you can’t teach that

For the first time in a while, I’ll be teaching again this week. Before you start congratulating me for re-entering this most noble of professions, it’s not like I’ll be teaching about the towering figures in modern literature, or advances in higher mathematics, or, really anything with practical value. I teach stand-up comedy.

There are some problems with this as a way to make money. First, I’m not sure why anyone would take a stand-up comedy class, since the stand-up ‘boom’ ended in the early 1990s. It seems rather like studying to be an apothecary, or a harpsichord repairman. Yeah, there are still comedy clubs, and a few hundred dive bars that might have a ‘comedy night’ in which they move the karaoke machine out of the way for an hour and a half (“You guys have to be done by 9:30, because the Metallica tribute band needs to set up”).

But it’s not like it was in the eighties, when every town with a sewer system offered a place to perform in front of a faux brick wall to an audience of drunk twenty-somethings. Sadly, the golden days of stand-up ended when it got over-exposed on TV and—sorry, I almost turned into an old vaudevillian bemoaning how radio killed his career.

More to the point, although I’ve taught comedy classes in the past (even taught ‘advanced stand-up’—and what the hell is that? Really complicated jokes? Longer…segues?), I’ve never been convinced you can actually teach stand-up comedy.

I think you can teach someone how to hold a microphone, and you can teach some tricks about putting jokes in a certain order (‘Don’t end your set with a joke about abortion,’ or ‘Don’t open by mentioning the Holocaust’), but you cannot teach someone to be funny. You need to bring funny with you to the first class.

However, I guess there will always be people lured by the prospect of a fifty-dollar Thursday gig in Dickinson, North Dakota, and for these brave souls, I offer four two-hour sessions, culminating in a three-minute performance at one of the local chuckle joints. The real problem is that if you want to be a comic, you should be at a comedy club, not in a classroom. You should be showing up at open mics trying out your shit in front of an audience (I’m really not selling my class very well—must learn how to market myself better.)

See, comedy’s different than other forms of ‘art,’ say, violin playing. You would never hear a violinist at Orchestra Hall say “This is something I’m just kinda trying out—it’s new–not sure if it’s gonna be any good.” But with standup, the ONLY way to know if something is funny is to say it in front of an audience—you can’t practice it in front of a mirror or say it into a tape recorder (are there still tape recorders? must update references…).

So the demographic that would sit at home and think “I want a more theoretical approach to the whole comedy thing, and I want to learn in an environment that’s entirely unlike any place comedy might actually happen” are people who, by and large, aren’t toting a lot of funny around with them. They’re taking my class for the same reason they might take a class in bungee jumping, or macramé—something they always thought about trying, because it could be fun.

In my experience, there are certain types of people who take Introduction to Stand-up Comedy.

  • The Frat Boy Type: believes he’s funny because he can make his ‘bros’ laugh at a kegger by doing a drunk impression of his boss followed by armpit farts—sadly, this doesn’t always translate in front of a real crowd
  • The Cubicle Guy: wants to try something different to shake up his nine-to-five life, but prior performing experience limited to emceeing the raffle at the company picnic, during which he attempted part of a Bill Cosby routine
  • The Hipster: watches too much Comedy Central, thinks he could do comedy because ‘they’re just saying a bunch of random shit anyway’
  • The Saucy Mom: has read a lot of Erma Bombeck, and now that kids have moved out, finally is trying what she ‘always wanted to do,’ but mostly wants to say inappropriate things and swear a lot
  • The Comedy Writer: has none of the personality required to be a performer, but has a chapbook filled with wacky ideas, most of which are only funny to him
  • The Toastmaster: Unclear on the distinction between public speaking and stand-up; would ideally prefer to read from note cards at a podium (tells people what he’s going to tell them, then tells them, then tells them what he’s told them)

Another challenge in teaching the ‘rules’ of comedy is that almost by definition, comedy is about seeming like you’re breaking the rules—saying those very things that you’ve been trained to suppress since fourth grade when you were sent home with a note saying ‘cuts up in class—always disrupting lessons with jokes.’

Of course, there will always be the stand-up student who simply wants to be like whoever the hot comic is at the moment, and I essentially have to beat that out of them so they find their own comic voice, and so the world isn’t overrun with clones of Dane Cook. But every so often, I come across students with a spark, that ineffable flair that makes you want to listen to whatever they feel like talking about.

