Shows are as different as snowflakes. These are a few of the kinds of shows I did this month:
- I did a weekend at a 'comedy club' that was a curtained-off area of a large bar in a strip mall. I'm guessing it used to be one of those second-tier department stores, an Ames or a Hills or a TG&Y, back when those were around. We did two shows, one Friday (decent) and one Saturday (great).
- I did two shows in old-man lodges. One was a showcase in a VFW hall in Michigan, with eight or nine comics. I was one of the more experienced people on the bill - for a few of the others, it may have been their first non-open-mic show. I closed the show with 15 minutes and could not have been more surprised at how great the crowd was. The next night, I did a benefit show in an Eagles lodge, for a recently-divorced woman who needs a double lung transplant. Her ex-husband told people not to attend, and hardly anyone did. I did my best before indifferent elderly relatives, ate some spaghetti and salad, and wished her well.
- I did three nights as the MC at one of the best clubs in the country. It was my first time working there, and I was intimidated the first night. I forgot to act like I belonged there. The other two shows went better. Being new to the place, I hosted the Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday shows -- which boasted crowds that would make most other midwestern showroom managers weep with joy on a Saturday. I get to go back in December, and I'm grateful for that.
- I went to a bar in a tiny Indiana town where a hard rock band was playing, and they wanted comedians between their sets, while they took a break. We walked in thinking it was going to be a total disaster, but they were very cool and we ended up having a great time. It was a contact sport keeping their attention, but if you got 'em on board, they stayed.
- I dressed up as Redd Foxx and performed a set of his jokes as a tribute, at two different "Dead Comics Shows." At one, the audience seemed to have no idea what was going on. At the second, in Indianapolis, a full house greeted us, and went along on our weird trips. It was a unique night, and it felt more like being backstage at a play than a comedy show -- everyone was getting into costumes, nervously going over lines and worrying how their character would be received. But the show was amazing, to watch and to be a part of.
- I did a weekend MCing for a national celebrity who's trying his hand at standup. Four packed shows, long lines for photos and autographs after, trying to maintain a manic level of energy to play to the back of the room and keep the raucous crowd from overpowering the show. It was more like game show hosting in a soccer riot than performing comedy, but it was kinda fun and it was a good learning experience.
- I did a couple open mics to work on new stuff. One, in Kalamazoo, has become one of my favorite places to perform. It's always a great place to unfurl a new idea in front of receptive people. I had to do a little crowd control even there, and luckily it went in my favor - I'm still not great at that aspect of this job, but I'm learning as I go and there seems to be no shortage of loud people willing to provide the training. But my set felt great and that material is well on its way to my main set.
I did another open mic, a local one, and I did something I don't like to see other comics doing. I blew in an hour late, waited through two or three other comics, did my set, then split. I was legitimately in the middle of doing other things, and no one seemed to care much, but I dislike being that person. I prefer being there for the whole show whenever possible, especially when a crowd is small. I learn as much from watching other people on stage as I do during my own time, and I feel it's a gesture of respect to the other comics and to the room to be engaged in the entire show. I didn't like how I felt after dropping in like some kind of bogus asshole. Lesson learned.
- Last Saturday I got to feature at the club nearest my house, opening for Todd Yohn, who's been in the game for over 30 years. He's a master on stage, and he killed 'em. After my set, and later after the show over beers, he had some very complimentary things to say about my act, which I appreciated. He expressed regret that we just had the one night of shows, and wouldn't get to hang out and get to know each other over a weekend, and I agreed. I hope to run into him again on the road -- he's semi-retired but I wouldn't be surprised to see him hitting the asphalt full time again soon. I don't think you can be that good for that long and be able to turn off the urge to perform.
The next two nights, I do a showcase and a contest, in Chicago and Columbus respectively. Then it's off to Alabama and Florida. Then it's a show at the art museum. Then it's my first weekend at the Comedy Castle in Royal Oak. The point is, it's never a typical night, or weekend. The utter lack of normal is the only normal. Even the drives, the gas stations, the diners, the hotels are unique and pungent experiences all their own.
