Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interview with Monte LaMonte!

Monte LaMonte wears a lot of hats (literally and figuratively). He's the founder of the “Work It Out!” Sunday night open mic at Township in Logan Square. He runs the monthly storytelling show “I Shit You Not” at the Logan Theater with Mike Sanchez from CYSK, and the duo also produces the “I Shit You Not, The Poodcast” podcast. Monte’s latest collaboration with Collin A. Bullock host of the "Awkward Moments" podcast is creating a lot of buzz in the scene right now. It's the first annual Chicago Open Mic Fest which happens this weekend, starting Thursday night at Candela, hosted by Will Martinez and Brian Zachary Earl.

If you want to participate in the Chicago Open Mic Fest, just show up to any of the open mics listed below and do some time or just watch and support.

THURSDAY, NOV 13 - Candela Comedy Open Mic -Sign Up at 8, Start at 9.
FRIDAY, NOV 14 - Power Hour Open Mic at Gallery Cabaret -Sign up 5:00pm, Start 6:00pm
FRIDAY, NOV 14 - Picasso’s Cantina in Waukegan - Sign up 7:30, Start at 8
SATURDAY, NOV 15 - Late Late Breakfast at The Hideout - Sign up 2:30pm, Start 3:00pm.
SATURDAY, NOV 15 - Globe Pub - Sign up 5:30, Start 6:00
SATURDAY, NOV 15 - Moe Joe’s in Plainfield - Sign up at 7 pm, Show at 8 pm.
SATURDAY, NOV 15 - Fun Simulator 2000 at Reeds - Sign up 8:30, Start 9:00.
SUNDAY, NOV 16 - Best of the Fest Showcase at Township, (hosted by Marty DeRosa). Start 6:00pm

The fest will have a secret panel of judges at every mic and they will select their favorite comics. The names will then be tallied and the top 8 comics will be booked to perform at the Sunday night “Best Of The Fest” showcase. 

Along with explaining  more about Mic Fest, Monte opened up and shared some valuable wisdom on not just being a better comic, but being a better person. Advice that we all should take to heart.

COMEDY OF CHICAGO: What’s a good bit of advice to consider when trying to connect with a room full of strangers?

MONTE LAMONTE: Think about who your favorite comedian is. OK? Now, one of the things you like about your favorite comedian is that you almost get a feeling of what it would be like to hang out with them. Right? Seems like it might be fun! You know why? Because, in a weird sort of way, they’re making themselves welcoming. They’ve allowed you inside. You establish a relationship with these people—they’re your friends. Even though, in reality, you DON’T know those people and they’re not your friends. But, you get that sense because those people are so welcoming and so vulnerable and so inviting.

COC: Being so open and vulnerable on stage is one thing. But you can’t be like that in real life, right?

ML: Well, you should be able to. But, here’s the thing and I do it, too: I do my best to be cool, but sometimes I get in my head and start thinking, “Ah, everybody hates me!” So then, walls go back up a little bit—and that’s when you see people crossing their arms, turning their back...but all you’re doing is keeping people alway from you! You will make people dislike you by putting up so many walls and acting like a dick. And this will keep you from growing and getting better.

COC: Advice on getting more comfortable with being so open and vulnerable on stage?

ML: Try. As much as you can. Don’t worry about anything else, or what others think. It’s so hard to be the true you when you keep putting up walls. How can you expect to connect with an audience when you’ve got all these walls up? There’s no way they could ever get to you! And the truth is, we are all connected more than we think. We all share the same fears, insecurities, desires, setbacks, pitfalls—it’s all the same. That’s the fucked up thing, we are ALL in the same boat no matter where we go.


COC: What do you do when a joke doesn’t work even though it’s worked for you in the past?

ML: Have a MILLION jokes, so that if this one didn’t get ‘em, this one should, and if not this one, then THIS one will. This one might get HIM and maybe not her, or then this one might get HER and maybe not HIM. Just try to work a million different angles.

