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Dry Humor: Robert Mac Explains the Stand-Up Racket

By Monica Friedman November 28, 2011

Performing Humor and Smart Comedy on Stage

According to his website, robertmac.com, “Robert Mac is a comedy creator, collaborator, connoisseur, and critic,” as well as “the thinking man’s non-thinking man.” A rare breed, he is a stand-up comedian who doesn’t resort to profanity, misogyny, or chest-beating, and still made the Entertainment Business Journal’s list of top one hundred comedians. How does he define his act? That’s “the hardest part of the job,” he says. “How can I tell you what my act is when I can only see it through me-colored glasses? Other people say it’s smart, clever, silly, cerebral.”

He readily admits that he’s chosen a difficult path in life, or, as he puts it, “stand-up is a tough racket.” Still, Mac has been able to find success in his chosen field, performing not only at comedy clubs around the country, but also private and corporate gigs, along with the much-coveted television appearance.

Daily, he battles the dichotomy of the life of an intelligent stand-up performer. “I put a lot of thought into my material,” he says. One the one hand, while “it’s easy to make people laugh…it’s much more rewarding to make them think and keep them guessing.” On the other hand, his experience is that his job involves, “mostly performing for drunks.” The club scene seems to be about “free comedy and expensive drinks, which devalues the comedy. It’s really backward in many ways. The club owners make their money on booze, so they offer cheap or free comedy to get drinkers into the clubs.”

But Mac is committed to this life, and has been for some time. He remembers, as a child, listening to a Steve Martin routine and thinking, “Do people do that as a job?” His first foray into stand-up took place around 1992. He provided some written material for a friend to perform at a local club’s open mic night. “When he did my material on stage, and got laughs, I felt betrayed in a way,” Mac remembers. “I wanted those laughs. After much cajoling, he finally pushed me onstage and my first set was a hit. I was hooked.”

Almost twenty years later, he performs regularly, an iconoclast in an industry where many performers are seeking to reach an audience that is “there to do shots and whoop it up.” By contrast, Mac plays well to a “bright and attentive” audience. Where is his base? He reports, “I do well with people with glasses,” and that he can judge how successful his set has been by how well he feels when he’s done. “If I’m having fun,” he says, “they’re having fun.” His favorite shows, naturally, are “the ones where they are in the palm of my hand the whole time and they let me run the show.”

What else could a comedian ask for? Reportedly, “a few more television appearances.” But he’d settle for the ability to “make a comfortable living as a comedian . . . and I’m making my way toward that.”

Mac uses social networks to share the news about upcoming performances, including Facebook to direct his fans to hyperlinks where they can purchase tickets or make reservations for upcoming shows. Fans can watch clips of his performances on his YouTube channel. He sells CDs and digital downloads online (and hopes to offer more merchandise in the near future), and even writes an occasional blog called Comedy DNA, discussing humor. In terms of weird publicity stunts, however, he rates this article as “probably the unusualest,” thing he has ever done.

Humor, of course, is subjective. “There’s funny in everything,” Mac says, “but it takes a lot to make me laugh. I think I need to be caught off-guard. Today I laughed out loud, literally, watching my friend Myq Kaplan perform on Letterman—funny, smart stuff.”