I can't tell you what'll be around the next bend, but I bet it'll be a good weird.
Greetings from western North Dakota. I drove here in a straight shot from Toledo, slogging through torrential rain and Chicago traffic jams, stopping in Minneapolis to pick up the headliner at the airport. I got us to the Minnesota/North Dakota border and then tapped out, and he drove us the rest of the way in. The hotel graciously let us check in super early, and I more or less went into a coma till shortly before showtime.
Minot this weekend, then haul ass home to be at a doctor's appointment at 9am Monday, then chaperoning a field trip to the zoo for my daughter's class. Next week will be closer to home, but no less hectic, including my first time hosting at Hilarities in Cleveland and two benefit shows.
Felt a little disorganized and scattershot on stage last night, but the crowd was mostly into it and things went well. Got to drop a little bit of new material into the set and it worked, which felt good. Hoping to knock it out of the park this weekend once I've recouped on sleep.
I'm glad I did this run, despite some serious misgivings beforehand. These are the trips that are going to make me a better, more adaptable and more professional comic. And when you get a chance to see a place you've never seen before, why wouldn't you?
Coveting is a bitch. It's a huge fault of mine. I acknowledge it, I hate it, I try to ignore it, but if you get something and I don't, I'm instantly four years old again.
It's a stupid way to be. I am luckier than almost anyone I know. I've got amazing opportunities. Things are great in my life. But I want all the things, and I also don't want you to have them, and it grosses me out about myself.
I'm gonna try some actual conscious visualization shit to solve this problem. Maybe listing all the good things that have happened to me on a piece of paper while chanting "om" and burning incense will help. Maybe I should cram that list up my ass. It's unseemly to be this old and be this petulant and whiny.
If you catch me doing it, at least know that I know, and I'm sorry, and I'm aware it's a failing. I hope that somewhat makes up for the fact that I'm doing it in the first place.
On to more interesting things: I had two amazing weekends in a row. I did a three-day run opening for Alysia Wood, had a great time in Merrillville IN, met the very cool Mike Maxwell, and had one of my best sets to date on the Saturday show, which my high school friend Matt Stover and his wife Jody went out of their way to come see. (Matt had to be at work at 4:30am. That's badass that they came out.)
The next weekend it was off to Youngstown, to do three shows with Jake Johanssen. Due to delays in opening the venue, our shows got moved to (literally) the back room of a bowling alley. The people who came out were still cool, and Jake was one of the all-around best comedians I've ever had the pleasure of sharing the stage with -- and one of the nicest, too. Just a great dude.
This weekend I get to open for Steve-O, the star of MTV's "Jackass," as he does standup at my home club. Two weeks after that, I'm driving to Minneapolis and to North Dakota for my furthest comedy roadtrip ever. Next month I go to Alabama and Florida. I might go to Maine in December. I'm working at Hilarities and Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle this winter.
Memo to my angsty pre-teen inner self: shut the hell up. Things are pretty sweet.
Today's the day - an arbitrary marker on my own calendar, sure, but it's the day where my schedule goes haywire for the next few months. It's the busy season, my first real one, and I'm prepping to hit the road for four days of comedy. I passed out at 10:30 last night and woke up in a panic at 4:30, so that counts for six hours' sleep, and my meticulous schedule has a nap built-in before the show. Because that's how rock stars do it.
I'm pretty sure rock stars also get up at 4:30 and run the dishwasher, do laundry, clean out the car, fold and sort merchandise, double-check the kids' lunches and medications, and write self-serving blogs about all of the above. Raise a glass to the ghost of [this] comic's past, the me who would have reacted to this itinerary ten years ago by getting drunk as shit last night, sleeping till three, then driving like an insane person and making up excuses for being late.
