Stand-up comics Traci Skene and Brian McKim are a married couple, which is not uncommon in showbiz. But the local natives have been so for 28 years, and that's not typical in the biz.
The funny business can be difficult on performers' personal lives. But the couple, based in Las Vegas for almost seven years, have navigated that scene's temptations and self-destructive tendencies, not to mention its resentments, jealousy, and competition.
Kensington native Skene and McKim, born and raised in Pennsauken, are, as McKim puts it, together "24/7/365." Though each works alone on stage, the two have collaborated on such projects as their 2011 how-to book, The Comedy Bible: The Complete Resource for Aspiring Comedians, as well as MrandMrsComedy.com, their website.
How did you get into stand-up, and why?
Brian: I started doing open-mic nights in Philly. A former coworker of mine [at a graphics company in Camden] was doing the open mic at the Comedy Works, and she said it was exhilarating and that, since I was, in her opinion, "funny," I should try it. I stupidly promised that I would give it a try.
Traci: In the early 1980s, my sister married the owner of the Comedy Factory Outlet in Philadelphia, so I started hanging around the club when I was a teenager. I would often watch four shows in a weekend. It was an invaluable comedy education.
I started dating Brian, who was a regular comic at the club, in 1984, and he finally convinced me to do an open mic a year later.
Who were your biggest influences?
Brian: The folks I saw performing on [TV variety and late-night talk shows]. I had only seen four live stand-up shows before trying it myself. My humor is also clearly an amalgam of my parents' senses of humor, each distinctly different. My father was cerebral and loved wordplay. My mother was, for lack of a better word, "goofy."
Traci: Fortunately, I had an indulgent mother who let me stay up to watch [Johnny] Carson and The Midnight Special when I was 10. I would rush home from school to see Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, and, of course, Mike Douglas. I loved the comics.
I was a huge fan of Gary Mule Deer, Steve Landesberg, and Martin Mull. Of course, now, when I watch those shows in reruns, they seem almost unwatchable. And the stand-up comedy isn't as strong as I remembered.
How often do you work together?
Brian: It varies from year to year. In the early years, we worked apart quite frequently. In the '90s, we insisted on being booked together. In recent years, depending on what kind of dates we accept — be they cruises, corporate gigs, or others — there have been a few times when we might hit the road separately. Of course, working together is preferable.
Currently, we're in the middle of a 25-day East Coast swing that has us working together in three cities, in three different venues.
Your styles are not that similar. How much have you influenced each other?
Brian: With some exceptions, we are together 24/7/365. As such, we can't help but influence each other. Our styles are dissimilar, and we're primarily concerned with writing for our own acts. But on occasion, I'll concoct a joke that just doesn't fit with me, and, with a bit of rejiggering, fits nicely with Traci's onstage persona and outlook.
And the converse is also true. She's currently "winning" that contest. She's written far more jokes for me than I have for her.
Recently, we've made conscious efforts to collaborate, and we've actually had some surprising success. We've collaborated on every one of our other writing endeavors, but writing our acts was a solitary pursuit. That's slowly changing.
Traci: It's nice to have somebody around to say, "Write that down. You need to do that on stage." I shudder to think how many jokes would have been lost if one of us hadn't said that to the other. Our daily lives are one big sitcom script.
Lately, I've been re-creating some of our normal dialogue during my set. I hadn't really done it that much in the past. Maybe I'm just becoming a better storyteller.
Have there been gigs where you shared the bill, and one of you killed while the other didn't do particularly well? How do you handle that?
Brian: Ha! Yes, but it's rare. We're both comedians, so we both understand what happened that led to a non-kill. The postmortem is easier, since we're both on the same page. It's one of the great advantages to having a spouse that does exactly what you do — no need for analogies, no chance for misunderstanding.
We don't dwell on the rare bad shows. Doing so is counterproductive. We keep calm, diagnose, look forward, and carry on.
Traci: We had a show recently where I killed, and he had a harder time following me. But that's because the audience consisted of mostly younger women. When younger women love me, they tend to politicize their experience. They get this "sisters are doing it for themselves" attitude, which makes it difficult for any male comic to have a great set after I've had a great set.
Honestly, it's kind of annoying. I don't enjoy my time on stage when I know Brian may not enjoy his.
The touring road is filled with pitfalls and temptations that can strain a relationship. What's your secret to staying together?
Brian: Working together has helped, of course. I hate to sound like a Hallmark card, but we have mutual respect for each other, and we're dedicated to the happiness and welfare of the other. We've known many colleagues who have succumbed to these temptations you mention. We're hyper-aware of them. We've not felt that the environment was all that challenging — either alone or together. It is more the case that these "challenges" drive us closer together.
Traci: We live to talk to each other. So, when we're not on the road together, we can't wait to talk on the phone. Consequently, we've rarely partied after a show.
Besides, we would rather go out with comics to a diner and laugh for hours than go to a bar and look for trouble. That's just the type of people we are.