Showbiz Isn’t Easy

Tuesday December 28th, 2010 – Still Out There Somewhere

The longer I’m in this business, the less I know. Just when I think I’ve figured it all out, a night like tonight comes along and wipes everything clean. I feel like a worker ant after some kid smears the ant hill that took so much work to create from scratch. The only real choice is to keep working and start all over. Tonight I felt like a rookie starting all over.

Once again, there are rough waters out here in the Caribbean and we couldn’t stop at the port in Grand Cayman Island to pick up Marcus Anthony, the talented singer who does an outstanding Motown tribute show. It was nobody’s fault, but the passengers wanted to see a show. They missed the song and dance revue opening night, and now they missed this.

The cruise director is a very nice guy from Scotland named Wee Jimmy. He’s in an ugly situation because he’s got pissed off passengers who want entertainment. The dancers had the first night off because of the weather. Jimmy asked Thomas Brown and me if we’d do a comedy show in the big theater and of course we said yes, even though we had a choice.

Thomas has been around the ships for years, and he said technically doing the shows in the big room wasn’t in our contracted agreement. In the end, we’d each end up doing one extra show we weren’t going to be paid for, and by all rights we each could have refused.

Both of us are good guys, and try to help out in a pinch. Jimmy was in a pinch and I’ve been in situations like that myself so I wouldn’t think of turning him down. Thomas also said yes, just as we did a couple of weeks ago when this same situation came up. We did Jimmy a favor because the situation called for it, and deep down we knew it was right.

Jimmy was grateful and said he’d put us in his performance report as going above and beyond the call in a pinch. Hopefully that will get noticed by the office, but who knows? We did it because we’re professionals, and the situation called for it. Still, it wasn’t easy.

The audience for the first show was completely stiff. They weren’t expecting comedians and I had all I could do to milk whatever laughs I could out of them in twelve minutes. If I hadn’t been so experienced, I might have dropped the mike and walked off stage, but if I say I’m going to do something, I do try to make good on the promise. This was a struggle.

Some of these people had seen my welcome aboard show, and others had seen any one of the three shows I did last night in the comedy club. I had to skirt around my main bits and try to pull something out of thin air. That’s not the right way to do it and I know that. I felt like I was all over the place and I never felt like I got a good roll going. I hate that.

I want to give all audiences my very best, but this is completely different than comedy club work. In comedy clubs, I’ll rarely if ever have to do more than 45-50 minutes for the typical audience. Sometimes I’ll like them and go longer on my own, but that’s my call. If I want to give them more, I’ll read the situation and make the choice as I’m on stage. This is a different scenario altogether, and I’m still trying to find the way to nail it consistently.

One thing this experience is making me do is increase my material. It’s not just a matter of going on stage and talking about any subject at random. Far from it, even though most people would never guess. They think we just go up there and wing it from start to finish.

Just last night I had a goof come up about two minutes before the show and say “In case you need any material, my brother-in-law owns a hardware store. He’s sitting with us and you can feel free to rip him a new one if you want. Here’s some dirt on his family too…”

Why would I or anyone else want to “rip someone a new one” just because he happened to own his own business? I waved the guy off, and I could see he was rather disappointed, but even if I wanted to I couldn’t just start ripping the guy off the top of my head. Nobody can do that. It takes time and effort to polish standup comedy material, and it always has.

The problem some comedians fall into, myself included, is that there’s no real schedule as to when new material should be written. If we polish something that works, why not do it as long as it keeps working? Vaudeville acts used to do the same act for 40 or 50 years.

As far as most club comics go, I have a TON of material. I like to switch things around, add and subtract and basically my act is always a work in progress. Then I get out here on the ships and find out I could use scads more polished material to haul out on nights like tonight when I don’t know who’s seen me and who hasn’t. I’ve got a lot more work to do.

These people don’t need complex cutting edge standup comedy material. They aren’t as demanding as a comedy club audience or say a talent booker for a TV show. These people are from all walks of life, just average folks. They want simple material about subjects the average person talks about – men vs. women, what’s on TV, celebrities, nothing too deep.

Writing simple jokes about common subjects that make the masses laugh is not close to being easy, especially making it last for thirty minutes. I’ve got a lot of work to do writing JOKES, but first I have to come up with subjects that the average person can relate to. It’s not that easy, especially with the wacked out life I’ve lived. I’ve got my hands quite full.

I need five to ten minute chunks of material about things that will appeal to the married crowd, as that’s mostly who comes on a cruise. I could use more stuff both kids and older people can relate to as well. After tonight, I feel like I’m going back to the drawing board.

This was a major challenge, and I don’t like the results I had tonight. I didn’t embarrass myself, but I know in my heart there’s room for improvement. And that’s onstage. I have a lot more weaknesses offstage, and that’s another area that needs major improvement for 2011. Like I said, just when I thought I’m figuring it all out, I realize I’m nowhere close.

It made me feel better to come back to my cabin and see Jerry Seinfeld as a guest on the David Letterman show. He did a standup segment and after all these years he’s still doing what I’m doing. He’s a lifer, as am I. I respect him for not resting on his laurels, he’s back out there working on new bits just like me as part of the craft. I’ve got improving to do.

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