Bringing the Laughs to the Tundra

I grew up in the Midwest. I live in the Midwest. I’ve performed all over the country, but most of my schedule has me in the Midwest.  The upper Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas) are busiest when the weather is at its most brutal.  You see, when you only have 4 months of good weather, you don’t spend it inside.  This leaves October to May as when many of these rooms are open.  Even the full-time comedy clubs are way less busy during the summer months. I think these are some of the best states to do comedy in the US and the worse the weather, the more the people show up.

I spent the past week at the Joke Joint Comedy Club in St. Paul and the crowds were great. The early shows were pretty much sold-out and the late shows were busy, as well.  I would be lying if I said the weather was good, as for even the Twin Cities, the weather sucked shit.  The wind-chill was below zero. I don’t think I would have left my house to see a show, but the people of the frozen tundra seem to think this is the perfect time to go see some comedy.

I’ve been in some pretty awful blizzards. Most of the worst one’s all happened around 1-29 while driving to gigs in North Dakota and South Dakota. The first 2 booking agents that gave me a chance to do comedy on the road were Ken Muller (Comedy Productions) and Tom Hansen (Comedy Gallery).  I will always feels a sense of gratitude for giving me a shot. These guys kind of shared a gig in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  I was in Minneapolis the night before, so I was driving towards Aberdeen pretty much the whole time on black ice. By the time I was closing in on Interstate 29, it had moved onto a massive blizzard. I stopped at the Truck Stop at I-29 and Highway 12 to fill-up. When I went in, it was a madhouse. It looked like O’Hare during a weather shut-down.  I learned that all roads going north and west were closed. This was not a good thing for me, as I needed to get to that gig. It’s not like there is another comic you can call in the middle of South Dakota to fill-in for you.

Now they don’t play around in these states, as they have huge weather gates which they swing over to keep people from getting on the closed roads. To add to this, they had a state highway patrol car parked in front of the gates. I contemplated doing a Convoy. You know crash the gate doing 98 and then yell let those truckers roll, 10-4. Instead I just I pulled up and told the cop I needed to get to Aberdeen. He said that wasn’t going to happen. I told him that there was a sold-out show of people who were expecting me to do comedy. Now in truth, I was just the feature act, so they could have survived without me, but I was new to the biz and didn’t want to get the reputation from these booking agents that I was unreliable. Remarkably, the patrolman opened the gate and told me I was on my own.  It was ominous. Such began my Cannonball Run, winter-style.

So I start driving and it gets worse and worse. I felt like an Ice Road Trucker. It was a complete white out and there was no one on the highway. I basically couldn’t see the road. It got so bad that for a stretch I drove about 20 mph and had my car door open slightly so I could see the road enough to stay out of the ditch.  A one-hour drive from the truck-stop took over 3. About 10 miles before I got to Aberdeen, the white sea parted and it was clear.  Freakishly clear. Hardly any snow on the ground and it was way warmer outside.  There is a strange weather phenomenon in Western South Dakota called the Banana Belt, where it can be much warmer than anything within 300 miles of it.  Never experienced anything like it before or since.

So I got to the Hotel about 30 minutes before the show. I always plan for the worst and on longer drives try to get to the gig 3 hours early. This is the only reason I was on-time. The show that night was probably the best one I had ever had up unto that point in my career. I don’t know if it had to do with the deaf-defying drive I had just finished, but I slammed from beginning to end.  After the show it seemed like everyone came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed me.  To a young comic who had rarely been praised in my hometown, it felt great.  I had a bunch of these people invite me to the main bar in town.  I was too revved up at this point to sleep, so I made my way there.

When I got the Zoo Bar, it was filled with all the people who had been at the comedy show. The best looking woman who had been at the show brought me over a beer and asked if I wanted to play pool. I said sure and asked if she wanted me to break? It had been my experience that women usually want guys to break as it takes some real physical strength to do a good job. She said no to my offer and broke beautifully, knocking in 2 balls. (Remember the knocking 2 balls part.) Now at this point, I noticed that there was a big crowd all around us. I figured it had to do with them wanting to see how good their comedy star was with the stick.  They never got a chance. This chick ran the table.  At this point, all my fans started laughing. Then she asked me if I ever watched those pool shows on ESPN2?  She asked because she played in national tourneys with some of these women.

So in a 6 hour scan, I had survived a blizzard worthy of Jim Cantore’s Weather Stories, had felt exalted from my best standup show to date, and then had been completely emasculated by the Black Widow of Aberdeen. Pretty interesting day. It happened 17 years ago and I can still remember it vividly.

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