August 9, 2010
Last Wednesday afternoon, I got word that I would be opening for Jim Breuer at the Pittsburgh Improv. I usually get these messages relayed to me while I am at my day job and the resulting excitement makes it tough to concentrate. I fist-pumped my way through the flock of Excel spreadsheets and Outlook reminders.
My one friend Eric was probably more excited than I was. He is a huge fan of Jim’s and was actually considering flying in from Wisconsin just to see the show.
Jim’s last Comedy Central special “Let’s Clear the Air” was mostly clean and centered on his new family. His prior material was about more rock music and his childhood. You could tell that his role as a dad had very much influenced his comedic outlook over the past few years. As a result, his audience had changed a bit. He had gone from the stoner / frat-boy god to a more thoughtful kind of comedian. It was only a few weeks ago that my mom, dad, and sister were all lounging around the house and “Let’s Clear the Air” came on. We laughed for an hour straight. There were never any uncomfortable moments where “edgy” material made us squeamish. It was just fun.
However, this change in personality made the audience mix a very weird bag. Basically you had stand-up comedy fans, low-key middle aged folks, and a bunch of dude-bro’s who just wanted to come to the show and bleat like a goat.
A few delegates from the White Trash party showed up too. On Thursday night, the well-behaved members of the audience had to listen to an argument between a White Trash Couple during Jim’s whole set. They would talk and whisper-yell at each other, only stopping to laugh when Jim made a funny sound. He called them out though. “I don’t understand why someone would pay $25 to come see me and then not pay one lick of attention the entire time,” he said. “If you want to finish this story that I’m trying to tell, be my guest.”
As the White Trash Couple exited the Improv after the show, I saw the most dirtbag way of ending an argument ever. Basically White Trash Barbie was yapping at White Trash Ken the entire way up the aisle. White Trash Ken didn’t say anything. He was dressed in sweat shorts with cargo pockets and what can only be described as a bootleg Russian Jerome Bettis jersey. She continued running her mouth incessantly, only to stop every so often and see where she could fit another swear word into the sentence. He pulled a strawberry White Owl blunt out of his pocket, unwrapped it, and put the plastic cigarillo tip to his lips. In his other hand, he crinkled up the wrapper into a ball. As White Trash Barbie was opening her mouth wide to yell some more inane insults at him, he flung the balled up wrapper in her mouth. Argument over.
Friday and Saturday shows were all sold out. I was excited to try out some new jokes in front of a full audience. But as the time drew near to go on stage in front of 300+ at the Improv, I wussed out. I went back to greatest hits and I’m not sure if I regret that decision or not. I had great sets, but there wasn’t any fulfillment from my end. Here I had a golden opportunity to water my budding jokes in a perfect environment and I didn’t do it.
Saturday night’s late show had the potential to be a huge disaster. Right before the doors opened, a huge Bachelor party came in through the side entrance and sat right in the front. I’m talking about 25 brosephs juiced up on Jagerbombs and Miller Lite. The likelihood that I would get heckled jumped up about 1000% percent. A heckler usually has to feel safe and insulated from consequences to make his/her move. Being hammered and surrounded by a brigade of your closest friends is definitely a way to meet those criteria.
Instead of waiting for them to attack me, I went at them right off the bat. I didn’t insult them or agitate them at all. I just let them know that I was aware of their presence and I had my eye on them. That was all they needed. Just a little attention. They seemed to be on my side for the whole show.
The same cannot be said for the for the feature comedian John Evans. John is a road comic who just moved to Pittsburgh. He was a great middle act the entire weekend. The crowds really took to him. But during his set on Saturday night, two people in the bachelor party started throwing French fries at each other. This caught his eye and he made a comment. “I feel like I’m a substitute teacher up here. Now, now, boys. Let’s just focus here and we can go to recess early.”
A single French fry floated through the air and hit John in the chest.
You could feel the audience go, “Oh, boy. Let’s see how this goes.”
John handled it great though. “Just curious…Did you guys have a Plan B? You know, just in case the French fry thing didn’t work. I mean Jim Brueur is going to be on this stage in a few minutes and you’re throwing stuff up here.” Through a combination of ignoring and subtle mocking he addressed the situation and got the audience back on track.
I will say that when I first met Jim, I was genuinely star-struck. I found myself nervously searching for topics of conversation and constantly over-analyzing the first impression I was making. Luckily, his reputation as an extremely nice guy lived up to expectations.
I only got to talk to Jim a little bit throughout the weekend. His wife and kids had been traveling with him for the last couple weeks. After the shows, he would take pictures with literally every single fan that wanted one. That’s a really nice thing to do, because it has to be annoying. Everyone fumbling with cameras, asking for different poses, etc. But he would do that with a smile and then go back to his hotel room to be with his family.
“Are you trying to hang out at all after the show?” I asked on Friday.
He shook his head. “Nah, because all it is when I got out is drunk people grabbing me going ‘C’mere goat boy! Goat boy! You wanna smoke some pot?’ I’m just done with that.”
“It used to be different,” he said. “It was better back in the days of comedy condos. The club owned them and just let the comedians stay there,” he explained. “Because back then you could just go hang out after a show with the other comedians. You didn’t need to have all those other people around.”
“Jim could I grab a picture with you before you head out?” I asked.
“Sure thing, man. You’ve had strong stuff up front this week. Just keep writing as much as you can,” he said. “OK, smile.” He probably says it to a lot of openers, but still…
I looked at the picture. There I was standing with a star of SNL, a great stand-up comic, and an all around nice guy.
I fist-pumped the entire way home.