You Protest Your Complicity
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.
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Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.