This past week I was in Philadelphia for a very big week in comedy. I was performing at one of my two favorite clubs in the country, Helium Comedy Club and also recording my new stand up album, Thots & Prayers. The album recording was Wednesday and then I would be featuring for Josh Blue Thursday-Saturday, The week would involve a handicapped room at the Sheraton, fans from Oregon accidentally seeing me perform, South Jersey MAGAts ruining my good vibes, and the best set of my life leading to a double album. So with that teaser, let’s get into the details.
Wednesday – “We Overbooked King Rooms”
I arrived in Philadelphia around 4pm on Wednesday, nervous AF (I had only slept about 4 hours). To put this in perspective – most big comedians who record albums have various factors on their side – they are headlining consistently so they get to work out 45-60 minutes per show, multiple times per week. They also have the clout to record several shows so they can pick the better show or edit together the best parts of multiple shows. When you are a comic like me (prodigious talent, prolific capacity, no clout, no representation) you have to go through a riskier process. Working on (what turned out to be 100 minutes of material) your set piecemeal – 20 minutes here, 8 minutes there, 25 minutes over there, 7 minutes in your bathroom mirror, etc, you have to trust yourself to a greater degree. Furthermore, you are lucky if you can book an A club for an off night for one show. 4 of my previous 5 albums were basically one take (Keep My Enemies Closer was 95% one show, which I opted to do when only 27 people showed up to a 130 seat venue for my first recording of it). Israeli Tortoise was the only album I had two full shows (albeit a 40 seat venue) to record. Thots & Prayers, my new one, was going to have to be one take. So in addition to having to prep for the album in the most difficult way, the one take recording raises the pressure of tech difficulties, audience difficulties and comedic screw ups all derailing my one shot to record a great album. Hence – very little sleep.
When I got to my hotel, the Sheraton on 17th and Race I was told that the hotel had overbooked King bedrooms, so I had two options (I told them there was a third – kick someone else out of a King bedroom): take a room with two full size beds and a normal bathroom or a Queen bedroom with handicapped facilities. I took the Queen bed. As a comedian wrote on Facebook, my room made me look like Gandalf visiting Bilbo in The Lord of The Rings:
Then it was time for the show. My longtime buddy Chris Lamberth was featuring and my buddy of more recent vintage, Steve Rinaldi, Philly native, was emceeing. I mic tested and then made sure to be in the green room before anyone entered the showroom because if the turnout sucked I did not want to know before hand. I had a chocolate shake from the nearby Shake Shack as my dinner because I was afraid of having an 8 Mile moment before the show. As Steve got going I heard the crowd and assumed it was around 100 people. I was correct and they were a good crowd. Chris then went up and the crowd kept sounding great, which gave me a boost of confidence. And then it was time for me to perform. I ended up doing 104 minutes that night. When doing a one take album there is a temptation to throw the kitchen sink at the audience and then edit out what didn’t work. I don’t try to do that because a crowd will fatigue and then, you might have a closer or a late show bit that seems to bomb or do poorly, but more a result of the crowd being exhausted because you have thrown too much at them. I knew my set was long (I had anticipated about 80 minutes), but every bit was one that I believed was strong so if everything worked, everything would stay. As it turns out, from my first listening back to the raw audio, the only bit that did weaker than expected, was my bit about the ESPN OJ documentary around minute 75. I still can’t tell if it was crowd fatigue or if I have overestimated how good the bit is because of my own personal pride in the bit. But that was the ONLY lull in the crowd for the 100 minutes. They were on top of every joke, their energy and laughter was big the whole time. If I delivered an A performance, the crowd unquestionably delivered an A+ performance. I posted two different bits to YouTube from the show (the second – I am tempted to use a later version of the Trump joke as a bonus track on the album, but for continuity’s sake I will probably just use the one from the recording- the one posted below is not the album recording version), so hopefully you enjoy them. The album will be a double album, which I would not do if I wasn’t happy with and confident in the product. And the crowd was about 30 friends and fans and the remaining majority just random people from Philadelphia who came out on a Wednesday for a comedy show. So the fact that they were great laughers, patient with a no name comic and big enough fans of stand up to support live comedy in the middle of the week was a real blessing (of course none of them friended me on Facebook or followed me on Twitter, but I will let it slide because they made a much more meaningful contribution to my career – though 20K Twitter followers would probably get me more shows and specials than a great comedy album).
Thursday – “You were funny. I don’t know what was up with those people.”
As the glow of Wednesday still lingered I headed to the club for the Thursday show. About halfway through my set on Thursday I just had this overwhelming sense of gratitude: “Thank God you guys weren’t at the Wednesday show.” It was the same size crowd as Wednesday, but I seemed to have divided the crowd with my comedy. So after the show I had several people walk up to me and say some version of “Well I thought you were hilarious. That crowd was weird.” Then I had a long conversation with two women in town for a work conference with their arbitration company (how many comedians can say “Oh JAMS – when I was an associate at a law firm, our employment agreement said we agreed to JAMS arbitration in the event of an employment dispute.” One of the women bought my albums and since she was from Chicago proceeded to rip improv, as well as a small club in Chicago (that has not booked me in a while). And just when I was about to propose she mentioned her husband and I saw my chance for Who’s Line Is It Anyway-hating children vanish. The other woman was from Minneapolis and asked me if I had shows coming up there. In what felt like the scene from In The Line of Fire when John Malkovich’s character has his backstory busted by a bank teller, I assumed I was being set up since the ONLY gig I have on my calendar for the rest of the year is in St Paul, MN. By coincidence I then walked the two women to CVS on the way back to my hotel – when you hate improv and buy my albums you get a VIP experience.
