Comedy Oakland Competition – A Dramady In 3 Parts

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Part 1 – The Drive

The day of the competition I was a bit apprehensive about driving in Los Angeles, let alone driving on the California highway in middle of the night.  I was told to leave by 11:00 a.m. to get there for 7:00 p.m. in Oakland.  But, surprisingly, even though it was a long weekend in California, the traffic was unbelievably smooth.  There were maybe ten minutes of slow going, if that.

What started out as a six lane freeway soon narrowed down to a two lane, divided highway that started a few miles outside of Los Angeles.  The first thing I noticed is how the speed limit signs should be renamed to read “suggested speed” only.  I was going 130km/h at times and was passed like I was standing still.  But, I must say that the drive there and back was amazing, in part because you never had to worry about any animals wandering onto the road like you do here in Saskatchewan. I mean, 130 km/hr is fast, but it felt like I was safe going that speed, you know? The drivers around me weren’t dicks and if somebody came up behind you rather quickly, you just moved into the right lane to let them by.  Amazing scenery too.

The strangest thing I noticed while driving is that there were these pockets every so often of what you’d think are towns, but in actuality is more like a business zone.  No houses, no residential development, just businesses like places to eat, hotels, gas stations and big box retailers.  There were several of these pockets throughout the drive.  It made for scenery at night when I drove back, as it’s relaxing to see a cluster of lights and stores that are open that late at night.

I also think that as Canadians, we are getting seriously screwed over on the gas milage.  For example, the trip from Los Angeles to Oakland was about six hours.  I only used half a tank of gas.  That’s it.  That same six hour trip to a city like Edmonton, and it takes a full tank.  Maybe it’s something to do with the fact as well that American gas prices are dramatically cheaper than here in Canada.  By as much as 40 cents!

Part 2 – The Competition

I know you are thinking that I didn’t include the audience voting on the Facebook Live video on purpose for a heightened dramatic effect.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, both batteries on my camcorder went dead when they were fully charged, and my phone did the exact same thing.  I guess it’s time to get new batteries for the camcorder, considering the fact I’ve had it for five years now.

However, I did manage to get the majority of the first four comics sets on video (all of the first three and about half of the last comic in the first grouping of four).

Comedy Oakland’s shows are the smoothest run and most professional shows I have been a part of.  Samson Koletkar is a gracious host.  Not only is he the MC/host, he runs the competition and greets people at the door to seat them.  He is a great host, and the crowd is very respectful, as they don’t have their cellphones out, nor do they talk amongst themselves once the show starts.  I can see why every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night shows have been sold out for 2017 so far.  That’s quite the feat considering there are long weekends thrown in the mix too.

At the back of the room you see a timer that counts up from zero to four minutes. Samson will start the clock once he is at the back of the room, so that gives the comics 5 to 10 extra seconds at the start.  You can go longer than 4:00, but usually not past the 4:20 mark (no pun intended) before he comes up on stage and boots you off. There are two groups of four comics each.  I was in the first group of four comedians.  Then all the comics are brought on stage and the audience votes by applause as to who gets to move on.

These comedians were about as diverse as you can get in terms of ethnicity, gender and personality.  Take a look at the video of the first four, and you’ll see that the audience had four completely different comedians to vote on!

When you have a six hour drive, you have lots of time to go over your four minutes. I decided that if I was going to be voted off in the first round, it would be with my best stuff.  So, I inserted two of my closers into the last two jokes of the first round. The coolest part was that I did exactly 4:00 worth of time.  That’s pretty good.

What I didn’t appreciate was being shit on by the comedian that came on after me. He did this in the middle of his set.  I was the only one who got trashed on.  It’s funny, but a comedian who does that shows me a few things.  First, it shows me their heart, who they really are.  Comedians don’t need to resort to trashing other comics on stage, ever.  Your job is to get laughs and not be a lazy comedian.  It’s sad to see that even though I travel a few thousand miles from home that one ignorant person made me feel unwelcome.  He should take a page from the host’s book and conduct himself with more professionalism and class, if he was smart enough to figure out how, but that’s asking a bit much from this dude.

The other comedians in the second group of four were just as diverse as the first four, and it made for a great competition.

Part 3 – The Aftermath

There are a few lessons I have learned from this competition.

In the USA, audiences are much more sensitive to certain material.  One comic was doing rather well, when all of a sudden in the middle of his second round set, he did a joke about a school shooting.  The room went ice cold.  Like Trevor Dean doing a racist joke cold.  He was never really able to bring the audience back around after that.  Made me realize the times we live in.

If you have a slow start, you can still turn it around.  The female comic in the second grouping started off slow, the first minute, 1:30 there wasn’t much there.  Then, I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she hit on something and gradually built up her laughs all the way to the finals.  Sometimes if you start slow up here in Canada, it’s pretty much over.  That’s the first time I’ve ever seen somebody turn their set around like that.  It was encouraging to see.

We should all aspire, as comedians, to step up our game.  The comics in Oakland delivered their material flawlessly.  It was delivered with timing, and showed their practice and dedication to the craft of stand-up.  Even the Flappers open mic on my birthday had the comedians there deliver their material with timing and showed their practice too.  The argument could be made that it’s L.A., and you gotta take your shit more seriously there.  However, as comedians we should always take it seriously and not waste our time on stage.  Be rehearsed and be professional.

