There’s A First Time For Everything. Sometimes Two First Times.

July 12, 2012

Humor

As many of you know, I used to be – once upon a time – a full-time stand up comedian.  The end of that is summarized briefly on my Let’s Meet The Author page (perhaps a more detailed recollection will be here one of these days).  But for some reason I was just thinking about the first paid gig I ever had. Maybe it’s my birthday; got me all reflective.

Pictured here: Not you, when you’re starting out.

The thing to understand about comedy when you start out is the depths to which it sucks.  You are not at comedy clubs.  You are not blowing them away. You are not hanging out in clubs afterward, adored by strangers. It’s bars where you’re the opener for the comedian who’s been hired to kill time until dancing can start.  The audience hates you.  They hate you because you are awful.  And even if you aren’t awful (but you are), they hate you because you’re the opener and we’re conditioned to hate the opener.  But you’re paying your dues.  And the amazing thing, is if you’re the kind of person who loves stand-up, you’re having a great time.

Now my first paid gig was actually my second paid gig.  The first first time I ever got paid to do comedy was when another guy was going to be an opening act and decided that A) he’d rather someone else was the cold-opener and B) he needed a ride. (Note to aspiring comedians – get a car).

The audience seemed kind of ike this. Only… you know… diverse.

It turns out I was to be the opening act for a Diversity Festival.  Not a Diversity Humor Festival – just… a festival.  Poetry.  Interpretive Dance.  Confessional speeches.  Apparently, we were going to start things off with “White Male.”  “Hi everyone, thanks for coming, let’s get things started with some comedy; please welcome to the stage: The Reason We’re All So Angry!” clap clap clap.  “Hey, thanks, what a great crowd!  It’s terrific to be here!  I just flew in from oppressing minorities, and boy are my arms tired!”  Ba-bump, tsh!

I was not a huge hit.

But the first time I really, officially got paid was for a loop through Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington.  First stop: Winnemucca, Nevada.  If you’ve never been there?  Good for you.  You know how there’s Las Vegas, and then there’s Reno, sort of the grimy, low-budget, poorly constructed version of Vegas?  Winnemucca plays that role to Reno.  It’s the gambling town for people overwhelmed by the glitz and big-city flash of Reno, as well as perhaps Off-Track Betting establishments.

It’s entirely possible the name is meant ironically.

So it was a 2-night gig at Winners Casino. The audience the first night was maybe 20 people.  20 people united in hatred for me.  The low was when I was doing some jokes about store check out lines, specifically my inability to find the one moving fastest, and my desire to purchase (get ready for hilarity!) one of those police radar guns to determine which one’s moving fastest.  About half the audience, it turned out, were checkers at a Wal-Mart (I’d also done some material about Wal-Mart).  Now, you’d think this would be perfect – clicking with my audience.  Turned out these were ferociously loyal checkers, who found NOTHING funny about the notion of slow lines.  NOTHING.  And Wal-Mart provides TERRIFIC PRICES on EVERYTHING A PERSON NEEDS.

The club owner also hated me.  Upon meeting me immediately remarked on the way I was dressed.  He suggested I looked a little… urban… for the area.  If you know what I mean.

It’s a drink. A really, really, really, good drink.

The bartender also hated me.  To be fair, I did ask what was on draft.  I know.  What an ass. “Well,” she snarled, “we sure don’t have any mai-kro-brooz.”  Okay.  No problem, my good lady.  Prithee, I’ll just have a sazerac then.  Made with Peychoud’s bitters and served in a tumbler.  Organic lemon rind, obviously.

The other comic was hugely abrasive.  Talented, but liked to antagonize his audiences.  If I’d had more experience I’d have take the Wal-Mart Militia’s heckling as fuel to really go for them, but I was new, and tried to back-pedal.  Certain death, that path.  He tended to go the opposite extreme, intentionally goading them.  Shortly after we went separate ways he would end up getting attacked on stage by some audience members.  I think it’s on YouTube.  So I guess my pummeling was only metaphoric, at least. Weird how clear that first show is, yet how long ago.

