Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Seth Meyers Gig

I live at the edge of America. Directly on the beach, at the end of the Avenues, in the Sunset district of San Francisco. Whatever bit of sunlight the day has, it lands on the balcony window overlooking the sea. I've lived here for two weeks now. I am now as far from my mid-western roots as I can possibly be. Literally. Dark angular shapes- cargo ships- make for the horizon, or set course for the Golden Gate. It's beautiful. Living with a view of the ocean is like having a painting that changes by the hour. In the evening, people will gather at the walls built to hold back drifting sand, and stare out at the sinking sun. They come because they believe there is a green flash right before the sun disappears from view. Others stand alone in front of the waves just looking outward. I imagine some of them are saying private prayers locked in their own sense of deep grief, or solemn wishful thinking. There are also the lovers, holding onto each other, smiling, and bracing against the wind. They look at each other more than at the ocean. Every night, a new collection of people brave the cold to bear witness to the day’s final moments. I'm sure it has different meanings for all who attend.
Yesterday, I watched the sun slowly fall toward a bank of clouds that looked like a throne. As soon as the orange and gold globe hit the clouds, the cotton edges glowed like the tips of ashes in a fireplace. The more the clouds swallowed the sun the more its rays shot out and lit up the distant darker clouds. Crimson, rust, pinks and even a slight green could be seen before the final molten glass piece of the sun disappeared.
I watched as my headphones pumped in the opening to the Pink Floyd Album, “Wish You Were Here”. I can’t think of a better way to end a day by yourself.

The life of a comic. It's always the same. Sort of. Just after 6PM on a Tuesday I get a phone message from the Booker of Cobb's Comedy Club. They are looking for an opener for Seth Meyers this weekend. Am I around and do I have a clean smart clip I can send him to forward to Seth's people? That's the kind of phone message that makes you pull over. I call the Booker back and say “Yes, and yes!” As luck would have it, I've been working with the producers of Craig Ferguson to get on so I have a few clips posted on YouTube that I can forward. There is a lesson here for any young comic. Have a clean, TV-ready set somewhere on line, that you can send to a booker. Not just the local open Mic or another comic, I mean the bookers you want to be working for. That set is worth gold. After I send it, I’m told they’ll watch it. All I can do now is wait, and brag to a few friends about what I might be doing this weekend. The gig isn't at Cobb's. Friday night, it’s at a theater in Napa, CA; Saturday night takes place at the Montbleu Casino in Tahoe, NV. The money is great, the crowd will be hot, and I get a hotel in Tahoe. All in all, it’s pretty awesome.
Wednesday comes around and Tom, The Booker at Cobb's calls. "You got it." Beautiful. That Friday I get a phone call from Seth's manager. He explains that Seth likes to be left alone before a show to prepare, and that he’s a mellow, easygoing guy. If Seth talks to me after the show, then it's cool for me to respond but for the most part he likes his privacy. I tell him I totally understand, and will give him his space. I can only hope to reach a point in my career where someone else calls up the opener to make a passive-aggressive suggestion to leave me alone. I have no idea if Seth Meyers asked his manager to specifically make this call. Most big league managers are over-protective of their clients. But, whatever. As long as I get a crack at his crowd, and the check clears, who cares what he’s like?

