St. Mary's college in Moraga.
A quiet little Catholic College only accessible by poorly marked dark roads threw million dollar homes and hills. I don't know what the Mapquest directions would tell you, but you take the off ramp by the Orinda BART station and drive down a long dark road. When you think you have passed it, take a left and drive down another road with no lights, swerve to miss the deer and go right. Drive till you start questioning if this gig is even real and then drive 10 more minuets past where you think your career should be.
Thats how you get there.
I complain a lot. These gigs can be either nightmares or amazing. For me, this one fell somewhere in between. In other words, I did OK. Not exactly the set I wanted to have, but fun for all it's preceding awkwardness. Oh, and it was a night for awkwardness.
I drove out with one of the other comics. When we arrived at the campus, I felt like I was on a movie set after dark. The buildings of the campus are all in that early California mission style. An architectural nod to the golden era for the church. If you couldn't convert the natives, you could kill them.
There was no one walking around though. It was just fog and dim lights casting wild shadows across the brick walk ways.
Maybe the Rapture happened.
It makes sense that if it did happen a Catholic school would be empty. Right?
We found the location of the hall it was going to be in. There are no other ways to describe the interior of this building than to just say, Hogwarts. Thats what it looked like. Long wooden tables with high back wooden chairs. If candles had been floating in the air, I would not have been surprised.
The place was beautiful. But really not a place to do a show in. They set up a stage at one end of the hall, but there was no light on the performers. With the high ceilings, the sound echoed. Oh, and the tables nearest the stage were all giant round ones. Not exactly conducive for everyone getting a good view of the show. That is, if you even knew there was a show. It was one room in the giant Gothic cafeteria, so kids were spilling in from doors all around the hall with trays of food and on going conversations.
You don't have a little theater or self contained room somewhere?
OK, so it's not the best set of circumstances. So what if the guard at the front gate said to another comic on the show who is Persian, "I didn't know there were any blacks on the show tonight."
Make of that what you will.
These gigs make good comics better and bad comics nervous. Truth is, we were all nervous for the obvious reason; what can we get away with saying here?
The Booker was very clear about not dropping any "F" bombs and lets be mindful of any anti-religious jokes.
There goes my act.
Actually, not having an act seems to be my greatest assets these days. Riffing is adapting to whatever restrictions or special needs a crowd has. Obviously, a show at a private religious school is going to have to be different than a show at a club. The great thing with my lack of an act is, there is no going over material in my head before the show editing. Point me at the stage and lets see what happens. Thats my way of working and this night, it served me well once again.
I know all the comics on the show. There are four of us. All of them are good comics and all of them were determined to talk themselves out of having good sets.
The opener for this show is not someone who likes to open. So, in one of the more self destructive sets I have seen in a while, he told the crowd that. With plenty of "F" bombs thrown in for good measure.
The next guy up was not only loosing his voice, but brought a large note pad up with him. He got them to laugh though. No small feat on this night. Here is the thing with college crowds these days. If it's a private school, they are way more prone to go "OHHH" rather than laugh. This disturbs me a bit.
Think for yourself! Don't start moaning the joke because someone else did. I swear, it was like a fart being passed around the room. Someone in the room would moan and set off a wave of it. I seriously doubt if most of them knew why they were even moaning. But as each comic went up and there jokes were greeted with either indifference, a moan or the very rare laugh, we all got increasingly worried before our sets.
The next guy up was hoping to work out a set for a big audition. No such luck on that. Jokes I have always seen do from well to kill got no reaction. He was a pro though. It didn't seem to really throw him.
I sat in back of the room watching all this unfocused energy. It's not the first time I have gone up at a gig more than a little concerned. Strange thing these days. I still get those butterflies, but lately I don't care. Thats not the right way to say it. In this last year I have finally learned to detach from the outcome before my set.
What ever will happen will happen and I will let it happen.
Thats pretty much riffing described in a nut shell I suppose. Whatever is going to happen will happen and I will let it happen.
I wish I could live my life like that rather than in 30 minuet increments on stage.
When I am introduced we are already an hour into this show. The crowd seems tired and I have noticed there are less people in the room now than when we started. It's one of those situations where the crowd feels like this never really came together, but they are sticking around to see how it all ends.
Sorta how I felt in any of the new Star Wars movies.
I am about 10 minuets into my set getting respectable laughs when it occurs to me, it's a wireless mic. I can leave the stage.
And that was my set. Wandering around the room talking to kids and making jokes where I could. As soon as I was in the crowd though, they came together. Suddenly it wasn't a bunch of people scattered around a room, it was a crowd focused as I moved threw it asking them what they were studying.
At one point, a kid came in talking on his iPhone, hood up and holding a churro. You know, a long thin Mexican pastry covered in brown sugar. If ever there was a poster child for the modern American stonner, he was it. I just walked over to him microphone in hand and this kid started freaking out. At no time did I really think I would get my ass kicked, but I am always amazed at how thin the skin is of some people. Look, I am just a smart ass. Thats all. A professional class clown who will make fun of you, but never insult you. It is always in good fun. Unless your a straight up ass hole who deserves to be made fun of.
He was a straight up ass hole who deserved to be made fun of.
When he left, and of course he had to go because his ego had now been publicly bruised, he threw his cafeteria tray and stormed out.
How can you be so angry when you have 18 inches of sugary goodness in your hand?
Luckily, the crowd was with me the whole time. In fact, this is a situation I am sometimes grateful for.
Let me explain.
I saw an old world war two movie once. I can't remember the name of it. The movie takes places aboard an old battle ship. They have been at sea for a long time now. Their last enemy encounter left them with a lot of damage to the ship and to the crews confidence.
Stay with me here, I am getting to the point.
In deep water with nothing but time on their hands, the Captain orders his engineers to build him a sail boat.
Thats exactly what the crew said too. First they were shocked, then they were pissed. But a funny thing happened. Everyone aboard that ship was united. First they hated the Captain, but as the small sail boat came together, it became a point of pride for the entire crew. And an object to focus them all.
I remember thinking as a kid, what a smart thing that dude pulled off! At one point, one of his junior officers even comes to him and in confidence tells the Captain that everyone in the crew is pretty angry at him. The Captain just smiles and says, "Then they are all together."
This angry stonner was this shows sail boat.
Now the crowd had a point to draw them together on. When ever I referenced the kid latter in the show as an ass hole, the crowd would always applaud loudly.
We had something in common, something shared and experienced together. Thats what I always hope to achieve in my show; to create a common experience with strangers.
OK, in some ways it is manipulation, but thats all performance is about anyway. A show that is just sitting there can sometimes be saved with one ass hole saying something.
I hate to admit that, but every comic knows this is true. A heckler yells something out and you reply with a perfectly timed on the spot comeback and suddenly everyone is behind you.
I have had passionate debates about this with other comics. There is always that group that looks down on riffing and thinks if your material cant grab them, then the problem is you.
Sure. Sometimes sticking with your act is the way to go. I actually do have a lot of good jokes by the way. But what I have that they do not have is a well honed plan B. Because what do you do if your well rehearsed and tightly written act is getting nothing?
Whatever is going to happen is going to happen and I will just let it happen.
If I had just a touch more evil in me, I would of been a con-man.