Twenty five years ago (July 11th, 1994) I started doing stand up comedy. I honestly never thought it was something I would do for a living. I was looking back at some old journals and this is something I wrote about seven months into comedy:
“It’s a lot of work (stand up comedy), but the number one thing is to enjoy yourself when you’re doing it. If I ever lose that feeling of enjoyment for comedy I’ll stop doing it.”
25 years later that’s the thing I always try to keep in the forefront of my mind: To have fun. Actually it kind of took my wife, Steph, reminding me to do that, but regardless having fun is really the only thing in this business you can control. I stopped worrying about what shows I got booked on or what material I should do or whether or not I should do crowd work or if I should spend part of my day recording myself talking to phone scammers. I just did what made me happy and that has truly helped me more than anything.
If I could give you three pieces of advice for longevity in comedy it’s:
1. Do everything! Improvise, act, write your own sketches, teach comedy, volunteer. I always found that if I was struggling in one area those other areas would pick me up.
2. Take chances! One of my most ridiculous bits I ever did was singing about a potato. A 3 minute opus to a potato. It required every ounce of energy and commitment to do the bit and sometimes it died a horrible death. However, it’s the thing that got me noticed. I remember opening for Lewis Black and he was so blown away by it he asked for a tape of my set that included the Potato Song so he could show it to HBO and his management team. A couple weeks later I asked him how the meeting went and he said, “Well...I laughed.” Not quite what I hoped, but taking risks on stage helped me stand out. Here's the Potato Song in all its glory!
3. Help others! Lewis Black helped me out and many other people have helped me out along the way. Tell people they’re funny and help them if you can. A kind word or action can go a long way. When I lived in Milwaukee, I decided to venture down to Chicago and audition for Second City. I bombed the audition and was told I didn’t pass. Frances Callier, who’s a very talented actress and comedian now living in LA, worked at Second City at the time. I remember she called me out of the blue to tell me I was funny and to not give up on this. I didn’t give up and I got into the Conservatory the next time I auditioned. I don’t know if she realized what a difference that made, but it was the little push I needed to keep going. You never know when something positive you say is just the thing someone needs to hear in that moment. Her and her comedy partner, Angela Shelton are currently on NBC's "Bring the Funny!" Collectively known as Frangela and check out their website here: FRANGELA
Thanks everyone who has supported me over the last 25 years it really means a lot and I look forward to the next 25!
It's been a while since my last post, so just a few quick updates!
1. Steph and I now have a podcast! It's available on iTunes, Spotify, and everything else. We'd love if you could leave us a review on iTunes! This podcast has been a lot of fun and helpful to us and we hope to you. Our guests talk about things they have overcome in their lives and it's been inspiring to hear everyone's stories. You can get all the platform links and listen to it: HERE
2. I'm still teaching my stand up classes here in Los Angeles and do offer one on one sessions as well. I have a new Level 2 Class coming up next month. Level One should be starting in May! More info on classes at: www.standupteacher.com
I was very excited to land a part on HBO's Room 104 and although my part is small I am excited to see it! It'll be premiering on Friday, November, 16th at Midnight. It's a very weird episode and I will get to utter the "F" word on HBO, which is every child's dream. However for every audition you book there's a lot that are just plain awkward. The following are my Top 5 Most Awkward Audtions...ENJOY!
NUMBER 5: THE MAD TV AUDITION - The Quarter Trick
In 2002 I auditioned for MAD TV. I don't do a lot of impressions or characters. My big one was going to be Norm MacDonald as a Deli Clerk ("Number 7...I don't know if you guys heard about this, but a real tragedy. Apparently 7 ate 9.")
I opened with a character. Master karate expert named, Kim Su Wycheski. He studied karate at the YMCA. The big joke was going to be my amazing speed and agility. I would demonstrate this by catching quarters from my forearm into my hand like in the classic 1977 Happy Days episode where Fonzie's cousin, Angelo, becomes the world record holder for catching quarters. Except I didn't catch the quarters...I completely whiffed and they all went flying at the casting directors...this was at the start of my 3 minute audition. All I remember was the casting directors blindly trying to block the quarters. I lost the part, two dollars worth of quarters, and a little bit of pride that day.