It’s what my beatnik friend Eugene used to call ‘the thang.’ And though I try my damndest to give every student the tools they need to pull a few laughs out of increasingly jaded audiences, it’s that one in twenty, the one who has that ‘thang,’ who makes me want to teach comedy. Just don’t expect me to teach you to be funny.

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apocalypse whenever

As hopeful as I am in this post-Osama world, the cynic in me always is ready for things to go kerflooey on a global scale. And when things get real scary, like most people, I think about starting my own religious cult. I’ve obviously got the leadership thing down, having been captain of my high-school debate team. If you’re not inclined to join my cult, maybe you’ll want to start your own, and in the that spirit, I’ve put together some tips to make your cult as successful as possible.

  • Pick a date for the end of the world. Avoid the beginning of any century–be creative. Who’s to say the world won’t end on March 30th, 2012? Or tie your personal vision to an astronomic event–comets have been done to death, but what about the next asteroid shower?
  • Get as many people to agree with you as possible–ideally, you should have at least twenty followers–otherwise it’s really more of a club than a cult.
  • Choose a spiritual name for your followers to call you. You will have more luck drawing adherents if you avoid really American-sounding names like ‘Greg.’ Also avoid names which are difficult for your followers to pronounce, like Azhgtilsksh.
  • When the ‘end times’ come, remember–you don’t have to kill yourself just because your followers do.
  • If you have a regular job, quit. In addition to the long hours involved with starting a cult, you lose some credibility if you have to miss a vigil or a sacrifice because you’re ’stuck at work for another hour.’
  • Convince your followers to have sex with you in exchange for their salvation. If they are not convinced, threaten to shoot them.
  • Good places to build your compound: the desert, the mountains, or anywhere in Idaho. Bad places: the banquet room of a Holiday Inn and your apartment.
  • Avoid telling potential converts about the killing themselves part. Wait until you get all their worldly possessions, then start dropping hints about ‘the next world.’
  • Be sure to tell your followers that when they kill themselves (see above) they will be going to a better place. Nobody will give you all their worldly possessions if you tell them you’re ‘just not sure what will happen when this all shakes out.’
  • Don’t tell people you’re God. Acceptable substitutes–Vessel of God, Messenger of Truth, Most Eminent Visionary. Bad choices–Smart Guy, Man Who Is Better Than Others, Guy Who Tells People To Kill Themselves.
  • Find corporate sponsorship. With more cult startups expected than ever before, competition for lost souls will be intense. If you could be known as The Nike Cult of The Impending End Times, you’ll have a better shot at getting new members.
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the real cause of the financial crisis

AS BUDGET CUTS LOOMED, ONE AGENCY TRIED TO SURVIVE

When the global economic crisis began, most average Americans had difficulty comprehending the numbers being tossed around like so much ticker tape. In our day to day lives, we find it hard to make sense of the fact that, as a nation, we could be (according to the Office of Management and Budget) 1.3 kajillion dollars in debt.

Listen to Dorothy, a waitress at the Bacon N’ Lard in Ottumwa, Iowa:

“Look, if me and Ernie miss one payment on our Discover card, we get all sorts of phone calls and letters letting us know, you know, that we owe some money. How could the government get over a kajillion dollars behind? How could they keep spending when they weren’t making enough money? Where did all the money go? Do you want to see a couple of menus?”

These are the questions which prompted a three month investigation, involving both Google and Wikipedia, into the inner workings of the American economy. What we found was astonishing.

One nondescript building in Northern Virginia, hardly visible frome the street,  houses an agency which was formed in the heady days after World War II, when the American economy was a global behemoth. The agency, which prior to this investigation had been shrouded in mystery, has apparently had an unlimited budget under every administration since Truman. The agency is officially known as the Council for Wasteful Spending, but as with all government agencies, this name obscures the Council’s true mission.

It was apparent at the main security desk that this was not a typical government office. The concierge led me to my meeting with the head of the CWS, where we were to have a no-holds-barred interview regarding his agency’s purpose, as we try to find the root cause of the country’s financial meltdown. What follows is a transcript of the meeting between our reporter and the head of the CWS:

CWS Guy: Come in. Would you like a menu?

Reporter: Uh…no thanks.

CWS: Some caviar? Chilean Sea Bass crudite? Maybe a muffin? Seriously, we’re just gonna toss all this when the interview is over.

Rep: Fine–I’ll have a muffin. First, why don’t you tell me about the Council on Wasteful Spending. When it was founded, your mission…

CWS: Gladly. Well, this agency was founded initially (grabs a solid gold plaque off the wall behind him and reads inscription) “to find ridiculous ways to spend taxpayer dollars in these heady times after World War II”. What we do essentially, is try to come up with projects the cost of which far outweighs any possible benefits.

