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While awaiting 'Funny People' review, chew on these comedy club tips

Adam Sandler stars as George Simmons in Funny People, the story of a famous comedian who has a near-death experience.

Universal Pictures

Adam Sandler stars as George Simmons in Funny People, the story of a famous comedian who has a near-death experience.

Friday's release of Funny People starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen may rekindle interest in comedy clubs and the unique personalities inhabiting them. • The subject is close to my heart, after having covered Tampa Bay's snickers bars during their heyday, before cable TV offered comedians without cover charges and two-drink minimums. I even married a former standup, proposing onstage during my debut telling jokes. Spent a year haunting the clubs for stage time, alongside folks like Jim Breuer, Dan Whitney (nee Larry the Cable Guy) and Tommy Chong. • Funny People wasn't screened in time for Weekend, but I'll tell you Friday online and in print how authentic it is. Until then, allow me to share a few tips and talking points to enhance your next comedy club visit. Drive safely and don't forget to tip your servers.

The 'comedy condo'

Comedy clubs need a place where visiting performers can temporarily bunk down, and only the biggest names are assured private hotel rooms. The journeymen (and women) usually get the "comedy condo," which may be a club-owned apartment or house often decorated in art-deco pigsty. Standups spin wild tales of comedy condo misadventures and pranks — don't touch the condiments — but more often use the place for late-night DVD parties and, um, fan visits.

The back of the room

Since few comedy clubs have dressing rooms, standups often wait their turn in the farthest seats from the stage. They can check out the audience and who they're following onstage, and enjoy strolling through applause when introduced. Inside jokes are hatched there, too. Comedians love trying out material with one another. Some are too polite — or mischievous — to tell someone that his new joke stinks. Then the guy goes onstage and bombs with the joke, igniting derisive laughter from the back of the room while the audience wonders what's so funny. A variation occurs when a comedian tells a good joke that's "too smart for the room," something so brilliantly abstract, inside or odd that only comedians get it. More laughter from the back, but this time the joke is on the audience.

Leave your act at home

There's no easier way to ruin a comedy club visit than trying to be funnier than the people on stage. These are trained professionals, folks. They have retaliatory putdowns on mental standby in the same way the rest of us remember to breathe. It can only get uglier if you choose to persist, usually not violent but so embarrassing that you'll wish someone would club you unconscious.

Never, ever request 'the Aristocrats'

A cherished inside gag among comedians used to be "the Aristocrats," a simple setup about a talent scout viewing a new act that erodes into boundless perverted improvisation before an abrupt punchline usually too smart for the room. Comedians might revert to it but only to entertain other comics. Then standup Paul Provenza made a documentary of various versions and suddenly everyone knew the secret handshake. You won't appear cool by bringing it up, just desperate for attention.

A review of Funny People will be available online Friday at and on Etc, Page 2B.

The worst feeling for a standup comedian is "dying" onstage, when jokes don't work on a bored or hostile audience. George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is taking those disasters a bit farther in Funny People (R). He's actually dying.

George is a famous comedian with a fatal blood disorder that he's facing alone with humor as his shield. George never made any genuine friends on the comedy club circuit, so taking fledgling comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) under his wing isn't only a professional move but a personal one. Even when his ailment goes into remission, George needs to realize what's really important in life.

Funny People gives Sandler another chance to flex his dramatic muscles, but with Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) directing, the movie should have its share of laughs. Or maybe this is Apatow's Punch-Drunk Love, a maturation project — which also starred Sandler — more downbeat than fans expect. Either way, let's hope it presents the standup culture more accurately than Punchline and Mr. Saturday Night.

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at

While awaiting 'Funny People' review, chew on these comedy club tips 07/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 4:30am]
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