Why “the road” isn’t the ultimate goal

For years comics work and work to get “on the road” full-time.  As soon as we get a few weeks strung together we feel like seasoned pros and start big-shotting our way around the open mic scene name-dropping clubs and pretending that most of them don’t involve at least two shows during the week that have less than thirty people.  Then after a few years most of us realize the road sucks.  The diet, the travel, the way certain clubs treat us, the lack of money, the time away from loved ones all gets to be too much.  I only work a few clubs now and as some of you know, have accepted another full-time teaching job at a high school.  My act is really good for a feature (congrats Rob, it only took twelve years) and I could tour full-time, but I have chosen not to.  Other friends have made the same choice .  So is it really that bad out there?  I think what happens to some of us is that we reach an age where we can no longer tolerate all of the little things.  In Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage you can read about the exact moment I realized it was (it involves an ankle and my car).  Some might not understand, but I’m not alone on this.  It’s kind of like drinking…in your 20s you can bounce back from anything no matter how rough it is.  In your 30s it becomes more painful and smaller things get to you.  I can’t imagine how it is by the 40s and 50s.  My hat goes off to those who do it.  Making headliner money obviously helps, but if you talk to a lot of those headliners, they’re not the happiest and healthiest people on Earth.

So here’s an old blog I dug up from my livejournal from the last year describing some of the little things that built up and got to me.  Call it whining if you want…I call it motivation to find other outlets.  If you had been working at a job for twleve years and your company sent you to this hotel, didn’t pay for your food or travel, ignored any hope of a raise year after year, and considered it normal you’d be whining too.

I checked into my hotel at four in the afternoon after a half-day drive only to have to wait another ten minutes in the lobby for them to “finish up the room.”  I walked over to a nearby Wendy’s and ended up paying almost $7 for a salad because at the sight of my $2 off coupon the manager told me, “We don’t take those.”  I finally check in, drag my bags upstairs and get to a door that doesn’t open with my keycard.  I drag my bags back downstiars, get stuck in line behind a family reunion who is checking in (this family has lots of children) and wait another ten minutes before I get a keycard that works.  I walk back up the stairwell with my bags.  The stariwell smells like piss, as in someone actually peed in the bottom of the stairwell (at least it was outside), and notice a smashed cricket (science class disection size) on the steps who happens to stay there all week.

I finally get to my room, set my bags down and lie down on the bed.  I grab the remote and turn the television on, or at least try to.  Nothing’s happening.  I call down for new batteries and am told I’ll need to come get them because she’s “on her own, honey.”  I walk by two maids and a maintainance guy on my way down to another five minute wait at front desk.  That was Thursday, day one.

Friday morning starts at 5:30 a.m. when the couple next door has smoke chat just outside of my door.  This of course includes the ceremonial morning hacking that a lot of smokers experience.  When I finally fall asleep later on, a nearby car alarm takes its turn as my snooze alarm.  The free hotel breakfast has been taken over by the family reunion and why wouldn’t you let an eight-year-old use a waffle iron?  And sure, have someone even younger pour his own milk.  I always get my mini-yogurts, generic cereal, and stale muffins to go.  What’s better than carrying your breakfast through piss corner and my little cricket friend pictured above?

I get a bottle of water out of the micro-fridge and after just one night it’s frozen solid.  That’s okay, I’ll make coffee and drink it–nope!

The cup is pre-sliced like a loaf of bread.  I didn’t realize this until coffee was spilled everywhere which soaked my audio-recorder that I had spent $50 on.  Day two is awesome.

When I get back to my room after an afternoon out on day three I noticed they’ve cleaned it.  I didn’t notice that my iPhone plug adapter was missing (until I got home).  Also, my room suddenly smells like a cigar.  Neighbors again, at least it’s during daylight hours.  I’m about to hop in the shower (that’s right ladies, I’m naked at this moment) when I realize I have no towels.  They cleaned my room, took my towels and failed to replace them.  (I’m not naked anymore)  I call down to get towles and of course, she’s the only one there who is qualified to carry towels so I have to get dressed and go get my own.  It’s now pouring rain at this point and oh, the irony of carrying towels back to your room in the rain.  I stride by Squishy McCricket and shower after a natural prerinse from my journey.  After my shows, night three ends with two TV dinners in the microwave I have to reach back, unplug my lamp and fridge for, and plug in.  Mmm MSG.

I spend most of day four away from the hotel as I have given up on ever getting in the pool.  It’s packed with loud kids the entire time I’m there.  I come back to my room which has been neglected.  Not a huge deal except that I’m out of shampoo (another too-late-I’m-naked discovery) so I get dressed and head down to front desk for that because I know better by now that calling would do anything.  I have a theory that maybe the hotel was filming a reality show and I was playing some sort of role.  Did they need a reoccuring guest to keep coming to front desk and asking for things just to fill the hour? (Yes, for some reason my imaginary show “La Quinta Chronicles” is an hour long).  It’s possible, the woman up there was on a first name basis with me by day three.

Anyway, I grab what should’ve been a cold bottled water on my way out to my fourth night of shows only to realize that I never plugged the fridge back in after I used the microwave.  At least nothing was frozen except another MSG dinner, just room temperature warm.  Also an excuse not to have to eat night four’s microwave meals.  I walk in the rain to my car which is parked on the other side of the hotel because when I got back the previous night the whole lot was filled on my side.

Did any of these things kill me?  No.  Can I change my own roll?  Yes.  The point is that week after week little things like this tend to wear on someone.  It’s not a tour bus and four star treatment.  I don’t blame the clubs, most of them aren’t making much money right now.  I’m at a point in my life where I enjoy doing shows just enough to put up with this stuff for a few weeks a year.  I’m fortunate enough that the club that uses me the most, the St. Louis Funnybone, is eight minutes from my home.  So unless I magically become a headliner with a demanding contract, I’m content with just a few weeks away from my comfortable life at home.  I just turned thirty-five (on Sunday) and am apparently a big baby when it comes to travel now.  That’s fine, it leaves more weeks for you.  So when you get on the road, use that free time to work on other projects or improve your act so much that you can write your own contracts with clubs.