NUMBER 4: MY FIRST L.A. AUDITION - "Wanna wrestle."
I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and my agent, who is still my agent to this day, sent me on an audition to Downtown LA. While Downtown LA has been revitalized in the last few years, in 2001 it looked like the post-apocalypse First sign of trouble, the audition was in a basement. There aren't many basements in downtown LA, but I found one. The building itself looked almost abandoned and I saw a scribbled sign on the door of a room that said, "WRESTLING AUDITION. PLEASE ENTER." BAD SIGN. I walked in and there were wrestling mats everywhere.
Against one of the rolled up mats sat a grizzled man in his 50s and he offered me a seat next to him. I obliged. He went on to explain that he had found wrestling to have healing powers for him and he was doing a documentary about it. For the audition he said we could wrestle each other...I was pretty sure that's not how auditions worked so I said sorry I don't wrestle and left. Legend has it the building was haunted and the room I was in never existed, but sometimes late at night you can hear a perverted ghost whisper, "Wanna wrestle."
NUMBER 3: THE COLLEGE AUDITION: ACAPELLA
One of the better paying gigs in stand up are college gigs. In 2000 I got booked to audition for NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) in Utica, New York. Basically colleges would be looking for comedians and musicians for their campus events. I was pretty excited and got the brochure for the event...some pretty heavy hitters as you can see.
I would be performing at 10am on Saturday...the day after St. Patrick's Day...for college students. It was absolutely the worst. My act was pretty weird at the time and I went up after a Third Eye Blind acapella cover band and the audience loved them. Then I got out there...the audience was so hung over, people had their heads down on the table. I'll be honest I wasn't right for the schools at this point. I sang a song about a potato, I told a long winded joke that went nowhere and if I would've known the words to Semi Charmed Kind of Life I might've launched into it. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life. I still have flashbacks to this gig. To top it off on the drive back to the airport, I got my very first speeding ticket.
2. THE INDIGESTION AUDITION: Godzilla
Every once in a while, you get an audition you're just perfect for...I'm talking of course about an ad for indigestion. If there's one thing I can act it's "indigestion", I'll even go all method actor on you and have actual indigestion during the audition. I was ready to go on this one. When I walked in the casting director explained I would be at the beach when I would hear a Godzilla-like roar, which would be my indigestion. I would react in horror to this.
Easy enough, but then came the second part of the instructions: "Now, take off your shirt." I would've done some push ups in the lobby and for the past 10 years if I'd known this, but there was no turning back or front for that matter. I did as instructed and then he said, "Sit in that beach chair." It doesn't get more unflattering then pale, shirtless guy on a beach chair. I reacted in horror to Godzilla, but probably more to the fact that I was shirtless and unfortunately did not land the part of Guy with Indigestion.
1. THE GRASS AUDTION: Nailed it!
The final most awkward audition is actually a bit inspiring. The audition was a Public Service Announcement for residents of Denver to limit the watering of their grass (probably because everyone in Denver is so high and they forget to turn off their water.) I went in and they paired everyone up, which is always a risk. I remember one time I went in and they paired me with someone to improvise us breaking into a house and I handed the person a paper clip and he said, "That's not a paper clip, that's a piece of toast." Didn't get that one either, but I digress. They paired me with a friend of mine, which was great! We went in and did the scenario and the casting director first said to my friend, "Great job!" and then she turned to me and said, "You're not present. Let's try it again!" Uff! I'm not sure how you come back from that. We did the scene again and that was it.
I figured I wouldn't get a call back, but lo and behold I did. I went in for the callback and booked the job. I felt really good booking this one because auditioning is tough enough without someone questioning your work ethic and talent. I even sent the casting director a sincere thank you note afterward. The spot is below and I think you can see I'm pretty present.
On Saturday, September 23rd, 2018 I got to open for Jim Gaffigan at the 17,500 seat FiServ Forum in Milwaukee. Jim knew I was from Milwaukee and was nice enough to let me open, along with Ted Alexandro! It was amazing and I got to share it with my 92 year old Dad. Enjoy this photographic (and video) journey of that day!
