Friday, June 22, 2007

It Happened in Williamsburg

Last night I hosted a comedy show in Williamsburg.

For those of you who aren’t from around here, you may appreciate a short geography lesson. I live in South Brooklyn, or Brownstone Brooklyn. It’s a charming, picturesque area filled with boutiques and yoga classes and stay-at-home Dads. People have backyards here. They know about wine. If they don’t have kids yet, they are practicing their parenting skills on their dog(s). North Brooklyn, the area that includes Williamsburg, used to have a lot of loft space, so gentrification of the former slum (anyone read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”?), was begun some years ago by artists looking for space. The artists have since been more or less priced out, and have left in their wake a hip, if ugly, area. Lots of tattoos and vintage dresses and serious philosophical talk about non-serif fonts and internet phenomena. Lots of bands with names that have the word “Cheese” in them.

I used to live in North Brooklyn. Even though I went to art school, and a small, liberal arts college, and have short hair, I could not really hang with the scene there. For me, and I judge not the many who have made it their home, Williamsburg and the neighborhoods around it is just a little too far on the “Trying” side of the “Being vs. Trying” spectrum. I chose the quieter, if less hip, South, and I shall never go back.

Unless it’s for stage time, of course, for which I have gone to far worse places, believe me.

This was a bar show. Often, bars that have stages set up for bands will find their one comedian friend and say, “Hey, friend. You’re a comedian. That’s a stage. How ‘bout getting a show together? We’ll have a comedy night! Everyone loves laughter!” The problem with this mentality is that unlike a band, a comedian is dependent on a focused audience in order to be effective. Usually the bar will set up some tables and chairs in front of the stage, where a few brave souls will sit and watch the show, while another throng of people gathers around the bar, somewhere away from the stage. The poor comic has to try to get his/her hilarious message to those who are interested, over the swell of the drunken, half-listening bar rats in the background. This was exactly the situation I faced last night. I would add only that the microphone was turned up too high, so my set was twice interrupted by some feedback in the style of the late Jimi Hendrix, but without the LSD.

Sounds pretty bad, right? We comics are sluts for stage time. We’ll do any show, anywhere.

I was hosting, as I said, which I do often and pretty well. I open the show, do maybe ten minutes, then introduce each comic. To be a good host you have to be able to improvise—make fun of the crowd without alienating anyone, and know when it’s good to do a couple jokes in between acts (like if someone just bombed or if the audience seems tired), and when it’s better to just bring on the next act. The audience also sees you as the person in charge, so if shit goes wrong, you may have to address it.

My friend Ben was in the middle of his set, about halfway through the show, when the heckling started.

We comedians can handle heckling. “I think I’m funnier than you” drunken spouting in a club, that sort of goes with the territory. But these guys last night were out of hand. There were three of them, and they sat way back at the bar, miles from the stage. I would describe their style and attitude as Hipster-Thug; trucker hats and hair and little jeans, with a side helping of blood lust.

Ben was having a great set, one of the funniest I’ve ever seen him do, and I’ve seen Ben’s act maybe fifty times. He was really getting into his groove when all of a sudden, from the back of the bar, with the subtlety of a Celine Dion power balad we hear: “You suck! Get off the stage! You’re a fucking pussy”, etc. Ben got mad, started yelling back. It went on from there. Comic after comic went on stage, interrupted periodically by touretic outbursts from these PBR-pickled hooligans. By the time I got on stage to bring up the last comic, the threesome had moved from the back of the bar to the table closest to the stage. They had quieted down some, but I could tell they were waiting to make their move. I decided to do a couple of jokes, loosen the mood a bit, when one of the three—big-ish with black curly hair so perfectly coiffed that it looked like a wig—stood up and asked me for the microphone.

There was no way I was going to give this guy this mic. Even though everyone in the bar who wasn’t a comic was begging me to do it, screaming for me to do it, even as he got closer and closer to the stage with a menacing look and his hand out, I was never going to put my mic in it. Because fuck him. After all that? I’m going to give this douchebag what he wants? No way!

I started doing a sort of Southern preacher thing. “I’ve worked too hard to get up on this stage! I’ve done open mics that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy! Can I get an amen, my brothers!” Still the guy stood there. I kept talking, making shit up, talking about how the guy could play me in a movie of my life, telling stories until finally he and his friends turned and walked out of the bar.

Let’s hear it for the little victories in life.

Afterwards, Joe, one of the guys who runs the show, approached me and put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re my fucking hero,” he said to me, “You can MC my show anytime.”

I just smiled, shook my head. “I’m not a hero, Joe, just a girl doing her job."

I was a camp counselor, after all. If you've faced a cafeteria filled with hormone happy Jewish kids on a ritalin vacation, you're pretty much ready for anything.

Good to know I could finally put those skills to good use.

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