Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stockton, CA

Ever been to Stockton? It is one of those small cities that have seen better days in the Central Valley. I am sure that San Francisco is used as a punch line for many a gay joke told in bars around Stockton. It is only fair to report that Stockton, like Modesto is a punch line for ignorance out here. That’s the beautiful thing with comedy sometimes. You go out to a location with one idea in your head and come back with another.
I was hired to be the comic at a fundraiser for a woman running to be a city council person. I am not the first comic I would of thought of to do this gig but the Booker told me I was the first comic he thought of who could handle the gig. That’s a flattering thing to hear. Well, the money was OK too and I am always up for a challenge.

Ever try to get to Stockton? There are two main routes and I apparently took the more scenic one. Each road I drove on lead to a road narrower than the last. Eventually I was out in the delta twisting across two lane highways that connected islands. I even crossed a drawbridge. I didn’t know we had those anymore.
I found the place, walked in and immediately felt out of place. I had on a blazer, but I went with the 80’s comic style of a T-shirt underneath. Mistake! The crowd was white, rich and old. You know, pretty much the exact opposite of what I would call my crowd. I have done gigs like this before and they go great. I can play on being the outsider and them being rich. Not this time. The thing about a private gig/ fundraiser for conservatives is that laughter is a sign of weakness. That and there are not a lot of rich, old white dudes who are known for having a great sense of humor. Think John McCain and you will have a pretty good idea of who these people are.

My opening act, for lack of a better description, was the Sheriff. My front row was comprised of the Booker, the Sheriff, the candidate and her husband. I now know what the Berlin wall must of felt like when East Germans looked at it. I started well. One joke fell flat. Into the void the candidate who hired me said, “not funny.”
Sweet, ha?
What can you do? I still have 20 minuets, haven’t got the check yet and I will be damned if some politician in Stockton is going to win a battle of wits with me. But, it is a private gig. It’s there house and their rules and blah blah blah.
Ever try to work the room when half the room has hearing aides? It’s not so easy. The sheriff’s name is Sheriff Moor. Now come on? With a name that sounds like gay porn you don’t expect a comic to not say something? Actually, I was under contract not to say anything. I got the whole speech before the show from her supporters about how open they are and how they believe in freedom. Thats great. I wanted to tell them, really? I got handed a list of subjects not to bring up. Politics was the first thing on the list. Followed by religion, sex, drugs and abortion. What comic would show up with 5 minuets on abortion for a private fundraiser in Stockton? I don’t know, but I am writing some stuff for next year now.

Any landing you can walk away from is a good one. Right?
I left the gig without getting the check. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t great either. I knew I would see the Booker when I returned to work his regular room that weekend.
Saturday night comes around and as I wait for the show to start who do I see walking into the show room? The Sheriff, his wife, the candidate and her husband.
About 10 minuets into my act, I turned to look at the table. They were up front of course. They all turned out to be good sports. I broke down how impossible the other gig was and thank God they could see me in my natural habitat.
After the show, I talked to them again. Like a lot of people, it is hard for them to separate their public face from their inner desires. A fundraiser is no place for jokes because someone is going to be offended. Hell, it happens in a regular show too. But once they were free of holding themselves up in a respectable way, they just laughed at all the stuff anyone would laugh at. I also learned that I did much better than I thought I had at the first gig. I must have. Other wise why would these people come back? A few other people were in the second show from the fundraiser too. They also enjoyed both shows and were curious to see me with no restraints. The lesson? Don’t beat myself up so much and have fun. After all, I am a comic.

Then came Monday.
Getting on local radio has become almost impossible for a local comic. They want the big name. I managed to get myself on Live 105 because they had talked about my performance on Last Comic Standing. I sent the producer an e-mail and they agreed to have me on. It didn’t hurt that I could plug a comedy show sponsored by the Onion at the Punch Line. I got down to the station early in the morning, excited, yawning and over caffeinated. Like Stern, you get introduced as you walk in and sit down. Soon as I took a chair they went off on Cobb’s. The PR staff and these guys had been in some war for a while now. I got a front row seat for it. It was awkward. I love Cobb’s. I have nothing to do with any of the PR stuff. I am just a local comic looking for some airtime. That’s all. So I sat there hoping this wouldn’t be my entire segment. After a few minuets, they dropped it and I started getting some solid laughs. They kept me on for half an hour. I think that means it went well. Eagerly I checked my web page to see how many hits I got. The sad thing is, I got hits, but only about 400. I just don’t know. I don’t know what you have to do to get people to check you out and come to a show. There are so many gifted local comics that are screaming in the dark. People go to a big name show and leave disappointed while quality locals play in front of crowds of 30.
Well, at least I know I am big in Stockton.

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