First, we were picked up in this luxurious 2004 Toyota Corrolla. When that car rolled up and the driver (me) manually rolled down the windows to yell at my friend Joe Neumann to "Get in the car before it stalled!" I knew this night was gonna be magical.
Next we pulled up in the back of the arena and I called the number I was given for the promoter. I was sure there would be some very complicated, secretive way to pull our car in the arena. After all it was brand new and state of the art. The promoter answered the phone and said, "Pull up to Garage 6 and honk." We got in.
The first thing we saw was the poster they made for Jim and it was pretty sweet! (see below)
We walked in and no one really told us where to go, so we just walked into the first room we saw marked "Green Room." They really hooked it up! There were big screen TVs on every wall, a bar, buffet line, and beautiful leather couches. Not to mention a Pop A Shot basketball set up. This was gonna be a relaxing time before the show...then 2 minutes later we were told, "This isn't your dressing room." Below is some of the posters they made for Jim, along with jerseys and Gaffigan basketball cards.
Most powerful comedians have a large entourage. This is mine: my dad, my best friend since I was 4 years old, Joe Neumann, and my cousin Mike O'Leary. This is our dressing room. Mike found an unopened bag of bread and unopened peanut butter in the garbage from the Justin Timberlake show the previous night and made us peanut butter finger sandwiches.
We had almost three hours to kill before the show, so I utilized that time to the best of my ability.
I'll be honest I didn't really know how to prepare for the show. There were about 13,000 people in attendance and I think my previous high for a show was about 2000 when I opened for Weird Al in1999. Also the show was in the round and I'd be in the middle of the arena, it was all very new to me. Here's some pre-show video.
Before the show Ted reminded me to just do my thing and stay calm.
The show started and I was instructed to wait by the stage and Ted would introduce me. When you're a comic, your goal is to get to the mic before the applause die down. When there's 13,000 people you think the applause might last a little longer...not when you're the opening act. I should've sprinted to the mic. Ted was kind enough to take video.
Before the show I had decided to do some local references about how all 3 arenas are right next to each other, that the same drunk person who designed the Marquette Interchange must've named the FFffffiserv Fffforum, and the cultural landmark that is the Bronze Fonz.
Here are some other cool shots I found on-line or that friends sent me.
I can't thank Jim Gaffigan enough for letting me have this crazy experience and I was even able to give my dad a shout out during the show! Also on Thursday, October 11th it's going to be Art Clark Day in Milwaukee...I haven't told my dad yet.
In December 2017 Tom Clark released his very first stand up special "OUTRAGED." These are behind the scene facts that producers didn't want getting out! This isn't click bait or anything like that.
You can also still buy his special on both iTunes and Amazon and see these secrets for yourself.
Click here to buy or rent it:
Amazon: RENT OR BUY
iTunes: RENT OR BUY
These are my Top 5 Bombings on Stage or maybe I should say My Bottom 5 Performances on Stage. There’s been many more, but these are the ones that truly stand out, the ones that sit in your gut for a week or two afterward and make you question why you started doing comedy in the first place. Enjoy!
5. Snickerz, Fort Wayne, Indiana – September 1999 – The name alone should’ve told me it was gonna be a rough week. I had 5 shows and the first 4 shows the response was at best tepid. That’s where the audience doesn’t laugh, but you don’t get heckled and everyone avoids eye contact with you after the show. However, the last show it all came crumbling down. About 10 minutes into my 30 minute set, a guy with a big bushy moustache (he looked like the Jagermeister guy) shouted, “Git funny!”
Now this was before Larry the Cable Guy’s Git R Done, so this guy was a true maverick in the heckling world. The heckle “Git Funny!” is really bullet proof because there is no response, except to try harder and thus dig a deeper hole. I was not booked back at this club.
BRIGHT SIDE: No real bright side to this bombing story except to say the club closed a couple years ago.
