Basically, there are two types of open-mic comedy rooms here in Toronto. The first is the kind that you want to perform at, where the physical room itself is isolated from the rest of the bar, so that there’s a guarantee that the people who are there are there for one reason: to see a show. The other type of room is typified by a single open space where everyone congregates, has a singular focus to the room, and is filled with people distracted by a myriad television sets and who have no idea that comedy was going to happen there that night and just want to eat their wings and watch whatever game is on.
Just try to take a guess as to which type of room I played last night…
Ambush shows, by that I mean the “Surprise-we’re-here-to-make-funny-even-though-you-didn’t-know-nor-want-a-show-to-go-on-but-don’t-worry-in-all-probability-some-burnt-out-Toronto-open-mic’r-will-probably-have-been-really-tired-of-doing-such-rooms-night-after-night-and-will-turn-on-you-for-not-paying-attention-but-it’s-not-your-fault-because-there’s-not-one-lick-of-proof-in-this-bar-that-there-was-ever-supposed-to-be-a-show-in-the-first-place” are the worst. They’re bad for everyone involved. They’re bad for the customers who, God love them, just want to have a couple of pints and a meal at a restaurant whose name most likely ends in an apostrophe-s. They’re bad for the comics who have all of the best intentions but have to deal with folks who are left unaware and will eventually eat it. It’s bad for the bar owner who now has a bunch of cheezed customers and irate comics probably not buying as much beer as he’d like. All because the crowd didn’t know what was going on, the bar didn’t well explain or advertise the nature of the night, and the comics didn’t elect to either handle the night with maturity and tact or bailed altogether. Keep repeating to yourself “It’s all for the craft…It’s all for the craft…That which does not kill me makes me funnier…”
So, last night at Gracie O’Malley’s it wasn’t at all that bad. Could have been, but wasn’t. I walked in half-an-hour prior to show time to see the place filled. Huzzah! The problem was the big screen in front of the stage was pulled down, the Penguins surgical disintegration of the Rangers was on, and the speakers had not jokes or music but the sounds of “Hockey Night In Canada” play-by-play blaring through them. Of the 30 or so people there, a quick poll concluded that the hockey game was the thing to watch. My question of “Excuse me, are you folks here for the comedy show?” were more often than not replied to with a “What comedy show?” It appears a total of three posters on pillars inside the venue isn’t enough PR. Fantastic.
So then comes the hard decisions. The audience at this point doesn’t know that it wants a show and is content with the status quo, the venue and the comics want the show to go on. That said, the venue does not want to lose the hockey and beer money and piss off the crowd. Which of course the comics don’t want because they don’t want a crowd that will turn all “lions on the Christians” on them. So, time for compromise.
The venue feels that they can manage the crowd shift at the second intermission, meaning they thought everyone not interested in the show would be able to be moved. There was a fair number but who was I to argue with a professional. Fair enough. Second intermission, we’d hit the stage, announce the show, move the folks that didn’t want to watch, all’s good.
Then the acts bailed. Not feeling that there would be a crowd that would listen to them, the two improv acts booked on the show that represented 40 minutes of stage time, walked. Hightailed it and left. Fantastic. So now it’s me and three other stand-ups that have to make up the time. So decision time. We decide that since there is a much smaller show, we’ll be able to get more people to stay at the end than by interrupting the game. We decide to go up after the game with a smaller set.
With the final buzzer echoing through the pub, we frantically set up the stage and announce that the show will be carrying on in five minutes. We get a total of eight people gathered in front of the stage after all is said and done; two from Michigan, an ex-pat Canadian in the Caymans (read: gambling or porn guy), and the rest were from the UK (Aberdeen, Birmingham, Liverpool). With the pared down room consisting of people who want to be there, we get great laughs for the size of room that it is. God love the Brits.
Not sure what’s going to happen next with the room. Hopefully with a bit more advertising and staff knowing how to seat people in advance of the show, it can succeed. Rumour has it it may turn into a music night. Well, so long as the bands in question know “The Hockey Song” from now until mid-June, it should be a screaming success.