Last week I was at one of my favorite clubs, The Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin. I absolutely love this place. Gus and Mary who own it are two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good fortune of meeting. Their daughters Eve and Anna are beautiful inside and out. Joe, the room manager runs are super tight ship and is an hell of a guy too. The waitstaff is stunning. The bartenders all handsome. Both on the surface and beneath it, everything about this place is fantastic.
Originally I was supposed to be doing this week as a split week where I would headline Thursday and then Eddie Brill who used to book Letterman would come in on Friday and Saturday. Eddie got into a little trouble earlier this year for being misquoted or having his words taken out of context about female comics. So he canceled the gig. Instead I was working with Ian Edwards.
I Googled Ian months ago and saw that he was a staple at the Laugh Factory in LA. Part of me had a feeling that I was going to wish I could time travel because we’d be friends months after I got back from LA myself. Still though, appearance wise, Ian reminded me of the intense Erik King who played the ill fated Sgt. Doakes on Dexter. Maybe it would be a nightmare. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Ian is hilarious and brilliant both onstage and off. He’s that thoughtful kind of comedian who I love listening to talk about the craft and psychology of comedy. If you look at his IMDB page you’ll see too that he’s written for some very high profile shows and that’s evident in his word choice on stage. It’s preposterous how deliberate he is! It also made me giggle a little every time he’d say “preposterous” on stage. That’s a word I associate with my dad and comedian Don Reese. Ian is about as far opposite on the other end of that spectrum as you could be….then again, maybe not. I’m building to something. Trust me.
At the risk of being one of those comedians who says the stereotypical, “normally I headline”, I have to say, normally I headline. Funny Business has been fantastic to me. Eric Yoder knows what I do and I trust him with booking me accordingly. Sometimes it’s nice to test the water so I go into clubs in the middle spot. The Comedy Club on State and Dr. Grin’s are the exceptions. I prefer to middle at both of those places because they have the budget and taste to bring in the bigger name people I’d like to work with. Last year at those two clubs respectfully, I opened for Marc Maron and Carl LaBove.
I always have a blast when I’m at both clubs. This time was no exception. In addition to having Ian on one side of me I had my old friend Saurin Choksi on the other. I’ve known Choksi since he started comedy in Detroit. I’ve known him since he was just the one named Choksi, sort of like the Cher of comedy! I was a fan of his even back in his open mic days. He’s instantly likable and spoke with the same reference for pop culture that I have. He’s since moved to Chicago and has gotten even better than he was before. I let him crash in my hotel room and had a great time catching up. I really hope I’m presented with an opportunity to bring him along on a gig again soon. He’s silly and dark and what we do works well together.
Okay, let’s get to the lessons learned part of this.
I was sick most of the week with either this cold or flu that’s going around. I was taking Dayquil during the day and Nyquil at night. I didn’t feel 100% on stage any of the shows. Thursday and Friday felt like 70% at best. Saturday I maybe got up into the high 80s. Still though, people were entertained. They said so afterwards. They’d buy a CD or pick up a sticker and tell me something they enjoyed. Without fail, I apologized and told them I wasn’t feeling my best.
Saturday night, walking back to the hotel the final time Ian mentioned this. He pointed out that when people quote something specific that you did that they enjoyed, that means their sincere and not just people polite as they walk past. To apologize in response demeans their take on the show. I need to learn to be more gracious and take compliments better.
That’s something I thought about for days after. This is what I equate it to. I love Star Wars. Anyone who knows me knows that. I love Han Solo. Harrison Ford always criticizes that role saying it wasn’t that strongly written of a character. It bugs me. It bugs me like fingers down a chalk board. Aside from the iconic Harrison Ford roles I grew up with, I think subconsciously it’s made me not want to really support other things that he’s done because I think deep down when he knocks Han Solo I feel like he’s knocking me and my taste. Jeremy Bulloch on the other hand who played Boba Fett has totally embraced the role and the fact that people love it. Obviously that part is much, much, much smaller than Han Solo. Maybe it’s Bulloch’s promotion that’s helped make that small role something loved by so many. I need to be less Han Solo and more Boba Fett in the future.
I’ve been putting off this last part until the end because I didn’t really know how I wanted to approach it. Being in Madison was hard on a personal level. It’s a city where I shared a lot of memories with someone who’s not part of my life any more. Most of those memories were great. I felt, and feel while writing about it, pangs of sadness when I’d walk past her favorite store or restaurants where we ate. Madison this time was a city filled with ghosts. It was the corner where we fought when I was so positive I was right and now a year and a half later I realize I wasn’t. She wasn’t able to always go on the road with me. Near the end, there were only a couple places she liked to go. Madison was one of them. I took traveling for granted. I was quick to judge and criticize. I’m glad I had this trip alone with my memories. It let me purge some of them. Hopefully next time I can start to build new ones.
