I love comedy. It’s my passion. It’s what I do. This also means that I study comedy hardcore. I know about comedy through its years. I know plenty about sketch comedy, but even more about the history of stand-up. I LOVE STAND-UP COMEDY. I know especially about the 2000s to present day. That’s what I grew up with. That’s when I watched stand-up specials as they aired. I probably didn’t watch much until 2003-04, but I was invested. I looked into the history of every name I learned and I listened to their albums and tracked down all other specials. I still do his. Oh, yeah, plus podcasts.
So, OF COURSE, I know that “Is This Thing On?” originated from Dom Irrera. It’s followed him his whole career and it’s even become a trope in the hands of the inexperienced comics who ripped it off, fumbled their timing and delivered it with the wrong attitude. It became hacky of anybody but Dom Irrera to say, “Is this thing on?”
Dom does it with an arrogance after a joke flops. What he’s saying is “That last joke was fuckin’ funny. If you’re not laughing, then it must be because you didn’t hear it annnnnnd it’s not my fault. It must be because the microphone isn’t working.”
He’s being cocky. It’s great. It’s funny.
“Is This Thing On?” has since been just adopted when failure strikes and became prominent enough to be in the cartoons I watched as a kid, or they became part of the portrait of a hack (No…Dom Irrera is not a hack. Those who rip him off are).
The reason this column is called “Is This Thing On?” is simple. I do a bit that mocks the hacks who adopted Dom’s joke in moments of failure. I usually open with it as a statement: “I haven’t said anything yet, I haven’t failed, and I’m going to need your full attention.” My bit goes on to be about the universality of stand-up (only to then launch into unrelatable material).
Placement of this bit is important for my set. I was bombing pretty fucking hard and was heckled right off the bat by someone who should have know better (who has since apologized). This opened the door for more hecklers. The set was going so badly, I turned to my Is This Thing On? bit because it does rally a crowd (at the top of a set, so it should work in the middle, right?). In the bit, I get the audience to band as a collective and ensure that they will keep their attention on the comedy at hand. With no crowdwork or anything before my set, I realized too late that I needed something that could bring them in to me. I chose poorly from my arsenal though.
Ultimately, I got cut off by another heckler before I could get to the turning point of the bit that pulls it away from it being hacky. That’s when the first heckler (from before) joined in again.
That same heckler is someone I’ve known for some time. He approached me after the show to tell me that I was doing Dom Irrera’s bit (it wouldn’t have been so similar to his bit if I hadn’t been heeeeckklleeedddd). I took in his comment and pretended it was new information.
But I had seen Dom Irrera’s 2006 DVD Is This Thing On? when I was in high school in 2007 (or 2008).
So, yeah, I know.
I’m doing something else.
This column’s title is more of an homage.
Dom Irrera is appearing at this year’s Just for Laughs Festival from July 16-27, 2014.