Friday July 12th, 2013 – “Parts Unknown”
I had the night off tonight, so I decided to support a group of new comedians that were hosting what is called in comedy an ‘open mic’ (or ‘open mike’, depending on the person.) I started at an open mic at Sardino’s on Farwell in Milwaukee in November of 1983, and have literally gone on stage in this situation at least several hundred if not thousands of times. I’m no stranger to them.
An open mic means virtually anyone can sign up to go on stage and perform at the venue that’s holding the event. It’s a cattle call, and any and all levels of experience show up. Mostly it’s new performers cutting their teeth, but on occasion a seasoned veteran drops in to work on material.
When I was just starting out, having those veterans drop in was both a rare treat and a learning experience. It was a clinic to watch a pro go up and get solid laughs out of the same small crowd everyone else had been struggling with all night. It showed us rookies we had a long way to go.
One of the first touring comedians I remember meeting was a hilarious Chicago comic named Danny Storts. He was passing through town and went on one night and blew the room away for a solid twenty minutes. Most of the rest of us could barely stay on stage for five minutes, and none of us could maintain steady laughs that long. Danny showed us how a real professional operates.
I got to be friends with Danny over the years, and still am today. He’s living down in Nashville now, still making a living doing comedy as far as I know. Danny taught me several lessons about comedy on stage and off, and I cherish his friendship and mentoring even now. He’s a solid pro.
One area that was heavily stressed by both Danny Storts and my main mentor C. Cardell Willis was the issue of keeping one’s act clean – especially starting out. It’s not a matter of prudishness or censorship, it’s a smart business decision. One needs to learn the craft of comedy first, THEN if he or she chooses to ‘work blue’ or add more adult topics or strong language, it’s their choice.
There is not one topic, swear word or group of swear words that can shock or offend me at this point – or so I thought. I’ve heard it all in my comedy tenure, and more than that before I stepped on a stage as I hung around my father’s motorcycle gang maggots. They could curse with almost anyone, but the all time champion of foul language I ever heard was my German grandmother.
Wow, could she let it rip. She was 5’1” – maybe, and usually wore a babushka. That made her stand out even more when the flurry of filth would fly out of her – quite often in a public location in front of mixed company. Grandma had a real flair, and could make the bikers cover their ears.
That being said, the open mic tonight featured some of the filthiest material I have heard in one night on one stage in I don’t know when. I don’t even want to call it comedy material, as I didn’t find a thing funny about it. I thought I was past the point of being shocked, but I was very wrong.
I’m not going to say where the place was, and I’m not going to name any names. I can’t see the point, other than starting a verbal war with those guys. I talked to the kid who ran the show when my time to go on was coming up and told him I didn’t want to go on. I wanted no part of tonight.
I guess I’m now the grumbling old fart I never thought I’d be, but this was an insult to standup comedy on many levels. It wasn’t comedy, it was just young guys either swearing or describing a vile or disgusting act in detail. That’s not standup comedy, and it pollutes those of us who do it.