YEAR 2: The Worst Comedian
"Coming up right now, I hope he brings his...BEST material, uhhh, MARTY WURST MUCH?"
After bombing this particular set at the Silverlake Lounge, the host added,
"Marty Wurst...he has the secret to comedy, being loud."
That got a big laugh of course and nothing felt worse than some cheap shot after I already bombed. Everyone there hated me. It was like high school all over again. I'd go to these mics and sure, I sucked, but it struck me that the same group of stuffy assholes were laughing at each other's sets no matter how lousy their jokes were.
Self-deprecating comment (laughter). Fuck my life! (laughter) I should probably just kill myself (laughter, clapping). I don't even want to do comedy tonight...(standing ovation, ticker-tape parade, group orgy ensues).
Then I'd go up and just... nothing. Crickets puking.
I started off in 2013 with an adventurous spirit, where I was willing to try characters and bizarre bits on stage, but the constant bombing made me shy away- plus comedians I looked up to were always insisting, "You have to make it personal."
I've always resisted that. Why can't I just be goofy and absurd?
Nobody was buying it. They saw through my lies and I couldn't sell it, that's why.
I was determined to hit mics, though. Once I spent 5 hours on public transportation for a whopping 7 minutes of stage time. I must've been out of my fucking mind. One night I missed the last bus and was stuck in Hollywood, so I just wandered around for a few hours until I could take the train back to Long Beach the next morning. I wanted to hang out at The Comedy Store until 2 a.m., but I couldn't miss that last train!
I didn't mind taking the Blue Line up to Hollywood at first. I could read, listen to podcasts, work on jokes, and not worry about traffic. 90 minute trip. Honestly, I was afraid to start driving again, but Claire eventually persuaded me to take her car, for safety's sake. There were a couple of late nights where some drunken assholes tried to mess with me on the train and I finally said fuck public transportation. It's not worth it.
The first year I hit 88 mics. The second year was closer to 200, which is still nothing compared to what most comics do in my circle. I tried to hit 4 to 8 mics a week and anything under that felt lazy. I would get moody and depressed. Sometimes I'd be out of town for the holidays and I'd be lucky to get one mic in, it was something, but then a week would go by and it'd feel like starting over again.
Explaining this process to my family always came off apologetic. It's hard for anyone outside of comedy to understand that you have to go up almost daily. I sure as hell didn't know. The fact that I was barely getting booked must've seemed like a spectacular failure to them. It still feels bad. I can't really brag about going up in bars and coffee shops. The whole bringer show fantasy was gone and now it was time to put in the actual work.
Sept. 2014, Jeanne Whitney and I took a short jaunt to San Diego for a gig at the Second Wind Bar on Navajo Road. It was my first taste of taking a drive with a friend and doing a show more than an hour away.
The Second Wind Bar (which has since closed down) was an ugly little dive bar with a pretty good stage, but hey- a show! Plus, they brought in a giant pizza- we're getting paid! The dude who put us up on the show was nice enough and the place definitely had some colorful customers.
Funny how we were just a couple of hours away and the place felt like a total redneck bar in middle America. A couple of loud, drunken ladies were trying to size me up and had a few questions about my act:
"Are you going to do jokes about Mexicans?"
"Nah, nothing like that. Just goofy stuff."
"Are you going to do jokes about Asians, like how they're bad drivers?"
The second hag-in-command got excited,
"You should, because it's actually true. I had one cut me off on the way here! Asians can't drive!"
"I KNOW," first hag interrupted, "You're going to do jokes about JEWS."
"Probably," I said.
The way she said it, too, "JEWHOOOOS," made it particularly offensive, but at least she was enthusiastic about a comedy show. Now that there was the possibility of a racist act, the ladies would probably stick around. They might even throw out some extra tags or slurs.
I should've opened with, "So a Mexican, an Asian, and a JEWHOOO walk into a bar..."
A phone went off during my set, but other than that, the ladies were surprisingly cooperative. Maybe they couldn't handle the suspense.
When is he gonna say what I'm thinking? Here it comes...wait for it...maybe he forgot, I'll help him! (mouthing the word) jeh-whooooooo.
They tore into Jeanne instead. Jeanne fought back and was really funny--I wish I had recorded that set!
Then there was the Kill Tony show in The Belly Room. I'd tried to get up for weeks and listened to the podcast a lot. It's a crazy, wickedly funny, and occasionally maddening experience. The hosts are so mean-spirited and for some reason I still wanted to do it. The guests were a huge part of the appeal: They've had Moshe Kasher, Bill Burr, Sarah Silverman, Doug Benson, Roddy Piper, Ian Edwards--it was pretty impressive.