COC: If your jokes don’t work every single time, how can a comic stay consistent?

ML: The best way to be consistent is to work super hard at what you’re doing. It needs to be SO tight that even if one joke doesn’t work, you can just move onto the next one. SOMETHING is gonna work SOMEWHERE. Don’t put all your eggs into just one basket. You can’t worry about a single one bit. It shouldn’t matter if one bit doesn’t work, ‘cause I’m going right into the next thing, and to the next thing, and so on. If one doesn’t work, hit ‘em with another one! Just say to yourself, “Oh, you didn’t like that one? Well, here’s another one!” Just keep goin’ and goin’ and goin’.

COC: Just build up a library of material...

ML: Yeah, it’s kind of like eating something that doesn’t taste good. Say you have a four-course meal, and you don’t like one thing on the plate. You don’t sit and dwell on that one thing. Instead, you turn your plate, you ignore that one part of the meal, and then you eat the next thing that you enjoy. Eventually, something’s gonna hit. So for your material, you need to have COURSES.

COC: A four-course meal’s worth of material. I like that.

ML: Yeah, or SEVEN, or EIGHT, or ELEVEN... [laughs] In order to have a tight five minutes, you REALLY need to have a tight 20 minutes—which will enable you to have a tight five. And if you want to have a tight 20 minutes, you need a SOLID hour. As long as you have an arsenal of stuff, you’re bound to win the crowd over with something.

COC: What are your thoughts on performing in front of the same comics who have already seen you do the same jokes?

ML: You have to. Everybody always has to. You have to get over that. That’s a hang up in your head which will only put up a road block and ultimately slow you down, taking you steps backward instead of forward. And I understand that hang up. But, in order for me to have a good joke in my tight five, I’ll have to try MANY different ways to set it up. I have to play around with it and change certain words. In order to work just ONE bit that’s only ONE MINUTE long, I’ve had to do that joke SO many times in front of the same people! It takes a lot of fixing and crafting.


COC: Open mic can be brutal sometimes. How do you make the most of your time in a place where your set seems doomed even before you hit the stage?

ML: When you’re on stage, you need to serve everybody—it’s like makin’ love. You need to serve yourself, you need to serve her, and you need to serve the night. When you’re performing, you need to serve yourself, serve your audience, serve the entire night and everybody who’s there. You gotta make that all work. Don’t set yourself up for failure as soon as you get on stage by being in your head and saying things like, “Hey, I know you know this one, but I’m gonna do it anyway...” Don’t think that to yourself! Because now you’re not serving yourself, which means you haven’t served the audience, which means you haven’t served the night. So, you just wasted your time, the crowds’ time, and every other comics’ time. If you’re gonna come here, come ready. Be prepared—even at an open mic.

COC: Thoughts on comics who use their notebooks on stage?

ML: Don’t look at your notebook the entire time! If you’re gonna use your notebook, just look at it for a recap as you’re thinking of what you’re gonna do—‘cause you already came ready. Focus on the performance, and the people before you, because they’re working hard, too. So, give them the attention that they need.

COC: What about comics in the crowd who are buried in their notebooks or texting on their phones, as opposed to paying attention to their fellow comics?

ML: I hate seeing comics just bury themselves in their notebook and don’t look up the whole time until they go up. It’s like, “Why are you here? You’re not ready! Come ready! You knew you were coming here! Why are you showing up unprepared?!” Don’t let your fellow comic up on stage SEE you with your head turned away while you look at your notes. It’s discouraging. It’s insulting. And there’s no excuse for that, because you’re just enabling shitty behavior. Nobody wants to see that.

COC: It sucks trying to connect when people in the front row are looking down at their notes or their phones...

ML: No comic is their right mind wants to be on stage and see someone doing that. It’s ignorant and it’s rude. It shows your lack of professionalism. It’s not cool. Why is it acceptable? Oh, because they came here to work on something new? Yeah, we ALL are! So, get it together. And I feel strongly about that. I feel that if you disagree with me on THAT, then you are an enabler to this type of negative behavior.

