5 Weird Things Stand-Up Comics Experience Out There On The Road
Before we begin, a little public service announcement. The pandemic has absolutely devastated the comedy industry. If you are able to help, there are many things you can do to support these businesses and performers. If you have a local comedy club, and you're not comfortable attending a show, buy a gift card and use it to see a show when it's safer to do so. If you discover a comedian you enjoy online, please support their side projects. Buy a ticket to one of their Zoom shows, subscribe to their podcasts or their Patreons. Buy their merch! Once the pandemic has subsided, I guarantee you these clubs and comics will be ready to make up for lost time. We could all use a good laugh after this.
I've been a comedian for 13 years, and it's been six years since I took the leap to do comedy as my sole source of income. In that time, I have toured nationally, opened for many big-name acts, and performed for thousands of people in clubs, casinos, festivals, and theaters. There's nothing like the thrill of taking that stage and making strangers laugh. But there are a lot of things that happen to comics on- and off-stage that most people don't get to experience as part of their jobs. Such as...
The Comedy Condo
Most comedy clubs, in lieu of putting their comics up in a hotel, will have a place they put the comics up in for the week. It can be either an apartment, a cabin, or a house, but it's always referred to as the comedy condo. Don't get the wrong idea, the comedy condo is great. It's nice that the club is not forcing their comics to stay in a cheap motel or find a couch to crash on. That being said, the comedy condo can be a weird place to stay.
There are usually only three items in the condo that came from this century: the wifi router, the cable box, and the TV. Everything else? Well, let's just say that these condos are generally furnished in a hurry and on a budget. None of the furniture matches, there's a patio table in the dining room, and if there are any decorations, it's usually a bunch of stuff past comics found at a thrift store or garage sale. The creepy clown painting in the bathroom, the Power Rangers kitchen clock, the entire bookshelf filled with VHS copies of Titanic ... that's just how comics say thank you.
More often than not, any other amenities at a comedy condo come with a bit of a catch. There's an iron, but no ironing board. There's a coffee machine, but no coffee mugs. The blankets on the bed somehow make you feel colder. The microwave only has eight numbers on it. 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife. You get the picture.
One of the best parts of staying at a comedy condo are the scavenger hunts. There's always a chance that some previous comic hid weed somewhere in the house, or at the very least, said they did on a post-it note on the coffee table. Or, there may be a huge DVD collection next to the TV, but none of them are in the correct case. Happy hunting!
Take How Much Driving You Think We Do, And Double It
Travel expenses always eat up a significant chunk of a comic's profit margin. More often than not, air travel is just too impractical for a gig, especially if you're booked on a "run", where you're performing in one city the first night, a nearby city the next night, and so on. The trouble is, a lot of the people who book comics for these runs have a very broad definition of the word nearby. There may be an eight or nine hour drive between shows.
If you're bored easily, or are terrified of being left alone with your own thoughts, road comic is definitely not the job for you. Comedian is one of the only jobs out there where you would drive nine hours just to do your job for thirty minutes. That's a hell of a commute. Think of that ratio for a second. That's like pulling an eight-hour shift at your job, then driving home for six days straight. Hope you like podcasts, because you're gonna be listening to all of them.
If you spend enough time on the road, you learn a lot about yourself ... and your car. You learn how your body processes each and every caffeinated beverage known to man (best bet: black coffee). You learn exactly how many miles you got left when the low fuel light comes on (42 miles on flat terrain).
And you find you're able to do a lot of weird math in your head. Say you land a gig in Chicago. You could take a two-hour flight for $150 ... or according to Google Maps it's a ten-hour drive, nine and a half if you drive no more then five over the speed limit, your car gets 38 MPG, so that's two tank of gas, maybe five cups of coffee along the way, grab a burger in St. Louis, sales tax in Missouri is 4.225% ... carry the one ... driving the will cost $62.37 and if you leave by 7:06 a.m. you should have enough time to take a 45-minute nap before you have to be at the venue.
When The Money Gets Tight, The Tight Get Creative
Comics are always trying to find new ways to pinch every penny while on the road, and sometimes these tricks get a little... out there. Everyone steals the shampoo bottles from their hotel room, but have you ever had the balls to take off with more than half the food from a hotel continental breakfast using a backpack full of Tupperware?
I didn't, but I know a guy who did. Before you judge him too harshly, he did it just as they were shutting down the buffet, he asked if he could do it, and he only took food they were gonna throw out anyway. The point is, it is amazing what people will give you if you simply ask for it. Occasionally, audience members who liked your set will just offer you free stuff. I used to do a bit on stage about being afraid to get a tattoo, and after a show a guy who happened to be a tattoo artist told me to come by his shop the next day. I can't tell that joke anymore, but hey ... can't argue with a free tattoo!
