You might find this surprising, but my favorite gigs to do aren’t at comedy clubs or opening huge theater shows, it’s doing a one-nighter in a small city where comedy hasn’t been on a regular basis. Specifically, I’m speaking to a place where the audience’s are excited about standup comedy and see you as the biggest deal in the town for the night. I started doing standup right as the comedy boom was dying from the over-saturation of comics appearing on cable TV. (see early 90’s) I never was part of the business that featured groupies, opening acts even making big money, and owners cutting up lines of blow in the backroom. Never got to enjoy that party.
Almost everywhere I perform, the audiences are a bit jaded to standup, as it’s been there in some form for 25-30 years. Not blaming anyone, it’s just the way it is. There is some type of social contract that you are committing to every night and that is the comedian is bringing some laughs which the audience is expecting since they chose this over going to see the latest Adam Sandler/Ben Stiller movie. The only time it is not that way is when you perform in a place that has audiences who haven’t gotten much of a chance to experience standup comedy.
Last night I was in Galesburg, IL. It is a blue-collar town of about 30,ooo people, located between Peoria and the Quad Cities. This was their 4th week of doing standup in a small city that has never really had a regular comedy room. The place where it takes place is called the Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar. They have a separate side room which is walled off from the bar. It’s a beautiful structure and despite some sound glitches, a good set-up to do standup. There were around 80 people at the show, which is a very successful Wednesday night at any club in the country, let alone in Galesburg, IL
There is no way for me to discuss how good I am at my job without coming off like an insufferable bore, but I will say I know my place in this business. I would call myself a superstar in Triple A comedy. Outside of a couple places, I’m not a draw, so I can’t command big money, but I know from my reactions that audiences dig my shit. Being a super star in Triple A is rewarding on many levels, but I’m no comedy rock star. Every once in awhile, I get to feel like one. Last night in Galesburg, was one of those nights.
Galesburg’s most famous son was poet Carl Sandburg. It is not the type of place that you expect one of the greatest poets to come from, but the city has named a major street after him and more importantly, their Mall! Sure some poet’s would want a Nobel Prize for Literature, but I would prefer to put my name next to a K-Mart to celebrate my writing ability. You might remember the poem I’m most famous for; I’m a poet, and I didn’t even know it. Moving and tender at the same time.
On the subject of K-Mart. How are they still open? When I grew up, it was big news the day that my town of Newton got a K-Mart. That was 35 years ago, though. Wal-Mart won the discount store battle a long-time ago and with the advent of Dollar General, Dollar Tree, etc., I just don’t see where K-Mart serves a purpose anymore. Have you been in one lately? It’s like having your own store. What’s scarier is they sell food. Shit has been on the shelves for decades. K-Mart at this point is a food fucking museum. Dust a product off and discover, “wow, New Coke, didn’t know they still made this.” These are the type of world issues that keep me up at night.