Like a lot of the comics we enjoy, Joe McAdam didn’t feel any allegiance to comedy clubs. Performing in music venues with bands can be difficult but much more rewarding. Sometimes the rewards are in life lessons.
Some of my first gigs were opening for bands in Kansas City. I refused to go to the stand up club in town. I’m sure I had just seen David Cross’s Let America Laugh and thought comedy clubs were the epitome of hack. So the Chortle Basket or Nonsense Depot in a Midwestern strip mall was too lame for me (I’ve since been humbled into performing in malls). When I was brand new at stand up, I’d basically entertain the band that asked me to open the show while the audience bought drinks and chatted with friends. It’s a terrible stand up environment but I didn’t know better. If I could make the band laugh, that was generally good enough for me.
Fast forward a couple years and I’ve moved to Chicago and was doing stand up regularly and had been for a while. I end up going back to Kansas City for Christmas and I’m ready to strut into town with the confidence of someone who had been doing stand up for two whole years. I hit up my old pal Lauren to see if there’s any place I can get a show and she suggests I open for her band at a little dive-y rock club. Sure, I remember those shows being brutal, but I’m good now, surely I’d command the audience’s attention now. Let’s do it!
I went into the gig like a little kid at show and tell with a turtle, then I find out everyone there has seen turtles. They sit around and casually make turtles better than your turtle over a beer. They don’t care how much you’ve been improving your turtle. Why do they need you on stage showing a turtle? Give us a band! That’d be like if a kid showed up to show and tell with a band.
So the schedule is: me for 15 minutes, then an opening band, then 15 more minutes from me, then my friend’s band, then we all celebrate how amazing we are.
I go up for my first set. I’m talked over for 15 solid. All my friends are there, and a handful are standing up front paying attention, which really magnifies the shittiness of it. After being tired of bothering a room of 200 people, I slink off stage to the bar and start drinking a bunch of booze. Generally I don’t like drinking before shows, but this was not a show.
I tend to keep it pretty light on stage. On the comedy spectrum I’m far more Kevin Meaney-excited than Bill Hicks-angry. But man, I was having one of those nights and was really power drinking during the 45-minute band set. I get back onstage and I just started calling everyone in the room an asshole. A lot of “fuck you” this, and “I fucked your dad” that. Real white wine, catty, divorcée drunk stuff. Had anyone been paying attention, they’d think it was real sad.
Oh, I forgot to mention. I’m not opening for some brutal punk band. They play danceable country music with very catchy harmonized boy/girl choruses. I feel it’s important to mention that because the next thing that happened was that I got punched in the head. In the ear specifically. Someone ran up on stage and punched me in the goddamn ear. I spilled beer on a mandolin. The mandolin guy was gonna be pissed.
I immediately recognized my assailant. It’s my friend Mookie. We’ve been friends for years. We like each other. We get along quite well. Super weird that he’d punch me in the ear, then. I’m a little stunned. Mookie wasn’t. He saw all this coming. He easily transitioned from punching me to not punching me. He just hopped off stage. I think I said, “my ear?” a couple times incredulously and then put the mic back in the stand. I remember a real lack of concern from anyone in the crowd. You’d expect a gasp then silence. That didn’t happen at all.
I got off stage and hit the bar. Mookie bellied up and bought me a shot. “What was that all about?” I asked. “Looked like you were having some trouble and I thought it would help. I asked your wife if it was OK to do. She said yeah. I think she thought I was joking.” Story checks out.
I vaguely remember being paid $50 so I guess it could have been worse.