i was on the radio yesterday morning. they called at 7 am to promote a gig i played tonight in santa rosa. the guy producing the comedy show was like “have you done radio before?” i’m like “yeah” meaning “no”. “it’s a hip hop show. we got a ‘rough & ready’ crowd. you rough & ready?” me: “yeah” meaning “what the fuck does that mean?” judging by crowd reaction (luckily, there was no vegetable stand next door) apparently i was a little too “smooth and unprepared” for them. i started doing some bits, got a few laughs*, and mainly got blank stares. people were seated all over the room, including behind me, and my spotlight flooded onto these people, so like a substitute teacher, i’m sure i was being mocked upstage in any number of visual ways. it sucks when the people laughing hardest are watching your ass. you never realize how joke-y your act is until your punchline has been capped with the “wah wah wah” of a black guy sitting behind you. would less people show up if it were more appropriately named “comedy in the round” instead of “comedy jam”? or “do you want fries with that shake”? you haven’t really lived until you’ve had a bar brimming with “rough & ready” ready to rough you up. think blues brother’s without the chicken wire, but instead of actual beer bottles they just threw a lot of amateur alcoholic animosity. the marine recruiter contingent fueled the fire.
it was about ten minutes into my set. i was trying to do bits. but certain crowds don’t actually want to hear jokes. they want you to fart into the microphone or talk about how bitches be havin fat asses, and while i appreciate the subtle variegation from one dudes-don’t-compliment-other-guys’-balls-like-chicks-compliment-other-girls’-breasts bouquet to the next, i find a similar joy in that ethereal feeling that accompanies the onset of a feverish influenza. but so i’m in the middle of my set, and am suddenly (sic) struck with an epiphany. i don’t have to hide how i’m feeling.** “this is not going well! i am fucking frustrated!” (the crowd whoops). my wireless mic cuts out. “stupid fucking mic!” ([email protected]) i brake from my bits, and jump into the audience, roving. they like this.*** the room is dark, and outside the spotlight you can’t really see, so now my disembodied voice is all i’ve got to hold their rittlin-head attention spans. and i let go. “fuck you for heckling me!” “have sex with me!” (to a woman i pretended to hit on earlier) “where’s the marine recruiter?” “show me the guy told me to get off the stage!” for about three minutes i had no clue where i was going, i was having fun just being fucking angry. this is why i do what i do. so but then i thought we were all having such a good fucking time i’d get back on stage, close with my best bits, and leave triumphantly. “g’night!” but as i return to the spotlight and start to say i’m going to take off in a minute, they cheer as loudly as they did when i was in the crowd. by now it’s really loud. i’m hollering into the mic to throw down my last bits. they get quiet only when i get quiet. by now they’re yelling “get off so we can go home!” but i’m only the first comic in the lineup. i close, and the host retakes the stage. the applause is thundering, but for a differnt reason than usual. i try to take off after my set, but i have to stick around to get paid. yes, paid. with my sense of self-worth, i’m struggling to affirm i did something worthy of payment. other comics would think “i earned that shit. i should get paid more.” not me. [insert jasper joke here]
why do people fuck with you when you’re on stage after they’ve paid to come see you talk, and then afterward come up to you and try to be shakin your hand? “i’m sorry my friends heckled you” and shit. like eight guys from the crowd come up after to apologize for their “friends” who heckled me, pointing at their friends, who then say “who, me?”. they were drunk or are in the marines or don’t “appreciate your kind of humor, but i did.” the other comics are telling me i did a good job, and keep it up, and don’t let it get to you, and the booker says he has some more gigs for me, that dudes were impressed i stayed on as long as i did. like i’m riding a mechanical bull. which reminds me, i haven’t done that bit in a while. it’s a fine line between expressing yourself and “snapping on the crowd”, between commanding the stage and hogging it. i’m not sure which side of that tightrope i leaned toward, but the fall to the cement floor below is only a couple feet.
*but afterward they’d check to make sure no one noticed them chuckling..
**plus, i never have to see these people again.
***they still don’t like me, but they like this.
So I’m doing a show at this small venue in San Francisco. It’s a special gig because I’ve been asked to feature with two other performers in a non-comedy show. It’s great. I get to include a headshot and a bio I’ve written for the program. And I get to come in and work up a list of lighting cues, so the stage goes red, for example, when I talk about my sex life. Or I talk about a dream I had and there is a soft window-looking light over my shoulder to suggest the moon… I get to say if I want the curtains drawn or half-drawn, or not drawn at all. I get to pick the music I’ll walk in with that’s going to get the crowd “in the mood”. And I get to pick the music I’ll exit with. The music that says, “wow, what a show!” or “funny and hip!” For my intro, I choose something from Beck’s Midnight Vultures1, and my outro is a classic Pixies song like “Here Comes Your Man”. I get to decide if the music starts and then I am introduced and the lights go down, and I walk out and the music stops when I start talking, or if I am introduced and then the lights go down and then the music starts and then I come out and start and then the music stops.
I get to decide everything except the one thing I have asked for three weeks in advance. One of the most important components a comedian works with. I don’t get to have a microphone. I ask the technical director if the mic and the mic stand will be set up later, because maybe she forgot… She looks like she’d hoped I’d forgotten. She’s not in charge anyway. Go ask the director/manager/fundraiser/president of the theatre if she remembered your mic and mic stand. Ok. I walk up the stairs and hello… yes, friends are coming. I’ve already had two weeks of acting class, so I know how these theatre people operate. You’ve gotta grease2 them up. “This is going to be a great show! No, I understand you can’t give any comps. Half price on refreshments? Well, I’ll have to try one of those brownies! So, I don’t see the mic on stage… Actually, I still would like to use one. Oh. Excuse me? No, it’s not a “security blanket”.3 It’s a prop. I realize it’s a small house, but it helps to create the effect of a comedy show. The artifice… well how bad would it sound? I see.” We don’t speak for a long time. “Ok. I guess you can skip it.” The show goes on. No mic. I am a “professional”. I do fine. But damn. You don’t make it easy.