Comics are picked randomly out of a bucket, then they perform 1 minute of standup in front of the hosts and a couple of guest comedians. Then there's a post interview that usually involves a lot of cheap shots and ridicule at the amateur's expense. There's rarely any constructive criticism, but it does make for an entertaining show. Tony Hinchcliffe is the snarky and quick-witted host, Brian Redban is the sleazy sidekick, and there's an audience of Neanderthals that gobble up juvenile behavior. Plus, you got a guy in an Iron Patriot costume standing there for the whole show. He was sort of the show's perverted mascot. The original guy was fired, so various comedians were subbing inside a cheaper get-up.
I used to see the original Iron Patriot character standing on the bus and holding onto the rail because he couldn't sit down in that expensive suit.
During the show, I hung out in the green room and would just hover in the hall when they were calling up the next guy. They only get 5 to 6 people up each episode, and I was so used to not getting up. It was one of those nights when I started to regret signing up altogether and kind of hoped I'd be passed by again. Jamar Neighbors and Brian Moses were the guest hosts--I barely knew those guys and couldn't care less. Eccentric comedian Mugzilla had just stormed out of the room. He went after Jamar Neighbors for being a paid regular and then threw the mic down, marching off in a huff. Eddie Whitehead Jr. followed him, doing his Samuel L. Jackson schtick and then plugging his documentary on Youtube. Then I was called.
I hurried out of the green room and was completely out of breath during my entire set. I sucked hard, the material was dumb, and the interview that followed is what temporarily destroyed me. I'm a sensitive guy and not cut out for The Comedy Store's frat-boy behavior. I've always been the pussy.
They took it easy on me by the end, but the damage was done. Like Tony said, I was about to cry--I felt like shit. I kept doing these stupid bits and everyone would take it as an insult to their intelligence. I felt misunderstood and they had basically told me to quit. My voice alone seemed to infuriate Moses.
You gotta build your armor Wurst, they tare you down to make you stronger.
Are you serious? So you only thrive at the Store if you're a fucking bully?
Anyway, it was a painful lesson. I didn't grow up with a bunch of friends constantly ribbing me at school. I'm not used to being called a pedophile for entertainment purposes. It wasn't a joke at my expense, it was just punishment. My material was that annoying to them.
Somehow I made one friend on Twitter.
I'd done The Laugh Factory "audition/open mic" a few times. The owner Jamie Masada was there on my second try, but I got passed over. The process got old pretty quick and it seemed like the serious comedians I knew were avoiding that place anyway. It makes me feel good to know that Jamie had to sit through my armpit farts. TOO CONCEPTUAL, JAMIE? DID THAT ONE GO OVER YOUR HEAD?
I was really gunning for a showcase, taking schoolyard behavior to the stage. I would forget about The Laugh Factory for months and then go back with no expectations.
Bombing at The Comedy Store potluck for the first time was exhilarating. That room is pure magic. Unlike the Laugh Factory, that club never felt like a waste of time.
You sign up at 6 p.m. with 50+ comics and wait until 6:45 for the list to be posted. It's a long shot; a combination of new names that pop out, friends of the hosts, and maybe a couple of randoms. I'd hear comics grumble over and over that it's rigged, but I brought a buddy who just started standup and he was picked the first time he signed up, so you never know.
Anyway, on December 1, 2014, they posted the list and Brandon Brickz called it out,
(sings) I've got the gol-den ti-cketttt!
It really was exciting. Plus Jeremiah Watkins was hosting, who I sort of knew.
You talk to comics about the Original Room and I'm sure they'll say the same thing. There's so much history, it's got the perfect stage, perfect lighting, and the whole room is painted black, so everyone is focused on the performer. It's also the most deadly when you bomb.
I bombed for 3 minutes and Jeremiah was merciful on my exit.
"Guys, he had stage presence, he had character work... should've given a little bit more than that."
The performance sucked for a number of reasons, but I finally did it.
I'd had a good set on this stage before, but it was a bringer show. The potluck open mic actually meant something. I was finally a comedian. A shitty one, but I'd been coming for months and I finally got my 3 minutes. It felt like an honest failure. Many more to come.
To be continued... (when my girlfriend proofreads the next chunk)
For the next installment about "The New Comedy Store" click here
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