Great American Comedy Festival

Wednesday February 24th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

Zanies in Chicago held an audition showcase tonight for The Great American Comedy Festival and I was fortunate enough to be included. It’s a comedy competition held each summer in Johnny Carson’s home town in Nebraska and has been going for a few years.

The website is and the talent lineup is booked by Eddie Brill, talent coordinator for The David Letterman Show. I’ve showcased for him a couple of times before, but I’ll be damned if I can ever have a killer set in front of him.

Tonight was no exception. Everything went wrong leading up to the show, as it snowed all afternoon and made driving a nightmare. I live exactly 50.4 miles from Zanies and it’s never easy even when weather is good. There’s always traffic somewhere and it’s hard to judge exactly how long it will take on any given day. I left at 5:15 for an 8pm call time.

The snow got thicker both in the air and on the roads, and cars were spinning out and in ditches all over the place. I’m extra gun shy after my own recent car wreck in bad weather so my bung hole was clenched from start to finish. This was a high stress unpleasant ride.

I called Zanies to let the box office person know I was going to be late, but he never got around to telling anyone else. I got a frantic call from Bert Haas at 8:15 asking where the hell I was, but by that time I was already on North Avenue and headed toward the club.

They’d drawn numbers to determine the order, and of course I was first. It’s absolutely uncanny how many times that’s happened, and I’ve almost come to expect it. Number one is usually a good thing to be, except when it comes to a comedy showcase audition show. The crowd is usually tight and there are only six minutes to lay out whatever you’ve got.

This is a part of the business I’ve never been good at, even though I’ve improved a little only because I’ve done it quite a few times. The energy of a six minute set is the opposite of a forty-five minute headliner set, which I’ve been doing for years now. It‘s very tricky.

The audience tonight had no idea what they were seeing. They were just there to see the show, and didn’t realize how potentially important it was. They weren’t bad people at all, but they weren’t good laughers either. Then, the host Vince Maranto did a bit bashing the hell out of Wisconsin right before me. I like Vince, but he didn’t help me by doing that.

Normally I wouldn’t mind at all, and I’ve worked with Vince for years and years, but he gave my intro as being from Wisconsin so I felt I had to defend myself. The crowd wasn’t very hot and it took me out of my game from the first few seconds. I hadn’t planned to do that, and I was off schedule as to what I’d planned to do. The decisions are split second.

I’ve been in front of Eddie Brill before and he’s a great guy. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like him, and it also makes it a lot easier because he’s a comic himself. He knows everything that can go wrong and he’s experienced it himself. Still, nothing is an excuse.

If I’m in front of a talent booker for whatever reason, it’s my responsibility to show my best no matter what the circumstances. Nobody cares it was snowing to beat the band, or that I’d just driven almost three hours in highly stressful conditions. That doesn’t matter.

It also doesn’t matter what order number position I draw out of a hat. Actually, this was drawn for me. All I have to do is go up and showcase my best six minutes no matter what the circumstances are, and that’s all I can do. Eddie doesn’t see the times I go up and kick major ass for a solid forty-five minutes and have people tell me they can’t laugh harder.

His job is to find comics that he thinks David Letterman will like, and for this particular showcase he was looking for people who will play well in Norfolk, NE. The audience had no clue so the hard choice is whether to try and please them or try and grab Eddie’s ear.

That can be a maddening decision, and unless there’s total commitment it can lead to an absolutely horrendous result. I don’t think I was horrendous, but I sure didn’t nail this one like I’ve been doing in my headline sets recently. I felt like I didn’t get my best response.

I did get a chance to showcase at least a little of what I wanted to show though. I have a closing bit which is a rant about how idiots shouldn’t breed and it’s become a dependable climax over the years. I lead up to it for forty minutes, and then unleash a five minute big bang that usually destroys most of the people in the room. It kills, and I’m known for it.

It’s difficult to showcase that particular bit, as it usually takes a while to lead up to how I deliver it. It’s angst filled and animated and the verbal equivalent of the 1812 Overture. I tend to speak quickly anyway, and this is a great example of it. When it works, it KILLS.

My challenge is to find a way to audition with it so the Eddie Brills of the world can get to see it, but also get where I’m coming from with it. Just going up there as a white guy in a sport coat yelling isn’t going to do me any good. I know that bit works, but I don’t know how I’m going to do it in such a short time and have the audience get it. I gave it my best.

The audience laughed a few times during my six minutes, but not nearly as much as I’m used to. I worked a little more ‘clubby’ than a squeaky clean set for TV, only because I’ve met Eddie before and know he’s competent and can tell the difference. This wasn’t my set for Letterman, this was a set that would work in Nebraska, and it would. I’ve been there.

I’d LOVE to get a chance to go to the festival this year. I’d kick ass, because I’m able to adjust to each audience individually, and Midwest people usually love what I do. If Eddie calls me, I’ll be thrilled and say yes. If not, I know it’s nothing personal and all he’s trying to do is book the best festival he can. He cares about it and I would too. We love comedy.

I may or may not ever get on the David Letterman Show, and that’s just how it is. Eddie Brill or anyone else isn’t ‘out to get me’ or so many other things comedians think. It’s not easy to audition, and I thought it was so-so at best, but at least I got to show a part of a bit that destroys in a club setting. If Eddie likes it, I’ll get in. If not, ok. I know it still kills.


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