I've never worked with Scott Long, but I enjoyed his headlining set earlier
this year when he came to Toledo, exchanged online pleasantries with him, and
became a fan of his "Flyover Comedy" blog. In one post, he tells it like it is
about being a road comic who's also a dad, laying out a typical day in his
insanely hectic life. After my weekend, I decided I'd rip that idea off and
throw together a little post. Saturday was a typical day for me, at least as
typical as I expect them to be in the near future. I juggled the demands of
old-guy domestic bliss with one of my first paid comedy shows, and it was a
blast, but it took a bit out of me.
For those who don't know me personally (and who the hell else reads this
shit?), I'm a 39-year-old father of two kids. My daughter is four, and has
special needs, so she's a high-maintenance handful most days. There's
medicines, bottle feedings, therapy and play time, and occasional freakouts,
meltdowns or epic throwing-up episodes. She's a lot of fun to hang out with
most of the time, but there's a lot on her to-do list. Meanwhile, my son is
ten, and is vying for a spot at a really awesome arts-based high school here in
our town. We started the day with an open house at that school -- mom took him to that, while the little one and I got through her morning routine.
All the while, I was checking on a pot of chili I had made. I was entering a
chili cookoff at my son's school, and I wanted to make sure it was just right.
I won the last two years, and this is his last year at the elementary school, so
I was really hoping for a three-peat. It's kind of embarrassing, how into this
shit you get. The first year, I was laughing it off, enjoying it ironically,
not too worried about it. By year three, I've got a game face, I'm mean-mugging the other parents, I'm hovering while people try my chili. I'm taking it WAY too seriously. I'm guessing that's either a sign of aging, or a desire for that Kroger gift card for the grand prize.
The boy and mom get home from the open house, she leaves early to go help set up the cookoff, and I wrangle lunch for the kids and hustle to get a little bit
of stuff done around the house. I had big grandiose plans for a long, hot shower, and then an hour to go over my notes for the show that night, but it was becoming obvious that none of that shit was remotely gonna happen. I packed some orders (I sell shit on Ebay for a living - more on that some other time), then loaded kids, mail, chili, and - at the last possible second - some comedy notes and a couple bottles of water for my show. I grabbed the GPS and printed out a map (us old fogies don't entirely trust the GPS, although some half-assed unverified Google Map is gospel), and I was out of the house.
I won't keep you in suspense. I won the chili cookoff, and the gift card, though by a smaller margin than in previous years. (For the record, there is no secret ingredient - the andouille sausage and chick peas are right there where you can see them, and there's a shit-ton of chili powder, cumin and red pepper).
I hung out till the last minute, then left the wife and kids at the cookoff and, unshowered, tired, with a belly full of various types of chili, hit the road for Commerce Township, Michigan. State route to expressway to typical bombed-out Michigan four-lane road, to a bowling alley called Wonderland Lanes -
packed parking lot, lots of bowlers, and an enclosed lounge area where people were paying $5 cover. Me as one of five comics, then an improv troupe, and I was getting paid? Hell yes!
Well, two of the comics didn't show. I got asked how much time I could do, and told I could do "at least" 25 minutes. The crowd was really talky, and not paying a lot of attention, despite the ambitious efforts of Hailey (the MC, improv trouper and the one who set the show up) and Eric (the guy before me). The owner even went on stage before I did my set, thanking everyone for showing up but imploring them to please be quiet because "some of these people up front want to hear the show." Not suggesting that they themselves pay any attention, just asking them to consider the weirdoes who paid $5 to see a comedy show and then, ya know, wanted to see said show.
I went up, and I tore it up. I started really strong, got 'em on my side, got a good bit of the room listening and laughing... and then I lost them. I have a bit that I loved, that just didn't work that well, and when it DID work, it was usually due to residual good will from the previous few jokes going over well. This night, it died a horrible death on the floor, and several bits after it tanked as well. It was getting really quiet, and the conversations in the back were starting up again. I thought I was probably done for.
