Well, I debuted my new show Randomicity at the 11th annual Denver Underground Music Showcase this past Friday to mixed results. I usually describe myself as a pessimist (or sometimes a realist) but upon walking into my show’s venue I realized that I must be an optimist. When I imagined the location for my show I pictured a modest stage, perhaps with some lighting, in a room where people would be situated in a positive relationship to the action on stage. What I saw was a sports bar/restaurant with a small area that was four inches higher than the rest of the bar where they stored high chairs.
Luckily for me my comedy career has been stuffed with venues exactly like this, so this wasn’t a crushing defeat in and of itself. I began the show, only to discover that there was music still playing and all the televisions were still on. I requested that they turn off the television and music from stage, but nothing happened. I then aborted starting the show to walk off and settle these small but fairly fucking important details.
With the TV’s surrounding the stage and the music off, I started the show again. The room was packed, but mostly with people who had no idea there would be a comedy show. As the host (and creator) of the show my job was to wrangle this crowd into something manageable, but my mood was so sour I decided to shove on with the show and just try to get everything over with.
Here is a short piece the Denver Post was kind enough to provide.
I introduced the first bout between Bobby Crane and Ben Kronberg. Their topics (provided by the crowd) were ‘Industrial Revolution’ and ‘Facial Hair’. Both comedians did an awesome job, and indeed the crowd settled a bit as they realized something fun was going on. I asked the crowd to applaud as a vote for the winner, but it seemed tied. I asked again, and one boisterous man literally won the match for Ben Kronberg.
Then, in a foolish move, I gave the crowd a five minute intermission, thereby blowing any and all atmosphere out of the airlock. I know from experience that any intermission lasts at least twice as long as instructed, and sure enough, five minutes later I was introducing the main match to a lot of empty tables and table talk. Again, a decent host might have spent a few minutes whipping the crowd back into shape but not this guy! I brought up both teams and gave them their topics. Both teams had ‘Breakfast Foods’ and ‘Ethnic Cleansing’, and then they had to provide a topic for the rival team. Team Grawlix gave Fine Gentlemen’s Club ‘Nic Cage Movies’, and they returned the favor with ‘Friendship’.
The Fine Gentlemen’s Club produce a weekly show called Too Much Fun that they all host simultaneously, which proved to be great practice for Randomicity. Their camaraderie onstage was obvious and the fun they had was contagious. Team Grawlix, comprised of some of the best comedy writers I know, lacked both the banter and the sense of fun. About halfway through their 15-minute slot they turned to crowd work, despite audience chants of ‘stay on topic!’.
When it came time to award a winner I expected the Fine Gentlemen’s Club to run away with the win, and was surprised that the crowd seemed to think the teams were tied. I asked again, and again it sounded like a tie to me. I felt like Pontius Pilate, my hands bound with what seemed like an unfair decision. In the end I awarded the tie that the audience wanted, although I did note that in ‘my book’ the Fine Gentlemen’s Club were the clear winners. Whether the tie was the result of Team Grawlix’s well-earned reputation or their actual performance is beyond me, but sometimes being known as very funny is almost as good as being very funny. Overall I was very happy with both teams rising to the occasion and performing in the pressure cooker.
But if there was a hero of the evening it was Mara Wiles. If the previous comics performed in a pressure cooker, Mara was in a furnace in Hell’s basement. The terrible host (again, me) had failed to tell the audience that after the battles there would be a closing comedian, so immediately following the tie verdict both comics and audience began dispersing and talking. I tried to get them back in their seats but the damage was done. A restless, talky crowd became a much smaller restless, talky crowd. But Mara performed admirably, delivering a funny set that rewarded those paying attention. She didn’t resort to phoning it in or bailing early, which is admirable.
So if we have a hero we have to have a villain, and it should be obvious who earned that dishonor. I did a lot of work before the show booking and organizing, but once it came down to showtime I checked out. I was pissed that the bar wouldn’t turn off all the TV’s. I was pissed that the crowd was full of drunks looking to score. I was pissed that there weren’t three microphones set up as I had hoped for. So pissed at these issues that instead of fixing them, I just plowed through the show, without wading in and getting a little dirty to make it better. It’s the most irresponsible host who makes the comics he or she introduces do the crowd-wrangling. So, my apologies to all the comedians on the show, especially Mara Wiles who I left hanging out to dry at the end.
Going forward I hope to make this a regular monthly show, but I think I will wait a bit to tweak some details and find a perfect venue. Look for Randomicity to return sometime in the fall. And maybe I won’t be such a lazy asshole next time.