At the moment (well, not this very moment. I'm dreading going in to work at this moment), I'm about 60% through my second longform writing piece, chronicling the final days on the road for a 50-ish, washed up comedian in the early 1980s, when the "comedy boom" was busting at the seams, waiting to unleash crap comedy on the planet for the next 15 years. This is taking some research and, as I dig into the changes in the comedy world throughout the 60s and 70s, little gems from my past (like the post prior to this) have began leaking outta my noggin'.
So, alongside my chronicling of my training for Hundred in the Hood, I'll be spilling small pieces from two careers back.
1993. I think. My hair was rather large, so it had to be '93 or '94. At any old rate, I'd booked a one night, two show engagement opening for Bobcat Goldthwait in Milwaukee at some random club that didn't regularly do comedy. I have to admit that I was psyched. Bobcat - outside of the "AAAUgHGHAAAAHHhha!" bullshit - is an incredibly talented comic who, more often than not, injects his liberal viewpoints into his shows, and evocatively at that.
I get the call that the first show is at 8:00, and I and my then girlfriend hit the road around 5:00 to give me plenty of time. Well, when we arrive, the booking agent (short, round, mustache, hoarse voice, named "Roz") starts freaking out.
"Why weren't you at sound check?!?!"
I hadn't heard of a sound check. Besides, THERE ARE NO INSTRUMENTS ONLY MY SINGULAR VOICE, JACKASS, I thought.
"We almost hired (another comedian) to replace you. You're lucky you got here early."
Looking around the club, the word "lucky" didn't instantly spring to mind. It was a HUGE sports bar in an utterly shitty part of Milwaukee (and if you've been to Milwaukee, you know that's saying something). Indeed, I had been anointed with blessings by the Comedy Gods to play at such a locale.
Upstairs was the "VIP" section, which meant they served Heineken and had left scattered trays of veggies and chips everywhere. At the front of the lofted space was the green room. I was told to not enter this holy and sacrosanct vestibule, as Bobcat was preparing his set within. Instead, my girlfriend and I were to sit with the other "VIPs", which all appeared to be local, morning DJs and some of the hotter strippers from around town.
Fine. After 4 years in comedy, I'd been treated with far less respect. Like the time the owner of a chain of successful Chicago clubs chastised me for eating tortilla chips in between shows, informing that I was lucky he didn't charge me for them, even though the headliner had sold out an entire week at $15 a head.
The place swelled up and every seat is taken...by some of the seediest motherfuckers I'd ever laid eyes upon. Seriously. It was the kind of crowd that starts a bar brawl that ends with some dude's head getting mashed into the jukebox. My intro is read, I run down the stairs at the side of the stage and commence my comedy-ing.
I don't think it went too terribly, but I do remember that not one second of my 30 minutes was ever easy. That's what opening for a name-comedian is like: Everyone is saving their yucks for the guy they shelled out $20 to see, not for some lame, faceless loser who isn't even allowed in the green room.
I made sure toss out some of my more (and I cringe with recessing testicles merely typing this next word) "edgy" material, as I knew Bob would probably find it funny. At one point, I heard him cackling from upstairs. I know this because he was the only one laughing, so singling him out was a breeze. Most of the bikers in the room grew bored and I sensed their anxious anticipation too see the Police Academy guy who would most certainly blow this dipshit out of the water with his patented "AUGGhOOOooOFFFFANNnnG!!" material.
Suffocating beneath a blanket of discomfort, I wrapped up my tattered 30 minutes and the emcee trotted onstage, shaking my hand as nearly every hand in the place lightly slapped the other. Like a golf clap, but with less sincerity. I thankfully plunged into the darkness from the spotlight and was greeted on the steps by Bobcat:
"Really funny, man. Why aren't you in the green room?"
"They said I couldn't hang out there."
"What?? Go ahead. I'll see you after my set."
My girlfriend and I then crossed the thresh hold. And it was glorious.
KIDDING! It was a plain room with two sofas and some more scattered fruit and veggie trays. This was the Forbidden Zone. We plunked ourselves down and watched as Bob began his set on the stage below.
Not eating shit constantly, mind you, but Jesus, he was getting hammered up there by drunken hicks screaming his patented "OoOoOOOOAAAUUghhHHhh!!". He couldn't get in a word edgewise. For 45 minutes, we watched him pull out all the stops, and I recognized that he was now trying to piss them off. Meanwhile, we were laughing our asses off. After all, the guy is funny. And those sofas were comfy.
In between shows, we chatted and got to know each other, and he was then interviewed by a college paper reporter who asked, "Who are your comedy influences?" Bob looked up at me with a blank, "You got any ideas?" look, so I replied, "You were big into Max Gail, weren't you?" (which instantly became his answer).
Our second sets probably went worse than the first, but it's all blended together into a singular show of suck in my memory. At the night's end, my girlfriend had forgotten her purse in the green room as we walked to the car. When she tried to get back in, two bouncers stopped her and told her that no one was allowed in the green room. Luckily, Bob heard her and she was allowed back in...as soon as two, young, attractive girls exited.
Years later, Rolling Stone put out a comedy issue, in one section, asking comedians about the worst nights they'd ever played.
Bobcat Goldthwait made mention of a biker/sports bar in Milwaukee a handful of years back.