Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thank you, Kenora: the worst stand-up gig ever!

The steak was tough, but the crowd was tougher.

The worst stand-up show of my life? Thanks for asking. It was probably "the world Kenora tour" I did with Jason Beck, Trevor Boris, and Charlie Onskye back in...oh, I dunno, I've blocked it out of my mind.

The venue, which I can't find online, was a combination steakhouse, hotel, and bar. As we drove up to the place, we noticed a bottle-wielding man chasing a woman down the street. "Well, that's odd," we thought.

We should've just turned the car around and got some fries at the chip truck. However, like in any horror movie, we checked into the hotel, ate a terrible steak, and got ready to entertain the fine people of Kenora, who'd been getting ready for our show by drinking since 8 a.m.

Among Canadian comics, small-town shows are legendary for being awful. As comedian Derek Edwards once said, "Slave Lake is every bit as charming as she sounds." You learn early on that you should buy your own mic, stage, and spotlight, because the small-town club won't have any of these extravagances. You also become wise in the ways of small-town comedy tips, like "Never play a town with "Fort" in the name."

I've never understood the club owner with clubful of drunk people buying overpriced alcohol, who surveys his surroundings and thinks, "What this place needs is some comedians!" Yet, there are more of them than you'd think.

This particular establishment used a slightly raised wooden dance floor as a comedy stage. It was surrounded by drunk patrons on all four sides, ensuring that you would always have your back turned to one-quarter of the audience.

Among my comedy peers, I always made it a point of (misplaced) pride to go first, as if to say, "I don't need anyone to warm up a crowd for me, no matter how drunk or obnoxious the crowd, or I, may be." So, I took to the stage first. 

It became instantly clear that the crowd was loaded and not ready to listen to edumacated, geeky dudes in their 30s with receding hairlines and glasses. And so began the suckage.

I told only one joke that got a laugh. A well-dressed young woman walked in and I said, "Oooooh - just stopping by on your way home from Buckingham Palace?" The crowd laughed so hard, I felt bad for singling out the one person in the club who appeared to not be loaded. I should've said, "You're well-dressed. You're sober. You're not from Kenora!"

I still needed to fill 15 minutes, so I invited the crowd to come up and tell their own jokes. If you've ever seen a comic do this before, it's the comedy equivalent of lying down in the fetal position. It's desperate, hack, and sometimes it works!

The crowd, which had previously shown no interest in comedy, was much more interested when the comedy involved their drunk friends yelling obscenities into the mic. The owner watched from the bar, unimpressed. I imagined him thinking, "I paid these unfunny comics to be here, but I could've got these funnier, drunk guys for free?"

The crowd-participation part of the show ended when an audience member did an impression of The Rock. I gladly handed him the mic - like a cop giving up his revolver - and watched my remaining time tick away. I said good night, walked off the stage, and left my fellow comedians for dead.

The next morning, we woke up in our complimentary hotel rooms to discover that the owner had closed and locked an iron gate leading to the hotel exit. He was nowhere to be seen. We were locked in and serving an indefinite sentence, having been found guilty of being unfunny in the first degree.

We imagined the owner coming back to carry out the death penalty, so we left our hotel rooms through a window, slid down a drainpipe, ran to the car, and made our escape.

On the way out of town, we stopped for bags of chips. They tasted like freedom.

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