Working with a Celebrity Act

El Scotto stands up against false prophets.

Last year I did a split week at a club that I hadn’t been to in a long time. A split week for me is when I headline early in the week and then feature on the weekend for an act that can draw a lot of people.

So I take this week, as it seemed like a good way to get back on this club’s radar. Now I’m going to be a little careful about describing who this celebrity act was, as I don’t want to face some type of libel charges. This act was unique in that he wasn’t a standup comic, he wasn’t really even a celebrity, but through being connected to someone who was a real talent, he could play off of that relationship.  (I know I’m talking in mystery here, but it’s the only way I can feel comfortable writing this story. The guy has some powerful friends in my business.)

First night I headline at the club and everything goes well. Truthfully, I don’t think the attendance for the weekend shows was a lot more than what it would have been having a no-name act like me, but they did charge 5 more dollars per ticket, so hopefully they made their money back on this guy’s guarantee.  As I said, this guy wasn’t a standup, but more an actor. He genetically was blessed with a bigger than life personality, which was his main selling point. He got up and told some celebrity stories, had some comedic material and people were generally happy after his shows on Friday night. That is the way it goes when people get a chance to see someone they consider a celebrity. They give that person a lot more leeway.

Now I should mention, I would not want to follow me. I’ve been doing standup for 2 decades. I held back a little on my energy level, as I didn’t want to try to blow the roof off as the feature. I am enough of a team player to do that during a show.  I still was too much for him to follow, though, because my material is tighter than an Olympic gymnast, plus as I stated above, he wasn’t very good.

Next night he shows up jittery and not very focused. As a couple of audience members told me after his show that Saturday night, he was most likely on meth. That might explain the weight loss that he was told me before the show he had achieved over the past month.  Let me offer up that I didn’t do comedy during the 80’s, so I wasn’t around when a lot of comics were using coke. What I will say is I have only met a handful of comics who I knew were on something besides Pot. Sometime I will tell you my story about why I don’t even get drunk before my shows, but let me say that Marijuana does seem to work for certain comics. I promise you, though, Meth was not helping this dude.

First show, he is going long stretches without laughter and ends up bailing at about the 35 minute mark. After the show there was a steady line of people coming up to me saying I should have been the headliner. When I was a feature act, I will admit I used to love hearing this because I was battling hard to move up the ladder. This night though it actually was just making me mad because I already know I’m a headliner and it was just making me think even more about how I was having to feature for this guy who was just trading on his cosmic luck.

Final show of the week was coming up next. Late night Saturday. I brought the noise, as my anger at his lack of professionalism (among other things) gave me the attitude of I’m no longer holding back fucker, as someone has to give these people a show. I ripped it up, he had no shot of following me, especially in his worsening state. His face showed a mix of drug induced sweat and flop sweat, as he labored through a show you could tell he didn’t want to be at. He did 30 minutes (was supposed to 45), and then walked right to the club office, got his check and left. Didn’t even stay to take photos with the people who paid way too much to see a guy who they wrongfully thought was a celebrity. (I really wish I could tell you more than this, but I have to protect my own career.)

I then found out from one of the staff members that this guy had made over 3000 bucks for his 4 shows that weekend. I’ve been busting my ass in standup for 20 years and I was walking with 600 bucks for the split week. I write this because I want my children to read this someday so they can get a first-hand account of how life is not fair. I’m sure someone could point out that I live a life where I have 3 children and a wife I love a lot, while this douche is close to my age and just has a long-time girlfriend who seems more of someone he can do drugs with. I’m sure someone could point out that I have the respect of most of my peers, where this guy has to wake up every morning knowing that he’s traded on a connection he was born into and that he’s knows he’s a fraud and at best, a tribute act.

My rule in comedy is do your own material and do your time.  Since this guy didn’t do the later, I made sure to tell the booking agent about his unprofessional behavior.  After that last show there were a lot of people who walked out of that club pissed, feeling ripped off at this drug-addicted flop show they had paid good money to have to sit through. It is the only time in my career I felt good ratting out someone to a booking agent. I’m sure that makes me come off petty to some, but I respect the art of standup comedy and when I see someone who doesn’t do a show(s) that damages paying customers perspective of it, I get hostile.

I wish I could totally out this fraud, but the best I can do is what I wrote here. I’ve been sitting on this story for awhile so the detective tracks are tougher to follow.  I’ve got no patience for people who are in the entertainment biz solely for the paycheck. You can fake it playing guitar for some 70’s classic rock act doing all the oldies that people want to hear, but as a standup comic, you have to show some passion and intelligence in your performance. You can’t hide behind the rhythm section. You are up their singing acapella for your supper. I respect my business, so don’t come into it and take a shit on my stage. There’s no excuse for that, even if your meth was cut with baby laxatives.

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