He hits the pavement hard on the streets of Midtown Manhattan with the bright lights of Broadway blazing in the background. All while hoping to see his own name flashing in neon lights one day. Just for a taste. Just for those fifteen minutes of fame, or ten, or even, in this case, just six minutes of stage time.
Sometimes the show doesn’t go on- not if he doesn’t have anyone to watch him perform. He must sell tickets to tourists and passerby’s on the street in order to get on that stage.
He says whatever he can.
“We have some really great shows at The World Comedy Club.”
“Do you like stand-up comedy?”
“We’re recruiting audience members.”
Most people just ignore the dark-haired, bright-eyed man, who is trying to get their attention. But if he fails, he won’t get his six minutes.
Allan Finn, who “felt 29,” this past month, is a regular at The World Comedy Club, located at 318 West 53rd Street, between 8th and 9th avenues in Manhattan. Growing up in the South Bronx, he’s familiar with the city streets.
Promotion is one of the hardest parts about breaking into the entertainment industry, especially the comedy world. For a former salesman, the task is easier, but Finn also carries a mini-lamp on top of a clipboard and he is always clean-shaven and presentable.
Finn usually sells tickets between 51st and 48th Streets on Broadway. His record is forty-three-tickets in two and a half hours.
“I could fill a room,” said Finn looking out onto the hustle and bustle of a city street, “It just takes a lot out of you. But I don’t mind doing it because I probably wind up making more than some comedians, that don’t sell. But, I’m fine with doing it to get more stage time. That’s really why I do it.”
Finn comes from a “serious, up-tight family,” who only want him to be successful, in anything else but comedy. They wouldn’t be happy if he makes it big because these “private people from the former Soviet Union” would be made fun of on stage. Finn’s routine revolves around his parents constantly bringing up the money they wasted on his college education, since he dropped out.
“They are brilliant at finding segues into rubbing it in,” joked Finn.
During one part of his act he tells a story about his father asking him for help unclogging the toilet. When he asked his dad what was wrong with it, his dad replied: “I don’t know,” in a thick Russian accent, “maybe its all the college money I threw down the drain.”
“One of the reasons I love stand up is because it’s such a pure, honest art form. If you say all these unflattering things about yourself and you’re interested in meeting one of the girls after the show, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Hot chick, joke, hot chick, joke,” said Finn, as he imitates the scales of justice with his palms.
To be a comedian in NYC means that you keep a lot of odd hours, between show times, you’re out “barking.” Most of the comics also have a day job, to put food in their belly’s and a roof over their heads. It’s obviously difficult to date and Finn admits, “relationships are really hard to maintain.” However, some of the comedians do juggle their personal lives.
Family man and New York native, Aaron Haber, 37, is the booker, producer, and “the best comic at the club,” according to the booker, of The World Comedy Club. Haber is the one who decides which up-and-coming comics get on his stage. He also hosts and produces the monthly comedy series “Tuesday Night Laughs” at The New York Friars Club. His comedic life stretches even further, as Editor-in-Chief of EvilNewsDaily.com, which Haber describes as “a comedy Huffington Post, written by super villains.”
Haber also travels to New Jersey once a week to teach a comedic master class at Princeton University. Yes, that’s right ladies and gents, the Ivy-League provides the title of “comedy instructor.”
“I think one of the things I’m most proud about, professionally, is teaching at Princeton University. I’m literally teaching comedy in the lecture center that Einstein used at Princeton,” said Haber, grinning from ear to ear. “It’s just surreal.”
New York has always been the epicenter of standup. Big names like Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Ray Romano proved that you can “make it” in the Big Apple.
“One of the secrets of New York City comedy club’s is that for the most part every comic plays every club,” said Haber. “They might hit a couple of clubs to warm up, but other guys, guys who you’ve seen on television, they hop around club to club.”
Comedy is a hard business. Even the Jim Carrey’s and Eddie Murphy’s out there have their share of critics. Louis C.K. made a name for himself by revealing how much his life sucks. Haber admits to admiring the people who live in Middle America who are fine with the nine-to-five daily routine, go home “crack open a beer, make love to their wives and watch the game.” That’s just not who he is and luckily, there are many others like him, who turn out to be the John Belushi’s and Steve Martin’s.
“If you are truly an artist, than you have a life time of rejection and suffering and never thinking you’re doing enough. Never,” said Haber. “It’s really a terrible place to be mentally. Saying that, when you’re on stage, is the best, and hanging out at a comedy club is fun. But man, it is just a tough life.”
Spaces are limited for stardom. But that won’t stop the newbies that want to join a club, any club.
Adele Carollo, 29, from Queens, is a wannabe comedian-turned-actress, who supports herself by cocktail waitressing and as a part-time secretary. She giggles as she fixes her long dark hair when she admits to being “brand-new” to the comedy scene, only performing for five months. However, Carollo has been acting for years.
“I got really frustrated with not speaking, standing in the background of TV shows and movies that film in New York, that I do background work for; so I watch other actors getting to do what I want to be doing,” said Carollo. “So I said, let me take control and write my own stuff and get to a stage.”
She found a home at The World when she won an “emerging comic contest” that’s held once a month. The winner gets three months of stage-time at the club, along with a mentoring session with Haber.
“It was my third time ever performing stand-up and I won. I did my residency, and Aaron asked me to stay on as a ‘barker,’ so to speak” explained Carollo, energetically, using air quotes and all, “and help with the clubs showings and get to perform in exchange. “So I’m working for stage time.”
If you have the chutzpah, gusto and drive and can take the abuse, comedy might be for you.
“Nobody should do this. It’s the worst thing ever,” exclaims Haber. “I mean, you don’t get paid to try to be a comedian. So, you have to have another job and then you always feel like you’re failing, because the thing you really wanna be doing, you’re not doing to the extent that you wanna be doing it. All you’re thinking about is what joke are you gonna write and why aren’t you further along in your career. It’s a terrible mental anguish to always have over you.”
Besides having mighty large cojones for going up on stage, to entertain a crowd, these comics all have the same end goal in mind: To support themselves by making people laugh.
“To go for your dreams is scary. Most attractive women aren’t comfortable being funny because it’s not always cute. Sometimes it’s actually really ugly,” said Carollo. “But I don’t mind, I don’t take myself too seriously.”
So the nightly grind begins again, same shtick, different day.
“I definitely don’t do this to sell tickets on the street to tourists in Times Square. I do it because I gotta do something I guess, otherwise I’d lead a very sloth like existence,” said Finn, laughing. “No, it’s a challenge, more than anything it’s such a challenge. You are promoting yourself. They have to like you and they have to like you right away.”