Bill Burr – This is one comedian who I was really anxious to perform with. I had followed his career for the last few years and thought he was an insanely talented comedian, with a perfect blend of personality, presence and interesting material. He had a whole bit about in-breeding dogs for God’s sake!
My buddy Bill Crawford was the middle act for the entire weekend so we had a great time with the crowd. The thing about Bill Burr is that the most people who really know him are fans of stand-up comedy. It’s not like Aries Spears or Pauley Shore (see below) where they thought they were funny on TV or in movies and went to check them out. Bill’s fans are all knowledgeable connoisseurs of comedy. He was in with the Opie & Anthony crowd, which does have more than its fair share of abrasive dummies who want nothing more than to crap on the entire show, but the crowds were the best I’ve ever had. Every set I, I crushed. Every joke was going over great, every time I interacted with the audience they were along for the ride with attentive ears and energizing laughs.
We even had a great heckler interaction, I introduced Bill Crawfor and some drunk starts stumbling towards the stage. He diverts his walk and makes his way back to the seat. He kept interrupting the show over and over again and Crawford kept slamming him, much to the delight of the audience.
Once Bill Burr took the stage it jumped up a notch, the drunk came up close to the stage and started interrupting Burr. Luckily, Burr was seasoned enough to know exactly how to handle this guy, just cutting him down again and again. Finally the doorman started to kick the drunk out.
“Wait, thiss iss bullshit. I can’t even finish my beer?”
“Yea let him get one more in him so he solidify the DUI high-score he’s about to get driving home,” Burr replied. I was in awe of his ability to handle that situation.
I usually try not to milk too much biographical information out of comedians because I can imagine it would get tiring having to give newbies advice at every stop on the road. But Bill Burr was very quick to offer up his wisdom. He gave a lot of information to Bill Crawford about moving to New York and where he should be at in his carer progression.
“Dude, how long have you been doing this?” Burr asked of Crawford.
“About three years,” Crawford replied.
“You’re ready, man. I was probably exactly where you were at when I was three years in before I moved. You have the stage presence, you have good material, you’re ready.”
“And you,” he continued, directing the conversation at me. “How long have you been doing stand-up?”
“About a year now,” I answered.
“And you’re already opening at the Improv in front of big crowds like this? That’s a big thing. You still have while, but you’re on the absolute right track.”
Both Bill Crawford and I were muted with gratitude for the compliments of a comedian that we both admired so much.
“I travel a lot of places and work with some really shitty comedians, but you two are genuinely talented. You don’t suck.” Talk about positive reinforcement!
We had some fun after the shows too. On Thursday night, I got into a conversation with Burr about musical instruments. It turns out he is very actively pursuing the arduous task of learning the drums. I told him that I was on the same path except with bass guitar. We had a few in-depth conversations about which drummers and bass players were the most talented. Then I played him a few songs from my college band’s album (Associated New American Life: Bummer) and he dug it and thought some of the stuff was pretty funny.
On Saturday night, after a pair of great shows with packed audiences, we went to have a drink at the bar across the street. There were a ton of people jammed into the place, most huddling around Bill Burr for some type of celebrity warmth. One guy was trying to cut up with Bill and was attempting unsuccessfully to dominate the group dynamic that was going on. He was obnoxious from head to toe. Probably 300 pounds of retired party animal stuffed into an undersized Hawaiian T-shirt (This was in November mind you). His voice carried like a church-bell across the crowded bar and he tried to impress those around him with overly-bawdy tales of his life experience that everyone feigned interest in.
“My son has a real talent for comedy,” he boomed. “When he was a baby and me and my wife wanted to fool around, we’d turn Johnny Carson on and sit him in front of the TV while we boned in the other room.”
Everyone exchanged polite smiles at him and tried to get back to normal, real-world conversations and frivolities.
“So when he was like 8 and Carson came on the television, he’d start crying. Ha Ha! Isn’t that great?” he bellowed. People winced in pain at the uncomfortable topic and even more uncomfortable volume of the man’s voice.
“I don’t know what’s louder, your voice or your shirt,” Bill Burr exclaimed.
You know when you’re making fun of somebody and they’re oblivious to it? But you kind of feel bad because you wonder if the person is just good natured and weird in social situations. No one in the group felt any sympathy for this guy at all. He was a zeppelin filled with hot-air, a stable full of bullshit, and he was so emotionally unintelligent that he couldn’t pick up on the fact that the conversation had shifted from his “funny” stories to ripping on his awful social presence.
I found out later that he was a prominent and unfathomably successful attorney in the Pittsburgh area.
We later went out to a club on the Southside where normally I would never venture into because of the doucheiness of the clientele. It’s a bunch of want-to-be Pittsburgh debutante’s who drive around in SUV’s they didn’t pay for, wearing graphic T’s with band on them who they’ve never actually listened to (name one single Led Zepplin song), and pretty much snub their nose at anyone who doesn’t get bottle service. But Crawford and Burr were there and so was Randy Bauman from the popular WDVE Morning Show, who is a big fan of stand-up comedy. We stayed for a little bit and made fun of the yuppies that were omnipresent at this overly-compensating bar. I tried, unsuccessfully, to pick up a girl but was foiled when her male Middle Eastern friend basically ruined my chances and then snickered at what I was wearing. Her loss, right?
