Standup Rob Durham to Comedy Newbies: "You're Not Andy Kaufman. Stop Trying to Be."

click to enlarge New book by Rob Durham, St. Louis comic guru
New book by Rob Durham, St. Louis comic guru
Rob Durham teaches. Both by nature and he literally substitute teaches in the Clayton and Rockwood school districts.

In addition, he's been trying to school newbie comics as of late on how not to humiliate themselves. (And yes, he's also trying to make fat coin by selling a book, "Don't Wear Shorts on Stage.")

Durham has definitely earned the right to offer advice: A ten-year veteran of the industry, he spent two years as a club doorman, put in lots of road time, and has emceed and featured for big headliners such as Bob Saget and Maria Bamford.

He's opening for Dan Cummins at the Funnybone tonight through Saturday, and for Jimmy Pardo at Soulard Preservation Hall on March 16.

Daily RFT: So. Whence this book?
Rob Durham: A high school student I had taught two years ago emailed me for advice on his first open mic.  I wrote back a pretty large email that ended with, "Sorry I wrote such a book." 

I had started writing (but never even come close to finishing) several books before. But this one kept going, because I knew there was a need for it. 

Rob Durham, teacher/comic
Rob Durham, teacher/comic
Every week at open mic night at the Funnybone there are 40-50 guys who sign up and a lot of them hurt their chances because they don't know what to do.  Being a teacher, I was just frustrated. I wanted to get it through to them: There's so much more than just telling jokes for a few minutes.
It's funny, I've seen lots of new guys make all the mistakes you point out (like belittling the crowd for not laughing, etc.). Some of your advice, though concerns how to relate to fellow comics, which can be crucial for those who want to do this for a living. I noticed this passage: 
I can't stress enough how important it is to be respected by your peers. Extreme outcasts are not tolerated or helped by anyone in the business. You're not Andy Kaufman, so don't try to make it that way.
My question is: Are you being too conservative? What if we DO have the next Andy Kaufman? Do you fear you're discouraging creativity?

Anyone in Andy Kauffman's league of creativity probably won't resort to my book (or any) for instruction. 

I think experimenting is a good idea, down the road. But to be able to get stage time, a comic can't be doing things that are so over the top that the club is afraid to put him or her on stage. 

Over the years, we've had quite a few odd comics perform in some strange ways.  The problem is, they get some of the crowd to laugh at them but most of the crowd just gets confused.  When they repeat the bit the following week any "magic" that they thought they had is gone. 

While a lot of what I write has exceptions to the rules, I don't see this as one of them.  My experience has been that these oddball acts are usually done by oddball people who are impossible to have a real conversation with because they're so out there.  No one is going to insist they be on stage, they need to be able to communicate well with others.

A lot of these lessons in the book, you learned the hard way. Which was the most painful?
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