Humpty Dumpty & The Irish Peace Treaty

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He read the material with focus and intent, yet more quickly than I anticipated a creative type would.  Without much expression, his eyes scanned the pages trying to get a sense of what he was reading.  After ten pages that took maybe a minute, he handed the material back to me.  I asked for his opinion of what he read, and he came up with one word.

sad

“Sad?  How so?” I asked.

Still leafing through the pages again, he said “if I happened to see this and pick it up to read, if it didn’t say “comedy material” for a headline, I’d say it’s sad.

I let the guy who lives across the basement from me read the new material.  I had been working on it for a good month for this show a couple weekends ago in Saskatoon. He was in his mid 20s, a guys type of guy, and that’s what he came up with.  If that’s the opinion he came up with, it might have been a good idea to change course, no?

This show I did longer than fifteen minutes.  It was a half hour which I clearly was not really prepared for.  I mean, I was in a sense.  I had the material over and over again in my mind ready to rip, but never tried before on an audience.

Lesson #1:  If you are doing a set for a half hour, it’s a good idea to not do new material that hasn’t been worked out in front of a live audience before.

My coach and I devised new material that covered four different areas and I knew the transition from one subject matter to the next, and had it all rehearsed.  Now maybe it’s because of my personal issues, work or the fact summer’s hit, but for whatever reason I could not find myself being able to get up for this gig like I did the others.  I had a sense that something wasn’t feeling right, and boy were my suspicions about to be proven right.

The Friday night had maybe half the tables full, but at least the seating wasn’t quite segmented.  It was clustered somewhat so a person could identify laughs from the stage a bit easier.  My first 1.5 pages didn’t get a reaction.  So then I stepped back and asked the audience something my coach told me he uses when his material isn’t getting the desired response.  I said “well ladies and gentleman, how about we all go into the back alley and sniff glue together?”

That got my first decent laugh, which was concerning only because in the first 1.5 pages there were multiple laugh points written into the scripts.  But it just didn’t fire, and the glue joke did.  I knew I was fucked because I didn’t have enough experience on stage yet to properly capitalize on that laugh to build from.  Thank God I was only on for a shade over 20 minutes.  I got the headliner on early, and he nailed it home.  Seems like his material was along the lines of that glue joke to a degree, and the audience kept feeding him drinks on stage to reward him for making them laugh.

Lesson #2:  If you are the MC/opening act and things aren’t working, get off the stage and let the headliner do their work.  

The headliner makes more money than you on that gig for a reason.  If you are the host and you’re eating it on stage, it isn’t your job, nor is it your responsibility to try and bring the crowd back around.  Again, that is why they have a headliner, because they (should) have the ability to save your ass and turn the show around on their own.  During an open mic you have a bit of latitude to work out the kinks on new material and trudge through the periods of awkward silence when a joke doesn’t fire like you had hoped.

Lesson #3:  If people are going to talk during a set, it’s better that they do it during YOUR set IF you are the MC/opening act.  

The MC/opener’s main duty is to get the crowd into a good mood to make it easier for the headliner to do their job.  The MC/opener does this by engaging the crowd with their material or crowd work.  You may not get the big laughs, but as the opener it’s not your job to get the big laughs, you just have to get the audience properly warmed up.

So once Friday night came and went, I shrugged it off and figured that Saturday night would be a reversal of fortune.  Unfortunately, nobody told that to the audience.  The show was sold out with about 150 seats sold, but that didn’t make it any easier for me.  I did the same material, and again it didn’t have the impact that I thought it would have.

But on that Saturday night I had a saving grace for me.  I didn’t do as much stage time because of a capable comedian friend, in the presence of Irish Steve.

I had asked the bookers if they would allow a guest set for him and they agreed.  So I only did about five painful minutes at the start, then handed it off to Steve Thomas.  I’m not sure if comedy audiences normally like fat comics, or if it’s the accent, or maybe the look of Irish Steve, but he clearly has a strong likability factor. Some of the audience members that were giving me a hard time told Steve that they liked him right off the bat.

I planned to only give him ten minutes, but I saw that he was doing so well I let him go somewhere between 13 – 15 minutes before I went back on stage.  Then I did maybe one joke and brought the headliner on again, who once again brought it home.

Lesson #4:  If you are going to “get yourself” sick during a show, the audience may not know you were sick, maybe the comics won’t know, but the working staff will…..and THEY are the ones you need to impress THE MOST if you want to work in that room again

At the end of the night, i wasn’t feeling up to par to close the show.  I suggested that Steve close the show, for three reasons.  First, was because the audience liked him and would respond better to him.  Secondly, I was sick.  Lastly, I wasn’t getting a positive reaction from the audience so I felt it best for Steve to close it out because two struggling sets on consecutive nights didn’t leave me with an abundance of confidence.

So, as a result Steve ended up getting into the rotation of performers for this particular room type throughout Sask., Alberta & BC.  That I saw coming, as could everyone else who saw the shows.  But I was still kept on the roster, because I was told that I can get a chance to redeem myself, but several months down the road when I have more experience under my belt.

Now, just a couple of quick observations to close this post out.

Some may say that they could see this coming for me and be saying things like “I told you so” to their monitor as they read this.  I wouldn’t be surprised by that, it’s probably right, but at the same time, how many of you would do the same thing in my position, to chronicle all of the failures?  I don’t know of too many.  I never said that I know everything, I’m just passing along what I have learned at different points of the comedy journey.

Due to Steve’s success in Saskatoon, they replaced me as the host for the Regina show with Steve.  I was okay with this, and I went to Regina this past weekend to watch it and support him.  Sure, the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight was on, I really wanted to stay home and watch.  But i recorded it on the PVR, plus far too often I knew what it was like to have no support, let alone a familiar face in the crowd when I did comedy. I felt an obligation to help a friend and lend him my support.

It’s been said that hurt people hurt people, and in comedy you find that to be true, to varying degrees.  Just because I didn’t get the support I felt I needed at key times, didn’t give me the right to turn around and screw over a friend that I stuck out my neck for.  I’m glad I went, even did a few minutes myself.  The Regina room is completely different from the Saskatoon room.

The Regina room is smaller, the lights on stage in Regina don’t blind you, so it’s easier to see everything in front of you, and a lot of people in Regina were dressed up, like it was a date night.  Very impressed.

Lastly, while I should never have got to the point where I ended up too ill to take the stage to close out the show in Saskatoon, I do not regret going the extra mile and recommending that Steve be given stage time, even though it was cutting into my time.  I knew this, and wasn’t concerned at all.

If you are a real friend to Steve, you would be happy for him taking the next step in his comedy journey. Neither Steve or myself are wrecking anything for anybody by performing at bigger venues, with bigger audiences that have more brand recognition.

We get gigs.  We have our good nights and our bad nights.  We learn our lessons.  We get laughs.  The quality of laughs may differ, but in the end, we get laughs.

*** Please, feel free to leave a comment below about this post.  You don’t have to leave your name, it can go anonymously.  But I would appreciate and enjoy the feedback from this particular post. ***

Be blessed

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