Originally posted in 2007
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and open up shows for some really great comedians. The one common thread between all of the people I’ve worked with have been exceptionally cool to a rookie like myself.
Aries Spears – MadTV – Aries’ weekend in Pittsburgh of the winter of 2006 was my first time opening for a national headliner. I was understandably nervous because I had only performed in front of a packed house at the Improv once before. This was a huge leap; I was going to be performing 6 shows over 4 days. My first night on the job, I was extraordinarily mediocre. Luckily, my material was pretty strong but I was noticeably nervous and the audience picked up on it. A local comedian named Billy Robinson was the middle act for part of the weekend gave me what I suppose could be categorized as a pep-talk.
“You’re focusing too much on yourself. You need to focus on the audience; they are the one’s who are here to have a good time,” he said.
It was one of those speeches that didn’t really make much sense but for some reason it worked. I went home and wrote another joke that I felt the audience would really like. I tried it out on the first show on Friday and it worked pretty well, but it wasn’t perfect yet.
Aries overheard the joke and gave me some simple but very insightful advice about the order of the joke. “You have the funniest part last. You need to put that up front and have the other two parts be the tag to the first one.”
I tried it in this order for the second show and got a huge laugh. It is still one of my favorite jokes to tell.
The audiences were good but it was only packed on one night. We had to compete with a Penguin game, a Pitt panther Basketball game, and Light-up Night in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Bert Kreischer – He was a contestant on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and before that was deemed “Number One Partier in the Nation” by Rolling Stone while he was at Florida State. Oliver Stone freakin’ bought the option to Bert’s life story. I had never heard of Bert before he came to Pittsburgh. On the first night I pulled a major faux pa; I announced his name incorrectly. The middle act’s name was Brian Linsenbigler (yea, that’s right) so I was having enough trouble with his name. I introduced a ¾-full crowd to “Brett Krieschner.”
I had done enough research to realize that this is the ultimate infraction as an MC, punishable by death or excommunication from the comedy world. I apologized to him after the show and he couldn’t have been nicer about it.
One of the cool things about not having packed audiences is that it gives the comedian some elasticity with his performance because they are either fishing for new material or just trying to mess around with the crowd.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but it was towards the end of a lack-luster show on Sunday night and Bert ended up with his shirt off on stage. Then he called up a 45 year old divorcee on stage who he had been talking to during the show.
“Does any body want to make out with her?”
There was about 30 seconds of uncomfortable laughter mixed with awkward silence. The sight of Bert with his shirt off and this woman on-stage who apparently no one wanted to make out with in front of 200 people (I can’t imagine why), was approaching a critical level of uncomfortability.
But suddenly a young guy stood up. “I’ll do it!” It was like the entire audience said “Whoa…” at the same time. The gentleman was a good looking guy in his late twenties sauntered up onstage to the absolute delight of his friends in the audience. The room had a hum of anticipation that had not been present since the beginning of the show. You could tell that Bert was palpably relieved at the volunteering of this brave young soul.
“Wait…wait…you have to take your shirt off too,” he instructed to the guy. Without a split-second of hesitation, the guy lost the shirt, grabbed the older lady and planted one on her. The place went nuts. The guy held onto the kiss for maybe a hair too long and it kind of went back to awkward again. They both parted lips and walked off the stage. The man swaggered with a confident grin back to his friends, sure to be the focus of a well-told story for the next few years. The woman was flushed and mildly embarrassed but excited at the same time.
“You took a big risk asking if anyone wanted to kiss that lady,” I told Bert after the show.
“As soon as it came out of my mouth, I was like ‘Oh shit…what have I done?’ That literally had about a 2% chance of success and somehow the gods smiled on me. I want to write that guy a thank you note for saving my show.”
Josh Blue- Josh was the winner of Season 4 of Last Comic Standing. Most people know him as the comedian with Cerebral Palsy. Josh was only in town for two nights, Thursday and Friday. Thursday’s show was pretty ho-hum, with the audience giving the jarringly polite laughter that I am so used to and what throws so many of the other national comedians off. Friday was bonkers though, two sold out shows with a ton of energy.
Josh was probably the most interesting of the comics I had worked with. His Father was a language professor who spoke over 13 languages. Every person in his family is tri-lingual. Josh speaks English, French and Wolof, which is the original native language of Senegal mixed with French. I wish he would have had Saturday and Sunday shows though.
Kevin Brennan – Kevin was a writer on SNL for about 3 years. I only worked with him one night on Saturday. I had heard from the comedian who did a show with him on Thursday and Friday that the shows were not going well. The ticket sales were good but not great and the crowds were low-energy.
I learned first hand how mellow the crowd was on Saturday night. It’s like they went to the Improv to get dinner in a big room and just sit, and then some weirdo with a microphone started telling jokes. Jokes?!? Right now?? But…but we were sitting peacefully before you disturbed us.
The night was alright with the exception that I thought I lost my wallet / someone stole it in between sets. Nothing like planning out some customer service calls to the bank in your head while you’re on stage to really throw off your timing. I did OK but that was about as well as anyone did. Kevin confided in me that he not only grew to hate Pittsburgh over the past three days, but he was not too fond of the feature act either. I never really got to the bottom of why, but I decided to leave it at that. Kevin was nice but you could tell he was just ready to get out of Dodge.
Part II Coming Next!