September 20, 2010
I’m meandering in my Mazda through the darkening streets of Coraopolis, a small town west of Pittsburgh. The community hugs the Ohio River, the brown water still giving of a sense of commerce and life. There’s not much here though: a car wash, a bowling alley and a Moose Lodge where I’ll be performing some comedy.
I see the sign for the venue. It’s one of those prefabricated buildings, stacked up grey cinder block covered in patches of aluminum siding and a gravel parking lot on the side. The first vehicle I see is a jacked-up Ford F-250, mud tires, suspension kit, straight pipes. Next to the behemoth is a Chevy Camero with T-tops, and ‘98 Pontiac Firebird and a jet black Cadillac El Dorado. I park my Mazda and I can sense it’s own feelings of inadequacies.
The venue looks great inside. It’s as though a really huge event is about to happen. The amount of tables and chairs set up suggest that there will be at least 300 people. Christmas lights accent the ceiling, giving a festive atmosphere to the converted Bingo hall. Despite my initial nervousness, I know I always have fun at these types of shows. They’re different than performing at a club in the city. The people around here aren’t always able to make the trip to the Improv, so they’re very appreciative when the entertainment comes to them.
I meet Kevin Skinner, the headliner and PJ Linger, the MC, at the door. Kevin’s got a whole street team with him: security guards, photographers, and merchandise people. It’s pretty impressive for just a show in Coraopolis. We take some promo pictures on a small stage they’ve constructed. There are a few vendors helping put the show together too. There’s a Silpada jewelry stand in the back corner and Cain’s Urban Apparel is adjacent to them. $1.00 Fitted hats for sale. The DJ asks for my intro music. He’s a weird looking dude. He looks like that thug who is snatching a lady’s purse or robbing a bank in the first scene of every super-hero movie.
The show starts predictably late and the audience members file in. There certainly aren’t 300 people, more like 60 or 70. Enough for a good show. PJ goes on and does about 10 minutes and introduces me.
I take the mic out of the stand. The stage is extremely small, about the size of a coffee table. There’s a silver dust ruffle around the perimeter and a bright red curtain draped in the background. “I’d like to thank all of our vendors for supporting this show. I’d also like to also thank Ken and Barbie for donating this extremely tiny stage. This is a sprained ankle waiting to happen. I hope the Moose Lodge has homeowner’s insurance.”
“We just sent the check in last week,” a worn-down mustached man yells from the back amidst some initial laughter. He’s about six beers in already.
“Who are you? The Treasurer of the Moose Lodge?” I ask. The laughter picks up as a few locals exchange glances.
“Yes. I am!”
My set is a mix of older jokes with some new ones sandwiched in the middle. I’ve been consciously trying to write jokes that say “something.” So in the past 2 weeks I’ve written probably 7-10 minutes of material on death and my distrust of the government. These jokes have been doing well in the recent open mics that I’ve been to, but tonight the audience is not interested. I adjust, go back to some old material, and end my set on a good note.
Skinner gets on stage and starts immediately with the crowd work. The Treasurer calls out again. We learn that his name is Porky.
“Porky?” Skinner asks. “How can you trust anyone named Porky with some money?”
“Wee-Wee!” Porky squeals. It’s creepy.
“Man, you can’t be quoting no lines from ‘Deliverance’ while a black man is on stage in Coraopolis,” Skinner responds.
There is a lot of weird racial overtones going on tonight. Some lady who says she has a Master’s degree in Education starts with Skinner over the color of his cocktail. “Black guys get the red drinks and white people get the orange drinks. That’s just the way it works.”
“This lady is in charge of teaching the future of America,” Skinner says. “God help us all.”
He ends the show after about an hour of stage time and I say my goodbyes. I’m pleased with how the show went, but my Mazda is calling me. It’s dark now and I think that jacked-up F-250 just threatened it.