I’ve often written on this blog about how I’ve sometimes felt like I was born too late. Usually, it’s been about missing out on New York’s punk rock/new wave music scene in the ‘80s. This feeling was reinforced last week when I went to see an excellent show at the Museum of the City of New York: New York, New Music: 1980-1986.
In reality, I caught the tail end of this scene, as I moved to New York permanently in 1981 and also lived here during the summer of 1980, but I sometimes feel like I was either too young or too broke (or both) to truly enjoy it.
I was particularly struck by how many live music venues there were in Manhattan in the ‘80s and how, on any given night, you might be able to see acts like Madonna, Kid Creole and the Coconuts or Madness, sometimes all on the same night (or even in the same venue).
I wouldn’t even know where to see live music in Manhattan nowadays!
I was struck by a similar feeling about the comedy world yesterday when I met a woman and she told me her husband was a stand-up comedian in the ’80s and, in fact, that they’d met at a comedy club.
She said that he was part of a group of comedians that included people like Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano who made the circuit of clubs like The Comic Strip, Catch a Rising Star, The Improv and Dangerfield’s and then moved to Los Angeles, where they were all offered sitcoms! (Well, not exactly, but you get my drift…)
Back then, she told me, it was possible to make a decent living as a comedian performing at gigs around New York City, making maybe $100 a spot. (Granted, the cost of living was a lot cheaper then, too.)
She told me about how Pat Benatar and Patty Smyth were waitresses at comedy clubs back in those days. (They both went on to become rock stars, of course.)
And that makes perfect sense. Because comedians in the ’80s were like rock stars. The country was in the midst of a comedy boom, which eventually led to hundreds of comedy clubs across the country. That boom eventually went bust, when cable TV arrived on the scene and people suddenly realized they didn’t have to leave home to see a comedy show. (And it didn’t help that club owners were booking everyone who thought he or she could be a comedian.)
Back in those days, this woman told me, there were maybe 100 comedians in the entire country and they all knew each other. I replied that I personally knew 1,000 comedians just in New York City and that, not only were none of us getting paid, but we had to pay in order to perform. (Either that or do “bringer shows.”)
But I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself.
Tonight I’m going to see a comedian who’s celebrating his 87th birthday and didn’t start doing comedy until he was 80. He’s going to be performing at The Comic Strip, where people like Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano started out (and I recently started performing myself).
And we’re going to try to recreate that feeling of camaraderie that existed in the ’80s.
Even if it’s just us comedians.