The next day Bill Crawford was on Randy’s morning show and the topic of Jeff Konkle came up. Bill was promoting a show that I was on later that week. Randy Bauman interjected and said that “I missed his set but everyone else was just raving about him.”
It was a very reassuring weekend.
Pauley Shore- This is probably the biggest name that I opened for in my career. Pauley actually brought the opening act that did about 20 minutes up top. I was the middle act with about 15 minutes before I introduced Pauley.
All the shows were sold-out. I did really well about 5 out of the 6 shows, I think. On Friday night there was a woman in the audience who apparently had been enamored with Pauley since his Encino Man days. Needless to say, she went in the backroom with him after the first show on Friday night leaving her extremely irritated Mother to bitch and complain to the manager about getting her daughter out. The girl was retrieved eventually and it must have been quiet a spectacle for those people waiting in line.
Wow, it’s only the first show and Pauley’s in trouble for nailing someone’s daughter???
You can’t buy that type of publicity.
The opening act was a decent comedian and a really friendly guy, I believe his name was Chris. He was from Texas but was doing well making a living at comedy out in L.A. Pauley was predictably stand-offish. He seemed to be in a haze about exactly what was going on at the present time. I didn’t really hang out with him that much while he was in town; we were too busy fending off ruffians during the show.
It was Sunday night; the last of the weekend, the finish line was in sight. I noticed during Chris’s set that a few younger kids were getting confronted for trying to buy beer at the club. The manager, Aimme (who was 7 months pregnant), and the sound-guy/doorman, Dom, took them out to the lobby as to not interrupt the show while throwing them out. As I was ready to go onstage, the sound guy said he might not be able to cue my music if the situation outside escalated any further. I said no problem but I was still pretty apprehensive about what was going on. As I was on-stage, you could hear some very faint shouts emanating from the lobby. I looked back at the sound booth to see a frazzled looking Dom return haggardly to the booth before giving me the light and the thumbs up. I brought up Pauley shore and asked what the hell happened.
The three kids were not very happy about being thrown out. In fact, they were infuriated. Aimme told the kids to get out of the club and she wouldn’t call the cops, but they wanted their money back. She rightly told them to buzz off, which they did not react to well. One of them actually got in Aimee’s face and shoved her into the desk. Shoving a pregnant woman! At this point the sound-guy engaged one of the kids and the Chris the opening act, tackled one to the ground while Aimee called the cops. Two of them ran into the night, and the other threatened Chris that he had better let him out of that headlock, or else! Then he bargained with Chris to let him go. Then he begged.
Chris did release him and the final ruffian fled the scene, while the two others were vandalizing some potted plants in a misdirected act of cathartic rage outside of the building.
First of all, if you are underage and really want a beer, why the hell would you go to the Improv to get it? Each beer costs at least $5 when you could go to a local dive bar on the Southside and get hammered for that amount.
Secondly, these idiots, after causing this much of a ruckus, pushing pregnant ladies and shattering potted plants, try to hide out at a Starbucks across the street. The police picked them all up within 15 minutes. Crime doesn’t pay kids.
Honorable Mentions – (People Who I Only had Brief Contact With)
Steve Byrne – Steve is originally from Pittsburgh’s North side but he lives and works in New York. On Saturday night myself and Terry Jones, one of my good friends and fellow comedians, stopped in to see his show. We were on our way to a crap bar gig and introduced ourselves after he had finished up his set. He said we should come down on Saturday just to do a quick guest set. So we did. He also gave us a copy of his DVD 13 or Bust, which basically documents Steve’s one night journey to play all thirteen of the comedy clubs in NYC in one night. It was inspirational movie.
Billy Gardell- Billy is also originally from Pittsburgh. He was doing a Thursday to Sunday stint at the Improv and popped in at a show that we local comedians were putting on Wednesday night. I was dressed up like a “Beer-Here!” concession guy who kept interrupting local comedians during their sets with my shrill piercing call. Billy thought this was funny and wanted to incorporate it into his show but couldn’t work out the logistics of how it would fit into the act on such short notice. Oh well at least he thought it was funny.
John Witherspoon- The dad from Friday as most of you know him. John had a reputation for being a bit finicky when it came to his shows. Both Terry Jones and I were slated to do one guest set apiece on Friday. Terry got the early show, I got the later one. This was before Aries Spears, so it was both of our inaugural plunges into the realm of the Improv. As we nervously waited, the feature act notified us that John Witherspoon did not want either of us to perform at all. But since Terry was already there he would let him do the first show, but I wasn’t going to be doing anything for the second.
“He really hates the idea of letting you perform,” the feature notified Terry. “Just get up there, do 5 minutes and get the hell off.” No pressure.
As the blood drained from Terry’s face and his bowels coiled around his colon like an Amazonian boa constrictor, I felt a slight sense of disappointment but an even greater feeling of relief. Terry went up on stage, slightly shaken by the foreboding and exaggerated warning of a presumably hyperbolic feature act, did his time and got the hell off.
Hopefully there will be much more to come!