The Ultimate Green Room

by Barbara Corry

Comedy courses might teach the wannabe comic the elementary tools of the craft, but there’s only really one way the rookie stand-up can learn exactly how this business works – and that’s from other comedians. Far more knowledge – not to mention salacious gossip and outright bitchiness – is exchanged backstage and in shared late-night car journeys than could ever be conveyed formally.

Sharing some of that more useful information is the thinking behind Barbara Corry’s book – The Ultimate Green Room – a tome that is simultaneously a useful source and an infuriating read.

Corry’s not a comedian, but a fan, who has spent every weekend for the past 15 years working at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, California. Her information comes from interviewing around 100 jobbing comics – very few of them famous - as they passed through. She’s also a professor of sociology, and the book promises that if ‘offers sociology students an all-encompassing look at a fascinating subculture and the process of professional socialisation’. Whatever the hell that is.

The book is designed for the American market, so some of the tips are redundant, if not baffling, to British acts who rarely have to deal with situations such as the bills for the night’s food and drink coming round midway through their act. And obviously the Edinburgh Fringe, where so many British comics learn so much, doesn’t get a mention.

There’s also a very clear demarcation between what is expected of an opening act, middle act and headliner, and Corry gives the impression that stand-up is a very rigid career progression: that at precisely four years and seven months in, you should be ready to move from middle to closing. I exaggerate, but not much.

That not-always-accurate feeling of that comedy offers a clearly planned career comes despite her qualifying virtually every sentence with words like ‘often’. She’ll never say ‘comics do this…’ always ‘some comics do this’. Which might be more precise but leads to a plodding writing style. That and a rather random use of quotation marks, around even the most common phrase such as ‘new kid on the block’ or ‘stage time’. Definitions Of ‘Good’ And ‘Bad’ Comics At Middle one subsection is titled

And whatever you do as an aspiring comic, don’t take any of Corry’s advice on material. If a gag dies, she suggests the saver: ‘Can everybody hear me okay? These are the jokes, folks!’ or if heckled, trying the putdown ‘How old were you when your mind first got up and walked away from you’. Other advice you might want to ignore includes ‘there is no substitute for good taste’.

The overall impression is that the author has been told rather a lot about what it’s like to be a comedian, but doesn’t instinctively understand it.

But therein lies the rub. She has been told a lot, and so the book does contain such a mass of information that it can’t help but be a good general overview of the practical sides of comedy, as well as an insight into what working and progressing as a club comic actually entails.

It’s honest about the pitfalls, from laziness to enjoying the party lifestyle too much, as well as giving valuable pointers to how comics can learn to find their distinctive voices, cope with bad gigs, and structure a longer act. A new act would pick this up over months on the circuit, but this would be a shortcut – and act as a ‘bluffers guide’ to anyone who wants to sound knowledgeable about the subject.

Just approach the advice with some healthy cynicism, and an awareness that things are rarely as well-defined as Corry projects, and the would-be comedian could pick up a lot.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

  • The Ultimate Green room by Barbara Corry is published by Booksurge and is available through Amazon's resellers for £11.65 upwards. Click here to buy.

Published: 24 Jun 2009

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