How The West Was Won
So after the tragic moose confrontation and the few times that I screamed at the TV whenever a Montana’s commercial would come on, the tour continued. I at least got off a wee bit easy in that Andrew Grose, the moose collider, had to now deal with a broken car, get a rental, and drive his arse to Calgary for a spot. Apparently when he told his insurance agent that he’d hit a moose, the rep on the line said, “Where you calling from? Heaven?” We fully admit that we were lucky to leave alive, the pain was mitigated for me after I played drinking games with the Tragically Hip the following night.
Andrew dropped me off in Edmonton where I tooled around a bit and got spots at the Comic Strip, and JP Naphan’s room at the Hydeaway. Both rooms accepted my new material with relative delight. The moose story has now turned into a 3 minute bit that has developed over the course of telling, so at least something decent came out of it. Oh, and in other joke-related news, you know my ‘Facebook’ bit where I talk about catching up with a friend of mine I’ve not seen in 30 years? Yeah, well we finally met face-to-face. His name’s Lee, and he’s dandy. Totally weird how our career and personal paths pretty much ran in parallel over the course of our separation from Brampton. Too scary. Well, okay, the major differences between us is that he got his adolescent fancies for stage-hoggery out of his system long ago where as I never did, and I don’t throw cabers. He does.
Next day, carry on Grande Prairie, AB. At this point in the tour, I’ve now been paired up with a new headliner, Mike Dambra. I’ve never met him before, knew him only by his reputation (a good one, since you’re asking), and the first time I laid eyes on him is when I saw him in his car as he came to collect me. You can imagine that when you’re on a long series of road trips with anyone that you’ve never met, the odds are that it will descend into the steering-wheel-pounding, teeth-gnashing, “Keep your goddamn hands off the radio” type of trip, but thankfully a mutual adoration of film, music, and other things to nerd out on made the five-plus hours to Grande Prairie bleed away easily.
Grande Prairie is the home of the casino where we’re to play and I can see instantly that the room is built for shows. With a great high stage, good sight lines, and Vegas-style booths this place was fantastic. Everyone I talked to said that when they performed, the room was packed with attentive, intelligent people. So thus far this all sounds good and I’m guessing at this point you’re looking for the “But…” I should have as well. I took the stage in front of a half-to-three-quarters full room, the majority of who were more interested in the steak they just ordered than me. I would lose the crowd, and gain them back, then lose them again on stuff based on the stuff they just liked, they were all over the place, which made me in turn go all over the place. Six-out-of-ten at best. I began to get a better picture of my reasons for failure as Mike went up on stage, when up from the audience came the proud statement, “We’re all just hillbillies, right here.” Right in my wheelhouse. Forget the Facebook jokes, I should have broken into my ‘outdoor plumbing’ stuff. The owner/manager of the place came out and said he’d never seen the place that empty or that full of “dumb people” (his words). No worries. One of my favourite Canadian acts Derek Edwards happened to be staying in the same hotel as us, so we spent most of the evening attempting to forget our respective shit fights.
Next stop, Red Deer College where my the iPhone mapping application, upon seeing that I’d typed in ‘Red Deer College’ decided to send us first to the Clarion Inn, then the hospital. Some navigator, me.
Still, got there with time to spare. This is a college filled with 18-23 year olds, so both Mike and I stood out looking like professors. The bar manager came by and asked if we were okay handling hecklers. I countered with “Have you heard of Ein-Stein’s?” [Blank stare] I assured the manager we’d be fine. Both Mike and I had dealt with our fair share of hecklers in our respective times, and Red Deer would prove to be no exception. But the reactions we got were quite different. I had two guys attempting to get good ‘n’ hammered on discounted pitchers who got a wee bit chatty with me. Make fun of what they said, make fun of what they take in school, laugh, laugh, laugh, and we’re done. Piece of piss. Mike (who has a good chunk of his act nailing one guy in the crowd ‘Pickle’ for the night found his mark and did what Mike does; Pickle this guy. When he sees that the guy doesn’t like being called ‘Pickle’ all night, he’ll placate with a shot of tequila. Sadly, this didn’t calm him down. At the end of the show, Mike found himself nose-to-nose with an angry Pickle, despite his affirmations that at every show there was a Pickle, and he happened to be that night’s pickle. Pickle would have none of it. Pickle’s buddies decided that they had had enough of Pickle, explained that Pickle should take himself out of his own ass, take a joke and be done with. Pickle left to the apologies of his friends.
Meanwhile, I ran into the two guys that I made fun of in the washroom. Based on what happened to Mike, I assumed that I was about to get rolled by this pair. I promptly received High-Fives, thanks for the good job, and a hearty “What the hell was wrong with Pickle?”
Last stop, Regina at the Ramada Inn. Two nights to close the tour and I’m told these guys know how to run a room. The rumours are correct. Great visibility, lights, and sound system, and beside the menus laid out on the tables, is a little flyer with the heading ‘Respect’, asking people to shut the hell up, turn off your damn cell phones, and laugh. There’s something to be said about being ahead of the curve on some things.
First show, had 13 people in it, proving I’m quite the draw. No less, we charged ahead, I talked to everyone in the crowd individually and got my half-hour done with only uttering maybe two jokes. Good laughs, good times. Mike did his usual strong set in front of them and they must have appreciated it. They took us out afterwards to a bar around the corner. Capped the night off with Houston Pizza (Meat-Lovers with extra cheese as per the direct order of Andrew Grose) and slept the sleep of a good result. Saturday was spent looking for used CDs and a brunch at the Bushwakker Brewpub where Troy, Friday night’s Pickle, worked the dayshift. Saturday’s show was standing-room only with people crammed everywhere in the place that would accommodate them before they ended up turning people away. The half-hour I did off the top was by far the best of the tour with the best crowd of the tour, allowing me to blurt out jokes and allowing me to think “hey, if you like that one, wait’ll you try this one on.”
Success all over the place. Mike tore them a new one for an hour and thus ended the tour. Fantastic time and I look forward to the next opportunity to do it all again. I’ll bring back the moose hair that I stole.
Oh, and the Tragically Hip thing. I was looking for one last one before bed, and asked if the pub at my hotel was open. It wasn’t but they suggested that I go next door to the Fairmont since it was open until 1:00am. So, I snuck across to the Fairmont for a cheeky one, and ended up playing drinking games with the guys from the Hip. They kept referring to me as “Todd Van Allen from Gan”. Easy enough to remember if you’re from the area. Great pack of guys to play drinking games that you’ve no idea whether they’re being played correctly or not. When I returned to my hotel lobby, I informed the Front Desk to inform their clients that if the Hip are over there, they stay open until 2:30.