Anything you can do on the road to save money can go a long way. Sign up for every rewards program at every hotel, truck stop, or restaurant chain you can think of. You rack up points faster than you think, and they will email you special offers all the time.
My best piece of advice for long road trips? If you need to stop and stretch your legs, do not go to a rest area or a truck stop. If you can, find a casino. They have clean restrooms, free coffee, and if you sign up for their player's club they might even throw in a free meal voucher. SCORE!
Plus, when you sign up they usually include fifteen or twenty bucks in free play on the slot machines. As long as you resist the temptation to keep gambling if you lose the free play, at worst all you'll waste is a few minutes of your time. At best, you could end up winning enough money to cover your travel costs for the trip. An added bonus: taking a look at some of the people playing the penny slots will make you feel a lot better about your choices in life.
Dealing With The Absolute Worst People
I think I speak for all comedians when I say this: If you are going to attend a comedy show, behave yourself. Turn off your phone. Don't talk loud at your table. Do. Not. Heckle. If a comedian says something you do not agree with, nothing you can say back to them will hurt their feelings more than your cold, dead silence. Or better yet, just tab out and leave. If the show isn't your cup of tea, you don't have to keep drinking the tea.
Friday nights at a comedy club are usually the worst shows of the week. At the early show, the audience is still wound up pretty tight from working all week, and they haven't yet had enough alcohol to fully decompress. The late show crowd has over-corrected the problem. They've already had more than a few drinks, they're tired, and they're more than a little bit cranky. Go to any comedy club's Yelp page, and I guarantee you most of the 1-star reviews were written on a Friday night.
A singular heckler can be annoying enough, but it's way worse when they have friends backing them up. Birthday parties, office parties, singles groups, or the bane of every comic's existence: the bachelorette party. Ladies, please, we're begging you ... if you're planning a bachelorette party, go destroy an Applebee's somewhere and stay away from the comedy club. A comedy show may sound like a fun way to celebrate Brittany getting hitched, but if you walk in there demanding to be the center of attention, your night is only going to end in tears. That comic on stage has a microphone, and you're drinking a strawberry margarita through a penis straw. Do the math.
The most basic thing to keep in mind when you come to a comedy show is this: you may have paid for a ticket just like everyone else, but the difference is none of those other people paid to hear you. Likewise, always remember that comics have way more zingers than you, are louder than you, and if they can't handle you, security will.
The Legend Of The Mayonnaise
Now it's time to tell you about one of the greatest running gags in the history of comedy. It is an urban legend exclusive to club comics, and it goes like this: If you are staying at a comedy condo, and there's a jar of mayonnaise in the fridge, do not, under any circumstances, eat that mayonnaise. The reason for this is that years ago, one comic told the other comics staying at the condo with him, "I'd avoid the mayonnaise in the fridge if I were you, because I in it."
There are many variations of the tale. In some versions, he dipped his frank in it. Sometimes, it's said he dipped his beans in it. In other versions he, um ... how to put this delicately ... added a secret ingredient. The point is, the guy molested the mayo. He diddled the Duke's. He humped the Hellmann's. He put the tangy zip in the Miracle Whip. Need I go on? Because I got three pages of these, single spaced.
Ok, here's the thing ... there are so many reasons to call B.S. on this story. For starters, what kind of rat-bastard psychotic would even do such a thing? Certainly not someone who expected to get booked with that club again! You know that old phrase, don't squat where you eat? Same principle, different body part.
Secondly, we're comedians. We are, for all intents and purposes, professional liars. Everything we say on stage is either completely made up, or greatly exaggerated. Another thing we're known for is our ability to take a premise and run it into the freaking ground.
Lastly, a comic staying at the condo is only there for a few days, and they're usually on a budget. They're not gonna waste their money on any jar of any condiment that they're not gonna use, much less buy a jar big enough to fit their franks or their beans in. Hell, any road comic worth their salt knows they don't even have to buy condiments, not when they can swipe packets of them from any of the truck stops they hit up on the way into town.
Nevertheless, this story has been passed along from comic to comic, at every condo, at every club in the country, for years. No one really knows who started it. Personally, I've heard it attributed to at least seven different comics over the years. I've spoken to five of them and not a single one have confirmed or denied their involvement. They're just honored to be mentioned, I suppose?
Given the multiple versions of the story and its long list of unreliable narrators, it's most likely just a game of Telephone that went off the rails. Perhaps it all started with one comic innocently asking the other comics not to eat his mayo in the fridge and the other comics took the joke too far. However, if we entertain that theory, we also have to accept the possibility that the true story could be way worse than we imagine, and as disgusting as this story is, this might just be the sanitized version.
So, next time you're eating at Jimmy John's, take a moment to remember this unsung antihero of the stand-up comedy world. Cheers to you, you nasty bastard!
Top Image: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock