From Hollywood to Brooklyn
This may be a little insider-y for some, but I wanted to share my parting words to the hundreds of comedians who were regularly or not-regularly booked at The Hollywood Improv during my 6 year run as Artistic Director of the club. Getting booked for comedy in LA, especially at the biggest clubs and on the best shows is near impossible, and I wanted to bluntly share the realities of it from the other side, with the hope of inspiring, or at least giving some perspective to all the people vying for stage time.
If you haven’t already heard, next week will be my last as Artistic Director of The Hollywood Improv.
After a whirlwind 6 years, it’s finally time for me to move on to pursue the next phase of my career in writing and producing. My departure comes on only positive terms with the club, and it’s absolutely bittersweet, as this has been a magical home for me for over 6 years. This job is equally the most fun and challenging I’ve ever had, and I am very proud of how the club has evolved in my time here. I couldn’t have done it without all your amazing talent, without the support of Budd Friedman, the guidance of my boss Erin Von Schonfeldt, and of course my partner in crime in taking the club to new heights, our GM Reeta Piazza.
I’m sure my replacement will be inundated for her first several YEARS as the booker, so please be patient. Especially the first few months, allow them to adjust to the flow of the job before you bombard them with booking requests. I know from personal experience that it takes a really long time to learn the ins and out of booking at this level. She has a lot to absorb and will need to familiarize herself with you comics, and the 150+ monthly shows we currently have going on here.
For a lot of you, my departure might seem like potentially bad news, as you know I am a fan of your work and you don’t know if you’ll continue to get booked when I leave. For substantially more of you, my departure might seem like fantastic news, as you are rarely booked or haven’t been booked for a set in years and now you have a chance to get back in the mix. As far as I see it, the booker may be changing, but the vast politics of this venue will remain. My advice is to just continue working on your craft, becoming undeniable in as many rooms as possible, and be as cool as you can be to our new booker, our staff, and your fellow comics. There will no doubt be changes over time, and I genuinely hope that some of you who either weren’t on my radar or weren’t always my personal taste will have more opportunities in the future.
Many of you know that I am a comedian at my core. For better and worse, I’ve understood and empathized with the struggle of getting stage time and trying to make it in this insane business, which has made my job here all the more difficult. I consider our comedy community here, our comedians and staff and regulars, my family. And having to constantly say no to your family members can be the toughest thing in the world. Just know that even if you didn’t get up as much as you wanted during my time here, it was never personal. I have only respect for all of you pursuing your dreams and passions.
Please remember that every single night of the week I’ve had to say no to hundreds of headlining comics that I consider to be supremely talented and cool and with credits and with agents and managers and all those things everyone thinks are required to perform here. So just know that if you didn’t get as much stage time as you wanted, you’ve never been alone. It’s just a harsh reminder that there are no guarantees in this business, even when you are seemingly doing everything right. So just keep working hard, be genuine and authentic, throw any entitlement you have out the window (as hard as it may be), and when you do get the chance to go up on one of the stages here, absolutely murder it. Easy peasy, am I right??
I truly love you all, and wish you the best in your careers and lives. I’m sure I will be working with many of you in various capacities for years to come. I thank you all for allowing me this time to experiment, to both succeed and fail, and to grow as a person.
The Hollywood Improv has a bright future, and with our amazing staff, along with all your tremendous talent, the next 6 years will be even better than the last.
All my love!
PS – And I’d be remiss not to plug my Gatekeeper podcast, where I talk to bookers and decision makers in the comedy world in order to inspire and educate comics about this world and the best ways to navigate a career in comedy.
Shameless self-promotion… See, I told you I was a comedian at my core!
by Jamie Flam
This year, my valentine is The Hollywood Improv Comedy Club, the love of my life the past 6 years. Today will be my final day as Artistic Director/Booker.
Leaving isn’t easy, as the club has been a magical home for me. There have been plenty of challenges along the way, but to get a paycheck to book and produce comedy shows, to regularly meet my heroes, to get an education in comedy from the best teachers in the world, to rebuild a room (The Lab) and its’ artistic community from scratch twice, to be at the helm of a magical playground where I can occasionally perform as a dolphin and a Spangler, and to get to watch some of the most talented people in the world perform and hone their craft every night has been worth them all.
The toughest thing to leave is my Improv family. And I use family in the truest sense of the word. The club management, the box office and door and kitchen staff, the servers and food runners and bartenders, the industry and audience and bar regulars, the producers and promoters, and the comedians, from headliners to open mic’ers, we’re all a huge family, united by the long, storied history of the club and a shared love and passion for comedy.