But those first shows… they’re like the boxers just have people punch them in the stomach to get tough.  I’d almost (almost) like to play that room again, just to see how it’d be this time.

Almost.

Afterward, a guy from the casino took the other comic and I out to show us Winnemucca’s nightlife.  One of the most surreal experiences I’ve had… and a story for another time.

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About The Byronic Man

Recently voted "The Best Humor Blog in America That I, Personally, Write," The Byronic Man is sometimes fiction, sometimes autobiography. And sometimes cultural criticism. Oh, and occasionally reviews. Okay, it's all those different things, but always humorous. Except on the occasions that it's not. Ah, geez. Look, it's a lot of things, okay? You might like it, is the point.

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66 Comments on “There’s A First Time For Everything. Sometimes Two First Times.”

  1. Life With The Top Down Says:

    **Crickets** O, dear lord there is nothing worse. Walmart checkers have NO sense of humor in the store, I think it’s a hiring requirement, so what the hell were they doing at a comedy club…trying to get some perhaps? Honestly, if they don’t want people to make jokes, they need to stop providing us with such good material.

    I’m glad the **crickets** didn’t discourage you.

    Reply

  2. She's a Maineiac Says:

    Can’t wait to hear that other story! As you know, I’ve been fascinated about your stand up experiences (and constantly bring it up in the hopes you’ll tell us all the details)

    I wish I was in that audience, I would have stood up and cheered for your Walmart joke.

    I have a post coming up that is about stand up comedians and what people find funny. I wrote it a few days ago, well before I saw this post and even told Angie about it…so now you know I am not copying you. I swear us bloggers must be synchronizing our posts now.

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I actually did a seminar last year on “What’s Funny” and to a lesser extent “How To Be Funny” (Short version: If you have to ask…). It was really interesting mining people’s psyches about humor. There were some definite “Therapy Moments.” Look forward to the post.

      Reply

  3. 1pointperspective Says:

    Wonderful as always. For the record, I knew you were too masculine to drink the most difficult of cocktails, the pousse-cafe.

    I’ve never been to Winnemucca, but I’ve been to Wendover, Nevada, or as some wits like to refer to it, Bend-over, Nevada, just over the state line next to the Bonneville Salt Flats. That experience was worthy of a post of it’s own, but suffice to say, it was like the Twilight Zone without that comforting narration of Rod Serling.

    As something of a wise ass, I’ve been told by many people brimming with free advice, that I should do stand-up comedy. Luckily I know for a fact that I’m not all that funny, and that I am entirely too dependent upon the approval of others to ever take the stage.

    Like anyone else with taste, a sense of humor and an appetite for vicarious adventure, I eagerly await your recounting of Winnemucca’s night-life (Oh please let there be female impersonators and the threat of violence!).

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! “Bend Over”! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

      Well, it’s always worth doing, at least once; I would caution you, though – I literally could not count how many people I’ve seen at an open mic who you could tell, you could tell – his friends had said “Dude, you’re hilarious! You should do stand-up!” And then they get up and tell the jokes that slay their friends. Only… we’re not your friends. It’s a wildly different environment. Still worth a try, though.

      And: Female impersonators – I think so. Threat of violence – yes.

      Reply

  4. Ape No. 1 Says:

    Insanely jealous of your foray into stand up comedy, though whilst I wish it were me, I am also glad it wasn’t me. Sounds scary. Would love to hear more.

    Reply

  5. MJ, Nonstepmom Says:

    “White Male” headlining a diversity festival – you have no idea how much I needed that laugh…..well, maybe you do…… you just didnt know how funny it was at the time !

    Reply

  6. Don't Quote Lily Says:

    I give credit to comedians, especially starting out, that can’t be easy. Looking forward to more stories!

    Reply

  7. speaker7 Says:

    Can you recommend a place to stay in Winnemucca? Because it sound amazing.

