As some of you may know, recently I’ve embarked upon a grand experiment in radio with a new comedy/writing partner named Tony Oros, who (among other things) writes the blog The Cover Dog, True Tales of Entertaining the Planet. Tony and I have tested out our bantering “he said/she said” comedy schtick on the radio a few times to mostly positive audience reaction. However, last Sunday we did get a couple on-air calls in the middle of our brilliance that relayed the following message in no uncertain terms: “Listen up, Yacky Doodles, less talk, more music.”
Tony took the calls in stride, being he’s used to someone occasionally shouting out, “Shut up and sing!” when he does his comedy routine while performing with one of his many tribute bands.
I, on the other hand, was more than a little miffed because when I get onstage to deliver my bit, I expect everyone else to shut the hell up and listen.
But after having had a few days to get over myself, I have to admit being called out in public while doing my creative thing is nothing new. Although it’s been a while since anyone has weighed in with their pedestrian lip-service in reference to my art, I know the second you put yourself out there, you’re fair game. In processing what happened to Tony and me last Sunday, I fondly remembered a few golden moments in my own comedy career when I’d been bitch-slapped in front of an audience while attempting to stand and deliver.
Please Come Back Again to Kick My Ass
Every comedian has a comedy home at which they hone their chops by getting up onstage as much as possible. This means fighting tooth and nail to do every open mic night, every showcase, every emcee spot, or every opening act that you can convince the club manager to let you do. My comedy home was The Comedy Store in La Jolla. Being that San Diego is home to the 32nd Street Naval Station and Miramar Air Force Base, there are a lot of military guys that blow off R & R steam in places like The Comedy Store.
One night, on a packed open mic night when I was actually killing it for once, a young navy enlisted guy, drunk off his ass, started heckling me from the front table at the base of the stage. He was with a pretty blond girl who was also well on her way to Sloppy Town, but still sober enough to be embarrassed by her boyfriend’s unstudly behavior. Usually this is easy-pickings for a comic, but this guy was so wasted he didn’t have the good sense to be embarrassed by my counter abuse, so he just kept babbling on incoherently like he was applying for a commentary position on Fox News.
This was quickly getting old and eating up my precious stage time.
But as luck would have it, the synapses in his pickled brain finally fired long enough for him to get out a sentence we could all understand. And as he started to climb onstage toward me he blurted out, “I’m going to kick your ass, bitch.”
Well, that did it. Big, burly bouncers appeared from nowhere and wrestled the guy to the floor, knocking over several tables (and patrons) in the process. But Popeye decided to fight back and within seconds it became a brawl that would make the NHL proud.
Realizing the severity of the situation I did what any entertainment professional would do: I started providing hilarious blow-by-blow commentary of the fight from onstage. I mean, come on! I had to do something to get the attention back on me, right? Plus, I’d be totally remiss if I wasted my bird’s eye view of this delicious Keystone Cops comedy moment. And I had a mic in my hand. What’s a girl to do?
In the end, two gorilla-sized bouncers escorted our hero out of the building in a headlock. But as he left I got to publicly “wish him well” in a rapid-fire manner that the audience sincerely enjoyed. He responded in true macho form by screaming that he’d be waiting for me in the parking lot to (once again) kick my ass.
Ironically, his girlfriend stayed to watch the rest of my set AND the rest of the show.
When I finally wrapped, I got a standing ovation. And at the end of the night I received the added bonus of having all the cute bartenders walk me to my car just in case Fan Boy sobered up long enough to make good on his threat.
To this day I have a soft spot in my heart for any guy in a navy uniform.
That Second Set of Standup Comedy is a Killer
Where I really made money as a comic was when I started doing corporate gigs.
Being a former engineer at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach (yes, I briefly was a rocket scientist), I wrote two informational, yet funny, technical books on desktop publishing, which instantly became hits. As a result, companies like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Arthur Anderson hired me to crack wise at private functions, trainings, sales meetings, and roasts.
One time at a conference, I was told I’d be doing two sets. No problem. I did the first set in a big banquet hall right before dinner. The audience of about 300 people loved it. After dinner I kept waiting for them to clear the room and bring in the second audience. But that didn’t happen. Finally, the event planner turned to me and said, “Okay, you’re back up.”
Um, what now? I already did 40 minutes for these guys. They need to leave so I can do the same 40 minutes for some new blood.
Turns out the event planner failed to mention that I’d be doing two sets for the same audience.
Holy shit, I shot my wad on the first go around with these people. And I had killed, too, so they expected great things out of me for chapter two.
I stumbled back onstage and tried to do “improv for one.” Which is a lot like Campbell’s Soup for One—depressing and pathetic. I tanked at least 50 times in 40 minutes. It’s amazing how an audience can turn on you once they’ve already digested their rubbery chicken and your best jokes.
I Was on Fire
Juggling both club and corporate gigs sometimes meant the two collided head-on.
I had scored a big-money, corporate, week-long training gig at some high-tech company in San Jose (I honestly can’t remember which) when I found out later that I got booked into the Improv in Los Angeles for one night only that same week. And to make matters worse, the Improv gig was a showcase where agents, TV producers, and your garden variety Hollywood Hoohas were supposedly coming to cherry-pick prospective comic geniuses for their next smash-hit TV sitcoms or movies.
I was contractually bound to the corporate gig during the day, but I had my nights free. So as soon as the training ended on the day of the Improv showcase (which was in the middle of the week-long corporate training), I hopped a plane from San Jose to LAX, rented a car in LA, drove to the Improv, did my set (which went really well, BTW), and then waited patiently in the Improv bar to be discovered.
And waited… And waited… And waited.
When neither Ron Howard nor David E. Kelly magically appeared by midnight, I knew I couldn’t quit my day job. I had a 1:00 a.m. flight back to finish out my corporate gig, so I drove back to LAX, turned in my rental car, flew to San Jose, and drove back to the conference center just as my 8:30 a.m. session was about to start.
I did this all in a span of 16 hours, across two cities four hundred miles apart.
I didn’t even have time to change my clothes, but who cares? Because I did something most people wouldn’t have dared to do, and yet I succeeded. I had precariously juggled those balls and didn’t drop a single one. I felt pretty cocky and full of myself that I had pulled off my grand scheme, even though I was badly in need of a shower, smelling a bit like a women’s locker room laced with the aromatic stench of comedy club secondhand smoke.
When it was my turn to speak that morning at the corporate training, I confidently walked to the front of the room, brushed my greasy bangs aside, smiled, and opened my mouth to elicit some comedic pearls of wisdom. And at that precise second…the fire alarm suddenly went off and the sprinkler system engaged. Water rained down in monsoon proportions. Everyone ran out of the room screaming. I should’ve too, as there was obviously a fire somewhere. But instead I stood firmly planted onstage for a moment, drinking in the irony that in spite of running around like a crazy woman, working up a sweat to fit in everything I wanted to accomplish AND getting back without anyone knowing I was gone, fate still intervened and made sure I got my morning shower that day.
So yeah, I guess Tony’s right; just chalk up our call-in hecklers to nothing more than a small thread in a big quilt of potential disaster every time we open our mouths to entertain.
God, I love my job.
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Stacy Dymalski is the host of the hilarious TV talk show “Mother Bloggers” on FirstRun.tv. She’s also an award winning keynote speaker and stand-up comic who gave up the glamorous life of coach travel, smokey comedy clubs, and heckling drunks for the glamourous life of raising kids (who happen to be bigger hecklers than the drunks). This blog is her new stage.
For more of Stacy’s comedy check out her book Confessions of a Band Geek Mom available in bookstores and on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.