The Road: Seinfeld, Romano, Foxworthy, Wolfburg, Garofalo, Black & a Small Regret.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve had to have a manager follow me to my car so a bunch of hicks from an audience didn’t come beat me up (in all fairness I was 17 and brand new at comedy, playing a diner in the sticks on a Wednesday night … so I was kind of askin for it). I’ve had a drink thrown at me followed by the glass. I’ve played a house where the balcony was deaf and the main floor was Russian so they either couldn’t hear me or couldn’t understand me. I’ve been dragged to the floor and put in a headlock by a drunk. I’ve been snowed in at a club with an audience. I accidentally brought a deaf mute on stage who wouldn’t stop a guttural moaning sound that turned the audience, crew and myself white & sweaty. I’ve been out-yelled by 60 down syndrome audience members. I’ve gone on stage bleeding, broken and puking in between sets. But hey, quit show business? The show must go on!
I remember I joined a revue show at the Biloxi Grand Theater. It sat 2,000 and was a huge stage. In the middle of show the power went out. Having been a stage tech, I have always been great at emergencies and I love a little chaos. I’ve covered in countless situations, fires, heart attacks and more. The techs needed to reboot the lights and sound. I told them to give me a cue when they were ready and I’d go out and stretch. I grabbed a candle and did 10 minutes in the dark as the audience followed the floating candle. Later, I was contacted by a producer who saw the show and offered me my first job in Las Vegas. I played the strip many times over the next few years. I was funnier in the dark.
The Vegas thing was and is a weird microcosm. I fell into it.
I felt like I was really making it. I had a career now and I could finally stop running or just surviving and smell the roses a little. My name was on marquees, my face was on billboards as “comedy guest star”, I was making good money.
I would walk down the set’s staircase at the end of the show around the singers and dancers and the audience would rise to standing ovations. As an opening act, I would finish my set for 500 to 5,000 people to roaring applause before the star act came on. It also gave me good, immediate press. And while I would continue to occasionally play the comedy clubs to sharpen my teeth and stay connected, I by passed something that affected my career 20 years later.
Years ago comedianne, Elaine Boosler got her own room in Vegas and she was shunned as a sell out, no longer legit. Who knew she was ahead of her time. Now everyone wants that.
I should’ve stayed in the trenches of the club scene. I think my career would have been in a much different place. There’s nothing wrong with my career. I haven’t had a normal job since I was 19. But being on my own young, I went for the immediate money and glitz instead of the grit. There’s equal hardship but one has a longer shelf life and is given more industry legitimacy. Who knew?
I still go back to the clubs. I know how to do them and I do them well. I also do it to remind myself of the most basic, organic source of this craft. When you open for a star or do TV or a revue show or even dare I say it, a cruise ship (great money, dead end, and still a bad industry stigma even though everyone is sneakin around out there doin it), you take what you learned from the raw, exposing, freeing experience of a club and polish and edit it for the higher-end clientele and venues.
If I had stayed in the trenches, I’d like to believe I’d be playing the types of venues and gotten the kind of exposure where I could still be the most me and not playing a “role”. But I guess we all do that in one form or another right? I’m not torchured about it per say, but I was when I cared so much about the ego of “the climb”.
I came in the tail end to the birth and boom of the comedy era when there was a real paying circuit.
My favorite acts were not the household name comics. I loved the road guys…
Like Basile who looked like a bearded Andrew Dice Clay, bad ass. He’d walk on to some hard rock music in his leather and shades. He’d swallow and blow fire. At the end of the play on music he’d remove his sunglasses to reveal crazy, crossed eyes.
And Clause Meyers, a German comedian who would do 35 minutes of killer material about being in America, Hitler and the like. Suddenly he’d drop the accent and admit he was just “fuckin with ya” and his real name was Jim something. Then do 15 more minutes of killer material as an American with a few German callbacks. Ugh it was amazing every time I saw it. I still remember his opening joke. It went something like, “Ze world believes that the Germans are obsessed with numeric organization. Zis is completely false (ahem) … Joke number von!”
As I traveled, I especially loved the comedy variety acts like, The Legendary Wid. A guy who had two moving boxes full of crap. He only spoke his sentences through the props in the boxes. If he couldn’t find the right prop to make out the word he needed, then everyone was screwed. Meanwhile he had to headline because you’d need a bull dozer to remove the piles of shit on stage when he was done.
The Great Tomsoni & Company, aka The Wizard of Warsaw aka The World’s Foremost Polish Magician with his old, gum-cracking, shlepper of an assistant with a big rack. Her name was Igor. “His humps are on the wrong side.”
To their friends they are known as John and Pam Thompson and have been the parents of modern day magic. They had played every major stage around the world and every TV variety show there was. When PETA was having a “bird” regarding the dove harnesses magician’s used to hide the birds in their jackets, John constructed a new design. They were in every magic book and to this day are asked to consult for Criss Angel, Copperfield, Penn and Teller and everyone else.
When I was 17, Pam went to the mall with me and pretended to be my mother, signing the permission slip for me to get an earring. (Left ear thank you very much).
Many east and west coast comics always had a distain for variety or “prop” acts. Jay Leno has always said he felt the performer was using the prop instead of writing good material. I think he’s a douche. While there are plenty of hacky, cheesy prop acts, there are just as many hacky stand up comics. And for someone like myself who eventually added ventriloquism, well, I think my job is twice as hard to achieve honest, strong material. Now it’s for “two” along with the ins and outs of using or ignoring the reality of it being a puppet or a true being.
I loved and continue to love stand up. But once the comedy boom hit and everyone had 10 minutes of material (including my cousin’s Rabbi who got on The Tonight Show), the ventriloquism made me more sellable/bookable. Not just another guy in front of a mic. I will say it’s a lot easier just dragging your self to the club. Props suck.
By 1990-91 I was coming into the scene as a host or middle act on the bill along side people who had already been doin it for 5-10 years including Seinfeld, Romano, Foxworthy, Wolfburg, Garofalo … A club is so much better than TV.
I worked at a club with Louis Black before he became famous in Wisconsin. He was amazing. That shaking and yelling he does on TV is nothing compared to when you saw him on stage with time for a build up. He would start talking about something and would slowly get agitated. He couldn’t get the words out. His face would turn red. His hands would start shaking like he needed a neck to choke. Then he would climax by grabbing the mic stand and bang it on the floor 5 or 6 times like a psycho at his breaking point. The audience would hold their breath watching the highs and lows of a man who was ready to have a heart attack at any second!
Unfortunately television doesn’t allow for that kind of time to build the character arc. So he just goes right to the shaking and mock-anger nowadays. It’s a shame you are missing out on the layers. It was amazing.
I have not gotten as far as some and I’ve gotten farther than others. These stories are probably only interesting to me, but screw you. Get your own website blog.
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