Friday December 14th, 2012 – Glenview, IL
The only thing worse about a day where a mass shooting spree is all over the news is having to be funny that same night. I’ve unfortunately been in this situation too many times to count, and it never does get easier. As horrible as everyone feels – and rightfully so - the show must go on.
That’s what happened tonight at The Laughing Chameleon in Glenview, IL. To make it harder, the intimately sized club features two giant screen TVs on opposite walls and another one behind the bar so it’s virtually impossible to look out in any direction without seeing a television screen.
They had them all turned to CNN coverage before the show, and I wish they wouldn’t have. I don’t know how many in the audience were watching as they were talking amongst themselves, but it sure put me in a down mood. I don’t want to have that in my head right before I perform.
It got to me so much I walked outside until the show started so I didn’t have to look at it. It’s a big enough challenge making a small crowd laugh for an entire hour without having to overcome freshly etched images of the mass murder of helpless children to boot. That’s asking for trouble.
There’s only so much pain comedy can hide, and pulling off a successful live show is delicate at best even under ‘normal’ circumstances. One thing out of place can throw off the entire show, and I’ve seen it happen over and over. I didn’t want to dig myself into hole before I got on stage.
My friend Ira Novos is in town and volunteered to come out and do some time up front and of course I said yes. Ira goes back to my earliest comedy memories back in Milwaukee at Sardino’s jazz club that used to have comedy on Monday nights. He was part of the first show I ever saw.
He lives in Vancouver, WA now, and was home visiting his family. Ira does a musical act, and tonight was the perfect night for it. He plays a keyboard, and the music helped establish a happy and much more uplifting mood than a regular opening act would have. I was glad he was there.
I went up after his twenty minute set and did about an hour and five minutes - a tricky situation in front of a tiny audience. That’s a long time to entertain anyone, but in small crowds the chance to lose them is a lot greater as every little thing can be a factor it wouldn’t be at any other time.
For example, someone going to the bathroom during the show is a big deal. I can’t help but see it, and it’s a tough decision whether to mention it or not. It can be a huge distraction, especially if it comes during a punch line. About six people did it tonight, and it was an issue the whole show.
Another situation is the waitress taking drink orders. That can also be very distracting, but they need to do it because that’s what pays the bills. I get that, but it still doesn’t make things easier in a situation like this. I was able to work around it all, but it took a lot of years to know what to do.
My heart goes out to everyone who was personally touched by this horrific event, and I cannot begin to imagine what all those families must be feeling. I sure wasn’t feeling very funny tonight but it was my job to make those people laugh and I did it. Quite honestly, my heart wasn’t in it.