Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Interstate 65

Monday July 29th, 2013 – Ft. Walton Beach, FL/Fox Lake, IL

   I heartily challenge anyone who thinks they might want to become a professional entertainer of any kind to spend 24 straight hours in a car before they ever get their first gig and then come tell me if they’re still interested. I’d bet at least 95% or more would be out of the pool immediately.

   This is not a pursuit for the squeamish, and sometimes it becomes a grueling marathon that has nothing whatsoever to do with actual performance ability. It boils down to being able to arrive at gigs consistently to keep getting paid. We basically become truck drivers hauling a load of jokes.

   When I started, I couldn’t get enough of the road and all the extra perks that went with it. I was constantly seeing new places I’d never been to, and the spirit of adventure became intoxicating. I actively looked for any and all work as far from my home base as possible. Those days are gone.

   These days I dread having to travel long distances, whether by land, air or sea. I’ve been most everywhere, and even if I haven’t there aren’t many places that can dazzle me with a totally new gimmick I’ve never seen before. A long car ride is a long car ride pretty much any way it goes.

   I left Fort Walton Beach, FL last night after the show at 11pm Central Time. It’s never easy to fall right to sleep after a show, so I can always count on a couple of hours of alertness before my head starts bobbing behind the wheel. I’ve learned to pull over and rest when that time comes.

   I knew I was in for a hellishly long scoot, so there’s nothing to do but relax and try to enjoy the ride. I brought a couple of self help audio programs and my iPod to help pass the time, and there happened to be some good radio stations to keep my attention as I headed west on Interstate10 to Mobile, AL where I’d catch Interstate 65 and head north. GPS? Who needs that? I’m a road dog.

   Interstate 65 is a highway I’ve been on quite a bit in my time. I’ve driven it from end to end as I have most of the major Interstates in America. I always get a charge out of seeing an Interstate from end to end. It’s kind of like completing a book series or baseball card set. It brings closure.

   It also brings perspective. Most major highways transverse the continent and offer a wide array of anything and everything from urban to rural to regional and everything in between. Interstate 65 is a perfect example of this. It stretches from the deepest South to right outside of Chicago.

   It goes through Nashville, Louisville and Indianapolis – three places I’ve worked often through the years. I have good friends in all those places, as well as favorite thrift stores, restaurants and all kinds of local flavor. I could live in any of those cities tomorrow and find my way just fine. 

   Alabama is another story. I’ve never liked that state, and after splitting it down the middle one more time today I’ve still not acquired a taste for it. I’ve always had horrible shows there, and if I never go back nary a tear will be shed – at least by me. I don’t feel a synergy and never have.

   Even their barbecue stinks. They don’t put sauce on it, and I’ve never liked that. I love a sweet tomato based sauce, as they do in Kansas City or Memphis. Memphis has a ‘dry rub’ style that’s delicious too. Alabama does it their way, and I’m not a fan. Oh well. I’m sure life will continue.

   If it doesn’t, at least I can say I explored my home country. Taking this long trip brought back memories, most good. What it didn’t bring was a desire to keep doing it. But if I have to, I will.

A Night In Florida

Sunday July 28th, 2013 – Fort Walton Beach, FL

   I’ll bet it had been twenty years since I’d been to Fort Walton Beach, FL but tonight I managed to find my way back. It was a different venue than I’d performed at last time, but pretty much the same kind - a giant entertainment complex located on the beach that has a weekly comedy night.

   These shows can go either way for no discernible reason, and often do. I remember having one particularly rough go of it in the two times I remember being here, while the other one happened to come off without a hitch. A lot of factors go into a successful comedy show, and only one has to be amiss and life can be downright miserable. Tonight it all came together and life was good.

   The venue tonight was a dueling piano bar called “Howl at the Moon”. It was packed, but with a younger audience that appeared to be drinking heavily. There was a lot of miscellaneous noise, from multiple blenders behind the bar to constant crowd chatter. This wasn’t a gig for the subtle, so before the show I braced myself for battle. I had no idea in what direction tonight would head.

