I'm gonna send a thank-you card to a booker tomorrow. She didn't book me, but when I emailed her about doing a guest set at her club, she replied quickly and asked me to call in so we could discuss things. Her club runs very clean shows, and I'm prone to salty talk, so we agreed it'd be a bad idea for me to come, but she was so damn nice about it. Professional, even. It was a nice change of pace.
There's a lot of talk about how newer comics are all about shock value and grossout humor, and some of that is true. It's easier to stand out in a crowded lineup of generic jokers if you're the most scatological freak in the bunch, right? The problem is, everyone under 40 grew up with an internet. We're all pretty much gross creeps now. It's hard to shock anyone. And when ten out of the twelve comics in a night use the F-word and do jokes about sex and poop, the edge is lost.
All that is pretty much inevitable, I think. But here's the thing. A lot of these free showcases I've been doing to hone my craft are curated affairs, run by promoters in various venues (bars, restaurants, etc). It wouldn't be hard for any of these people putting the list together to write up and distribute a list of standards, or a set of rules. Break the rules, you don't get to come back. There's a room on the western edge of Michigan that I wanted to try out, but the booker asked to see some video and had a specific list of things not to do. I sent him the link to my video, and that was the last communication we had. I'd have hoped for a polite turn-down instead of being ignored, but the point was made. This room's not for you. I'm okay with that.
I don't do really gross or over-the-top material, at least not compared to many of the dudes I see. But my big closing bit absolutely requires the use of the F-word, and I reference strip clubs, doggie style sex, elderly racists, dangling scrotums (scrota?) and other such fun topics in my act. I think I do it all with a certain cleverness that elevates in beyond juvenile shit-smearing, but then again, I would think that, wouldn't I? I'm a bit biased.
Again, I'd never tell anyone how to run their room. Your crowd is older and wants Jeff Foxworthy or Bill Cosby style humor? That's fantastic. I can't work for you, but that's fantastic. Your bar wants the raunchiest, grossest, most out-there shock value jokes? I'll come do the room, but I'm probably gonna feel like everyone's dad and sit in the corner drinking and disapproving.
My only real beef is when someone lets a room spiral out of control and then complains about it. If you don't give the comics any guidelines, or if you put up an MC who immediately launches into graphic blowjob pantomimes with the mic and crass jokes about anal sex, what are the other dozen comedians supposed to think about where the bar is set? If you want to rein it in and keep the customers eating wings and drinking expensive beers, then don't blow the doors off from minute one. Set some guidelines, stick to them, and actually listen to the people you put on stage, so you can tell them to tone it down or cross them off your list for next time, if need be.
I sat up all last night listening to Marc Maron podcasts, drinking V8 and cups of hot tea, and shivering under a comforter the size and thickness of a dead bear. Got the kids to school, shambled home and passed out on the couch, having skeevy dreams in which I destroy my life, waking up just in time to pick the kids back up.
After a late day rally, I sat down, cracked a beer, and started working on some Ebay listings. Within ten minutes, my head was nodding and I was dozing off like a narcoleptic. I crawled upstairs, got into bed, and slept some really good, restorative sleep... till about 3am, when I woke up in a panic, coughing, hurting, sweating.
Mucinex is taking the edge off this thing, but just barely. Now I'm awake and surly, so I'm gonna do more work, probably stay awake till it's time to transport kids again, then come back and pass out for fitful sleep on the couch again. This is a shitty cycle to be on and a hard one to break, but I gotta knock this out quick if I wanna be ready for the next few weeks.
I've got some great shows coming up, and I wanna be ready for them. I feel like they're gonna be the springboard to another level of performance for me, with longer sets and more interconnected stories. Actually thinking in terms of an "act," instead of just starting the clock and spewing out unrelated zingers until the bell rings. I want to be featuring soon, and I feel like I'm getting the chops together for it. These shows will be pivotal for that.
It's also gonna be awesome to have some family from out of town here to see me do standup. My "second dad" Tom and his wife Rhonda are coming up to see me at Connxtions on the 21st. Tom was my dad's best friend when I was a kid, and he helped my family through some of our darkest times when my parents were splitting up and when my mom passed away in 1983. He calls himself our mom to this day, partially to confuse onlookers, but also because he did have a big hand in raising us, keeping us out of trouble, and helping my dad through tough times. It means more than I could say for Tom and Rhonda to see my show - I don't have a lot of heroes in life, or people whose pride I want to earn, but they're definitely two of them.
My sister, brother-in-law and nephew will be up the following week, after Christmas, and they'll get to see my guest set opening for Kevin Bozeman and Joe Zimmerman. My sister and I survived some hellish shit as kids together, and we've each dealt with our own challenges as adults, and I think we've grown into the roles life has chosen for us (and made it look damn good in the process, thank you). Lisa and her husband Ham, a kickass musician and songwriter, are raising Milo, a positively gigantic five-year-old ball of energy and hilarity. He's one of the lights of my life, and I'm stoked to get to see him, and for them to spend time in our home and see the life we've carved out for ourselves here in the rust-belt wilderness.
These two shows won't just be sets for me, they'll be as important to me as those puppet shows you did in front of a bedsheet and a kitchen chair for your grandma when you were six. The people I love have seen me screw up six ways to Sunday, they've seen me redeem myself in a lot of ways, and now I want them to see me getting traction in this next phase of my life, taking the four decades of hair-raising shit I've seen and compacting it into pure mainlined expression that can get a room full of strangers laughing their asses off. I know that sounds really highbrow and pretentious, but dammit, that's how I feel about it, and that's how excited I am to get up in front of some of the finest people I know and figuratively throw pies in my own face for twenty minutes.
