Open spots are people too...

So argues Simon O'Keeffe

I have been having a lot of conversations with other comedians about open spotters: why are there so many who start bitter, why are there so many delusional ones, why are there so many arrogant ones? But one conversation that has eluded us is why are comedians so mean to open spots?

Even trying to draw a line of demarcation between ‘comedians’ and ‘open spots’ involves some jostling for status. I know there is a yawning chasm of difference between someone with a bestselling DVD and someone who has done two gigs. But let’s, for the sake of it, define a comedian as someone who does comedy for a living or only almost exclusively does paid gigs and an open spotter as someone who almost exclusively does unpaid gigs.

Are comedians mean to open spots? In my experience a lot of comedians won’t bother watching the open spot at a gig, try not to talk to them before or after the gig – although this changes if they’ve done well – ignore their mates/girlfriend/boyfriend, not mix with them socially, deliberately arrive after the newer acts have been on. I’m not saying all comedians do all of these things but it does go on; you’re not one of us.

The best analogy I can come up with is that open spotters are like the new recruits in a war movie, with badly attended, badly run, badly compered gigs their drill sergeant. Until they become comedians they’re less than worthless. Even when they move out of comedy boot camp they’re still the new guy. They get shit because we got shit when we started. They haven’t proved that they’re good enough to breathe the same air as us. Because we’re super-hard they have to be super-hard too to stand alongside us.

Back in reality, as with any vocation, calling or hobby, fresh faces are often annoying to some degree. Be it that they are full of piss and vinegar like Scrappy Doo, or they ask too many stupid questions or they think they are revolutionaries or visionaries. But I think it goes beyond that.

Even comedy audiences can be mean to open spots. You often hear people saying things along the lines of ‘When they get the open spot out of the way’, ‘Oh no there are two open spots on tonight’. OK they paid good money to be made laugh by ‘proper comedians’ but where do they think comedians come from? Open spots even seem to be heckled more often, whether this is to harden them up or because hecklers without the balls to take on seasoned performers smell weakness and vulnerability.

Open spots can do some things that do genuinely annoy comedians and even audience members, do jokebook gags or other people’s, do too long and tire out the audience, die on stage and make our job harder, kill the room with some crass routine, have mates at the gig who talk when we’re on or leave when their friend has finished, ask to use our jokes, ask us a million questions about comedy, bitch about other comedians or promoters who are our friends, bandy about their business cards, harangue you on Facebook and so on.

Some of these things are down to naivity, inexperience and youthful exuberance, so maybe we should cut them some slack. And you’d be amazed how great some of them think we are, yes even non-TV comedians are idols to some of open spots who’ve been watching from the corners for years.

Another factor is that us comedians tend to be slightly arrogant and elitist in general with people, especially civilians. So many comedians only hang around with comedians, will only talk to comedians at gigs, will lose interest in a comedians’ friend when they learn that they’re not a comedian. When comedians are together the subject of comedy will dominate conversation. So when new comedians come along it’s almost like we’re the cheerleaders and the jocks judging the new kid in school.

What could well be the biggest factor is that they remind us of ourselves when we started out. And we don’t like that embarrassment. Us comedians don’t like looking at the slightly shaking, nervous young man in his twenties not doing well, getting a giddy thrill from doing sex jokes, not realizing that he didn’t do well. We don’t like being reminded we too used to do material that was obviously more about trying to get laid after the gig, as the expected groupies was a reason we took up comedy.

We want to forget that there was a time when getting on stage at the big club in town meant the world to us. We don’t like being reminded that it used to be us asking the annoying questions. We may even see them as a threat to all that we have built. There’s nothing a comedian hates more than someone getting more successful than they are in a shorter time. We also don’t like newer comedians with hotter girlfriends.

More experienced comedians should be a bit nicer to newer comedians and remember where we came from, maybe even try to help them rather than slag them off. Newer comedians, be respectful of what others have achieved. And we all know you still have 249 of the 250 business cards you got cheap, after the other one went on your mum’s fridge.

Published: 14 Dec 2009

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