4. Tribble Run – The Pacific Northwest – 10 days in July 2002 – First Tribble is the last name of the guy who books a series of poorly routed one nighters in the Pacific Northwest at various bars in front of audiences who seem unaware there is a comedy night. I had just come off of doing the Craig Kilborn show (AKA the Johnny Carson of my generation) so I was pretty hot stuff. In addition it was my birthday week, so the universe would seemingly be on my side. Instead I bombed every night. It’s one thing to bomb, but then to have to get up early the next morning and drive 6 hours to the next bombing is another.
I remember on the drive up to the gig I actually drove thru fire and saw a deer get hit by a car, I should’ve turned around then, but I didn’t. One night in Newport, Oregon halfway through my set I told the audience if you like my act go to the left side of the room and if you hate my act go on the right side…THEY DID! It was pretty evenly divided, one guy actually straddled the line and would move back and forth depending on what he thought of each joke. This might make for a good game show. I was pretty beaten down after 9 straight nights of bombing, but the last night in Astoria, Oregon in a hotel lounge I didn’t bomb and that’s all I needed to keep going...10% approval.
BRIGHT SIDE: I never did another Tribble run, but I definitely developed a thicker skin and I drove through fire, so that’s pretty cool.
3. The Rave. Milwaukee, WI. May 1997 – I’ve shared this story a few times, but basically I worked with Pauly Shore at a rock club in Milwaukee. I opened with a song I sang in Spanish (Viva La Gente – Up With People) and encouraged the audience to sing along. I was in my Andy Kaufman phase and the boos began to rain down. I was supposed to do 10 minutes and that’s what I did. The audience actually got tired of booing me. I left the stage after doing my contractually obligated 10 minutes and Pauly’s manager said to me, “What the hell was that?!?!” I replied, “Comedy?”
BRIGHT SIDE: The next night Pauly had me open for him in Appleton, WI. The response from the audience was again tepid (there’s that word again). But after I brought Pauly up to the stage he said, “Give it up for that guy. They booed him in Milwaukee, but I think he’s hilarious.” And that’s how Pauly Shore saved my comedy career.
2. 4th & B. San Diego, CA. June 2002 – This was another big music venue and everyone got in free. I had moved on from singing the song in Spanish and was now singing a song about a potato. (as an artist you have to grow.) My friend Dan went to the show with me and sat in the audience. Before the show he struck up a conversation with the folks next to him and told them I would be opening the show. They were impressed. I opened strong and Dan said the people next to him were laughing and nodded to him. Then I lost the audience. I told a street joke where I purposely screw it up… the audience didn’t get it and were very vocal about it. The people next to Dan actually moved away from him…I was causing second hand bombing. I got off stage and the manager of the venue said, “What the hell was that?!?!” I could now confidently say, “Comedy?”
BRIGHT SIDE: The check cleared and the venue closed due to failure to pay rent.
1. Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. Montreal, Quebec. July 2004. New Faces. This is the gig every young comedian strives for and there was so much importance placed on it. If you did well, fame and fortune awaited, if you bombed you would be ostracized from the show business community…okay not really, but at the time that’s how it felt. I remember from the start the set didn’t go well. I was told the band would play anything you wanted, I said, “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. I should’ve known better than to ask French Canadians to play country music because it was just a cacophony of sounds.
If it was me now I would’ve made fun of it for a few minutes, but at the time I was too nervous and just dove into my 7 minute set like a robot…it didn’t go well. The next day all the New Faces got reviewed everyone received a number…my number a BOMB. The icon of a bomb not even a number like they had to bring in a graphic designer to draw in a bomb. Followed by the line: “Definitely not Milwaukee’s best.” I was devastated.
BRIGHT SIDE: I remember I was so bummed. I went to the after party that night and a friend of mine introduced me to some agents and they wouldn’t even shake my hand. A couple nights later I was walking to Andy Kindler’s show and Mitch Hedberg saw me. I hadn’t worked with Mitch in a couple years, but he called out, “Tom Clark!” I was blown away that he remembered me. He was walking with those same agents and Mitch introduced me to them and said, “This is Tom Clark. He’s hilarious.” Mitch waited for them to shake my hand and they did. Mitch’s review was all I needed to keep going in comedy. I’ll always be thankful to him.
