Posts Tagged ‘performing arts’

Nobody Has To Know

March 6, 2014

Tuesday March 4th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

Once again I was called in for short term bullpen duty by Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago, and once again I answered the call. For whatever reason, they needed me to fill in for tonight only so that’s what I did. I always enjoy the chance to work, even though the crowd isn’t always stellar.

I’m not talking about Zanies crowds necessarily, but about audiences in general. There are a lot of variables that make up any particular group of random strangers, and each gathering is its own mini lottery with astronomical odds. Like hands of cards, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Sometimes a given group meshes perfectly with the act on stage, and when that happens life is absolute bliss. Depending on the experience of the performer, he or she can make adjustments to find the sweet spot of what the audience is buying on that night. Trying to find what that happens to be is part of the fun of live performing. It all happens in the moment, and it’s a calculated risk.

Inexperienced entertainers have a limited range of where they can go. They give whatever they have, and leave it to chance. Sometimes it’s the correct fit, and sometimes it isn’t. That’s part of the process, and why it takes so long to master the craft of standup comedy. It’s quite involved.

Matching wits with an audience is a tremendous challenge, and I’ve learned to respect it over a lifetime. It’s a constant mental chess game, much like how the quarterback takes on a defense in a football game or a pitcher vs. batter matchup in baseball. It’s a series of guesses and adjusting.

On rare occasions, it all works out right from the start. I’ve had nights I could seemingly do no wrong, and I can’t figure out why. It just clicks, and I run with it. Other nights nothing works no matter what I try, and over time I have amassed quite a stash of tricks to haul out in the moment.

Part of the process includes trying several tactics to obtain the most positive response. One that can be highly effective is interaction. A dead audience can spring into life with crowd work, and I’ve implemented it successfully many times. I’ve also had it blow up in my face too. It’s tricky.

This whole game is tricky – but that’s why I love it. It’s a constant challenge, and even when it goes right there’s always the next audience to figure out and they could be stone faced. I liken it to doing crossword puzzles – something else I really enjoy. There’s always the next one to solve.

Tonight’s crowd on the surface seemed very good. It was quite large for a Tuesday, but I found them to be one of those rare hands of cards that was difficult to play. Vince Maranto was hosting, and he’s one of the most experienced emcees around. They liked him, but he talked to them a lot.

Calvin Evans was the feature act tonight, a younger comic who is very likeable on stage. I saw him have a tough time keeping their attention, and he eventually had to politely ask them to keep the table talk down. He handled it very well, but I knew I would be in for a challenge and I was.

This was one of those shows when every little thing went wrong, and no matter what I tried fell flat. It didn’t help that the whole front row was chatting during the whole show, but that happens. They all clapped loudly at the end, but I’ve had far better audiences. Shhh. Nobody has to know.

Performing for live audiences is never the same twice in a row.

Performing for live audiences is never the same twice in a row. That can be good and bad.

Calendar Alignment

February 11, 2014

Saturday February 8th, 2014 – Hartford, WI

For the second Saturday in a row, I did a well run benefit show for The Lions Club. This week it was in Hartford, WI at a beautiful facility called The Schauer Center. I’ve worked there before, but not in the same venue. It has multiple venues, and I played in one of the smaller ones the last time I was there. It was a full house and very well received, so I was delighted to be back again.

This time it was in their main theatre, which is gorgeous. It’s much bigger than where I worked last time, and there were probably the same amount of people so it wasn’t as impressive. I’m still glad I got a chance to work the big room, even if it wasn’t sold out. I enjoy playing bigger stages.

I had no idea this was a Lions Club fundraiser when I booked it, and in fact the way I got it was a bit of a fluke. I happened to throw out an offhand smartass comment on a Facebook post made by someone I recently friended, but hadn’t seen in person in more than twenty years. Someone in that person’s circle of friends saw it and recognized my name. He happened to book this event.

The person I made the comment to happens to live in Denver, but is from Milwaukee originally and so is the guy that saw it. His name is Phil Larsson and he used to be part of ‘Comedysportz’, a competitive improv group that was started in Milwaukee. He lived in Texas for decades but has now moved back to Wisconsin. All of that had to come together how it did to get this booking.

I’d met Phil years ago, but only briefly. To have him see my name like that and happen to have a gig on a night that I was open a month out is damn near miraculous. It’s amazing how when the mindset is in a positive space, things like this happen. I truly believe it’s because of all the recent events that have been happening with reconnecting with my family. It’s made all the difference.

Even if it hasn’t, I’m believing it is so that’s good enough. Maybe this would have worked out before, but I doubt it. How many other things like this have I missed because my mind wasn’t on the wavelength it should have been – but totally is now? I can’t worry about that. They’re gone.

The point is, they’re happening now and I know it. I claim it, and I see no reason why it won’t keep happening indefinitely. I see no reason to stop. I had a nice booking close to home on short notice, had a lot of fun doing it and helped raise money for a good cause. How could I top that?

By keeping it coming. I am still in my prime as far as performing goes, and can light up a room with the best of them when I’m on my game. I’m on it far more than I’m off, and I don’t want to miss even one opportunity to stay in shape and work whenever I can. Events like this are a blast.

The audiences now are reaping the benefits of the ones I ripped off years ago by being terrible. It’s a process all performers go through, and it’s painful. I wanted to be great when I started, but I was anything but. I was horrendous, but so is everyone else. The headliners then carried shows and I was nothing more than time filler. I was trying my best, but my skill level just wasn’t there.

Now I’m the one carrying shows, and the audiences today are reaping the benefits. They didn’t have to sit through my growing years – they only see the polished product now. “You sure make it look easy up there,” people often say. Well, looks are deceiving. Nothing worthwhile is easy.

For whatever reason, my booking calendar for 2014 has been filling up quite nicely. Two months down, ten to go. Knock wood.

For whatever reason, my booking calendar for 2014 has been filling up quite nicely. Two months down, ten to go. Knock wood.