Hello, all! As you may know, my comic memoir, Four Wheels and a Microphone, will be released as a Kindle e-book later this summer. It’s a collection of stories about my early years in the comedy biz. Well, some stories didn’t make the final cut, for various reasons. Below is a (true) story from the book that I removed for no reason other than to release it online for you–my friends–for free.
So,I present to you a story you won’t find in the new book, but that I hope you will enjoy nonetheless. And, if you do, pick yourself up a copy of my new e-book later this summer, for the grand price of 99 cents. Yes, 99 cents. I’m like that.
MEET ME IN THE MIDDLE
A comedian often spends years developing his act before he ever gets the chance to take it out on the road. For years before I was getting paid work, I did amateur night contests at a local comedy club and countless sets in coffeehouses all over Atlanta. My friends who already went pro and were getting gigs out of town would often tell me stories about their lives on the road and how insane it was. To hear them speak of it, it sounded like being a road comic was like being a rock star without the band.
They were full of shit.
The road can often be very boring. There are hours spent driving from one gig to the next, sitting in a hotel while the snow piles up outside, or just wandering around the mall in town for half the day. I’ve memorized the floor plans to at least ten malls across North America and could easily find my way through them in the dark.
That’s not to say it’s never exciting. There are some wild nights, to be sure. Sometimes they involve drinking and sex. Sometimes they involve public intoxication and the police. Unfortunately, for most road comics, these nights often end in handcuffs instead of, well, handcuffs. Either way, there are those occasions when what happens offstage is so much more interesting than anything that went on during the show.
I was booked in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to do a gig around the corner from James Madison University. I mention the college because it was mostly students at the show that night. The gig was a one-nighter that I scheduled on a Thursday before I went to Pennsylvania for a string of weekend shows. The showroom was actually a banquet hall in the back of a very nice restaurant. In fact, I think most one-nighters are in back rooms of restaurants, now that I think about it. This one was no exception and it turned out to be a great gig. For a while.
All I can say about the show that night is that it was wonderful. I don’t remember too much about my set or how everyone reacted, but it was obviously good enough for me to stick around for a few drinks at the end of the night. Had it been a bad show—or even just mediocre—I might’ve just gone back to my hotel room and fallen asleep. Of course, then I would never have this wonderful tale that I now have to tell.
I wasn’t alone in thinking that my performance that night went over like gangbusters. The owner of the bar, a tall curly-haired man named Scott, sang my praises all night long. I was only the middle act, but he treated me as if I were a TV star. When I was done with my show, I was treated to filet minion, a nice glass of wine, and some of that praise that comedians like almost as much as laughter.
“Your money is no good here,” Scott patted me on the back every chance he got, “the drinks are free!”
That’s always a nice thing to hear. Comedians usually do not drink for free. Sometimes we get a discount and sometimes we get a free ride. Typically, however, we pay full price just like the customers do. Selling booze is a serious business and more than one comedy club has made back the money spent on talent that week by charging comedians for their drinks. Whether they be raging alcoholics or casual drinkers, comedians certainly like to hear that the drinks are free. I’m no exception.
“Stick around after the bar closes,” Scott told me quietly as I was just finishing my dinner, “we’re having a private party.”
That can be good or bad news depending upon how often you’ve heard the term “Private Party”. To most that means a get-together that is invite-only. To comedians, that could mean drugs in the bathroom, a wife-swapping orgy, or that the big dude next to you in the sauna at the gym likes your mouth. Since I only like one of those things, I was a little hesitant when Scott brought it up.
“Karaoke,” he said, and I instantly felt better and yet disappointed at the same time. Since when was karaoke a Skull and Bones Society secret affair?
Karaoke can be a lot of fun. It can also suck donkey balls. It’s not that I don’t like to sing in public or don’t like watching others do it. It’s just that the guy who sings really well? Sings once. Then leaves. But “Tone-Deaf Dave” is going to stay, and he’s going to monopolize that microphone all night long. It’s not just that he sings badly, it’s that he sings badly and is absolutely clueless about it. He’ll sing off-key all night and even get the lyrics wrong despite the fact that they’re printed on the monitor in front of him.
“On a dark, desert highway…Cool Whip in my hair”.
“Thanks, Dave,” the DJ cringes as he questions his life.
What’s more, he’ll sing the longest songs he can find. He’ll sing all fourteen verses of “American Pie” if you give him the chance.
I was about to decline Scott’s offer when he gave me the rest of the details.
“You, me, about six young ladies from the audience, and the wait staff are going to drink ourselves crazy and sing karaoke.”
Once you put women and booze into the mix, everything changes. You could get me to play backgammon at 2am if there are cute girls doing Jell-o shooters on the side. And I haven’t played that since…okay, I’ve never played backgammon.
What’s unique about this scenario is that Scott was so eager for me to stick around with him and the club waitresses. In the comedy club world, it is a common rule that comedians are not supposed to fraternize with the employees at the club.
Translation: Do Not Fuck The Waitresses.
