Minnesota Fats, Gary Matter and a Reverse Soul Bounce…

Last week I travelled to Minnesota for an old-fashioned fun week of road work (I call it old-fashioned because road work has become something of ancient lore for my calendar and bank account).  I was going back to the club that was first to give me a headlining weekend, the Joke Joint in St Paul, Minnesota.  It is a great little club with a friendly owner/manager.  In fact, unlike many comedy condos, the comedy condo at the Joke Joint is a welcome sight.  It is the second floor of the club owner’s house and is stocked with lots of homey amenities like a DVD player, bowls of candies and snacks and very clean (it is on his property so there is a major incentive to have it be more than just adequate).  But as it turned out, the owner had family in town so I ended up staying at the downtown St Paul Embassy Suites.  But I am racing ahead of myself.  This was days 2-4 of the trip. The first part was getting to Minnesota and going to the Black Bear Casino.


Part One: Cauvin’s 11

The first gig of the week was at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton, MN. I have done the casino before and it was solid the first time.  Rather than write out how the flight went, I will just provide you a few minutes form one of my sets at the Joke Joint to recap the flight.

When I arrived early afternoon I was picked up at the airport by Wayne, a local comedian who sort of resembles Drew Carey, if Drew Carey had served in the military and had some ink.  We drove north to Carlton and the Black Bear Casino made the mistake of giving me a $10 comp card to play on their machines.  I stuck it into a slot machine like a woman who had no idea she was about to be shamed.  I turned that $10 into just over $50 in winnings.  I kept looking over my shoulder for casino security to escort me out for taking them for all they could handle, but perhaps because I was “the talent” they let it pass.

I then went to the buffet (which was comp’d, once again, “the talent”) which was an incredible display of Middle America gluttony.  I saw so many obese people with 3 and 4 plates of food (and kept wanting to say “do you often bring 4 plates for yourself at home?  Then why are you doing it now? Have some shame!”) that it forced me to only have one dessert.  Then I went to entertain.  The show went great and I managed to sell a few CDs.  In summary – the house does not always win.

Days Two and Three – St Paul Laughs at an “Oaf”

The people of Minnesota have a well-earned reputation as being nice.  And after the first three shows the manager/owner of the Joke Joint only received one complaining e-mail where I was referred to as an unfunny “oaf.”  As someone who has a wealth of YouTube comments wishing death, AIDS and death cause by AIDS, I must say that being called an oaf is practically a compliment.  The shows did go really well all week, I sold almost all of my albums that I brought (Guns N Roses CDs were particularly popular) and was well-rested and relaxed.  So here are some random complaints I have about the area surrounding my Embassy Suites:

  • Jimmy Johns – I have seen many, never ate at one until now, out of necessity.  Great cookies.  Bad sandwiches – they sort of pretend to be a real deli, but that is just a front to pile on extras and condiments on to sandwiches which contain less and almost as slimy deli meats as Subway.
  • Dear Nice deli/diner/restaurant near the hotel (and the rest of America) – some people like Russian dressing for sandwiches.  Ranch Dressing is not a cure-all condiment and it is one of the many reasons we are a fat nation.

(See, not that many complaints)

Day Four: Gary Matter

If you are not a Breaking Bad fan, this is a play on Grey Matter – the company Walter White helped found and has regrets about because it took off after he left. In season one he is subjected to seeing their happiness and almost unlimited wealth as a reminder of what he felt close to achieving and is now very far from.  Similarly, on this day of my trip I ventured to the Mall of America where one of my favorite comedians (currently the #1 ranked tall comedian in America) Gary Gulman was headlining the House of Comedy.  We decided to meet up for lunch, and were instantly on par with Supreme Court Justices Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun as one of the most powerful partnerships ever forged in Minnesota (sorry Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer).

Gulman selected a restaurant called Firelake Grill House, which appeared to be a restaurant from the future.  I felt like a person in a futuristic movie like Elysium, seeing how the privileged class lives.  Outside the restaurant was a series of oddly shaped pieces of furntiture that no one could sit on. That is how you know it was fancy.  I met Gulman and a local comedian he was buddies with and we have a fun lunch.  It was full of television talk and some words on comedy.   I never got to pitch my idea to Gulman for an HBO-sponsored tour called PremaTour Ejaculation (which would be a prequel sort of tour to Tourgasm), where Gulman would headline with a series of less accomplished comedians on the bill.  It was good to hear Gulman’s thoughts on comedy and simultaneously inspiring and disheartening to know that ten years in Gulman was struggling too.  Sadly I may not have Gulman’s Gus Fring-like patience to build an empire over decades.  My Walter White bank account (meaning it has stage 3 Cancer, not piles of money from overseas drug dealing) necessitates me finding sources of hope and revenue sooner, rather than later.  Gulman then picked up the check, which was the Grey Matter-picking-up-the-health-costs-for-Walter moment.  Very generous of him, but also I now expect to see Gulman completely disavowing me on a Charlie Rose interview in to the future.

