New years is always a big deal kind of night no matter what. The crowd has an energy unique to the event and the pay is better than usual if you’re a comic. To be honest, I've always considered it a huge mind fuck. You have no choice but to reflect on your year and what you want for the new one. Granted, I am coming at it from a cynical point of view at the moment. A few days before New Years I was suppose to open for a band in Modesto, CA. It didn't happen. A few days before that gig the booker sent me an email saying they would prefer no opener. Actually, he forwarded me an email from the bands management saying they didn't approve of an opener nor did they want one. The whole thing left me feeling a little screwed. What made it all the more frustrating was that for once I asked for more money and got it. I got an extra hundred bucks but not before the booker made sure to tell me the theatre didn’t think my clips on line were any good anyway. Thanks for that added bit of passive aggressiveness. In the end, it didn’t matter anyway because as the forwarded email explained, they didn’t want an opener.
Then there is my love life. Single, 43 and enough existential baggage packed by the skeletons in my ever enlarging closets that any women I am slightly interested in better have the emotional equivalent of a very large luggage rack. When midnight hits, the crowd transforms into a sea of couples. It is a very unusual sensation to be standing in front of a crowd of people all focused on you and feel utterly alone. No matter how much I tell myself that this holiday is over hyped with all the expectations to have a great time next to someone you love, I can’t help feeling like those aren’t such terrible things to wish for on yet another New Years. Anyway, thats whats going through my mind as I show up at the theatre in The Marin Center across the Golden Gate Bridge. When I step on stage, all that disappears. I am in my element doing the thing I am best at.
As New Years shows go, this one is pretty cool. I have the cake slot. I am up after the opener. He kills, I kill and then its a half hour intermission before another comic and the headliner go up. In theory, that should take us right up to 11:55 when we all go back out on stage and do the count down thing. That isn’t exactly what ended up happening.
Its never fair to judge a stand-up comic by one show. Anyone can have an off night or a show go sideways on them. It happens. Its part of what makes stand-up dynamic. You are only as good as your last joke. No matter how much the crowd is with you they can always stop following you. There is something exciting about that. As a comic, the art is balancing what you want to talk about with the audiences expectations. Since all audiences are different, no show will be exactly like the last one. Where one crowd is excited by something another is repulsed. Some comics love to push a crowd past their comfort zone. Some comics are safe. Most of us are a mix in unequal parts of what we want to express with what we know will work. Reading a crowd isn’t about selling out your voice, its being respectful of an audience. Looking at them they don’t appear to be a crowd that wants dick jokes or to hear the word fuck, a lot. This doesn’t deter the headliner. I’m in the green room with the other comics when we start to notice how quiet its become. There should be the usual laughs coming from the crowd. Thats when the organizer of the event walks in and raises his hand. “He just took this show from here to here with a cock circle bit.” He says, lowering his hand.
“Cock circle?” I ask.
As he starts to explain, we can hear someone from the audience yell out, “Move on!”
I start to walk to the wings in morbid curiosity.
Perhaps its the same person but when I get there I can clearly hear a male voice shout out, “Enough Vagina jokes!”
The headliner, is now dealing with something of a mutiny. He’s asking the audience if he is right or this guy is right? I look at my phone and can see we are less than fifteen minutes away from Midnight. The organizer walks past us and says, “He’s losing them.”
People are starting to leave, too. Like, a lot of people. The headliner smirks and says, “Any man who says, no more vagina jokes should turn in his dick at the door.” The crowd laughs in an awkward way. More people in the crowd yell out more feedback. The comic isn’t backing down. In fact, he starts doing something you might of seen happen before- he starts punishing them. They don’t want dirty jokes so now he starts giving them his roughest stuff. Peaking through the stage door I can see people streaming out. Its five minutes before Midnight. The scene inside the theatre is tense. The organizer walks up to the host and just says, “Get out there!” He wants us all out there, too. Now, the four of us are standing there on stage with one microphone. At least its not in the hands of the headliner who stands there holding onto the Mic stand and looking down. We have five minutes to cover. The opener tells a joke. The organizer hands me another Mic and I say, “Welcome to the most awkward New Years count down ever.” The crowd laughs. Great, we covered another fifteen seconds. Then I hear the headliners voice again. “In my defense...” I’m not sure what else he said. I looked at the comic standing next to me who is showing me that we are almost at midnight on his phone. The headliner starts telling a joke that starts with asking the crowd who has step kids. I’m already shaking my head as he starts in about how evil they are. Oh God. Is this really happening? The joke continues with something about him confronting his step kid by shouting his job is to fuck his mother. You can imagine how well that goes over. Then, the comic next to me says, “It’s Midnight.” He doesn't have a mic so I yell it again, “It’s Midnight!” The host starts to loudly count down “10! 9! 8!...” When we hit midnight and everyone applauds, we can’t get off that stage fast enough. Wow! What a phenomenally strange and uncomfortable way to ring in the new year.
After the crowd has left I head back stage to grab my coat. The headliner is sitting on the table looking dejected. There isn’t anything to say. He looks up and simple says “I just lost the will to do comedy.” Thats fairly dramatic. I’ve had that sensation on stage at times too. However, I wasn’t beating the crowd up with more of what they were hating.
That was New Years 2011/2012 for me. How was yours?