What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Pt. 1

Back of my promotional postcard I designed with Todd McComas.

Late this spring I had built this website/blog into a consistently read place about the world of a road comic. As much as I wanted to keep my readership checking in, I had a few different projects that I was working on for the summer that I knew was going to take all my free time. Oh and speaking of free, I don’t make anything from this blog, so it was the thing in my life that had to take a backseat.

The biggest project I had on my calendar was doing a one-person show as part of the Indianapolis Fringe Fest. Ever since my friend Kevin Burke (now of Defending the Caveman fame) had done his one-person show, I had told myself I would do one soon. Years went by and I felt I knew what the story would be about (my dysfunctional Midwestern childhood), but only in the past year I figured out the show I needed to do was about the journey of having trouble having a child, then finally having success, only to find out soon that this child had special needs.

Now I don’t do anything without putting a lot of planning into it, so besides writing the show, I also spent a lot of time contacting and then meeting up with organizations that help people with special needs. I’ve done standup for 20 years, but I’ve always tried to branch-out from just telling jokes, so I wanted this show to reach people on a lot of emotional levels. I wanted to create something that could be used to raise money and awareness for a cause I feel passionate about. Yes, I know all the cynics out there (I was a total cynic for a long time, myself) might be reading this thinking, what has happened to you? Are you going soft? Yes and No. Let me explain.

The show begins with the question, How many of you have been encouraged to masturbate by a close family member? I then go through the exhaustion of trying to have a child, when miscarriages are the closest you come. Then it gets into the remarkable thing which is In-Vitro Fertilization.  The stage play I wrote was put into chapters, as my brain works more as an author than a playwright.  I used photos at the end of each vignette, as I was determined to make this seem more like a stage play and less like a standup performance. (More on that later)

I decided to choose to unveil it at a Fringe Festival, as I had seen comedian Paul Strickland’s show the previous year and enjoyed the festival experience that surrounded it. The Indy Fringe Festival is located mainly in a 2 block area on Mass Avenue. It’s a really cool part of the city with great little bars, restaurants, and art galleries up and down the Avenue. Oh and there are a number of small theaters on the street, too, where almost all the shows happen. It’s a really great atmosphere. So I sign up for the Festival, pay my $550 dollar fee to enter and start getting the piece I will be doing together.

Here’s where I dropped the ball. I didn’t realize that there was another theater which was part of the festival, about 10 blocks away from Mass Ave. I’m not totally in the wrong here, though, as I did not met one other person in the Indianapolis area who knew of this theater, either. It’s a beautiful space called the Cook Theater and it was a building that was refurbished last to the tune of 11 million dollars. The big problem the theater has is there is not a restaurant or a bar located within blocks of the place. It’s in a residential area just north of the city. The venue served no drinks or food, so there was no way an audience was going to stay for the next show. It also was a terrible setting for a 1 person show, as the ceiling was huge and the place was too big and bright to create the intimacy I needed. I battled some with the head of the Fest, but nothing could be changed. I was stuck. Time to make the best of the short straw.  Below is a video I did trying to poke fun at the trouble trying to get people to the Cook.

Now as I outlined in the previous story I wrote for this blog, I went into the first show more nervous than I have ever been. Not only was I doing 40 minutes of material I had never said previously on a stage, I was going to have 5 minute stretches where there would be no comedy. Well comics, it definitely is a weird feeling standing onstage not getting laughs, when you are used to it. There were a couple chapters in my play where inserting laugh lines would seem forced and take away from the power of the material. Besides the photos, I used an easel to hold poster board cards with the title for each section. The first show the angle I had set the easel at during dress rehearsal had been moved since then, so the cards would fall off the stand right in the middle of the piece. Considering I was doing much of the material for the first time, this wasn’t the best situation. The reviews reflected it. Here is part of an opening night review from Allison Carter of Overly Theatrical blog.