Self-deprecation really does work.  My comedy coach mentioned that it works very well.  I wasn’t sure that a set where every joke is like that would work, based on the reaction mine has received thus far.  But self deprecation, misdirection and surprise seemed to be the common themes of the night for the competition.

A competition like this can build momentum.  With each round the comics moved on to, it seemed like their laughs built off of their previous round.  They created momentum after the first round and kept it going.  The audience was excited and wanted to see them back on stage, like they were saying four minutes isn’t enough! We want more!  Even if your opening joke in the second round or the finals doesn’t quite hit the mark like it should, you’ve already built up enough momentum that it will get a bigger payoff.

So, I will address the question you are probably wondering.  How did I do?

Of the first four comedians, it was between myself and the last comedian.  But he got slightly better applause during the voting than I did.  So, I got sent home with nothing.

I said that I didn’t travel all that way just to eat it on stage, and I feel like I didn’t.  I got some laughs, but I was more likeable than funny in the end.  The self-deprecating style that I’ve been honing for these last few years didn’t have quite the payoff I had hoped for, even though self deprecation seemed to be the prevailing comedy theme of the night.  Then again, getting trashed by a disrespectful comic didn’t help either.

There are plenty of comedians that have that same self deprecating style as I do, yet they seem to get a bigger payoff from the audience.  Take Richard Lewis, for example.  Or a Richard Jeni.  Okay, those are two Jewish Americans and I’m just a creepy Canadian with a Jew-like ‘fro, but you get my point.

I am almost certain that there is at least one asshole out there who will read this and enjoy the fact that I got voted off in the first round.  But let me ask you a few questions first.

Who else do you know of in Saskatchewan that would step out like this, let alone post the show live on Facebook, not knowing what will happen?  There is a reason why I have the most videos on social media of my comedy, and not all of them are killer sets either!

Why then would I risk putting that online when it’s not my best?  A few reasons are at play.  First, it gives you, the comedy fan, an accurate reference point to my growth in comedy.  Some guys only put their best stuff online, to protect their image or to build up their brand.  That’s great and all, but I would rather be authentic.  I stay true to who I am.  That’s why I never trash other comics on stage and my material isn’t vulgar or bottom of the barrel.  It’s not who I am.  I know some comics from around here that come off as caring and professional, yet they are egotistical, emotionally bruised, assholes and bullies.  I know this to be true because I’ve been subjected to their abuse on social media ever since I’ve started comedy.

I had the guts to do open mics while I was in Los Angeles, unlike other comics who vacation there.  What do you have to lose?  If you’re as big as you think you are, why not take a chance?  What are you afraid of?

I’m not slaying crowds with my comedy.  That I will readily admit to.  However, I am not afraid to try something new, to do something that nobody else is doing.  I’ve often found in this comedy journey that other comics who bash me for taking a step out like this are scared of me or just jealous that they didn’t think of it first.

I’m not afraid to try, and I’m not afraid to accept the consequences either regardless of whether I kick ass or fail.  In the end, that should be something we all can aspire to.  When you give it your best and the results don’t go according to plan, it can be discouraging.  But over time you can hold your head high and know you broke new ground.

I will make California an annual summer trip, including Comedy Oakland’s competition.  Samson has said that any comedians from the province are more than welcome to take part in his competition.  There are some comics that take years before they hit their stride and figure it out.  But in the days of social media those types of people are mocked, ridiculed and labeled as failures.  The people that rain on your parade like that are often incapable of taking on such challenges, let alone growing from the experience.

I’m not perfect.  I’m just trying to be me.  And once I do hit upon the winning formula and start knocking my shit out of the park, you’ll be able to look back on the videos that weren’t so good and say “see, here’s proof of how much he’s grown.”

That day will come.  I believe it by faith.  You just wait and see.

5 Comments

  1. Jenny
    Jun 7, 2017

    It sounds like you had a real adventure out there. I was wondering how it went. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Trevor Dean
      Jun 7, 2017

      It was an adventure, to say the least. I appreciate your interest. It was an adventure that in some aspects I’m not particularly proud of that really bother me.
      If you ever wanted a guest on your podcast who has done comedy in California, it would be fun to do, since that’s the most anyone will be hearing from me for a while. I won’t talk about it here. The only thing I brought back was frustration, disappointment and failure. This is why I unpublished my comedy page for the time being. That’s the only place you’ll find the video of the competition, and nobody is going to ever see it when my page comes back online.

      I do appreciate your comment.

  2. Nadine
    Jun 8, 2017

    I think you should write a book called the stand up diaries it’s insightful to your struggle to be recognized for what you do.

    • Trevor Dean
      Jun 8, 2017

      I’ve often thought that I should have saved all the hateful, threatening and slanderous anonymous comments I’ve been sent over the years from fake email addresses. Those could have filled a book, but I deleted them all a while ago.
      I don’t have the support like other comics around here have, so I highly doubt that anybody would give a shit to read a book about my struggles. Interesting concept for somebody more popular with a larger following though.

    • Trevor Dean
      Jun 8, 2017

      I appreciate the thought! Doubt anyone would be that interested though.

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