So last Saturday night I was hired to do a benefit event in a small town in Tennessee. When I was booked, I was told that I could do a night club rated show because the average age would be around 35. I was also told that there would be an opening act. Sounds good…
So I show up for the event and see that it’s a high-class affair in a large banquet room at a hotel/convention center. I am quickly greeted by my contact who says to me that this year the crowd is quite different than last year, as they are quite a bit older than usual. I quickly discover that there are a lot of people over 70 and there are also kids as young as 13 there. Now I’ve done shows like this before, so I knew I could do it, but it’s not the optimal situation. Small southern town has already got a bible belt wrapped around your neck like it had been hanging from David Carradine’s closet, so add kids and elderly adults and it’s a comedy landmine.
I could see my contact was nervous and I told her I can handle it, but then I discovered what was really causing her stress. She told me that her nephew was the opening act. She then brought him over to meet me. I guess in the current climate of extreme political correctness that I need to mention that I’m very open to whatever someone’s sexuality is. Ok, now that is out of the way, my opening act was the most flamboyant person I’ve ever met. He couldn’t have come off anymore gay, even if while sashaying over he had thrown confetti in the air like a young Rip Taylor. Right during his introduction he mentioned he was a little nervous since his act was all about being gay and his open homosexuality.
Well, this sounded like a horrible recipe for a group that looked like they were most at home at a southern Church potluck supper. He told me that he had done comedy only 5 times. Not good. So when he left, I told my contact that I thought she should mention to him that if things were not going well, he shouldn’t worry about doing the 15 minutes he was set to do. She agreed and I guess when they discussed it further, it was decided that he shouldn’t do any time. I found this out when he came back over to me and very sadly told me that he wouldn’t be doing any time. Trying to make it easier for him, I told him I needed 5 years of doing standup before I was ready to do any type of corporate event and this one was going to be tougher than most of those.
So I go up on-stage and let me tell you it was really tough. I had to step outside my material and start walking through the room working the crowd to get them on my side. While I was on-stage, my former opening act (who was sitting at one of the front tables) refused to even look my way. He spent the whole show talking to people at his table or getting up and walking in and out of the room. He was acting like a little baby the whole time and all my sympathy went out the window for him. I can understand how upset he was by not getting to perform, but about 99% sure he would have flamed out on-stage. I’m sure he’s had a tough life growing up extremely gay in a small, southern town, but I think a show like this could have destroyed him as a comedian.
It ultimately comes down to this. This was not a comedy club. At a club, it should be a place where people should know that language and subject matter is pretty unrestricted. This was an event where people paid 60 bucks a piece to get a nice dinner and have some laughs. They were mostly there though, because it was raising money for a great cause. As someone who knows how tough it is to pay massive health care costs, I know that the event’s ultimate success was far more important than one person’s feelings. Especially when that same person’s feelings were most likely going to be hurt even worse if he had been allowed to perform.
So this is how I made my living this past Saturday. The event was a success, as a lot of money was raised for a great cause. No one walked out stunned by anything that was said on-stage. My contact said I did a great job. Corporate comedy events are not for amateurs. I had enough experience to be able to entertain a very challenging audience for an hour. Sometimes doing standup is about being professional and trying to make your boss happy. It’s not why I got into standup, but it’s part of the job if you want to be able to pay your kids bills. Being an artist is fun, but some days you have to punch the clock.