Doug Shedden – Patron Saint of Lost Pittsburgh Comedy Shows

The DJ in the adjacent room pumps his LMFAO track up a little higher just as I hit my first punchline.  The bass thumps rattle the memorabilia on the wood panelling of the show room.  Audience members check their phones for updates.  They sit uncomfortably in chairs that look like they were stolen from an abandoned  Cracker Barrel.  I’m already dead in the water and I’m not even wet yet.  The distractions.  The noise.  The apathy.

I look around the wall hangings.  There’s a tin sign telling me to “Chew Pap’s Long Cut Tobacco.”  It has a picture of a red wagon.  There’s another sign that says “People eat People’s Meat.”  It has a picture of a fat pig with the word “People’s” branded on the side.  There is a Steeler pennant, a Roberto Clemente poster, an Elvis dish, a picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  They are all blanketed in wisps of Pall Mall smoke and shaking slightly from the heavy synth loops coming from the other room.  There are a lot of people having a good time over there.  And the migration of the audience is almost complete.  A few stragglers remain, looking at their watches and getting their checks.  I’m not even on my second joke yet.

My fiance and my friends are out somewhere right now, having a good time without me.  Why, Sweet God?  Why do I put myself through this?  I’m standing in front of a group of strangers, talking about all of my deficiencies as a human being.  It’s an exercise in humiliation.  I think about quitting, right there on stage.  I contemplate placing the mic onto the waitresses bus-tray, finally realizing that this isn’t sustainable, that this can’t go on any longer, that I can’t do this.  I look towards the wooden rafters for mercy and I see something else.  It’s another mural tucked away in the upper corner of the room.  It’s Doug Shedden.

Who the hell is Doug Shedden? I think to myself.  I ask the question out-loud to the audience.  Even Mike Wysocki shrugs his shoulders.  But suddenly, the former Penguins Center’s steely-blue eyes catch mine.  They expose my weakness but let me know it will be alright.  “I’m Doug Shedden,” he says to me. “And I never quit.”

It gives me the strength to plow ahead.  And I do.  I will.

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Haters For Re-Hire

In the back of Hambone’s Bar in Lawrenceville, a man sits with another man (and another man running the sound board).  Questions are asked.  Answers are given.

Haters For Hire 

Remember, I’ll be at the Perry-TAHN Tavern with Mike Wysocki, “Frog” Kennedy, Lee (the People’s Comic) and a few more.  $5 bucks and a 9 PM start time. 

1002 Perry Highway  Pittsburgh, PA 15237
(412) 367-9610

Feedback

This weekend, I was on a show at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Club in Somerset, PA (Made it!) with Derek Knopsnyder, Chris Kemp and Vinny Fasline.  I looked around the large room before the show and was a little nervous.   A small PA system was tucked into the corner with two speakers resting on chairs.  This was not an ideal sound set up, but oh well.  I’ve had worse.  I thought all I needed was a good microphone setup for a great show.

Vinny started the show off and hit a punchline that caused a major squeal.  However, the sound didn’t come from the audience laughing at his joke.  It was audio feedback, the most overlooked saboteur of shows in comedy history.  Vinny tried to plow through the set, constantly interrupted by the hurricane of squeaks and squawks.  He left the stage after 15 minutes, apologizing for the audio situation that he had no control over.  Luckily, the bar had a wireless microphone that connected over the PA system in the room.  We switched to that and we had a smooth show afterwards. 

 Feedback is the phantom show killer.  An audience can’t laugh when they’re wincing in pain from a high-pitched speaker shriek.  Feedback is worse than a heckler in many respects: you can’t verbally slam feedback.  You can’t go down to where feedback works and heckle it.    But I realized that I knew nothing about the ear drum-bursting enemy.  Knowing is half the battle. 

Feedback occurs when the sound from the speakers is projected back into the microphone, re-amplified and sent through the speakers again. 

Source: Wikipedia

Well that’s great, Jeff.  I’m right in the middle of a joke about a dog winning the Power Ball.  What can I do to fix this awful noise NOW?

Sound Check – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  A proper show should have a short sound check beforehand.  That way you can identify problems and address them without having to do your set.  Trying to improv jokes while lugging speaker cases around a room is awkward. 

Drop Back – Most feedback can be solved by correct placement of the microphone.  The microphone should be behind the speakers.  This will prevent the loop from ever starting.  Just take a few steps back and get out of the loop. 

Move the Speakers – In addition to being in front of the microphone, speakers need to be placed up high.  Low speakers (like ones on the ground or propped up on chairs) cause sound waves to become absorbed by all the tables, chairs, warm-up pants of your audience members.  This means you need to crank the speakers to 11 just so people in the back of the room can hear your opinions about Viagra Commercials.  Higher Amplifier volumes are more likely to create a feedback scenario.   Speakers should also not be tucked into corners or right up against a wall.  Give the speakers a little bit of space.  Walls and corners can act as natural amplifiers and may contribute to feedback. 

Reduce the Treble on the Mixer –   The most annoying type of feedback (squealing) tends to occur more commonly in the upper/treble frequencies.  Turn the treble down a little bit. 

That’s about the best advice I can give.  Feedback is the not-so-silent show killer.  Beware.

