My nightmare gig happened almost exactly one year ago this week! June 2014 was an awful month. One of my best friends in comedy/life Dan Ronan passed away unexpectedly. If you don’t know Dan’s work as a comedian, stop reading this and Google him immediately. I had two shows scheduled the week that I found out, and for some reason I will never understand, I decided to do both of them. I am going to tell you about the second one, which aside from happening during one of the worst weeks of my life, was also at a country club at 1 p.m. in Norfolk, Nebraska. It was for a festival that was taking place there. Does Norfolk not sound like a great place to have a comedy festival? Well, let me remind you that it is Johnny Carson’s hometown! Johnny did not come to my show. He also cheated on all of his wives ☹.
The show took place on Saturday afternoon and I had to drive through the night to get there. That Friday, there was a memorial show for Dan at Timothy O’Toole’s. Joe Kwaczala put it together and it was cathartic and hysterical and absolutely necessary (watch it here!). The show ended at Midnight (central standard time). I then walked over to 7-Eleven, bought Red Bull and iced coffee and soda and chips and magnum condoms and hit the road to Norfolk. I just Google Maps’d it to double check and the drive from Timothy O’Tooles to the hotel I was at in Norfolk is estimated at 8 hours and 42 minutes, and that doesn’t even account for crying stops. I don’t remember much from that drive. I remember a two hour phone call with my friend and comedian Ian Abramson that really helped. I remember staring straight forward and not laughing at very funny podcasts. I remember slapping myself in the face to stay awake when in one lane traffic in farm country once the sun was out. It was just like any wacky road trip movie! I got to the hotel at around 10 a.m. and slept for 2 hours before driving to the country club.
One thing I’ve found about 1 p.m. country club audiences is that they don’t enjoy my brand of outrageous and irreverent freak folk comedy. The set was an absolute disaster. I went 14th out of 15 comedians, so it was almost 2:30 and these people were probably ready for bed. The crowd was very old. I was very tired. The show was in a room with a lot of windows so you could see people golfing behind us, just like at the Comedy Cellar in NYC. I forget most of what happened with the other comedians. The show was contest style and the winner was a tall man from Nebraska who joked about being tall and being from Nebraska, two concepts I just could not relate to on a personal level. My set was atrocious, luckily they filmed it and set it to me on DVD.
After a full year of this DVD sitting in a drawer in my house, I watched it today. I deliver my first joke to literal silence and then look to the side and go “alright.” I had just almost killed myself to get to this show and they aren’t gonna give me anything? SMH. The next joke bombs as well. Then I just have straight up contempt for the audience/all of mankind and look to the side while delivering jokes I know they will hate. Here is how I end the set: “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much, from the bottom of my BIG HEART you are my favorite people in America! Stop talking, Tommy. Alright.” You may be able to guess that this was not sincere. I think my eyes rolled back in my head. I was honestly scared watching myself be that hateful, I understand why I felt that way, but I looked like the fucking Joker while I said that. I threw away the DVD immediately. I didn’t want it in the room with me (like how Pauline Kael after reading the Taxi Driver script had to move it from her bedroom before sleeping—god that’s a great anecdote).
After my set I got in my car and immediately drove back to Chicago (on two hours of sleep). While on the trip home I found out that my grandfather (who I am named after and loved very much) had passed away. Joe Kwaczala did not put together a memorial show for him, strangely. June 2014, man.
Since that month, so many great things have happened in my life. The happy ending is that just months later Men’s Health Magazine named gave me the prestigious Golden Abs Award for the comedian with the best abs. I think in the last year I have learned a lot about love and grief and country club crowds. Your friends and family can get you through anything, so next time you see them, make sure to say “miss u”.