Luke Thayer is a very funny NYC comic who has been seen on Funny or Die and College Humor but perhaps most importantly is also a fan of the film Back to the Future. You can catch him Saturday night at Ghandi Show Live at The Bier Baron Tavern. – ed
Look, bad gigs are part of the comedy career deal and as such it’s kind of like aging. We know it’s going to happen, but once you’re in the middle of it you begin to question all of your life choices leading up to that moment.
I try to look forward in my career. I do a gig and usually no matter how awesome or awful, I put it out of my mind. However, there are a few that haunt long after they are over. I was once hired for a Christmas party which is not unusual in the business and often a good way to earn a decent paycheck. Generally speaking I have a lot of fun doing them.
In this particular case it was a “surprise” Christmas party. A few nurses at a Detroit cosmetic surgeon’s office thought it would be a hoot to gift their boss with a comedian. I went along with the idea because I didn’t think it would matter too much. I was asked if I could bring some headshots to sign for a few of their colleagues. Absolutely, especially since they’re paying.
When I arrive I see the party is way more formal than they had let on. This is the type of place that has a parking valet and every one is in formal wear, sipping on cocktails. There is a DJ, but he is only playing classical music.
I assume SOMEONE knows there is going to be a comedian, as in ANYBODY besides the one nurse I had talked to. Not even close. In fact, I am told “it is imperative” that I “not let anyone know before the big reveal.” Then I am told where I will be sitting for dinner. I say, “No problem,” but I am really thinking, “Oh, please don’t do this to me.”
I sit down to dine with strangers, which I desperately do not want to do. I am a Midwesterner at heart and do not want to be rude so I go along with it and stuff my feelings down into the deepest regions of my soul. I make small talk with these folks and pretend to be the friend of someone at the party (I have no idea who, just some name I was given 45 seconds before I sit down). It is uncomfortable, but the people at my table are friendly and kind. I think “these people will be my friends in the audience if I need them.”
I get up because it’s time for the big reveal. The DJ hands me a microphone. “I’m a stand-up comedian, and this is a gift for your boss!” Half of the faces look confused, the other half mortified – but to be fair there’s been a lot of work done in the room, so those may be permanent expressions. I am guessing the office gives a “friends and family” rate. I make a couple jokes about plastic surgery and get nearly nothing. I jump right into the act and open with a strong joke that usually destroys. It gets a few titters. I look to my dinner companions for friendly faces, but they’ve all gone up to the bar. I continue with the bit because, well, it’s ten minutes long. I am now eating it hard. There are no laughs, just uncomfortable looks. At twenty-five minutes into the show I’ve burned through fifty-five minutes of material so I launch into a five-minute closer. It gets some mild laughs, enough for me to end. “Thank you and happy holidays.” I get applause, but for what I have no idea. They enjoyed the show? They’re super glad it’s over? Knee-jerk reaction? I don’t want to find out.
I walk over to my dinner table to grab my bag and no one makes eye contact with me. I’m also pretty sure they have taken away my chair. Even though I am ready to run out the door I find myself standing at the back table with my headshots and a pen. The woman who has hired me looks a bit shell-shocked, but she puts on a brave face. “Umm, I’m going to bring a couple people over for a signed headshot,” she says. They come over and accept the photos the way a child does when they are given socks as a gift by an elderly aunt.
As I slink out the door I am stopped. “You were hilarious! We thought you were really really funny.” I couldn’t believe it, a few young people in their late teens and early twenties are standing there. I hadn’t noticed them before, most likely because sweat pouring down one’s brow tends to blur vision. “Thank you,” I say. A tall young man finishes the praise by saying, “I hope to see you perform again soon. I’ll be keeping an eye out for you!” That kid didn’t know it, but he made the show worth it.