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.
Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.