Nothing struck me as super-unusual this week to give me a specific lesson to write about, so I thought I would write about what a typical week of shows is like at my home club, the St. Louis Funnybone. I worked with headliner, Vince Morris, and MC, Jon Ve-(hold on, I have to go check the spelling on Facebook) –Jon Venegoni. I was excited to work with both because it was Jon’s first full MC week at the club and I hadn’t worked with Vince since ’07 (actually, the night I met my wife).
Like most clubs, attendance depends more on the season and not who the headliner is. Of course there are exceptions for famous acts (who often disappoint), but the real weeks with the real headliners like Vince will vary depending on weather, holidays, and local sports teams. I won’t get into which months are best and how to adapt to particular holidays, but you can find that in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage. As June begins and baseball season is starting to get interesting, club attendance isn’t going to be that great.
Wednesday: We had almost fifty people. My default set time at St. Louis is 25 minutes. Going into this week I was going to make one big adjustment to my setlist for the first six minutes. For years I’ve been leading off with my jokes about substitute teaching and I’m tired of them. I’m at the Funnybone every few months so I’m sure there are others who have heard them as well. It’s not that the rest of my act is brand new, but I was already bored with certain jokes, so I gave them the week off. Wednesday’s crowd was so-so. Not tight, but not great. I worded everything well and sold zero books after the show…damn.
Thursday: Thursday had about a dozen or so more people than Wednesday. This crowd was a bit tight but loosened up about ten minutes into the set. I remember being really hungry (not metaphorically) going onto the stage. Why don’t I eat more ahead of time? As I’m going through my set, my mouth is dry. No matter how much water I drink, I’m still tripping on my dry tongue here and there. The crowd was good, but if I didn’t say a joke correctly, they let me know with less laughter.
Friday: I’m finally comfortable with my new setlist. Unfortunately, it’s May in St. Louis and tornadoes are touching down everywhere. A group of girls going to the show is panicking, one is crying, so a few others cower with her in the restroom. They’re hammered, but we still have a crowd close to eighty while the sirens blare outside. My wife is texting me in a panic because we live on the top floor of our apartment building and my grill is about to blow off the balcony. I look at her last text, “Rob, I’m scared!” as Jon introduces me and I walk on stage. I should take my own advice about preshow stress.
This was the only somewhat “unique” show of the week. I’ve done shows where thunder interrupts a set and distracts everyone, so one of the first things I do is acknowledge the storm and the flickering lights. I make a rule that anytime the thunder is loud, the entire audience has to slam whatever drink they’re having. Sounds brilliant, dangerous and/or stupid. Turns out it never thunders and this is easily the worst crowd (and therefore) worst set of the week. I get bored with them after a few minutes, so I dip into the vault of Rob Classics (just for Charlie Winfrey). I did four bits that are over ten years old and made it a little more fun for me. They got about the same result as everything else. I sold two books that show (meanwhile Vince is unloading half a giant bag of t-shirts at a higher price than my book…this happens a lot as ‘Merica easily favors funny t-shirts over books. My t-shirts aren’t as funny so I’ve stopped selling them. I am jealous of his wad of twenties.).
I’m tired, but the 10:30 show goes fine. They were really out of it so I had to exert the most energy of any of my shows to get a good response. I’m not complaining, they’re not even close to as big of a challenge as a two-hour block of sophomores on a Friday afternoon at my teaching job. The three or four beers I’ve had since 7:30 keep me loose and ad-libbing a little more throughout the night. They also make the drunk people I talk to after the show more tolerable. I sell one more book.
Think this blog is long? Try a three-show Saturday: My wife, Beth, comes to the 7:30 non-smoking show. Any tightness a non-smoking show normally has is trumped by the fact that we have well over a hundred people in the crowd. The set goes very well and I’m finally happy with the whole 25 minutes. I sell four books. A 5’11” blonde girl wants her picture with me as my wife looks on five feet away. Beth is great; she says nothing, thinks nothing of it, and understands that with each $15 purchase I’m that much closer to buying her more shoes. If your significant other has petty jealousy issues, wow, good luck with comedy.
The second show on Saturday turns out being the biggest crowd. I paused once to address a couple who was talking in the front row. I get distracted easily so I asked them a question. It was awkward, unfunny, but effective in making them shut up. It took another joke to get the momentum back from the crowd. The lesson there is, if you’re going to address talkers, have a funny way to do it that isn’t too cruel. I normally don’t have problems with hecklers so this is still one of my weaknesses. I sell three more books and other local comics are showing up to watch Vince. It’s nice having buddies to chat with between sets.
As we get ready for the midnight show, I’m dreading tomorrow. I have a 5K race at 8 a.m. and I’ll be getting up at 6:40. I’m really hungry again but Dan from the box office gets me some sushi from upstairs. I am grateful and will continue to tolerate his Michigan fandom as a result of this act of kindness. I make sure to wash my hands before starting a California roll while they seat the room. I’m hoping Matt trims my set down from 25 to 20 minutes. We start the show a little late and he tells me 15 (even better!). (I’ll explain one of these weeks about the change that some comics have regarding the labor of it). This time I skip my whole bit about teaching inner-city and have no trouble keeping the energy going for fifteen. After the show a tall guy in his twenties walks up and says, “I came here Thursday and brought back all of my friends. Why didn’t you do your inner-city stuff. That was my favorite part of the show!” I wonder if this is how Eddie Vedder felt when he reflected on Pearl Jam’s setlist in Columbus, Ohio circa 2002. “Guys, great show, but we left off pretty much the entire Ten album…oops.” Vince decides not to sell any merch and as a result I get three more book sales in. Woo-hoo! I get to sleep by 2 a.m. for a total of four hours and forty minutes of sleep pre-race.
Sunday: As I get to the club Jon is asking me what Sunday crowds are normally like. In St. Louis for some reason we always have a higher percentage of African Americans in the crowd on the Sabbath. Sunday crowds aren’t as big as Saturday crowds, but pound for pound they’re often better at most clubs, including ours. You get more “comedy fans” I guess. People are a bit more rested, and if they’re going out on a Sunday night, they don’t have a lame sense of humor. They were my favorite set of the week. I have a good opener to get the black people on my side that I use every Sunday night in my home club. Once that’s taken care of, the rest is very easy. Wording should be in auto-pilot by this point of the week. I look down into the front row and see a table of three associate principals from the high school where I teach. I now recall how they told me they’d be out June 2. They’re laughing at everything, but I cut two jokes from my set about teaching, because I don’t want them attempting to repeat them to others.
I sell a couple of books and am about to pack up and head home when another group of three walks up. A skeptical girl says she wants to see how my book is and that it had better impress her on the first page. A minute later she buys it. I think this was my proudest moment of the week. It was a successful week and though I wish book sales would’ve been higher, I didn’t have any bad sets. I head home starving again ready to watch Game of Thrones.
If you’re thinking, “This was long and kinda boring,” yep…that’s a week of comedy. It’s a great job, but not the crazy action packed lifestyle that a lot of people think it is. Next week I’ll try to remember to address the question as to why I and other comics don’t mind having our time trimmed down.