Saturday April 12th, 2014 – Somewhere in Northwest IN
I have to be careful how I word what I want to say, and I want to say it without sounding like a moron or ingrate. I am growing extremely more dissatisfied by the minute with what I am doing for a living – at least on the level at which I’m doing it. Something has to change, and I know it.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy performing. Far from it. I love to perform on a live stage more than anything I have ever done - but only for audiences that are there specifically to enjoy a show. I’m not interested in having to fight for attention and force myself on anyone. That’s not my desire.
Tonight I had a booking at a country club in Northwest Indiana. Country club audiences tend to be either really terrific or really tough. I did one with Jim McHugh this past Valentine’s Day, and it was a monster show from start to finish. The people loved it, and it was a fantastic experience.
Tonight was not like that. Were the people nice? Yes. Were we treated well? Without question. That’s why I have to be careful with how I word this, as I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the opportunity. There were a lot of comics that could have been called for this show, and I was glad to get it. It pays my rent for May – at least it should if the transmission doesn’t fall off of my car.
The opening act was Bill Gorgo, someone I love to hang with on stage and off. We arranged to ride together, and that’s always convenient. They also fed us a delicious dinner before the show, and that was appreciated as well. Like I said, I don’t want to trash anything or anyone involved.
The contact person we had to deal with all night was an absolutely stunning woman in her 20s that was so good looking it was a distraction. Where was she when I was young and moderately cute? I know, probably not born yet. Still, she was pleasant to look at tonight and very nice also.
Everything around the gig was outstanding, but the show itself was extra difficult. Bill started it off, and had to really push to establish himself. I’ve seen him work hundreds of times, and this was rough. He had to work harder than necessary, and I knew I’d have to also. And I was right.
I wore a sport coat tonight because it was a country club, and by the end of my set I had soaked all the way through it with sweat. We were on a tiny makeshift stage next to hot lights that didn’t illuminate us very well. That made it even harder, and the crowd was a bit older and super snug.
Were they bad people? Of course not. I tried my very best to entertain them to the fullest, but I had several jokes that work like magic 99.9% of the time fall flat tonight. These were people that couldn’t relate to ‘normal’ problems like being broke or driving a rickety car. They were affluent and of a different mindset. I kept hammering and got them with my closer, but it took all I had.
I was paid immediately afterward, and I’m very grateful for that especially. But speaking from an artistic point of view, these kinds of gigs are soul suckers. Nobody knew who we were, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we were there or not. I don’t want to be the faceless idiot that nobody asked to see. I want to have FANS, and please them all night. Being a mercenary is getting old.
I know that sounds cocky and elitist to an outsider, but too bad. I’ve been at this far too long to keep having to fight to establish my credibility every single night. I know what I’m doing at this point, and having to start over again each and every night is not only frustrating, it’s humiliating.
Very few civilians know anything about what it takes to make a standup comedy show operate smoothly, and even fewer ever think to ask. I’ve only got thirty years of hands on experience, so what could I possibly add to the mix? It’s obviously better to ask the janitor how it should work.
There are all kinds of subtle yet extremely crucial ingredients that go into a successful standup comedy show that hardly anyone realizes. Everything from the lights, sound system, placement of the stage in the room, seating arrangements, pre show announcements asking for silence to an emcee that gives an act a proper introduction. Any one of them missing can ruin the experience.
All too often several if not all of these things are not done correctly, and then I’m left to slug it out by myself in less than ideal conditions. People that don’t perform can’t see how this could be an issue, but it totally is. “Just go up there and be funny,” they say. “What’s so hard about that?”
That is SO wrong, I wish I didn’t have to dignify it with a comment. But that’s how a lot of the people that aren’t in the business think about comedians. They think we just go up there without any preparation and act goofy off the cuff, and they often begrudge having to pay us for doing it.
Was tonight’s gig fun? In a word – NO. I’m probably cutting my own throat by saying that, but I refuse to lie. Was it appreciated? Absolutely YES. I needed that money desperately, and I could not be any more grateful from that standpoint – but from someone that has paid the large amount of dues I have it’s like I just dumped my life down a garbage disposal. It wasn’t worth the effort.
I have said it before, but it’s still true – I have held a long time job in show business, but never have been able to forge a career. As crazy as it sounds, I have been too busy working to construct a career, but it’s true. Driving all over civilization to do shows in bars, country clubs or even real comedy clubs isn’t the way to build a career. It’s a way to develop an act, THEN try for a career.
Building a career in show business requires establishing name recognition with as many people as possible in order to build a potential customer base, and that’s much harder than it may sound. Name recognition comes from media exposure, and that becomes an entirely new challenge to be handled by a performer. Building an act is difficult enough. Then it has to be showcased for sale.
That’s where most of us fall short. It’s not easy to get on national TV, and once one gets there it takes regular appearances to become known to a big enough segment of the public to be able to become a legitimate draw. I had my one little shot for five short minutes on national TV and did well – it just wasn’t enough to put me over the top to be recognized. In reality, it did me no good.
It was a fun experience, but fun isn’t cutting it out here in life’s jungle. Having to slug this hard each week for a living is really getting to me. I’m just not into it anymore. I made my nut for this week, but just barely. And it wasn’t easy. Next week, I have no work. This wasn’t in my dream.
|Trying to hack out a living every week as an entertainer can feel like the weight of the world is on one's shoulders. It's NOT easy.|