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Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Comedy at The Caravan Lounge

In Comedy, Open Mic, Standup on February 12, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Last night I didn’t have enough money to take BART to SF for my (now) usual Wednesday night Open Mic. I was searching for options that are closer to home, and it’s interesting to note that the further out one goes from the largest local metropolis, the fewer comedy open mics are thriving — if any can be found at all. Are there open mics for music? Yes. Oodles. They seem to be everywhere. Is this because fewer people are unhappy enough outside of the big cities, negating the need to get up in front of strangers and talk about how fucked up they are? I don’t think so. I think it’s because open mics for comedy are a dicey choice: you’re literally gambling on the willingness of your clientele to tolerate jokes about rape and racism.

I’m of the If-You-Build-It-They-Will-Come philosophy. And when I found that there was a comedy show at The Caravan Lounge in San Jose, I headed in that direction. It was a night celebrating their one-year anniversary — and their bartender, the very funny Rachel Warner, is getting back into comedy after a five-year hiatus. I’d never been to The Caravan before last night, so I didn’t quite know what to expect.

When I arrived, I saw a knot of comedians I recognized from other venues. I’m pretty sure none of them know me, as I’m relatively virginal in the comedy scene. Nearby was a door with a bouncer. There was another door around the corner, with some people outside of it. I wasn’t sure which was the entrance and which was not. Had I stood and watched more before walking in, I would have figured it out. The bouncer disappeared inside the first door, and I went in that direction. Turns out I had walked through what was, essentially, the stage door. I figured it out quickly and exited, but not before accidentally pissing in an ornate fountain where everyone could see me. That’s a lie. There are no fountains at The Caravan other than the taps of wholesome goodness and moral fervor tended by bartender / comedy goddess Rachel. The bouncer pointed me in the right direction and I found the right hole at last.

Even with just the tip in, there was a roaring mass of humanity, drunk off its collective ass, competing to be heard. I was the only person in the room wearing wool, thrice-cursed in coat, hat and my not-like-the-others Gryffindor scarf. Three people from separate groups did double-takes at that. At one end of the room was a man on a mic with the sound cranked up to eleven, with some purple christmas lights overhead and a banner behind him that said, THE CARAVAN. This guy was shouting and I couldn’t hear him. Imagine doing standup in a corner of the Thunderdome. There was nowhere to sit, there was hardly anywhere to stand. The entirety of my stay was spent accidentally bumping into strangers as I apologized and made way for someone else. (Do not be mislead by the word Lounge. Unless you’re reclining on the pool table, if Rachel’s doing a set there’s not enough room to fart.) Until Rachel went on, the only people listening to the comedians were the comedians — although I noted that Jimmy Gunn’s clear tenor voice carried perfectly, cutting through all the noise and getting their attention. So: note to self, take the Teddy Roosevelt approach to The Caravan. (Rough Riders, charge!)

The only time the crowd really quieted down was when Rachel went on, and it was well worth it. Clearly one can gain devotees by serving them alcohol on a regular basis (note to self…), but as you can see from her set, the lady has skills. According to Jimmy Gunn, it’s not usually that challenging in The Caravan — but I kind of hope that it is when I go, because what I’ve experienced thus far are sparse rooms where everyone is listening, and it would be instructive to do standup to a full room where nobody is listening. If I can get a laugh — any laugh — in that situation, it’s a win.

The host of this event and all of their Caravan Lounge Comedy Shows is the astounding Mr. Walker — funny guy, gregarious fellow. Per his invitation, I’ll be in contact.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to host an open mic in Livermore. Venue? No idea. While I lean more heavily toward comedy, I recognize that music will balance things out a bit, so I’m open — at the moment — to more. We’ll see. Knocking wood, crossing fingers. Meanwhile, it would seem that the only viable source of income for me will be to form a cult. Applications accepted via comments below.

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Dinner Detective

In Comedy, Employment, Theatre on February 5, 2015 at 10:21 pm

As part of my recent scramble for theatrical employment, I have joined the Bay Area cast of Dinner Detective: “America’s Largest Murder Mystery Dinner Show!” It’s incredibly fun as an actor and often involves a meal for the cast, which is always a plus. Of late, I’ve been doing several off-site shows, which are generally private events for local corporations. Last week it was HP, this week it was Google.

I won’t spill the beans of precisely what I do in the show — no spoilers! — but it’s interesting to note the differences between the two events and the two companies.

