Sammy Arechar is one of Milwaukee’s finest. See him May 22 and 24 in Omaha as part of the Crom Comedy Festival. They have fries in Omaha. -ed.
I would say a true nightmare gig would be to tell more than one joke in front of a group of people who says “You’re a comic? tell me a joke”! That would be the worst. It happens all the time.
Anyway, one time I had done a set so poorly, and was so bummed out about it because it was my first gig I had lined up in Chicago, that I binge ate two Italian beef sandwiches afterwards. I thought to myself “man, these people must think I suck and I will never be here again, if not for a really long time”. I didn’t know how the game was played, still had a lot of stairs to climb and ropes to shimmy up in the comedy #biz. The sandwich story is just a preface to my “Nightmare”. I bring this up because this was the beginning of what I called a “dry spell”, bombing showcase after showcase, mic after mic for a week straight.
It was still around a time where I wouldn’t say no to a show. It didn’t matter where it was, I couldn’t pass it up. I would say yes to a show that’s hours away, just to get 7 minutes and a few dollars, that’s if, people had put money in the donation jar AKA an old Bud Light pitcher. Now I’m starting to have a hard time with saying yes to distance shows without reimbursement because, when I started, I also had a full time job. Currently, I don’t. I have a part time at a job that allows me to take off whenever. Realistically, if I can work just one shift a week, that’s fine. It takes 40 bucks to get me to and from anywhere on a Megabus. I’ve learned through comedy that money isn’t everything. “You’ll know when to quit your day job when you can’t successfully do both at the same time,” a comic gave me that piece of advice one night after a show. It really gels with me, but I also like to idea of working one day at my day job, enough to buy whatever is on sale at Pizza Hut.
Back to the dry spell. Out of respect for the booker and venue, I will be vague to the location, but I will describe it as well as I can. I was driving up to the show, it was a little over a two hour drive. I was driving a car that got, at most, 19 MPG. Still couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I was guaranteed one free drink and food, the money was donation. I was holding my breath on this. I get there and I’m starting to let go of said breath. It’s a bar in a strip mall, it’s next to a DMV. Middle of nowhere. Didn’t see many cars in the parking lot. To my surprise, it was a full house. That’s when I thought things we’re looking up for ya boy, but then I started to connect the dots. The mic stand is literally in front of the front door, the only entrance/exit in that place, the door where people can either come in, leave for a cigarette, or just leave. There was no light, no lights at all. Just an evenly lit room with TV’s running and neon lights flashing. Didn’t even have a stool for my drink, and as anyone who went to comedy class knows, that this room wouldn’t meet the requirements for a stand-up setting. EVERY STAND UP SHOW HAS TO HAVE A STOOL SO I CAN PUT MY DRINK ON IT, EVERYONE KNOWS THAT.
The host does some time up front. The crowd loves him, I’m getting excited, my name gets called and I go up. I’m supposed to do 10 minutes, but had a really hard time doing so because LITERALLY NO SOUND WAS EMMITED BY ANYONE DURING MY ENTIRE SET. I really thought calling them mimes would make them laugh. Nope. No one thought anything I said was worth a response of any sort. No laugh, no applause, no sound of resonation. I get the light and I start my closer it’s an impression of a “DJ ordering pizza”. It’s full-proof. My thought process was “even thought I didn’t have a good set, this joke will warm them up for the next comic, I’m sure”.
Not even a “woo”. Nothing. Like, seriously, never thought this was for real something that can happen.
I get off, redeem my guaranteed root beer and French fries, and the host brings up the next comic. His opening lines were “Man, that last comic could’ve literally put me to sleep”! Which, normally wouldn’t have bugged me, but, it really hurt me to hear EVERYONE LAUGHED VERY LOUDLY AT IT.
Ugh, this place had so much potential for me to think it was cool. Had a DJ, a bunch of dance floor lights, and really good fries.
This experience did teach me a lot. After that night I really had to figure out what was going on. I had always blamed the audience for “not getting it”. I would assume that any joke that got a laugh once was “good enough”. I wasn’t developing, I was becoming stagnant. It took me having to bomb for a week straight, being insulted, driving four hours and getting back home with less money than I left with, to understand that I still had a lot to learn. I want to say I hope no one should have to experience this, but I really feel like these kinds of shows are very essential.
This was a nightmare and an epiphany put together.
I have nothing against the comic who insulted me. But for the record he was a jerk and I hope every time he eats pizza the cheese slides off and slaps him in the chin and I hope his bowflex gym gets stolen.
Photo by Tom Grimm, courtesy of Sammy Arechar