It’s his (Scott’s) first time performing at Fringe and he was still trying to feel out the audience. There were persistent problems with some of his props, which threw him off. In some of the more comedic passages, sometimes it all felt like he was trying too darn hard. But. BUT! Hear me out. I still liked this show tremendously. As Scott said at the end of the show, it takes a lot of heart to put on a production like that. There’s no doubt Scott has heart, and when he lets that out, the show is at its best… I encourage you to give Scott a chance. I really do. I walked out of that show almost two hours ago, but I can’t stop thinking about it. There was a real courage in what Scott did tonight, and that’s ultimately what Fringe is about, even if the show isn’t perfect. But I think he knows what he needs to do to get it to perfect. Let me know what you think.

Now I’ve been reviewed quite a few times in my career, but in standup, it’s hard to really transfer what happened as the standup art form is so subjective. Now when it comes to theater shows, reviews take on a much more important place, as the reviewer is generally a lot more honest in what the show is about than what you get from the promotional materials. All the reviews I received during the fringe fest I thought were fair, as the whole thing was a work in a progress for me. Each show got progressively better for me, as I cut the things that I didn’t think were working and more importantly, became more confident in selling the material. I felt by the final show (the 6th), I had come close to delivering what my original vision of the thing had been.  This review after show number 5 gives a better example of where the show wound up. (From Myrdd Wells of Indianapolis Monthly)

Comedian and writer Scott Long originally titled this piece A Real Modern Family until he received a cease-and-desist letter from Fox, the company he also works for, ironically. Long’s one-man show mixes both material suited for one of his stand-up routines and rather intriguing anecdotes about what it’s like to be a father of an autistic child. He handles heavy subjects such as fertility problems, raising a child with special needs, and his own somewhat-troubled relationship with his father with an acute sense of humor, making it okay to laugh at situations that could otherwise make the audience uncomfortable.

Long had the audience roaring for the majority of the show as delivered his jokes with the kind of honesty that can be mastered only by a man who has truly learned to sit back and take life as it comes. He spoke so fondly of his autistic daughter Maddie that one couldn’t help but want to meet the little girl. His stories of her ranged from the hilarious (she has difficulty pronouncing the letter “g,” which is problematic when your dog is named “Angus”) to the heartwarming (she judges people only by the way that they treat her, and if someone is particularly nice to her, she will talk about them endlessly for days). Long sprinkles photos of his kids throughout his set, and the final one, a photo of him and his three adorable children, laughing so hard that their eyes are closed, says more about his family than any joke could.

Oh I guess I should discuss the part the reviewer brought up about the cease-and-desist letter. As some of you know, for the past 9 years I have written comedy sketches for the NFL on FOX. At the start of August I got an envelope from FOX in the mail. I was happy to see it as I figured it was my new contract. Uh nope. It was a letter from their legal department saying they own the rights to the title A Real Modern Family. They produce the show Modern Family and I guess they felt I was too close. I at this point had to change the title of the show to From Hipster 2 Dipster. Ultimately, I don’t think it made a big difference, but it did add greatly to my already high stress levels, as I’m not looking to piss off one of my main employers.

I ended up doing 2 TV morning shows and 1 of the top morning radio shows to promote the thing. I don’t think I got hardly any action off of this. The Fringe Fest is a great event, but it’s pretty insular, as people who love theater support it strongly, but outside of them, it’s hard to get much action. I was unknown in their world. Most of the people that came out to the shows were fans of my standup. I am very happy to say that these fans were very enthusiastic about the turn in tone my 1 man show had. As much as I wanted good reviews from the professionals, my best reviews were by the people that came to the show and told me how moving the show had been to them. By the end of the week there were some who even left with tears in their eyes. A decade ago I could have never imagined me performing a piece like this, let alone have audience members emotionally moved by it. I’ve written sketches that were seen by nearly 100 million people that aired 10 minutes before the Super Bowl started. I’ve done standup for a crowd of over 3000 people. This project was the most creatively satisfying thing I’ve ever done. So comics, keep pushing yourself creatively. Don’t just stay in the standup box. Who knows where it might lead you.

*********

Btw, I ended up creating a trailer for my 1 man show. With some important help from comedian Todd McComas helping me produce it and the use of musician Eric Yoder’s song Green Water laid under it, the trailer ended up getting a lot of great reactions. I plan on using the same template for it as I try to grow the show for fundraisers. Here it is if you missed it.

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