You could make a strong argument that the most successful comedy club in America is the Stardome in Birmingham. For those of you that have never been there, it’s a stadium seating style club that holds well over 400 people. They have a large food menu for a comedy club, so that is definitely part of their bottom line. They are open Tuesday through Sunday, which I don’t know of one other club in America that is in operation 6 days a week. It’s truly a unique place. It has to be the trickiest comedy club in America to book because of these 3 factors.
- It’s a huge room, with a huge stage, so standup comics without much personality don’t connect well with the audience.
- Birmingham is in the Deep South, so if you are doing a show in front of their typical crowd, they aren’t all about ironic coffee-house comedy. It’s more like Vegas where they want you to get to the joke, a little more than the typical club.
- The audiences are racially mixed, so you need to have an act that works with White and Black folks.
I’m guessing all these elements involved kick out 90% of all touring comics, as the skill set you need to succeed at the Stardome is very unique. If you have it, though, it’s a great place to work, as you are looking at big crowds for 6 straight nights. Just to give you an idea of my week, there were over 300 people there on Tuesday and Wednesday, then well over 400 people there Thursday through Saturday. As I joked on my Twitter/Facebook feed, it was like stepping back into a comedy time machine; Circa 1989. I wanted to run a comb through my mullet, put some 1 dollar unleaded fuel in the tank of my brand new Chevy Beretta and then drive off to the club pumping some Fine Young Cannibals.
I was featuring for Greg Morton, who I think is one of the best entertainers I’ve ever seen (and an even a better person). Greg is not a huge TV name, though, so a good portion of the audience were there to be at a comedy show, not to see a celebrity. I’m sure the Stardome wishes they had 30 more Greg Morton’s to book, since his act is perfect for their stage. He does voices, characters, songs, ventriloquism. I know a lot of comics put down standups that don’t do straight monology, but not me. I think the guy is a superstar entertainer and even though not all the jokes are that intricate, the way he has put together his show is pretty remarkable. He’s just another example of what I always say about the most successful comedians. They are really bright people off-stage. While their shows are not designed for intellectuals, both Frank Caliendo and Greg Morton are 2 of the smartest people I’ve ever known in standup. I’m sure if you gave them an IQ test they would score significantly higher than many of the comics hitting the stage at the UBC Theater. Paragraph Conclusion: Standup comedy is a big fucking tent. Don’t just judge a comic on their material. Keep in mind that it takes a lot of thought and creativity to bring some other elements to your show that makes it connect with audiences. AC/DC’s lyrics aren’t brilliant, but you put together all of the whole package and they are one of the greatest rock bands of all-time.
Now we come to my Redemption. 8 years ago I was touring a lot with the just mentioned Caliendo. When he said he was going to play the Stardome, I told him I would love to work with him there, since I knew that they are always looking for new headliners to do the non-weekend shows, since they bring in a lot of Celebrity acts for Friday and Saturday. I thought I would show my stuff and then be in the pipeline for doing split weeks in the future. At this point I should mention that Frank was starting to trend towards doing a G-rated show. Since he was reaching the point where theaters were going to be where he performed, he knew a good way to fill them was to open it up so his younger fans could come to his show. He doesn’t need profanity to work his magic, so his show was going to be a great set-up for fathers to bring their sons to catch Madden, Adam Sandler, etc. I can do a PG-show, but G is not something I can manage. My brain isn’t Brian Regan, well unless he had been molested as a child.
So I was forewarned that I was to be extra clean during these shows. I was only doing 25 minutes, so I figured that wouldn’t be a problem. My thoughts on that changed after the first show. The MC was a solid comic who within a couple of years was doing great on the NACA college circuit. I didn’t think he was any type of genius, but the crowds at the Stardome loved him. Outside of when I followed Juston McKinney at the Irvine IMPROV, it’s the only time I ever struggled following an MC. By the second night, the Stardome owner came into the green room and said he wanted to bump me down to MC. I was starting to believe I might be having the worst week in Birmingham since Michael Jordan played for the Barons. It was the only time in my career that there had been any talk of demoting me. Frank supported me and said it wasn’t going to happen, but I was feeling more pressure going into that next show than I had ever felt.
To demonstrate how good I was, I went out that night and sprinkled in some of my R-rated material, which did great with the crowd. I felt vindicated, as I was a defensive animal. I used my natural instincts to strike back. Big problem was that after the show Frank was as pissed at me as he has ever been. The show had been advertised as a clean show and I had went my own way, which wasn’t what some of his fans were expecting. No one had come there to see me, it was Frank’s show. He had every right to be really pissed since he had supported me and then I only worried about myself. While I have continued to have a great writing relationship with him, I’ve rarely featured for him since then. I don’t think he feels he can totally trust me, which is fair, since I went too far that night, plus despite my show being cleaner now, it is always going to be closer to PG-13, not the G-rated place Frank wants his show to be.
Overall, it was the worst week of comedy I’ve ever had. I struggle onstage and manage to piss off one of my best friends, as well. With this said, I never even tried to go back to Birmingham.
During December and January I try to hold most of my week’s open for only corporate events. (More money-less days away from home.) Well, I ended up having one week open in January. Eric Yoder contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing the Stardome featuring for Greg Morton. I knew Greg was a great guy, so that was a plus. I also knew I would sell merchandise really well, so I would get my money up to headliner week standards. And most importantly, I wanted to eradicate the worst week of my career off my standup comedy record.
So I ended up at the Stardome. I ended up having some really great shows and had nothing worse than a solid one. The staff is great and Tony, the manager is my favorite type: The funny, ball-busting kind. He’s a really cool guy who does a great job running the club with the owner, Bruce Ayers. The Stardome is not a great club for all comics. For example, me 8 years ago, but my show now is a good fit. It’s a totally unique experience. The club is so large that the following night talk show host Craig Ferguson was doing 2 shows there. Bill Burr was doing a one-night engagement there the following week. They also had Earthquake playing there that month, as well. They know their market as well as anyone does in the country.
So the most important thing to me from my latest appearance was I’ve wiped the slate clean on the Stardome. I pride myself on being able to make any audience ** laugh, so it was good to lessen the blow of my first time in Birmingham.
**Exception to any audience I do well with are a large group of black lesbians. See story last week for more details on this comedy kryptonite.