A Comic’s Life: Performing Comedy in New Orleans


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I was invited to do four stand-up shows in New Orleans this weekend. I had never been before, so I was excited to see the city. I had three nights there, so I took the chance to see NOLA with down-time during the days and shows at nights.

During the days, some visiting comics and I explored New Orleans. We walked down Bourbon Street, which must feel to locals what Times Square feels like to New Yorkers. Crowded and filled with tourists, with businessmen standing outside trying to bark people into their strip clubs at lunchtime. “Titties? Wanna see some titties?” they were shouting to anyone who passed by, including a father with his young kids. The father rushed his kids down the street, but not before doing a double-take to see the address. We’re all hoping he got to see some breasts later.

The arts, particularly the music, scene is huge. Streets are filled with live music. Jazz, bluegrass, R&B — all kinds of genres.

Some of the local comics said that they think the music scene informs the comedy scene. Comedy shows are competing with all of this free entertainment, so many of the independent shows are at spots where there’s live music before or after the stand-up.

Some of the local comics said that they think the music scene informs the comedy scene. Comedy shows are competing with all of this free entertainment, so many of the independent shows are at spots where there’s live music before or after the stand-up. A lot of comedy shows, across cities, are ambush-style. That is, the audience did not know that there was going to be a comedy show that night. This set-up can lead to some unpleasant shows, for both the comics and the crowd, but sometimes it works out. This dynamic, in doses, can toughen comics and make them stronger, because the audience is not there to see comedy. They’re there to drink and chat and don’t give a shit about you, so you have to work to earn their attention and interest.

Despite the vastness of the arts scene, there is no formal comedy club in New Orleans.

Despite the vastness of the arts scene, there is no formal comedy club in New Orleans. One of the shows I did was at House of Blues, a famous rock & blues club, which was a really cool experience. Another great show was at New Movement, an intimate theater where the room was laid out and felt like UCB Chelsea, with an audience of engaged comedy fans off to the sides, as well as straight ahead. The other spots were at bars with elevated stages, one customized to appear cabaret-style. One venue in the fest was at an artsy spot that had some gallery viewing prior to the stand-up.

I talked to some local comics and they said that, like in many cities, the comedy scene can be segregated. Some comics primarily work black rooms, in different neighborhoods, and there is not as much overlap as you would think. This setup is the case in New York, to an extent, and many cities. I wish I had found out ahead of time and gotten the chance to do at least one black room in NOLA while I was there, just to have that experience and play to a different audience than the mostly-white crowds that frequented the shows I did.

There are really talented local comics in the city. The New Orleans folks I met said there isn’t much of a young professional culture around. Like in New York, most comics have sort of a piecemeal employment: working as an assistant, working for a school, temping, etc. Whatever to get by while still being able to do sets at night. Obviously, there isn’t as much stage time in NOLA as there is in a place like New York, but comics in the area can still get on-stage at least once/night, if they want.

My last night, some other comics and I were walking to our last show, when a Hispanic Heritage parade started passing through the streets. They were hurling beaded necklaces and coins, hitting people in the face. It was a real celebration of culture, coupled with unexpected facial wounds for some. With that experience, everything made sense: If you’re going to potentially get hit in the face with beads walking down the street, the least the city can do is offer you the chance to see tits 24/7.

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Dan Perlman is a stand-up comedian and writer from New York City. Dan performs regularly at Stand Up NY, New York Comedy Club, Comic Strip Live, and alternative rooms across the city. He has performed in comedy festivals in Brooklyn, Memphis, and Dallas. In 2013, Dan was named Comedy Contributor for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s popular StarTalk Radio show. He co-founded, writes, and stars in the web series, Moderately Funny. Dan also works as a Sketch Company Writer for the Off-Broadway theater group, On The Rocks. Currently, Dan hosts and produces a monthly storytelling show, Hindsight, at Stand Up NY Labs. He also appears regularly on SiriusXM’s Ron and Fez Show. Visit danperlmancomedy.com for more.