1 I was only recently informed this album is supposed to be Prince-y. No wonder I like it.
2 I mean butter I guess.
…Ok so but then like three civilians filled the Brainwash out last night. Ghost cafe. I hit the open mic after 13 hours at work and also a corporate-sponsored Java One/Sun (TM) Event in which the B-52’s played and flexible circus performers patiently ogled lubed up techies (‘That’s Code Warrior, to you, woman!’) uninhibitedly suited in oxford shirts with their own personal company logos (who, i submit, are the real freaks?).
But so, contextually, you can see I’m in a bit of a Mood when I hit the ‘Wash… Tony puts me up just as my fish and ‘chips’ come off the grill. And I’m going to do the old shit. What have I prepared1 but a half-assed bit wrapped up in a ‘yo mama’ grape leaf.2 Then I do my bit about giving up asking for advice, and then ask the audience, ‘what do you guys think?’. Some people actually answer, and I ad lib… ‘some guys are so dumb, they answer rhetorical questions.’ So I’m out there, I’m aggressive, I’m throwin’ shit down, doin’ it the way I should be every time. I’m a little punchy. And it helps that all three people in the audience and that one comic in the corner seem to be entertained. I get off the stage, the Comedy Syringe still hanging in my arm… The wind in my hair, the open road…
And the next guy on stage leads with ‘…Alicia: the cutest thing you’d ever want to stuff into a trash compactor.’ I choke on my fish & chips. As if ‘cute’ isn’t enough of an insult? And where does this trash compactor even come from? And what’s his problem with me even? So but then I’m getting some more ketchup, and I can’t quite hear what he’s saying, it’s garbled, but it sounds like ‘…Alicia’s proportions are like my ex-girlfriend…’ and listing measurements like a football hike I think. I’m too giddy to be pissed off; it’s just that I’m surprised. So I start heckling him and asking everybody if he said what I think I heard, exchanging looks with Leslie C. and Bobert. He gets off stage, and in a move unexpected by me, Leslie C. springs into action! I don’t hear what she says, but seconds later, he’s offering apologies and explanations and now I even feel bad for him. Apparently, he thought I was heckling him during my own personal set! You see, he was one of those who answered my rhetorical question in the ‘what do you guys think?’ bit. So it’s not funny enough for everyone to get it. So it goes over (or more like under) some people’s heads. So it’s aggressive and manipulative to trick the audience.3 Maybe I shouldn’t do it anymore. What do you guys think?
1 (‘rehearsal cuts into my tv time’ -s. neilsen)
2 a) ‘met this guy who’s so dumb, he thinks reproductive rights is when women are allowed to use the copier at work…’
b) ‘he’s so dumb, he thinks analogy is the study of assholes.’
3 But people love magicians.*
* Or do they?
A wacky show last week at the Mock, I just have to say, ‘wow’. For those of you who weren’t there, it was quite an event. First of all, this ‘Tony Clifton’ guy walks up to the Mock, and is the 11th person there, makes a very big stink because there are only ten open mic spots available, complains how all his friends are here to see him1, and eventually he gets on the list. So but then 9pm arrives and about eight drunk (and drinking, and booze-offering) frat friends of his arrive, sit in the back, obviously not interested in comedy, per se, except for this guy’s straight-from-the-movie recitation of the Tony Clifton monologue (he can’t even write his own insults?), which he supposedly first did at a Halloween frat party, and everyone thought it was so clever (and who wouldn’t when they’re all pissed off their asses) that he absolutely had to make his professional debut as the Lounge Lizard the very night that actual people were also scheduled to be in the same room.
I won’t speak for the other people who went up, but I followed Rothenberg2 so but now the crowd is really riled up, and totally blitzed. Some chick in the front is asking me about ‘that thing on your lip’, which is my lipring. And she won’t leave me alone, so I get her up on stage, and she’s taking pictures of me with her own personal instamatic disposable camera, and she’s clad in hip-hugging stretchy pants and a revealing blouse, very suggestive, and so Clifton yells something about pussy. And the whole crowd cheers at his dyke reference, so I just start flirting with the chick, which gets more laughter, send her back to her seat, and lead into my bit about how stupid it is that people just assume you’re a lesbian when they see you sticking your tongue down a girl’s throat. More heckling from the Instigator and his ‘friends’… (i. e. more lines from Man on the Moon–I think he brought the script because he talked like he was reading.) I don’t believe I’ve been heckled as much at any other show3, which is fine, because I like a challenge, and now I’ve got motivation to write some nifty comebacks.
Oh, and by the way, I think a brawl started during Hoogie’s set while I was standing outside.
1 So but then where are they?
2 Who, I might add, had decided to take the triumphant spirit of Tony Clifton to the full extent and meaning of why the character was invented in the first place*. At the end of his set, Rothenberg, in a pre-approved move, just started to question what Clifton was doing there, and shouting ‘Fuck you!’ a few times to the guy, whose mustache was beginning to peel off in one corner. The dork didn’t recognize Dan’s confrontation as a reference to the ‘real’ Tony Clifton act, i. e. how his whole act was about confrontation, aggression toward the audience, and the unsureness of whether the performer is really seriously trying to pick a fight, or is it comedy? So Clifton responds with a ‘yeah, whatever’-type gesture, and the show goes on.
3 With the exception of, like, the Odeon, which is more like a ‘show’ than a show, and also a whole other can of worms all together…
* If Andy Kaufman was a student of Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, then this guy was the kid in the back of the class pulling on girls’ ponytails.