YEAR 2: The Worst Comedian (Part 2)
I had an encounter with former Comedy Store talent coordinator, Tommy, who was fired just months prior and was working on developing another home base where he could still play comedy godfather. The Vaucluse Lounge was a mere two blocks away from the Comedy Store and now Tommy was recruiting comics that were still loyal to him and putting on shows. They were calling this place Chaplin's House, but I don't think there was anything historic about it.
It really was an impressive bar/lounge, but management was falling apart. It was a ghost town. I ordered their onion rings and got a pile of American cheese on a couple of turd circles (psst, I'm not really a writer). I ordered something disgusting and got so much more.
"Ooh, that looks good, I'm gonna get that!" one comic said, pinching and stretching some cheese off my plate.
A couple of nights the place was locked up unannounced, black curtains drawn, even though a show was supposed to be going on. Headliners were bailing before their sets.
There were a couple of open mics going on there, too. Tommy would play some acoustic guitar for 30 minutes to get the room warmed up. He played the same three songs over and over. Or maybe it was just the same three chords, I can't remember. He was like one of those dudes that destroy a party by forcing us to listen to his cover of Hotel California. Strictly Hollywood/Highland quality. Then he would hang out for the mic and occasionally give advice to some lucky comic.
After one of my sets, he was suddenly next to me, talking into my ear like David Blaine.
"There's something that's still missing, but I don't know what it is."
"I'm not connecting with the audience?" I asked.
"There was just something missing. Try sitting on a stool and just saying your material, so it's not so (in-your-face gesture) forced. Your material is good, it had an intelligence and you have a good look. It's not about how you look on stage, it's about how you look on camera....really. But I think you just need to say what you have to say- I took it in. You'll get there, I enjoyed it."
Then he patted me on the shoulder and walked away.
Maybe if I worked hard enough I could become a Vaucluse regular! I honestly thought it was cool to get advice from Tommy, despite him being a reputed racist douchebag. I mean, he was once the apprentice of The Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore, so his opinion has to count for something, right? A racist's opinion is still an opinion. Plus, he really wailed on the guitar!
One night at Vaucluse I waited around for 2 hours to do a 10 minute set. That's actually a good set for that kind of wait, but this night was excruciating. There was a line-up of all male comics that had plenty to say about the opposite sex: Stories varied from "This bitch was sucking my dick," to "I wanted to give her brown eye a black eye!" and so forth. I remember hearing the bartender making pained noises behind the counter, like some victim of a stabbing, left for dead. She had to just stand there and take it...every worthless comedian. Worst of all, EVERYONE got 10 minutes. When the first 30 seconds are torture, the next 9 1/2 minutes feel like a lifetime. When they finally got to me the host said,
"Uhh, you get 2 minutes."
Mother...FUCKER. I've never been that pissed at an open mic before. They were letting the worst people host, nothing ever started on time, the food was godawful, the bartender wanted to kill herself, and no one seemed to give a shit that the place was falling apart. I was mentally trying to stay positive and tune out all the negative shit I'd been listening to, but now I wanted to douse myself in gasoline and tackle the host into the fireplace--that would be such a great closer. My stomach was turning from the onion rings, so I opted for my shitty set instead.
But hey, it's 2 minutes so I did it. I got through a joke-and-a-half. Once I left, I cursed and muttered angrily all the way to the bus, letting the "cocksuckers" and "motherfuckers" fly.
I went home and looked at their Facebook page and saw this ridiculous post,
"Chaplin's House is being called the New Comedy Store...no joke."
Anyway, that place folded and Tommy moved on to another space where he still occasionally gives out his comedy pointers.
Also in my second year I was doing fewer bringer shows, but I was still dumb enough to do a couple more at Flappers. I would quickly get stressed out again and moan to my girlfriend about why I put myself through this. Just reading the emails made me want to puke:
Respond to this email with a head count of how many audience you expect so that we can properly staff the room.
It takes everyone involved to have epic shows--we do ask everyone to always aim to have at least 5 people per show. If you are unable to get anyone out please let us know and we will re-schedule you for a date that is more convenient for you to support.
Like I said before, they only want me back when I make some fucking friends!
I decided to not show up at all and go to the Rebel Bite open mic in Long Beach instead. An open mic at a pizza joint was better than doing a bringer show, at least in my head. I wrote back:
Sorry for the delay,
I wanted to get a more accurate count of zero confirmed.
I think my friends tapped out months ago. Let me know if you want to reschedule or give me the boot. Or I'll audition again once I have a little fanbase I can depend on instead of wasting everybody's time. Nothing personal. Thanks.
I shouldn't have felt bad about it anyway, since I bought 4 of my videotaped sets from them.
Then there was the Formosa Cafe. I did it because I was told it wasn't REALLY a bringer show...just sort of. Uggh. I won't mention the names. I can still hear the producer pretending to laugh at other people's sets--so forced and obvious, trying to get the crowd on our side. He'd be looking down at his phone and let out a
He sounded like De Niro in Cape Fear. Would you keep it down sir? Then I'd have to listen to some jerk-off host do his Family Guy impressions for 15 minutes. Then the producer would go up and do the most dated material--many of these bringer show people stick to their one routine. Anyway, what do I know, they're the ones cashing in, right?
I had friends show up for my first and second show, then the third time none of my friends came out and the producer stopped booking me. During past shows, he was blowing smoke up my ass and said all these nice things about my particular brand of humor, but he was only thinking about the head-count. He was a phony just like his forced laughter.