COC: A lot of times, I’ll fixate on those who are NOT paying attention and think, “I’m gonna get them to laugh!”

ML: Yeah! But you’re not! You are not performing for EVERYBODY. Now, you’re not serving the night, you’re not serving yourself, you’re not serving anything. You’re just wasting time being fixated on some jerkoffs who have no interest in paying attention. Support the people that support you. I’ve wasted too much time trying to win over people that do not like me. And it’s a crutch. It’s unhealthy, and it’s sick. I’m doing my best to escape it. Focus on the people that like you. Let those people be your friends. There’s a will to want to be liked by EVERYBODY. And you’re never gonna win EVERYONE over. It’s unhealthy to think that way.


COC: You and Collin A. Bollock are in charge of this year’s very first Open Mic Fest. How will the Mic Fest change the dynamic of the usual open mics?

ML: Every mic is gonna run autonomously, and they will not run any more differently than they usually run. The only difference will be when they start, they’ll explain what’s going on—how on this night, they are part of Mic Fest and that everybody will be working toward Sunday’s “Best of the Fest”.

COC: What if you do not get picked for Sunday’s “Best of the Fest”?

ML: Don’t worry if you don’t make the votes. They’re still gonna have an open mic portion of “Best of the Fest” and these spots will be randomly drawn by Marty DeRosa. And it’ll be out of a clear jar so you can see that it’s no bullshit.

COC: Whether you get picked for Sunday or not, how important is it to come out?

ML: I really want people to come out on Sunday’s “Best of the Fest” even if you don’t make the votes. Just come out, show your face, and let yourself be seen by all these bookers. So that when you do show up to the Lincoln Lodge or Comedians You Should Know or Zanies or Laugh Factory, they recognize you as a comic who was at Mic Fest. And on top of that, you’re also coming to get that chance to perform.


COC: I’m in my head a lot, how do I snap out of that?

ML: Get out of your head!! [laughs] A lot of us are in our heads A LOT. If you’re getting in your head, one thing I’ve learned is either I find a passion such as music which takes me out of my head, or I focus on something else. Focus on a joke, work on new material, start running your chores for tomorrow, maybe just focus on a happy moment—sidetrack yourself and think somewhere else. Because the more you think, the worse you’ll be at times. We tend to get way too caught up on things that are ridiculous and stupid.

COC: Why is it when you’re too real, you end up offending people or you weird them out?

ML: Sometimes we get too real, and that scares people because they’re not at that point to be THAT real about something. I’m 43 and I STILL have things that I can’t admit to myself. And I know that they’re there. And so I think just because I know it’s there, that I’m admitting to myself, but I’m not. Even though I know it’s there, I still bury it. And who knows when I’ll get over that. That’s a demon. That’s gonna happen your whole life, but you have to get over that shit and realize that we’re all the same, and we’re all just trying to get through this world and be the best.

COC: Final thoughts / words of wisdom?

ML: Hmm, I’ll say this: Cherish your moments with people that you really like. Because when you get older, it ends. And if there are things that you don’t like about yourself, start changing them immediately. Work on yourself as often as you can, on being a better person. As I’m getting older, one thing I’ve realized is that I spent too much time working on trying to please people, and I lost sight of myself. Also, don’t be afraid of who you are, and what you like, or what you do. Do what you do, and you will attract people who are similar. Do your best, be you, and always try to be the best version of you. Even the nastiest person just wants to be loved. And I know it sounds cheesy [laughs] but I think ultimately, we all just want to be loved. We want to feel it, and we want to give it. That’s why I say just do your best and be your best.

Staff Writer: David Gavri
David Gavri is a stand-up comedian, writer and founder of the online comedy sites Gonzo Fame and Comedy Scene in Houston.