Monday, October 03, 2005

Second Worst Gig Eva

And I mean EVER.

Let me ease you into it by describing the SECOND worst gig ever. A gig I honestly had hoped would retain the title for the rest of my life, but sadly couldn;t hold up against last week's outing at a jazz joint called "Slade's" near the town line of the South End and Roxbury.

I played a place called "Galaxy" on Old Orchard Beach. I know what you're thinking if you are a comic, "a show off the beach??? Hmmm...sounds like a bad idea already."

I got to the show early with the promise of a massive crowd after days of advertising on the beach by the booker, who really is a sweet lady. As the host took the stage, about 12 people looked pon, 3 of whom I brought. It was shaping up to be a pretty stale crowd from the get go, when a high energy comic took the stage. he poured enough octane to light up Cambridge and was rewarded sparingly with an odd clap here and there.

I knew this was not a good sign. I am NOT a high energy guy, and if a guy like that is met with silence, it certainly doesn't bode well for my routine.

I was "middling", that is doing about twenty-five minutes before giving way to the headliner, who would close the show with a forty-five minute set. Five minutes before I am to go on, the host/booker informs me that the headliner hasn't show up. She looks concerned, especially since he had tried to switch the show for another night after getting Sox-Yankees tickets for that evening.

It took all of about three seconds for me to figure out that he wasn't coming. I took a second to envy him for being at the game instead of in this comedy morgue before the envy turned to anger that this guy stiffed this nice lady, and in the process, ME. I knew what was coming next.

"Can you stretch it out?"

Ten minutes in front of a crowd like this feels like an hour, I could only imagine what 40 would be like, but I reckoned it would fall somewhere between having a root canal and passing a kidney stone.

I flashed a sympathetic smile and tried to hide my utter dread as I said, "I planned for twenty-five, but I have a couple bits that I know well enough that will take me to around forty."

I opened with a sure-fire winner; a great Red Sox bit that had never failed me. Beside the point, it was in the middle of the baseball season and Sox Fever was taking hold of New England as it did every summer.

I was completely confident in this bit, in spite of the lackluster crowd reaction to this point. What had somehow eluded me was the possibility that the Red Sox bit had never failed me before because I had never broken it out in Old Orchard Beach. I snapped out some off-the-cuff self-deprecation, which seemed to kill withthe comics and my friends, but I couldn't budge the catatonic crowd. I went right to my closer, my best joke at the time and a staple for me which had yet to fail.

Again, there is the slight possibility it hadn;t failed yet because I had yet to subject the joke to Old Orchard.

Flat as a pancake.

I began to foster genuine concern that one or more audience members may have actually died earlier in the show, so I asked a few questions to see if they were okay. I literally had to walk toward a table and inform a couple that I was indeed speaking directly to them. They blinked, thank God, putting my mind at ease.

At about the twenty minute mark of my Bataan-like set, I heard a ruckus by the bar near the door. There was a struggle and some yelling. Prior to that I had been fairly certain that not much could get worse, but I hadn't considered the possibility of having a terrible set and getting beaten up.

A few minutes later, the booker/host is giving me the "cut" sign from side stage.

"Have they seen enough?" I said half-joking.

"Yeah," she said, totally serious.

I signed off and promised the crowd I would drive into a Moose on the way home so none of us would ever have to go through this again, and the host ended the show early.

Apparently, a bouncer decided to take a business decision into his own hands and decided that since the host didn't bring enough people (like that's her responsibility) they were goingto play dance music, as it would bring in more people.

When the host informed the bouncer that she was contracted to rub a show until 9:30 in order to get paid, the bouncer informed her that the owner wasn't going to pay her anyway with this small a crowd. For some reason, she tool offense to this and called the police.

They had done 3 or 4 shows at Galaxy without incident, so I guess it was just luck to be involved in an historic show like this one.

All was not lost, the booker offered to pay me anyway and I took half pay so she didn't take the full brunt of the wanna-be gangsta which happened to own the club that week. More importantly, we both learned the importance of signed contracts.

Perhaps the real gem was that I proved to myself I was a professional comedian that night. Shit, it's easy doing shows in front of adoring crowds that laugh when you scratch your ass, but toughing it out and doing your time no matter what is what makes a professional comic. I had heard it said by better than me, but never really grasped it before experiencing it. I hafta say, while it was the worst gig I ever had to that point, it was my best performance.

I hadn't been aware of it at first, and had always considered this show I did in front of hundreds of supportive convention goers my shining moment, but this was really a good outing. I mean, I mixed it up, improvised, and only later realized that I had only used about fifteen minutes of material to cover the twenty-five minute set I did because I was riffing, ad-libbing and enjoying myself as much as I could.

It's pretty much taboo to blame an audience. Accepting responsibility for a blowish set falls to the guy telling the jokes, but the reality is that sometimes the deck is stacked or the crowd would rather be at a wake.


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