Rep: So the actual purpose of this agency is to waste taxpayers’ money?

CWS: That’s right.

Rep: …but…ok…um…you see the thing is…it’s just–the economy is in probably its worst shape since the Great Depression. How can you reconcile your agency’s mission with the fact that the United States is in the midst of a potentially devastating crisis?

CWS: Well that’s the beauty part. We don’t have to–what was your word?–reconcile anything. We just have to keep spending the money–(phone rings) hold on I need to take this…”yeah, bring it to the loading dock like usual”…sorry, one of our delivery trucks.

Rep: What kind of shipment are you getting?

CWS: Oh, it’s a couple pallettes of money. New driver I guess. Anyway, why don’t I tell you about some of our current projects so you can better understand what we do here.

Rep:……Sure.

CWS: (hands folder to reporter) This is something we’ve been working on for several years. Our scientists are attempting to…oh what’s the techical term…transmute–that’s it–transmute lead into gold. So we would be able to take piles of lead and, if our theories are correct, turn those into piles of gold.

Rep: This used to be called alchemy. In the Middle Ages. And it was proven impossible.

CWS: Just open the folder.

Rep: There’s nothing in here.

CWS: That’s right–because so far, we have not been able to accomplish the goal. The alchemy thing. But, we were able to spend over $800,000 last year alone to show that we couldn’t do it. Now here’s another project we’re very excited about. Remember as a child learning that dolphins are highly intelligent and can actually communicate with each other in a complex language? Well we have established an underground oceanographic institute here–filled with 100 million gallons of actual ocean water–to try to decode the dolphin’s secret language.

Rep: And….

CWS: Not much at this point. The only things we’ve been able to translate so far are the phrases “let’s swim over there for a while” and “I think I’ll jump out of the water for a second”, but we just were approved for more funding, so who knows.

Rep: It seems like you’re just throwing money away here.

CWS: Oh we do that too–fiscal year 1987–we actually couldn’t spend all of our funding and had to throw out 2.5 million dollars.

Rep: So you have no qualms about taking the money of hard-working Americans and just…wasting it?

CWS: It’s what we do. Besides, it’s not like this country was gonna use that money for anything truly important. Universal health care? C’mon that’s been a non-starter for years–what are we, Scandinavia? A free and competetive public school system where teachers are compensated with high wages? Please! Infrastructure upgrades to create high-speed rail networks? Oh yeah, conservatives in Nebraska will be all over that. Nah, we’re better off spending our money on projects that we know won’t go anywhere. Like this new kind of gun with a special sensor that allows you to shoot only endangered species.

Rep: Well–thank you for your time.

CWS: No problem. All in the interest of transparency. Sure you don’t want take a couple of muffins with you?

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and the 2035 Grammy goes to…

The most eagerly-anticipated new album of 2035 was released this week, as ninety-four year old Bob Dylan’s “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Crap I Never Planned To Release” hit the airwaves on Tuesday. Coinciding with Dylan’s seventy-fifth year as a recording artist, “Crap” is a sprawling, maddening but ultimately rewarding and occasionally brilliant addition to the Dylan oeuvre, with undiscovered gems and a handful of new recordings which illustrate his still vital presence in the rock pantheon.

This has been a banner year for Dylan, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, a Tony award for the musical version of his Greenwich Village years called “Blowin’!” and his week-long sting as a guest judge and mentor on the still popular “American Idol.” The “Idol” appearance was marred by controversy, of course, as Dylan was shown yelling at one of the finalists to “stop destroying my legacy you kids!”

This latest collection has Dylan looking back on his Minnesota troubador roots while at the same time making peace with modern technology. Late last year, he bought his first computer, and on this new album seems to be excited about the possibilities of using what he refers to in the opening track, “I Think I Like This,” as “the bleeps and blips, the ones and zeros” of digital recording. He even had a special microphone (‘the Zimmerman’) designed, which allows him to electronically add entire notes to his vocal range.

The album, in a nod to nostalgia, is being released on six actual physical discs. Although primarily a novelty item (each disc only holds about an hour of music), this ‘boxed set’ is noteworthy for the inclusion of words printed on paper listing each of the songs in the order Dylan performs them. Naturally, the songs will also be availble for download into your Individual-Digital Ear Accessory. The Apple I-DEA version of the album includes seven hundred tracks not available in the physical release.

