Driving home after a speaking engagement, it was a beautiful evening and I lowered — no one says “rolled down” anymore, have you noticed? — the windows to take advantage of the cool night air and the scent of mown fields that poured past like a green river.
After performing a show one is as close to being on a runner’s high, without having done anything remotely physical, as possible. Some comics say it’s because laughter releases endorphins and somehow, we absorb them from the audience which gives us that shot of energy, even if it’s the third show in Vegas on a Saturday night.
For me, it tends to also raise memories, both funny and shuddering, of shows long past.
“Just so you know,” my manager had stressed on the phone before I was about to catch a flight to perform at a corporate function for an internationally known beverage company, “The audience is all white-collar, upper management and their spouses. Super conservative, and the CEO of the company wants to make sure your act is going to be squeaky clean and non offensive.”
“Of course I’ll be squeaky clean for them,” I replied. “I’ve done the White House, for Pete’s sake. I know what I’m doing.”
The following evening I gave my employer the show he requested, connected well with an enthusiastic audience, and afterwards mingled for the obligatory meet and greet. After a bit of handshaking and chatting, I was introduced to the C.E.O who was both courteous and complimentary about my performance.
“By the way,” he said, changing his scotch from one hand to another before gesturing a couple of underlings over. “I heard something pretty funny the other day. You might want to use it in your act.”
And then he proceeded to tell me the filthiest joke I’ve ever heard.
“Yeahhh,” I replied, hoping he’d mistake my grimace for a toothy grin. “Thanks for that. I tend to write my own jokes but who knows, maybe I can use that should I be asked to do a show at the Vatican.” He looked at me blankly for a moment, then gave a smile as if he’d pulled a string to produce it, and walked away, subordinates in tow.
“Seriously, dude,” I implored an incoherent drunk after verbally duking it out during a show in Arlington, Texas. “If you’re going to heckle, at least use a noun and a verb. But at this point, you’re really annoying everyone else who paid to hear the show.” There was, gratefully, a round of applause from the audience in support, and the off-duty cop, who was picking up extra work by providing security, approached the guy to have a quiet word in his ear. The drunk listened, nodded, then pulled back and punched the cop in the face.
I have never seen four policemen materialize out of seemingly thin air as I saw in the moments that followed. I felt pretty safe on stage holding the mic stand like a javelin as the chaos erupted below with a few screams and chairs turned over. In what would make their fellow Texans proud, the officers had him hog-tied in under three seconds, throwing up their hands to stop the clock and carried him out through the crowd before tossing him in the back of a patrol car. I later heard he’d bashed the side window out with his head. The audience was horrified but lightened considerably when I told them there was a really good chance we’d all wind up on an episode of “Cops.”
“C’mon, everybody,” I sang, “Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for you?”
In the end the good shows have certainly outnumbered any that involved a taser and these days, because flying is such a nightmare, I tend to choose those gigs that are relatively close to home. It has to be said: the shows I’ve done in the Carolinas, particularly for corporate events, always contain the best behaved audiences. I’m given no vulgar jokes afterward, or feel a smarmy hand resting a bit too familiarly — just well dressed folks about to tuck into function food who express concern for my drive back home, walk me to my car and give me a plate of cookies just in case I get hungry. Like clockwork, two days later I’ll receive a thank you card in the mail. Always a thank you card, signed by the entire company.
But because I’m booked at another function in a couple of weeks, I’ll just add this in case they see it — I like the cookies most of all.