

    I wonder what would happen if you video-d all your shows and made them available online?

    1. i am totally going to video some of my new shows. there is some of my stand up from scotland and new york currently online. the melbourne comedy festival is one of the best in the world. i would love to do it someday. it’s one of the few that i haven’t done as of yet. i also find aussies to be great audience members for the most part. in the uk, i craved them because they laugh out loud and respond, sort of like americans. where the brits tend to be more reserved. don’t get me wrong, the brits will laugh or tell you they hate you when they do, but there were times that i wanted to cry out, “JUST BLOODY LET IT OUT ALREADY!!!!” and there were times when in fact i did say that… looool. xo, sm

      1. Oh I’m so pleased Mum! Could you link to the site where you put your shows up so it’s easy to find? And I’m chuffed that the Melbourne Comedy Festival has a good reputation overseas. I knew the one in Edinburgh was huge but I thought ours was just a little backwater. If you ever make it out here I’ll stop being a hermit long enough to come and cheer you on!

  9. First off, I love when you talk about your stand up, as I’ve stated before I try to get to at least a couple of shows a month, not including open mics or shows I’m on. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than seeing someone share their thoughts in front of a group of strangers and making them laugh. I think it’s the purest form of entertainment Great read. my friend One question: Do they get extra credit if they wind up snorting while laughing at a joke? Because that’s the best!

    1. billsy, i like talking about stand up from time to time for sure because truthfully i am very goddermned opinionated about it. looool. i also believe that it can be one of the purest art forms when done right. i mean all it is is one man (or lady) and one mic and that’s it and sometimes that person entertains thousands at once. that’s kind of amazing when you think about it… xo, sm

  10. I personally enjoy going to improv shows because there will usually be a wide variety of different comedians with varying material that hopefully tickles everyone’s fancy. In fact, I’ve been bringing hoards of people to those shows (think 5-10). I guess there hasn’t been a comedian that I’ve been itching to see because like you said, I can just get that online. I’d love to see one of your shows though! :P I always enjoy attending things that have more meaning to me than just some random famous person.

    1. i think you make a great point there, vy. it’s nice to go and see a person that you almost feel like you “know.” that’s why a lot of these youtube guys are really making it because much like blogging, they’re forming a relationship with their subscribers and their frequency and quality of content. i’ve always liked watching good improve too… the upright citizens brigade of which amy poehler came out of was always my fave to see live… xo, sm

  11. We get quite a number of comedians in Orlando, both big and small. My favorite, Brian Regan has never come here. That makes me sad. I do get most of my comedy fix from iHeart radio as they have a stand up comedy channel.

    1. yep, orlando is a great place to see comedy and there are some great clubs out that way. you also have very good comedy taste because brian regan is one of my faves. there have been a few people who have said my stand up reminds them of him… i’ve never quite seen that comparison myself tho. however, i did have a college agent (before my current one) who said to me in a greenroom before a show, “Yeah, i smoked crack with brian regan once…” it was so odd to me that brian had a) done some crack even once and that b) my crazy agent was saying this out loud. i left her company shortly after that… looool. sm

  12. Once again, my attempt at clicking the “Like” button was unsuccessful.

    As far as comedy, my last show attended was a couple of years ago, at an Atlantic City casino. I didn’t see any comedians back in my college days, but I have no doubt that the college scene today is too PC for its own good.

    Maybe the lack of tolerance of diverse performers and opinions will spark a hunger in college students to move beyond PC and eventually demand more from performers than mediocre sit-coms offer.

    Maybe not. Maybe college students and lots of other folks will just spend all their time watching people on youtube and elsewhere do funny things

    1. i think it’s all moving towards youtube and other online things like you’ve said. i hate that. i mean i like it when it helps people grow an audience, but i don’t love it if it kills the live performance. the colleges are so pc now that it literally almost sickens me. it’s why i prefer to work clubs and small bars and theaters. uuuuuuugggggh, i have to look into that ‘like’ button issue. i’m being so lazy about it. hope you are well, 1pt. xo, sm

      1. For reasons unknown, WordPress has deactivated my blog and I cannot access any of it. I have written several times seeking clarification without success. All 124 of my posts are no longer accessible to me, and I cannot write new ones. Apparently they see nothing wrong with suspending a blog on a Sunday morning without having any staff available to explain what happened. I have no idea if I’ll ever get back on here.

