Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Researching the Stages in Las Vegas Part One

I spent an hour yesterday working on a blog to make up for the ones I haven't written in weeks. It's missing. I have no idea where it went. I hit preview. I hit post. And voila. Gone. No idea.

But I wrote about stuff that I've been doing and about the update on the Benefit. I wake up every morning, and I am on the computer, on the phone, (those who know me well are probably spilling coffee or soda at this moment... I am NEVER on the phone as I hate that tool).

I also wrote about the Las Vegas comedy scene, and Davy O, who is one of the two people who seems to be keeping it flowing. Well, maybe it's better that I get to do a rewrite. I have a better perspective after seeing Davy after five years. And, I have a better respect for what he's been doing.

You see, I'm trying to work on new material which for any comedian means, working on stage. To do that in a city like Los Angeles... you can get to a comedy club, get a slot, and do 10-15, and you have an audience that is VERY willing to listen to comedy. They are there because they are ready to laugh. They know that the comedians are working on new material some nights, and some nights they are getting old timers, or newbies. BUT, regardless, they are there to watch and take part in a night of laughter. Same with San Francisco. One of my favorite sets was in a little gay bar, on an open mic nite, just off of Market Street that I did as a favor to a friend.

The little gay bar set was perfect because the room was wrong, the lighting was terrible, the mic was broken, and the audience LOVED comedy. No one talked over anyone's set, and everyone was just adored...even the people who had poor material and weak stage presence were given respect for their attempts- and it was just great watching the camaraderie between the folks who were there week after week, and those who were doing a one-nighter, and getting paid, like me. It was just a little wine bar, and it was brilliant...I did 15 minutes, some material wasn't great, some material was perfect, and it was the best set I have ever had because the audience was the best I had ever had. They wanted to love every word, even when I was failing them on the one or two bits I flubbed. (In a comics mind, you falter on one sentence and you think you've blown 10 minutes... but in my tape.. it was just for 12 seconds I didn't get laughs! that's comedy mental block.)

But, then you get the flashbacks to the days when you are an open mic virgin. I worked one night in this club in Oklahoma, about 10 years after starting out. I was doing a show, on a weekend off from school at Calarts. It was me and two GUYS. Big burly bus driving looking guys. And they had these three local guys who were supposed to be the openers, and I guess one was supposed to do some bits at the end. So the show had way too many people on the bill, in a truck stop in Oklahoma...and I was terrified. It was probably my fifth or sixth road gig which didn't help.

There was wall-to-wall beer, and it was Alamo style. There was two kinds of food, burgers and brats. The room that they set us in for sleeping was a dorm style room that used to be the store room for the old "ice cream parlor" and it had five cots in it... and since I was the only "chick" they've ever had, they didn't have anything separating me from the two truck drivers at all, one of whom had picked up a comedy-slut for the evening. That was an adventure all its own. BUT, the best part of the night was the stage... They piled up four folded up tables, and put a table cloth cover on it... so we wouldn't scuff the tables.. which made them very slippery. The microphone was a radio shack one, and they didn't know they needed to put that into a sound system, so it was in the radio amplifier... because that's what they used for the BINGO night, and it worked. Okay.

Comedy was new there, and it was new there because they heard they could make a LOT of money if they had comedy. Well, Tulsa had comedy, and why not? Well, the audience consisted of a nearby college dorm of students, a local VFW gang of vets from the Spanish American War, the local bowling team, and The Sooner Spooners or something.. I forget, but some sort of booster club. Seriously, the place was packed with people... and it sat about 200. There was an ice crushing machine, for the slushies. And, there was a frozen drink being made at least every 2.3 seconds. I got handed a "Frozen Blue Hawaiian" which had at least a half gallon of vodka. The barkeep said, "I watered it down for you sugar, because I know you have to speak tonight."


So I am the third one on the set. That would mean I was the Middler for most nights. But in this club, I was the opener because the two local guys were going up, and one was emceeing. Each were going to have ten minutes, and I figured, okay, I'll get it over with first. BOY an hour later...I get intro'd. It was painful because not only had these two guys sucked the air out of the room, but each had been sufficiently drunk enough to just have the locals singing drinking songs by the time I got on stage. Just madhouse stuff. There I was in a town named Norman, and I had no idea what had just transpired... just to get onstage after being introduced as someone else, by the way, and the audience as I guess, expecting me to continue to lead them in drinking songs. It was awful.

