Friday, June 20, 2008

Nebraska! Part Three. Or; I'm Still Here.

Tonight, the eight winners will compete against each other for the five thousand dollars and the attention of Edie Brill. I am on the fence if I even want to go or not. I know, it seems rather small of me to not show up at the thing, but the idea of watching other comics do their thing from the sidelines is a little depressing. Frankly, if I could, I would be on the next flight home. Today we went to a farm. First it was a two lane modern black top road, then a narrow road and eventually just a dirt path to a clump of trees where a beautiful new house sat under shade. They had prepared a picnic lunch of hot dogs and burgers for us. Again, everyone was so kind and so polite. It was very sweet. It made me think of just how much we have lost living in the city. How much I take for granted and how much I just nod my head at as normal. Such is life. It was on the way to the calf feeding that we passed a barn holding an airplane that I really got an idea of just how lazy I am. You see, the guy who lives here with his family built it in his spare time. He has a wife, kids, runs a small family farm and when he is not busy, he built an airplane. OK. It's a small two seater, but it works! I have trouble building plastic models of planes that work. This guy built a real honest to God flying plane. God I'm lazy!
Sure enough, there were two calves afraid of us at first, but once they got close and we held the bottles out, they came right up to the fence and drank. They were shy, a little skittish, but warm and sweet with large brown eyes and friendly faces. I felt a little queasy knowing I had just finished two burgers and a hot dog. Then it was off for the hay ride!
I gotta tell you. Never in a million years when the Booker for the David Letterman show called, did I foresee being driven around on a flat bed trailer sitting on bales of hay listening to an explanation on water pivots. Pivots are the large metal things on wheels you see out in the fields. They turn slowly giving every part of the field just enough water. The real surprise came when I said, "Show us the marijuana!" The farmer turned around, bent down into a small patch of weeds and pulled up the unmistakable leaf that anyone can identify. It surprised a lot of us. It's not the pot you would smoke though. It's the male plant so it's lacking in any THC. It's just wild hemp. It just grows because it can out here. Makes you wonder why we don't grow it on a large scale for rope and clothing if it's so easy. Oh yeah, were America and crazy about drugs. They have no redeeming benefits. Right?
So there we were, sitting on bales of hay being driven across a cow pasture under a post card perfect Midwestern sky of bright blue and clouds that float like towers made of cotton. It's beautiful, but what the fuck does any of this have to do about comedy? Surreal is the only word to describe the feeling most of us were having. I am in the middle of a cow pasture in the middle of Nebraska and I am here to further my career in stand-up comedy? Yup. That about sums it up.
I do understand that this is a big deal for the town. The front page has been about us all week. The local radio is about us. They want to meet us and talk to us and feel like they have touched something outside their own small life. I don't say that with any big city sarcasm either. Their life might be small in scale to what I am use to, but it's quiet, clean and apparently you can build a plane in your spare time. It's sweet. Every where we go we are treated like visiting royalty. People wave at one an other and ask if we are one of the comedians. They want us to be what they think of when they sit down after a long day and turn on TV. The truth is, we are both a little surprised by each other I think. Small town America is not populated by toothless hicks and dumb hillbilly's. The people are well mannered, intelligent and more willing to help you than anyone I know in San Francisco. I feel guilty about the joke I do about there being nothing between California and New York. On the flip side of the coin, we are not all dressed in suits and quick witted with a willingness to listen and be a part of new things. For the most part, a comic is a solitary creature that wants as little contact with the audience as possible. Seriously. I know that might sound ridiculous if you are a crowd member or towns folk, but the truth is, we are odd people who are trying to make a living with an extremely narrow range of abilities. We want to be able to observe and then go report it on stage. At least I do. I don't want to be the center of attention all the time. So the hay rides and cook offs and trips to fossil beds, yeah, they are all great and I am glad that my sense of guilt propelled me to go on them, but sitting there today under a spectacular blue sky with hay getting in my pants making my ass itch, all makes the frustration incredibly surreal. I am holding a giant baby bottle as a calf drinks from it. Is this getting me on Letterman? A man explains to me the unique geo-chemistry that had to occur for these rhino's to be fossilized so perfectly. Do I put this on my bio when I try to get a manager? A waitress patiently describes exactly what Dorothy Lynch dressing is best on. This will get me on a season of Last Comic Standing? No. None of those things will. But I know that life experience does. Thats where all the best comedy comes from. I know this. I truly do. I am grateful for the adventure this has been but speaking for all of us that didn't hear our name called at the end of those shows, it's hard to get into the spirit of learning about small town life when you can stop thinking that I lost again and now I have to milk a cow.
You know Obama is saying to himself, "Don't look at the bulge on the side of his head. don't look at the bulge on the side of his head."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nebraska! Part Two.

Competitions. Every comic hates them. Every comic does them. I am not moving on to the next round. It is the way to be seen and to meet other comics doing this crazy thing. I am not depressed that I didn't move on. Let down, sure. But it is what it is. I watched some really good people do amazing and also not get picked. I also watched some really good people in front of a crowd we would never ordinarily be in front of do great. All in all, everyone actually deserved to be there.
Here is what I am taking away from this. I don't really have an act. I riff great and I have some interesting stuff. But in all honesty, I don't really have a piece of material that says, this is me and this is what I am about. What I do have is also not "clean." At least not TV clean. What I talk about and how I talk about it is not TV comedy. That's not a bad thing, it just means I am not a TV friendly Dude in a business where you have to be on TV or parish. Wait. That is a bad thing then.
I have uploaded some stuff to the Internet and in time I will get more up there. Mostly, I am bummed that I am not taking home any money from this week. But I would like an act. I would like a definitive chunk of stuff about me that I could do on TV. In the mean time, I am going to keep uploading stuff to the Internet and start learning how to place it every where and any where in the hopes of building a crowd.
TV is undeniably powerful. I still get about two e-mails a day from people who just watched me on that episode of Last Comic Standing. Amazing! Less than six minuets of network TV generated so much attention. It's why we all go to these things. It's why we put ourselves through it. Every comic just wants the chance to stand in front of "His" crowd.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


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?
Norfolk, Nebraska.
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?"
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.