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Monday, December 17, 2007

Coast Guard Gig

The Coast Guard is definitely a part of the U.S. Military.
Thats what I learned at the Red Lion in Eureka,CA Saturday night. That, and it's a long drive on the redwood highway. Beautiful, but long.
I left San Francisco at noon and pulled into the parking lot of the hotel right at 7PM. I could of made better time, but the fog slowed me down to a crawl.
Private gigs make me nervous. Always have. Always will. I am the outsider coming into their house. I have to watch the language and it has to work. You can't write off a bad performance at a private. You only have this one chance to give them a great show. Before everyone of these gigs I always entertain the idea of just not showing up. How about that? A 7 hour drive just to turn around. Money has already changed hands though. I am committed. Besides, what sort of a pussy would I be?

There use to be a gig at a Sweetwater restaurant in a mall up here. I remember driving hours for less than a hundred bucks and the knowledge that I had to turn around right after the show. Back then, it didn't suck. It just felt like paying dues.
After you pass the little town of Wilits, the road goes from a well lit multi lane highway, to a two lane road that twists threw the Redwoods.
I have been in the city too long.
Thats what I keep thinking as I pass small houses with smoke drifting from stone chimneys. I always wonder if I could be happy in such a place. I wonder what the kids do for fun and how I would make a living.
Eureka is another town I use to come to for gigs or pass threw on my way to other ones. As I drove in, I no longer needed the directions. I remembered from years of driving exactly where the Red Lion was. I never performed at this one, but I am no stranger to doing a gig in a Red Lion Lounge.

There are only a few one nighter Booker's in the country. Sure, there are a few small time guys throwing together gigs here and there, but there really are only a handful of people who have decided that booking comics across the Greater Pacific Northwest in dive bars and red neck hang outs is the way to go.
One of these guys is a dude named Tribble. He's still doing it. The big joke use to be the more you work for him, the less you make. Sad thing is, it was true. If you were doing four shows in a week, you earned $175 as the headliner per show. If it was 5 shows, it was $150. The joke was, you could end up owing him money on these runs.
Last time I was doing "Tribble Runs" Alanis Moreset was huge and everyone dressed as a lumber jack. They still are dressing that way in Eureka by the way. In fact, a guy like me with a 70's hair cut fits in pretty well in Northern Cal.
I like that. I like that it feels like 1974 up here. Normally that might be something I would mock. Thats what I do after all. But this time, on this trip, it was comforting. I really have come a long way since those days. For one thing, my car is insured. I have no outstanding tickets either. Best of all, I am making a nice chunk of change on this gig.
In other words, it's not a Tribble gig.
I remember always passing through this town. I remember sitting at a cafe writing in my journal about being broke and more than a little nervous about the condition of my car.
I remember walking from a little motel to a Greyhound bus stop with my life savings in the jacket of my coat.
$135.00
Course, after the Bus ticket home and cheap sandwiches, my net worth dropped a bit more. Thats how it was back then. I was eternally broke. New comics ask me advice about the road all the time. The more removed I get from it, the less valuable those experiences seem to me. On the face of it, that statement might sound negative, but when I really look back at those times I can see how badly I treated myself all in the name of getting stage time.
Thats really the only way to say it too. I treated myself badly when I made the choice to accept 5 hour drives and pay that was unbelievably low.
Now days, I sometimes get a raised eye brow when I quote people a price for a show. If it's too high, then fair enough. But trust me, I have earned that price and you will have a great show.

The thing about these gigs that also makes me nervous is the physical set up. Often times they just want you to stand in the corner of a room with no microphone.
Nope.
They had a Mic set up for me with an additional sound system. But when I was introduced, I was standing behind a table podium. Not very stand up.
I walk around to the front.
When I did this, the people who were very stiffly seated at the traditional round banquet tables in front, actually pull back a little. There is now nothing between them and I. A man in a suit and tie is sitting less than 6 inches from me. The thing I find funny and continue to find funny during the show, is how uncomfortable this makes him!
He is a helicopter pilot that use to be in the Navy. Carer military man. When I ask his wife where they had moved from, she names a island of the coast of Washington State.
"Whats the biggest difference living here?" I ask.
With a bit of steel in her eyes she says, "Liberals and Hippies."
That makes me laugh.
I ask the man if this is as close as he has ever been to a guy with long hair.
He stutters a bit and just says yes.
I find this all hilarious! They are genuinely freaked out to be next to a "liberal."

