Santa Cruz, you can suck my balls!
The one nighter show is by definition the least organized, worse paid and most drunk audiences you will perform for. This is not a hard and fast rule, but one nighters only stand out when they are great or even worse than you thought they would be. The Crows Nest was awful almost beyond comprehension last night. Just getting there was enough to make me question why I found it necessary to drive over a mountain highway with more twists and turns on it than an episode of Lost, complete with smoke so thick you could taste it in your mouth. Perfect. Normally highway 17 is dangerous at best. Four lanes divided by a concrete curtain not high enough to block the on coming drivers brights, but solid enough to insure instant death if you plowed into it. Last night, it was cut down to an even more narrow two lane road divided by nothing but orange cones. Excellent! As we shot the asphalt rapids of death with nothing between us and the passing drivers but clown hats for protection, smoke drifted across the highway reducing our vision to that of a Bush official with cataracts, I started doubting if this was a good idea. Santa Cruz needed jokes though and I was trucking them in over the pass!
It has been years since I worked this room. Now I remember why. When I got there a little before show time, I could see the bar was packed with woman I would like to fuck and guys who like to date rape. Not the sort of people I can hold a conversation with one on one let alone perform for. The noise of the bar and the look of the crowd made me wonder if they would quite down. Apparently management shared some of these concerns. On a landing going up the stairs someone had taken the time to write on a white board, you must be quite during the comedy show. You will be asked to be quite once. The next time you will be asked to leave. Siting in a chair at the top of the stairs, I noticed that no one looked at it. Everyone pays a seven dollar cover charge to enter yet no one seems to be there for the show.
I know the opener from around the Bay Area. A nice enough guy with a guitar and a suitcase full of CD's for sale, he has become a road dog. Whatever else you might think about a guitar act, a crowd will usually shut up for one. In fact, you never want to be the guy to follow one. Well, for the first time that I can remember, this guitar act bombed. I don't mean didn't do well, I mean crater in the Earth bombed. Not his fault though. The manger of the room informed us that he was short a guy and could not do introductions on the off stage Mic since it meant he had to be the one to go around the room and turn off the lights before show. I guess the large guys in SECURITY shirts couldn't help out in any other way. So, this poor guy, guitar in hand walks on stage and without getting the crowd excited or having them applaud for the show they are about to see, launches into some stuff that is the result of working one nighter gigs too much. However, the crowd didn't even register that a show of any type had begun. The noise level in conversation did not dip bellow that of a freight train once. For fifteen minuets though, he held his ground belting out songs about not getting any and attempting to lead those in the crowd who were paying attention in a sing along where the chours was simply 'asshole!'
Then, it was onto the next guy. The next guy is not bad, but he was one of those, I am going to tell my jokes and you are going to listen and if by chance you happen to be a shitty, drunk, dumb crowd, there is very little abilities I have to make you listen, acts. About ten minuets into his act, a comic I see every once in a while shows up and asks for a guest set. You know, I don't want to be a dick, but there is a certain way things are done and there are times when a guest set is simply out of the question. First of all, you show up before the show starts to ask for one. Not ten minuets into the middle acts. Second of all, a guest set never goes up before the headliner. Last but not least, are you paying attention to how shitty this crowd is!? Why would I want to throw one more unprepared novice to these wolves? It only eats away at their booze soaked ADD minds and delays my set, my drive and my distance from this nightmare by another seven minuets. Sorry, but no quest set. Now I have the added delight of getting the silent treatment from him each time he walks by me. Too bad I didn't tell the whole crowd no quest set. That seemed to be the only thing I said all night that got anyone to stop talking.
Then it's my turn. It's a little before ten and I have to put in forty five minuets. No matter that the last guy went short either. I am not going long tonight.
This is how it goes. I tell a joke and a few people up front laugh. I tell another joke and a few more people laugh in the crowd. Eventually I have enough of them listening that I feel like this can be done. But it is just in that moment of relief that the noise from the back of the room jumps up to that of a jet engine. Off to the side of me, a whole section of the room just sits in silence looking at me like I should do something about this. The front row is composed of a woman who is texting, a young gang all wearing white t-shirts and matching sideways ball caps and a girl who is clutching herself with the sort of fear you might see in a bank customer who walked in just in time to be taken hostage during a robbery. Thats my crowd, an entire section in back by the bar that paid seven bucks to attempt to talk over the guy with the microphone, gang members, the meek and what I can only assume after some decent jokes that get nothing, the dumb. Do I sound harsh? Good. It was only when I started going after them that they listened and laughed. All the girls were hot, so I can only assume they were use to abusive relationships. "He is yelling at us and saying how bad we are. I think I love him!"And so it went for the next forty minuets. I tried jokes that every crowd before them has always laughed at and was rewarded with the placid cow eyes of non comprehension. When I fucked with them, I got laughs and shouted threats. In fact, the most intelligible heckle was, "get a hair cut!' Get a hair cut? Perhaps you noticed we are in Santa Cruz, it's 2008 and unless you are a time traveler from a show in the 60's, yelling out to a comic that they should, get a hair cut, is about the lamest heckle I have ever heard. Did I mention the guy at another table who looked like a shaved head steroid monkey wearing a shirt that I can only imagine summed up his philosophy; tap out! Ah Santa Cruz. In three weeks a check will show up and I will look at it and think for the hundredth time, this is not worth it.