December 22, 2009
I’m waiting at a bar called Rumerz in the Northside on a frigid Wednesday night. It is one of the last bastions in Pittsburgh for those alcoholics who just want to sit and smoke their cigarette in the dark. It’s about 15 minutes before our show organized by Jason Henson to benefit the fallen Penn Hills police officer Michael Crawford is supposed to begin. I’m being subjected to a glory days story from some guy in a cable-knit sweater at the bar. “I used to do comedy back at the Funny Bone. I’m pretty sweet at beat-boxing too.” He begins to beat-box for me. I didn’t ask him to do that. He seems desperate to show that particular skill off to me. “You should put me up on stage. I was funnier than Jason when we were in High School.” He’s about 32 years old.
The show starts extremely late and barely anyone is in the audience. There is a pitiful mound of toys on the side of the stage that we were collecting for Toys for Tots. Everything about this screams depression.
I go to the stage and perform for about 20 minutes. A decent amount of people filter in during my set and it’s turning into an OK show, relatively speaking. T-Robe is the next comedian to grace this wonderful venue.
For the first 7 minutes he has the audience in the palm of his hand, then Cable-Knit Beatboxer starts talking out. T-Robe hits him back. Let the dance begin. “Give me the mic. I’m the funny one here,” Cable-Knit demands. A rule of thumb for comedians is that you never give the mic to a heckler. Best case scenario, they are horrible and you feel justified even though the entire show has derailed. Worst case scenario: they’re funnier than you.
Comedians have to understand the heckler mindset. I think this quote from John McCrea (lead singer of the band Cake) sums it up best. He was being interviewed about an incident at a concert. He found a guy who threw a bottle at them and he brought the person onto the stage and started questioning him.
“Sometimes people forget that you’re humans up there and they just want to connect with the center of the energy. And if they throw something, maybe it touches that energy somehow. I had a conversation with him onstage and I asked him why he felt it was necessary to throw the thing and actually when given the microphone he became very sheepish. I actually felt sorry for him and I wasn’t angry at him at all.”
T-Robe isn’t John McCrea. T-Robe is getting angry. “Do you really want to do this right now?” he asks. The guy won’t shut up so T-robe starts dumping on him a little bit harder. Now everyone in the bar is no longer laughing at pre-written jokes; they’re laughing directly at Cable-Knit. He is embarrassed and can’t think of anything clever, so he resorts to racism. Cable-Knit tells T-Robe (a black comedian) “Around here, we’re not really down with the brown.” Well that about does it. Sick ’em. For the next three minutes T-Robe cuts this dude into a million pieces. The resentment and embarrassment present on Cable-Knit’s face is palpable. He finally shuts up. But it’s not a peaceful quiet. It’s a brooding, vengeful silence, one that let’s you know that we will rue the day that we crossed him.
Bill Crawford and Jason Henson perform with no interruptions from the peanut gallery. Jason wraps up his set and decides that, since he knew Cable-Knit in high school, he’ll let him perform.
What followed was perhaps the most satisfying 6 minutes of my entire life. After attempting to ruin the show by interjecting his comments and bring the attention onto himself, Cable-Knit takes the stage and bombs atomically. He is completely unprepared and as soon as he opens his mouth, all of his high-school antics, all of the funny stories from his past that made his idiot friends laugh, all of that turns to dust. He tries some awful type of call and response to the audience. “White people…” he holds microphone out to the rapidly dwindling crowd. No one knows what to do. Silence. “Black people…” Again, no response. He looks uncomfortably over to the table where Jason, T-Robe, Bill and I are sitting. “You can laugh at that. I laughed at your jokes.”
Well sorry we couldn’t return the favor. I don’t laugh at a comedian because I feel like I’m doing them a solid. I laugh when something is funny. It’s as involuntary as a sneeze or a fart. You can’t control it; you’re body just does it. Yes, you can hold in a laugh, much like a fart, but the same thing will happen…you will get hemorrhoids.
The eerie silence begins to envelope Cable-Knit’s body and he panics. He obviously knows that he can’t tell jokes, so out of pure desperation; he starts beat boxing, attempting to save face.
I actually feel sorry for him.
What could he be thinking? “They’ve never seen anything like this before” (BOOM-BOOM-CHEE) and the party was just going to jump off from there? People would just get up and dance, unable to control their hips rocking to the beat of his sweet mouth music? Beat boxing is like playing the trumpet, reading spoken word poetry, or tap-dancing. It’s not cool unless you are ridiculously good at it. And he wasn’t.
Cable-Knit drops the microphone after telling the audience to “F-ck” themselves. You can see as he retreats to the safety of his bar stool, the utter defeat painted on his face. He is dealing with a complete and total destruction of his ego. The shattering realization that he’s not as funny as he thought he was puts him in a lonely, dark place. Karma did a beautiful flip-flop job on Cable-Knit. He thought he was the best and that he could out-perform the trained professionals. But he didn’t.
Bill Crawford put it like this:
“It’s the same thing with all these people criticizing the Steelers. People saying ‘C’mon Santonio, I could catch that ball.’ No…you couldn’t. As a matter of fact, Big Ben could throw you that pass 1000 times and you wouldn’t catch it once. Because Santonio’s entire life revolves around catching that football. That honed skill of his puts a big-ass roof over his head and expensive-ass food in his kids’ mouths. He takes it seriously and that’s why he’s good.”
I’ve never really been one to revel in a fellow human’s pain, however temporary it may be, but watching Cable Knit essentially run out of the bar as soon as the show was over, perhaps chased by the ghosts of this most recent embarrassment, was enough to make me chuckle.
I guess I did laugh after all.
You owe me a favor Cable Knit. You owe me a favor.