The Best Crowds Are in Brooklyn


Brooklyn’s comedy scene may not be as well established as the one across the river, but all signs point to it being pretty great and only getting better. Monthly comedy events like Pretty Good Friends, Hot Tub and The Talent Show have established a variety of reliably funny nights out. And that may be as much about the audience as the comedians.

It’s been a few weeks since Brooklyn’s biggest comedy event of the year–the Eugene Mirman Annual Comedy Festival–ended its 2011 run. The event was so well attended that on one night it was well nigh impossible to get into The Bell House—even with tickets in hand. That kind of demand combined with the festival’s successful Kickstarter campaign implies a certain level of enthusiasm for comedy in Brooklyn. Financial support isn’t all the audience is offering, though. Performers are getting a chance to do what they want in front of a smart crowd willing to sit back and listen rather than get in the way.

Marc Maron, who flew in from Los Angeles to appear in the festival’s Pretty Good Friends show, took the opportunity to record an episode of his popular WTF podcast at The Bell House on the Monday after the festival. Maron seemed at home and the crowd was happy to let him vent. Subjects included “Jewish Colonial Williamsburg,” non-Lincoln Town Cars and the G train. There were no hecklers, no odd tension between audience and performer. One of Maron’s guests, Nick DiPaolo, seemed surprised, even confused, by how easy it was to get a laugh out of Brooklyn’s hipsters.

After DiPaolo walked on stage to applause, he sat down, looked at Maron and said, “Jesus, you’re doing good,” commenting on the size of the crowd. “I should be happy for ya, but I’m really not. I mean, you’re kinda funny, but what the fuck?”

Maron quickly said, “These are nice people–they listen to me.”

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He was complimenting the crowd, telling DiPaolo that they had a patient ear, and DiPaolo later further stroked the crowd’s ego by complaining about one he’d just visited in Michigan.

“This is what comedy audiences have turned into at the mainstream clubs. There’s like a pack of 12 girls at one table trying to cheer up that one miserable fucking friend. ‘Ooo, Diane had a miscarriage, let’s take her to the Funny Bone.’”

The point isn’t that DiPaolo is crass, or even that he’s a jerk. He’s simply admitting that it’s hard to get a laugh. Crowds are complicated. The implication was that the crowd at the Bell House–the nice people who listen–was a good crowd, one that showed up looking, instead of demanding, to laugh.

“I was afraid to come here; I’ve gotta be honest,” DiPaolo admitted after he hit his stride.

“I was afraid for you to come here,” Maron said.

Turning his head to the crowd, DiPaolo said, “You know, I just hear this whole hipster thing. I just had this image I was gonna get here and like Bob Odenkirk and David Cross were gonna be playing hackysack in the lobby.” Knowing laughter followed, both proving DiPaolo’s hipster thesis, and confirming its surprising corollary: Brooklyn audiences have a generous sense of humor, even about themselves.

Lately podcasts like WTF and comedians like Louie C.K., have been giving audiences a better understanding of the difficulties comedians face on stage, even training audiences to listen before they heckle. In the video clip above, Louie C.K. discusses an encounter with a heckler where he was driven to lash back. He tells the show-stealing audience member, “You have a bad, mean heart, and I know you don’t think so, you think you’re having fun, but I really want you to think what this is like for me and how awful this is to do to a person. You are a bad person.” The moment was also dramatized on the first season of his show Louie. The heckler can be the highlight of a show when comedians like Louie handle them, but the message is clear–let the comic do what the comic does.

As an audience, Brooklynites seem content to sit back and let the professionals be funny, without interrupting. In return, they get plenty of knowing in-jokes from performers like Mirman. On the first night of the festival, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, hosted StarTalk, his podcast that “bridges the intersection between pop culture and science.” His guests, Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal, Scott Adsit and Alan Alda, were more than happy to serve as professional hecklers–much more reliably funny than audience-based heckling–during discussions ranging from why movie aliens suck (but need faces) to when the west coast of North America (might) be consumed by the Pacific.

On the topic of aliens, Tyson brought up NASA’s decision to put Earth’s address on the Pioneer spacecraft, just in case the aliens who find it want to know where to find us. “[That’s] the dumbest thing we ever did,” Alan Alda added. “In our brief experience on Earth, if a community is visited by other people, the other people are the ones who colonize you.”

“I did it to Brooklyn,” Mirman said for a laugh.

When the topic shifted to Voyager I and II and its Golden Record (the phonograph record contains sounds and images that portray “the diversity of life and culture on Earth”), Tyson, trying to get a laugh out of the outdated vinyl on a high-tech spacecraft, described a record as a disc with grooves on it. Mirman quickly gave the crowd another Brooklyn-specific laugh, “We’re all DJs, we know.”

In the end, Mirman’s festival is definitely sound proof that stand-up is getting more of a draw in Brooklyn. And, it might also be proof that Brooklyn is one of the best places for comedians to get a laugh and for unconventional comedy to hit its stride. Where else could you watch Ira Glass drink, crack jokes and fall from a human pyramid?

And as for Mirman, if he and other comedians have decided to colonize Brooklyn, well laughter seems an apt opiate for the masses.

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