There were some nice moments. My blues buddy, Street Slim invited me to do a set at The Rainbow Bar and Grill, a really cool rock bar on The Sunset Strip. Just to do something outside the usual circle of comedians felt really special.
My friend Donald and I rented out a black box theater and produced a variety show. It ran 2 1/2 hours and half the audience left, but we had a great time.
I co-produced a comedy show with Jeanne Whitney and Timika Hall at Echoes Under Sunset. We only did 3 shows, but it was a fantastic experience.
I remember bombing at the new UCB on Sunset and when I was walking back to the car, a couple I've never seen before starts yelling at me from their car.
"Marty, you were funny!"
"We were inside."
"Really? Thanks, it felt like death in there."
"We thought you were funny."
"Working on it, working on it."
That blew my mind. Who does that? And they remembered my name!
One time they moved a Comedy Store open mic into the Main Room and after we finished our sets, Bill Burr dropped in and did 15 minutes to an all-comic crowd. It was awesome.
Another time I was waiting around for Tony Bartolone's Hat Show to start and the great Rick Shapiro was outside with Rick Wood and Jeremy Bassett. Shapiro was making fun of the Oldtown Pasadena scene and he suddenly gets a glimmer in his eye and this evil grin,
"Let's go to the Mac Store and jerk off!"
It was said with such demented glee. Later we went to get him some Starbucks and he told the barista that his name was Johnny Two Chicks. He was so excited to hear the name called out, but it didn't get the reaction he wanted.
Here are some pictures that highlight my 2nd year with some little captions:
Then there was the time that I was waiting in the green room for another possible Kill Tony episode at the Comedy Store. Dom Irrera comes in and sits down across from me. It's silent, it's uncomfortable, the guy is amazing, so I'm a little in awe. He asks me if I'm a comic and how long I've been doing it. Very friendly, but I just gave him short answers. Meanwhile, Pat Regan was on stage singing about how much he misses getting jacked off in San Francisco, and Dom and I are just sitting there while this song is in the background. Dom turns to me completely serious and says,
"This song brings back a lot of memories."
I barked out a laugh.
I started making goofy set-lists and posting them online. Just a good way to vent about the shit I'd seen at open mics during the week. Here are a few of my favorites:
The usual variety of homophobic/misogynistic shit I'd hear on any given week.
My second Kill Tony appearance went a little better, but only because I managed to get a few laughs. It was a unique situation because I brought my buddy Dakota Freeman with me, but he was under 21 and wouldn't be allowed inside the club unless he was called up to perform. So I stood outside with him, listening through the door every few minutes to see if we'd get called.
About 30 minutes into the show I got called, but I couldn't open the door from the outside. For a second, the hosts thought I had flaked, but a couple of my friends were in the audience, telling them I was behind the door because I was with a minor. They opened the door for me and at this point there was some confusion because the hosts were under the impression that I was the one underage. Then when it was cleared up Tony says,
"Oh, you're hanging out with underage boys. Ok!"
Before I've even started my set, another pedophile joke had been spiked over my head. You can probably see where this is going.
I didn't gain any Twitter followers this time--in fact, I think I lost a couple. They probably thought I was really a pedophile.
Now if I wasn't feeling the LA scene that week, I had the option to hit some mics in my new Long Beach neighborhood, where I had moved in with my girlfriend. Rebel Bite, Makai, and The Library were just a mile away. Long Beach was also calmer. I could do longer sets- I did my first 15 minute set at Rebel Bite. I met some nice people. It's funny how these two coffee shops were the polar opposite in terms of an audience--take a look below.
I was also hearing some positive feedback for a change. Sometimes my conceptual ideas would play well and even if they didn't, I'd still be writing the kind of stuff I wanted to try. The support I was getting from my new friends gave me the confidence to try bigger ideas. Showing up to mics and finally having a group of friends to talk to was a nice break. I was so used to being the creeper that was eavesdropping outside a circle of comedy nerds or asking Dean Delray stupid questions in the Comedy Store hallway. Complimenting comics on their podcasts, or a joke that I liked, thinking I always had to go in with a compliment or they'd hate my guts. Then I would fuck up their name anyway, which made the compliment null and void.
I'm still learning to relax, but I'm usually amped up whenever I'm in Los Angeles. I feel the cutthroat competition and that air of judgement. Mostly because I'm carrying it around with me--turn that shit off Wurst, these are your friends! I don't have to prove anything to these comics, we're all showing up to the same mic. Charles Disney was just saying how we ask questions that we want to be asked in return,
"You got any cool gigs coming up? No? NOW ASK ME IF I HAVE ANY COOL GIGS! THANK YOU, I DO! SLEEPAWAY CAMP BABY-MARGARET CHO HEADLINING! ENJOY YOUR SHOW AT P.F. CHANG'S, YA ASIAN FUSION COMIC! "
There's usually 4-5 standard questions (How you doing, got anything coming up, you hitting another mic after this, you ever go to Marty's?) and if there's no conversation beyond that, we're not really friends. It's just surface level pleasantries for insecure comics.
Then there are just genuinely great dudes like Spencer Kalendar, who's never putting on airs and makes me feel like I can just be myself. I think the very first thing he said to me was,
"I remember you from Kill Tony, you're the pedophile guy!"
To Go Back to Part 1 of Year 2 click here
To Go Back to My First and Worst Year click here