Every day in this building, we get to watch each other navigate through the mazes created by our insane choice to pursue art as a career. In this building, we celebrate holidays, ring in new years, watch the big games, applaud each others victories, and mourn the deaths of those lost too soon. In this building, we laugh, we cry, we fight, we drink, we hug, we make-up. Every day here is a soap opera and a sitcom and sometimes a musical, and when it’s at it’s best, it’s all of those things at once.
It’s fucking amazing.
But the time has come for me to get out of my comfort zone. For 6 years I’ve more or less lived off Melrose between Fairfax and La Jolla. I’ve been walking (or stumbling) a non-stop triangle between the club, my apartment, and Canters Deli. All great places! But I want to put my focus back into creating. And while there is a lot of creativity in booking a comedy club, it’s not an easy task when you are at the same time trying to juggle the non-stop barrage of needs, desires, and whims of hundreds of people every day. Leaving a steady pay check to risk failure again is scary and possibly insane, but every day I am inspired by the artists surrounding me and reminded that everything is possible.
When I was hired to book the main room, I was told by my boss that I’d probably burn out after a couple years. She was right. But I kept going despite the stress and lack of sleep, because I genuinely care about comedy, and comedians, and I was on a mission. I wanted to bridge the gap between the indie comedy world and the club world; to help make The Improv better reflect what live comedy was doing in LA; to make the art of comedy and paying talent a top priority. And so while I am absolutely exhausted, I leave knowing that I at least did the best I could to make those things happen in spite of some of the corporate barriers and industry politics.
I am proud of the variety and diversity I see at the club most nights. I am proud that there is finally the start of a development system in place to create opportunities for new talent. I am proud of how The Lab has become a hub for some of the smartest, most dynamic comedy in Los Angeles. I am proud that there are variety acts and podcasters, and fine artists and musicians that call this club their home. And most of all I am proud to have spent this part of my life with a family that has been growing since the club opened in 1975. Because I can’t claim to have done any of this on my own.
I must thank Erin Pooler-von Schonfeldt, my boss and the booker for the rest of The Improv clubs around the country. She is an unsung hero of comedy. She fought battles for me when necessary, but largely left me alone to do my thing. That to me is the definition of a good boss.
I thank the great Budd Friedman, who built this place. It was an honor and privilege to work in the same building as him my first couple years here, and his support and guidance were instrumental in my development as a booker.
And above all else, I thank our GM, Reeta Piazza. Without her, I don’t know where I’d be right now. At my rock bottom in 2010, I sent her a hail mary email asking if she needed help at the club, and two months later she hired me to take over The Lab based on a gut feeling. Without her leadership, her motherly instincts with myself and the rest of our staff and comics, her trust in me, her allowing me to try new things and to fail, the club wouldn’t be where it is today. Reeta was the heart of the soul of the club when I arrived, and for the last 6 years she allowed me to share those things with her. I owe her the world.
I have too many other people to thank in just one post (and I should probably get through my inbox one last time and train my replacement), so I’ll be nostalgically posting more thank you’s and pictures throughout the week as I make sense of a new path ahead of me.
In the meantime, if you are in LA, I am having a farewell show and party this Friday at 10pm with an amazing line-up and some likely drop-in guests, so come out and party if you can.
And happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!!
In another effort to add more to my plate than I can possibly handle, I’ve gone ahead and launched another podcast! It’s called Gatekeeper, it’s on The Sideshow Network, and I am very excited about it.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is to have an outlet on which to share my experiences in the trenches of comedy booking, as well as to talk to other bookers, producers, industry peeps, and decision-makers about why they say yes and no. My hope is that it will be a great resource not just for comics, but anyone trying to make it any industry, or at the very least to be a somewhat interesting behind-the-scenes look at the comedy universe.
My first guest is Adam Eget, Talent Coordinator at The World Famous Comedy Store. He’s been doing a phenomenal job of taking The Store back to prominence in the past year and we had a great conversation about how he’s done that, while sharing experiences about working with comedians and the lifestyle of working at a club. So don’t wait another second! Right now you should:
If you like it, give it some stars and junk so other people will be able to find it easier. Hope you enjoy!
It was November 11th. Holy hell! 25 years since I became a man. And been busy being a mature man ever since. I recently got all the video footage of the ceremony and Beatles themed reception digitized and have been working hard to mine all the golden nuggets of awkwardness into a truly epic video. The more I dive in, the more gold I find, so hopefully I’ll have a full video before end of the year. In the meantime, enjoy a couple teasers of what’s to come!
