In my line of work—stand up comedian—you deal with people who are drinking. As a whole, people are good, and can handle their alcohol. But every so often you run into folks who would have done society a favor by staying home and downing a case of beer from the safety of their couch. Sometimes they heckle; other times they’re simply belligerent. Either way, they usually have to be kicked out of the comedy club.
I’ve always wondered what they thought of their behavior the next day, when they sobered up. Were they embarrassed by their actions? Any decent person would be. When dealing with the unwashed masses, however, you don’t always get decent people.
Case in point: the other week, a table of four had to be removed from the showroom during my set. They had talked all through the host, talked all through the middle comic, and were still talking when I hit the stage. Fortunately, by that point, management had lost their patience. After I had turned to them twice and said, “Hey, quit talking,” they were asked to leave.
There are two ways to exit a room you’re no longer wanted in: quietly, head hung low, or boisterous and defiant. On this particular occasion, it went 50/50; two people quickly slinked away, embarrassed by the attention. The other two at the table were stunned.
“What? We were just talking!” the woman shouted.
After the manager explained talking isn’t permitted during a live performance, they grew even more agitated. The manager explained that they were annoying every table around them, which seemed to stun the couple.
“They don’t have to listen to us if they don’t want to!”
Apparently the woman didn’t understand how audio waves work, and that you can’t really ignore sound.
To accelerate their exodus, the manager asked the audience, “By a round of applause, who wants these people to leave?”
The whole crowd erupted; the table had been sufficiently annoying enough to get on everyone’s nerves.
After several minutes of back and forth, the couple finally made their way out, throwing a couple parting shots my way, since I had dared tell them to quiet down.
As the collective rest of the audience cheered the departure, the thought I mentioned earlier crossed my mind: what would those people think of their behavior once they sobered up?
Lucky me, I got to find out.
The next day around 5pm, a post from the argumentative woman—Cindy—appeared on my Facebook Comedy Page: “Don’t go see this guy. Our table were laughing and talking and we were asked to leave as we left he had the audience clap to see us go. The comedian before him had no problem with us and encouraged the noise and laughter.”
As I made my way through the grammar and syntax errors, I had to give a combination laugh and sad head shake. As stated, this post popped up around 5pm. That means Cindy had all night to sleep it off, and all day to come to terms with her behavior. And when all was said and done? She used willful ignorance to double down on her stupidity.
I didn’t even consider responding to her post; there didn’t seem to be any point. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t wonder how some people make it through life when they’re oblivious to how the world works.
Dissect her very own words: up front, Cindy admits they were talking. She doesn’t even bother to lie, or say “We were kicked out for absolutely no reason!” Nope, she says they were laughing (lie) and talking (truth).
Next, she isn’t self-aware enough to understand that the audience applauding her departure means they were more than happy to see her go. It’s unlikely she made it her whole life without hearing spontaneous applause, which means she willfully denies the fact she wasn’t wanted there.
Finally, the opening comic wasn’t appreciative of her at all. I know, because when he walked off stage he was furious. He even, and somehow Cindy missed this, yelled “Shut the fuck up!” at her table. Twice. I’m not sure how Cindy interpreted “Shut the fuck up!” as encouragement, but I think we can determine from her writing skills she’s not the brightest light on any Christmas tree.
That night, when all was said and done I thanked the manager for his actions, and he laughed; “Oh, that wasn’t anything. If you thought they were bad, you should have been here for Screech.”
He described how during Screech’s set, a man who identified himself as a lawyer got into it with the Saved By the Bell star. The lawyer was exceedingly drunk, and started heckling. This set Screech off, and irritated the audience. They went back and forth for several minutes, with Screech getting in jab after jab and the lawyer getting angrier and angrier as the audience laughed and applauded at his expense.
Eventually, realizing he was on the losing end of the verbal jousting, the lawyer stood up, hoisted twin middle fingers into the air, and shouted “FUCK YOU!” to the world as he stormed out.
A fitting end to his derailing of the comedy show, but that’s not the conclusion to this story.
Several days later, the lawyer interviewed for a job; he was looking to move up in the world, and presented himself as a clean-cut, no-nonsense straight shooter. The potential employer took the man through every stage of the interview process, all the way to one final question.
After jumping through the myriad hoops of the interview process, the lawyer probably felt he had a great shot at being hired, until the potential employer said, “Well, I think we only have one question left; would you like to explain this?”
At which point they showed the lawyer a video of his actions at the comedy club. Someone at the company had been at the show, recorded the whole event on his cell phone, and realized it was the same person coming in for an interview later that week.
Job = denied.
I should start filming all my sets.
Just think; I could have posted a clip of Cindy acting the fool, and made sure all her friends got the link.
Maybe next time.
(bonus: sometimes there’s a camera running when I’m dealing with drunk folks)
Months ago, my wife was listening to an interview with Jason Bateman. One question caught her ear: “Would you let your children get into acting?”