The first part of “Vol. 12” is the most revelatory, as it includes six new songs. The best of these, a rollicking country-blues wrapped around a folk-punk groove, reflects Dylan’s recent conversion to Islam. Entitled “Osama (Might Be Comin’ Back)”, the tune is kicked off by Dylan’s funereal noodling on an antique instrument known as a ‘B-3’ organ, and features the sounds of drone missiles and a haunting refrain from a children’s choir.

This is followed by the strangest track in the collection. A collaboration with The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, “R U From Minnesota 2?” is, on it’s surface, a slight acoustic number distinguished only by the return to the studio of TAFKATAFKAP after 20 years as an ordained minister for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But underneath, you can almost feel the existential angst and whispered questions—and the implication that, at least for three minutes and seventeen seconds, we are all ‘from Minnesota.’

After a couple of perfunctory genre exercises (the calypso-inspired Still Not Dead” and the rockabilly-tinged “(Baby, You’re The Reason For All My Crazy Runnin’) Around,” part one ends with the most personal writing from Dylan since “Blood On The Tracks.” Bob Dylan has always expressed ambivalence about being ‘the voice of a generation,’ and nowhere is this conflict more apparent than on the moody, zither-driven anthem “The World Is Screwed And I’ve Stopped Caring.”

At almost twelve minutes, “The World Is Screwed And I’ve Stopped Caring” is a cryptic ode, full of opaque references to “the world being screwed” and Dylan himself “not caring.” Always a challenge to decipher, here Dylan presents an almost impressionistic lyric which can be interpreted in many ways.

We don’t ultimately know if it’s the folkie Dylan, the electric Dylan, the born-again Dylan or the romantic Dylan who is speaking to us, or is it an overlap of all of those Dylans in some sort of rock and roll Venn diagram? The song’s lyrics give us few clues, but he seems to be repudiating the notion of rock stars as prophets when he wails the lines “I repudiate the notion of rock stars as prophets/I can’t make it any clearer than that”.

After he became a Muslim, Bob Dylan famously said “God wears a lot of different suits, man, depending on where he has to go that day.” In this, his 47th album, it is Dylan who changes his wardrobe, and not all of the suits fit. Even Dylan fanatics won’t need an entire disc of sound checks, although “Test: One Two” is interesting. And the spoken word piece “Brownsville Girl Parts Two, Three And Four” is a bit self-indulgent. But after a fifteen year absence from the studio (claiming that “the magnets they’re using steal your soul”), “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12” is a stunning return to form from a man battling his demons, and ours, at times with just a harmonica.

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gettin’ old, watchin’ the tube

One thing I love about having survived half a century is that I’ve become comfortable with guilty pleasures. So comfortable that I just think of them now  as…pleasures.

Which brings me to television. First of all, now that the Supreme Court has decided corporations are really people, I should treat corporations as I would treat people, and if they want me to watch something, wouldn’t not watching be…rude? You’re not gonna hear me say “I don’t even own a TV” or “I only watch PBS.” Nope. Made peace with the idiot box. I.Love.TV.

Don’t get me wrong. You look through my library, you’ll see plenty of deep and substantial things. Hell, I was a cybernetics major at a top-tier university, and I can debate arcane philosophical points with the best of ’em. I’ve even occasionally been known to wear a beret, so obviously I’ve got some intellectual credibility. But life’s all about balance, and for that balance, I’m more than happy to suckle at the anesthetizing teat of television.

Or as I call it, my friend. TV is great, because when I want other humans in my apartment (but don’t want the hassle of actually interacting), I push a button and there they are. When I don’t want to be bothered by the tiny people in the box, I can make them go away. And unlike actual people, I can make them shut up and they don’t get all passive aggressive. It’s not like after turning the TV off, the next time I want to watch the TV throws me attitude like “Oh you didn’t want to watch me an hour ago—maybe I won’t turn on now.

See, the wisdom of my advanced years has taught me that, despite what Newton Minow famously claimed in 1963, the medium is not a ‘vast wasteland’. True, there’s a lot of garbage. But that’s why God made the remote and the TVGuide (or whatever the kids use to find out what’s on).

