Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Excerpt 05

(Excerpt # 5 - "It Seemed Funny at the Time") rough

The Improv wasn’t very good for my self-esteem. I was at the bottom of a heap of comedians, many of which were just not funny, but had tenure. The excitement of being recognized by the Improv was wearing off. I was still hitting every open mic I could because I was addicted to stage time. I needed a regular infusion of laughter or I would start jonesing. A good set would get me high for a day or two, while a bad set would send me into self-loathing and depression.

The few sets that I was able to land at the Melrose club were late in the evening, and I found myself performing, again, for other comics waiting to get up. I would sit in the showroom and look at a full house flowering in laughter, then watch some self satisfied hack take the stage and brutally bludgeon them with unfunnyness. They didn’t care who was coming on after him, and would take some kind of sick pleasure in walking a room. They weren’t being controversial, just bad. When I took the stage after, the people left looked like they had just been bitch slapped. The mirth was gone, and I had to spend half my set healing the vibe.

I could feel the bitterness permeating me through osmosis. I watched some of the other Farm Team members succumb to alcoholism on the cheap drinks as they cruised and schmoozed week after week. It had become a serious problem for Paul Hopkins. He would be drunk early on in the evening, and then keep drinking, and then he would get called up on stage to embarrass himself. It seemed like some kind of sick hazing ritual.

I watched Rodney Dangerfield host a taping of Evening at The Improv, and he pulled it off. He would sloth onto stage, stumble to the mic, then lean on the stand to keep from swaying, but as soon as they said “action”, he would pop up like a jack-in-the-box and deal the gig, tell the jokes, introduce the next act, then walk off stage only to slump and stumble as soon as he was out of the shot.

Paul hadn’t been doing it long enough to develop the autopilot, and he realized he had to get it together. He heroically quit drinking cold turkey. On the second or third day he had a seizure and bit his tongue clean off. He’d been drinking outside the club too.

He and Arthur F. Motmorency worked a day job together administering contractor licensing tests. Arthur described a day at work as taking checks, giving tests, then retreating to his office to drink.

-The author, Spencer Quash, James Tripp, 1991-

It was Arthur that introduced me to the material of Bill Hicks. I’d never heard anything like it. It was actually difficult to listen to, because Bills performance and subject matter was so far superior to anything I had ever heard. My own identity as a comedian was called into question in the face of Hicks dark genius. As a Stand-up, Bill Hicks was a pro. He had a powerful stage presence that oscillated between a hungry lion pacing in a cage and an innocent monkey scratching his ass. Bill knew his shit. He had an unassailable point of view that challenged the audience to join him in his psychedelic vision of another world. He spoke from a place where the genuine and relevant superceded the artificial and vain as a main objective. He has set the watermark for the art form. In raging rants he delivers a vision of love and unity. He was a poet, a social commentator of heroic proportions, and an agent of change in our culture.

We called people hacks that stole other peoples material, were overly formulaic, or relied on props for lack of other material. I was not a hack, but I was aspiring to be what English equestrians call a “show hack,” A show hack is a show horse that must have precision movements. They need not gallop, but must excel in the requirements of walking, halting, trotting, and cantering. I was realizing that I would never learn to gallop on the Improv stage.

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