Good and Bad

19 Dec

Much like a box of chocolates, the good things in my life often come mixed with the occasional bad one.

A big good thing: I have a regular stage gig now. There’s a guy who runs a set of open mikes I frequent, and he now lets me have a spot every week on his Saturday booked show that he runs out of a bar in the East Village. It’s not a huge crowd, but an audience is an audience, and it’s going to help me get a lot better than telling jokes to a room full of other comics who have heard my shit before.

All I have to do for him is spend a few hours before the show handing out flyers to bring in an audience.  That’s the first bit of unpleasantness, since it’s basically revisiting my ticket-selling job for Broadway Comedy Club that I did for a few days not long after I moved to New York. However, it IS better, since 1) It’s in Union Square, not Times Square, which means a significantly reduced chance of tourists asking me questions in Italian, 2) The show’s only $5, and there’s no pretense of it being a “Comedy Central Taping,” so to me that makes it a more appealing product, and 3) There’s the immediate payoff of me getting stage time that night, regardless of how many flyers I actually hand out or not.

That doesn’t keep people from being dicks, though. I park myself on the corner, barking up the show, and tonight I got two separate people shouting “I bet you I’m funnier!” and “I bet you’re not funny!” Why? That’s the only question I really have to ask. Why? What gratification do you get from shouting that at me? I’m not the show itself. I am an advertised. You don’t even know if I’m one of the comedians on the show (even though I am), and the surprising truth is that a lot of the people who hand out flyers/tickets for comedy shows are NOT comedians. You’re just shouting at a random person your contempt for stand-up comedy. If I was handing out flyers for a Vivaldi performance, would you be shouting “I bet you I could do a better mezzo piano crescendo!”? I am not doing this just to annoy you, nor am I doing it for fun, because lord knows standing outside trying to hand flyers to pricks like you in 30-degree weather is so much fun, so what does it give you to make me even more miserable?

Back to the good side, this week, like last week, there were several people who took flyers from me and actually showed up to the bar to see the show.

Back to the bad side, then it was my time to get up. The show starts at 10, and I usually go on later in the show, I suppose because that’s a less risky spot for newer guys like me. That’s fine. I went on right after Brad Hagen, who had been getting a pretty good reaction, so it seemed to me like the audience was going to be reacting well. Good sign.

I get up, and a few people leave, which is okay, since it was getting late, and there was still enough people left to consider a satisfying audience. I open up with some new material about, what else, my looks. I call myself fat Jesus, whatever, it goes fine. Then I tell one joke that doesn’t really get a reaction, and that’s when I started to notice that two guys sitting right near the front of the stage were having a conversation with each other. When I say a conversation, I don’t mean polite, low-voiced table talk. I mean two guys at normal bar conversation volume having a full-on conversation with each other, loud enough for me to hear from stage and probably loud enough for everyone else in the room to hear.

That’s when I started to pretty much crash and burn. I couldn’t believe these two guys were completely ignoring the fact that there was a guy on stage right in front of them trying to perform, and who should be the rightful center of attention at a comedy show, and just carrying on like they’re in their own living room. I wasn’t feeling any anger or annoyance, just sheer incredulity, and then panic.

There are two strategies to dealing with hecklers or other disruptive audience members: you can either deal with them directly, shut them up, and resume your routine, or you can just ignore them and hope the lack of attention makes them stop. Obviously these guys weren’t trying to draw attention, but I was sure at some point they would notice that I was talking, or some other audience member would shut them up, so I just kept going with my routine, but it wasn’t the routine I should have been giving. My delivery was weak and almost mechanistic, my eye contact with the audience was shoddy, and I was basically ignoring the section of the room where those two guys were seated. I won’t say I completely bombed, because I was getting laughs here and there for the rest of my set, although probably most of them from Joe Alfano, another funny comedian who’s been really supportive of me, but my lack of confidence was probably really apparent and thus significantly deadened any reaction I was going to get.

I got offstage and the only thing I could think about was “Why didn’t I say anything to those assholes? Why didn’t I call them out?” At the most fundamental level, I am deathly afraid of confrontation and not very assertive in situations I don’t already know I can win. The worst thing that could have happened was I call them out and then they shoot back with a zinger that’s actually funny, and then what if I can’t improv a good comeback? I’d look even worse. I was hoping my willingness to soldier on would win the audience over, but that didn’t fare too well.

After the show Joe even told me “Hey, you should have gone after them. Hold the microphone closer to your mouth! Be louder! Demand attention!” One thing I appreciate about Joe is that he already has a pretty aggressive personality and that leads to him having a pretty comfortable presence on stage. If I’m not FEELING aggressive, I can’t be aggressive. It’s why I sucked so bad as a wrestler in high school and didn’t have a winning record until senior year.

The whole situation didn’t even inspire me to GET aggressive. I’m not the kind of person who gets pushed and goes “hey, fuck you!” I just go “why did you do that? What did I do to deserve that?” So that’s my question to those two guys: Why? Why did it not enter your mind when you chose to come to a comedy show that maybe there might be a comedian performing during your bro talk? Do you think it’s like when there’s some guy playing jazz guitar at a coffee shop who can just keep going while people sip their coffee and talk to each other?

No, stand-up comedy is useless without the audience. So when you actively interfere with the audience being able to engage and respond to my set, you’re fucking everything up. You are fucking me. You are, with your voice, walking up to me and slapping me with your dick. There was a whole other section of the bar to go and have a conversation, but you chose to do so in the LEAST appropriate place.

Because I couldn’t be aggressive then, I will do the next best thing. I will return to my Cuban roots and sacrifice three chickens to Chango, casting a Santeria hex on the both of you so that your tongues will be forever coated with the taste of spoiled cottage cheese, your hair gel will always flake so it looks like you have bad dandruff, and every movie saved on your DVR will get replaced with every Rob Schneider movie ever released. I would rather have five people in a room who would listen to me than have Carnegie Hall filled with the likes of you fucks. If I do see you, or anyone who repeats your fucking mistake, I’m not going to repeat mine by just letting your lack of consideration throw me into a depressive episode. Instead, I will give you/them the microphone, since you want to talk so bad. Then I will shove it in one nostril and pull it out your mouth, like a Hindu fakir with a snake. Then I will finish my set.

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