Looking to expand my empire of non-profitable creative ventures, I’ve decided to put time and energy into creating a music tumblr blog. I kid of course. I am fully aware that a music blog has the potential to bring in millions if done the right way. So maybe eventually I’ll look into doing it the right way. In the meantime, when inspired I will post songs that I really love on it. I listen to music constantly, and when I am not digging for new tracks, I have dozens of friends digging even deeper, so I am always hearing new and old stuff that I fall in love with, and one of my greatest joys is sharing music with others. Especially what I call those “heaven moments” when the perfect bridge hits, or the sickest drum break, or just that beautiful chord change that makes life worth living. I am not sticking to any genres or format for now. Just songs I love, for whatever reason. Check it out!
12 years ago I helped produce a short film. Mostly I helped clean out and set up the basement of a San Francisco theater just a few days removed from a weird San Francisco style sex party. I still don’t know what that means, but it was disgusting.
From Director Chris Weisbart:
One weekend in 2002, about fifteen friends and I walked into the dingy basement of a converted church with a digital 8 camera and about 80 bucks of taqueria money. This short film is what emerged from that session. It’s presented here in it’s original 640 x 480 glory, and for the first time online in its full length. It’s long, silent and in another language, so prepare yourself. I wrote the script (based on a children’s book i read), shot/edited it, and drew/animated all the backgrounds.
In case you were wondering, my Oscar moments start around 28:25 and go through the end.
Can you believe that the title of this blog post has never been published before? Seems like a simple enough idea, something that Deepak Chopra or Oprah Winfrey or Wayne Dyer or Napoleon Hill or Anthony Robbins or any one of the thousands of self-help gurus would have titled a book over the years. But a Google search reveals that the words have never before appeared in that exact formation until now! This of course doesn’t take into consideration that I am probably using Google the wrong way. I’m looking on the page where they have the maps. In any case, I was surprised that this wasn’t a more prevalent idea; that if you want to change your life, you need to change the way you are living it.
I’m no stranger to that concept. Anyone who’s followed my life via podcast or blog the past few years knows of my struggles with health and productivity and living the life I want. I epitomize the all-or-nothing mentality, the addictive personality that goes full bore on both sides of the spectrum. The last 6 months have been particularly exemplary. In August 2013 I decided to stop drinking the booze for a few weeks, started hitting the gym, meditating regularly, and it was no coincidence that I was extremely productive during that period. The spell lasted 3 full months, and by the end of October I was in one of the best creative zones I’ve ever been in.
Enter November. November has always been a slippery slope for me. My birthday is at the start of the month, coming at the heels of Halloween and just a few weeks before Thanksgiving. The past few years I fall into a trap of splurging (read: binging) during the Halloween and birthday times, which undoubtedly affects my drive to eat healthy and exercise, and hell, why not just “treat myself” through Thanksgiving break. Then December comes, and it’s the holidays, and well, what kind of person in their right mind would start taking care of themselves with January 1st around the corner? That would just be stupid!
It’s not simply that I am unhealthy during these periods. It’s that within a matter of weeks it affects my moods, my energy levels, my confidence, and most importantly my output. I feel like shit, and cope with it by making more and more poor choices to avoid thinking about those very poor choices. It’s a pretty lame cycle, and what makes it even more frustrating is that I know how easily I could pull myself out of it because I’ve done it before. Like 845 times.
Most years I am back in action come the first of the year. Resolutions are set, and it’s go time. Maybe it’s age, maybe fear, or just plain laziness, but this year the streak has lasted into February. I’m out of shape, unable to focus, and lost. I look tired. I am tired. My mind is locked in a pattern of big ideas with zero follow-through. Granted I am hard as hell on myself, a good and bad trait I suppose. I do work a full time job that is mentally taxing. But I’ve been productive and happy in spite of that before, so I hold myself to that standard.
This past weekend I decided that time was of the essence and that it was imperative I get back on a healthy and positive path. And come Monday morning I woke up feeling healthy and positive. This was before I’d exercised, before I’d gone a day without a drink, before I’d ate a healthy meal. Testament to how much how I feel is psychological. A choice. This is something I’ve experienced dozens of times now. The empowering part is that I have that ability at any given time. We all do. Obviously it’s easier said than done. MUCH easier said than done. But it’s a subtle but world changing shift that I believe we are all capable of.
Today is Friday. Five days into this new plan. I’ve been exercising, eating well, abstaining from alcohol, meditating 20 minutes daily. And less than a week into it, physically I feel like a new person. I doubt I’ve lost any significant weight, and my body is still getting used to the change in routine. But I look in the mirror and already see a new person, someone I like a lot more. Someone that cares enough about themself to take care of themself.
So what’s going to make this time different than every other? I’ve been through the ups and downs enough times to realize I shouldn’t make any bold predictions. Every time I claim “I’m back!” when the going is good, there’s the inevitable “I’m back… (sigh)” when the going is bad. But in an effort to mitigate the all-or-nothing mentality, I am going to do my best to adhere to an 80% plan. Instead of cutting the “bad” things out completely, I am going to allow myself the flexibility to indulge when I want. 80% seems like a fair compromise and gives me a handful of days a month to do as I please. Time will tell how it works. Yet another experiment in my ongoing pursuit for happiness and productivity.
