As many of you likely have already heard, last week a Los Angeles comedian named Barbara Gray stirred up a whole bunch of Internet drama after she posted a rant on her blog about an incident she witnessed at a small show where she performed.
You can (and should) read her full post about it here, but to make a long story short she witnessed Patton Oswalt go off on a crowd member who was filming his act as he was working out new material and she thought he handled the situation very poorly. Or, as she puts it in the title of her blog post, “That One Time When Patton Oswalt Was An Asshole.”
Patton promptly responded to Barbara’s post with a post on his own website, where he explained his side of the story and what transpired. You can (and should) read that here.
I’m not going to weigh in on who’s right or wrong in this dustup, but rather I want to share three quick observations about it that I think are more relevant to you as a comedian trying to navigate the constantly changing landscape of the comedy business.
Here’s three things I think you should take away from the great Oswalt-Gray pissing match of 2012…
1. The world is watching everything you do, whether that’s fair or not.
Was it out-of-bounds for that audience member to film Patton’s set? Was Patton’s reaction to it over the top? Did Barbara Gray have any right to draw attention to the incident by writing about it online? Should anybody care what Barbara thinks about it? Should Patton care what other people who weren’t even there think about it?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. But here’s what I do know…
We live in a world where everything you do on stage (and off) is fodder for the court of public opinion. Whether it’s right or wrong, fair or not, the reality is your actions are under the microscope of the world at all times and you need to be aware of that.
I know the process of developing material is a delicate one, and I know that comics like the idea of having a secure environment in which to do that, but unfortunately that environment no longer exists.
The story of everything you do will be told, and you won’t always be the one that gets to tell it – or control who it gets told to.
2. You have a bigger platform than you have a fanbase.
I don’t know Barbara Gray personally and I’ve never seen her act. I have heard her name in Los Angeles comedy circles, but I can’t pretend to have any idea what her act is like or how big of a fanbase she does (or doesn’t have).
But I’m pretty sure that the number of people that her missive about Patton’s actions reached is likely more than 10 times the number of actual fans she has. It’s an example of how the platform of people you can reach with compelling content extends way beyond the number of people that happen to be in your fanbase because interesting, controversial, and/or compelling content can spread thanks to the Internet.
Years ago, Barbara’s rant would have only been told to her handful of friends who would have no real way to pass it on. In this case, her blog post was linked to by other bigger blogs, shared by people on Twitter and Facebook, and I’m guessing sent more traffic to her blog than she’d ever had before.
Now I’m not suggesting that you need to rant about other comedians in order to grow your fanbase, but rather just pointing out how the number of people you can actually reach by creating interesting content far outnumbers the number of people you happen to have following you already.
3. Your words can have consequences you don’t intend.
Did Barbara Gray think that Patton would actually see what she wrote about him when she posted it, let alone that he would respond to it? Probably not. Did she realize when she was posting it that it could likely become the thing she is most known for in comedy circles? That it could become a part of her personal brand? Probably not.
When you post something on the Internet, you need to understand that there’s always the chance it becomes bigger than you intend – for better or worse. Each update, blog post, video, or picture you put out there for the public has the potential to impact your career.
I’m not saying this to discourage you from posting things online – as you know I’m a big believer in posting as much content as you can possibly create. But when you do, you want to be mindful of the ways in which that content may be received and the consequences (intended or unintended) that may come with it.
6 thoughts on “Patton Oswalt, Barbara Gray, and What You Can Learn From Their Internet Rumble”
A quick point here Josh: In item #1 number one you say “I don’t know the answer to any of these questions” when one of the questions was “Was it out-of-bounds for that audience member to film Patton’s set?” The answer to that question is yes, and it is always yes. It is ALWAYS against the rules to tape any comedian without asking. Every good comedy club worth their salt will say “please no filming or photography during the performance.” Now i tend to doubt any comedian caring ifs someone took their picture, but filming is never allowed. At open mic nights the rules are more lose, but it is still against the rules. So there is a chain reaction that started here by whoever was running that room not asking the audience members to keep their smartphone camera’s off. Period. The first event that caused a chain reaction here wasn’t the person filming the set, it was whoever running the room not making it very clear to the audience that isn’t kosher. So I think in this whole Oswalt thing, that’s one of the major details that is getting overlooked.
I understand that isn’t the focus of the article, but most things I’ve seen written about the subject don’t bother to mention these people not having control of their room.
Also i don’t spell check things i write.
Yeah, the person filming shouldn’t have been filming. Like you said, that’s not really the focus of this article, but that is a fair point – I’m certainly not defending that part of the incident. Probably should have chosen my words a little more carefully…
I’ve seen Barbara Gray’s standup. She’s not bad but the show I went to the audience wasn’t into her and she went off on them as well. Wow, pot calling the kettle black.
why are comedians like High School girls?
I learned #3 the hard way, when I wrote about a cross over show I did with some slam poets and creative writing types.
I tried to be inclusive and positive yet honest about each performer including the poets, but since I only decided to wrtie the post after having already done the show, I didn’t have any notes on anyone, and the only names I had were the ones on the flyer. Couple that with the fact that I really can’t focus or sit still for anything that happens before my set and I’m never paying attention to the person who goes right after me (or at least not the first half of their stuff) and someone was bound to be left out or overlooked.
I wound up being accused of being a sexist pig, because I only wrote 3 sentences about the only woman on the bill and I was heavy on honesty and light on actual descriptive positive review…. I was really only trying to recount a show that I was proud to be a part of, but I ended up really hurting this woman’s feelings and it took every bit of back-pedaling-apology skills to rectify the situation which had spun way out of control by the time I was aware of it…
Lesson learned. Words have consequences….
Slam Poets and Feminist writers (both of whom I respect) aren’t comedians and don’t always know how to handle gentle barbs and tactless honesty.