Early this year I did a set at the Punchline in San Francisco, for a Comedy festival produced by the Booker for the David Letterman show. Frankly, it wasn't that good of a set. I did alright, but like a hundred other sets where you go up, do your thing and then head home afterwards, I forgot about it. A few months after that I got a call from the Booker of the Letterman show. He wanted me for the festival. You don't say no to that. Soon afterwards, the itinerary showed up in the mail. The first thing that caught my eye was this. You will be landing at the airfield. Field. Not port, as in airport, but airfield, as in tiny little place with no large airport. After we land, we then board a bus for the two hour ride to where the festival is being held. Yup. First we land at an airfield and then ride a bus another two hours. Where are we going?
I will wait while you Google it. It is pretty much in the middle of America. And when I say middle America, I mean middle America. It's not that the people are bad or dumb or mean, it's that their Republican. So why on Earth would the Talent Booker for the David Letterman show hold a stand-up comedy festival here? It is Johnny Carson's home town. Thats why.
It is also the birthplace of such other all American things as, Hallmark Cards, Cool-aid and something that is like French dressing but is called Dorothy Lynch. In fact, you can walk into a restaurant here and say, I would like a Turkey Sandwich with Dorothy Lynch and that doesn't mean a woman will sit down along side you. It means you get something like french dressing but is not. It is Dorothy Lynch.
I make fun of places like this a lot. A lot. But I have to tell you, not only have people been excited to see us, but they have been overwhelming friendly. Sometimes to the point where you realize just how jaded you have become. For instance. Most of the comics came in to the airfield over a three hour window. We sat around in the place while a film crew interviewed us. People walking by saw the camera and asked what was up. When one kindly lady found out we were all comics, she smiled with genuine excitement and ask us this.
"Do you know Joy?"
Now she meant Joy from the view. The comedy world is small, but she is in a different circle than most of us. At first, I thought it was a deep and philosophical question. What could I say? Not since I was about six?
One of the other comics said, No. We do not know her. She sweetly replied, "Oh." A little let down, but still impressed that we were here and a camera was covering us. Then she asked, "Have you met anyone famous?"
Jessie Joyce replied, "Elijah Wood."
Whose she! While the rest of us tried not to laugh, Jessie simply said, "It's a dude."
And so it went.
We were in the land of nice people and conversation with strangers. Not something any of us are use to at all. It's a small town. When people are recognized here, it means their neighbor is saying hello. When I am recognized here, it means I have been caught by the authorities.
Then came the bus ride. Two hours with 24 comics rolling past nothing but flat farm land and a best of Johnny Carson DVD playing. Dear God! It was at this point that I think most of us began to wonder exactly what the hell are we in for? When we did get to the hotel, our "Host" families were waiting for us. Yup. Like foreign exchange students, we were assigned host families to take us around and show us the sights. The sights, by the way, can been seen rather quickly. Again, not knocking it, but as we were taken around town I just began to wonder what the hell was I going to talk about? We kept passing churches, playgrounds and churches. On the bus, we were told by the tour director who said she is a moderate, that it is a very conservative crowd and we needed to be family friendly in content. Why am I here again?
Today, we were given a tour of the Johnny Carson Museum. I am hesitant to make fun of it in any way because the woman who talked as if she had a large vitamin C in her mouth during the tour, obviously loves the museum and her job there very much. They had 8 Emmy's behind glass. Tons of footage and memorabilia too. The weirdest thing, and by most comics agreement it was pretty weird, was the life size wax figure of Johnny standing behind a camera on a Tonight show set. He was leaning back at such an unnatural angle that it counter balanced the life like appearance. Most people don't bend at such a sharp angel. But again, everyone was incredibly kind and put up with our comments and school boy back of the room cracks with smiles and Midwestern politeness.
Then it was off to the show. It was about 30 minuets after getting there that I was told I was on tomorrow, not tonight like I thought. Yup. For all my making fun of everything and everyone, I was the retard.
I have been reading the in room brochure on things to do and see in a desperate effort to write an act that won't get me killed in this town. An 18 year old girl who is working at the festival (yes she is attractive. No I have not done anything improper) told me she does not have a Myspace page. An 18 year old girl doesn't have a Myspace page! I am not sure if that proves there is hope for America, or if I am not in America.
By far the most curious event is the Greased pig scramble. No, that is not a breakfast at Denny's. And yes, I would use that joke if they had a Denny's in town. You see what I am up against? How can I not mention the Greased pig scramble though? Oh, by the way, it is sorta what it sounds like. First, they grease a pig up real good. I think that's how you would start to explain just about anything that involves farm animals and grease as a sport. With the phrase, real good. Then, you let it run in a field of mud and grown men attempt to hold onto it as it runs. Strangely enough we have something very similar in San Francisco at the Gay Pride Parade. The Greased pig is named Ernie. He really likes to be greased up and surrounded by men too. He is also a moderate. That means he has only one nipple pierced.
Tomorrow's pre show events include another trip on the bus. Where are we going? To a place called ashfalls. It is one of the largest places of it's kind. What do they do there you ask? Fossils. The dig up fossils. Mostly extinct North American rhino, I am told. Dear God I want to make a John McCain joke out of this, but I also want to live.
A comic tonight when on with crutches. We all jokes that it was unfair. One, because it is technically called stand-up and with out those he can't stand up. And two, maybe it earns him sympathy points. When I said I was going to go up with a cast on one arm tomorrow night, another guy back stage asked where I would get the cast. "I would walk into a bar and shout, Obama is going to be our next President!"
That, he said, might get me a full body cast.
This whole thing is odd and fun, surreal and weirdly enjoyable. If I don't place in the top two tomorrow night, that's it. The festival is over for me. There are some free shows we can do, but if I don't move on then I loose a shot at the five grand in first place cash, second grand for second and one grand for third place. Course, once you know about the Greased Pig Scramble, your really not here for the money are you? Still, it would be nice to come home with some cash and hopefully, a step closer to being on Letterman.
Competitions makes everyone nervous. I keep looking at my act questioning it but I know that in the end I will most likely Riff my way through it and do OK. But man, I would like to do five grand worth of OK.