Now for entirely non-philosophical reasons, I haven’t had a TV for a few years. When I decided to get one, I had a classic ‘old man’ moment. I’m in a Best Buy, and the only TVs I see are flat-panel. So I ask the twenty-something clerk, “Do you have any TVs that look like…TVs? You, know, kinda like a… box with a cord?” And he says, “Yeah, I think we used to sell those a while ago…”

Initially I didn’t want cable–figured I’d just watch the ‘broadcast’ channels, with an antenna. But the antenna only allowed me to pick up the Spanish-language Home Shopping Club and the Evangelical Word Network, so I dove in, and now, with a TV and cable, I feel like I’ve been whooshed into another dimension like in an episode of Doctor Who. Which I can also watch now.

Random Observations About The TV Thing

Be careful if you’re flipping between two shows. And you’re stoned. Once, a couple years ago, I was going back and forth between the Golden Globes and the premiere episode of 24, and at one point I was worried that Jack Bauer was about to shoot Sandra Bullock.

I think the best solution to NBC’s late-night problem would have been to make Leno a regular on Law and Order—he stays on the network, Conan keeps The Tonight Show, and the 10pm slot is filled with cop shows again, like God intended.

I like Sarah McLachlan. I like animals. I DON’T like Sarah Mclachlan’s music as background for public service announcements about abused animals. Now I can’t listen to the song ‘Angel’ without thinking of sad, hurt puppies.

The Game Show Network is a weird concept, because they show reruns of game shows. Harder to get excited for someone who won $1,500 in 1978. That money’s probably gone now.

Niche channels like the History Channel maybe shouldn’t try to fill an entire day, because they seem to be running out of material. Hard to believe, with all of…history to work with, but there was an episode of Modern Marvels that was about COLD CUTS! Yeah, turkey bologna is truly a wonder of modern technology.

I love that my TV is high-definition, because with the wider screen resolution, now if I watch Fox News I get two extra inches of stupid.

Finally, a few thoughts about PBS. If you’re the type who ‘only watches PBS,’ that must be because your life is made richer by the deep, insightful analysis you get from the Legends of Doo-Wop, because I swear on the grave of Philo Farnsworth that is only show they play during pledge drives! I’m sure you think you’re playing to your demographic, but most of the members of the groups themselves are dead by now! Concert footage of seventy-year-old guys singing “Teenager In Love” to an audience of other seventy-year-olds doesn’t make me want to subscribe, it just reminds me that I’m old!

Oh, and not all British sitcoms are funny. Some them are simply crap with an accent. Frankly, I think most Americans watch BBC shows out primarily out of guilt for beating the British in the Revolutionary War.

Last night on PBS, there was a special featuring violinist Joshua Bell. Talented, and as close to a rock star as classical music gets. But he did something very disturbing. He performed a  ‘duet’ with dead pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. A recording of Rachmaninoff was played through a computer, which was connected to an actual piano, and somehow the piano looked like it was being ‘played’ without anyone sitting at the piano. I thought I was watching sorcery. And in that moment, I realized that when technology frightens you more than it impresses you, you’re getting old.

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the comedy trenches

Thought I’d give you a comic’s-eye view of your basic road gig…

I’m on a bus headed to Minnesota. On Saturday night I begin my return to standup comedy, with a performance for the Rotary Club of Buffalo, Minnesota. On the surface, none of that exactly screams ‘show business’-not Rotary Club, not Buffalo, not Minnesota. But, it is a gig. I feel a bit like Michael Corleone in The Godfather–no matter how many times I try to leave standup, “it keeps pulling me back in.”I’m not even sure how I feel about getting back in the game. Excited, sure. And, in a weird way, a little resigned. So now I’m playing catch-up with all the hipster, alternative and most importantly, young comedians working today. And here I am, the Grandpa Moses of comedy.

First thing I have to do is throw out a chunk of my material, because I used to do topical jokes, and a lot of those are past their freshness date. Back in the day, I used to have bits about an out-of touch, incompetent president risking American lives in wrong-headed military action motivated by oil, while the economy stagnated and inner-city violence soared. Well, maybe I don’t have to rewrite that much material.

I also need to figure out how to market myself . Used to be if I wanted work as a comic, I’d send a VHS tape of a show to the club owner. Now I need to have a website, a clip on YouTube, I probably should have a MySpace page and I’m sure there’s some way to implant a microchip in the heads of prospective audience members so they’re forced to watch my show in an endless loop. Well, at least I’ve got the website and the clip, which you can view here.

