|6 Dollars||Saturday, 3rd February|
|The road. It’s where comedians get good. I forget who, but some famous comic said there’s no way around it. Performing from club to club. Living out of a suitcase. Endless one night stands with the club waitress and drunk audience members. Then again, I don’t really know much about it. I’m just repeating what I heard from my friends.|
I’ve always wanted to be on TV which meant staying in town for auditions. I’ve done a lot of colleges and casinos here and there but I usually catch a flight home the next day. Except once…
HAZY flashback sequence.
It was around mid February. I was passing out flyers for stage time and freezing my a** off in NY. Three months earlier, I randomly submitted a tape to a booker and was getting the call now.
“Hi, this is Jerry. We received your tape. Can you host at our Wisecrackers club this weekend in Scranton, Pennslyvania? ”
Host? By now I had been doing comedy for about four years or something in New York. I had never heard of Scranton, Pennsylvania, plus I didn’t have a car. Of course, I just applied my non-sensical logic which has guided me through all important life decisions.
Three days later I was squeezed next to someone on a Greyhound bus to Scranton, Pennsylvania. It was about four hours away, and I was traveling with a busload of people.
With each stop, the bus crowd slowly thinned out until I was sitting by myself.
“Scranton, Pennsylvania.” the bus driver grumbled. I think he was annoyed that he had to drive all this way just for me.
I took a cab to my motel, (I wasn’t old enough to rent a car, not that it mattered because I don’t think there was anything to rent.) “Are you lost?” The cab driver asked.
“No, I’m a comic. I’m going to Wisecrackers comedy club!” I proudly stated.
“That’s my favorite place!”
“Obviously.” I thought. I had never been there but it was probably one of America’s top comedy clubs if they booked me, Tarun Shetty, 23 year old comedy sensation.
We pulled into a motel with one car in the parking lot. I didn’t care. I was getting 75 big ones to do comedy. I marched into the lobby, with my chest out, head high, feeling great.
“Who are you?” the desk clerk asked.
“I’m Tarun Shetty – the comedian.”
She looked at a list on the wall.
“Oh, your room is right there.” She pointed to a door like five feet down the hall.
“Can I get some room service?” I asked.
“We don’t have a kitchen but we have a microwave and a vending machine.” She pointed to a big brown thing plugged into the wall. The on and off humming made it seem like it was dying a slow death in the corner.
“How about the comedy club. Can I get a ride tonight?”
She started laughing. “This is the comedy club!” She pointed to a set of double doors literally right next to my hotel door. Sure enough, inside was the motel showroom and I saw a xeroxed black and white picture of me hanging crooked on the wall.
I went back to my room. There's a lot of things to do before showtime, especially in Scranton. Like sleep, write jokes, watch TV, sleep, read, call home, sleep, take a shower, more sleep.
It seemed like I had just closed my eyes for the 15th time when I heard a loud knocking on my door. “10 minutes till showtime!”
I threw on my crumpled ‘comedy shirt’ from my bag, stuffed some Skittles into my mouth and trudged five feet into the next room. There were about 30 people seated and two older men standing in near the bar.
A lady approached me, waving her hands frantically. ‘Are you Tyroon? Ok, listen up. We have a packed show! (I guess 30 people was the whole town) I need you to do a tight 10 minutes up front and 4 and a half between each act. The red light is on the back wall. When you see it, wrap up, get off stage and don’t forget to mention the cheese stick specials.” I had no idea what she just said.
“Sounds good!” I replied.
I went to the bar, thinking shots of rum would clear my new headache. I ran into the other two comics trying to flirt with the bartender.
One guy was really fat, the other had on all black and wore a black trenchcoat. I assumed his onstage comedy persona was some sort of serial killer or something.
“Hey, guys. I’m the host. Can I get your credits?”
They looked at me as if I embodied everything that was wrong with stand-up comedy.
“Say whatever.” The fat man muttered and walked off.
Trenchcoat guy starting listing off credits. “MTV, A&E, Conan O’Brien…”
“You were on Conan O’Brien?” I interrupted. I was a big fan of the show. I even had an autographed Conan O’Brien picture hanging in my room in college.
“Um, yeah.” he replied.
“Er, last year.”
“Who were the other guests?” It was an innocent question hoping he would later tell me all about it and bond an old veteran comic with an up and coming star.
It never occurred to me that maybe he was LYING about his credits and I was pretty much calling him on it in front of a girl he was trying to nail.
“Just say it, all right!” He slammed his drink down and stormed away.
That night was an awkward night of comedy and probably shaped the next few years of my life. The audience was nice, but I don’t think they had ever seen a South Asian guy, especially one doing comedy. I remember opening up with, “Hey guys, I’m not a comic, I work at the gas station across the street and they asked me to do some time.” I heard a guy in the front row go, “I’ve never seen him at the gas station.”
I was also reprimanded later for going over my time and threatened that I would never work the Wisecracker comedy circuit again. “Promise?” I asked.
They ended up cancelling the second show because nobody showed up. When I finally got back to NY, after all expenses, I made six dollars! I was rich!!!
I’m pretty sure comedy on the road is a lot more fun that this. In fact, I know it is. But I did have a revelation that night. If I was going to be funny for a career, I had to find a medium that reached as many people as possible, and not a microphone in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Even in NY. Had to get out of there, take my shot. Take risks, no regrets.
6 dollars is great, but it'll take at least 10 for me to sellout my dreams.