Friday – “You’re Trumpgotz!”
On Friday the girlfriend came down from NYC. We had dinner with one of her best friends and her friend’s husband. They came to the early show, which, of course, was the worst crowd of the whole week. That audience was not the 2016 Democratic National Convention Philly crowd. That crowd was the 2018 MAGA South Jersey crowd. Dumb, super white and generally felt unhappy to be at the show (and it was not just me – all the comics on the lineup thought Friday early was the worst crowd. But of course I felt like that dancing frog from Looney Tunes with my girlfriend’s friends there. Yes… J-L kills… when you are not there… you just need to believe me.
My girlfriend then announced that the were heading to the Devil’s Alley after the show, which I thought was evangelical speak for anal, but turns out was just a bar near the club.
The second show Friday was the best audience of the week, other than the album recording. After the show a father-son duo from Oregon came up to me and said “You’re Trumpgotz!” I said I was and they were generally stoked to meet me. By way of background I created and have done a segment for ESPN radio’s The Dan Lebatard Show since 2016 where I read the words of the show’s co-host, Stugotz, verbatim as Donald Trump, due to some of their eerie similarities in tone and sentence structure. So when they realized it was me they treated me like a rock star, which was cool. However, it continues the tradition of people who are big fans of my work seeing me by coincidence only. Unfortunately, my “I have lots of fans and occasionally they come out to see me accidentally” is not a winning formula to get booked. But it really was cool to meet fans of my work from across the country (they were visiting the east coast celebrating the son’s graduation from college). Now the big question is whether or not I will be able to get the Lebatard Show to have me as an in studio, in character guest when time to promote the release of Thots & Prayers…
Saturday – Cheesecake & Church
When the girlfriend and I woke up Saturday she had to go home to make it to work by 1pm. We had to wait a long time for the elevator because… 5 of the 6 elevators were broken (sort of an inconvenience in a hotel with 20+ floors) but when she left it was time for me to properly celebrate so I made my way to the Cheesecake Factory to officially commemorate the successful album recording. I had my usual healthy meal at TCF of salmon and broccoli… followed by a piece of Godiva Cheesecake. I then waddled to a coffee shop to kill time before 5:15 Mass at the Church near the club. Obviously it was a weird time to attend Mass in the state of Pennsylvania after their Spotlight on steroids just exploded a few days earlier (on a related note – the most awkward moment of the recording Wednesday was me doing my joke about the song Janie’s Got a Gun being a great example of child abuse making for kick ass rock, 24 hours after the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse in the PA Church came out), but I did feel like offering up a prayer of gratitude for the recording going well. 52 Sundays a year and a few holy days of obligation I just spend time relaxing and praying for stuff, but something good had definitely happened and a lot fell in line that good have gone awry so I felt like saying thanks.
After Mass a homeless man (or at least very down on his luck) was holding the door with a cup out. I only had a $20 and some loose change so I gave him the change, but I am amazed at how many people don’t give. In Philly, and especially DC, the homeless have sharp strategies – they know the mass times and congregate outside asking for change. Now this may be manipulative or calculating, but my answer is so what? These guys are homeless and what better place to try and get charity than with a crowd who just listened to the words and teaching of Jesus? Had I known I would have saved a buck from the collection plate and given it to the guy. But it seems lots of people in this country practice their religion in Church and on a ballot, but not anywhere in between. Oh well.
Shows went well Saturday and Rob Schneider did a guest set after me and before Josh on the late show. He was solid, if not particularly original or hilarious, but as I watched a lot of those dumb, attractive South Jersey faces dying with laughter at Deuce Bigalow’s set I realized that I am never going to make it in comedy (not that that I hadn’t realized that already, but my God did it smack me in the face that night). I dreamed that I would be the next Greg Giraldo (and if I can plug the album one more time I really think T&P really showcases my 3 biggest artistic influences: Giraldo, Patrice O’Neal and Gary Gulman), not only because of my educational background (he was a Harvard educated attorney), but also because of my sensibility and writing style. But as I have gotten better as a comedian I see that the average comedy club audience (in other words when you are not opening for a Dave Attel-type, i.e., a comic that can and does bring with him a highly attuned and experienced comedy crowd) seems to be getting dumber. More interested in the celebrity of the people they are seeing than the comedy. I really believe a society that has replaced tweets for reading newspapers, replaced reading a book with candy crush and replaced introspection with social media is cultivating a dumb and self-centered population that is bad for a lot of things, including stand up comedy. So as the weekend ended I was even more grateful for the amazing crowd that I had Wednesday because it felt like it might have been a stroke of luck than a testament to anything I did to get them there.
I then hopped on the 12:10 am train back to NYC, was greeted apathetically by my dog Cookie at 2am and then fell asleep after a job well done. Look for the album in late September (I hope).