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Punchlines and fake punches a jobber's a jobber

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I was back onstage this pastFridaynight as part of the Portland Comedy Festival after the considerable layoff of almost ten months. To be honest, I was nervous for that set like I haven't been for any other that I can remember. Sure, there were always the ones that would give me an extra buzz, headlining a particular club for the first time, opening for someone really big for the first time, or working with someone whose work you admire.Fridaywas a different kind of buzz altogether, it was the 'if you stink out the joint, people will think you're done' thing. And I wanted no part of that, thank you.

But because I got back to doing my magic trick in front of others, the editor of this finepublication asked if I might write a piece comparing the world of professional stand-up comedy to the world of sports.

I brought the idea up in the green room at One Longfellow Square, trying to get a gauge from some of the other comics working the night's shows, and the one concept we kept coming back to, the one sport that seemed to have the most in common with stand-up, both onstage and backstage, was professional wrestling, particularly at the independent level.

I know what you're probably thinking and you are correct - professional wrestling isn't a sport, no matter how much it may have attempted to masquerade as one in the past. It's sports entertainment; the fix is in, the outcome is predetermined and it's all just a show - just like stand-up comedy.

In sports, there is the promise that your production will not go unnoticed and that at the end of the day, someone will give you an opportunity based on your ability to play the game. But in wrestling, with every outcome is decided in advance; instead of two athletes competing, you have two athletes helping each other, protecting each other and generally working in concert to make the show as good as it can be. Their ability to perform is generally not as important as their ability to work, or function well as an opponent.

In the world of comedy, it's the same. You reach a point in comedy (and it's not a matter of time served, it happens at a different point for everybody) where you look around and everyone is funny. It's not like it was at the beginning, in the open mic world or the hosting realm that sits beyond it, where there were clearly people that got it and people that didn't. Once you're in the not-so-exclusive club of theten thousand or so middle acts/feature acts that endlesslyroam this country's highways like a Motel6 half-Kerouac with punchlines, it's not about whether you're funnier than anyone anymore. Now what matters is - how good a worker are you? How well do you fit on the show that's being booked? Not just your material (which is also a consideration, as you don't want to have two comics who do very similar stuff on the same bill), but how easy are you to work with offstage? Are you friendly with the booker? What about some of the local comics? Those things both matter and lead to you getting more work.

Speaking of bookers and local scenes, pro wrestling and comedy share another fun connection,dealing with the plethora of scumbags and wannabes thatend upproducing the shows. Don't get me wrong; just like in wrestling, there are cool,ethical bookers running successful clubs or production companies all over the place. I'm not talking about those bookers. I'm talking about the opposite side of the coin, the slimebags that all working comics find themselves dealing with more often than they can and shouldstomach. But the promise of paid work that fills the gaps in your calendar always cloudsyour judgementand overrides any previouspromises you made to yourself.

The stories I've heardabout deadbeat bookers are both hilarious and terrible. I know a guy who had a booker attempt to pay him by giving him an old computer monitor. Not a flatscreen, mind you, but lan old microwave-sized Dell computer monitor. When the comic in question balked at the offer, the booker said, 'I could easily sell this to someone on the street for four or five hundred bucks.' I'm not sure he ever found a sucker to buy it, but I do knowmy buddy never got his check for that gig.

Same booker, different story: I once heard that this same dude just walked into a hotel room that he had booked for a headlinerand took a showerwhile the headliner was stretched out on the bed watching TV.

(That's unrelentingly weird and not the norm, in case you were wondering.)

I once had a booker throw the money he owed me in my face because I asked for it, not knowing he expected the comics he booked to wait for him to make his way around and bestow it upon youlike a deathbed family heirloom gifting. Whenever anyone asks me if I know this booker, it's my first story.

I was on a show that the booker moved us from their back room to the main room because of the crowd size, and then tried to stiff us all by waiting us out. The show ended at9:30and we had a five or six hour car ride ahead of us, so the guy just vanished in his office upstairs for hours, figuring we would just eventually weigh the payday versus not stillbeing in the car when people were getting up to get coffee. That's where I was, keys out and prettymuch on my way,but my friend pulled a chair in front ofthe office door and had a sit-in until the booker finally had to come out at ten minutes to three.

Indie wrestlers deal with the same types of things, weird locations, sketchy bookers, long car rides for short money, not because they are chasing a dream, but because they are chasing the security that comes with getting to the next level. I guess that's the dream for middle acts and indy wrestlers. Regular paychecks that are for the amount you expected and not having random dudes walk into your hotel room to get a shower while you're watching TV and trying to relax. That's not too much to ask, is it?

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