Incredulous Tales of the Open Mic: Fend Off the Clowns

I have erred.  I have erred greatly.  For months I found it difficult to write posts for because I felt that my proverbial well was running dry.  I had expended all of my comedy energy performing at shows, leaving little creative juice to fill the pages of this blog.  But Lo!  I had an epiphany last night.  Most of the shows that I have performed at in my past are funny by their own accord.  They need no doctoring or editing of the facts because the experiences are real and absurd.  Too real.  Too absurd.  So I’d like to introduce a segment to the faithful Konkdaddians (Eric D. I’m pretty much just talking to you) entitled “Incredulous Tales of the Open-Mic.”  During these segments I will recount the strange and bewildering events that go on at local Open-Mic’s and bar room comedy shows.  The first installment:

“Fend Off the Clowns”

During this new segment of mine, you will likely see several accounts of a bar called PD’s Pub.  I’m sure you’ve heard of dive bars, but PD’s was a half-tuck, full twist, extended somersault dive bar.  However, they were the only people who had comedy on Monday nights so for that I (and a few other comedians) will be eternally loyal and grateful.  PD’s is located on Forward Ave in Squirrel Hill, right next to the movie theater and right below a bowling alley.  Since we didn’t have an audience half of the time, comedians finishing their punchlines would settle for the crackle of a strike thrown from the lanes above, instead of the typical roar of laughter.

In my travels to different bars of varying quality I’ve noticed that most have a similar smell: dried beer, overly processed food, stale smoke.  But PD’s was a different level of that intoxicating concoction.  It was as though the chef (they called the cook a chef) who was supposed to be cooking 6,000 lbs. of chicken wings forgot to put the poultry order in that week and instead decided to deep fry a few packs of Backwoods cigars in the boiling hot oil.  The smell was overwhelming, dominant, penetrating, fastidious, petulant, aphorism, scapegrace (sorry, I was looking at my “Word of the Day calendar).

It was like they fried the air we breathed.

This blend of aromas acted like a pheromone for some of the shadiest characters in all of Shadyside.  They gathered at PD’s like old people do around places to sit in the mall.  In the midst of this hive of questionable patronage were a few comedians trying to make merry and share a few laughs.  I still credit my early experiences at PD’s pub as one of the reasons I’ve been able to progress quickly.  Since the shows were weekly, I always wanted to have a new 5-minute set.  This encouraged me to write lots of jokes.  Since about 10% of the jokes I write are funny, this was also a great way to weed out the terrible material in front of a sparse audience comprised mostly of comedians.  A nice safe environment to fail miserably.

Also, these shows prepared me for the horror of other bad shows, which come in spades if you’re a comedian.  The experience for first timers was a lot like a hazing initiation into a fraternity.  It was humiliating, smelly, and if you didn’t think you were going to get spanked, you were wrong.  But if a comedian made it through a PD’s show and showed up the next week, then they had proved themselves.  They wanted this.  They loved comedy.   If I had to count the number of comedians who went “one and done” in that place, I’d have to use both hands and both feet.  So about 27 in all.  My good friend Bill Crawford was running the room.  He was above that level of open mic and really just used it as an avenue for younger comedians to showcase their jokes and test material.

So where do the clowns come in?


The one problem I have with “Open-Mics” is that they tend to be too open.  Anyone can do them.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a drunk meth-head with anger issues, you could “perform comedy” if you put your name on the sign up sheet.  One night Bill informed me that he had been contacted by a comedy duo.  They’re shtick was that they were heinously offensive, brutally disgusting comedians dressed like clowns.  I assume that the cognitive dissonance created by the typical image of a smiling happy circus clown and the sight of these two demon spawn in white cake make-up was enough to cause some uncomfortable laughter in the audience.

Their arrival was waited for with optimistic suspense.  We had never had a gimmick act (I don’t mean the word gimmick as a put down either) at PD’s before.  The clowns arrived at the venue disrespectfully late, half-way through the show, right before I was supposed to get on stage.  I was a regular so I didn’t mind getting bumped to watch a performance of this supposed caliber.

Their act offended me.  Not because of the content (although the content was sick) but because of the lack of creativity used in their approach.  Basically, all that they had to offer was swear words and sketches of the most “messed up” variety.  I believe at one point they mimed having sex with each other.  This act was a damnable offense.  The Devil must have been interested in these two as potential residents.

At the time I was hardly a clean comedian.  But I knew garbage when I saw it.  They had sauntered in to my and my fellow comedians’ sacred training ground, a place where we worked tirelessly to come up with new creative material that reflects our attitude and worldview, and crapped upon the stage.  I was outraged.  And how do I act in the face of outrage?

I get snarky.

The clowns left the stage and I was brought up.

“Well…just in case the clowns left anything out: F*#&, S-^t, B+?;h…” and I proceed to say every dirty thing I possibly could, laying on the sarcasm as thick as the chicken-cigar stench that permeated our pores.

“Now…”I took a breath after two minutes of swear words.  “That is what I call an act!  Very original.”

I should have also added that these two people in clown make-up didn’t look like upstanding citizens either.  You could tell they were cold-hearted just by their facial features.  They reminded me of the characters in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol who steal Ebenezer’s bedsheets and trade them in at the pawnshop right after he dies.  It was that level of villainy.  They were both overweight and looked like they might have read “Mein Kampf” a few more times than the phrase “I was just curious to see what all the fuss was about” could excuse.  They glared at me behind big rubber noses during my set.  The stares continued on after I had gotten off stage and took a seat.

I was beginning to get a bit worried.  “Had I pissed off the wrong guys?  What gave me the right to criticize their act?  No.  Screw that.  That was terrible and if they can’t take a little criticism after what they just did, then they’re skin isn’t that thick and they shouldn’t be doing comedy,” I argued with myself.

They continued to glare.

As the show wrapped up I saw the clowns look at me, give me the evil eye, and leave.  I was certain I was going to get mugged, beaten, and judging from their act, possibly sexually assaulted by way of poor miming.  I was scared of clowns already, but in a Boogeyman way, not a MS-13 gang member way. Maybe they’d take me pack me into their hilariously undersized car drive me back to their Funhouse and lock me in their basement prison where they would torture me using Seltzer-waterboarding.  I thought for sure the police would find my body on the side of the road, a bloated corpse.

New Guy:  Oh my God!! That smell!  That smell is awful! What is it sir?

Seasoned Police Veteran: Banana cream pie.  The clowns must be at it again.

New Guy: (barf)

I gathered up my belongings and had Terry Jones, who was once a bouncer in some rough bars in Alabama, walk me to my car.  Surely you didn’t think I could take on two clowns at once???

It was a classic Konkle-making-a-mountain-out-of-a-molehill scenario because I made it to my car without incident.  And never saw the clowns again, but if I’m ever in Hell, I’ll be sure to take in a show.

Satan:  This is your own personal Hell, clowns from Pittsburgh!!!  How are you enjoying the lashing that my minions are giving you?

Clowns: We’re not enjoying it at all really! (whip crack) Ow!

Satan: You can stop the torture that is your existence by making me laugh.  But the stipulation is you can’t swear and you can’t say any nasty-ass stuff.

Clowns:  Uh…but that’s kind of our thing.

Satan (mockingly): Uh…then you suck.  Resume the whipping!

Jeff Konkle: HAHAAHA!!!  Now that is funny!!!

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