The last week has been a great microcosm of my career. My latest album, Israeli Tortoise, with no industry, label, management or iTunes support hit #1 on the comedy charts for a day and stayed in the top 10 for 4 days (as I type this it currently sits at 110, so basically my album has had the same arc as the movie Awakenings – a miracle occurred and everyone became happy only to see it quickly fall back into a Robert DeNiro stupor by the end of its run. The album also received a Twitter endorsement from Jim Gaffigan, the Pope of iTunes album sales. And to kill time on the road I saw 4 movies, 3 of which I enjoyed. That’s the good news. But like any comedy adventure it also featured the usual assortment of low lights – a 15 hour train ride with 20 minutes sleep and then having to wait 4 hours before checking into the hotel, being avoided like a leper by 99.9% of the audiences of the shows after performing, despite crushing 4 of the shows and only having one stinker (LATE SHOW FRIDAY – I AM TALKING TO YOU). Fitting that during the week where I hit #1 on iTunes I have my worst week of merch sales on the road ever (I am averaging 1 CD sold per show with one show to go – the good news is I will get an unsuspecting workout dragging 90% of my albums home on Monday morning) . Here is my truth (hand to the chest) in more expansive details:
If Eli Roth is looking for a new movie idea for one of his awful torture porn films, perhaps “Cross Country Amtrak” could make a compelling subject. I have taken the Lakeshore Limited (the one that goes from NYC to Chicago by way of Greenland) well over a dozen times in my comedy career as it hits Cleveland, upstate NY and Chicago, all places I have performed in many times. But perhaps it is my increasing #ComedyMogul status or just getting more uncomfortable as I get older, but the train is rough. Especially to Toledo. It was an hour late and arrived in Toledo at 7am and let me tell you, there is nothing more refreshing than getting off a train filled with the obese, the “I need to avoid TSA” and bare feet crowd of an Amtrak after 15 hours (and kudos to the two separate people who took powerful shits in our car during the Odyssey) and only 20 minutes sleep.
Due to inconsistent Internet in the room and the fact that the gym in the mall closed 2 years ago, movies ended up being my main time killer. I saw 4 movies, one each day. I loved Sausage Party (see the review here), was more than pleasantly surprised by Bad Moms, found a lump in my throat during Pete’s Dragon and wanted to murder every critic on Rotten Tomatoes who gave the atrocious Lights Out a positive review. Also one of the great benefits of the Toledo Funny Bone, besides the excellent hotel across the street (not withstanding the Internet, it is pretty swanky) from the club, is the fact that food and the mall (not a great mall, but better than nothing) are within walking distance and involve no crossing or walking along the side of any highways – always a plus in the life of the car-less feature).
The main event for every trip are the shows and I have been very happy with my performances. But to be honest, I have eaten it on stage (Birmingham, AL 2009 comes to mind as an overall week that was a struggle) and still came away still selling decently. However, the Toledo crowds have been a perfect storm of people who don’t want to buy AND don’t particularly want to make eye contact with you after a show. I did get a handful of “are you really half black”‘s – slightly fewer than the “good show”‘s I got, but a lot closer than I would have liked. The main thing I have judged from the crowd is that a lot of them seem like stand up novices – those who may not be comedy savants so they simply know by the end of the show “the guy who went last and did the most is the only human being that counts on the lineup!” I have opened for some of the biggest names in comedy and although never overshadowing them – if you hold your own as a feature, good crowds can recognize the talent and promise in all the acts. These crowds laugh their asses off (EXCEPT YOU LATE FRIDAY SHOW), but then walk by you like you were the 25 minute mic stand repair guy. Very weird and frustrating, but that’s the deal sometimes.
The worst though, was the guy who came out after my set with his wife or girlfriend to specifically tell me that he thought I was really great and that my set blew him away. He asked for a picture, I obliged and he and his lady went back in for the rest of the show. I went to the emcee and said, “Well, at least I will get one sale after the show.” Fast forward 245 minutes (black headliner) and the same dude might have been able to challenge Usain Bolt for the 100m. I kept thinking – don’t you at least want my website info?”
Usually merch money pays for all my food and movies for a weekend and then some. Now I am going to have to hit an ATM to tip out the bartenders after the last show. This is my 9/11 (which if I had sold between 9 and 11 CDs I would not have to go to the ATM).
One other thing I have learned about myself being on the road for the last few years is my ability to depress emcees. It is admittedly cool that because of my videos and impressions my reputation and skills have outpaced my actual career within stand up comedy (which is sort of counter-intuitive – “Hey people know and like your work – of course we can’t book/represent you!). On top of that my exposure on podcasts like Carolla and TBGWT have made more people on the road familiar with my work. But it is sort of a bizarre compliment seeing comedians getting sort of depressed about the business when realizing that I am still a nobody (implying that they think I should be further along – hence the compliment). Not to mention I get slightly aroused seeing comedians become more aware of what a shameful joke this industry is. Quick teaching moment – kiss the ass of a headliner, get a manger or be under 30 with a pinch of talent (but not too much so that they don’t think they can mold you into what they need at their agency) – these are the ways to “make it.” All other methods are red herrings.
So as I gear up for the finals show of the week (and a 3:20 am Amtrak back to NYC – SEE AT THE BOTTOM FOR SUNDAY EPILOGUE) I leave you with some bits from the weekend and a reminder to go buy Israeli Tortoise on iTunes (or other digital platforms), Enjoy – and pray that I don’t get Zika, Ebola or Bird Flu on my way home.
Play Station Banged My Ex
The Problem With Ocean’s 8 in 1 Minute
I sold 1 CD on Sunday night after a very strong set, which helped complete my 1.0 sales per show rate – the lowest of my career for any road weekend. However, group of older black people came up to me at the club after the show and said the following (for ease of writing I have turned all of their voices into one speaker):
OBP: We were on your Amtrak coming here. We sat next to you and in front of you (there were 4 of them total)!
J-L: Oh yeah, I remember you!
OBP: Yes, you were very funny tonight. And we commented on the train how often you got up to go to the bathroom.
J-L: Yeah, I didn’t sleep for the whole trip so my body kept having to pee.
OBP: Will you be going back on the train tonight?
OBP: Then we will see you there. We will get a picture with you there!
So look for a pic of me and 4 older black people at the Toledo Amtrak station coming to the Internet soon!