Thursday January 7th, 2010 - Wisconsin Dells, WI
A road comic has to learn to improvise and adapt in order to survive. We’re kind of like the Marines or Navy Seals of show business. Bands usually have tour buses or at least are able to travel as a unit so there are familiar people around when things go wrong. Comics are all by ourselves, and sometimes that can present more problems. Plus, it gets lonely.
The most important thing of all is getting to the gig by any means necessary. It’s great if we can be on time, but sometimes that’s just not possible. At least if we show up there’s a good chance we might get paid, and that’s what it’s all about. Even if we’ve had any kind of car trouble or travel delay, it’s much better to get to the gig, get paid, and fix it all later.
I had a gig booked tonight in Wisconsin Dells, WI at a place called Christmas Mountain Village. The booker is an agency out of Charlotte, NC and I have no idea how they got an account at a ski lodge in Wisconsin in January, but they did and they asked me to perform there. The money was better than the average one night hell hole bar so I gladly said yes.
When they asked me to do it, I assumed I’d be able to zip right up and back again in my new old Toyota and pocket the found money for an unexpected night’s work. Wrong. I’ve been me so long I should have known not to expect any zipping to occur at any juncture.
The Toyota is still in the shop, and despite flatulent promises of “getting to it first thing in the morning”, I hadn’t heard from them at all by 9:30 and they supposedly opened up at 7. I knew I needed to rent a car because not only was I being blown off by this garage I’m not familiar with, it was also snowing with threats of a foot or more to drop later today.
There’s no way I would put myself in the ultra stressful position of depending on both a strange garage and a strange car that broke down two weeks after I bought it. I absolutely had to get to the gig for many reasons. One, I needed the cash. Two, it wouldn’t hurt to be at the top of the booker’s mind. Three, I said I’d do it. If I say I’ll do it, I honor my word.
A rental car would be an extra expense, and in the nasty weather it was even more as it would be completely stupid not to take the insurance on it. Normally, I let my own policy handle it but I didn’t read the fine print and have no idea how much it covers should I roll it or take out a light pole. In this kind of situation it’s best to pay the extra money and go.
My web person Shelley did me a huge favor and gave me a ride to the rental car place at 10:30am. I called her as she’s the closest person I know who lives near me in Hooterville out in the sticks. I suppose I could have hitch hiked, but Shelley kindly said she’d take me over there, and I totally appreciate it. She didn’t have to do it but she did. Thanks Shelley!
She dropped me off and I got in my sky blue Hyundai go kart to head for Wisconsin. It was snowing harder by the minute and I saw a couple of cars wiped out in the ditch along my way that were getting towed out to serve as a warning to keep my speed down and get there in one piece. I sure don’t need a second wreck in two weeks, especially in a rental.
Nothing about any of this has a single thing to do about being funny, yet it’s something I have to deal with a lot more often than actually being on stage. Had someone told me I’d spend the majority of my adult life worrying about how to get to random towns across the country rather than actually being funny, I might not have signed up for this gig. It’s hard.
My knuckles were white and my bung hole was tight as I guided the Hyundai over lanes of snow and ice, trying to find some pavement once in a while. I felt myself slide a couple of times and especially after the recent accident that made my heart beat like a drum solo.
I tried to let my mind go and visualize my future and all the stuff motivational cassettes say to do, but if I wanted to have any kind of future at all, I needed to pay full attention to the road so I just did that. The weather didn’t let up all the way up to Wisconsin Dells and by the time I got there I was about ready for a nap. Then, I got lost on the way to the gig.
Christmas Mountain Village is way off the beaten path, and that path hadn’t had anyone with a plow drive over it recently. I had a hard time keeping the car on the road, and had a harder time finding the exit I was supposed to find. I ended up going a few miles past it.
I found myself in a situation of ultimate stress. I was lost on a desolate unplowed snowy road in a rental car with my tank on ‘E’, a cell phone that was almost out of juice with no charger, it was an hour before show time and I was working a place I’d never been before for a booker I haven’t worked for in a while and need to impress. Calgon, take me away.
For about ten minutes I was totally lost, but then I wound my way back and eventually got on track and found the gig, checked into the hotel, took a fast shower and showed up as the gig about five minutes before I was supposed to go on. There were no acts before me and about six people scattered randomly in the audience. I’d seen this way too often.
Part of it was kind of funny, but I was too tense to laugh. I was hoping they’d cancel the show, pay me out and I’d be able to get a couple hours of sleep before attempting to drive right back into the snowstorm I’d just fought to get here. Right about then a steady stream of people started walking into the basement showroom and before long it was filling up.
This gig is unusual in that there’s only one act, and we’re supposed to do about an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s a LOT of time when it’s going poorly, but that wasn’t the case tonight. A waitress brought me up with a short intro and I proceeded to use my road years of expertise to blow the room away for almost an hour and a half. I gave them all I had.
As I was up there I realized that I am one of few people in America who’s able to pull a show like this off, especially after all it took to get there. I felt like a green beret decorated from battle, but nobody in the audience knew or cared. They wanted a show and got one.
It was very satisfying to pull off a show like that, even though I was exhausted. Still, the adrenaline after a show like that wouldn’t let me sleep so I got back in the car and headed for home. The snow stopped, but roads weren’t plowed. More stress. But it was worth it.