(Not to worry, I'm still gonna get drunk at some point on this trip, but only when my car is safely tucked into its appointed spot at my designated hotel and my antics can be confined to sloppily liking and commenting on old flames' Facebook posts in the dead of night, or writing self-serving drivel I delete in horror the next morning.)
I booked my first weekend at Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle yesterday. Another rite of passage for a midwestern comic. January's filling up, while my December remains grimly landlocked and bitter white on my calendar. Maybe I can put ten more pounds on and moonlight as a Santa.
See you at Turtle Creek Casino tonight at 9:00. I'll be the one with the snappy t-shirts for sale and the stupid look on my face, incredulous that I'm getting paid to write and say jokes and amazed I had a plan and it sorta worked.
Planning a weekend away from home when you have kids is like having a meeting at work. There are calendars, clipboards, minutes, outlines, supply lists, contact numbers... it's a little daunting. But we did that and got squared away. I'm out Thursday till Monday morning, doing shows with Alysia Wood and then a trip up to Grand Rapids to visit friends and contacts.
The creeping crud is receding, slowly and unwillingly. I should be good by the shows. I didn't win that contest Thursday, for a number of reasons, mainly because I didn't have the best set. But I enjoyed seeing my friend Cathi, having some Guinness and working on an older bit that's undergone some renovation.
99% of the world will find 99% of this blog boring as shit. A lot of drudge work goes into looking like I just woke up and decided to do a gig.
My calendar right now looks ridiculous to me. Three months of intense activity kick off this week, including some opportunities I am very grateful for, but as of right now it all drops off like a rock in December. I hope to change that sooner than later, but I keep looking at empty December and its unscribbled squares, and not all the good stuff before that.
The air's cold at night, the days are getting shorter. Comedy's about to be in season like it was made out of pumpkin spice.
I did a guest set Saturday at my home club. The headliner had to bring his kids on the road with him. They cavorted around the green room, clearly in love with the attention and relaxed rules. My wife came to see the late show, which was marred by a couple depressingly rude drunks up front, and just shook her head at the thought of someone choosing to do this as a job.
You can't leave home. Sometimes it comes with you, stuck to your shoe, and other times you put in serious labor to keep all the plates spinning so you can run off for a few days. I suppose someday I won't be able to leave at all, physically or metaphorically. Nothing lasts forever. But for now I have the support, my arms and legs and larynx work, and I've got a Thermos and a notebook, so I'm heading out. Hope I see you out there.
Did a set last night in Wyandotte with my voice blown out from nonstop coughing. Afterward, my friends said it sounded like someone else doing my jokes. It sounded weird to me, too, but I was proud of myself for not canceling and not ruining the show. People got into it and I learned to modulate my new DMX rasp as I went.
Doing a comedy contest tonight, because it's close to home and I want to drink some Guinness. I kinda hate being the big fish in the small pond at this thing, because if I win it, I'm the asshole for being a working comic in an amateur contest, and if I lose, I'm the working comic who lost to amateurs. I'm just excited to work on this new revamped bit I'm doing, and see if I can make it two nights in a row talking like Tom Waits
Spent the last couple days with a hacking cough, flu-like symptoms, nose running like a faucet, you name it. I guess if it had to happen, I'm glad it was this week, when I was on relatively light duty, before some serious road work kicks in. Did nothing but sleep Tuesday, just sweating badness out onto the sheets while the kids fended for themselves like animals. Sort of incredulously awake now, like the first moment of non-misery after a walloping hangover, and hoping this mini-euphoria carries me through tonight's show up in Wyandotte. Lots of tea, OJ and napping is on the agenda today.
And the on-again, off-again beard is most definitely off. If you're not 100% committed to the beard, and you have a runny nose for more than a day, shave that shit off. You're just being gross, giving all that snot and miasma a vacation home on the front of your face where regular folks have to deal with it. Clean up your act till your insides work right. Come on.
It's been over a year and a half since I wrote a blog for this site. In that time I've gone from an occasionally-paid hopeful to more or less a "working comic." I am featuring regularly. I've opened for some big names. I'm working with agents who weren't returning my calls or acknowledging my existence a year ago.