        I’ve enjoyed (hopefully) entertaining my readers and being enlightened by other writers. I hope to be back on here as soon as possible with a new post I just wrote this morning.
        I’m not optimisitic this will be resolved, as it has been quite some time since the suspension and no one has contacted me to resolve it.

        My actual name is David Lovett. If this doesn’t get fixed, please be on the lookout for the novel which I’m writing. Without a blog to post on, I’ll finally have the time to finish it.

        Love you, miss you.

        Dave

  13. I am fortunate, my very first live comedy was Richard Pryor back in the late 70’s in Vegas or LA, I don’t remember. These days I will sometimes go to a Burlesque club here in town, but I am uncomfortable in crowds and out late at night. We still go to Vegas and still go to the shows there as well. I love live entertainment!

    1. you saw richard pryor??!!!!!!!!! supern*gger was one of the first comedy albums i ever owned. i think that is so goddermn cool. i hear you about going out late at night to clubs. it’s all people who are 14, which kind of sucks. burlesque can be really cool. wifesy and i want to go see some good burlesque here, but we have yet to. people say crazy things about vegas, but i loved playing there. and quite frankly everyone who is big plays there eventually. xoxo, sm

    1. you are another one with exceptional comedy tastes. chris titus is a bit of a genius in my opinion and highly underrated. he also had a great tv show back on fox way back when that i also think was underrated. i’ve worked with him a couple of times back in new york and i think a lot of the stuff he does is truly original. you should check out todd glass too if you ever get the chance. xoxo, sm

      1. Titus is an absolute genius! I wish I was a quarter as good as he is. Totally underrated.

        We loved “Titus” with Stacy Keach playing his father. Hysterical. Absolutely hilarious; we never missed it.

        When will you next be in Santa Monica performing? I will come–alone if I have to…something I never do. (My H usually hates for me to be out alone, especially after dark, so I stay home more than I really want.) This is one change I really need to make. Seeing you perform live is the incentive I need.

  14. I saw comedy shows in college – never got credit for them and they were never PC – I haven’t been to live show in a couple of years. Saw some sets in Denver and it was just great being in a club seeing it live with the audience interaction. I grew up in Vegas and had the good fortune to see some of the old timers live – not in clubs but in showrooms. There’s nothing better than seeing someone take on a heckler and take them down. You can’t experience that on YouTube

    1. “there’s nothing better than seeing someone take on a heckler and take them down. you can’t experience that on youtube.” such a great statement and oh no you can’t. that is best seen and experienced up close and personal. loool. i think you were lucky that your college shows weren’t pc. and there are still some schools that don’t care and those shows are ALWAYS the best. but, the rest of them have turned a really stupid corner. comedy is meant to push buttons and i don’t mean taking people down or offending a wide array of people. i mean pushing boundaries so people think about things a little bit more. at least that’s what the comics i’ve always admired really do well. much love, artsy, much love. xoxo, sm

      1. I think I mostly thought of comedy as entertainment – but I see how often boundaries are pushed or ideas are shared – humor really disarms people. It’s a wonderful vehicle.

  15. I confess I haven’t seen a live show in some time. My comedic entertainment pretty much comes from you … right here … and a Russel Peters CD I have in my car. The fact that they are now giving credit for an evening of entertainment and laughing does seem bizarre. Is that how they get them to take in Shakespeare or Andrew Lloyd Webber? It seems they would have to.

  16. Mama, I am going to link back to this because you got me thinking. It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to put in time for a good write. (And I don’t count the time I am waiting for my video to upload on YouTube. If you like Aerosmith, you have to stop by my blog and see it.) I love your thoughts on this!

