Sometimes you’re presented with an idea that in every way looks like a bad idea. And yet you still consider going along with it. My recent reality show experience is an example.
Another example is the evening I was playing a casino gig that was really out in the boonies. A large contingent of the audience was from the nearby nudist camp. Yes, they were wearing clothes or I’m pretty sure the casino wouldn’t have let them in. No shirt, no shoes, no pants, no service. Now, there are people that you’d like to see at a nudist camp and there are people you expect to see at a nudist camp.
Unbelievably, the people at the show were much closer to the first picture than the second. Surprising to begin with. After the show a couple of them came up to me and told me how much they’d liked my act. Then… “Hey, we’re going back to the camp for the rest of the evening. Want to join us?”
A very simple and nice invitation. There wasn’t even any winking or nudging. But still an invitation fraught with danger. You see, when an offer like that is placed on the table, I have to think, “Can I tell my girlfriend about this tomorrow?” Obviously that answer is “Not if I value my testicles.”
It reminds me a lot of the time I serenaded two lonely drunken yoga instructors.
So I passed on the offer from the nice group of nudists to join them back at their camp for… Well, we’ll leave that up to your imagination. You’re welcome.
The Good Bad Idea
But that’s not what this blog post is about. This post is about a time that I DID go with the plan despite it looking like a terrible idea.
In July 2012, Eddie Griffin was performing at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton, CA. During the show he got into a nasty altercation with a couple of ladies in the front. It involved sexist remarks and drinks being thrown and landed both Eddie and the club in court a year later. The following month, August 2012, Eddie was scheduled to perform at Tommy’s other (extremely short lived) club in San Francisco. Understandably, he wasn’t super on board with doing that.
I get a call from the club’s booker a week before saying, “Eddie Griffin canceled. Can you come in and headline this week?” I respond, “Yeah, I’m in town. Did you tell people that Eddie Griffin won’t be there?”….
“Yeah, kind of.”
Fantastic. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be playing for Eddie Griffin’s audience for a whole string of shows that week. In case you’re not familiar with his work, take a look at the video below.
Let’s just say that Eddie Griffin and I don’t exactly share the same core audience or have anything remotely in common as performers. Now, I’ve performed for black audiences and in “black rooms”. Those audiences either love me or hate me. I’ve killed and I’ve been booed off stage. Once. The booing only happened once. And I still got paid.
So I didn’t exactly have the utmost of confidence going into these gigs. Why did I say yes? It was a headlining credit at a decent club when I needed some for the resume. They were paying me (not a ton, but more than I’d make not working that weekend)-. And I knew it would be a learning experience. As a performer that needs to be ready for everything, sometimes we say yes to the terrible gigs just to come out of it a better performer.
Due to the confusion, the promotions for the shows were a mess. And this club wasn’t exactly known for packing them in to begin with. So the first two shows had about 30 people. And they made me work for it. They were telling people at the door that Eddie Griffin cancelled, but they’d gotten another fantastic comic to headline. Of course, not explaining that it was a white kid with long hair and a guitar.
My friend Kevin Munroe was featuring for me. Kevin is a Caribbean black guy and has his own troubles dealing with American black audiences. But he managed to get them warmed up. When I came on the quick death of the applause told me what I was in for.
I honestly thought about opening with an Eddie Griffin bit as a gag. Then I realized how badly that could go wrong if it didn’t work.
Kevin mentioned after the first show, “I’ve never seen anyone do an hour of material in 30 minutes before.” Because when a show isn’t going well, my mantra is “Just keep talking.”
BUT… I won them over by the end of every show. I had to do a full headline length set, so some of the material was bound to not work. I got most of that stuff out of the way at the front, leaned into the edgier stuff in the middle and closed strong on songs I knew would grab their attention. And it worked. I didn’t kill by any means. But more than a few people walked by me on the way out saying, “I didn’t think I’d like you, but that was a hell of show!”
People that had come to see Eddie Griffin walked out the door with my CDs and DVDs. Mission accomplished.
The Saturday 8pm show had the largest crowd. About 75 people. My set started the same way. “Who’s this white boy?” A bit of staid laughter throughout. Me busting my ass. And this show featured two ladies playing the part of “Sassy Black Woman #1 and #2” straight out of a Tyler Perry film.
These two decided they were going to be the resident hecklers of the night. My strategy with hecklers is 1.Ignore them. 2. Shush them like a child. 3. Let the club security deal with them. And there’s a step 4 that’s only reserved for Defcon 4 situations.
I don’t generally play with hecklers unless they really give me something fun to do. These two didn’t. They would yell out things like “Why you jeans so faded? Faded ass jeans.”
I shushed them and went on with my act. They yelled out a few more things and in between just talked loudly to each other. And with all the quietness of people not laughing at my jokes, everyone else could hear them chatting away. Which of course was drawing attention towards them instead of the stage. I could deal with the heckling, but the chatter was really grating on me and everyone else.
Finally at one point, they were chatting away and I was in the middle of doing a set up to a joke…
“So we went to the Pearl Har… SHUT… THE… FUCK… UP!”
Step 4. Lose my shit. I look off stage left to the green room and see Kevin fall over laughing.
I so rarely do things like that on stage. Over the hundreds and hundreds of shows I can count on one hand how many times I’ve resorted to that. And it’s always dangerous because if the crowd isn’t also bothered by the hecklers, you lose everybody and it’s damn near impossible to bring them back.
But this audience had had just about enough of these two too. And they applauded me. Not loudly, but enough to show they were on my side. Pretty sure nobody else wanted an earful from those two after the show either.
Where was Step 3 – Club security? Let’s just say, some clubs don’t pay attention like they ought to. And tellingly they also go out of business a month later.
They mostly shut up after that. Not totally, but better. I finished up that bit and grabbed my guitar, knowing I needed to change the energy in the room fast. By the time I’d finished “Bad Porno Sex”, a good third of the room was on their feet dancing. Including the Tyler Twins over there. That kind of thing doesn’t even usually happen at good shows. I laid out a couple more songs that had the whole room going and triumphantly left the stage.
Loads of nice complements as people left that night. HUGS from the two heckler ladies. As if everything went exactly to plan for them. I restrained myself from throttling them.
Those were some of the most tactically difficult shows I’ve ever done. They were not hopeless. I knew there was a way to succeed and I just needed to figure it out. There are other shows where there’s no hope of succeeding and you just do your time, get your check, and get the hell out. But these I knew I could figure out. I couldn’t tell you exactly what I’d learned in doing those shows. But I sure came out of them with more confidence as a performer.
The following week I emailed Eddie Griffin about doing a guest spot on his regular show in Las Vegas. I explained what I’d been through and told him I know I can work for his crowd now. He never responded. Maybe I should throw a drink at him.