She stopped what she was doing and paid full attention to the words exiting Jason’s mouth. “I wouldn’t, only because it is a profession that you can’t really help yourself in. In most professions, if you stay at the office an extra four hours every day, you’re gonna impress the boss, you’re gonna get that promotion, you’re gonna get that raise, you’re gonna at least have job security. But with acting, if you’re really ambitious and you have a good work ethic, and are really good at your job, it might not really matter.”
My wife got lost in thought a moment, and in a very unfortunate parallel related those words to comedy, and my career. There is something odd—some might say unfair—about the artistic world, where how good you are matters much less than how lucky you are.
Which brings me to something semi-related. I cannot remember where I read this, but someone once asked a member of the Dukakis presidential campaign, “When did you realize it was over?”
The answer was a surprising, “When they announced we lost.”
They didn’t admit defeat one month, one week, or one day out from the election. Even though the world at large knew Bush Sr. was a lock, the Dukakis people lived in such a bubble they used faith to carry them to the bitter end. That wasn’t unique to the Dukakis campaign; Mitt Romney was so convinced he was going to win he didn’t have a concession speech written.
Delusion isn’t isolated to politics; every year on American Idol, confident teens declare, “I am the next American Idol.” They say it full of belief, even though at the end of it all there is but one Highlander standing in victory.
Which makes me ask: at what point are you supposed to become self-aware enough to understand: it’s not happening?
I’ve been watching David Letterman since his first show. I always wanted to meet him, to be a guest on his program. This goes back to when I was in high school. Sure, I had no reason to be on television, but I still wanted to sit on a chair next to Dave and just… be there. When I decided to become a comedian, Letterman became my goal. I never had any dreams of getting my own sitcom or becoming a movie star, I just wanted to perform on Letterman’s stage.
Dave is going off the air in a few months. To say things aren’t looking good for my dream would be like saying Abraham Lincoln had a bad evening at Ford’s Theater.
Which is OK, because in life you can re-calibrate your goals, and long ago I widened my net to include all the late night shows. Because I’d rather not look in a mirror and see Dorian Gray staring back at me.
Unfortunately, the very concept of grabbing a television slot looks ever more grim, depending on the day and my attitude. This causes me to wonder: is there a stage when hope becomes fantasy, with everyone but you knowing you’re on a hamster wheel and not a path?
Comedy is a struggle; any artistic pursuit is. It beats you up daily. There is a huge chasm between the joy of the stage and the struggle of the business. By way of example, I auditioned for a club last year. I heard they were looking for new faces, so I went and tried out. I did very well, yet as of this writing haven’t been hired there.
Meanwhile, another comedian went up that night and tanked. Their material wasn’t very good, and the audience wasn’t laughing. Naturally, that person works there regularly. Even worse to my ego, I spent a weekend with this comedian in 2013. They were my opening act and struggled through every show. There were a few smiles, maybe even a laugh now and then, but for a majority of the 30 minutes the comedian was on stage you heard silence.
And yet that person has a full calendar, and management.
You cannot make sense of these things; to try would be to go insane. I also don’t like giving voice to these thoughts. Negativity breeds negativity, no one likes a whiner, the power of positive thinking and all that jazz…
…but I admit that sometimes I feel like Crash Davis.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if I’m delusional. Maybe life is about being Rocky Balboa in the first movie, holding your ground to the bitter end and winning the moral victory while losing the fight. Maybe it’s enough to know that if you try to be everything to everyone, you won’t be anything to anyone. Maybe these are thoughts I try to convince myself are truths.
Maybe trying to prove Jason Bateman wrong will be my Sisyphean task.
You can find more upbeat musings by Nathan on his website.
By his own admission, chasing the stage wasn’t Joe’s idea. Coworkers pressured him into performing, because he was always cracking wise at the office. A former journalist and advertising writer, Joe is a comic who has appeared on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson and been a part of the Just for Laughs festival.
Rooftop writer Nathan Timmel shot him these questions regarding his first release with the label.
NT: how long have you been performing, how long did it take you to find your voice?
JD: This summer it will be 14 years since I was first forced onstage by my coworkers. I think around 10 years in I started to feel the consistency in my material, but the people who’ve been listening to me for a while say it was there early on. Ask me again when I hit the 20-year mark, that’s when the real fun will start.
NT: Where was the disc recorded, and over how many shows?
JD: May 2014, 3 shows over 2 nights at Brokerage Comedy Club in Bellmore, Long Island. I’ve done hundreds of spots there so I had a good comfort level.
NT: The bonus tracks: what was the thought process behind removing those specific jokes from the set and attaching them to the end of the disc?
JD: Rooftop did a great job with my insane requests to blend together jokes from all three shows – sometimes word by word – to make it sound like a complete headlining set. I boiled it down from about 75 minutes, then sent them charts & graphs that looked like the chalkboard from Good Will Hunting. The bonus tracks were jokes that I liked but didn’t fit in with the rest of the set. And what the hell, who doesn’t like bonus?
