May 20, 2010
This gig is probably not going to go very well. I’m at Buckhead’s Saloon, a lodge-themed mega-bar in a section of downtown Pittsburgh called Station Square. Buckhead’s is right across from the now defunct Funny Bone Comedy Club. This place used to be a favorite hangout for comedians before and after shows. Station Square is dying though, has been for a few years. Countless empty slots of retail space seem to be begging passers-by, “Rent Me! Use Me!” The happy hour crowd at the bars in the unique strip mall have been dwindling. Maybe that’s why we were invited to create this comedy show. To create a little buzz. A little foot traffic.
Apparently it hasn’t worked. The show starts in soon and there can’t be more than 35 people at the bar, 8 of whom are interested in the entertainment for the night. There is a table of 3 attentive gentleman at the front who all work at a prosthetic appendage factory in Central Pennsylvania, 3 girls out celebrating a birthday who wanted to see a show, and 2 other big fellas who are passively watching from the back.
The rest of the rabble: 5 loud dude-bro’s in their early 40’s holding their own raucous conversation in the back; 18 people attending a going away party for a co-worker; 4 people there specifically to watch the Tampa Bay Devil Rays game on the big screen. That’s right. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
I take the stage to kick the show off. I’ve talked to a few comedians before and we’ve all agreed that the best thing to do before you get thrown to the lions is to take 3 deep breaths and say “screw it.”
The music dies down and I start my set. This is my first actual show in a while. I was hoping for it to go extremely well. Laughter from all corners of the room. Applause breaks. Standing ovations. Right now I’m lucky that there are 16 eyeballs fixed on me, most of which are probably interested in how the hell I’m going to get out of this predicament.
As I go through my set, the buzzing of other conversations, the clanking of beer bottles and the shuffling of chairs seem to overcome me. It’s like doing comedy underneath a down comforter. The noises come from the darkness of the back of the room. I can see myself on a Closed-Circuit broadcast that the bar has running through the many plasma TV’s peppered throughout the room. “Everybody wave to the cameras,” I say to the audience. About 6 hands raise up. “We’re putting together a montage DVD of moments that cause comedians to kill themselves. This gig will be heavily featured in it.” I trudge on and as I hit my punchlines, I hear little pockets of laughter. It’s good laughter. I can see their heads down, shoulders shaking. These are little points of light that will keep my confidence up after the show.
I bring the rest of the comedians up in succession. The show is going pretty good considering the situation. Tom Kupiec is on stage doing some crowd work. “So you guys work at the Prosthesis factory, eh?” he says to the table in the front. “How’d you get into that business?” The man wheels his chair around and displays a full prosthetic leg where a regular leg should be.
“It was kind of an accident!” he says.
The small group howls with laughter. Tom turns to the birthday girl.
“So you’re out for your birthday, probably looking to get some action, right?” She’s embarrassed but you can tell she likes the attention just a bit. “Well you got your pick of men here,” he says. “You got the guy with one leg over right up front. Then you got these big guys in the back who are kind of paying attention.” He points to the back of the bar where the two passive listeners are now paying attention since sex has been brought up. “I saw their feet. You’d be crazy not to hook-up with them.”
The one-legged man who works at a Prosthetic manufacturing plant pipes up, “Hey! I can always make myself a bigger foot!”
I’ll never get sick of that sentence.
When the stage is dark, you have to pick out the little points of light.