My Final Favor

Friday March 30th, 2012 – Berwyn, IL

   When the cosmos speaks, I have no choice but to listen. Boy, did it speak loudly tonight. I have often said that if comedy ever ceases to be fun, it’s probably time to quit. Tonight the alarm went off, and I think the party’s over. Two nights ago I was on top of the world. Tonight I’m under it.

I haven’t had one this rough in years. I could have easily ended up in jail, a hospital or even the morgue. I’m happy to be home with all of my faculties intact – everything except my wallet. I did not get paid, and it’s not sitting well at all. I think I can safely say this has been my last ‘favor’.

I’ve been doing favors for people ever since I can remember. I try to always be a good guy and help out in times of need any way I can. Once in a great while it’s appreciated, but way too often what is meant as kindness ends up being taken for granted or exploited. I’m sick to death of it.

Tonight I stupidly agreed to do a show in Berwyn, IL at some hell hole dive bar I’d never even heard of. Gigantic mistake. I did hear of Berwyn, but nothing pleasant. I’d been there before, and it’s always been a genetic cesspool. It’s the area of Chicago that’s a local joke just by mentioning it. Channel 26 TV’s horror movie host ‘Svengoolie’ does it all the time, and has for many years.

Most larger cities have a place like this that everyone makes fun of. Growing up in Milwaukee it was Cudahy. A surefire way to get a native Milwaukeean to laugh out loud is to let it rip with a few time tested Cudahy jokes like “What do you call a 350 lb. woman from Cudahy? Anorexic.”

Hamtramck is that place in the Detroit area, and East St. Louis jokes are always a hit when I’ve played there. In New York I think it would be either Brooklyn or Jersey, or both. Every city has a punching bag area, and in Chicago it’s Berwyn. To call it an armpit would be a direct insult to all armpits. I can’t think of any body part disgusting enough to compare Berwyn to. Maybe a tumor.

Back in the comedy boom years, there was actually a full time comedy club there. It was called ‘Wacko’s’, and I can’t think of a more appropriate name. Every Chicago comedian has their own personal Wacko’s horror story involving everything from belligerent drunks to not getting paid.

Wouldn’t you know it; I had to deal with both tonight. I showed up at the place fifteen minutes before the show was scheduled to start and got the prime parking spot right in front. Red flag off the bat. Then, I went into the bathroom and found it to be wallpapered with laminated porn shots from low rent ‘70s magazines that featured more bush than the White House from 2000 to 2008.

There was aggressive rock music playing way too loud, and TVs were everywhere with sports on. The waitresses all had caked on makeup, and I knew we were in trouble before the show ever started. This was not a place for a pig rape much less a comedy show, but I’d already shown up.

The smart thing to do would be to squeeze out enough of a show to get paid, and go home with a few well earned sweat equity dollars for my drive. Dignity and artistic satisfaction would take a back seat once again, but I’m used to that by now. The money was the only reason to stay there.

The person who set this show up is apparently an aspiring comic himself, at least somewhere in his own mind. He’s from Berwyn, and that’s another big red flag. He was knocking back way too many beers before we started, and I could see the dark clouds on the horizon. This wasn’t pretty.

Joey Oshey hosted the show. He’s the one who put the deal together with the guy who thought he was the new white Richard Pryor. Joey did a fine job of hosting, and then brought up a funny lady named Caryn Ruby who splits her time between Chicago and L.A. She’s a very professional act, and handled herself like a champ in the situation. She was there strictly for stage experience.

I don’t fault anyone for that, but that’s not why I was there. I just wanted to get paid and leave. Joey brought up the goof who set up the show and he was absolutely FILTHY. I’m certainly not a prude, and have heard every variation of every dirty joke there is. But this guy was disgusting.

He did a painful seven or eight minutes, and got off the stage beaming like he’d just knocked it out of the park on The Tonight Show. He asked me what I thought, expecting to hear nothing but kudos and congratulations judging by the smirk on his drunken puss. I told him he was too dirty.

His demeanor changed immediately, and he slid into a dark place I didn’t want to follow. I had to go on stage for my turn in the meat grinder, so I walked away before he could retort. I’ve been doing comedy a long time, unfortunately in a lot of places like this, so I knew exactly what to do.

These are situations where you hit them hard and keep moving. I need to establish my rhythmic style up front, and not let anyone get in the way. I know what I’m doing, and it was actually not a bad audience. A lot of them laughed, and I even got on a nice roll after a few minutes. It was fun.

Out of the blue, some guy walked over from the bar and stood in front of the stage and asked if I liked Croatian people. It took me out of my rhythm so I made mention of it and shot back a line that I thought was directed at him. The crowd laughed uproariously, but surprisingly so did he.

He went back to the bar and started high fiving with his buddies, and that was another red flag. What had happened was, there was a guy from Croatia who was ugly drunk and wanting to fight someone at the bar for insulting his country. I just poured gas on his fire by insulting it loudly on a microphone and getting the whole room to burst into laughter. This guy did NOT find it funny.

He came up to the stage area and I knew I was in trouble. He was about 6’4” with a neck like a tree trunk and there was a look of hate in his eye that screamed convicted felon. If he hasn’t been to prison, he’s going there in the future. This was not the guy to mess around with. But I had to.

I’ve learned in my life that showing fear in those situations is useless. I had a microphone and a room full of people behind me, so I let him have it with one sledge hammer after another until he wanted to rush the stage. It took three bouncers to drag him out, but they finally did. Show over.

Game over too. I’m too old to be doing hell holes like this anymore. Two short nights ago I had a killer set at Zanies in Chicago. Tonight I almost got killed in Berwyn. This was my final favor.


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