By Eddie Vega
In 1973 when Frederick Karl Pruetzel, at the tender age of 17, dropped out of a New York City high school to pursue stand-up comedy, Los Angeles was the place to go. He performed at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, a club where emerging comics hoped to be noticed by Tonight Show producers, followed by an appearance as special guests of Johnny Carson, and their own television shows.
That’s exactly what happened to Pruetzel who appeared on the Tonight Show under the name Freddie Prinze. Then it happened to David Letterman and Jay Leno.
How a stand-up comic goes about building a career has changed greatly since 1973. Today no one city or club can claim kingmaker status, and there are many more venues where careers can be nourished and talent noticed. The emergence of social media has seen to that.
Just ask the 1.36 million Twitter users following Dane Cook or his over 2 million MySpace friends. Cook, one of the first comics to use social media as a powerful tool to build an audience, has inspired other comics to do the same, Adam Sank among them.
Sank, 38, spent six years toiling in the comedy clubs of New York City, eventually appearing on season six of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” as well as various cable shows. But after beginning a relationship with a sailor stationed in San Diego, Sank moved there 18 months ago, only to find there were few opportunities for a working comic.
“I eventually had to get a day job working for a military housing community,” he said. “It was awful.” There were opportunities to perform in Los Angeles, where comedy venues were more plentiful, but the six-hour drive to and from San Diego after a full work day took its toll. “LA was too far away to be useful,” Sank said. He looked for other ways to build a following.
“I knew from what Dane Cook had done that I needed to create more of an online presence where people could find me.” While Sank had maintained a Web site and a blog, for years he found that hits to those sites had diminished with the explosion of social networking sites like Facebook.
“With Facebook, anyone can upload their thoughts, photos and videos with a few quick clicks,” he said. “No code involved.” Soon he had more than 1,500 Facebook friends and another 650 on a fan page. And those fans left numerous comments about his various posts and uploaded links. “Everyone wants their opinions to be read by people they know. That’s something they really can’t do on old-fashioned Web sites.”
That response, along with the break-up of his relationship, was enough for Sank pursue stand-up as a full-time occupation. And so, two weeks ago, he returned to New York, the place many comics had once fled for California.