With all of that being said, Gus and Mary who own the club felt the heaviness that I felt. Physically and emotionally I changed. Last time I was there I was about 80 pounds lighter. The depression of this past year still weighs on me literally. In the green room I opened up to Gus a little early in the week. Before he left on Saturday he came in to tell me this. He said that it takes rough waters to make a great captain.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. At first I felt like I wasn’t a great captain when the waters first got rough. While that may be true, a great captain can’t look back at the water behind him. He needs to look forward. I don’t know that I’ve ever been a great captain. I’m going to try to be now though. I’ve gone back to the gym. I’ve stopped the comfort eating. I’m going to get through this storm that I’ve been circling the ship in for months and months. My crew has stood by me and it would be unfair to them and to me to not change course.
Thank you Madison, Wisconsin. I’ll see you next time.
I had a blast. Connxtions is one of those clubs that gets so much right. This may sound surprising to some of you, but there are a lot of clubs where the staff is just a sour group of gloomy Guses. I think everyone who works at Lansing Connxtions works there because they love their job. Most of that credit has to go to Tina who runs the place. She’s a really good boss. Having been a really good boss myself back when I was at Gamestop, you can tell when someone is leading well.
This is a gross example of why I can tell Tina is great, but it’s the best example. Someone from the audience threw up Saturday night. When that happens someone has to clean it. That person ended up being more focused on who did it so they could direct their anger that way and never said anything along the lines of, “I can’t believe Tina is making me clean up vomit. What a bitch.” They party hard in Lansing, but only after they’ve worked hard. It’s a really good staff.
Emceeing for me was Lansing’s own Ian “Mulva the Vulva” Mulvaney. Ian did a great job. He was really excited to do it. My ego was totally stroked because there were a handful of Lansing guys who really wanted to work with me, but Ian asked first. I performed with him a little while ago at a benefit show for a mutual friend who died. I don’t know what I did that made it so Ian really wanted to do a set together, but I appreciated it a lot. That’s so important too. Something you say to someone that may seem totally insignificant could hit them totally different. I’m glad I did or said something nice then because I had a really good time hanging out with Ian. Together we looked like Earl and Randy from My Name is Earl. I think we should go on the road doing dramatic readings of famous scenes from the show.
My feature was Danny Kallas from Chicago. I loved working with Danny. He and I had a similar sensibility that worked really well together. We both had that “I’m going to take a lot of shots at a lot of things…including myself….so don’t get uptight” thing going on. Danny and I have a mutual friend in one of his fellow Chicago comedy brothers from the Comedians You Should Know. Detroit really needs something like that. I think the closest we came was having the Live Rude Girls, but a certain shitty lady finds a way to drive a wedge into any communal endeavor. She tried to do the same thing years earlier with The Desperate Houseguys, so I know first hand. Detroit really needs a group of like minded performers to form something. The reason CYSK works well is because you know by going to one of there shows what kind of show you’re going to get regardless of which members are performing. First of all, they’re all among the best in Chicago, but secondly they all approach comedy with a like minded point of view. I feel like I’m not wording this very well. If I go to one of there shows, and I’ve worked with four or five of them, I know I’m going to see a pretty smart guy in his late twenties or early thirties doing incredibly well written and dark material that doesn’t pull any punches. I not going to see someone singing Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer or a juggler or a person wearing a thong on her face.
Here’s the other thing that makes CYSK successful. Even if one person isn’t on one of the shows, they all promote the shows as a unit. The CYSK twitter account was promoting Danny being in Lansing even though he was the only one from the group that was. They’re also all strong and working comics. CYSK has become a brand. If one of them opens a door I think it becomes easier for the rest of them to go through that door because CYSK means quality. I think the closest thing we had in Detroit was when three great comedians Adam Sokol, Nate Fridson and Matt McLowry started to do stuff together. If they branded that union more and brought in more people that would have gone well with that group like Brad Austin for example it could have been the Detroit version of CYSK.
Unfortunately, Chicago, unlike Detroit is a destination city for comedians. Detroit is a place where people start and then leave. Three quarters of the Detroit guys I mentioned in that last paragraph aren’t even here anymore.
I got way side tracked, but to sum up, last weekend I worked at a great place with some great people in front of five great audiences. Each audience was uniquely different. Saturday alone had the fairly full audience of people who seemed generally tired so you had to work really hard to keep them with you and it also had the super large rowdy crowd that you had to work just as hard to keep them, but in a completely different way. I had a blast!
Here’s an exclusive clip from the first show Saturday night that you can only see through OffTheMike! Here I encourage the burly men in the audience to take their sexy back.