Is it a coincidence that my first bomb was also my first booked gig? Well anyways, I can’t tell this story without a little bit of a back story. I was a writer for a short lived publication called Groove Magazine which was a night life and entertainment magazine based out of New Haven. So I had pitched an article to my editor about doing a piece on a comedian who got his start at Jokers Wild Comedy Club, John Romanoff. It helped that John is my uncle’s friend and I have known him for a decade. So it was easy to arrange.
During the interview I distinctively remember thinking that I want to be one of them. I always loved stand up, but I never had the balls to give it a shot. So writing was a way to express myself creatively without any risk. I was always afraid people wouldn’t like my work. As a writer I rarely ever saw someone read my work and get a truly honest reaction. Stand Up is the most honest art form. Laughing is a visirol reaction that is hard to fake and impossible to control. So you know if you’re doing well or not immediatley. Now that I knew comedian personally it felt obtainable. He wasn’t someone I saw on TV. He was at my family parties. I was there to see his successes. It took away a lot of the mystique, and made it an obtainable goal. If it weren’t for him and my wife there is no way I would have made the leap from journalism to comedy.
Well, about a month after my first open mic, I had performed probably 3 or 4 times ever, I see John at my little cousins birthday party. The first thing he says, “Are you getting up or have you given up already?”
So I chuckled a little and exaggerated grossly about how many open mics I had done up to this point. So he says, ”I have a friend who runs a weekly showcase I can get you on it.”
I try to get out of it saying that I am not ready and he gets pushier and pushier the more I try to evade. So John calls his friend and gets me this spot right in front of me. After its booked he looks at me and says, “This guy is a good guy to impress don’t fuck it up.”
So the gig was a week away and I needed to put together about 5 minutes of material. So I memorize my set and drive down to Trumbell, CT which is about an hour and a half away from Springfield, MA where I live. When I get there I meet this couple outside smoking and they ask me what I’m doing here with a Mass plate, too which I reply that I am a comedian.
Immediately, they fall in love with me and insist that they buy me dinner and drinks. I couldn’t say no. So I have them dying laughing at dinner telling them stories breaking their balls. It was a blast. I was in the zone ready to make it happen. I have visions of doing the Tonight Show in a month all because I murdered this showcase in Southern CT. My logic is flawless.
Well anyway I see that the show is about to start and the producer of the showcase tells me I have 3 minutes instead of 5, because it’s a packed show. That threw me off a little bit, but I was alright with that I figured I could cut a couple of weaker jokes and be fine. I am 10th out of 15 on the list so I have plenty of time to put together a game plan.
So it gets to the 9th comedian the one before me and he absolutely murders the room, has the crowd eating out of his hand. He walks off the stage to a standing ovation. My stomach drops to my balls, because now its my time. I hear the host call my name and I walk up and start my act. My first joke was, “Any couples in the crowd? Well I’m married and my problem is that my wife is too hot for me. I bring her to the bar and as soon as I leave to go get drinks people approach and say blink twice if he is holding you hostage.” Which I thought was comedy gold, the crowd didn’t. Then I told a joke about how minorities need to get over slavery, and that middle aged white men are the most disenfranchised race in America. Which I thought that premise would be taken as complete ridiculous satire. They didn’t find it that way and proceded to literally BOOOO me off stage. I have the crowd yelling at me to get the FUCK off stage while I have the producer frantically lighting me to get me off stage.
I get the hint and I give the mic up. I walk down and the producer just says with a face a disapproval, “You just don’t have it yet kid!”
At this point I am so embarrassed I just want to get the hell out of there and as I’m leaving I walk into the couple that bought me dinner, and they will not make eye contact with me. So I say goodbye thanks for dinner, and the guy literally says, “I wish I could get a refund.”
I awkwardly just leave without responding and as soon as I get into my car I start to cry, and I immediately call my wife and tell her what happened. I just told her I am never doing this again. All I could think of was John finding out about this, and telling my uncle that I was a hack. Then my mother would hear about this and have a conversation with me about wasting my time and that I have a daughter to think of. It was a very emotional event. To this day that booker will have nothing to do with me, but I didn’t give up. I kept getting up.