But I know now after endless trials and experiments that to change my life into the one I want, my only choice is to… change my life into the one I want. I want to be a healthy, creative, productive, positive person, and so I am going to be that person moving forward. For the 846th time.
In further attempts to thwart all potential possibilities for doing actual writing on this site, I shifted my priority the past week to a “much needed” site re-design. I liked the other theme, but it wasn’t ideal for archiving purposes [is what I told myself]. And if it’s not good for archiving, then how will the millions of visitors I will be receiving find past articles once they fall in love with the one that drove them to the site in the first place [is what I told myself]. So now, 13 days into the new year, I am finally writing something, albeit more ramblings on my inability to move forward, but thoughts from my brain nonetheless.
So let’s take a look at this handsome new site, shall we? First, you’ll notice the logo in the top left. A fifties color motif highlights the name of the URL, punctuated with a high hat and cymbal. Do I play drums? No. So why drums in the logo on your website, Jamie?? Well, before the drums I had an icon of a pair of sunglasses, but then I thought that people would think I was trying to say “Look how cool I am!” which in retrospect is kinda what the intention was. But the drums are a bit more subtle. And as I am trying to find the rhythm in my life right now, it seemed like a plausible metaphor. So there are drums.
Ironically, the name of the WordPress theme I am utilizing is called “Focused” by S5 Themes. Lack of focus has been the recurring theme for most of my life, but certainly the duration of my comedy career, and the past 2 months it’s been on a war path. My goals for this year include: Launching this blog, launching my new podcast, launching a new highly produced weekly live show, and writing and pitching several television ideas. This doesn’t include the fact that I work a full time job that is near impossible to not take home with me every day, while already producing another podcast. In my head it all seems possible, and to a certain extent it is. But of course spreading myself over 17 projects is a good way to burn out, sacrifice the quality of each, and as I am currently finding, making it impossible to make progress on any of them.
I sat in my apartment a couple weeks ago, reflecting on the year past, and was getting a little down on myself for not achieving all my goals (read: I’m not a famous millionaire game changing multi-hyphenate auteur yet). Also, I was itching for some attention, and wanted to start driving people to this blog which exists for like 4 people right now. So I thought “I’ll make a top ten list! People love lists!” (Yes, I have exclamation points in my thoughts!) I decided I’d put together the top ten moments at The Hollywood Improv in 2013, then started going through all my pics and videos, and realized that 1.) there were too many moments to choose from, and 2.) I had a lot of awesome footage that would not otherwise see the light of day if I didn’t edit it into something. And thus this video, which only took 87 hours to make!
Most of the footage was taken from a show I co-produced with Vanessa Ragland called Van Jam, and was shot by Vanessa’s husband, the amazing John Irwin. The rest of the shaky recordings were from my iphone (brag).
Note: As the booker at this venue, I feel it’s important to explain that as it states in the video, we have 700+ shows a year at The Hollywood Improv. So what you see is only a tiny fraction of the types of performers, shows, and comedy you can see there. I tend to break out my camera when there’s music involved because music makes me smile so much.
Since 2010 I’ve taken the time at the end of each year to review the last 12 months and come up with a plan of action for the year ahead. It’s been a great way to gauge my progress and see what goals I am achieving and which ones are falling to the wayside.
First, here’s a link to last year’s review.
And so it begins:
My theme and purpose for the upcoming year: Continuing To Build and Taking Shit To The Next Level PART DEUX. More specifically, continue my quest to transform The Improv, continue building LA Encantada as a company and culture, and continue learning, growing, and inspiring. Adding to that I aim to produce the best weekly comedy/variety show in LA and a show for television, and I want to double my income. Easy peasy fresh and squeezy!
How I fared: Thematically: ON POINT! I did continue to build and take shit to the next level. The Improv had a huge year on all levels, and my creative vision (more music, more variety, and more of a bridge between the club and independent comedy scenes) was evident all year round. Lots of great new shows featuring some of the biggest names in comedy, and with the help of my writing and producing partner Vanessa Ragland, we introduced VAN JAM, a variety show featuring a live soul/jazz house band that we produced 8 times in 2013, each one sold out! We had special guests including Louis CK, Craig Robinson, Aziz Ansari, Tig Notaro, and countless others, so safe to say mission accomplished in that department! Didn’t get anything on television, but did have some meetings about it (I know, like soooo L.A.) and continued to learn about the process for making that happen. Certainly didn’t double my income, but can’t win ’em all.