A Lesson On What Not to Do Onstage

Words to Live By.

Recently I was contacted by a guy where I live who was interested in having me do a local bar gig. I didn’t know the guy, but he seemed good and a couple friends had performed at his first show and had good things to say. Timing was great, as that was the only Friday I had open to do a gig like this until February, with a bigger plus being it was 2 minutes from my house. How great is that.

So he met my price and told me who would be on the bill. The opening act is a good friend of mine and someone I am very fond of on a personal level. I didn’t know the other guy, though had heard his name and had seen him once at an open mic. I told the person who booked it that I would appreciate them not doing longer than 15 minute sets in front of me, as I know the bar and wasn’t sure it was going to be a great fit for them. I know that sounds totally egotistical, but I have seen shows where people pay a cover like this one devolve into a big mess, when the audience loses attention early.

So the show was pushed back because the guy setting it up got there late because he had started a new job and his training didn’t end until then. That did not help, as the natives got restless, but it was not an insurmountable situation. My friend had the difficult job of kicking off the show, with half the bar not paying any attention to her. Very few people can rise above this situation, as it takes a lot of experience and a really confident voice. She did her best, but it did not turn out well. She never blamed anyone, though, which was difficult since the audience did not stay engaged with her and it is harder than anything to stand in front of people when there is a cacophony of voices in the background.

Following her was the guy I knew little about. He started by walking into the audience and I admired his confidence in trying to take control. He was fearless, which I appreciated. This is the last time you will hear me say the words admired and appreciated, though.

He began with a diatribe about disrespecting the first comedian. I can’t say I didn’t feel some of the same things, but when you pay a cover to get into a bar having comedy, that is part of the contract. The whole thing wasn’t set up well, but you are digging your own grave by beginning your set by blaming the audience.

Next he did a bit about how the bar had built a shitty stage that came from Home Depot. In truth, the stage was pretty good, especially for a place that was putting on its second standup show. If you are a big name act I guess it’s okay to shit all over some place, as the owner is happy you are even there, but to do it when you have said nothing funny yet and are a no-name (this would include me, btw) is really selfish. Behavior like this is a great way to wreck ever having comedy at the place again. This should especially be said to amateur comics like this dude who should have been overjoyed to get a chance to do 20 minutes.

This guys next topic is to start spouting that anyone who votes for Romney is a total asshole. He goes through his reasoning, which wasn’t exactly done with the substance of a Bill Maher/D. L. Hughley. Just some rantings from a 27 year old dude that has done nothing in his life. Now I’m guessing at some of his open mics his audience believes in what he said. The county I live in is 90 percent republican, though, so this was definitely a tactical mistake on his part. Here’s a tip. Stay away from politics in your standup, unless you have something fresh to say and doesn’t come off completely strident for one side.

How do you follow-up this great start? Go into a bit about how your favorite word to say is Retard. Then go from there with the most awful shit I have ever heard anyone say about people with special needs. I don’t even want to get into the details, just that it was vile. It seemed to be totally fitting, though, since the guy had no self-reflection and was totally shallow in his targets. As some of you know, I have a child on the autism spectrum, so this made me boil with fucking anger that had already reached it tipping point from my initial impressions.

It’s hard for me to remember anything else about his act, well besides that he did an incredibly insensitive bit about women with breast cancer and how sick titties are better than no titties. I can’t give you the exact point of this bit, as I was seeing red at this point. All I could think about is people I’ve known who have lost people to breast cancer and I know some of the people in the room were feeling the same thing.

So I hit the stage and instead of ignoring it and just trying to win the people that were still trying to listen, I went ballistic. I called out him for being a vile piece of shit for what he had said before me. I told the audience that my daughter has special needs and she deserves better than to be seen as less than human, like what this comic had said before I hit the stage. I also mentioned I had voted for Obama in 2008, but wasn’t 100 percent sure who I was going to vote for until I heard this asshole’s reasoning which pushed me over to Romney. I was still way too angry to do a good show, but at least me letting some of this out helping me decompress enough that I could speak.

This was a show of firsts as I have never called out a comedian onstage in my whole career. Just a couple weeks ago I had someone do a guest set in front of me say some horrible things about people with special needs, but I let it go, as I didn’t want to throw my whole show off.  This time I couldn’t let it go. This was also the first time I have ever in my career contemplated on not going onstage and just leaving. I realized my face was on the poster, there were people there to see me, and I didn’t want to totally screw the chance of them having standup again, so I went up onstage, even though I was in a terrible frame of mind.

If you are curious, I did not have a great show. I went into my stealth, rowdy one-nighter set. One drinking and sex joke after another. Stuff I rarely do anymore. It was not my proudest moment. I riffed off the audience and survived it. Hopefully the place will give comedy another chance. They apologized to me about how the whole thing had went down. I just hate the idea that some people who have not seen live standup got the impression that this is what it is like. So young comics, what have we learned?

Don’t blame the audience onstage, even if they deserve some of the blame. This just comes off as sour grapes. This is only magnified when people pay to get in.

Don’t rip the place for it not having the type of stage or lighting that you deserve. Make the best of it. (If you are Chris Rock or Louis CK, sure go ahead, you’ve earned it, but guess what, those guys don’t deal with these problems anymore.)

Only do political material if you have some really smart, funny insights. No better way to expose your ignorance than to go up onstage and just call people assholes for not believing in what you believe in, without any cogent reasoning.

Don’t say a bunch of offensive shit onstage when you are starting out. No one wants to follow you after you offend a portion of the audience. If you can’t make typical material funny, why do you think you can make this shit funny?

I spoke to a few friends after the show about this guy and heard nothing positive. I was informed that he used the word fuck at an open mic that didn’t allow it and he went online and wrote a manifesto about how this was racism. Another comic mentioned that he had called the guy out for stealing jokes from movies and his response was that he didn’t care what that guy said. I’m guessing he would say the same to me, if he read this. That is fine. He has a right to say what he wants onstage, but I have an equal right to call him on it.

I’ve outlined here before how I went into comedy wanting to say the most shocking, edgy stuff my twisted mind could come up with. My only rule was that I wouldn’t hit people who couldn’t defend themselves because where is the sport in that? I’m not saying I’m proud of everything I’ve said onstage, but I think it’s defend-able. I would be glad to hear this douchebags defense of what he offers. I also want him to defend how did almost everything possible to make sure comics would have 1 less room to perform in.

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