Last Thursday I did a show back in my hometown of Newton, Iowa. My friend Chuck Utech had known I had been looking to do a show there since I started standup and he suggested a new place in town that he thought would do a good job. I spoke to the owner Kim Johnson over the phone and she was excited about doing it. I was going to be in town for a family reunion, so we picked a date around that and hoped for the best. I used a lot of social media in conjunction with an article the local paper did on me. Kim made flyers and got out the news around town. I was apprehensive, as I had no idea if we would have 10 or 100 people there. Happy to say it was closer to the 100 number.
The room had never done a comedy show before, but it had the 2 most important elements to having a room be a success: an owner who tried to make everything right and a good soundsystem. I really want to thank Kim and her staff for being a big part in making the show such a success.
A little background on Newton is that it was a manufacturing town where pretty much every job was related in some way to the company Maytag. For 103 years, making washers, dryers, and dishwashers was the glue to the town. After some poor management decisions and its competition outsourcing all its manufacturing jobs, Maytag decided to sell itself to competitor Whirlpool. Soon after, Whirlpool closed the plants and left the town basically a shell of itself. Here is some heartbreaking video of it from a story by 60 Minutes.
The town is struggling to reinvent itself and people like Kim Johnson are doing their best to bring some new life to it. It was great to see some friends I hadn’t seen since I was 13 years old. Something you learn early as a comic is that it’s kind of a weird experience performing for people you know. On one hand, you know they are in your corner, but on the other hand, you know each other so there is a different rhythm to the show. For example, my cub scout den mother was there and I’m sure she was surprised by some of the subject matter in my show. It was one of those shows where there was a wide range of ages (21-80), so I had to work around that, but overall I felt like everyone left happy after the show.
My Mom was there and that is another thing that can be difficult for standup comics. Now, I should mention my Mom is pretty open and has a great laugh, so I don’t worry too much about what I need to censor. That is a good thing. Since some of her old friends were there, though, I did stay away from some of the darker stories about my family, as I didn’t want to put her in an awkward situation. I have comic-friends who would never invite their parents as they would offend the sensibilities of Mom and Dad, so I’m grateful that I’ve never felt much of that. Now, I don’t invite my in-laws to my show, as they would be pretty shocked by my subject matter. They think edgy is the Smothers Brothers, so I know to keep them away. I would suggest to young comics if you are on the fence about what you think a family member would accept on-stage, error on not inviting them, as it is hard enough being a success on-stage without adding the responsibility of not offending someone.