The comedy club was packed — standing room only. The line to get in was out the door and growing. Some folks tried to cut line and a fight broke out. Thankfully, Security squashed it quickly and no one was hurt. And I thought "Wow, y'all. It's just jokes."
►LISTEN TO THE COMPANION BLOGCAST: http://theurbanerma.podbean.com/2012/10/02/for-the-love-of-strangers-any-given-saturday/
As the room surged past capacity the audience of strangers pulled it together. As if to erase the memory of the front door fisticuffs they scrunched up, shared what few seats were left, and some folks were even sitting on the floor. I was performing at The Punchliner Comedy Club on a cruise ship, the Carnival Destiny. The audience had already seen me the night before last and had come back for more. Woo Hoo!
One of the stand-up comedy facts of life is that it doesn't matter how funny you were last night, you better bring it tonight, right now. Just like in finance, past performance is no guarantee of future funny but the full house before me believed otherwise.
I stood in the back of the room taking it all in. Before a show, most people assume that I want to be alone in the green room (or whatever passes for one) like some modern-day Nora Desmond. They think I need time to "prepare." But that's like cramming for an exam at the last minute. By then it's too late. At T-minus 30, I'm either good to go or I'm not.
I like watching and listening to the audience, getting a sense of their energy or lack thereof. They can be boisterous or subdued, it doesn't matter. I take them where I find them. It’s like plugging in and getting connected to the here and now. I will admit there are times when it doesn’t matter how long I stand there, I can't make any connection at all. But I still have to get on stage and do the job though. I suppose that's what separates the Newbies from the Pros; the ability to stand and deliver no matter your mood or that of the audience.
If the pre-show vibe I feel coming from a crowd is like food, then what I felt that night on board the Carnival Destiny was a full-course meal filled with all my favorites, and sweet potato pie for dessert. Why was this show so particularly tasty?
While I do have fans, I'm still at that stage of my career, where more often than not, people see me by chance. They're going to a comedy club or special event, and I just happen to be there. Win-win. On this night, however, they were coming to see me, specifically. That's different. I suppose that's what separates the Pros from the Celebrities. That is what fame feels like. That is what most performing artists are working towards. And it was delicious. I'll take another helping of that, thank you very much.
Of course, I still had to deliver the goods. But it was nice not to have to start from zero, to have the deck stacked in my favor, to have the game be mine to lose. That can and does happen for Newbies, Pros, and Celebs alike. In American football they call it “any given Sunday.” For stand-up comedians I guess we’d call it “any given Saturday.” You can have a horrible show in an ideal setting and a great show in a dump. That’s the horror and the beauty of it.
This night, was gorgeous. As fabulous as it felt though I know not to get too comfortable. Audience love is not unconditional love. It’s magical but fleeting. But if they keep coming, I’ll keep bringing.