    Reply

  8. Go Jules Go Says:

    OH! Way to leave us hanging, B. Methinks you DO know how to play a room.

    You know I’ve been dying to hear more of these stories, so I LOVED this. I’m glad you made it out alive, and who knew draft beer was urban and snooty?? Speaking of urban, what WERE you wearing? No, better yet, what were you SUPPOSED to be wearing?

    So many questions.

    Reply

  9. Impybat Says:

    I would also like to know what you were “supposed” to be wearing. I’m wondering if it involves giant belt buckles and trucker hats (worn unironically)?

    Reply

  10. spilledinkguy Says:

    Something tells me if I was a stand-up comedian my sprinting (and hurdling) skills would improve dramatically.
    In a hurry.

    Reply

  11. susielindau Says:

    I used to go to a Comedy Club in Madison, Wi. I loved it unless I sat in the front which is a big mistake. Now I wouldn’t have as much trouble with the banter, but back then it was mortifying!
    It takes a lot of guts to stand up and entertain. At least with blogging, we don’t have to hear the boos!
    I didn’t realize you were in stand up. 🙂 I will check out your author’s page…

    Reply

  12. earthriderjudyberman Says:

    Byronic, I give you kudos for getting up in front of an audience. I once did a poetry slam, but it was stacked with my relatives and friends – so that doesn’t count. I love to make people laugh, but I know stage fright would kick in. Thanks for a look at what it’s like on the other side of the mic.

    Reply

  13. The Bumble Files Says:

    I think it would take a lot of courage to be a comic. I actually can’t think of anything more terrifying. Prithee, have you actually had that drink?

    Reply

  14. Lenore Diane Says:

    Look at you getting all sentimental. I think it has to do with your birthday and the expected bundle of joy (and poop, and spit-up, and…..)
    Great story, Byronic. But the picture of the drink was distracting. At first glance, I thought it was a Funyun in the glass.

    Reply

  15. Erynn Elizabeth Says:

    somehow i picture the nightlife as being actual things that come to life only at night.
    like he took you into the woods and was like “welcome to winnemuca, have you met our draculas?”

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Close, actually. At one point (possibly the low) he took us to a miner’s bar. It’s a silver mining area, and everyone there came there straight from the mines. They were completely gray, from the coating of dust. It was bizarre.

      Reply

  16. Audrey Says:

    Us darn West Coasters with our microbrews, organic produce, and Seattle-ite fashion sense… The scum of America!

    Reply

  17. mj monaghan Says:

    Been through Winnemucca many times on the way from Sacramento to Omaha – all on I-80. You probably had some tourists that were passing through, too.

    Good on you for doing stand-up. It’s probably one of the toughest professions out there. Definitely more stories on this topic, my friend.

    Reply

  18. mistyslaws Says:

    Well, methinks that wearing your best duds to the comedy club might hath been your downfall. Next time, just wear the basic tux WITHOUT the tails, my good man. Much more “of the people” that way, don’t you think? Jolly good.

    I think the moral of this story is that before beginning the routine, one must take a poll of the people in the audience, and if any of them work for Wal-mart . . . just leave. They ain’t laughing.

    Very interesting hearing of your comedic roots. And now I am intrigued about the shenanigans that followed on that evening. Nice hook!! 😉

    Reply

  19. becomingcliche Says:

    Hey! I used to work at Wal-Mart…

    Happy birthday! (If you really meant that it’s your birthday. Otherwise, I just totally said it in an ironic way.)

    Reply

  20. tomwisk Says:

    You’ve got bigger huevos than I. The thought of doing stand-up scares me. I admire anybody who does it.

    Reply

  21. Carrie Rubin Says:

    I can’t think of anything more scary than having to do stand-up in front of a dedicated WalMart crowd. My hats off to you. Hopefully they don’t rollback comedians like they do prices. That could be painful.

