Comedy Gone Bad
When I first started doing stand-up, I was desperate for any stage time I could get. But the only spots I ever seemed to get were either: A.) Guest-spots as Bruce Larkin's fluffer over at Chuckle's Comedy Club -- where I'd do a 3-5 minute set and spend the rest of the night washing dishes at the club's restaurant, or B.) for a guy named Troy Stephen Sanders (a.k.a., The Colossus of Comedy). Now the Colossus is a great, great guy who's super passionate about all of his comedy projects and promotions, but the Colossus' projects are a lot like the Philadelphia 76ers: Of course you root for them to succeed, but deep down in your heart you know they won't amount to much. I should've known this would be one of those projects.
When the Colossus called me up and asked if I would be interested in taking part in a "unique comedy opportunity," I should've known I was in for some shit. But he was a pro at selling his projects, and of course, I was desperate for stage time. So I was in before he even described the show. The show was to be a marriage of "comedy and music." According to Troy, something like eight diverse, original bands were booked to play for the spectacular event. So what was my role? All I had to do seven different 10-minute sets while the upcoming bands were setting up their equipment and tuning their instruments. Seventy minutes of comedy; that's ALL. I'm emphasizing the all because all I had at the time for an act was maybe 15 single minutes of shitty comedy -- not a polished arsenal of different 10-minute sets. But I figured I'd mix in my regular material with, oh, I don't know 40 or 50 minutes of fresh crowd work and new material. How hard could that be? It would be a challenge I told myself.
The show was at a place called "The Arena," which I thought sounded like it had to be a cool venue for concerts or shows. But in fact, "The Arena" was a bowling alley in Northeast Philadelphia, prominently situated right off of Roosevelt Blvd., like some grand, white-trash monument. The crowd consisted of a few scattered groups of the bands' friends, as well as eight to 10 local drunks who looked like they'd been stationed at the Arena's bar since their lives fell apart. But the best part was the bands. Every single one of the diverse, original bands looked like that skinhead house party band in American History X.
The first band I followed was a little hardcore outfit called Southern Grievance. These guys had the oh-so-popular Confederate Flag everywhere -- on their clothes, their instruments, one guy even had it tattooed across his chest. If I had any chance of getting the crowd to pay attention to me that night, I knew my opener had to be strong -- really strong. And during Southern Grievance's abortion of a set, I thought I came up with the perfect way to start off the comedy portion of the show. So, when my time came, I took the mic, motioned in the direction of the exiting Nazi band and said, "All right, how about a hand for Southern Grievance everybody! That's Southern Grievance giving us a great example of why the South will never rise again!" Instead of a thunderous wave of laughs, I got a bunch of boos, groans and one loud, "Fuck you, you pussy faggot!" Fifteen seconds in to my first set of the night, and I get called "Pussy Faggot," which I'm guessing is even worse than a regular faggot. Now I still stand behind my joke, but maybe, just maybe, a joke about the South wasn't the best way to open at a show for Aryan Brotherhood's music festival.
Anyway, the rest of the show was a disaster. But somewhere around my third or fourth failed set something magical happened: I just stopped giving a shit about the crowd altogether. I was passionately talking in front of a group of people, and no one was even paying attention to me. It's probably as close as I'll ever come to understanding how it feels to be one of those schizophrenic homeless guys that just shouts out absurd shit on a crowded street corners all day long. It's not as bad as you'd think.
Throughout the entire night, I only got one legitimately solid laugh. And that was only because, while they were setting up, the guitarist for one of the bands simulated fucking me in the ass with his guitar during my set. It wasn't until the top of his Les Paul actually went into my ass that I realized it wasn't my material they were laughing at.
Troy closed the show with a few minutes of stand-up. But before he went onstage, he asked me to help him put on a gladiator costume, which has absolutely nothing to do with Troy's act. (Side-note: Troy's outfit wasn't your run-of-the-mill Halloween-store gladiator getup. It was authentic -- and very, very expensive. In fact, because Troy failed to make all of the payments on the gladiator costume, it got repoed. Yep, his gladiator costume got repossessed like it was a fucking RangeRover.) Anyway, my last clear memory of the show is this: I was on my knees outside of the bar, attaching Troy's golden shin-pad to his leg when this pack of hot, slutty girls walked by and peaked in at the show.
"What's going on in there?" one hot slut asked.
"There's a bunch of bands playing, and I think there's like some losers trying to do comedy, too." another whore responded.
And I still remember being on my knees, helping a grown man put on an unnecessary outfit for this shitty show and thinking: She summed that up perfectly.
"Some loser trying to do comedy." That's exactly what I felt like driving home from that show -- from a lot of shows actually. But I wouldn't change it for anything, because all of the horrific gigs supplied me with so many ridiculous stories like the one I just told.