Freeze, Flight, or Fight
When people ask me if I would support my kids embarking on a career in stand-up comedy, I pause and say, “The biggest advantage my parents had that I wouldn’t have is my parents didn’t know anything about the life of a stand-up who is starting out on the road.”
If I had told my parents that I slept in an abandoned motel, or that I drove 1,500 miles straight without rest to get to a gig, or that a club owner and I pet a venomous snake together, they would have framed me for a crime, knowing prison was probably safer.
The struggle of road life for a young comic is a very real thing. Don’t get me wrong, it was a TON of fun too! But the inherent dangers mixed with a few, or only one bad choice could lead to disaster.
So here’s another one my parents never knew about!
I was working a one-nighter in Rock Springs, Wyoming. The population was around 20,000 people and it seemed they were all either famers or truck drivers… at least that was what my audience was. I was on stage telling my jokes and, out of about 40 people, only the bartender was laughing. Things weren’t going well, but I was pretty confident success or failure in Rock Springs wouldn’t have a big impact on my career trajectory. Nevertheless, I was still trying my hardest to make the good people who were at the show laugh, at least a little.
About twenty minutes into my set I thought it would be a good idea to try and play with the crowd a little. The material wasn’t working so I thought maybe I could catch lightning in a bottle and find something in the crowd that I could play off of for a few minutes. I thought this was a brilliant idea!
Sitting front and center was a burly-looking fella wearing a cowboy hat, a flannel shirt and a gigantic belt buckle. I thought this was comedy gold waiting to be mined.
I said, “Wow, man! How many channels can you get with that belt buckle? I’ve seen satellite dishes smaller than that!”
The audience erupted in laughter… the first of the night for me!
He said, “I won this in a rodeo.”
“Oh yeah!? Are you still dating the sheep?”
Again, the audience roars!
He said, “Do you think you’re funny?”
“Well yeah, actually I do. I’m a comedian, and you're at a comedy show, partner! Did the sign outside have too many big words in it?”
The audience is applauding, laughing and howling!
The guy stood up, grabbed what looked to be a 32 ounce mug of beer and chugged it in about 3 seconds. The howling, cheering audience suddenly went quiet, and the bartender who I thought was my biggest fan says from behind the bar, “Aw shit, now ya done stepped in it kid. Here we go!”
Reading the tea leaves, I said, “Thank you, goodnight!” I walked off the stage, which was actually a dance floor, towards the door. There was one big problem. Cody the cowboy was between me and the door, and he didn’t look happy… at all. I tried to navigate around him, but he started moving towards me, which, I’m not going to lie, made me see Jesus for like a nano-second.
That’s when his date stood up and said, “Cody you promised no fighting tonight!”
I was certain I was going to need a blood transfusion if I didn’t get out of that room as soon as possible. Cody got within a few feet of me when another big burly looking cowboy got between us and said, “Listen to Sheila, Cody. He’s not worth another night in jail.”
Hearing that sentence scared me so much I was frozen in fear. I was yelling at my legs to start moving, but my legs were like, “We can’t! And you’re about to die!”
Then I felt a hand grab my shoulder. I looked, and it was the other comic grabbing me and pulling me out towards the door. It was like he saw my legs weren’t working anymore. As we got to the door I heard the sound of glass breaking, looked back over my shoulder and saw total mayhem behind me. Cody and the other guy started throwing punches, and that caused a “Road House”-like chain reaction throughout the room.
The other comic and I streaked to the car and peeled out of the parking lot back to the motel we were staying at, packed up and got the hell out of Rock Springs. About 10 miles out of town the other comic looked at me and said, “Do you think we’ll still get paid?” We instantly started laughing.
We never did get paid for that gig, and I was grateful to the other comic for not being mad at me. He thought it was hysterical. I needed to go buy new underwear.
A few days later I was back home. My mom asked me how the trip went. I said, “The shows went okay, but I don’t think I’ll be going back to Wyoming anytime soon.”
Ignorance really was bliss… for her.