December 26, 2012

Signs of a dog shit room: By Joe Fernandez

When you’re driving two, three, four or however many hours to a show out of town to a room you’ve never played before, there’s an impending fear hanging over your head the whole time.

You drive about 15 mph over the speed limit because you left the city late and traffic was a bitch, but your fear is not being late. The gas light is on and the next station is 37 miles away, but that’s not the reason for the sick feeling in your stomach. Suddenly, a raven flies overhead, and you think, ‘That’s pretty ominous. I may get into an accident and die today.’ Yet even death is not the reason for the feeling of dread and doom you sense. The main fear is, this show is going to be dog shit.

You always have a different idea of what the room may look or be like, but nothing fully prepares you for the little capacity people have for how a comedy show should properly be run. So when you first show up, here are some of the signs you can look for to know you’re in for a dog fight.

1) A line of motorcycles and/or confederate flags outside as you pull up.
This may sound prejudice, but I just don’t see anyone who wears a sleeveless leather coat with an Confederate flag bandana that refers to the Civil Rights Movement as ‘when stuff started going downhill’ as the best audience members. These are the people you’re going to piss off by doing stand-up, and they will think it’s all your doing, like you just saw a microphone and started talking to bother them. They won’t understand you were asked to do this. Nor will you understand why you accepted.

2) TVs are on inside.
Already, people are interested in something other than the show. Most probably don’t notice the black and white 8x11 “posters” with your face and some logo clearly taken from Clip Art next to it and quite possibly the least eye catching font. But hey, they put it in bold so people will surely notice it. And oh great, it’s the college football national championship tonight. Well I’m sure the bar will turn those TVs off when the show starts.

3) The booker is really excited about the show.
Maybe this is just my personal experience, but most professionally run shows that are great, the booker could care less about telling you ‘how great a night it’s going to be’ or how they’ve ‘really worked hard on this, we even put an ad in the Des Moines Explorer-Gazette-Post.’ I’m not saying a booker needs to be a dick for me to think the show is going to be good, but sometimes it feels like they’re trying to sell you the idea of still doing the show, almost as if they’re trying to convince you not to leave like everyone else who graduated high school in this town clearly did.

4) There’s no host.
So while the booker is giving you the litany of reasons as to why this show will be ‘really fun’ despite the evidence being laid before you, they let you know you’re doing half-hour to 45 minutes. The conversation then goes something like this.
You say ‘Oh ok, half-hour to 45. Who’s going up first?’
They say, ‘You are.’
‘Oh. Who’s hosting?’
‘There is no host.’
‘Huh.’
‘Yeah.’
‘Wha-why…why is that?’
‘Well I’m going to go up and make an announcement the show is starting, so yeah, there is a host.’
‘Oh good. Cause I was worried, but you’re doing a hot one then I go up and do 45. Now it all makes sense.’ The announcement then goes something like this: ‘Hey everybody, hope you’re enjoying your beers. I know you are Ted. Marge, keep an eye on him. Heh-heh. Well I know everyone in here, so I want to thank you all for coming out. It’s going to be…great, just really…great. We’re all here to have a fun time. And don’t forget $2.50 drafts, 50 cent wings, and now, we’d like to welcome a guy. All the way from Chicago. He’s really funny. Please welcome, Jeff Hernandez.’

5) Everyone is eating dinner
So you step on stage and it’s always key to make eye contact with the crowd. It’s tough to do when they’re choking down chicken tenders and jalapeno poppers. They’ve just been ambushed with a comedy show and they’ll be damned if that’s going to ruin their 47th anniversary dinner at Bob’s Roadside Shithouse Rib Shack. The best is your opening bit falling flat and right as the punchline comes, CLANG, the sound of silverware hitting the floor as the only noise in response to your joke. One minute down. Forty-four to go.

6) The waitress has kids/boyfriend in the military
This one is self-explanatory. At these out of town shows, the only compensation you get is a $50 bar tab, and sometimes, a little waitress love on the side. So after you’ve done the show, the waitress has come up and told you you’re funny. She’s touched your arm while laughing at something that you just said that really wasn’t all that funny. She’s asked if you have a girlfriend. All good things until she brings up her daughter in the ballet and how much she misses Mike overseas and how he just got a new neck tattoo that says ‘Semper Fi’ and how he got it right on his neck vain ‘cause that’s ‘just the kind of man he is.’

Now these aren’t tried and true every time, but in my experience, this has been the general recipe for disaster at any out of town show. So be on the lookout, though it won’t really matter. Once you’re there, you’re there. And it either gets easier or crushes you to the point that you don’t want to do stand-up ever again.

But hey, don’t forget, that no matter what, you get a $50 bar tab to use right before you drive back home. So it’s worth it.

Contributing Writer
Joe Fernandez