   The degree of difficulty in situations like this is beyond sky high, but few understand. Bookers seldom if ever care, as all they want is their commission. They should technically be in charge of educating the venue operators as to how to properly run a comedy show, but that’s often the first and most glaring ingredient lacking. They assume we don’t need assistance, and that’s incorrect.

   One babbling drunk can throw a night like this to the wolves, and since the comedy shows start right after the dueling pianos perform that’s par for the course. The piano show is an entertaining concept, and as a fan of quality entertainment I enjoy them very much.  As a comic, they’re hell.

   For the entire show, the audience is encouraged to yell things out and sing along and be part of the mix. That’s the last thing comedians want, but we’ve got it. How can we blame the audience, as they’ve just been programmed for participation? Asking them to be quiet becomes impossible.

   Shouldn’t someone somewhere up the entertainment food chain have thought of this huge issue before scheduling a standup comedy show immediately after a dueling piano show? That’s like a kindergarten teacher passing out cookies and Kool Aid directly before story time. It’s buzz city.

   In my opinion, if anyone is going to offer standup comedy and music on the same night there’s no question that comedy should go first 100 times out of 100. It can serve as a perfect lead in for the pianos, and then if people want to yell things out it doesn’t matter. That’s a win/win for all.

   Tonight happened to go very well. I’ve done enough of these types of shows to know the exact formula, and it worked perfectly. They wanted quick, loud and animated, and that’s exactly what I gave them. Once my rhythm was established, I was able to sustain it for the rest of the evening.  

   The shift manager was one of the co-owners named Steve and he was really easy to work with. He enjoys comedy and totally gets it. He told us before the show he’d bounce anyone who might get out of hand, and knowing that goes a long way with me. It shows respect, and I appreciate it.

   I’m sure they have a legitimate business reason for putting comedy on after music, and it’s not my place to complain. It’s their venue, and we got treated extremely well. I was here for the cash and I got it immediately after the show. They put us in a sweet hotel, and I’m delighted to get the work when I really needed it. Rent will be paid this month, but now I have that long drive home.

Georgia Geography

Saturday July 27th, 2013 – Columbus, GA

   It’s not often I can say I haven’t been somewhere in the Continental United States, but today is one of those days. I’d heard of Columbus, GA but I can’t ever recall coming through this place in my many travels. I’ve been all over The Peachtree State starting with The Punch Line in Atlanta in the ‘80s and including Albany, Athens, Augusta, Savannah, Valdosta, Waycross and more. 

   Columbus is on the Alabama border, and right next to Fort Benning. There’s a club called “The Loft” that has apparently been doing comedy shows for going on twenty years, and they have not one but two nights featuring different comics. I’ve seen that done on occasion, but not that often.

   The room itself is an upstairs facility, and quite large. They have a bar and restaurant, and they do comedy in an area separated by only a curtain. Unfortunately, noise from the other side bleeds over but that’s how they do it. It’s not my place to complain, as I’m here for the money and may never be back. It’s a long way from home, and circumstances brought me here for the evening.

   One nighters can always go either way, but if a place has made a commitment for twenty years chances are there’s a clue in the mix somewhere. The people on staff were all very nice, and I’ve never seen a more gorgeous wait staff in my life. Yowzah. Every last one was a total knockout.

   They had a nice sized stage with good lights and sound, and that’s another thumbs up. They do bands after the comedy, and there was a drum kit on stage but it still left enough room for me to prowl the stage like I like to do. They also serve dinner during the show, a big potential red flag.

   Again, if they’ve done it this long they’ve probably got a system and there were no problems at all. The noise from the other room was a bit distracting, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind so my focus was on them. They were aged probably from 30 to 50ish, and they were there for the show.

   I had a good time and more importantly got paid, but this is hopefully drawing close to the end of my barnstorming cross country one nighter tours. I took this run fully aware of everything that it entailed, but it’s only two nights and I’m barely going to come out ahead after all my expenses.

   Rent is due on Thursday of next week, and this was all I could find. I drove a lot farther than I should have, but I haven’t been out in a while so I sucked it up and did it. Since I’m on a budget this week, I chose to forego getting a hotel last night between Dayton and here. I pulled into the parking lot of a Marriott just south of Lexington, KY and slept there in my car for a few hours.

