I’ve managed to live the last six years without winter. After leaving Wisconsin in the middle of a bitterly cold and icy January for the much more agreeable weather, or lack thereof, in Los Angeles, I have avoided cold climates in wintertime like a mattress full of fleas. Then early this year everything lined up to take me through New York, for a very brief trip, and even colder than that Minneapolis. Six degrees; How do people live like this? I’ve been colder but not after half a decade of the low being a balmy forty-seven.
I’m on what I’m calling, for lack of a kitschy name, my Winter Tour. Starting early February in Minneapolis and heading down to Bloomington, Indiana by the end of February before what I’m sure will be a more comfortable run of shows in the more temperate NorthWest. As of this writing it is day three and I’m already sore. I haven’t even started with the redeye Greyhound buses yet.
Minneapolis is a nice little city. I was here before for the 10,000 Laughs comedy festival which took place in October when the temperature was a bit more friendly, and there was a bit more to do with all the comics in town. Now it’s a little too cold to really explore the place and what going out I have done has been meet with the discovery that this has got to be the quaintest metropolis I’ve ever encountered. The entire city feels like it was based on the stereotypical Minnesota-Nice personality. Unimposing, easy going, and all to happy to keep it simple. All that translates to a suburb level distance between any Starbucks or Walgreen’s location while you’re downtown. Even Kinko’s is closed on Sundays.
Just cruising around without a plan hoping you stumble across somewhere interesting to grab lunch isn’t a great idea unless you’re looking to get a light case of hypothermia. And don’t bother trying to use Google Maps out here because it’s too cold for a phone to function. The battery drops ten percent at a time as the screen sluggishly loads. None of this is to say that Minneapolis is boring or unenjoyable. It just requires a little planning. Spontaneity is for warmer climes. Possibly why while living in the South and in California I’ve meet so many folks with poor impulse control.
The shows for the most part have been great. This place is known for being a great comedy city. It’s home to probably more comedy clubs per capita than anywhere else in the country. One of them being the legendary Acme Comedy Co. where Mitch Hedberg recorded his second album, not to mention dozens, maybe even hundreds of other great albums done there.
I wasn’t at Acme this weekend. I was a little bit down the river at The Comedy Corner Underground. A small basement room below a large sports bar near the college campus. I like comedy clubs that are upstairs or downstairs. Basements and attics make great venues for comedy. I like anywhere that feels like maybe you aren’t supposed to be there and aren’t supposed to hear what you’re hearing. Kind of like telling dirty jokes around back of the school when you’re a kid. The ground floor doesn’t have that same magic.
I booked the gig kind of last minute as a supplement to some later dates, some of which were also pretty close to last minute bookings. Jim Tews, a comic and great guy from New York, was already booked to headline so only the feature spot was available which I don’t mind at all. I’m not above anything most days.
Usually at a club there’s a host who goes on first to warm up the crowd a little and then introduce the other comedians throughout the night. I’ve seen plenty of good hosts, even great hosts, sometimes I’ve been a good host myself, but I’ve never seen the host have a great set. I’ve seen them do great material while hosting but for some reason due to the psychology of crowds the host never gets the full reaction their act would receive placed later in the show. It sucks but you learn to deal with it, and it’s usually only for ten minutes. Unless you’re doing something called a “Canadian Feature.”
Canadian feature, named for how it is customarily done in Canada I am told, is when instead of a host or emcee doing ten up top followed by a feature act doing twenty then the headliner doing forty-five, the feature hosts the show and does twenty minutes up top. It’s not a terrible system and helps keep the weekend financially plausible for traveling comics while leaving time for locals to come do guest sets between the host-feature and the headliner. That was the case this weekend and while it’s not terrible, every time I’ve had to do it I always feel like the first half of my set is spent winning the crowd over to the idea that they are at a comedy show.
It also doesn’t help that I am not particularly fond of hosting or going first in any capacity. It’s not an ego thing it’s just my whole general vibe and demeanor aren’t particularly well suited for it. A good host is usually a cheery, high energy comedian with light hearted material. I on the other hand am a bit of a curmudgeon who has nothing to say on the subjects of dating, what I look like, or how celebrities might behave in highly unlikely, totally hypothetical and unnecessarily whimsical situations.
Sometimes I wish that’s the kind of things I felt compelled to talk about, rather than the idea that it’s your duty as a customer to yell at other rude customers on behalf of restaurant workers, or how jumping over uninsured people on a motorcycle might lead to productive discourse on the national healthcare crisis. Instead I end up in some clumsy space between the two whenever I host. I’m like a teenager grinding gears on a manual transmission up there; Trying to be likable and upbeat enough to start the show while also not feeling like a complete fraud. It doesn’t go badly, it just doesn’t go great. Which to me is somehow worse than bombing.
I would just go out and start the show with my usual bullshit but if it turns the room sour then I’ve left the headliner, and anyone coming by to do a guest set, with my mess to clean up. If I had the kind of selfish attitude where doing that to them wouldn’t bother me I’d probably be at a stage in my career where I am only headlining, but here I am considerate and occasionally hosting. Maybe if Jim wasn’t such a nice guy I could have thrown him under the bus. Yeah, it’s his fault for being so nice. Fucking dick.