I realize I’m sounding like an old vaudevillian here (‘why, if radio hadn’t come along I’d still be somebody”), but it’s a little scary getting back on the horse. I was lucky enough to get into standup when it was booming, in the eighties, when every town with a sewer system had ‘comedy night’ at the local bar. If you had twenty minutes of material and a car, you could make a decent living. Then comedy got devalued when the market was flooded with 18,000 mediocre twenty-something comics who realized it was easy money and you got to work in bars and occasionally get laid because for forty-five minutes in Cedar Rapids, Iowa you were a star. Yeah, I’m a little bitter. But it’s good to be back.

Now, to get to Buffalo, you drive west from Minneapolis (which is an actual city) about 45 minutes, past the suburbs, past all signs of civilization, until you see the lights of a town. That town isn’t Buffalo. You keep driving.Interestingly enough, for the 20 or so miles before you get to Buffalo, there are no signs along the freeway saying ‘Buffalo–20 miles” or “Buffalo–next exit” or…anything. The only signs you see tell you to watch your speed, because you certainly wouldn’t want to get to Buffalo too quickly. Also on that stretch of freeway, they’ve painted white dots in the middle of the road, with signs saying “2 dots equals 3 seconds.”

So you keep driving and counting dots until you see the Menard’s, take a right, and there it is–the Buffalo Civic Center. However, whereas ‘civic center’ implies a rather grand structure, where…big events might happen, this place looks like an aircraft hangar built on top of a high-school gymnasium. An old gymnasium with god-awful fake ‘turf’ duct-taped to the floor. Guess my ‘comeback’ had to start somewhere.

This was the Buffalo Rotary Club’s yearly fundraiser, during which they raffle off a new car. Now one of the fundamental rules of comedy, along with “Always Be Nice To The Guy Paying You” and “Don’t Make Fun Of The Girlfriend Of The Guy Paying You” is ‘Never Follow A Raffle.” See, everyone is there trying to win something, and when you go on, they realize you’re not giving away any prizes. You never want you introduction to start with the phrase ‘and don’t forget we still have a comedian.’

The three hundred or so people who didn’t win a new car dejectedly head for their own car (I mean it was almost ten o’clock in Minnesota after all) and I’m left with fifty or so people, who thanks a prime rib dinner and an open bar are either drunk or napping. The head guy of the Rotary Club then spends five minutes trying to get the drunk people quiet enough to hear my show, and to get them really pumped, gives me this introduction:

“Alright, so we’ve got a guy here from Chicago to entertain you. Here’s Michael Dane.”

The ‘audience’ is seated at gigantic round tables, thereby making sure that two-thirds of them aren’t actually facing the ’stage’, which is not really a stage but a three-inch high riser made of unfinished plywood. I start off playing with the crowd a little, and I had been given some notes on a few of the notables in the group to riff on. Unfortunately, none of the people for whom I had notes were still there. So I play with some people at the front tables, and I see a woman with big frizzy hair, and suggest that she was “the victim of a tragic home-perm accident.” Not brilliant, but the kind of line that loosens up the crowd before I get into my material. Well this crowd wasn’t too clear on the notion that comics…make shit up. No real grasp of sarcasm. So, a woman next to the frizzy-haired woman felt compelled to yell in the middle of my next joke “that’s natural–that’s her real hair!” I clearly had entered some sort of bizarre Literal Land, so I decided to just get to the act.

Although a core group in the crowd was clearly digging my routine, I spent much of my contractually-obligated hour essentially babysitting. Apropos of nothing I would be talking about, someone would announce loudly “I’m getting a drink–anyone need anything?” or “I gotta take a piss.” If I turned to the right, the people on the left would start talking. If I turned to the left, a canasta game would break out on the right.  On every other joke, if I didn’t yell the punchline, they seemed unable to tell that it was the end of a joke, and their cue to laugh. And, since it was an room full of Minnesotans, when they did laugh, wasn’t able to tell. The innate Lutheran-ness of Minnesotans doesn’t exactly lead to boisterous response.

It was also the whitest group of people assembled outside of the Republican National Convention.  The only person of color in the auditorium was the black security guard. Not even sure why he was there–Rotary Club events don’t tend to draw your rabble-rousers and troublemakers, even when they have an open bar.

I pushed through, though, eventually got to most of my actual jokes, and at the end, quite a few people said the had a great time (again, not that I could tell they had fun). Did my political stuff, did my pot stuff, even did my bisexual stuff (now I know why the security guard was there). Afterwards, I went to the open bar, had a gin and tonic in a plastic cup, got my money in cash, and headed out of Buffalo. Showbiz, baby! Bottom line–I got as much out of a Rotary Club raffle crowd in Western Minnesota as any comedian could have.

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