Saturday April 5th, 2014 – Chicago, IL
Three shows were scheduled at Zanies in Chicago tonight – at 7, 9 and 11:15pm. There aren’t many venues outside of Las Vegas that do that anymore, and I’m probably one of few remaining hardcore halfwits that still enjoys the challenge. If I’m going to work I want to sweat, and this is equivalent to a marathon. It takes a lot of skill to pull off three solid shows, and total focus too.
The 7pm show is traditionally far more reserved, as most people are just getting out and many have not eaten dinner yet. I have to hit them hard, and often wake them up. The 9pm show is the ‘money show’, and is almost always sold out. That’s the prime spot in the week, and it’s usually the easiest and most fun. If a performer can’t nail the middle show Saturday, something’s wrong.
Then there’s that last one. That can be the killer, as the audience tends to be tired, well fed and often imbibed. Trying to break through all that can be very difficult, not to mention having done two previous shows already and not being able to remember if something was already said – and when. Only someone that has been in that situation can relate to that feeling, and it’s an odd one.
Sometimes doing two shows in a night can be confusing, as it can all tend to run together after a while. I know I’ve accidentally done the same joke twice in the same show, and the audience’s silence is an immediate indicator. I can’t believe this hasn’t happened to every comedian at least a few times, and I even saw George Carlin do it one time. It takes total concentration to avoid it.
I have enough material now where I can do bits only once in a night like this and avoid having to make it a major issue. It’s not always like that, and on the way up the ladder one has a limited amount of material and it can be a nightmare. By the third show, it’s easy to become totally lost.
It can be maddening, but I also think it’s tremendous training for someone that is looking to be a professional comedian. Three show nights weed out the weaklings in a hurry, and it causes one to constantly be on one’s toes the entire evening. Three shows mean three different audiences of three different temperaments, and often they react differently to the very same jokes. It’s tricky.
Call me a kook – and I freely admit that I am – but this has always been intriguing to me. I love to get out there and experiment in front of three audiences in one night, especially knowing there are zero guarantees I’ll be able to figure them all out. Most times I’m able to do it, but sometimes I’ll still have a rough one and that’s true for everyone. Nobody ever figures out every audience.
Tonight circumstances went way past standup comedy and reached a point where I questioned my very existence. I thought I had seen it all, but whenever I think that is when I will experience something that surpasses my boundaries of imagination and makes me realize I’m not in control.
Somewhere, somehow, some force in the universe is operating at a level which I am able to neither comprehend nor identify. Something’s going on over all of our heads, and there’s nothing any of us can do but accept it. I feel both helpless and frustrated, and the more frustrated I get the more helpless feel. If I hadn’t seen tonight unfold with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Things started off on quite the positive as I left home extra early, gassed up my car and found a gas station that was a few cents a gallon cheaper than the rest. That put me in a jaunty mood as it usually does – even though I only saved under a buck at most. I don’t know why that feels like a victory to me, but it does. It’s my personal revenge against OPEC, even though we all still lose.
The weather was finally spring like, and I drove into Chicago with my windows down and my spirits up. There was a run of great tunes on the radio for some reason, and I was ready to attack the stage and deliver three rock solid shows at Zanies. I expected to enjoy my evening of work.
When I arrived, I was delighted to discover the coveted but rarely open royal rock star loading zone parking spot on Wells Street directly in front of the club was indeed unoccupied and at my service for the evening. It’s free for any Zanies employee, and everyone fights to snap it up first.
I assumed I would be in for a stellar evening of laid back fun, but that’s when the fun stopped. The early show was one of the oddest I’ve seen in a long time. There was a group of a dozen or so that sat right in front and wouldn’t stop talking the entire show. They weren’t heckling per se, just commenting on everything any of us said. I didn’t fight them, and it evolved into a Q and A.
I don’t ever remember having to babysit an audience like that for an entire show, but they were not about to be quiet and I played the hand I was dealt. I received a healthy burst of applause as I left the stage, and people lined up to get the ‘I (upside down heart) URANUS’ bookmarks I have been passing out of late. I tried to be as polite as possible, but their bizarre behavior baffled me.
As I was walking back to the green room to wait for the second show, the power went out and left the entire club in the dark. I have been working at Zanies in Chicago since the ‘80s, and have never seen that happen before. It sent the staff into a temporary panic trying to locate flashlights.
We all went outside to discover the entire block on Wells Street was dark, and there was a long line of people waiting outside the club to attend the sold out 9pm show. I laughed inside because I knew there would be no show, even though I don’t know why I knew it. This was a Mr. Lucky story, and about thirty seconds later one of the wait staff said the same thing. My legend lives on.
They offered all the people in line some free tickets to another show another night with another comedian, and they dispersed peacefully. I was disappointed because I wanted to at least have an opportunity to rock the sold out cherry show of the week – but that’s never what Mr. Lucky gets.
We sat in the dark inside the club waiting for the lights to come on, and about 90 minutes later they did – just in time to seat the infamous late show. Tonight’s crowd was the absolute dregs of society, and they were blasted before they sat down. There was a big birthday party for a woman turning 40, and she was obliterated beyond recognition. She and her party babbled incessantly.
The other acts did their best, but by the time I got on stage there was no hope. They were loud and rowdy and nobody cared that any show was going on. Eventually the whole party had to get forcibly removed, and I stood on stage alone wondering why I was ever born. I still don’t know.
‘Mr. Lucky’ can be a really fun character to play on stage – but it’s SO not fun to live in real life.
It’s kind of a cross between Wile E. Coyote…
…and Job from the Old Testament. It’s a combination of pain and frustration that’s hilarious – when it’s someone ELSE’S.