I exist in a weird limbo between being horrible at keeping things and yet equally as bad at throwing them away.
Let me give you an example. Ten years ago, I entered the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. I thought I might keep an account of the potentially weeks-long slog (that is, should I advance from prelims to semis to finals) to document what that kind of thing might be like.
So I took pen to paper (ah, the good old days) and began chronicling my journey through the competition. Then reality set in, and the thousands of miles of driving and neurotic set planning and eating countless trashy fast food meals would subsume all my days. As WKRP’s theme song so wonderfully put it, “Got kinda tired of packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial.”
Long story short, I got as far as Day 1.
Here it is:
It’s a 6-hour drive north to the Black Oak Casino and day one of my preliminary week. This is the second of two preliminary weeks. The top five of each week will meet up next week in the semi-finals. It is the hope of each comic to be there.
My week is 16 comics deep and they come from all over: Missouri, Salt Lake City, Boston, Seattle, Sacramento. Canada and England are represented as well, helping the San Francisco International Comedy Competition live up to its name.
In a nice gesture of generosity, competition producer Jon Fox (not to be confused with legendary road comic John Fox) has arranged for comics to get a free room at a nearby motel. This is the good news. The bad news is that we’re all sharing rooms with another comic.
I’ve been assigned Boston comedian Tony Moschetto as my roomie. Nothing against Tony, he may turn out to be a decent guy (and in fact he does) but I have a pre-show ritual I like to call, “Not Sharing A Room With Another Guy.” So instead, I spring for a room of my own at a neighboring motel.
Is that strange? I mean, we are all brothers/sisters in the stand-up world. Shouldn’t there be some kind of camaraderie? Where’s the Bushido? The traveling showbiz spirit of carnies, 200 to a train? Alas, the loner side of me prevails.
The show is in the casino’s “showroom.” I use quotes because there are not four walls and a door. The showroom is on the casino’s main floor, open to the action and the noise. They end up packing the audience in, however, and the distraction factor is somewhat reduced.
Thankfully, this is the 32nd edition of the competition, and they have built up a faithful crowd. This is in stark contrast to another casino gig I did earlier this year. It was the first night of their new “comedy night” and I played to maybe 20 people in a 400-seat “showroom” that was open to the casino floor. The big screen TVs were left on, as were the disco lights, which throbbed in sync to every word spoken into the mic. Hell? Yes. Hell yes.
The predetermined show order had me going up 5th of 15. The missing 16th comic was skipping the first night to finish a cruise ship gig. A risky gamble, because we are all allowed to drop our low score of the week. Skipping a night creates an instant drop-score of zero and means you’d better spit fire the rest of the week. For Joe Larson’s sake, after missing night one, I hope he’s part dragon.
Here’s a little tip for aspiring comedy competitors: if you know there’s a specific food that gives you gastric distress, try not to eat it right before you go on. For me, that food is goat cheese. I’m okay with all the other cheeses in the world, but for some reason goat cheese happens to give me the dizzly shits somethin’ fierce.
Unfortunately, I also happen to love how it tastes. So when I hit the casino café an hour before show time and saw Roasted Portobello Mushrooms With Goat Cheese on the menu, I threw caution to the wind.
I gobbled it down in a hurry, forsaking savoring the tasty bits of goat cheese in favor of getting the colonic upheaval started quicker. And, like clockwork, I was on the toilet getting it all out just 5 minutes before my spot.
My turn on stage saw me open with a bit that went nowhere. An old faithful joke about travel advice got no response. Nothing. If I hadn’t already had a cleansing just minutes before, I probably would have shit several bricks right there. So instead, I switched gears and did some quick crowdwork to loosen them up and went right back into the prepared material. Got them back. Whew!
After leaving the stage, I wait as emcee, and previous finalist, Cain Lopez asks the audience for another round of applause for me. He had explained to them before the show that their extended applause at this point would give each comic an extra bonus “encore point.” Solid clapping and cheering for 10 seconds meant getting the point, and the comic coming out to take another bow. Anything less meant no point. So I waited. And they gave it to me.
The other criteria used in judging our sets are material, delivery, stage presence, audience rapport, audience response and a subjective category based on if the judge liked you. Each is on a scale of 1 through 10, and they are all averaged to give you a final score of 1 through 10. The encore point is added afterwards, if earned, giving each comic a potential final score of 11.0.
In the event the first place finisher of the evening doesn’t nail a perfect 11, his/her score is adjusted upward to 11, and each competitor’s score is also inflated by an equal amount.
Backstage, another comedian, Aaron “Riggs” Flett, told me, “Look at you. You have a nice watch, a nice computer, a nice truck. You don’t need to win this thing. I do.”