The great thing about live theatre is that anything can happen at any given moment. I have had fights break out amongst the guests, audience members so drunk they throw up and even people starting fights after getting thrown up on. I have had outdoor shows that in the middle it started pouring rain, which I took as God saying, “This is just not a funny bit.”
Once while I was performing in Mexico, I had a woman jump out of her seat screaming at the top of her lungs like she was overacting in some sort of b-grade horror movie. I thought for sure she was in serious trouble. As it turned out, a small hermit crab had strolled over her foot, which led to the hysterics. However, I think I am going to cast her in my upcoming film, “Hermit crabs, nothing to laugh about.”
Just two weeks later while performing at the same venue, I was attacked on stage by a giant moth. Not Mothera big, but definitely big enough to take down a small, wounded, blind puppy . That’s the beauty of performing “live” in front of an audience. Unusual things can happen at anytime and often do. That’s where great stories come from. If your there, you get to say stuff like, “I was there when Kramer lost his shit.” That’s a story everyone wants to hear. These are the sort of stories that make you think your cooler then everyone else.
As a performer when things arise that are not a planned part of the show, there are two ways to deal with it:
#1 (the not so best way) – ignore it. Keep going on with the show and pretend it never happened.
#2 (which is the best way) – Roll with it. Accept it and use it as part of the show.
The entertainers who use practice #1 are the type of comedians who craft their routine to perfection. Their set is so well refined, one unsuspected event during their performance can derail the whole show. The type of performers who employ technique #2 are the people who are great at improv and welcome any sort of “off script” moments. To me, those are the performers you want to watch. They can take that awkward moment and turn into something magical and unique for an audience. They appreciate your authenticity and willingness to cater your show to their experience. When you do it well, there is not a lot you can do wrong after that. It’s like the audience gives you a “get out of bad joke free card”.
The opposite can be said too. Sometimes, you just can’t make it entertaining. There are times that you cannot get the audience to focus back on you after they just watched a drunk woman pour a pitcher of beer on her husband’s head because he was texting another woman. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. If you can’t make what just happened hilarious, then you loose control of the room and probably will never win them back.
Since I am a self-loathing performer, I am not going to tell you about the hundreds of times I turned weird things that happen during the show into a positive experience. Rather, I will tell you about several times I dealt with situations poorly. I want to remind you why you are reading this. It’s probably because you are a fan of my work, so please keep that in mind while you continue to read this. For comical purposes, I share this to see how failing can eventually be funny. So don’t get turned off like every girl does when I tell her that my avatar is a fifth degree black belt. Deal? Okay, so enjoy my mistakes.
I was scheduled to follow a very talented Michael Jackson impersonator at an event. He had the voice and swagger of MJ, even though the impersonator was a 7-year-old Asian boy. He did a solid thirty minutes of slick dance moves, moonwalks, crotch grabbing and the audience went crazy after his final song. It would have been a standing ovation, but the age of the crowd prohibited them from getting to their feet quickly without at least mild heart pain, but they did cheer loudly.
I came on stage right after him. As a comedian you have to always acknowledge what everyone is thinking about. Wanting to keep the show flowing without a hitch; I decided to make a joke about “Little Michael.” So, I came on stage and said, “How about that Little Michael? I am sure the real Michael would have loved him…. In more ways then one.”
If there were even one person who liked me after that joke, there surely would be none after my second joke. With the lack of laughter at my first joke, I broke the number one rule of comedy, which is to “READ YOUR AUDIENCE”. I thought the first joke would be hilarious and instead of stopping the bit when they failed to laugh and going into my normal routine, I continued on my “Little Michael” diatribe. I went with a joke that I thought would save me and it got big laughs from the test audience in my mind. However, it turned out to be the nail in the coffin of my show. The joke to end all laughs that would force the crowd to turn on me like I was Kanye West at the MTV Music Awards was as follows. I said, “I would have loved to see the look on Joe Jackson’s face if Michael Jackson was born Asian.”
Yes folks, that would be the start of the show and the end of the audience liking me. They absolutely hated me. At this point in the show, Hitler would have gotten bigger laughs. Forty-five minutes to go and there was no “Remember the Time” when I didn’t say jokes that dug me a hole harder to get out of than the national deficit.
Another one of my favorite stories includes “Jokes I have said that made the crowd not like me,”. For example, during my show I do a joke about, “if I were in a band, the name of my band would be the Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program”. I follow it up with a few other band names that I think would be awesome to have. It generally gets decent laughs, but not on this day.
I was performing at an event, and everything in the show was running smoothly. I was getting laughs at all the normal spots and the crowd seemed to really be behind me. I am in the middle of the band name bit and I do the Jehovah’s Witness joke, which receives the same laugh it always does. Although, once the laughter subsided, a woman jumps out of her seat urgently like she was being chased by Freddy Krueger and yells, “Hey! That’s not funny. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.”
The crowd fell silent. It was the sort of awkward silence where people are frozen and don’t know what to do. It felt like they all just witnessed a kid get hit by their drunk dad and was so much in shock that they froze.
I could have just moved on, brushed it off and pretended I never even heard her, but I couldn’t. Everyone else heard her and now they were all waiting for my response. This sort of thing happens when someone had just been slapped and everyone who witnessed sat in anticipation to see if there would be a fight. It felt like I just got served.