It was just like being an open mic-er. I could have been up there doing crossword puzzles or doing Richard Pryor's material and gotten the same response. They were just into drinking. The two guys after me, one of whom is a huge headliner is hearing the drink mixing machine and finally starts singing bar songs, too. He gives up. He actually doesn't even bother doing his act at all. He didn't beat them. He joined them. Nothing could win that crowd. And what killed us, as we were babbling on the plane back to Burbank, was we each got a thank you letter telling us we were the best comics they had there yet! The club didn't last... go figure.

Well, last night, I made the mistake of actually saying "sure" when asked by Davy if I wanted to do a set at his open mic at a local venue here in Las Vegas. First of all, the venue was a bar, where comedy isn't king, and the audience is primarily into the "suck my cock" mentality. Otto and George, yes, chick talking about art, life, and society, not so much. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if I took it up on the first or second set. But I made a second mistake. My charming hubby who has seen many of my recorded comedic moments, hasn't seen my stage act, was off of work in an hour, I figured, "Oh I can wait for him."

WELL, charming hubby had friends at work, and wasn't coming to the show for another hour. BIG problem. You see, when you wait for any amount of time during an open mic in a bar to work on new material, you are pretty much shooting yourself in the ass with an elephant gun. You are saying, "Oh, drunk people, please, pay me not attention, go about your business, have some chit chat with your buddies, and by all means, argue with your boyfriend about where he left his car keys this morning." It was very loud, very weird, and there was no way to gauge where any reactions were to know if the material was even getting anywhere. You can't develop your material without knowing what the reactions are. That's the entire point of having stage time, and those who have experience know this.

The other issue was another open mic gal did the courtesy of dissing every comic who was on stage before while she was on stage. She did this as the fourth or fifth person up there. First of all, she was new, has a beautiful figure, and look, but her material-- she has no confidence in it, and it's so blatantly apparent that she doesn't believe in what she's saying, that she's making herself look as though she doesn't want the audience to care about it. The problem with that is-- when you're in a bar with people who are drinking, and you get on stage, and star yammering that "I know you hate me just because I'm a woman in this town, you pricks don't get it. shut up"-- when you do that you are cutting the ovaries off of anyone else who happens to have them. She absolutely set the stage of "Women in this room suck." THEN the next guy gets on stage, and started teasing her, so what does she do...she heckles him...but she's a bit drunk herself, so she heckles him very badly. And it just turns into this really weird space of WEIRD girl heckling funny guy with guitar... just made it bad. The bad part was? The crowd had a very big contingency of women...who could have been very supportive of her if she didn't start berating them.

I get up there... and my material isn't for the drunk crowd. I do some of the new stuff, and i hear a spattering of laughs. I have the women in the front laughing so I guess I won them back a bit, and I play with the comics a bit. I probably could have done my usual emcee bit and that would have been fine, but I was there to work on material and not to really win the room, which sucks because I put myself in that position. I wasn't really going to win a room of drunks. But what did I have to lose... I said a few lines.. got laughs where I wanted them. That worked. I said a few more.. realized I missed a tag.. I need to learn the material more. So that's something I learned. I ended with a bit I haven't used in 5 years. They laughed, so that was fine. I didn't completely suck the air out of the room, and I did as well as could be expected in a room that was trained to hate women after that other gal's set-- I untrained them after that. But it was a bar, and it was small, and smoky, and man it reminded me what those first years were like.

I am so glad I don't have that to do again, yet if I don't go back to doing SOME stage time, I'll never get this material going. And, if I don't get a real stage, the material won't work right because I won't be able to hear where it will work right, as in in when the crowd is actually hearing it. So you have to give Davy O props for doing that year in and year out here in Las Vegas. He gets to see all of the open mikers. There were some that stood out as having potential.. a couple who really need to realize The MICROPHONE can make the sound and the voice doesn't have to be so damned loud. The guitarist, Lemy, is really very good. The girl who hated her own material needs some self confidence and to not hate her audience so much and she'll do so much better. She had some great premises, but didn't develop any of them. It was as if.. "I like thinking about X", and I wanted to hear more of that....but she dropped the topic without going into it, which was too bad because they were smart.

Tonight I'm checking out another room to see if it's more to the way I want to work.. and maybe by the end of the month I'll find one I can do a set in, but maybe not. I may have to go to LA. I don't want to drive there, but it may be my only choice. It's just a necessity at this point.