1. Focus on the people that like you.
3. Follow Through on Everything
4. Get Paid
This seems obvious, but once you finish a gig sometimes the hardest thing to do is get paid after. I had one acting gig where they promised me $500 and after doing the gig I only received half the money. After avoiding my call I went to the production company’s office and asked for my money. They showed me an invoice for $250, but they had clearly crossed out the $500. Luckily I had a copy of the invoice with the amount not crossed out. I ultimately had to contact the advertising agency who booked me and they forced them to pay the remaining amount. (you can watch the video here. I'm the British soldier dancing at the end...it made zero sense.)
I had another company that had been re-airing a comedy set of mine over and over. I went to my union and nothing happened. Then myself and another comic filed a lawsuit and after 5 years we all got paid. Unfortunately comics still work for this company.
Save your contracts and all the paperwork. If they don’t give you paperwork ask for it or make your own and have them sign off on it. For bigger paying gigs always ask for a deposit that will cover your expenses and then some if they cancel.
As frustrating as it may be to not get paid on time or have a check bounce give the person the benefit of the doubt. I’ve seen comedians get upset and post on social media about what a jerk the person is and watched any chance of them getting paid go out the window. It’s happened to me, but I always try to be understanding and I’ve been lucky enough to always get paid.
5. Sometimes you're just not ready.
I’ve experienced the frustration of not being accepted to a comedy festival or booked on a late night show and sometimes you’re just not ready for it. They’re not wrong, they know what works for them. The only thing you can do is move forward and continue to get better.
6. Be a good worker.
It goes both ways if you want respect from club owners, bookers, etc. be reliable. Be someone they don’t have to worry about. It’s your responsibility to get to the gig. If they want you to work clean, it’s up to you to deliver. Don’t give them an excuse not to book you.
7. Deliver a product you're proud of.
I remember when I started out, I’d hear a lot of comics when I was starting out saying they hate their acts. I never wanted that to happen for me. There was a time when I was on the road a lot I started to understand how that can happen. You’re doing a lot of shows and the venue grades you and the grade is given to the booker. If the owner doesn’t like you or your act you’re screwed, so sometimes you end up playing it safe and just play your greatest hits. That’s not how a comedian grows. I remember working with Mitch Hedberg and he told me how when he was starting out he’d know at the start of the week he’d never be booked at the club again because his act was so odd. But he stuck with his vision and became very successful. I was lucky to find venues that liked what I did (even when I wasn’t the best) and they stuck with me.
8. Invest in yourself.
This is something I wish I had done more early on in my career, but I’m glad I’m doing it now. I used to teach stand up comedy through a theater and the theater would get most of the money. Now I teach independently and rent the space on my own. I assume all the risk, but I also reap all the reward. The same with shooting my stand up special, I could’ve waited or hoped someone would come along, but decided to do it on my own. Doing things independently gives you more a sense of control.
9. Do things on your own terms.
I was also lucky to start off in Milwaukee where there were very few comics at the time. No one told you how to do comedy, which was good and bad. Good because it allowed for creative freedom (I sang about a potato, pretty groundbreaking stuff) and bad (I once told jokes shirtless with a wrestling mask on, never acknowledging my outfit.—bad idea.) Succeed or fail on your own terms, that way you’ll never have regrets.
10. Do everything.
Act, write, sing, dance. One thing that made my comedy career easier or at least more enjoyable was that I was doing multiple projects: improv, acting, stand up, volunteering. If one thing wasn’t going well, one of the other things would be. They say stand up requires a singular focus, but I think to be truly happy it’s important to be well rounded in your life and enjoy what you do. Don’t limit yourself. Focus on what makes you happy, not just success.
About a year ago Steph and I started working on our own web series called "The Clarks" with a very talented director and editor named Matthew Gossin (www.editormatthew.com). It's been a great way to use our creative energy, do our own thing, plus work with our very talented friends. After less than a year, our latest video "Neighbors" was featured in the Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com) and between Facebook and YouTube we got over 10,000 views! Thanks everyone for sharing our videos and you can watch all of them below.
