Big Show in a Small City

So, it has been about a month since I have last posted. I take full responsibility for my absence. I was in a few weird places, which kept me from updating, such as graduating college, going to a ton of weddings in a short period of time, and Van Buren, MO. I just returned from Van Buren yesterday morning, a pretty 2.5-hour drive away from my hometown of Springfield, MO. I was doing my first real “corporate” gig all by myself as a stand-up, which the awesome people at gigsalad helped me get. I was hired to perform a 45-to-50-minute set (which is pretty long when you are an amateur professional, and not Louis CK or someone people recognize) for salesmen and workers involved in insurance in the state. I am 22, but I was probably still younger than everyone at this Young Agents Conference (except for two pre-teen girls who were there because her mom won a prestigious insurance award).

Before the banquet at which I am to perform, I check into my hotel room. Which was much nicer on the inside than it was on the outside. Mostly what made it for me was that there was no “hotel art.”


Instead, Van Buren gave me a poster listing and illustrating birds of prey. Which I basked in the awesomeness of when I should have been rehearsing. But basking in the glory of a surprise Birds of Prey poster can only last so long, and so I started rehearsing and digging my joke notebooks out of my bag, only to realize that I had left one at home. I read out of an old journal for my “Wisdom Tooth Removal Recovery Journal” bit, and I really do read out of it (I hate to memorize), but I had left this particular journal at home. Well, crap. So I grab another notebook and start trying to remember this routine so I can rewrite it. I get stuck pretty quickly, since I haven’t done this bit in months and have never considered memorizing it. I call my roommate, who is luckily at home, and I have him find the notebook and read it to me so I can write down the routine. This is all about 15 minutes before I’m supposed to be at the banquet, but still a couple hours before I’m supposed to perform.

As soon as I jot everything down and thank my roommate, I get another phone call. This time from my good friend, Scott. He knew I was doing this show and asked how my drive was. Then he makes some sort of 1408 joke, like from that movie with Samuel L Jackson and John Cusack. This joke somehow makes me reveal my own hotel room number and there is immediately a knock on my door. My friends Scott and Sarah are at the door, fresh from floating the river. I was completely surprised. I hadn’t been that surprised since my 16th birthday, when I came home to find all my friends playing video games in my basement, but they were too into Super Smash Bros to bother to say “surprise.”

Sarah and Scott surprising me.

Scott and Sarah have this plan to sneak in to watch me do my nearly-an-hour stand-up set–they will pose as insurance salesmen who are supposed to be there (“We’ll do the ‘confident walk’,” Scott assured me). I should have let this occur for the sake of hilariousness, but instead I decide to check with the woman who hired me to see if it is OK that my friends, who just happen to be in Van Buren, come to watch me perform. She is cool with it.

Skip ahead some time. Awkwardly eating hors d’oeuvres alone. I try to give one of the bosses a high five; he does not connect. I am seated at a table with some of the head folks and the very nice man next to me reveals his love for “that puppet guy.” I’m having quite a bit of conversation with all the head honchos at my table. THEN out of nowhere, a small old woman in a giant orange shirt comes to my table and asks, “Are you the improv?” The answer is no, but I think she is referring to me doing improv in Springfield. I don’t know why this is necessarily a reasonable thing to assume because I don’t know this woman at all, but my assumption was right. Turns out she is Scott’s godmother (I know: what??) and is looking for him in order to give him some hamburgers. So she finds me as I am having dinner with men in suits who are paying me to make them laugh in about 45 minutes to ask me if I know where Scott is. She also revealed that I had friends attending this private show to the folks at my table before walking away to feed Scott and Sarah. There wasn’t much conversation at my table after that.

Fast forward. Finish dinner. Awards are distributed to the top young agents. I am introduced and walk on stage.

I have a pretty detailed setlist outlined on a full piece of paper, so I don’t forget anything and can meet the time I am hired to do. As I perform, I am cutting things in my mind. Well, if they didn’t like this, they wont like that… I don’t do dirty stuff, but I have some material that is “edgy” (I guess that is an acceptable name. It is edgy for some people, like grandmothers and Puritans). Well, most of them didn’t like my “edgy” stuff. They were still a super fun, unusual crowd to play to. No to pop culture references. Yes to puns. No to most things “edgy.” Yes YES YES to playing with the crowd. I guess crowd play is something most audiences like, but this was the best part of my set for these folks. So I did it more than normal, which was a lot of fun for me.

This man named Charlie let me pick on him. He was the father-in-law of the award-winning woman with the two daughters (who were eventually sent to their room–probably right after a killer meth lab joke). Charlie, who is a very nice dude, was the kind of tan sorority girls wish they were, was shiny-bald, and had a platinum blonde mustache that hung off his face. I bet that about 40% of the ‘stache was unattached to his face, hanging out in space as if ready to strike. He looked like he could have been Hulk Hogan’s dad, and that’s what I told him. These people loooooved when I messed with Charlie. I talked to several other people and even “flirted” with the one woman who admitted to being single when I asked the crowd (and by “admitted,” I mean the guy who wouldn’t high five me called her out). All of this was fun for everyone. The single girl was a little embarrassed, maybe.

I don’t know how long it felt for my audience, but the 47 minutes or so I did really didn’t feel that long. There were times when punchlines were not met with laughter, but only smiles, or head nods (which isn’t as good for me, obviously. Don’t people know that if I’m performing comedy it is because I hate myself and need instant gratification in the form of laughter?), but that didn’t make the set feel long or make me feel anxious. Before I knew it, I was thanking everyone for having me and for treating me so well as their guest, and walking off the stage to contemplate what this audience would have always laughed at, and if I would have any desire to write comedy that universal.

My audience. Well, the middle of them.

My audience. Well, the middle of them.


5 thoughts on “Big Show in a Small City

  1. 45 minutes is an interesting length of time to be in the spotlight. That’s usually how long my Sunday messages are (including intermittent discussion) and I almost always wish I could keep going. The difference is, I get to develop stories and ideas slowly, whereas you have to make them laugh at least once per minute.

    I think a lot of pastors see “Amen”s like comedians see laughs. That’s why they’re always asking for them; “Can I get an Amen?” Maybe you should try that: “Can I get a chuckle? a snort? a chortle? a snortle? anything?” Thankfully you and I don’t have to stoop to begging ;-)

  2. IDENTITY. The OTHER scary hotel movie featuring John Cusack. That’s the one I couldn’t remember. Now we can all go on with life.
    Also you were funny and confident and winning. I was so very proud.

  3. I was going to ask how your show went but after reading this, I know way more than what you would have told me! I’m glad Scott and Sarah “surprised” you. Hopefully Scott laughed as loud as he does at The Skinny.

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