    Yes! College is waaay to PC. We only can form our opinions on a topic when those opinions are challenged. We find our vigor from our interpretation of what we’ve seen. I love live shows, and if I had more time (and a less expensive babysitter) I would see them often.

    I am pretty sure that the biggest blow dealt to comedy was Slade Smiley. Just sayin’… ;)

  17. I desperately wanted to go see Trevor Noah when he was in joburg but he sold out so quickly we didn’t get a chance.

    My biggest issue with live comedy is that some comedians have a set topic that they rehash over and over which just gets boring. I also thing too many comedians try to be too offensive, too provocative and end up standing on stage swearing at the audience. Again boring!

    When was the last time I saw live comedy? About 5 years ago. SA doesn’t have that much of a comedy scene and there is only so much of Barry Hilton and his clones that one person can take.

  18. I LOVE live comedy shows! My partner and I went to see Dave Gorman and before that I went to see Dylan Moran and honestly thought I was going to die laughing! Unfortunately money’s an issue with us and seeing live acts (also the spawn tends to require people to keep her away from the dangerous things).

    There’s a comedy area at the Latitude festival we used to go to, but I was bitterly disappointed by one comedian I had been looking forward to seeing all year when he did exactly the same set he had done the year before when we first saw him. To the extent that I could quote him word for word and with all the pauses (unfortunately for him I have an exceptionally good memory for things like that!). I realise it’s hard work but is a whole year too short a time to come up with a new half hour set?

    1. ah, i saw dave gorman in new york myself. i loved his one man show. it was the one where he goes and finds a whole other series of dave gormans the world over… thoroughly enjoyable. as far as the fellow who repeated his stuff the next year. i think this is quite common with comics. and it CAN take more than a year to come up with new material that is good. i tend NOT to do this, simply because i get bored of my material myself and because i improvise a lot. but, i have sympathy for guys who hone the same stuff year after year after year. it makes their stuff REALLY strong, but then of course there’s the “i’ve already heard that” problem. very interesting commentary, rinkungfu. xoxo, sm

  19. Argh, I’ve been trying to reply to this post for over 24 hours but have been stuck at a customer site, a defense contractor outside of Washington DC, very secure site, super Secret Squirrel dontcha know (gag me!). Now that I’m home and free to roam about the internet, I have a few comments. First of all, I don’t believe that live entertainment/comedy is dead or dying. We’ve been to Second City in Chicago many times, along with Zanies several times and the room are always packed. Zanies, like many comedy clubs I’m sure, has a lot of amateur nights where local ‘celebs’ try their hand at stand-up. I’ve seen some really funny stuff…and some really bad stuff. And I have to agree with someone who commented above about going local, local, LOCAL! I started going to comedy clubs in college (NOT for credit but for drinking, laughing and to be honest, to try to hook up with somone) and my first comedian to see live was Bill Cosby on a family trip to Vegas (yes, a FAMILY trip to Vegas, go figure!). It was the early 1980s. And any time I can see Louie Anderson, I go. He was in the Chicago area a couple of years ago and he was as good as ever. Regarding performing at colleges and universities, you said something about highlighters and crappy dining hall food material that make for boring performances. Well, I wish I could post a picture here of one of the vending machines at the university my youngest attends. Maybe you can get to this link? https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150723602007258&set=a.10150362464867258.395356.658677257&type=3&theater
    My husband (Mr. Conservative) was appalled. I, on the other hand, thought, “That’s brilliant! Don’t hide the condoms in the bathroom; put ’em in the vending machine in the student union building where you can get your highlighters and ChapStick!”

  20. Wow, have things changed. The only time I went and saw a lot of live comedians was when I was in college. That was the thing to do. Otherwise you were left with movies or bars that were just for drinking. None of the acts were about actually being in college. Why would we want that? That’s what we did every day. We wanted a break. Comics that dealt with life and sex and non-pc stube BECAUSE there was already to much PC going on was what went over big. That was 5 years ranging through the mid 1990’s. It seemed like it was a great time for live comedians. Or maybe it was because it was in NOrth Idaho. Maybe we were just behing the times in everything.

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