I arrive at the theater in Napa three hours early for sound check. The Uptown is a gorgeous palace. It was reopened after remodeling just a year ago. I walk in, taking it all in. Just under 1,000 seats, with art deco paintings on the ceilings, it’s the kind of place every comic imagines playing when they start. There isn't a bad seat in the house. Tonight it’ll be sold out. I have twenty minutes up front, and the excitement is starting to build. I meet the sound guys and they ask if I’m ready for the sound check. Sure. To me a sound check is basically turning the mic on, making sure it stays on, and then waiting to use it. These guys are professionals that leave nothing to chance. They show me a back up wireless mic, and another corded mic, at the base of the monitor directly in front of me. The main mic stand sits by a stool, on top of a well-worn, handsome area rug. It looks like the back of an album cover from the 70's. It's perfect. They turn the mic on and I start speaking. They ask me, is that enough monitor? How is the echo? Do I like the mix? Ah, yeah. That’s good monitor for me. That’s good echo, does it sound good to you guys? I’m bullshitting my way through the sound check. I don't have a clue what they mean by these things. I’m used to small rooms and faulty equipment – usually, the guy running it answers any question about quality by shrugging his shoulders. It suddenly dawns on me that here I am, again, in a big-time situation; and as much as I know I deserve it, I’m a little lost. Still, the sound guys aren’t only pros, they are cool. In fact, everyone I met that night at the Uptown was incredibly accommodating. Killing time in my dressing room, anyone who came by would stop for a second to ask if I needed anything. The fridge was stocked with a sampling of almost every beverage I could think of. They had chocolate and cheez-its, coffee, tea and WiFi. If there was something else I needed, I wasn't aware of it. I kept looking in the mirror, feeling like a girl, thinking, 
“I’m fat - and I hope Seth likes me.” That’s the thing about opening for big names, the fantasy is always that they’ll take a liking to you and ask if you want to hit the road with them. After all, Seth Meyers, hot off the White House Correspondents’ Dinner where he killed Trump, is the head writer for Saturday Night Live. Things lead to things, and as I pace in the small dressing room just off-stage, I keep trying to reign in my expectations. When Seth does show up, I’m afraid to make eye contact. Not out of shyness, I'm just not sure if his manager said it was OK. Seth smiles warmly, extends his hand, and I tell him how thrilled I am to be opening for him. He thanks me for doing it and says his manager has sung my praises. And then, he's gone. He goes to his dressing room to wait till the show that’s still two hours away. His dressing room is directly above mine. I can hear him moving around up there. I wonder what he’s doing/how he’s preparing? At one point he comes downstairs, knocks on my open door and says "Hey, I taped a set list to the floor - I hope that doesn't bug you or anything?"
I smile and just say, "I might start doing some of the jokes by accident."
He laughs a little, saying "You could probably improve them."
It feels like flirting. I mean, it is flirting. Not in a sexual way, more of a, “I have a career crush on you”, sort of way. I watched the Correspondent’s Dinner monologue, and kept thinking, “I’ld like to do that. Man, that guy’s good.” Now, here he is, dressed in a simple hoodie and jeans, being self-deprecating.
He returns to his dressing room, where I can hear him continuing to pace, too. I trade text messages, post excited announcements on Facebook, and look in the mirror for the hundredth time. As showtime draws closer, the place starts to hum with energy. I peek out from the wings and people are filling up the front section. There are still plenty of open seats, but I know we’re sold out. The energy is pulsating, and finally I commit to putting on what I’ll wear, and stand in the wings, waiting. There’s a host to intro me, a sound guy controlling everything, and me. It’s dark backstage, except for a few blinking lights and the buzz of equipment. Finally, the host walks out and, after a moment of welcoming them, introduces me. I walk out onto the large stage, bathed in a follow spot. I stand in front of the mic and begin. A few minutes in, I see the one main theatre door directly in the center of the theatre opening and closing with silhouettes of people coming in. That’s the shitty thing about being the opener - you're killing time for the people to get seated. Still, about ten minutes in, everyone is mostly in their chairs and I-am-killing. God it feels good! Since the room is so large, you have to wait for the laughs from the rear of the place to catch up with the laughs right at your feet. The result is a wave of laughter that rolls over you. You have to take an extra beat before starting the next line. I also understand the importance of the monitor now. Without it, timing that roll of laughter would be harder. Oh, and the echo is just fine.
And just when I get them where I want them, I have to let them go. Warmed up and ready, my job as loosening the peanut butter jar lid is complete.
When Seth steps out there, they love him instantly. I look forward to that day when a majority of the crowd knows who I am and knows I’ll make them laugh. Till then, it’s one crowd at a time, and tonight, I’m reminded, that’s OK.
Saturday’s show is even better! Another beautiful stage and a sold out crowd. I don't get a green room, I get a condo! It has a bar, giant-screen TV, the longest couch I've ever seen, a bathroom/dressing room and a coffee table that I’m betting has never seen coffee, but probably a whole lot of "sugar." There’s even a guy whose job it is to make sure the talent is happy. All in all, it’s a great time. At the end I thank Seth, and ask him to remember me if he should need an opener again.

Life is about balance if it’s about anything. The Seth Meyers gig came along, and a week later my car got booted. It’s OK, because I had more than enough cash to pay off the tickets. Another gig in Sacramento canceled on me the day before, but then a gig I had done at Stanford paid me almost twice what they originally said they would, pay due to a delay of payment. All in all, things tend to work out (when I’m not obsessed with things working out exactly the way I want them to).


Flamedrinker said...

I cant wait to see you on Ferguson.

Dean said...

Ahh... ocean waves from the apartment balcony and laughter waves from an appreciative audience. Life is good in this blog post, JK.