Walking in to HP, the dominant aesthetic is sleek and clean-lined. One wonders if one has stumbled upon a secret training base for James Bond villains. The free Starbucks Coffee machine is a dead giveaway that villainy is twirling its hipster moustache somewhere in the vicinity. They’ve got awesome displays of the kinds of projects they’re working on and a full kitchen and staff, with excellent service. They’ve kept an oak tree alive in a central courtyard, its twisting organic fractals highlighted by dramatic lighting at night, splendidly offset by the clean, clean lines everywhere else.

The people themselves — most of whom are actually vendors that work with HP — are all dressed in upper business-casual, almost all of them could model for Anthropologie and Nordstrom — or obscure quarterlies with names like Dogme-95 Cabin Chic and Beluga Mudbath Eros. The wine and beer flow freely at the open bar, and the volume in the room rises as the evening rolls on. It’s accoustically hot in there, and several key moments of our show are lost amid the chatter. At one point late in the performance, about thirty people leave the dining area and retire to the Starbucks Coffee Machine to continue their very loud conversations. While those who stay are clearly interested in our show, we are still competing to be heard — no way to sneak a fart at HP, they’ll hear it three floors away.

Because the dinner is a buffet and I don’t have a chance for a break due to the role I’m playing, I don’t get a meal. Our green room is a hallway leading to an exit. At the end of the night, two of the cast interrupt notes from the Host — who is essentially our director for the evening — to say they simply have to leave because it’s so late and the drive from HP to wherever they live is so long. I am astounded by this. One does not interrupt one’s director during notes unless there’s an emergency: building on fire, ubersexy Anthropologie models scalding the homeless with hot Starbucks, corporations forced to pay taxes on foreign income — things like that. When I leave, there are four or five of the partygoers out front, figuring where to go to create their little afterparty. It’s fascinating to watch drunk people with money as they wrangle for top dog in the fuckability olympics. I wish them a festive evening and they wave me away with the casual arrogance one reserves for gnats and fruit flies. They make more money in a day than I make in a month.

The Google event is at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco. The lobby looks like Loki’s private throne lounge. I want to go back there for a meal or drinks sometime, but I think I have to lose forty pounds and wear all black. Also, money. So. Anyway: the event is in the Velvet Room, where the walls are gigantic floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains. There are four wooden columns in the room, each stained in a deep, rich tone that hearkens back to Boston’s Oak Room and various similar old-school establishments. Again, clean lines dominate the Clift, but with quirky leather chairs sporting cattle horns and faux fur — though the Velvet Room’s plush darkness is nicely offset by the white linen on the tables and matching slipcovers. A row of tealights in the center of each table adds pretty sparkles. As we’re rehearsing in the space beforehand, our Host says that we’re safe to go more adult with the humor: this is a private show, the people from Google are smart and savvy. We don’t want to go too far, but it’s safe to pepper some jokes.

Everyone from Google is dressed very casually. Not even business casual: the sheer number of plaid shirts is remarkable. Not merely plaid: un-ironed plaid. Maybe even a button missing from a collar or something along those lines. It’s important to note, however, that even though there’s a lot of plaid, it’s the very most fashionable and recent plaid. No Black Watch or Royal Stewart Tartans here, no Tattersall, Madras, Glen or Houndstooth: it’s all variations on Windopane, Graph and Shepherd’s Check. Most resplendent in his blue and white Graph Check is the boss, and it’s clear that the smartest men in the room are those wearing the same pattern.

The Googlians are approachable, and some are quite aggressive in their own approach to the murder mystery. I’m supposed to be dressed like a member of the Hotel staff, but because I didn’t do my due diligence on what the staff wear, I stand out slightly: instead of black pants, black apron and black shirt, I’m wearing black pants, black apron, white shirt, black vest, black tie. One of the kitchen staff stops me to ask if I work in the restaurant as well — I explain that I’m an actor. He says I look exactly like a waiter. I realize that I could wear this same outfit, enter through the kitchen of a restaurant where they have the same uniform, scoop several tips off the tables and skedaddle. I hope I’m never that desparate, but now I know I’ve got the right camouflage.

Except that — of course — all the Google guys in their matching plaid variations immediately see the difference between my uniform and those of the other servers. I’m stopped as I’m bussing tables to be interrogated. But the other servers have decided that, owing to my height and silvering beard and slightly more formal uniform, I am El Capitáno: they pretend to confer with me for direction, clarification and such. They decided this on their own. These guys are now my favorite. I am rescued from interrogation by Mario, who says the Chef needs to talk to me. The Google Plaids thus recognize my status and cross me off their lists.