    Reply

  22. Angie Z. Says:

    I’m completely fascinated by stand-up comedy and stories like this. Mostly because I’d never, ever, ever do it — and if I were forced on stage, I’d promptly pee my pants and that’d be it. But I’d be a legend after that of course.

    Though I’m guessing the venue you were at was a couple rungs lower, as I read this I couldn’t help but imagine the bargain basement type of casinos and bars in Swingers. You would’ve rocked it over that old man and woman keyboard cover tunes duo.

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I did know a woman who started hallucinating that the stage was covered in broken glass in the middle of a set. That’s kind of like peeing yourself, only disturbing and tragic…

      The worst were Sports Bars. With the TV’s still on.

      And, you know, that couple in Swingers are actually LA landmarks. I forget their names, but they’re like a hipster Mecca.

      Reply

      • Angie Z. Says:

        Get out! I will have to take my hipster ass over to see them now. Just kidding. I’m so not a hipster in reality, just in my mind.

        I cannot imagine doing stand-up in that kind of venue. I can’t stand going into bars or restaurants with a thousand TVs on — which is impossible to avoid when you live in football capital of the plains.

        Reply

        • The Byronic Man Says:

          You know, they make those “universal shut off” remotes, that will turn off any TV. I really want one. I hate going to a bar or restaurant and the TV is on. I’m even happy if there’s no music, and the only sound is conversation.

          Reply

          • Angie Z. Says:

            I concur. It feels like you’re eating a nice dinner while 4,000 loud, obnoxious relatives try to break in and tell you about their gallbladder surgeries. THE WORST. Especially when it’s any kind of channel that includes a scrolling news update at the bottom of the screen. My eyes lock in on it and I can hardly focus enough to stick a fork in my mouth.

            Reply

  23. hgonza99 Says:

    Sometimes the worst memories are the best memories. Then again, sometimes they are really just the worst memories….

    Reply

  24. Elyse Says:

    Well, B-Man, you have cured me of my dream for my son, that he become a standup commedian. He is hilarious but I can’t imagine him surviving Winnemucca or Wal-Mart workers. He is my baby, after all.

    But your story is wonderful. You must tell us more!

    Reply

  25. Rustic Recluse Says:

    I like stand-up comedians. They’re witty and they take a lot of crap from the audience but still manage to pull it off fine – either respond cleverly to make the guy feel like a fool, or laugh at yourself and make everyone feel smart. Either ways, stand-ups deserve a good lot of respect. Not everyone can do that, not with that kinda big ego I see around here these days. Keep sharing your stories!! 🙂

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Some of them are best liked from afar. It’s not a lifestyle that tends to coincide with a healthy mental outlook. This often turns seriously self-destructive.

      It quite an experience, though.

      Reply

  26. Love & Lunchmeat Says:

    I have utmost respect for anyone who manages to get on a stage night after night and perform. I would die. Well, I’ll eventually die regardless, but I’d need to be heavily medicated. Even in a more friendly audience, I’d be standing there staring at the person who isn’t laughing and wondering… Does he/she not like me or did he/she just have a bad day? And then I’d go home, and still be wondering. I would definitely end up on anxiety meds.

    And you managed to get the word prithee into a blogpost. Only a true talent can pull that off!

    Reply

    • The Byronic Man Says:

      That’s actually one of the best moments a comic has: you go through months of self-doubt, “why don’t they like me?”, “Gee, I really thought that was funny,” etc. And your material keeps improving and you get more confident, and one day a joke bombs, and you think, “Huh. Well, I empirically know that’s funny, so I guess these people are imbeciles. I will adjust accordingly.”

      Reply

  27. Emily Says:

    Your post has good timing, as I’ve been given my very first Lovely Blogger Award today. Even though you probably have 200 of them, I just love your blog, so I nominated you! you can see it here:

    http://lavieselonemily.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/i-am-or-rather-my-blog-is-lovely/

    Reply

  28. gingerfightback Says:

    Bad luck with the check outs….Made me cackle though!

    Reply

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