Ooooo. This post is about to get controversial! Hang tight!
Okay, so this weekend I happened to be lucky enough find a very hip and "with it" black comedy group, The Neighborhood Watch. They've been in existence for almost two years. They have garnered a small following and are looking to make some waves in the near future.
The director is David Lester, who befriended me immediately, after I performed for the first time at his weekly open mic on Tuesday nights at The Five Spot in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
...If you don't believe racism still exists, then I pity you...
A few days later, we get to talking about the most controversial issue in comedy: Being a black comic and playing a black room versus playing a white room. It's a major issue in comedic development.
A little bit of history: Black rooms are called the Chitlin circuit. That circuit was named this because of the popular southern black cuisine, Chitterlings.
Because of Jim Crow laws and your basic garden-variety segregation, great black artists/musicians (Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Little Richard, James Brown, Ray Charles, AND JIMI HENDRIX) needed to travel to distinctly black clubs in order to perform for them. Because white people sure as hell weren't going to sit next to "the help" while trying to enjoy "the help"'s performance on stage.
...black/white dynamic directly goes into crafting a career as a comedian...
(And guess what, folks? They still exist today. Yeah, along with racism. If you don't believe racism still exists, then I pity you.)
Anyway, this whole black/white dynamic directly goes into crafting a career as a comedian. It's to our advantage.
To make it easier, let's just go through the Pros and Cons of each circuit.
Benefits of playing a black club:
- It doesn't cost anything to get on stage (no drink minimum, no drink tickets, no $5-$7 to get on stage.)
- Once you're established, you always get paid! (And payment equates to anywhere from $50 - $200, depending on the show)
- If you can play a black club, you will kill at a white club. (Again, this requires a small adjustment in delivery, but minor if any at all.)
- It's easy for comedians who play the black circuit to get stuck and remain in this circuit. (I'm purposely not saying "black comedians" in this line. The very first person/comedian I met on the black circuit just happened to be white had been in the business for 5 years. He also is a staple in the black clubs in NYC.
- Black clubs are not located anywhere central. Usually they are a distance from any major subway stop or train route.
- Black shows almost never start on time. I know it's sad and stereotypical to say, but it hasn't changed. Don't be surprised if you arrive on time and wait an hour before the show starts. (CPT is in full effect, yo!)
Benefits of playing a white club:
- Name recognition -- if you play them long enough, people will eventually get to know your name and face. It's where you'll get agents, managers, producers, etc. to see you. ('Cause they sure as hell aren't coming out to the black clubs.)
- There's no immediate pay off. You might not even get paid for your gigs. Consider it a donation of your time!
- Competition - You have to work and work and work to gain the top spots. (But again, if you play black clubs, you won't have to do as much work, because you really honed your craft at the black clubs.)
- A lot of networking and politics is involved (not that you won't find it in black clubs), but it's more at play in the white clubs.
So my talk with Dave was telling. And as you can see there are benefits to both. If you want to be a knockdown drag out Triple Threat comedian, cut your teeth on the black circuit, and craft and refine your comedy on the white circuit. Guaranteed you'll be a force to be reckoned with!
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