What sucks about all of this is that she stopped me from getting through the bit. If only she would have waited. She would have eventually realized that I make fun of all kinds of different groups of people. She would have heard the rest of the jokes instead of cutting me off and probably would not have felt so attacked or alienated. However, she didn’t and now I was forced to deal with it in order to regain the comic momentum that was now lost because of this religious whistleblower.
Without thinking, I said, “You can’t be a Jehovah’s Witness, because you are watching my show and my show is fun.” Instead of the crowd responding with a huge eruption of laughter that normally follows a good heckler line, they responded the same way you would if you were to watch a handicapped kid fall down the stairs—there was only an audible gasp. The audience just joined all of my ex-girlfriends and friends who have sex with my ex-girlfriends on the “We hate Matt” bandwagon. Although this bandwagon was no longer a wagon, it became a very wide semi-truck load. The audience suddenly forgot about all the laughs we had together and the times they were awoken at 8:00 am on a Sunday to these proselytizers. It’s as if they were all suddenly converted to be Jehovah Witness’s and were offended along with their religious counterpart.
There was no recovering after that. I did my best to do damage control from there on out. I told them a series of lies in an effort to win them back. I told them how great a crowd they were and that I wished every crowd was like them. However, my pathetic attempt to win them over with affection failed. The damage had been done and they were immune to my attempts to woo them back.
The next story can only be described by this bumper sticker slogan; “same shit, different religion.” Trade one annoying doorknocker for another—the Mormons. I know. Just those words make you turn off your lights, close your blinds, lock your door and drink a big cup of coffee.
It was a cold, misty afternoon (I always wanted to start a story like that.) Okay, it was a sunny Sunday afternoon and I was performing at a county fair. Certainly a clear indication that my life had not turned out the way it was supposed to. My parents would have been more proud if they caught me smoking crystal meth, which is easy to get at county fairs, or so I hear. Performing at a county fair is not an easy thing. It’s one small step above performing comedy at a kindergarten school for the deaf. I say that because it’s hard enough to get people to laugh. And even harder when you throw in a crowd who are stuffing their face with elephant ears and funnel cakes. It becomes nearly impossible.
Usually when no one is laughing during my show, I will start trying new jokes that have not been fully thought out. My theory is, if they are not laughing at my good stuff, why waste it? Why not try out some new jokes and maybe I can get one or two jokes that I can use in the future on people who actually care. That way the show is not a total waste for everyone. At least someone (aka. me) get something out of it.
The timeslot where laughter is scheduled to appear after my jokes was replaced with silence. So, I decided to try a new joke. The new unformed joke I delivered was as follows: “I know my material can be edgy. So much so, I was banned from performing in Utah. They only allowed me to perform when I agreed to wear their magic underwear.” If the silence was not a good enough indicator on what a crappy joke it was, a woman jumped out of her seat with such urgency, like she was about to stop me from killing a puppy and yelled, “That is not funny.”
I am used to people telling me, “That isn’t funny”, but something was a little off in the tone of this woman’s voice. There was more urgency in her tone, like she had to stop me from telling a secret about the Mormon’s that would spoil their plan to take over the world one soda company at a time. She was wearing an apron for a lemonade booth that was to the left of the stage and was standing, staring at me with distain on her face. She yelled at me again, this time saying, “I am Mormon and I don’t appreciate that!”
Trying to learn from my Jehovah’s Witness encounter, I tried to manage this confrontation a little better. I thought that maybe by talking to her directly and finding out about her would endear me to everyone, so I asked her, “Do you work here?” She swiftly replied, “Yes, right over there at the lemonade booth and I don’t appreciate being made fun of.” In attempt to establish some sort of friendly dialogue with her, I asked, “Are you a strict Mormon?” She yelled proudly, “Very.” Without thinking how it would sound, I responded, “If you are a strict Mormon, then what are you doing working on a Sunday?” My attempt to be friendly felt like I was trying to challenge her religious faith. I could see the crowd shifting in their seats from their discomfort, like they were all trying to scratch their ass without using both hands at the same time. The dumb-ass that I am, decided to try and turn my challenging statement into something humorous, In an attempt to save the show that was getting away from me, I said “It’s just a joke. Don’t get your sacred garments in a bunch.”
The voices in my head said, “Nice one Matt! Great joke.” My inner self was high-fiving with how quick I was to come up with this comedy gold. The voices in the crowd did not share the same thoughts. Their voices simultaneously shouted something that rhymes with “glue.” I tried powering through it and winning them back with my best material, but the proverbial arcade game had no more credits and the bartender was yelling, “Get the hell out or I’ll hit you with this crowbar.” I did what I thought was best, which was to thank them and end the show right there, leaving twenty minutes early.
Looking back, I find it interesting that in a show filled with jokes about deaf people, blind people, narcoleptics, midgets and people with turrets syndrome, this woman chose to get upset at the one joke that is actually a choice, which is to wear long underwear. Ultimately, I hate bad shows but I love stories. By sacrificing my suffering on stage and the audience suffering due to my stupid comments, I hope these stories have done what I was unable to do in the three shows listed—to make you laugh.