1990. I was 20 years of age, living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, working 35 hours/week at a sandwich shop for minimum wage and performing stand up comedy 5 nights/week - mostly for free - at open mikes. And my apartment (just up the steps and through the front door)?
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It was a two room studio I paid $305/month to rent. The main room was about 3 x the size of a generous closet, but the kitchen was ENORMOUS. Good thing, as then, as now, I LOVE cooking*
*warning: I sometimes lie
One night, while a friend and I were performing at (ya ready?) "Sir Laugh's A Lot Comedy Castle" (not a castle at all but, in fact, the bar at a Day's Inn hotel, located not in rural England but off a highway in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin), we were approached by an older gent with a proposition.
No, luckily, not that kind. At least not this time.
He was hosting a St Patrick's Day bash at a local rented hall and wanted Jason and myself to each do two, 15 minute sets before his son's band played. And he was going to pay us $250 a piece to do it. Quickly calculating - using my massive brain - I realized that was two weeks worth of pay from my dayjob.
We met him at said hall one afternoon to see what awaited. It was HUGE. Seriously, almost as big as my kitchen. He showed us the layout: Where the stage would be, how there'd be poker tables set up in a select area, blah blah, all I heard was "250 DOLLARS FOR 30 MINUTES OF WORK".
St. Patty's came and we arrived to a packed, and I mean it, PACKED hall. Easily 300 people, and every last one of them drunk, gambling, and yammering. As green as I was in comedy, I sensed things were not going to go as previously imagined (me, onstage, commanding belly-laughs and howls from an attentive and appreciative crowd who, after, would likely hand me business cards, begging me to weave my comedy magic at their upcoming corporate events). No, this was gonna be like performing my act at a hockey arena. While the game was going. And I was the goalie.
I drew the short straw and went up first. It's hazy in my memory, being so long ago, but one thing I do remember? I was PISSED. The 15 minutes dragged on for 16 months. I couldn't even get anyone to look at me, much less listen. So I droned on and on, my singular audience response being, "Bring on the band!"
I sloughed off and Jason took the mike. I was livid, embarrassed, defeated, and needed a gallon of green beer. Jason ate it worse than I did, if memory serves. And then he intro'd the band. The place went haywire as the opening strands to "Rockin' Robin" filled the cavernous drunken hall. I will never in my life hear that song and not get a sick feeling in my gut.
Jason dashed to the back of the room and sat next to me, I imagine saying something to the effect of, "One down, one to go!", but I'd had it.
"I'm not going back up there."
"Fuck that bullshit, no way."
"But you'll only get half the money!"
This is when I walked up to the (now drunken and slurring) guy who'd hired us and told him, "No way am I going back up." He didn't seem very surprised, nor did he even pause before handing me the $125 that I now felt like I'd earned sucking off lepers in an alleyway. Jason offered to do the full time for the money, and he complied, so I sat and watched him die endless deaths, over and over, wildly attempting to get the crowd's attention and failing time and again. After 30 minutes of brave attempts at wackiness, he closed his "set", came to the door where I stood and waited, and we left.
It would be 5 long years before I came to my senses and quit comedy. 5 years of gigs that made this one look like I had played Carnegie Hall.