May 22, 2009
The details of this gig are vague. I enter the bar called Olive or Twist on a peachy Wednesday night, not knowing exactly what to expect. “It’s like an all-man networking event or something,” I was told by my buddy and fellow comedian Bill Crawford, who I will be opening for tonight. I think this is Royal Order of the Water-Buffalo type stuff. I think this is the He-Man Woman Hater’s club type stuff. And I don’t feel very confident.
As I wait outside the venue, the clamor of PennDot jack hammers and the gruff downshifts of delivery trucks echo off of the buildings above me. This is city life.
“NETWORKING NIGHT – PRIVATE PARTY,” says the sign on the door. There are two things unsettling about the sign. One is the use of the phrase “PRIVATE PARTY.” I’ve always thought that a successful networking event was about meeting all the people you could. By making the party private, surely they were missing out on some opportunities to connect with other business people in the Greater Pittsburgh area. The second unsettling thing about the sign is the font. The font of text has an enormous impact on the interpretation of the words. If the words “NETWORKING NIGHT – PRIVATE PARTY” were in some old regular font (Helvetica, Times New Roman, or Arial) then I wouldn’t be so concerned. But the sign actually looks like this:Networking Night – Private Party
I have to read between the lines here; the font practically drips with a clumsy type of sex.
I wait outside for Bill to show up, observing the guests arriving to the “Private Party.” I make snap judgments on the party-goers. I observe their demeanor, their dress and their technological side arms: Blackberrys, I-phones and (to a lesser extent) pagers. This event could easily be mistaken for the 2009 Regional Douche-bag Invitational Tournament.
There are no women here. Men only. I see Bill walking down the street towards me and I relay the reconnaissance I’ve done up to this point. “Yeah, I’m a little worried,” he says. “I’ve done these type of “man get-togethers” before and they always turn out awful. With no women in the audience, the guys don’t really have an incentive to behave or pay attention.”
We enter the room and quickly have to identify ourselves as the evening’s entertainment to the doorman. We scan the room and realize that this audience is a comedian’s nightmare. We need a term for this these types of people. They’re businessmen who like flaunting the fact that they are businessmen. Their Blackberrys are actively in hand, casting dim shadows all around the bar. Their BlueTooth headsets blink in the dark, a sparkling ocean of imagined importance. Some arrogantly wear Men’s Warehouse suits. Those not wearing suits or business casual attire are bedecked in their UFC-wannabe Affliction and Tap Out t-shirts, each adorned with graphics that would make a Minimalist wretch with aesthetic anguish. These are Businessmen who are D-Bags. These are B-Bags.
Bill sees his booking agent and we stop by to touch base with him about the show. Scantily clad waitresses laugh insincerely at the B-bags’ jokes. They’re only concerned about their tip. The B-Bags make lame pick up lines to these women. They fool themselves into thinking that they might have a chance at hooking up with one of them. They, too, are only concerned about their tip.
The booking agent explains the night. “It’s really just a chance to get away from everything and have a little bit of sexy fun. It’s a way to meet other business people but not be a boring networking event like usual. The theme for the night is ‘Why are we here?’ Try to repeat that line if you can? Ok? Jeff your going to go on first,” he instructs. “You’ll die. There’s no doubt about that. It will be terrible.”
“Well, hopefully it won’t be that bad.” I protest too much.
“No. Trust me, you’re dead. These guys have been drinking for two hours before you even got here. I’m only telling you this so that you don’t feel bad about it during the show or afterwards,” he explains.
I’ve been trying to impress this agent for about a year now. It is usually when the circumstances are slanted heavily against me when he decides to show up and make some evaluations of my talent. This situation fits the pattern that is developing: me doing as terrible as I am expected to do given the environment.
Nine o’clock rolls around and the cacophony of B-Bag chatter has ramped up a few decibels. There is enough hot air circulating to bake a twenty-pound turkey. I’m starting to believe the previous forecast: stormy with a sixty percent chance of heckling. I will die. This will be terrible.
