I'm talking the lifestyle of it now. The sweating out the 2 days the Booker says it will take for the check to reach you. The loan here the bet there, maybe an odd job every once in a while-you get by. You do all that for stage time. You learn to go with out but brag about how much time you have. Then, a phone call.
Am I free tomorrow?
I'm opening for who? Where?
It's the sweetest thing, that call. Unexpected work at just the right time. It's a nice high to ride for a while. It gets people off your back too. Know what I mean?
The money's good. The place is the State street theater in Modesto,CA.
Oh Modesto. I have made so much fun of you!
Drew Hastings is the headliner. Big on the Bob and Tom circuit.
His manager calls. Politely and professionally he stresses the word clean several times.
I get it.
Twenty minuets. It's a God damn bank job. Easy in, do the job, get the cash and roll.
It's sweet. That comedy life style high. I once rode it. The closest I have ever come to anything like spiritual, was during that time. It also hit a considerable bottom and a nice bounce at the end. All in all, it's a roller coaster your gonna ride. You have to. On stage, people laughing at what their suppose to, when there suppose to. It's spectacular! Of course you want to get on that ride. You couldn't talk anyone out of it.
But there are times when you sweat it out. The money is short and the days are long. It's easy in summer, you can hang out at cafes all day and night. Winter, you feel homeless. To kill time you ride Muni buses grateful for the ones with heat.
Then, just when you need it, that sweet call comes. Whatever it is they want, I'll do. It's not selling out. It's paying rent.
Thats cool. Handing over a check paid for entirely on telling jokes. It feels a little like stealing but mostly it feels great!
Then it's lean again. Guest sets, Sundays at the Punchline, various one nighters, but always right there on the edge of making it.
Up and down up and down. Lots of lonely walking in Golden Gate park and hanging with friends at cafes. We were all riding that same ride. Not necessarily together, but we were definitely on it at the same time.
Days would go by with nothing but conversation in front of the Blue Danube Cafe at 4th and Clement. Everyone of us broke but cocky. Some of them smoked, others drank, most got high, all of us had visible issues. Yet, it was comfortable somehow. It was being part of something. A part of something that understood and talked the jargon.
Most importantly we believed in the same myths. Like a little tribe.
We would fall in and out with each other over small personal loans and our opinions of each others acts. When we weren't falling in and out with each other over petty insults, we got crushes over the counter girls at the Danube.
Those were the days. Living on comedy and feeling like a God for it. All of us were in poverty, reclusive and competitive. We lived for the high of the new joke and those sweet calls that kept our whole crazy life going. If it wasn't for the one dollar pork buns you could get up the street, I'm not sure how I would of made it.
Sure, this is all looking at it with the romance of nostalgia. It's a powerful thing. It's not like the scars ever fade, you just stop noticing them. Then it's easy to coat it in a layer of blurry warmth. Those days of living purely on comedy weren't awful, but they also weren't that great either. It felt like more was possible though. Of course, even a tiny sum of money from a gig felt like winning the lottery back then. Maybe thats all it was? From where we were, up was the only option. Up is still the direction I want to go in, but it's no longer the only direction available to any of us.
I miss those days. I truly do. The myth we all bought into then was that of being discovered. All your troubles were solved if you were discovered. We got over that too.
Tonight, I am in Modesto,CA at the State Street Theater opening for Drew Hastings. The call came yesterday as I was sitting at my desk looking at my mostly blank calendar for spring. It brought me back. It brought me back to those days when I didn't expect such calls. There was a stretch there for awhile, when the sweet call that meant I could survive for another month would come with startling regularity. To me, it felt as if the Universe was unfolding with me in mind. It really did. Instead of anxiety when I was down to that last Twenty dollar bill in my beat up wallet, I relaxed and trusted that I would be taken care of. I always was.
I think it was when I began to question when that call would come or not that I slipped from the palm of the universe to just another guy feeling entitled to something he didn't really understand.
Never underestimate the power of being grateful.
Thats when it dried up on me. When I stopped being thankful for those calls and started wondering when they would come.
The truth is, I would never go back to those days. They were way to hard. I think thats why we banded together in our little groups. All we would do was drink coffee and silently hope we would get a call for work before the other guys. There was also genuine warmth for each other too.
The road, the romantic notion that you can drive around the great expanse that is America and make money telling jokes to strangers, is gone. Oh sure, it can still be done, but the pay has remained what it was when I started. No cost of living raises for comics living out of their cars.
It can still be done, but it's so fucking hard when people don't know your name.
These days, I am grateful not just for those times, but for living threw them too. What made it all worth it was the precious stage time we all craved.
This show, tonight in Modesto, it's for who I was. The struggling comic getting by on equal parts denial and faith. Thats right. I just dedicated a show to myself. Myself from those days. I would of walked into this gig with wider eyes back then. I suppose, out of everything I recall, thats what I miss the most; walking into every gig with wide grateful eyes.