Drake Sets World Record; Writes and Records Hit Song in 43 Seconds

Los Angeles, CA –  Today Young Money Entertainment, LLC released a press statement touting the latest accomplishment of one of its biggest stars, rapper Drake.  “We are pleased to announce that Drake has shattered the world record for fastest song ever composed.”  The release goes on to say that in a span of 43 seconds Drake wrote lyrics, composed the music and produced the track “Ballin’ On Me.”  The song has already reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, despite being released only 7 minutes ago.

“I didn’t intend to set any world records, “ says Drake via a Skype interview.  “It’s my process at work.  I just write down some vague boastful nonsense, load a pre-recorded drum track into Garage Band and rap over it.  Then I cut and paste until I have a track that’s 3 minutes long.  Boom!  Hit song!”

Judging from the lyrics, the track “Ballin’ On Me” fits snuggly into Drake’s existing catalog of songs in that it is devoid of almost any forethought or planning.

Ballin’ on me. / Ballin’ on me. / Every day every night you be followin’ me. – Lyrics to “Ballin’ On Me”

The prior world record had been set by Country Music star Trace Adkins’ song “Swing,” in which the lumbering Louisiana native repeats the phrase “Swing Batter Batter” over a blues riff for 3 minutes and 36 seconds.  “Hell, it only took me 7 minutes to write and record that song,” Adkins said. 

“That boy Drake must not give one hoot about the quality of muck he puts out.”

“It’s not that I don’t care about the quality of my music,” said the rapper.  “It’s just that nobody else seems to.”

Letters from Smitty – Customer Service

To Whom It May Concern,

Recently, I had the misfortune of shopping at your location in Billings, MT. I found my experience to be almost entirely deficient. As for one, you do not have any shopping locations in all of my hometown of Sheridan, WY. Therefore I had to travel nearly 130 miles to find a nearby store. Surely you must have enough customers to warrant building a store in my locality! The bustling market-district of Sheridan has seen rapid growth in the past few years. We have a Boot Barn, a JC Penny and a thriving methamphetamine lab that has sprung up in an abandoned Arby’s location. The high school children seem to provide a lot of foot traffic. This is to say your organization must act quickly and sign some type of occupancy contract. If you delay, then you may be subjected to the increased lease prices that are sure to be caused by banks moving in to speculate on Sheridan real estate. Although the bankers will most likely find our local militia groups quite unwelcoming, I’m afraid.

After the long trip, both my mule and I were in sour moods. The journey to Billings took three days and I was bitten by a snake along the way. Once my poison-induced hallucinations had subsided, the snake apologized to me for its bad manners and moved along. My mule, on the other hand, was tickled by the entire ordeal. He laughed and laughed for hours. However, by the time we arrived at your store, he was dehydrated from the journey and all the cocaine. I bought him some Gatorade at a nearby CVS and he quickly became his old self as he drank in the rich electrolytes.

When I walked into the store, I immediately asked the clerk where they kept the munitions. Clark or Benjamin was his name. Clark didn’t seem to understand. He said, “Munitions? You mean like guns?” I nearly fainted. I hadn’t come all the way from Sheridan, a city Outdoor World Magazine named the “Revolver capital of Wyoming,” just to purchase run-of-the-mill firearms. I asked him again, “Where are your munitions?” and this time I winked and nudged him suggestively. Where I come from this is the universal sign for, “Show me your landmine collection.” Non-verbal communication accounts for nearly 90% of all human interaction, or so I’ve read. Clark was, for all intents and purposes, oblivious to my advances regarding detonation devices.

I needed these landmines because, as most people know, I am devising a very important plan to blow up the moon. I was able to prove long ago that Earth’s moon was actually a satellite created by the FBI to monitor and obtrusively observe American citizens without a warrant. You may have read my wildly popular exposé on the topic in the Sheridan Observer-Reporter. It wasn’t published in the actual newspaper though. The fascists in the editing department told me I had no facts to sustain my allegation. I said, “Well whatdya think the moon is there for, stupid?” They had no response. I took matters into my own hands. I absconded with (police reports may have used the term “hijacked”) a delivery truck and was able to slip in some self-published pamphlets into the Arts and Entertainment section. People looking to find what time Shrek 3 was playing at the local theater that night were treated to a mind-blowing surprise.

Anyway, Clark the clerk became alarmed when I demanded he show me the landmines he had in stock and promptly called the authorities. Having not been my first run in with the law, I took it as my cue to skedaddle. I hopped on my trusty mule, now filled to the brim with Glacier FreezeTM, and made my way back through the desert to Sheridan.

Needless to say, I have never received such poor customer service in my life. Not even at the local meth lab! You could take lessons from those folks on how to conduct a business! I demand an apology from the corporate office regarding my experience. I hold Bed, Bath, and Beyond to a high standard of service and I expect those standards to be met in full.

Please send either a 40% off coupon for lamps or some landmines to my loft apartment to make up for this poor experience. Or you could blow up the moon for me and I would consider this matter settled.

I look forward to your response.

Signed,

Alan “Smitty” Gibbons

More Smitty

Intro to Smitty

Missing Again

Breaking and Entering

Easter

Making the Volleyball Team