Stand-up comedy has been around for ages, always seemingly flying under the radar. Save for the comedy nerds who traverse the NY and LA scenes, hunt through Youtube, and keep their TV firmly affixed to Comedy Central, even the most promising and successful comedians are unknown to the general public. Stand-up technically (and sadly) isn’t mainstream. A spot on Conan will not guarantee millions or a lifelong career… nor an end to open mics.
But such was not the case in the 1980’s…
“There are two great eras in stand-up comedy. There was the late 50’s/early 60’s era of Lenny Bruce< and Mort Sahl, and then there’s the 80’s comedy boom when comedy became a business, where it became a viable profession to seek,” says veteran comedian Ritch Shydner (Letterman, Carson, etc) in the campaign video for a new comedy documentary he’s executive producing, Comedy, Go Boom. This documentary sets out to explore the “glory days” of comedy in the 80’s. It was when stand-up was mainstream, or as close to mainstream as it ever got. Every bar had a mic stand in the corner, and clubs were popping up all over the country like Starbucks. TV execs were looking at stand-ups to build their shows around, and comedians were rocketing to fame in a flash.
“There was a lot to be made, I mean, it’s impossible to even imagine how much more money people were making on the road. I mean, emcees weren’t getting $20 a set, they were getting $1,500 a week; middle acts were getting $2,500; headliner’s were getting five figures to headline comedy clubs and… it was easy,” says Shydner. “Clubs opened up and they were packed immediately.”
But as quickly as this boom came, it died just as quick with a fleet of promising careers dying alongside it. So what happened?
Comedy, Go Boom, is the brainchild of Atlanta-based comedian Michael Albanese. Albanese grew up on stand-up, studying all the greats. But as Albanese was just a child in the 80’s, he could only look back on that era long after the boom imploded, and his curiosity has only grown every day.
“I’m more of a fan looking on the outside wondering what happened. I go on the road a lot and work with guys that were big in the 80’s, and now they’re just road dogs. And they’re doing great, they’re hilarious, and I hear all these crazy stories and I just want to explore these Bigfoot legends of the 80’s and get down to the meat of it, find out what happened and meet the people that were a part of it,” says Albanese.
Albanese is looking to hit the road in 2014 to hunt down and highlight these ruins of the 80’s. Who survived and thrived, and who fell off the map? Where are the once-great forgotten performers, and what happened to the hundreds of comedy clubs that sprung up overnight?
As executive producer, Shydner, a product of the 80’s comedy boom himself (and no stranger to comedy documentaries; see I Am Comic.), will help bring in the talent; from the former club owner’s, to the household names who escaped the implosion unscathed. Countless hours of unseen footage has been gathered and a few big names already signed on for the project. Shydner and Albanese’s production crew also includes Atlanta stand-ups Bob Place and Josh Chudnovsky, Marshall Chiles (owner of Atlanta’s Laughing Skull Lounge), and cinematographer/editor Gabe Davis (The Daily Show).
As a young stand-up myself and no stranger to the comedy scene, the controversies, and the stress of trying to keep your head above water while pursuing this career, it’s hard to imagine the pay comedians were earning for one night’s work in the 80’s. With late-night TV today having a severe lack of stand-up, it’s seems like a dream that stand-up was ever so beloved by the masses. Wouldn’t we all like a return to that?
“I don’t think anything will top the 80’s. It started it all. Even though it existed before, the 80’s is what brought it to… rock and roll levels. Without that boom happening, I probably wouldn’t be a comedian,” says Albanese.
Albanese and Shydner are crowdfunding their documentary through Indiegogo.com. It’s just like Kickstarter, but before loaded celebrities ruined it. It’s the better, yet lesser known Kickstarter. The key difference is, even if a campaign doesn’t meet their desired goal, it still gets to keep the money donated. With Kickstarter, even if you fall $2 short of your goal… you get nothing, because how could you possibly re-adjust your budget to account for $2? Not even MacGyver with a gift card to Amazon could work around such a conundrum.
Indiegogo is the great not-so-new tool for the “starving artists.” That phrase exists for a reason. This is not the 80’s. Comedian’s have a hard time balancing stage time and a means to accrue rent money in any city. A project like Comedy, Go Boom is what these crowdsourcing ideas we’re meant for. Artists, fans, people helping others create a great product that they wouldn’t have been able to do any other way.
“This is the perfect time to do [this documentary]. There’s a time frame for these things. Soon, these people won’t be around..” says Albanese.
If you would like to donate to “Comedy, Go Boom,” visit comedygoboom.com. Donations of any size are welcome; $1 , $2, $10, $10,000 you high roller, you… whatever you like. The campaign ends January 11th at midnight.
If you’re a fan of comedy (I’m guessing a few of you are), help support what could be your new favorite comedy documentary. Go!