Archive for the 'No shorts on stage' Category

Exit through the gift shop

October 28, 2010
Tiffany and I moved from a big city to a medium-sized Midwestern town just after we got married. There’s only one legitimate comedy club around, a Funny Bone franchise, and they only host open mic once a month. Supply and demand in microcosm.

"Happy birthday, Jesus. Hope you like crap!"

My first time up was last December. I had a Christmas music routine ready to go, and I didn’t want to wait another entire year to make jokes about the Captain and Tennille’s holiday album. With each successive year, jokes about the Captain and Tennille get exponentially less timely. Scientists first observed this phenomenon in 1981, and it’s only snowballed from there.

It took me five open mics before I really grabbed ahold of an audience and shook the laughs out of them. On the strength of that performance, Funny Bone booked me to open three weekend shows for Kenny Smith. I’d never heard of Kenny, but I had a plan. I was going to Google and YouTube him then, shortly after shaking his hand, casually reveal myself to be very familiar with his amazing work. I’d like to say I abandoned this plan because it was cheap and disingenuous, but really, I was too lazy to pull it off. Insincere flattery was unnecessary, though. Kenny instantly proved himself to be a super-cool dude, funny onstage and off, and eager to encourage.

I learned a few things working those three shows. One, take every opportunity to interact with the audience. Two, if  a quarter of your act is about the oral prowess of a dentist named Mike Hawk, and you invite your mother and in-laws, make sure they don’t sit five feet away from the stage in the glow of the spotlight. Three, don’t wear shorts.

The “no shorts” rule is one I’d never heard before I showed up wearing shorts. Then and since, any time I bring this up to anyone, they’re like, “Oh yeah, no shorts. It’s common sense. Comedy, acting, music, public speaking — no shorts on stage.” I was used to open mic etiquette, where the club owner hosts the show in a T-shirt and cargo shorts. I should’ve known something was up when I got there for the weekend show and the owner was wearing Godfather, “How’d ya like waking up next to that horse’s head?” getup. Thankfully, my very pregnant wife was able to bring me some actual pants before the second show.

I played to probably 400 people total, and it was a very different atmosphere from open mic. They even had the crowd-control ropes up to route exiting patrons directly into the open bar and dance floor area. It reminded me of those Six Flags rides that make you exit through the gift shop. Whoever came up with that idea was a genius. Otherwise, I never would have considered buying a $30 T-shirt depicting Wile E. Coyote riding the Runaway Mine Train. I was supposed to use that cash to pay my car insurance, not buy a beach towel rendering of Yosemite Sam on the Log Flume.

Guess whose very pregnant wife didn’t buy the argument of, “I was trying to come straight home, but those crowd-control ropes routed me into the bar, so I had to drink a few more free beers.” For the curious, the answer is, this dude’s very pregnant wife. It was my big weekend, though, so she let it slide. Love that woman.

I’ve been sidelined since The Event, 100+ miles from home and unable to walk until the past week. Last night, I ended the standup dry spell. I strapped on the old Aircast, left the kids with my in-laws and ventured out to the weekly open mic at the Funny Bone franchise here. I’m in the big city right now, remember, and this open mic had me feeling like a medium-sized fish in a large pond.

There were 21 open mic comedians, and some of them were really good. The audience had about 125 people, at least 50 more than were at the Mike Lukas show I went to last month in the same venue. After every four or five open mic comics, a professional ringer would pop up and do ten minutes or so. I got my turn in the middle of the lineup, directly after Mike E. Winfield, who was working out material for his Letterman appearance next week. He was the most electrifying, hilarious performer of the night, and he delivered me an audience ready to laugh.

The four minutes was up fast, but I got lots of enthusiastic laughter and applause. Some of that might have been thanks to the host’s introduction — he said it was my first time doing open mic, when I’d written on the signup sheet “first time here.” I didn’t take any of my precious four minutes to point out that I wasn’t a complete rookie, just a semi-rookie. But that crowd was digging me.

Oh, by the way, before the big-city open mic started, the host was running through some house rules with the open mic comedians. He got to the end of his speech and asked, “No one’s wearing shorts, are they?” Wear shorts onstage? What kind of freaking idiot…?

DELETED SCENES

I did a lot of partying in my twenties. Like George W minus the cocaine. Like Charlie Sheen minus the hookers. Like Snooki minus the eating disorder. Seriously, Snooki used to battle anorexia. I don’t think anorexia put up much of a fight.

Marriage and domestication saved my life. Of that, I am sure. Going home to a wife and kids every night instead of going out to bars has added years onto my endgame and given me a true desire to live to old age. It’s also inspired me to resume creative pursuits. I’m back to writing publishable material on a regular basis, and after 15 years of saying I was going to, I’ve finally made forays into standup comedy. Five to ten minutes at a time.

Getting five minutes of standup ready each month is like being in school again. Even down to the fact that I wait way too long to do the work and then half-ass it last minute. The worst example I can think of was in tenth grade. I failed to start my science project until the night before it was due and, when I realized there was snow coming down, gambled that I could put it off until the next night.

It was a lazy kid’s ultimate deus ex machina — that winter storm bought me a snow day on Thursday and another on Friday. We usually had two snow days the entire winter, and when my big, unstarted science project was due, we got an unprecedented two in a row followed by the weekend. I had an extra four days, a completely undeserved gift, and I still put off all the work until Sunday night. Panicked, stressed and sloppy, and I still pulled out a B on that science project.

Even my most bastardized efforts in life have been worth a B, traditionally, but there’s always an A+ in there begging for sunlight and water. Occasionally, it gets out.

It’s hard to hone material and learn to build rapport with an audience when you only get five minutes a month. I’m never as prepared as I could be onstage, and years of bar karaoke have taught me that I have a far better microphone presence than stage presence. I’d do great in radio, I think, and that’s something I’ve wanted to pursue for years and haven’t. Another married, kid-filled year or two might change that, too. Who knows?

Those are the negatives, as I see them, but let’s not forget I’m in a medium-sized town and I’ve been writing comedy for most of my life.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

POV shot of Sarah and Silas sitting on the couch with me.

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