Inside the Improv Green Room: Pittsburgh All-Star Weekend

Ed. Note – Sometimes when I learn a lesson or have an interesting experience in the course of performing comedy, I’ll talk about it.

Aaron Kleiber, Mike Sasson, Terry Jones, T-Robe and me

This past weekend I was lucky to be a part of the 2nd Annual Pittsburgh All-Star Show at the Improv.  The line up was solid: Terry Jones, Mike Wysocki, T-Robe and I were all slated to co-feature the show, with Derrick Knopsnyder hosting.  The Improv usually supports these types of shows by “papering the room” which essentially means giving out free tickets to get people in the door.  Since it was the 4th of July weekend, audience members got access to $4 tickets.

Most comics don’t like when a club does this because from our high-minded artist’s perspective, you’re attracting the wrong kind of people.  By offering tickets this low, you’re bringing in an audience who is more concerned with the nachos than enjoying the actual show.  These people probably haven’t even ever gone to a comedy show before, thus making them potentially bad audience members.

So what?  Papering the room beats the alternative: shouting jokes in front of 16 people.  The clash that will forever happen in clubs is that comedians believe that a great show equals success.  The club believes that lots of alcohol sales equals success.  The club wants the show to be good, but if everyone enjoys themselves and doesn’t buy anything then it defeats the purpose.

However, I went into the weekend thinking that a $4 ticket crowd was going to be a tough one to work with.  However, on Thursday the crowd was unbelievable.  Mike Sasson and Aaron Kleiber both did guest sets and the audience was with us through the whole thing.  Everyone crushed.   It was like we were detonating laughter bombs in the crowd.  It was so fun that I actually went out on a ledge and tried a few brand new jokes that went pretty well too.  As I left the stage, I thought At this point, I need to be headlining consistently.  I’m pretty good at this.  I came to the conclusion that I was going to do a whole new set tomorrow night.  A completely different 20 minutes.  I have that much good material.  I’m awesome.

Comedy has a funny way of taking your knees out just when your head is it’s most inflated.

First show on Friday, I just flat out stunk.  The audience was definitely a little stiff.  I also had to perform during “check drop” which can be brutal.  That’s when the servers drop off the bill for the evening and everyone stops listening to you and starts to complain about how much chicken wings cost.  So even though I didn’t do so great, I had an excuse.

I came off stage and Colin Chamberlain, another local comedian, gave me the best patronizing compliment I’ve ever had after a bad set.

Me: Man, that was rough.

Colin: You know what though?  That’s a nice shirt you have on there.

We had a guest set that night from a legit headliner named Tu Rae.  Tu Rae is now one of the MC’s at New York’s famous Comedy Cellar.  He was in town doing a one-nighter at an upscale bar and decided to pop in before his show to get warmed up.  As he scanned the lethargic crowd, he leaned into me and said, “What’s that movie where the pit fighters are dipping their hands in glass?  Cause that’s what I feel like I’m doing now.  This is going to be a fight.”

He crushed.  Which then made my excuse of why I did poorly fly out the window.  Someone figured out how to do it.  It could be done, but I just didn’t have the combination that night.

If this past weekend was a baseball series I’d say I pitched a shutout the first show, got shelled for the second, then had a 1-0 win in extra innings for the third show.  It was a series win, but it was sloppy and we need to get back to fundamentals.

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