But I kept at it, I didn't let it externally rattle me, and I tried to stay strong as I went into the last half of my set. And somehow, I won them back - it was amazing. I got some applause breaks, I had people singing along with my ridiculous closing bit, I got big applause at the end - it was incredible. I felt really good about the whole thing. I had another beer and watched Hailey and her improv troupe do their thing - they were great, Eric and I ran up on stage and participated a little bit. It was a triumphant night overall.
As I was walking out to the parking lot, feeling ten feet tall, I texted home to make sure everything was okay. "The little one just puked up her dinner all over me." Awesome. Instantly I go from rock star to deadbeat dad who's an hour away getting clapped on the back by strangers for being funny while my wife is squeegeeing toddler vomit off her clothes and trying to calm down a tired, screaming four-year-old. I rule. I text back to tell her I'm on my way home and I hit the road.
Of course, in my hurry, I don't stop to take a piss first, and I soon have to hit the facilities. Which, on this desolate stretch of post-apocalypse Michigan, seem to be few and far between. I pull off at an exit and follow a sign's instructions to turn right, only to drive for miles till I finally see a Citgo sign. I dash inside -- "restroom is broken. Sorry for incovience."
Yeah, I'm real sorry for the "incovience" too, assholes. It's only my lingering worry about getting ticketed for pissing on Michigan that keeps me from going around the back of the building. Back to the exit, over the overpass, off to the other side, to a Shell station where yes, the bathroom works, but there's not one cup of coffee to be had at all. The dregs of all their shitty picnic cooler dispenser thingies equals about a third of a cup of cold sludge. "Sit tight, I make you more," the guy tells me. "No thanks, I gotta go." I fill my tank up, press YES for a receipt, and get a ribbon of blank paper. I go back in to get a proper receipt and the guy actually looks up and says to me, "what now??"
Piece-of-shit gas stations aside, I eventually make it home, bone-tired, to find my wife and the little one passed out on the couch, each half-dressed. I got the little one to finish her meds, got her in pajamas and took her to bed. I even managed to pry my wife off the couch and get her upstairs as well. And then I laid there next to her, staring at the ceiling, amped up on Dunkin Donuts coffee and poring over my set in my head, like you do.
If comedy's gonna be what I do, there will be nights I don't get home at all, and lots more where I roll in this late or later. There'll be a lot of sleeplessness and sacrifice. Is it worth it so I can burn up a bunch of fossil fuels and squash the last bit of life out of my long-suffering Astro Van, just to tell dick jokes to rooms full of strangers? I obviously think so, and my woman has so far been nothing but supportive, more so than anyone would have a right to expect.
I'm not sure what the point of this whole war story even is, besides bragging rights for surviving a day that felt like it took a week to get through, and not screwing up any of the stuff on the to-do list. I guess if anything, just
remember that the person you see on stage for ten minutes, or thirty minutes, or an hour, didn't pop out of a coma in a padded road case ten minutes before
showtime, like a stage prop. He or she drove halfway across fuck-all, or had a weird and crazy and sometimes dreadful day, or did three people's worth of shit, and THEN got up there with sore feet and hat-head and too much coffee burbling in their gullet, and entertained the hell out of you.
For my part, I'm gonna try to remember that that works both ways, and that
maybe the obstreporous drunk who's irritating me mid-set is drunk because he can be, for the first time all week, and he's gonna enjoy it, my over-wordy premises be damned. That to two chicks yakking at the bar, my hopes and dreams for my life's calling don't mean shit, and it's up to me to make them care, or at least keep on keeping on while they yammer about whatever moves them. (Long Islands, apparently.)
Most of all, though, I'm gonna remember that unsullied good feeling I had when I walked off stage Saturday night. I took the mic and I ran that oom like a man, I did the work, and I made people I've never seen before happy, and hat felt really, really good. The older you get, the fewer moments of undiluted joy you get, and that's one I'm gonna savor for a thousand cold and indifferent
nights to come.
Lots of cool stuff happened in December. I got to do my shows in front of my family members (see previous post) and both of them went great. I headlined the Wise-Ass Wednesdays showcase at Connxtions Toledo, did 20 minutes on the nose, and the whole set was strong. Held my own the week after doing a guest set on a show with Kevin Bozeman, Joe Zimmerman and Jake Zamonski, and got to show off for my sister and brother-in-law, which was also cool.
