Last night I did a show at a club in Princeton, New Jersey. I was the feature act (the middle act doing about 25 minutes) and it went so well that I woke up with an e-mail from the owner/manager telling me that I was now demoted to emcee the shows tonight (instead of featuring) because I did not “look comfortable” and referred to a cheat sheet on stage. I think I would have been happier if I were banned from the club and arrested for indecent exposure than being demoted. Unfortunately, being demoted to emcee one night after featuring (with the same headliner) is like being fired from a job, but then still having to show up to work for another couple of weeks. Obviously an awkward situation.
The sad part was last night’s show did not resemble a club gig. That is because 65% of the 30 patrons were all doctors in some medical consortium. Their average age was 55 and their favorite topic was themselves (for the record, the headliner is pretty dirty, but she scored big time points with the crowd by doing, drumroll please… lots of crowd work). The emcee automatically does crowd work as part of his/her job description – “get the crowd involved and excited” and the headliner can see the tone of the show through the feature, which leaves the feature to figure out where he or she can go. Sort of like being a set up man in baseball. Your job is just not to fu-k up the show before Mariano Rivera.
So after my first four jokes (tried and true from San Fran to Denver to Boston and every sh*thole open mic in NY so like I said, tried and true) fell flat I realized that just a handful of people and the comics were giving me any consistent laughter. So at that point I took a long hard look at my set list. Far from a memory helper it was more like a temporary examination of the choices I have made in my life. Then I just continued to rip through jokes that usually work with everyone outside of conservative medical professionals staying at Princeton, NJ hotels. I was comfortbale the whole time, but I guess I can’t say the same for the crowd. Some things went well and they even laughed a lot at the Obama impression (despite being almost unanimous in their displeasure for him – aside – I hope most of them lose their jobs with a public option if that is possible), but their laughter stopped just in time to give me an awkward exit off of the stage.
I think my main problem is that I confused the show’s proximity to New York as “non-road.” With my exponentially heavier travel schedule this year I have seen what works and what doesn’t work outside of major urban centers. Sometimes I have been surprised (Denver in particular), but most places and most people are content with the same old stuff (blacks and whites are different, black comics who are loud and animated versus calm and thought provoking, crowd work, women and men are so different, etc.). It is as if people do not go to comedy clubs to hear something original in these places, but to hear the same jokes that they have always liked from different people. This is not necessarily “wrong,” but it is irritating. Oh, fu-k it’s wrong. Dumbasses. Buy a CD if that is what you like. But either way it would have been nice to have one show to make the adjustment from “comedy club set” to the “older white people who do not get pop culture or sports after 1985 set/love crowd work about themselves and are possibly the intellectually slowest group of doctors in America” set. I guess not.
What’s absurd is that although I feel my stuff is on the whole fairly original, I am not re-inventing the wheel on stage.
I guess what I have to figure out (and what I fought with my girlfriend about – I turn into a verbal Jake LaMotta after a bad show) is how to get paid: infrequently for somewhat original concepts, without being a self-righteous Hedberg or Carlin rip off that abound in “alt” scenes or more frequently for a routine that makes me want to kill myself but that comedy “fans” eat up on the road while I hope for a big break that will allow me to be my own voice.
But first I have to sludge through rain/snow to host two shows tonight. Cold, wet and demoted – sounds like I’ll be much more comfortable tonight.