Well into the dinner, one of the detectives makes a couple mistakes, inadvertently insulting a guest. (We’ll hear a lot about this later, in notes from the Host after the show.) Owing to the relative freedom of my character, however, I am moving past the most fun table in the room near the end of the night when the other detectives says, “I think we’ve been a little hard on you guys tonight …”

Pitched for the ears of those closest to me, I say, “‘Little hardon‘ … ?”

This causes a carpet-bombing ripple of amusement in that corner of the room. It is quick, subtle and extremely effective: they can’t stop laughing.

When we get our notes for the evening, we learn that there are several audience members who felt that some of the actors’ jokes were unnecessarily cruel or inappropriate.

I have a momentary spike of alarm until I remember that the audience response forms had already been submitted before I made my cock joke. My quiet, subtle and hilarious cock joke. I am off the hook, ladies and gents, so of course I’m writing about it here.

In the end, we never get our curtain call: the hotel needs the room cleared by 8:25, something that came as a late-in-the-game surprise for our Host. When I head toward the kitchen to return the black apron they loaned me for the night, I see one of the guys who was suspicious of me early on — one of the only ones not wearing plaid, I should note — and he shakes my hand in the Lobby. “You totally had me fooled, man, the way you talked shit about working in Hospitality. Awesome show!” I thank him and head to the kitchen through the bar. I return my apron and thank the staff profusely. One of them asks if I want a job. I say yes, and she laughs. Joking with the underemployed actor. Ha ha ha. Yep. Zinger.

When I exit through the Velvet Room, I notice three of the other actors in the space, each pretending to look for something they left behind. It’s clear that they have no reason to be in there — none of us bring anything personal into the space other than our cell phones. I realize in an instant why they’re there: we didn’t get our curtain call, and we’re all desperate for validation of our work, our selves, our choices — both as actors and as people: tell us you liked us, please, so that we can continue to justify this lifestyle, this profession, this quiet 4:30 am doubt that whispers us awake and sits us hollow-eyed on the edge of our bed wondering if we could have had a family, a house, a car, a career … if only we’d killed our dreams and used their corpses to fertilize a fresh crop of practicality. It saddens me to see them doing this, and it saddens me even more to realize that I didn’t have to exit through the Velvet Room, either. I could have gone back through the kitchens to the service elevator. I am just as desperate as they are, but now that I’m aware of it I’m also deeply chagrined.

I make a beeline for the exit. Two of the hot Asian Indian chicks I saw aren’t in the room, and their giggles were my primary reason for this path.

That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

They left before dinner was served.

Today’s Haiku

In Comedy, Employment, Intent, Open Mic, Standup, Theatre, Writing on January 22, 2015 at 9:44 pm

I’ve started doing standup at open mics in SF.

The following are haiku based on my experiences en route, during, and at home afterward.

If you like them, I welcome your comments. If you hate them, I welcome your comments.

Last two nights: SF
Open mic standup is fun
Ev’ryone is sad

White guy wizard beard
Walking lone through the Mission
Nobody comes near

Unemployment sucks
Hard to wake up before nine
Debate: write or wank

How to get to BART
All I have is a dollar
Soccer moms need cock?

Foot fungus in chunks
Time to get some tea tree oil
Expensive? Sell death

Job interview good
Haven’t said too much but then
Ha ha foreskin joke

I will look like that
When I’m sixty-five years old
Need to learn more spells

Guilty Christmas cards
Are the only kind I send
Mass apology

Pornhub so much fun
Comment on the happy vids:
“No sex life for me.”

She-she speaks the truth
Thus inspiring standup act
Transformation thence

Satan has a bump
Satan shares his bump with me
Now I have a rash

Cabbage soup today
Blood pressure too god-damn high
Dad expressed concern

I am unemployed
This is White Male Privilege:
I am still alive

First audition miss
Since one seven seven six
Shame chagrin and guilt

House so cold at night
Heating with the gas stove thanks
Yes I know the risks

Money running low
How to get to open mic
Soccer moms are gone

EDD card what?
Oh that paid the WordPress fee
Monetize or die

Postcard mystery
Last year so anonymous
Then the postcards stopped