The shows went really great that night. Made some new fans, sold a bunch of CDs and got a whole 3 1/2 hours sleep before my “You can’t afford conveniently timed flights” 645 am flight out of Minneapolis.

Epilogue – Silent White People

So I arrived back in NYC exhausted, but with no time to waste.  I had a guest set at Gotham Comedy Club Sunday night that I was hoping would make a clean tape to submit to a few things.  Of course I was nervous – I assume people out for a show during the final two episodes of Breaking Bad do not share my values or sensibilities and I may have been right.  I went on stage and the first joke did well, second joke was OK, but a reference to the movie Mask fell flat (even if you have not seen the movie I thought Eric Stoltz’ face was pretty much a cultural reference point for ugliness). Mind you it did not fall flat for sympathy (like a series of “awwwww”s or some other reaction, but just did not register.  The third joke was the one that really bothered me.  In it I reference the proliferation of movies about rich, white superheroes. If comic books are supposed to be fantasies, why are half the dudes rich white guys?  That is how the world works anyway.  So the punch line is as follows (the bit is on my 2nd album Diamond Maker):

So why doesn’t DC Comics just go all the way and have their next superhero be Todd The Hedge Fund Douchebag. (silence).  He gets his superpowers from high fives and bottle service at clubs (a couple of awww’s and “hey!”s in mild disapproval).  Instead of a bat signal, when you need him you just flash a signal in the sky of a high priced escort being choked to death – “Hey bro, the city needs me!” (a few scattered laughs).

The final bit got several laughs with a call back to an earlier bit, but I could not shake the anger I felt to the crowd’s reaction (or lack thereof) to a joke that consistently does well for me.  And then I realized – the vast majority of the crowd, which was pretty sizeable for a Sunday night, was white (like 96% +).  It felt like a tony Connecticut crowd. And this is one of those things I have realized in my comedy travel. On the road you see a lot of white suburban crowds – including my shows in Minnesota.  And I have seen mediocre black comics get what I call the “soul bounce” – which is many all-white crowds tendency to give mediocre black emcees a sort of bonus for being unfamiliar and so “gosh darn entertaining,” solely(soully) because they are black.  But at the same time, lack of exposure does not always mean you harbor prejudices or ignorance and I felt that from many of the crowds in St Paul.  The flipside is just because you live in a diverse melting pot like NYC does not mean you get a pass on being a sheltered, ignorant ass.  And to me, living in Lilydale, MN (the actual location of the Joke Joint and the whitest name of a town in America) and not having a diverse show or group of friends is a lot less weird than living in NYC and self-selecting a group of like-minded, like-looking, like-everything group of friends, because implied in the latter scenario is not a lack off opportunity for diversity in your life, but more likely an outright rejection of diversity in your life.  And that is what went through my mind as the crowd offered more sympathy for the poor hedge fund workers I was poking fun at.  Half of the bros in the audience probably work in finance and half the women probably are or want to be married into finance so I guess I was reverse soul bounced – when a white looking guy bashes bastions of white privilege in front of a Wonder Bread audience it gets silence. Of course this might be over analysis by me, but I doubt it.

Other than that the set went well and I was greeted by the very funny Mike Vecchione off stage who said “Nice set and really funny shit on-line.”  That made me feel good and like a comic’s comic, which Richard Belzer once said meant “that comics like me and I have no money.”  I then went home and watched Walter White’s second to last episode and realized that there are worse things than having a so-so set, but then got jealous because those worse things have been made into the best drama on television.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic, iTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday! This week’s episode is a discussion of Breaking Bad, Mariano Rivera and my new album.


Minnesota Journal Part I – Bet on Half-Black at…

A fun week (I hope) started yesterday as I flew from New York to Minneapolis via Chicago.  I am headlining the Joke Joint just outside of Minneapolis tonight through Saturday, but to sweeten the pot the booker for Joke Joint also booked me to headline the Black Bear Casino, a small, but nice casino located a mere 11,000 miles from Minneapolis.  The Black Bear show turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The Travel

I flew Southwest from LaGuardia to Midway to Minneapolis.  I always used to assume O’Hare was the better of the Chicago airports.  I just assumed Midway was a place where prisoners were transported and rats and abandoned animals fought for the  pleasure of waiting passengers.  Turns out Midway is nice.  First off, unlike O’Hare, I’ve never experienced awful delays at Midway and more importantly they have a Potbelly sandwich shop, which allows me to eat a large healthy turkey sandwich that I know tastes good, instead of my usual airport diet of $13 dollar half pound bags of peanut M & Ms and shame.