If we were in a comedy club, it would of been a very different show. But, this is a private gig, so I play nice. The show goes well too. There are a few young guys at the table on my left. I don't know exactly what it is they do in the coast Guard, but the one guy is very happy about getting out in two months. He is the designated driver for a few other guys at the table. But I see him sipping from a pint glass of beer. WTF? When I ask him how is it that a designated driver can be drinking, he simply responds, "I am drinking it slow."
Well there you go.
He has already told me that when he gets out he is going to be a Sheriff.
"I can't wait to get pulled over by you for drunk driving. Have you been drinking tonight? Yes. But it's OK. I drank it slow officer."

The show is going into over time. Always a good thing. It means they are a good crowd and I am having fun. Thats when a woman from the back of the room pipes up.
"Is this your only line? The coast guard?"

She had spoke up earlier. We found out she is a dental assistant. At first I think she says Dental Hygienist, but this is taken as some sort of an insult by her. I guess The dentist does the tough stuff, the hygienist cleans teeth and she hands him stuff. So really, shes just a caddy. Besides, in a town where teeth are as rare as conservatives, how hard could her job be?
When she asks that question, is this your only line, I find it so preposterous I almost go into full comedy club mode on her ass.
"Well this is a party for the coast guard. Not dental assistants who can't shut their big mouths!"
There is always someone. Always a drunk person or a moron with a head full of a drink that wants to get into it. I don't mind. But really? Why are all the jokes about coast guard people? You can't figure out a theme going on here darling?

At one point, a drunk guy just walks up to me and puts his hand around me. Its a funny moment and he doesn't mean it in any aggressive way, but thats the thing with these gig. It always feels like it could turn bad in a heart beat. Thats also the exciting part too. I think the crowd gets that. I think they enjoy the verbal tight rope act of a man riffing with a crowd. it's funny and I am good, but just like a tight rope walker, seeing me fall would also be kinda cool to them.

Another guy also surprises me when I turn and he is standing there with a beer in his hand.
"I bet my friend that you are David Spades brother. Are you?" He manges to slur with a beer in his hand.
"Yes. David Spade is my brother. Thats why I am at a Red Lion in the middle of no where."
That gets a big laugh. Thats also when big mouth dental chick shouts out again. I don't know what it is she says, but my response sort of finishes the exchange for the evening.
"That girl has more warning flags than the coast guard."

During the show, I ask people if they were ever in the military. It is only when I ask that of a guy who looks like George Lopez do I get the answer, "You know. I always considered the Coast Guard part of the Military."
He said it with a smile, but what he really said was, fuck you hippie! We are in the military!
I mentioned this. Without the fuck you part of course. I looked back at the uncomfortable helicopter pilot and his wife and thats when it hit me; this is how I would be in church.
I think the crowd liked the show. The dude who booked me tipped me generously. But it was only when I was back in my car did it really occur to me what different worlds were in that room. Stiff backed career military dudes trained for combat, but freaked out by me.
You have to love that. They gave an oath to fight for their country and uphold the Constitution. Well, when I am standing in front of a crowd with a microphone, I am the living breathing beating heart of the first amendment.
Thanks for keeping it safe for me Coast Guard.

5 comments:

Coastie wife said...

Hey Joe, you did a great job! Thanks. I think it was a tough crowd to work. But you were right there with the right come backs. Thanks again for coming to our small part of the world. .

Dean said...

The Coast Guard has always been part of the military, but they used to be organized under the Department of Transportation because of all the customs-related duties. I learned this when I taught a bunch of Coast Guard people PowerPoint.

Member from the "young table on your left" said...

Joe - That was an AMAZING show! As an audience member I am also always nervous when seeing a comedian at a private show. You never know what to expect - but you were hilarious!! I definitely took into account the atmosphere and how you just free-styled the entire routine. You are able to poke fun at anyone, regardless of rank, and it worked great. I am sorry about the dental girl - you handled her perfectly. I know it must have been a tough gig but you were great! Edgy enough to get laughs but never crossing the line.

Stalker said...

Joe,

For the record, I was not freaked out to be sitting so close to you....suits just make me look uncomfortable and freaked out. When you go to work everyday wearing pajamas (flight suit) it makes it tough to show up somewhere in a suit just because the gorgeous girl on my right wanted to "dress up."

Good show Joe, even though I was definitely in the wrong seat.

Happy holidays,

The Freaked Out Guy

Joe said...

I stand corrected. It was the suit and wife that made you nervous. Not me. You wear what when you fly rescue missions?