Last night, guys, was a study in contrasts. After a great first show at Morty’s on Thursday, I was really excited to get back onstage Friday night. And justifiably so. The first show was great. Great crowd, about 3/4 full. The host had a great set. Tony, the co-headliner had a killer set. And I went up and had a really good time, too. Pretty much stuck to the script, except for a brief freelance where I think I said: “It’s not cheating if it’s with a ghost.” But otherwise it was just a really good rhythm of jokes and laughs.
The second show went so far off the rails, I think I forgot that there were even rails to begin with. The crowd was about 1/10 the size of the early show. There were eighteen audience members, all told. The host, a real funny dude, got a little shaken by the smallness of the crowd. “Oh, great. You hate me,” he remarked. He then brought up Tony, who got the crowd going. Everything seemed to be great. The crowd, I should mention at this point was probably 3/4 black. And half of the crowd was one big group to the left of the stage. About fifteen minutes into Tony’s set, a woman from that table shouted: “I want my money back!”
All of a sudden, things weren’t really fun anymore. But Tony handled it like a pro. “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ve been doing this nine years, and no one has ever said that to me before. What comedian would you rather see? I’ll try to do my next joke in his style.”
“Bernie Mac,” shot back the audience member without hesitation.
“Okay,” Tony said. If I were Bernie Mac, I would tell a joke, and then the music would come on and I would do a dance and then gesture for the music to cut out. Then I’d say ‘I ain’t afraid of you motherfuckers.'” Tony was referring to a legendary Bernie Mac performance on Def Comedy Jam in the 90’s where the comic before him had been booed offstage, and Mac came on and just owned the crowd.
“Ready Avery?” said Tony. Tony did a bit, the sound guy turned up the music, Tony danced, then motioned for the music to cut out. “I ain’t afraid of you motherfuckers,” he said. Huge applause. From all 18 people. Tony continued with a blend of material and crowdwork and then closed his set with another Bernie Mac style musical breakdown. It was great.
I took the stage afterwards knowing that the crowd would need a little special attention. My plan was to have fun and do as little material as possible. Part of that was because an old college friend was in the crowd, and I didn’t want to eat it with material in front of someone I hadn’t seen in several years. I stood onstage and grabbed the mike. After a long slow pan across the audience, I said: “I’ve got to be honest, guys. I’m a little afraid of you motherfuckers.” That got me a laugh and earned me some self-awareness points with the crowd. I worked my way around the room, getting the lay of the land, and commenting on the audience. One woman who was enthusiastic and encouraging earned the tag of Comedy Guidance Counselor. Her tablemate, a guy named Reggie, started gleefully repeating phrases of mine that he liked. “I like the big words, man. They behoove me,” he said, when I asked.
I worked in jokes when opportunities popped up. After one bit, I mentioned that I am a big fan of rap music. The crowd with murmurs of disbelief.
“I do great impressions of rappers, guys. You don’t believe me? Check this out. Here’s Biggie.” Surprisingly, I do a pretty good Biggie impression, which I showed off for the crowd. Guys, eighteen people went ballistic. I then went on to do impressions of Slick Rick and DMX. At that point, I was out of rappers I could talk like. So I went back to material. After what must have been six or seven hours onstage, I went into the bit that I usually close with. Tepid response.
“Okay,” I said. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Someone in the audience is going to beat box, and I’m going to freestyle rap to end the show. Who’s with me?” Reggie raised his hand and started to beat box. Well, here we go, I thought. I’ve made my bed. Time to rap in it. I broke into a corny rap over Reggie’s beat. At the end of the couplet, the audience went bananas. It was like a battle-rap audience reaction. Which was perfect, because it gave me time to figure out my next couplet: “When I’m rocking the party, there is no equal/Come to Morty’s and kill it for eighteen people.” Another applause break. One more couplet. One more applause. Thank you and good night. Customers, apparently satisfied.
It looked pretty grizzly, guys, but we pulled it out. I felt in a way that it was my comedy bar mitzvah. Tony and I could have both locked in and gotten tepid responses with our acts, but instead we both took some risks and engaged with the audience, and it was rewarding. I got the greatest variety of post-show comments I’ve ever heard.
“You do this to yourself on purpose?” -My college friend Jeremy.
“That was wonderful.” – Older black lady named Keiana.
“That Slick Rick impression was on point.” – Older black guy named Greg.
“I’ve never been embarrassed for the performers before, but tonight, I was embarrassed.” – Older lady named Imelda.
“Great job, man.” – Reggie.
“We did it,” I said to Tony. “We really did it tonight.” He nodded in agreement.
Turns out, those motherfuckers weren’t so scary after all.