I didn’t want to start my own room. I really didn’t. I came to NYC with a very specific plan that included “don’t start anything, and don’t seek out any major clubs until you’ve done nothing but prioritize stage time for a year. Build an hour, then make it tighter..for a whole year.” The point was not to be seen too early, not to develop a reputation as an open micer with a business card. Etc. etc. Good plan Kaytlin.
But then I kept seeing things I wanted to do differently. I’m a natural born narcissist with the gratuitous fortune to be born an only child. Any casual acquaintance will tell you that I have a very high opinion of my own opinion, naturally. Despite that qualification, I have a background in community organizing. I am an expert at two things. Bringing people together for a project, and standing on street corners talking to strangers. After six months of barking I can tell you with some amount of authority that most up and coming comics, including those that run their own rooms, seem to have no idea how to either bring people together, or talk to strangers. Nothing is creepier to a pedestrian than a group of socially awkward men refusing to make eye contact but aggressively mumbling “free comedy show” into thin air! The other consistent problem was that I wasn’t proud to share the stage with some of these comics. They’re nice people really, but I felt like a fraud emphatically assuring suspicious tourists “yes, everyone is VERY funny!” I found the source of the problem quickly. Bookers couldn’t get “established” comics to bark because it was “beneath” them. So they hired green comics to bark, and nobody seemed to care whether those comics walked 60% of the audience. They also traded spots with other comics without any regard to the integrity of their show. Frankly, I think this is an unsustainable model. But you know what, do whatever you want. I started my own fucking room.
I didn’t want to bring any of the energy from that exploitative toxic situation, so I didn’t invite any of the people that played there. Even though there were good hard working comics also stuck in that quagmire.
I reached out to some friends at open mic’s and I spent one four minute open mic set giving a speech about my vision. A Jerry Maguire moment. I didn’t get any laughs. I didn’t start with a lot of solid idea’s, but I knew I didn’t want to share the stage with comics I didn’t believe in. I knew that I didn’t want anyone on stage who thought self promotion was beneath them, and I knew I wanted to hang out with comics who had more to say to each other than “good set” or the alternative which is avoiding eye contact.
I miraculously pulled together a team including an experienced booker Andrew Schwartztol, a PR natural Lauren Vino, an enthusiastic natural born charmer/salesman Joe Cozzello, and a comic who I had admired on the open mic scene who seemed to be philosophically “with me on these issues” Bryson Turner. They were all funny type A personalities up for a challenge. We formed the “TriBeCa Comedy Collective” and we committed to producing a weekly show at the TriBeCa Comedy Club (very creative name, right guys. BTW, It’s in TriBeCa) We also committed to having a monthly brainstorming/socializing event. We all pitched in $50, and we agreed to use the revenue from the first two shows to supplement our start up capital. We used that money to buy a microphone, pay for tickets, and fliers, and stuff we hadn’t yet thought of. Then we made each other a promise, no trading spots, no bringing on barkers who were better at barking then they were on stage, and no undermining each other. We believe in each other’s comedy, and we’re friends. We put a value on the tickets of $10, and I gave an unlimited number to the comics involved in the show, they could give them away, sell them, trade them for Tupperware…I didn’t care. But if they did sell them, they got to keep 100% of the money. I have some faith in the free market (It’s a great idea, it just doesn’t work in the real world on a national scale.) I wanted to create a space for talented young comics to support each other, I wanted to create a space where up and coming comics wanted to hang out, I wanted to create a show I felt good about promoting. I wanted to build a place a community could grow. I wanted a show that didn’t tolerate mediocrity on any level.
The afternoon of our first show I ate a whole pint of pistachio Häagen-Dazs ice cream, like you do. I distracted my stoic boyfriend, while he was at work making the economy grow, or whatever it is he does. And I played a long game of “what is the absolutely worst thing that could happen. And what can I do to stop it?”