NT: You write a sort of love letter to NY though several of your jokes; you describe it in a way that allows non-natives to relate. Do you feel NY has heavily influenced you as a comedian, or is it the fact you’re a comedian that allows you to view NY through observational eyes?
JD: I didn’t hang out in NYC when I was a kid, so I’m still fascinated by the stuff you get used to seeing in an average day. You get blasé when a rat runs by holding a bagel in its mouth – I don’t think that happens elsewhere. But until you get used to it, it’s a constant assault on your senses, including your sense of decency.
NT: You hint of politics in your set, without going into “taking sides.” How far away do you see America being from the legalization of marijuana nationwide?
JD: I think there’s no turning back at this point, and that’s a good thing. To deny free adults access to something that’s less harmful than aspirin is nonsense. When my friends say, “But don’t you think legalizing medicinal marijuana will lead to casual use?” I tell them, “Yeah – THAT’S THE PLAN.”
NT: Marriage equality?
JD: What other people do is none of my business. I don’t feel threatened, because successful same-sex relationships are just as alien to me as successful heterosexual relationships.
NT: I would almost describe your comedy as… “Surprise left turn.” You hear the setup, and then the punchline is out of left field. I don’t want to give away specific punchlines, but the “homemade bong” comes to mind, as does a moment with the couple on the first date. Would you agree with that, and/or how would you describe yourself to someone preparing to listen to your disc or see you live?
JD: It’s interesting what I’ve learned about myself from my act – it turns out I like confusing and misleading people. We’re lucky I’m a comedian and not a crossing guard or air-traffic controller.
NT: You joke openly about medications, depression, OCD; how close to home is that part of your set?
JD: As much as I love “jokes,” it feels like the longer I do this, the deeper into my own life the act has to go. When a comic talks about something that’s true, it makes a different connection with the audience. I’d rather someone come up to me after a show and say that they could relate to personal stuff than some hilarious “talking-GPS” bit.
NT: Single when you recorded the disc… found a mate yet?
JD: Nope. But expecting better results once I bump my Tinder radius up from “8 feet around my apartment.”
Davon Magwood is a “Do-it-yourself” kind of comedian. Want to go on tour? Line up a tour. Want to get in front of audiences? Create those audiences. Davon doesn’t wait for the Comedy Gods to book him, he goes into cities on his own and brings his comedy straight to the people.
Rooftop Comedy is proud to release Davon’s first full-length comedy CD, I’d Rather Be Napping, and had Nathan Timmel talk to him about the album.
NT: Your bio describes your comedy as “alternative.” Tell listeners what that means, and how it might differ from “traditional” comedy.
DM: I think it’s a different approach to comedy, I have set ups and punchlines I just believe the approach is different.
NT: Your disc sounds very free-form… how set in stone is your act, and how much is stream of consciousness?
DM: I know how I want my show to go. I know what jokes I’d like to tell, and I allow room for myself and the Audience to play a bit. So I’ll have a set list and order. But I riff if the opportunity presents itself.
NT: How long did it take you to fine tune the material for the CD; over how many years did you write it?
DM: This album took 3 years for those jokes to be album ready. Hopefully now that I’m more comfortable with my writing style, it won’t take another 3 years.
NT: Your set comes across as fearless; you touch on “taboo” subjects almost immediately. Is that a way of challenging the audience, or is it simply a way of letting them know up front what they’re about to see?
DM: I believe you should know what you’re getting into from the jump. I like to hit them hard.
NT: You’ve done a lot of independent shows, and a self-produced tour. Talk about the effort it takes to mount something like that. Did you have sponsors, or backing? Is this an approach you took consciously, to avoid traditional comedy clubs, or did you try your hand and not enjoy the experience with the regular venues?
DM: I haven’t had any sponsors yet. Maybe in the future I will. I just wanted to experience the road and other comedy scene and there was too much red tape when it comes sponsorships. And paper work is hard. It’s hard though, putting on your own shows its real hard work. But I love every second of it. I’ve done comedy clubs. I don’t mind that them. I just don’t get the right vibes when I’m there. It’s like performing at Medieval Times. You’re performing while people eat and they’re not really engaged and then the prices for everything suck. Just rather book a small venue and have a good time.
NT: Your disc closes with “Final show in Pittsburgh…” You moved to NYC. What brought about that choice, and how are you finding NYC?
DM: I love NYC, but I won’t stay long. I’m going to head to LA.because I promised myself if I left Pittsburgh, I’d go to a place where snow doesn’t visit. I just needed out of Pittsburgh it’s my home, but I need to explore a bit.
NT: How did being a Pittsburgh comedian shape you, if indeed it did?
DM: I got a lot of stage time. Pittsburgh is a good scene to develop a tough skin.
Davon Magwood’s new album, I’d Rather Be Napping, was released on December 16th, 2014 on Rooftop Comedy Productions. It is available digitally on Amazon MP3, iTunes, and Bandcamp.