Bobby is one of the coolest dudes I've met on my standup journey so far. He's humble and self-effacing to a fault, a real quiet guy. He's the one who's sitting in the back watching the other comics' sets while the loud guys are outside smoking and schmoozing. He does some fat jokes, but they're funny, and he's got some other really clever premises. I think his writing is fantastic and his stage presence works great for him. He's got a ton of potential and I love watching his sets.
Bobby Bayn's website
It's been a while since I ran into this guy's type. He's a fixture of green rooms and backstages the world over. He's got the best weed, he's got a fifth in his car, he knows where to get the blow and which strippers run hot and cold. And I can't hang.
I'm stuck in the middle of the road when it comes to partying. Compared to the other 39-year-old parents at my kids' schools, the fact that I stay out till last call on a weekday, or drive off to parts unknown on a school night to perform, puts me in some weird, rarefied hessian realm of excess, day drinking and general suspicion. But my occasional drunkenness and weird sleep habits don't even blip the radar of this guy, the one whose car seat pot stink laughs at Febreze, the one with the built-in radar for after hourses. I just can't hang.
No one really expects me to any more, because I'm pushing forty, and that's kind of a sneaky relief. Because I couldn't hang back in the day, either. I tried. I was the last man stumbling at some parties. I pushed up against the limits of my own bush-league substance abuse. But pot never did anything for me, and anything scarier than Jack Daniels freaked me out, so I often stood on the sidelines while the really legendary shit went down. I wasn't disinvited, exactly, but I definitely had lawn seats at best.
My idea of a real cage-rattling bender now is half a dozen beers in some wood-paneled old-man bar, shooting the shit with fellow curmudgeons and making futile and feeble passes at worn-out barmaids. I finally grew into my real tolerance level. And that's fine, because the times I tried to step outside my recreational comfort zone, the results were almost always ruinous, often vomitously so.
Still, it's hard not to feel some little twinge of regret when you run into that guy, the party king, the guy with the hookup. You don't see his child support checks or the months he sleeps on his mom's couch. You gloss over his dirty coat and bad teeth. You just hear the exploits of parties past, and the glimmer of bacchanalia to come, and it's hard not to wanna get on that train, or at least act like you might get invited. But there's dishes to wash and orders to pack at home, and two kids sleeping who need to get to school tomorrow. More germane to the green room at hand, there's also work to do - creative work - jokes to write and punchlines to fix and creative shit to excavate from my brain. And none of those things will happen, could happen, if I could hang. So I can't hang.
I don't begrudge anyone their good time. I wish 'em well and I'll probably feel some stupid irrational jealousy about it, still, when I'm 70 and it would literally kill me. But the party king and I are never gonna be tight. He can't slow the train down and I've got shit to do.
Dumb little moment in time: driving back from Flushing, Michigan on Saturday night. Fun room, tired Keith, not my best set but it mostly went over well. Two hours home in a cold, steady rain, listening to Morbid Angel and fretting about the money I'm spending. I wanted Taco Bell -- bad. But I had made a huge pan of scalloped potatoes before I left home. It was waiting for me, so I passed each Taco Bell with a growing sense of crankiness, trying to rationalize spending money I didn't have on food I didn't need.
Stopped at a truckstop for coffee, and there was a display for "Amish Fry Pie" fruit pies. I used to love Hostess fruit pies as a kid, but outgrew them quickly, and I haven't had one in years. For some reason, though - maybe the cold and rain, maybe the pouty self-denial at passing up all those Nachos Bellgrande -- I decided I'd give this allegedly Amish pie a chance. I also loaded up my coffee with sugar and powdered creamer. I've taken my coffee black for almost two decades now, but when it's bad gas station coffee at that hour, I doctor it up in self-defense.
The "fry pie" was for shit. It was the same as a Hostess pie, only it cost about twice as much. But man! I had the strangest pang of nostalgia, drinking sweetened coffee and eating that sugar bomb peach pie in the rain and dark. I hadn't thought about this in years, but when I was in high school, I delivered newspapers for a while. None of that wussy throw-the-paper-from-dad's-car-window shit, either. When it rained, I put a garbage bag over my Times-Reporter sack and trudged down the street. When it snowed, I took a shovel with me and made an extra twenty bucks digging my older customers out of their front porches.
And oftentimes, before I'd start my route, I'd stop into Lawson's (later Dairy Mart, and now I think it's a Circle K) on Tuscarawas Ave, and I'd get coffee and a fruit pie. I'd stand in the doorway of the store, peering out into the murk, waiting for that early-morning sugar buzz to kick in and knock the edge off my sleep deprivation headache. Then it was down the hill, past West High, and through some back streets and sleeping neighborhoods, back up toward downtown.
The combined flavors of the pie and the coffee sent a jolt through me that was almost physical. It was a weird connection with my teenaged self, and it may be a completely different job, but this part of comedy - the solitary drives at weird hours, the crappy weather and darkness, the alone time inside your own head - is a lot like schlepping down Ray Avenue at six in the morning, Walkman humming, sharing the streets with bread trucks and watching the sky turn into a swirling purple bruise ahead of you.
Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.