Posts Tagged ‘bad weather’

Ninja Status

February 8, 2014

Tuesday February 4th, 2014 – Rosemont, IL

The brutal winter continues, with little relief in sight. Tonight we got blasted with several more inches of snow, and then it’s supposed to go right back into the deep freeze yet again. This is the kind of winter that makes a person move south, and I’m about ready to hop the next freight train.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to travel so much. I already spend far more time than the average Joe getting to and from work, but in bad weather it’s unbearable. People drive like idiots in good conditions. Add even a little snow, ice or freezing rain and it becomes a giant nut house.

Tonight I had a gig hosting the “Ten Comedians For $10” showcase at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont, IL. The weather was a big issue, and the crowd was rather sparse. There were actually more than I expected, but it was nowhere near full and that makes it very hard for the comedians.

These shows exist so newer acts can get a chance to audition for paid work at Zanies, but most of them aren’t ready even though they think they are. It’s hard enough to impress a jaded booker who has seen it all in a full house, but on a snowy week night with a small crowd it’s impossible.

Standup comedy can be very awkward on slow nights in front of small audiences, and I’ve had to face that scenario literally thousands of times. Some acts handle it differently than others but it isn’t ever fun to have to jump start a cold crowd. It’s my job as a host to set the acts up properly.

I always try to get the audience to focus their attention on the acts, and on a night like tonight it becomes a huge challenge to maintain it through the entire show. Ten acts are a lot, and trying to squeeze any kind of energy whatsoever out of the crowd can be a tall order. It takes experience.

I’m one of very few that can do it, only because I’ve hosted so many shows in my time. I’ll bet I am in the top .001% of living humans that has had the most experience hosting standup comedy shows since 1985. I don’t have a lot of skills in life, but this is an area where I claim ninja status.

Unfortunately, I think I’ve about maxed out on the pay scale even though I enjoy hosting these shows very much. There’s a definite art to properly hosting any kind of a live show, even though most newbies look upon it as a chore. I’ve never looked at it that way and still don’t. It’s a craft.

Standup comedy is a craft as well, but it’s not at all the same as being a good emcee. There are all kinds of subtle nuances involved, and a good emcee pays close attention throughout the show so as to keep the energy flowing as consistently as possible. When there is a strong act, he or she must bring the audience back down. When there’s a weak one, it’s the opposite. It can be tricky.

Then to make it more difficult, most comedy clubs give the job of emcee to the weakest act on the show with the least amount of experience. It’s the lowest paying position, and it starts a show off terribly in my opinion but that’s become the tradition over time. It weakens the whole show.

Zanies is one of the few clubs anywhere that places a premium on a quality emcee. It’s smart to do that, and doesn’t cost all that much more. The audience tonight got a much better show for the $10 they paid because I knew what I was doing even if they didn’t know it. I took charge tonight.

When it comes to hosting standup comedy shows, I have achieved ninja status.

When it comes to hosting standup comedy shows, I have achieved ninja status.

Early Departure

February 6, 2014

Friday January 31st, 2014 – Findlay, OH

This is turning out to be an especially nasty winter, but we’ve been due for one for a few years now so I’m not complaining. If I’m going to be based where I am, it has to be expected. I’d love to be based somewhere else in the winter, and maybe that will happen in the future. But not now.

I have a booking tomorrow night in Kalida, OH with Tim Walkoe, but there’s a big snow storm on the way and Tim suggested we drive tonight to beat it. I had a booking tonight that got moved to a future date, so I happened to be off and agreed with Tim. It’s much less stress to get in early.

We agreed to split the cost of a rental car, and since Tim was working on a cruise ship he asked if I wouldn’t mind picking it up and then picking him up at his house in Chicago. He had been on a plane all day, and I totally know what that’s like. Getting to the next gig is always a challenge.

Tim has been out there slugging even longer than me. He started as a musician, and still plays a guitar at the end of his show – much to the delight of audiences. Guitar acts are often mocked by comedy ‘purists’, and I can see why. They often use the guitar as a crutch, and it’s a cheap laugh.

Those that do it well take it to a whole new level, and Tim is one. He is a brilliant comic talent in his own right, one of the funniest I’ve ever seen. He has a natural rhythm that lays me out, and most comedians that have ever worked with him will agree. He has huge respect from his peers.

He can slug it with the best of them, and then he picks up his guitar at the end and takes it even higher. I love to watch him work, and he still makes me laugh out loud even though I’ve seen his act literally hundreds of times. That’s the true sign of a seasoned pro, and Tim is definitely that.

I picked him up at his house about 7:30, and we started driving to Findlay, OH where the hotel we’d be staying at tomorrow was so we wouldn’t have to move. We were able to get a corporate rate from the event booker and it was a really nice place, so we decided to make the investment.

That’s part of the cost of doing business, and we’ve both been at it long enough to know it was a wise choice to beat the weather and worth every penny we spent. The stress it saved us from an all day white knuckle ride tomorrow was appreciated – especially by Tim who just flew all day.

I hadn’t seen him in a while, and started to tell him of my change in thinking of late. I’m trying to avoid as many of these trips as I can, and get myself more corporate type bookings that are far less demanding as far as frequency of travel. I don’t have the need to be on stage like I once did.

I could feel a separation between us as I talked about it, and it was very awkward. He’s still out there slugging, and I have nothing but respect for him for doing it. It’s a flat out brutal existence, and nobody works harder than Tim Walkoe. He started years before I did, and is still at it today.

I understand why he’s doing it, as I did it myself all these years. But I’m finding my life going a totally different direction, and I’m fine with it. Being on stage is fun, but truthfully at this point it just isn’t worth racing the elements to obtain. I have other interests developing, and the stage just isn’t the necessary element of daily life it once was. I can’t speak for Tim, but as for me I like it.

Tim Walkoe is without a doubt one of the funniest comedians working today. Period. www.timwalkoe.com.

Tim Walkoe is without a doubt one of the funniest comedians working in North America today. Period. http://www.timwalkoe.com.