Posts Tagged ‘ninja’

Badger Battle

March 31, 2014

Saturday March 29th, 2014 – Wilton, WI

Whenever the topic of comedic timing comes up, it loses the majority of those involved in the conversation as it’s an intangible entity. As a rule one either has it or they don’t, and there isn’t a thing they can do about it if they don’t. It’s like singing. If one doesn’t have it, it’s a lost cause.

This is a different subject for a different day. Today I had an example of comic timing that was completely different. I wish I’d recorded the show so others could learn from it, and it was so out of the ordinary that I think I could have learned from it myself. Situations like this are quite rare.

My show tonight was at a sports bar in Wilton, WI. I am a cheese head by birth, and I must say that before I booked this show I had never heard of Wilton. For those that may care, it’s between Elroy and Sparta along the famous bike trail. The population is 542, and there are no stop lights.

The ‘downtown’ consists of four bars, a post office and a Hardware Hank. There were a couple of other buildings that looked like they could be shops of some sort, but I couldn’t tell if they had gone out of business or not so I won’t count them. This town makes Mayberry look like Chicago.

A truck driver named Jeff and his wife bought and remodeled the bar, and did a spectacular job from the ground up. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked in, and the joint was jumping. Too bad the reason it was jumping was because the Wisconsin Badgers basketball game was on TV.

This is the timing I’m talking about. What are the chances a basketball game would have even a minor affect on a comedy show – in Wisconsin no less? This isn’t a state known for basketball, but on this night it was all anyone could talk about. Like it or not, that was the headliner tonight.

Both Jeff and his wife are not only nice people, they’re very sharp at business. I talked to them before the show, and told them we needed to call an audible. Both the game and comedy shared a scheduled starting time of 8pm, and unfortunately comedy was going to lose. The question now was whether to try and squeeze the show in before the game ended, or wait until it was finished.

I would have been fine with waiting until the game was over, but I’m not sure if the customers would have wanted to stay around – especially if the Badgers lost. Either way, I was going to be the one in the trick bag tonight so it really didn’t matter. I wanted to insure the bar made a profit.

We ended up starting about 8:15, and things were fine. There was a separate stage area that was away from the TVs, and the people wanted to see the show. The opening act did a fine job for the circumstances, and then I got on and started strong. I almost thought I had a chance to pull it off.

Then the game got interesting, and the people yelling at the bar became a distraction. I couldn’t avoid it, so I had them give updates from the bar. I started and stopped bits, and it was absolutely maddening after a while. Then to make it worse the game went into overtime, so I told the crowd I’d leave stage and we’d all watch the game. When it was over I’d finish my show. The Badgers did win, and I went back up and finished my set. It took the skill set of a Ninja, but I pulled it off.

I was cheering for my home state Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA tournament - just not when I was scheduled to perform.

I was cheering for my home state Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA tournament – just not when I was scheduled to perform.

It required the skill level of a Ninja to pull off a show tonight - but I did it. THAT'S timing.

It required the skill level of a Ninja to pull off a show tonight – but I did it.

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.