The flight from Midway to Minneapolis was uneventful.  But the earlier flight to Midway from NYC was much creepier, both because of my occasional urine spritzing when we travelled over a storm system and because of the people behind me.

Sitting behind me was a skinny, fairly attractive woman (she had a clear look of cu*tiness which made me instinctively downgrade her) in the window seat and a scruff looking guy about 12 years her senior sitting in the middle seat.  And for about 20 minutes before take off he just kept whispering words to her like “pussy,” “fu*k” and “bitch.” If she had been engaging him back I would have been less worried, but she just kept looking out the window.  Because I do not need any more reasons to feel nervous on a plane I just assumed he was a crazy person, probably not a terrorist, but possibly some sexual pervert who would make our flight awkward and possibly force it to be diverted.  But just be before I was about to push a call button she finally responded!

And for the next 45 minutes they spent cursing at each other (I think she may have fu*ked someone else, or she was a cu*t and he was angry and possibly crazy, probably because he had reached that point where a guy realizes he is with a hot chick, but he hates the fact that she is an awful person and resents her and himself for being in a vicious circle of cu*titude).  Then the lady tapped out of the argument by… wearing a sweater over her face for 30 minutes.  The guy then lifted it up and whispered something to her and then put a sweater or jacket over his head.  But he grew bored of this and left his seat and went several rows back for the last hour of the flight (possible ad campaign for Southwest’s open seating policy!).

When we finally arrived in Minneapolis I had a bit of a wait for my ride, so I ate a yogurt and blueberry parfait (I will not allow airports to destroy my fitness dammit) and the Marty showed up.  He is a young comic from Minneapolis who agreed to drive me the 19 hours back and forth to the Black Bear Casino in exchange for a guest spot and a room for the night at the casino.  Now that is dedication.

The ride was really only about two and a half hours, but what shocked me was that until we were about a mile from the casino I had not seen a single sign for the casino.  With that kind of reach I fully expected the casino to have at least 30 people in it (or however many immediate neighbors the casino has in the empty darkness that is Carlton, MN).  Turns out I was right.

The Show

So Marty and I walked into the casino and I could see that we had just increased the audience total by 20%.  We checked into our rooms, which were nice and luckily equipped with Nintendo 64 controllers, in case I found a time machine and want to invite 14 year old me to play some games.  After dropping my bags off I checked out the casino.  It is basically slot machines, a black jack table and the room for comedy/music.

When I walked in there were 4 people sitting (room seats probably 100-120) and 8 people at the bar with their backs to the stage watching hockey – I am in Canada basically.

As the show progressed more crowd came in which was nice, but I was still not sure of the crowd.  Especially when the following exchange occurred:

Emcee – “… Maybe Herman Cain should just wave the white flag”

Angry bar heckler: “As long as it is a black flag”

Emcee (slightly later) – “Herman Cain was found with a another woman!”

Angry bar heckler: “And her name was Ginger White – how ironic is that?”

Yes it is ironic if miscegenation laws are still on the books in Carlton, MN.  Otherwise it is not ironic UNLESS you are coming from a non-ironic stance of racism.  And the “black flag” comment was just dumb.

The it was time for me to go.

And the set actually turned out great.  Other than the guy who answered his ringing phone (if you are a man and you have a cell phone and it rings you are not a real man – vibrate or silence – save the rings and ring tones for women and Puerto Ricans on NYC buses) 8 feet from the stage. But I felt awesome during this show, with every minute surprising me.  I riffed about 30% of my set and all the material that I prepared worked.  I really felt like I had accomplished a victory.  Granted it was a moral victory.  And granted moral victories are usually the result of an actual loss, but I still felt good.  Sure I handed out only 5 cards and sold zero CDs, but the moral victory of not sucking (and even having a good set) in the middle of nowhere in front of a bunch of people that think Obama was born on Mars felt pretty good.  Sure I had to split my meal ticket with Marty (I won’t big time a guy who drove two and a half hours and pull the diva move of “This $14 meal card is for closers only!”), but it still felt good eating a prepackaged grilled chicken salad after a job well done.

The show taught me a valuable lesson – I was in a room of mostly conservative, some racist, white people in the middle of nowhere, but these people had what some liberal crowds and some conservative crowds don’t have – the ability to let go for the sake of a comedy show.  I insulted various members of the crowd and their town repeatedly in between bits.  Now they may not have known that Hawaii is a state, but they knew that when you come to a comedy show you come to laugh and have a good time.  So even though they may be beating their wives or committing hate crimes today, I am glad that they were a good audience last night.

Joke Joint tonight – spread the word to people.  Check back tomorrow for the movie of the week (if I can find a movie theater) and Monday for the full Minnesota recap.