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Readers Blog: Dobie Maxwell's 'Dented Can' Diary

One Of Those Nights

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Monday November 5th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   One of the unavoidable pitfalls of standup comedy is that once in a while an audience just plain stinks. There’s no way to escape it, and the only alternative is to plow through it and get yourself to the next one. It happens to us all, and there’s no way to predict when or where it will pop up.

   It happened tonight at Zanies in Chicago as I hosted the Rising Star Showcase. I enjoy hosting those, as it lets me stay in touch with who’s coming up the ranks these days. The quality of those shows have been quite high as a whole, and tonight was no exception. I felt for their situation.

   The Rising Star Showcases are basically an audition for work in front of Bert Haas who books the three Zanies clubs in the Chicago area. To his credit, he actually comes out and watches all of the acts in person and offers face to face feedback afterwards. That’s unfortunately not common.

   I can’t count the times I’ve made a several hundred mile trip at my own expense to audition for some booker only to find out he or she ‘won’t be coming in tonight’ for whatever reason. Seldom if ever does anyone ever give an actual reason, and it turns out to be a complete waste of energy.

    Bert shows up every time, and even gives the lineup a speech beforehand about what he would be looking for in a potential act if they passed the audition. Whether the acts know it or not, he is doing them a favor and a courtesy by letting them know what the deal is and I respect him for it.

   I try to go out of my way to give every one of those who go up a stellar introduction and allow them the best chance to succeed. I’ve had to go up to horrible intros from incompetent hosts for a lifetime, and that can make an already difficult and potentially intimidating situation even worse.

   People in the audience don’t realize how hard it is to break in with a booking agent, and I guess it’s not their job. They’re there to be entertained, but often there’s a lot more at stake going on at any given time. Their role in all of it is a lot more important than they realize. They have impact.

   Tonight’s lineup was loaded with young comics who I thought were filled with potential. One of them was a kid from Iowa named Jack Lewis. He took a bus to Chicago to do a ten minute set, and that’s very refreshing to see. I did stuff like that when I started, and I know what it feels like.

   There were other acts on the bill like Andrew Burcastro, Anne Root, Peter Kim, John Thomas and Dan Ronan who all have a spark of real potential, and I enjoyed watching them work. What I didn’t enjoy was watching how hard they had to work to try to squeeze laughs from a dud crowd.

   They just weren’t into it, and it wasn’t the acts’ fault. Sometimes it can be easy for a comedian or any other performer to blame an audience when indeed it’s not their fault at all. Tonight was a different story. These people never gelled the entire night. It wasn’t in the cards, and it happens.

   I wish all these up and comers the best, and I tried to tell them all that all anyone can do is keep showing up and doing what they do. It’s never easy or fun to have to plow through a dead crowd, but it’s something every performer has to face and it helps build a thick skin we all need to have.

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