I recorded a CD this spring. I have gigs booked as far away as North Dakota and Florida. I am eating potato chips and drinking beer right now, both paid for with cash I earned for telling jokes to strangers on a stage.
Lest you think I'm bragging right now, let's look at some other leading indicators. My checking account is overdrawn. My kids are growing up expecting me to be gone, if not all day, at least any time after dinner. I measure my self-worth by how well people I don't know responded to ludicrous ideas I wrote down on a napkin, and I reward or punish myself for my perception of what they thought with prodigious amounts of Del Taco at 3am.
In other words, I think I'm actually a comedian now. Still at square one of a long journey. But I'm on that road.
I'm going to try something new in this space. I'm gonna post every day. It may just be a couple sentences, it may be a book report. But I'll check in daily with some kind of thought, observation, life milestone, or picture of lunch. We'll see if I keep it up, or if it's interesting or not. But a lot's been happening, and I should probably do a little more to document the trip.
There have been a few extended trips in the last several months. Unlike when my band went on tour, these usually involve hauling ass to a gig, driving back that night, and getting back up with the kids in the morning like you didn't roll in all owl-eyed and road-jumpy four hours before. Each batch of shows tends to level me up to another place in my performance, even as they throw things at me to make me question what I'm doing.
Comedy seems to me like the opposite of riding a bicycle. You get rusty quick. Every comic I know starts freaking out when they're deprived of stage time -- for some, it's a few days off before they're climbing the walls. For others, one off night gives them 24 hours to live in their own heads, brood over their failures and not get back up and prove themselves. It's kind of a sickness.
In December I booked myself seven nights in a row out. Started with an open mic in Ann Arbor where I tried out a new bit based on a Foreigner song, something I wrote in a sleep-deprived haze in one giant chunk several nights before. The next two of them were in Indianapolis -- I did a showcase at Morty's, stayed the night, then went to the other club, Crackers, for their open mic. Did time at the local show that Wednesday. Drove up to Rockford, MI for a paid gig Thursday that went so-so, and then headed down to Findlay, OH for a Friday night at a pool hall.
Findlay was the undisputed high point of the week -- two guys who had no connections in comedy, and no idea what they were doing, somehow put together this amazing showcase and got a huge raucous crowd to come check the show out. Dustin Meadows and Keith Spurlock knocked 'em dead, TJ Warner hosted, and then I got up and did about 25 minutes of one of the most fired-up sets I've ever done. It was nuts. Ed Bartko closed the night out while I proceeded to get drunk as hell in the back. It was some rock star shit, for sure, although the "sleeping it off in the car before hobbling home" part loses a bit of its luster at 40.
Saturday I rolled down to Lima with Gad Holland and we did a charity show, one of those slow-motion trainwrecks that you're glad to have done, but was kind of a mess while it was happening. It was bands and comics interspersed, which never works, and our best friend-slash-most vocal heckler was pretty much the only one in the bar paying attention to us. We did the show, at some shredded chicken sandwiches and hauled it back to Toledo.
MC'd a weekend in Dearborn after that, at a new club inside this sprawling civic center. Worked with Ruben Paul, who's toured with Russell Peters, been on late night TV, and done all kinds of shit. I learned a lot and the managers, Pam and Maureen, couldn't have been more gracious. I'm booked there to feature in April, and I'm really hoping more people get hip to the place, because it's a great spot for comedy with a lot of potential.
After that... I hit a sort of low point. I had a gig scheduled the same day my daughter was going into the hospital for 24 hours' observation. I literally left her hospital room, drove to the club, then found out I was the last of fifteen comics. The crowd was indifferent, I drank too much, my head wasn't in the game, and I ended up putting on a shitty set. One of the worst I've done in some time. My confidence was rattled. One bad set doesn't usually hit me like this one did, but it made me really withdraw and do a lot of thinking about what I'm doing and how I'm approaching it.