   That’s a part of road life I’ve never enjoyed, but everyone has done it at some point. It’s either budget restrictions or due to hotels in a town being full, but at one time or another performers of all genres end up sleeping in their car. It’s never a restful sleep, but we suck it up and move on.

   I’ve come way too far to be sleeping in my car at this stage of the game, but times dictate that I needed to so I did. I could have gotten a hotel, but I had a long way to drive and I would not have gotten my money’s worth. I did what I had to do, and hopefully I’ll squeak out a profit this week. 

   All in all, this was a good run. I’m in Fort Walton Beach, FL tomorrow, and that’s a place that I’ve been before. It’s been quite a few years, but it was one of the first places I’d ever headlined. Wait, let me rephrase that. It’s one of the first places they ever let me go on last. I was far from a ‘headliner’ then, but everybody has to earn their stage chops somewhere, and that’s what I did.

Climate Control

Friday July 26th, 2013 – Dayton, OH

   Small victories are victories nonetheless. For the first time in recent memory – maybe ever – it thrills me to know I have a prime booking in a ‘climate’ location at a favorable time of the year. Coming up the ranks we all have to pay dues, and that often includes accepting off season work.

   I can’t count the times I’ve had to make my way to Duluth in December or Austin in August, and had to endure all the consequences that go with it. If one wants to gain experience and stay working early on, that’s part of the trade off. Bookers know it, and they know we’ll jump at it.

   It’s actually useful experience to deal with worst case scenarios, but after a while it gets to be an insult. Rarely if ever is there hazard pay, and the consequences can be devastating. I once had a gig in Laughlin, NV in the summer when it was 114 degrees – at night. I had a Geo Metro with no air conditioning, and it would have been smarter to accept a booking on the surface of the sun.

   Today I received a call to work in Tucson, AZ at Laffs Comedy Club for New Year’s Eve. I’ve always loved that town, but I have traditionally been booked there from April through September through the years. A lot of other people love it as well, so I’ve had to take whatever I could get.

   It’s an honor to be asked to do New Year’s Eve at any club, as it means they think highly of the caliber of the act. It’s traditionally the most important booking of the year, and they want to have a solid act. I’m beyond flattered they thought of me, and I’ll go there and kick ass for six shows.

   There are many reasons I enjoy Tucson. Obviously the climate is great, and I have quite a few friends there because my friend Jerry Agar used to have a radio show there. I got to be part of the show, and we recorded the version of my comedy class called ‘Be Funny Make Money’ there.

   I really love the club Laffs too. I find the crowds to be smart and into comedy, and I get along really well with the staff. Gary Hood is a funny comic who works behind the scenes, and knows what he’s talking about on stage and off. We hit it off years ago, and then he left and came back. He makes it easy because he’s a comic himself and knows the little things that make life better.

   The owner Gary Bynum is one of my favorite club owners anywhere, as he’s a business person first and lets you know it up front. I don’t have to go in there and kiss his or anyone else’s ass, or hang out and make his friends laugh or anything other than what I was hired to do. There is zero fakery there, and everyone knows it’s business. If every club was like that, life would be peachy.

   Knowing I’ve got a sweet gig on New Year’s Eve made my long drive much more palatable as I left early to get to Columbus, GA by tomorrow. That’s a long scoot, and I rented a car so as not to pound miles on my new old Toyota Camry. My days of astronomical miles on a car are over.

   I stopped in Dayton, OH to say hello to Rob Haney who owns Wiley’s Comedy Club. He and I worked together years ago at the Funny Bone in Milwaukee, and I always liked him. He’s a hard working funny comic, and he decided to buy his home town club years ago and get off the road.

   I can’t fault anyone for that, and he’s been at it for years now. He was saying how tough it has been in the last couple of years, as it has for most everyone. He, like me, has few alternatives to fall back on. He’s a lifer, and is in it for the long haul. He’s still funny, and I’m glad I stopped by to say hello. It’s been too long, but we’ve both been busy trying to survive. That’s a full time job.