I don’t get these tweets that start with “That awkward moment when X happens”. Every moment is awkward. They just get worse when you take your dick out.
Speaking of awkward …
Not too long ago I was at a comedy show the UAlbany college radio station (WCDB) put on at The Palace Theater in Albany. Brian Posehn was the headliner.
This guy who interviewed me for his radio show on WCDB, Ethan Ullman, also performed on the show. Although he didn’t start with a joke about murdering his (imaginary) girl friend, or a dead baby joke, Ethan made the mistake a lot of guys who write jokes on the Internet do when they perform on stage for the first time: He went dark.
The crowd reacted accordingly.
Dark is fine, but you’ve got to have a lot of good will from the audience built up to make that shit work. At least as far as I know. I haven’t done stand-up since 2007.
I liked his set, and any time I see new stand-up comedians do a set I always try to say something encouraging. Mostly because I was spoiled in that I used to book concerts and then put myself on there first to do a set, so I had a captive audience and never really paid my dues like I should have (and, hopefully, soon will.)
I can’t imagine what it’s like to just go up there, in front of potentially hostile crowds, and just work through new, unproven material because it’s not something I’ve done. I used to cherry pick the audience based on their taste in music, write lame, easy, topical, and shitty jokes they’d like, and then get off the stage.
No matter who or where you are, getting in front of strangers and trying to amuse them is hard work, and the comedy business (seems) to be very clubby and competitive. So if you’re a new guy who is working without the advantage of booking your own shows like I was, the moments may be few and far between when someone gives you an encouraging word.
(Hint: It’s not hard to book your own shows. Find some bands, find a venue, make those bands pre-sell tickets, use that money to pay the venue, have the venue provide the labor ((they usually do)), do your set, the bands do their set, and if you promoted the thing, you might even turn a profit. Worse case scenario? You don’t lose any money.
I was doing that shit during the first recession of the 21st Century, and I was making money without having any idea of what the fuck I was doing. If I can do it, so can you.)
I was joking about this on Twitter the other day, but it’s worth mentioning here: If I like a comedian, I get really nervous being around them. I’m cool around anyone, including other celebrities, but comics? I go full Kardashian*.
It’s important that they like me because, some day, I want to be part of the club. So I’m afraid I’m just going to be an idiot and then they’ll all think I’m a fuck up and won’t let me join.
I know. That’s dumb, but that’s just what I think.
When I interviewed Michael Ian Black for “Social Media Is Bullshit”? I sounded like a total moron. So knowing that, when I saw the comics talking to the fans after this particular show, standing in front of the only exit to the lobby, I said to my wife I want to get out of there as quickly as possible.
She says, “But why? Don’t you like Brian Posehn?” I said, ”Fuck yes I do. But if I talk to him, he’ll think I’m a moron and hate me forever. He might even write me letters telling me to die because his hatred for me burns like a fire and acts as a festering wound that won’t heal. One he gets mad about every time he picks at it.”
My wife, as always, just rolled her eyes.
So, as we’re making a stealth, tactical exit, I see Ethan standing there. I wanted to thank him for interviewing me on his radio show back in December, and give him some positive feedback on his set. I took a deep breath, and just as we were about to reach the sweet salvation of the lobby, we turned around to talk to him.
He didn’t remember me. Ouch.
(I’m kidding. I don’t expect anyone to know who I am. I’m totally fine with that. The one time someone has recognized me from Twitter, it was on 42nd Street in NYC. I saw them point at me and say, “That’s @BJMendelson” and I said to me wife, “We gotta get out of here. Shit’s about to get real.”
Or … that’s what I would have said, had I not been in a mild panic over having to make conversation with some stranger who reads the ridiculous bullshit that I write every day.)
I said to Ethan, “You interviewed me on your show back in December, remember? I’m B.J. Mendelson.” And Ethan goes, “B.J. Mendelson. Oh! The guy with a million Twitter followers!”
Brian Posehn was standing within ear shot. Not directly next to us, but close enough where, upon hearing this, he kind of glanced over and gave me this, “Who the fuck is that guy?” kind of look.
I got red in the face. If Brian wasn’t going to start sending me hate mail before, now he’s totally going too.
Comedians are competitive. It’s a lot like being in a Highlander film except Christopher Lambert isn’t trying to decapitate you. With that look, I assumed Brian was thinking I was just some asshole who isn’t funny and just got lucky, and that’s why I had more Twitter followers than he did.
He would be absolutely right to think that.**
My brain started to lock up, thinking about the next secret meeting of comedians where Brian would announce what an asshole I was, and the rest of them would then vote to keep me out of the club. Forever.
I stammered something to Ethan like “Great set. Catch you later” and turned to the door. I gave Brian a smile and a head nod on my way out. That was the best I could do.
1. Just to clarify: Brian Posehn probably wasn’t thinking any of the stuff I (jokingly) assume that he was. I’m just neurotic about certain things, and this is one of them. Brian is awesome and I’m a huge fan of his.
2. Brian responded to this post. He said, “I think that’s just my face. Sorry.”
3. You can check out the flyer and other information about that WCDB comedy show here. There’s a story I have about the comedy nerds I met outside the men’s room that’s also forthcoming.
*”Full Kardashian”: I am phasing out the word “retard” from my vocabulary. So every time I think I’m going to say it, I replace “retard” with “Kardashian”.
**This is detailed more in the book. You can get it in stores in the UK, Canada, and U.S. starting this Fall.