(This was after two straight nights of my brother-in-law, Ham Bagby, rolling in to some music open mikes and throwing down in legendary fashion. He blew the freakin' doors off some places, and made some fans for life up here in the not-so-frozen north. The night I saw was like a movie or somethin' - he walked in, no one knew who he was, no one much cared if he got on stage or not, and then he started playing and the place lit up like a fire on Christmas Eve. It was sick, man. Dude can play, he can sing, and he can put a crowd in the palm of his hand before they even know they're smiling. Unbelievable.)
Capped it off on New Year's Day with a harrowing drive up to Grand Rapids to participate in my first Sunday Night Funnies show. They have it every Sunday in the bar of a Radisson Hotel, and they'll give you a free room if you come in from out of town to do it. I decided to take my 10-year-old son with me, so we could hit the town the following morning (he's into Ben Franklin, and there's a cool exhibit about the man at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum).
The last hour of the drive was through a big snowstorm; we did 35 the whole way to GR and passed a few big wrecks. Finally made it to the hotel, got some bar food, and got him settled into the room with some chicken tenders and a movie. The show was awesome - despite the blizzard on the day after New Year's Eve, there was still a pretty decent crowd, and they were really responsive. I'm told it's wall-to-wall people on regular nights, so I can't wait to go back.
Some post-show beers and bullshitting with Stu McCallister, Adam Degi, Steve Pierce, and a few other comedy people, and it was time to hit the room. We got up and checked out the next morning after some buffet breakfast downstairs, and made our way downtown to the museum. Neat exhibit, with lots of original artifacts (how the hell has Ben Franklin's wallet survived until 2012?). Hell, we even learned a lot about Gerald Ford in the process.
Drove home (the weather was much more cooperative), stopping for awesome diner lunch at a Coney Island in Lansing. We took some pictures of a "DADS INN" (the sign obviously a Days Inn until someone took duct tape to it) and then headed back to Toledo, tired but ready for more traveling. The boy is a trouper - he makes a great road dog.
Two nights ago, I capped off the whole recent slew of activity with a last-minute MC'ing gig for the most recent Wise-Ass Wednesday, with my friend Jake Dickey headlining. I had a lot of fun hosting the show, getting some jokes in here and there, and roasting Jake a little before bringing him up for his 20-minute set. The momentum stopped cold, though, when I went over to the open mic held afterwards.
I dunno if I've changed in the last year or so since I first hit this open mic, if the crowds have just gotten shittier, or if I just had nothing to compare to when I started out, but it's gotten to where this room and I just don't seem to click any more. I hadn't gone in weeks, and I went up this Wednesday and promptly got one of the worst, most hostile responses to my set I've ever had. Not overtly booing, but dead silence, even when the host came back up. I had a few minor laughs, mostly from the fellow comics, and then I launched into my last bit and it seemed to actually piss people off. I'd had a few beers, which didn't help my ability to deal with the situation, but I didn't go off or anything, I just powered through the bit and then went home.
Not a big deal by any measurement. But there's that nagging feeling that THAT was the last time I was on stage. Sure, it was 48 hours ago, and less than 48 hours from now, I'll be hitting a new open mic up in Taylor, Michigan, and I can rinse the dust of that last debacle out of my mouth. But if I'd been done after the MC'ing gig at Connxtions, I'd be coming off a high note, and that would feel better. It's stupid and petty, but it's there.
Everything else is going fantastic, though - better than I have any right to hope. Got a couple paid gigs in February, hitting some new rooms, and hopefully doing a few audition-type guest sets that will lead to more new rooms and paid work. If you called me right now and said you needed me to do 30 minutes on short notice, I'd actually have the material to cover it - good stuff that I'm happy about - with a little bit of old shit in the reserve tank after that if I desperately needed it. I'm getting more and more comfortable in my own skin onstage, and it's working more often than not - people I don't know are laughing, newbies I've just met at open mikes are mistaking me for a working comic. I know I still have a long way to go, but I can see and feel the progress being made, and that's a great feeling.
Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.