Next Time, I’ll Try and Find a Politically-Sensitive Map
So, I’m in Fort Myers, Florida doing shows at the Laugh-In. To be honest, I’m as shocked as anyone that I’m actually down here doing any shows to begin with. Including the owner. I was supposed to close four shows, two Friday, and two Saturday. Before the first show, Joe the owner introduced himself to me and asked how exactly I got in on his roster? So, I told him that two years ago, I did a couple of five-minute open spots, and left my résumé and headshot for him to look at. Next thing I know he called me up and booked me. Money for that trip well spent.
Now, remember, I’ve done a grand total of ten minutes at this club, some two years ago. But I figured, I’m way more confident, have a larger arsenal of material. This’ll be fine, right?
Van Allen, get a map.
Had I done so, and had I the knowledge beforehand, I’d have seen that Florida, particularly West Florida, is still considered part of the Deep South. These people are proud Southerners who appeared to enjoy Blue-Collar-esque, very animated comedy bordering on possibly-racist and homophobic with a definite shout-out to patriotic jingoism. For those of you who don’t know my act, there’s little-to-no such content anywhere in my set lists. Huh. Nonetheless, I figured I could handle this as there’s still Southern Hospitality, they’ve just gone through an election; everyone’s looking forward to a new era. It’s all good.
I followed MG, a headliner from South Carolina whose very animated demeanour and Southern-friendly drawl and material engaged nicely. Then I hit the stage. Everything was going fantastically. They bought that I was Canadian; they bought the first half of my material. Everything was clicking.
Then I mentioned the new president.
The material that I had honed in the north specific for this trip faced a wall of elderly, white Republicans in South West Florida. I had dug myself an Obama-shaped hole and no amount of digging got them back. I could hear for the rest of the set the Obama supporters (and they were too few to stay the tide) laughing at the rest of my set, and it was easy to find them since the rest of the crowd were busy silent, no doubt ruminating about how good a job George Jr. had done over the past while. Yikes.
Off the stage I went and the crowd that liked me made a point of finding me and saying that they had a great time. Thank God for small miracles. Small ones, anyway. I still had the owner to deal with. He saw the first show, and the only thing going through my head was my mom’s old adage of first impressions and how you usually don’t get a do-over on them.
As a result, we shifted the order of the night. I would now middle with MG closing. Disappointed? Yes. Valid decision? Most certainly. From Joe’s standpoint, he probably didn’t see me two years ago, and just booked me based on a couple of videos and a picture of my face. From my standpoint, I was in a totally different world down here wondering to myself how many other of my Toronto comic friends would have faced a similar crowd. This crowd was as hard to read as the Cantonese translation of the technical specs for a Cisco router. So, screw ego. This I knew was better for the show, and meant that I would have to prove myself in front of the owner. So be it.
Time to adjust the material. Nothing political. Nothing damaging to the audience. Find all the stuff that’s bordering on the risqué. Next show was the Saturday at 10:00pm. Armed with a shorter and the admittedly rougher aspects of my act I took the stage and killed in front of 28 people for the late show. No owner and small crowd but got them.
Saturday early show was like most Saturday early shows I’ve been at. Packed, not outrageously drunk, and ready to laugh. Again, there were a lot of old white people there, but having muled the Obama material so far up my backside, I figured I was safe with the shortened set. Took the stage and got applause breaks and rolling laughs, with the owner in plain view of the whole thing. Point proven.
Even then, however, I could not get comfortable. A joke about tattoos led me to utter the word “tramp stamp” which ground the room to a halt like a hockey stick in the front spokes. A loud and audible “How dare you!” gasped from the gathered multitude. It was as if instead of referring to small-of-the-back tattoos as “tramp stamps” (as I now assumed a myriad actually owned) I had actually stated “You know that flag of yours…if you got rid of that blue star field and added a few more colours in the stripes, you’d be square for Pride Week.” That setback aside, I got everyone back on track, and noted not to utter the same for the Saturday late show.
Saturday at 10:00pm, the smallish crowd of 40 or so stumbled in. Large numbers of this drunk assembly were standing up, screaming and hollering at the stage. And this was during the warm-up music. MG turns to me mid-bite through his salad and says “I hate this crowd already.” I hit the stage, did my time and grabbed them while the grabbing was good. As hammered as they were, they paid attention, gave me laughs and High 5s as I left the stage. I will never understand this state. MG worked the crowd hard and got the laughs required dealing with an even drunker crowd by this time. Once offstage, the sweat poured off of him like he had just run a marathon. Not that far off the truth in terms of effort.
I’m hoping MG follows the steps of some other comics and makes it to Absolute Comedy in either Toronto or Ottawa. Great guy to work with and would welcome it again. Joe the owner acknowledged the rough Friday early show, but also the great opener spots he’d seen me do as well. So, long story short, I should be back in Florida again, and this time I’ll know way more about the crowd and what needs to be done.
Cut to nine months later where I’ll be staring at a piece of paper for three hours that has nothing on it but “McCain = Good”.