March Madness: The Infuriating Inconsistency of Cleveland Crowds

Last week I wrapped up two weeks in the Midwest with 4 days of performances at the Cleveland Improv.  The Cleveland Improv has a new gorgeous location (I would rank it the second nicest club I have seen in the country behind the Chicago Improv), which is located right next to Christies, a large strip club, which made it a convenient place to take a break for two strippers on Saturday, thus answering the question of  “where do strippers go for a break when they want to feel better about themselves?”

Now at every other club I work or have worked in the country I have featured (the middle act that does about 30 minutes per show, gets paid a little bit more than the emcee, and gets paid a lot less than the headliner), but the Cleveland Improv has put me through a year of emcee work, as if it is the mail room at an Entertainment agency.   There are somethings that have made this a particularly interesting experience:

  • I have been on several “paper” shows in Cleveland (an experience only exceeded by my “shows” in Birmingham, Alabama a few years ago).  “Paper” shows are the shows, either on low volume nights or with non-famous headliners, where the club offers free admission to people to get a crowd in (they still have to order their two drinks).  So what happens on these nights is you get a diverse audience with a dozen different comedic sensibilities (stupid often runs through many of them), whose only common denominator is that they like free tickets to things.  This is the flour in our cake recipe for infuriating shows.
  • Cleveland Improv school of thought.  There are three schools of thought to booking shows that clubs employ. Here they are for comparison:
  1. The Complimentary Lineup – this is where the emcee, the feature and the headliner are not carbon copies, but their styles are almost guaranteed to please the audience – in other words if you like the headliner, then you will probably be pleased with the other two comedians.
  2. The Contrast Style (the Cleveland Improv technique) – this is where the emcee, the feature and the headliner all offer something different.  This can have a great payoff if the crowd is open to different styles, but can, more often than not, turn into the comedic equivalent of an ambush in a war zone when, like a show I did last year, the headliner is a famous Def Jam comedian (meaning he brings a Def Jam crowd that ONLY likes Def Jam comedy) and the feature is a clean comedian from Iowa whose closer involves an Avril Lavigne reference.  Let the chorus of “Boo Nigga Boo!!!!!” begin!
  3. The Who Just E-Mailed Me technique – this is the one I am convinced some bookers use, which is basically enie meenie minie moe on e-mail when you cannot figure how a club put together a lineup.

So I featured on Thursday, as my audition to feature at the club and had an excellent set.  It was literally the best set I had had in Cleveland in 20 shows.  Of course I would not have a great set again until Sunday.  There were many awkward moments during the shows.  Here are the top 3:

  1. I told the following joke (part of a larger bit) 6 times during the week: “You’d never get a store called ‘Big and Tall’ for women because they’re too sensitive.  So instead they get ‘Lane Bryant’ which seems nice, but it isn’t once you realize the initials for Lane Bryant are lb.”  Now you may not think that is a funny quip (it is is not the big payoff of the joke), but here is why 4 of the 6 Cleveland crowds were dumb – no one laughed at the line.  But then I said “And of course LB is short for pound” and those 4 crowds erupted in laughter.  So it was not that they did not like the joke; they didn’t make the connection that LB was the abbreviation for pound.  That told me everything I needed to know.  I was not Dennis Miller making a reference to an obscure 18th century painting to prove why Obama’s foreign policy is a failure – it was one of our main units of measurement.
  2. I got heckled on the 1015 show on Friday.  He told me to “tell some jokes” 10 minutes into my 15 minute set.  Needless to say he was not laughing at the LB reference.
  3. Upon leaving the showroom I began verbally destroying Cleveland crowds for their stupidity and the collective pussiness of white crowds who are scared to tell a black heckler to shut the fu*k up (but they ALWAYS have the comedian’s back if it is a drunk white chick heckling as they did on the 8pm show Friday).  Then a white woman from the 8 pm show who was at the bar with her husband and was laughing at my tirade came up to me and said, “Look on the bright side you are still white.”  I looked at her and said, “Did you not hear my routine?”  And she replied, “But for this room you are white, so you still have that.”  And that is my quandary with America – who do I side with – dumb black people or dumb white people?

See you next time around Cleveland.  Just know that I may not enjoy it either.