When you’re a comic, there’s never enough work, and there’s always a comedy club, a cruise line, or some other type of gig you’re trying to get into. To do this, you send out your promo reel, you stop into the venue to do a quick showcase set, you leverage your contacts and get someone to vouch for your talent, or you ride your agent like a rented mule to get you the coveted gig. After all that, if the opportunity comes to break into that new gig - you have to do it. Rarely is there a second chance, at least not right away.
And so it went while I was working one of my favorite comedy clubs - The Funny Bone in South Bend, Indiana. South Bend is a great town and the Funny Bone was always packed, making it one of my favorite rooms to update my all-important promo reel. I had worked the club many times as I traveled around the country and was just settling in for that week's Friday night shows when I got a surprise phone call from the manager at the Comic Strip in El Paso, Texas, telling me they had had a last-minute cancellation and were wondering if I could be in El Paso to work the club on Tuesday. At the time, the Comic Strip was one of the best clubs in the country and it was at the top of my “hit list” of clubs to get into. I had sent them my promo reel, and I had popped in to showcase for them about five months prior to getting the phone call. This was my chance.
There was just one problem. The Funny Bone week ended on Sunday night, and I would need to be on stage in El Paso on Tuesday night.
That meant I had just a little more than 36 hours to drive the 1,500 miles from South Bend, Indiana to El Paso, Texas. I could have said no because of the time frame and the long drive, and I have no doubt the good people at the Comic Strip would’ve understood. But who knew how long it would be before I'd get another opportunity to break into the Comic Strip? So, without hesitation, I said yes. And then I started figuring out my plan to make it work.
On Sunday, I had the car packed and ready to go, and I had my “driving clothes” in my backpack. I slept as much as I could that day, did the show, and as soon as I said, “Thank you, good night” to the audience I changed out of my show clothes and into my driving clothes like a fireman responding to a five-alarm fire. Within a few minutes of leaving the stage I was in my car and on the road.
Stopping only for gas, food, and bathroom breaks, I drove across the country like I was filming a reboot of “Smokey and the Bandit.” I rolled into El Paso just a few hours before the show on Tuesday. I was as tired as I’ve ever been in my life! When the club manager found out I drove straight through from South Bend, he wondered out loud why I didn't decline the invite to work that week.
"Are you crazy?” he asked.
“No, I’m a comic.”
Knowing that if I laid down for a nap I would probably never wake up again, I muscled through the next few hours with a lot of coffee, a long shower. I did the show without falling asleep - and even did it well! After the show, I shook hands with the club manager, said, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” went back to the comics' apartment, and was asleep within minutes of putting my head on the pillow. I woke up around 5 p.m. the next day feeling like a new person. I finished the week strong and before I left I was offered more dates at the club! Mission accomplished!
As luck would have it, the club manager at the Comic Strip was friends with other club owners and club managers around the country. He told them I had driven across the country to take the week at his club, and then killed every night. That alone got me even more work from other clubs on my “hit list” and within a couple of days the rest of my year was booked with A-list rooms!
I look back on that trek from South Bend to El Paso and I have to agree with the club manager that yes, I might have been crazy. It certainly wasn’t safe, but it was definitely worth it. When opportunity knocks, it won’t always be convenient, but you still have to grab it by the horns. Because you never know what or when other opportunities will present themselves.