“Alright gentlemen, before the strippers come out, we have some comedy!” the MC’s voice rings out.
There is no physical way that I can succeed. I’ve never opened for strippers before, but it’s easy to deduce that I’m not the main attraction for the evening. No human male would ever be able to give his devoted attention to some idiot like me when there is a chance of boob later on in the evening. It’s a simple fact. I could spend my entire life struggling and succeeding in the comedy world, trying to bring the truth to the people through laughter. I could develop my craft to the point where I have the most insightful jokes, the most poignant punch lines, the most brilliant delivery and I will still never be nearly as entertaining as an exposed nipple.
“Here is Jeff Konkle!”
I grab the microphone and storm out on stage and I glare at the audience.
“I know how this works!” I scream over the din. “I’ve got to intimidate all of you Alpha-males first to establish my dominance.”
Nothing but voices. There’s a baseball game on in the background. Cubs are up I think. I’m flustered already, so I try to be honest.
“Let me tell you something about success in comedy and in life. It all boils down to confidence. Confidence is the key and I’ve got to tell you, performing in a room full of drunk guys who definitely make more money than me and hot waitresses who I would almost certainly disappoint in bed doesn’t give me a whole lot of confidence. ‘Why are we here?’ is the theme of the night. I’d like to know why the hell I’m here!”
There is a smattering of laughter that breaks through the wall of sound.
“So this is a pretty cool ‘networking’ event. Very nice. It’s much better than the LinkedIn orgy I went to last weekend, I’ll tell you that!”
Can’t hear myself think. Too…much…chatter…
I trudge through ten minutes of comedy mustard gas and can sense that my duty to my time slot has almost been fulfilled. I’m picking out a headstone for my comedy career. It’s over after this. It’s done. Maybe my closer will get them. But before I form the transition sentence in my mind, I see a leggy brunette waitress coming up on stage with me. She grabs the microphone.
“Hey guys. Guys!” she says in a forced sexy voice. It’s Betty Boop-ish really. “We’ve got a great comedian coming on stage after this guy, so I want you guys to pay attention to the next comedian. Ok?”
Apparently, I’m a lost cause. They continue to talk. “Won’t you be quiet, at least for me?” she asks.
The crowd begrudgingly shushes themselves. They want to know which article of clothing she’ll drop if they obey. She begins to introduce Bill Crawford, which is my job, I think. But she doesn’t go through with the whole thing and hands the microphone back to me. Awkward. In the span of twenty-six seconds, I’ve been completely upstaged by a beautiful girl.
The silence is short lived. I say my closing joke and get the hell off of the stage. It’s Bill’s turn in the meat grinder now. Maybe they’ll show him a little respect.
Nope. This room is like doing comedy in a garbage disposal. The only difference is that I only had to sustain ten minutes of the whirling blades. Bill had to endure nearly three times that amount. And his set goes the same route as mine.
“Great so there are strippers coming to this thing,” Bill says to the audience. “I like those odds. One hundred and twenty dudes and two strippers giving lap dances. Those lines will be longer than the ones for the Thunderbolt at Kennywood on Italian Appreciation Day.”
Twenty-five minutes in, the crowd is completely lost despite valiant efforts. The few people that are listening are laughing hard, but they are a minority and subject to the the whims of the larger group. “Tell him to wrap it up,” the agent says to me. I creep up nearer to the stage and get Bill’s attention. “Wrap it up,” I mouth to him from the side. I make the normal finger swirl motion to reinforce my plea.
“Wrap it up?” he says excitedly. “F*ck yeah I’ll wrap this up! Thank God!” He shoots right into his closing bit. But as he starts, three nearly naked waitresses pull a table up next to him and start doing body shots off of each other.
“Really? That’s how we’re going to end this nightmare? With Body Shots?” Bill exclaims.
For the second time tonight, the comedian is upstaged by sexy antics. And the attention that we so desperately crave is robbed from us in a matter of seconds.
The strippers come out a little bit later and everyone forgets we were even there.