The Christmas holiday and several bouts with the flu sidelined me for a couple weeks, so last weekend I was nervous as hell. I had two paid feature gigs this week, and the last thing I wanted to do was screw them up. I did a guest set at Connxtions the night before, and it killed, so I felt a bit better. Rolled up to my show Sunday, which was a technical fiasco with missing mikes and a crowd that numbered in the single digits... but we pulled it off, and the people who WERE there loved it. Did an open mic Monday, felt strong there, kinda felt myself getting some confidence back.
Rolled back out to Indianapolis Tuesday, to this contest called "The Jestival," where a bunch of comics compete for the chance to film a set for a Comcast on-demand cable show. The place was right down the street from Morty's! Felt strong as hell on their stage - got several applause breaks and felt like I had one of the top 2-3 sets of the night. All four of us from Toledo moved on to the finals, happening in two weeks - there are 12 of us in my category, and the top 2 get to stay till the next day and tape this show in a cool old-school theater in Danville IN.
Headed home that night, then drove solo to Howard City MI the next night to open for comedian BT. I walked in, saw a PA set up near the restaurant's hostess station, and stood there for a few minutes feeling foolish. A waitress got me a drink and said "just go ahead and start whenever you want. BT's running late." I didn't know how to turn the mic on, and felt like an idiot, plus there's that awkward moment when a room full of customers is talking and you turn on a mic and try to smoothly get their attention.
I think I did all right, though - some bits didn't work well, and I recognized spots I need to tweak when I'm in front of an older small-town crowd like those folks. But overall they were enthusiastic and friendly, and they laughed a lot. They loved BT, as well - the owner comped our tabs, offered us dinner, paid us in cash, and everyone treated us like the junior-grade rock stars we pretended to be.
Off for a few days now - great timing, too, because the flu bug I thought I'd beaten came back to wallop me in the ass once again. I'm sitting here now slathered in Vicks Vapo-Rub, my nose running, my chest muscles sore from coughing... and all I wanna do is get on stage. I'd find a way to make it work. It's a sickness, I told you.
Got some more road time next week - Cleveland, then Youngstown, then Wooster, then back up to Grand Rapids MI. None of those are paid gigs, but they're gonna be good shows in front of enthusiastic people, I'll make contacts, and I'll get stronger on stage with each experience. I have more paid shows on the horizon, more experiences to enjoy, and more miles to eat up. I'm still more or less at square one - I have a lot to learn about comedy, and a long way to go until I'm half as good as I oughta be. But I'm putting the pieces of the whole thing together, one pin in the map at a time, one cup of coffee and two-lane blacktop late-night dragstrip at a time, one drunken handshake and hug at a time from another stranger who exclaims "y'all were funny as hell! Where you from? Really? Yer drivin' back there TONIGHT? That's crazy!"
It is. I know it is. That must be why it's so goddamn fun.
I have a comedy biological clock. I started this journey late, I spend all my time with people in their 20s, and I am acutely aware all the time of the old maxims of how long it's supposed to take to get good, to get paid, to turn this into some kind of a career.
I feel ahead of schedule already. I have paid gigs on my calendar, I've got my first featuring weekend at a real comedy club booked for the spring, I'm holding my own working one-night shows in bars and hosting gigs for other, bigger comics. I've made a lot of progress, business-wise and artistically, in the last two years.
But I'm 40, so I feel like I have to compress all these experiences. I don't want to be 50 and still scraping for the smallest gigs. I don't have time to plateau. I am writing new material now that I think is the strongest I've ever come up with, and I can't wait to build it into a set worth recording, a solid feature act I can take anywhere and get laughs. I feel like any day I don't put work in on this is actually a step backwards.
Imagine how far I'd be if I had this fire lit under my ass when I was 22? But this is the time where it's happening, and now is when I have to make the most of it. I'm excited as hell for what the future holds, and I am antsy as hell waiting for it to get here.
Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.