the host looked up from his phone. “how long you been doing comedy?” he asked.
“two years,” i replied.
he nodded. “you do uptown?”
“nope. not yet.”
he wrinkled his nose. “where do you perform then?”
“um…i’ve done the laughing skull. it’s in midtown.”
“oh, yeah? is it a mixed club?”
i just had my first “urban” comedy experience tonight and it went as well as i expected. actually, it was better than i expected - nobody shouted at me and nobody tap-danced me off the stage. it was just a room full of blanks stares with two women in the front hiding their laughter.
i’ve been trying to rustle up enough courage to do an “urban” room for a while now. (by this point we all realize that “urban” means black, right? good.) those crowds are tough; they want to hear what they want to hear and they’ll let you know when they’re not feeling you. one of the country’s most notorious black clubs, uptown comedy corner, is smack dab in downtown atlanta. and it’s a doozy. i’ve only been twice - once to watch a show & once to get on the open mic. i wasn’t able to get onstage because the host, shawty shawty what my name is, didn’t feel like taking the chance on a newbie. when i went to watch a show, i spent the whole time trying to figure out what i could say that would grab the crowd & get them on my side. i came up with nothing.
comedy is still remarkably segregated. sure, some comics cross over, but there’s a whole “urban” world out there that even self-proclaimed comedy nerds know nothing about. my comedy, for what it’s worth, probably falls under the alternative label…which just means “white people with buddy holly style glasses.” that’s also what i find funny. but i find kevin hart hilarious. i enjoy sommore, too. and when katt williams was at his prime, he could be a monster.
i fret about making a black audience laugh. i know i’m only two years in and in reality that’s nothing, but i worry about it. i fear it may never happen. once, a white male comic said to me, “you know, you don’t have to do those rooms.”
but i don’t think i have that option.
my set was terrible. after no laughs at anything, i ad-libbed, “guys, guys. keep it down. your laughter is throwing me off.” chuckles after that. they also laughed when the cordless mic kept cutting out or making noise and i looked up and said, “yep, i guess that’s the spaceship coming for me.”
i finished up and left the stage. the host returned and went into the spiel hosts have to do when somebody bombs, “hey now, it’s hard doing comedy, that took a lot of guts. give her a hand.” a smattering of applause. then the host said, “don’t worry, it’ll get better.”
“it better!!” some guy yelled from the middle section. “give me something!!”
“I know, right?” the host laughed. “that was terrible!” he proceeded to talk shit about me, to raucous laughter from the crowd.
i have no idea how i ended up on that show. i mean, i know how - the guy who books it saw me at the laughing skull on an open mic night. i had an okay set and he approached me. i gave him my email; weeks later he invited me to do this caribbean show. i’m glad that he thought i was funny but i still have no idea what he saw in my jokes that made him think i would do well in front of a black audience. black people have a long history of not liking me - at least a good thirty years. through most of elementary & all of high school, i wasn’t the right kind of black. not much i could do about it, so whatever, right? but me doing comedy in front of “urban” crowds? that’s like rounding up everybody who ever gave me crap growing up, sitting them down, and trying to entertain them. who would do that?
a stand up comic, i guess.
the comic after me was a young guy, 22 years old, and he killed. sure, it was all about liking girls with big butts or how white people are different from black people, but the crowd ate it up. he was doing so well that i’m not really sure what triggered him to talk shit about me as well, but he did. “that bitch was throwing me off!” he said. “what the hell was she talking about? she didn’t make no kinds of sense. she kept talking about laughing - ain’t no one laughing! that bitch…” he shook his head. the crowd loved it. i was the go-to joke of the night.
i expected the crowd to not like me. i even expected the host to go in on me. but the 22 year old - that kind of hurt. i mean, obviously he had not encountered a sense of humor different from his before - he’s 22 and from arkansas. but i found it disappointing how quickly the crowd was willing to agree that what i was saying made no sense. i guess i would like to think that black audiences have advanced beyond a 22 year old’s mind state of discovering that we drive like this and they drive like that.
i approached the booker. he pulled money out of his pocket and peeled off a few bills. “this crowd was really rough tonight,” he said.
i waved my hand. “oh, they were fine.”
“well, thank you for doing the show,” he smiled. “this is for you.” he handed me money.
“thank you very much. i really appreciate it. thanks for having me.”
we hugged and agreed to work together again.
i don’t expect to see an email from him for quite some time. but i was just paid a decent amount to have a room full of people not laugh at me.
so, yeah. i’d do it again.
ETA: i certainly don’t want it to seem like i’m blaming the audience for my lousy set. i never blame only the crowd or only myself. they came looking for something and i was offering something else. if they’re not buying what i’m selling, then so be it. but that’s all that i can sell. to try and sell something i don’t believe in would be disingenuous & obvious & would result in me being swept off the stage by a clown doing a soft-shoe - no matter where that stage may be. (09.05.11, 2:53am.)