Gena Gephart is a Madison, Wisconsin based comic. You can see her at the CROM Comedy Festival in Denver on May 30 and 31. “Todd” won’t be there. -ed.
This is a story about a nightmare gig but this is also the story of a man. The dumbest individual I think I may have ever met. A man who never learned the difference between “sense” and “since.” A man whose idea of a joke is yelling his homemade catchphrase “Put some powdered sugar on it!” repeatedly at the audience. A man who put out his own comedy album after doing ten open mic sets, seven of which made up the tracks of said album. A man who, were he doing all of this on purpose, I would think was an absolute genius, but I’m 89% sure he’s not. And while I will spend the next 700 words shitting on this man I would also like to say he’s the person with the most unyielding self-confidence and go-getter attitude I’ve ever seen and I do respect him for that. Well, respect is a strong word. But it’s admirable. It’s like if a duck wanted to run for president and he did a lot of networking and hand shaking and somehow got elected to head of the PTA at a private elementary school. You’d be like, “That duck is a real mover and shaker. He will never be president but that is still quite a duck as far as ducks go.” Anyways, for the purpose of this essay I will call this duck Todd.
I first met Todd when he came up to me at an open mic and asked myself and a few other comics to do a show he was putting on in this fancy theater in an upscale downtown venue which I later found out he had paid $700 to use. He also told us that the show would be a competition between the 14 comics, each of us getting seven minutes. The winner was going to be chosen by an audience vote and would win $400. All of us going into this were pretty sure it was too good to be true. We didn’t think Todd was actually going to shell out $400 and we really didn’t think he was going to even come close to filling this big ass venue selling $10 and $15 tickets to see amateur comedians. And yet somehow, he did. We were shocked to see almost 100 people slowly fill the theater. How he pulled this off is among the top five mysteries of the modern world, along with why McGriddles taste good and whether Dick Cheney is actually a bear disguised in a realistic man suit. So as we peeked out from behind the curtain we wondered, “Was this show actually just good enough to be true?” And then twenty minutes late, Todd took the stage in a bright aqua tank top, a lei around his neck, sunglasses on top of his regular glasses and took a full five minutes to wish his friend a happy birthday. For the next two hours Todd singlehandedly tanked his own show. It was like if a duck built a fully functional tank and everyone was like, “Wow, how did that duck do that? That’s amazing,” and then the duck drove the tank into a hospital and everyone was like, “Well yeah. I mean he’s a duck. He should not be operating heavy machinery.”
Speaking of ducks, at most comedy shows it is traditional to give the comic a discreet light from the back of the room to let them know that their time is almost up. However, Todd opted to walk onto the stage and blow a duck-shaped novelty whistle at the end of each comic’s set, and as he became increasingly drunker throughout the show, just whenever he felt the urge. At one point he even went so far as to stumble onto stage, blow his all powerful duck whistle in the middle of one of the comics’ sets and demand that she do one of her other jokes. There were some audience members who were into the show, but much of the audience was made up of wealthy looking older white couples who had seen the ad in the local paper and had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Although the show was drastically behind schedule after the first seven comics, there was a 20 minute intermission during which people tried to buy over priced drinks from the overwhelmed single bartender in the lobby. By the time the show started up again, the audience members who had been into it were not, and the old white couples were wearing expressions like their son had just come out to them at a Marilyn Manson concert. About nine comics in, Todd got so drunk that he forgot he was hosting a show and wandered off for 15 minutes, leaving us to have to bring each other to the stage shotgun style. This is when I had the pleasure of going up and while I did eat shit for seven minutes, I do think there is a lot to learn from doing a set for a freezing cold, fed up audience and getting used to that silence. There should be some kind of award for performing a set with grace for 90 people that hate you. I wouldn’t have won it, but I think it should exist.
Todd arrived back onstage at the end of my set yelling that he was back without the least bit of embarrassment or apology, tooting his duck whistle triumphantly. At the end of the show we learned that the “audience vote” meant Todd slurring into the microphone for everyone to throw their ballots onto the stage while the audience exited the theater like there was a fire, and then collecting the crinkled papers in handfuls and stuffing them into a trash bag. However, a few days later after his hangover subsided, he announced the winner on Facebook and a few days after that handed him the full $400 at an open mic. The wildest part of this was that after this colossal cluster fuck of a show, Todd did it again! Having considered the event such a smash hit, the next month he put on another show. Same venue, same excessive amount of comics, same duck whistle. Way less people though, because all those old people were like, “Fool me once, you gross hippies.” The second show tanked even harder and although many predicted he would retire from producing shows, Todd went on to put on many more shows, with varying degrees of success, until he outgrew this fair city and moved out to New York. And now I follow his antics fondly on Facebook, seeing the different commercials and TV shows he auditions for, the many celebrities he almost meets, and the shows he now tricks New York comics into being a part of, and as I watch I think to myself, “Wow, that is quite a duck, as far as ducks go.”