Also I'm excited to announce I'll be independently producing my own hour special on Wednesday, May 10th at El Portal Theater in North Hollywood. More details soon!
There’s so many things that you have taught me over the years. I wanted to share the top five with you.
1. Sometimes You Get the Crappy Toy – I remember when I was a toddler I used to bring all my stuffed animals into your room and throw them on the bed. I remember you always let me have the “cool” stuffed animals (looking at you talking monkey) and you’d always take the not so “cool” toys (looking at you Raggedy Ann & Andy). You never complained and always went along with whatever crazy scenario I made up. It’s probably what made improv easier for me. You always said yes and let me be creative.
2. You Gotta Stand Up For What’s Right - I remember when I was 8 years old. We took (my brother) Tim to pick up the newspapers for his paper route. As we waited in the car one of the toughest kids in our grade school showed up. He was 13 going on 30, he had a full on mustache, smoked and I think he was on his second marriage. He was upset that day because one of the other newspaper carrier’s owed him money. So he took that kid’s wagon and began slamming it repeatedly on the ground. This was his payback (he was like a 13 year old Tony Soprano). As we sat in the locked and completely safe automobile, you got out and began YELLING AT HIM. He wasn’t someone you messed with let alone yelled at. Not even the nuns at school messed with him. Before I knew it you had stopped him from slamming the wagon. I remember as you walked away Jerry called you an asshole. Without missing a beat you said, “Have a nice day!” You returned to the car and I thought you were a super hero. You stood up to him and luckily there were no repercussions toward me nor my brother…he knew better.
3. If You Get Knocked Down, Get Back Up Again – You were a social worker in one of the most dangerous schools in Milwaukee. When I was 12 you got mugged twice within about three months, but you always went right back to work. You never blamed anyone. You had a job to do and knew it was more important to help people then to give up. You remind me of the old saying: “Never let the bastards wear you down.”
4. You Gotta Dance – When I went to college I told you I wanted to play college football. You said the only way I could do it was if I took dance lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Studios. I thought it was ridiculous, but I did it. I’m not sure I became a better dancer, but I never miss an opportunity to dance…for better or for worse.
5. Take the Road Less Traveled – When I started in stand up comedy, I got the opportunity of a lifetime…to open for Pauly Shore (trust me that was a big deal in the 90s). I opened for him in front of a crowd of almost a thousand at a rock club in Milwaukee. I got to the stage and after about two minutes was booed mercilessly…right off the stage. I was devastated and lost what little confidence I had. You weren't a big fan of me pursuing comedy, but a few days later you came into my room and handed me a scroll (yes a scroll). In beautiful calligraphy you had written the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” The lines that you really emphasized were:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
At the time my act was pretty weird. I sang a song about a potato for God’s sake. You told me to stick with what I do because I’d be happier in the long run. Two years later I sent a tape to Comedy Central with the aforementioned “Potato Song.” The intern viewing the tape was blown away by the weirdness and commitment I had. Like it or not...you caused my comedy career.
Mom, there’s so many lessons you taught me over the course of my life. Most of all you and Dad taught me to be a good person and for that I will be forever grateful. I love you!
On this date 2 years ago, my wife, Stephanie, and I did a live reading for a sitcom pilot we wrote. In August of that year we shot that pilot over the course of 10 days. After we finished it, I realized I had to learn how to edit and we had a friend of ours, Scott Passarella, add some music (www.scottpassarella.com) and voila we had our pilot.
I am so proud of what we accomplished and couldn't have done it without all the talented actors involved including: Lynne Stewart (Always Sunny, Pee Wee's Playhouse), Olivia DeLaurentis, Kelly Holden-Bashar, Lauren Pritchard, Sydney Heller, Willis Turner, Kimia Behpoornia, Drew Cullinan, Drew Droege, and Mike Rose. We managed to shoot the whole thing on our own for under $1000. Anyways check it out and share it if you don't mind. Without further adieu here is...Oak Park!