It’s a big deal, actually, and some club owners get really bent out of shape over it. The argument is that it’s hard to get loyal, hardworking wait staff. Harder than finding good comedians, in fact, I’ve been told by more than one person. Several comedians have been banned from comedy clubs because they got caught sticking their microphones in the wrong place. Even the places that won’t fire you for doing it still frown upon it. Like any office romance, it’s considered unprofessional.
And yet it happens all the time. All. The. Time.
You can talk about professionalism all you want, you can speak about what is right and what is wrong, and you can even threaten termination until you’re blue in the face. What you can’t do is stop a comedian who is determined to get laid. And you certainly can’t tell a waitress who earns minimum wage plus tips what she can do with off duty or with whom she can do it. Hell, some will sleep with a comic as a personal “fuck you” to the rules. If it weren’t for willing waitresses, some comedians would never get laid.
I’ve always maintained that there are two types of comedians: those who sleep with the waitresses and those who do not…anymore.
Scott was that rare breed of club owner in the fact that he seemed to encourage me to not only sit around and drink with his staff, but didn’t really seem to care if I slept with all of them, let alone one. Suddenly, karaoke seemed like a lot of fun.
And, hey, the drinks were free!
The next hour was a lot of fun. The club closed, the patrons left, and it felt like a holiday party in the middle of spring. There were probably fifteen of us in all, including the club staff and random other people who were invited to stay. Before you go thinking it was a harem feeding us grapes while fanning Scott and me, I should point out that there were easily that many men at the party, as well. The last party I was at where there were only two men and a roomful of women was a bridal shower. Don’t ask.
It’s flattering when you hit thirty and a college girl still finds you attractive. That night, an adorable redhead set her sights on me and I was more than happy to try and charm her. We sat at the bar for a while and I tried to seem witty as we tossed down a couple of drinks. Someone in the background was singing “Freebird” and, for the first time, I didn’t hate it.
Then it all went to shit.
Scott appeared next to me at the bar, a serving tray in his hand. On that tray were several shot glasses full of black death.
If you’ve never actually ingested Jaegermeister, you aren’t allowed to read any further at this point. Instead, you have to rush out to the local liquor store, buy a liter of the stuff, and come home and take a long pull off that bottle. Really. Do it. The book will be here when you get back.
Done? Still wincing? Is that taste still in your mouth? Of course it is. If it’s been less than three days, the taste of Jaegermeister will still be there. It’s quite potent.
If, for some reason, you still refuse to try it, I’ll simply put it this way: imagine a cough medicine that doesn’t cure shit. There you go.
And yet people ingest gallons of the stuff every year. I used to be one of them.
“Meet me in the middle,” Scott said as he lined up the shot glasses on the bar and picked up one on the end. I honestly don’t remember how many glasses there were, or how many I made it through before we reached this imaginary “middle” he proposed. All I know is that we were having a hell of a party.
And, hey, the drinks were free!
I’m glad I met the redhead before the drinks started, because otherwise I wouldn’t be sure if she ever really existed or was just a hallucination. Sure enough, however, she appeared out of nowhere with a couple of drinks in her hand as I was downing a glass of water to pace myself. The last thing I wanted that night was to get shitfaced drunk.
“Hey, someone bought us drinks,” she said while handing me one. I don’t know why I was so flattered since, as I’ve already said, my drinks were free. It was a nice gesture, regardless, and we toasted each other as two people warbled out “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” a few feet away.
“I’ll be right back,” I said when I got up to go to the restroom.
What seemed like a few seconds later, I opened my eyes to find two nurses standing over me.
“He’s waking up,” one said to the other as she pulled an oxygen mask off of my face.
Holy Fucking Hell.
“Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are?” One of the nurses asked me while the other began looking me up and down.
I knew who I was, but where was a complete mystery. I’m not Scooby Doo, but the hospital bed, nurses, and medical equipment all around gave me a clue. I was obviously in a hospital, and not in very good shape.
“You’ve been unconscious for over eight hours,” the nurse said, looking in my eyes with a flashlight.
Holy Fucking Hell.
“I just said that I would be right back,” I said, suddenly feeling a terrible ache in the side of my head, “That was just a few seconds ago.”
“Who did you tell that to?”
“Some redhead at the bar.”
“What was the name?”
“Of the redhead?”
“Of the bar.”
I told them where I’d been and what I’d been doing.
“You’re a comedian?” she asked, “this isn’t funny, you know?”
Once again, people seem to think that comedians find everything amusing, no matter the circumstance. Here I was, suddenly wide awake after being unconscious for hours. I was oblivious to what had happened to me, how it had happened, and where I’d ended up, and this nurse couldn’t help but make a jab at me that I must be fucking around. As if I was going to jump up from the hospital bed and yell, “Gotcha!”
“What happened?” I asked, ignoring the remark.
“An ambulance found you and brought you here.”
“You were lying in a ditch in the middle of the median on the highway. The ambulance was driving by and thought you were dead. They put you in the back and drove you here to the hospital.”
Holy Fucking Hell.
After saying “I’ll be right back”, I’d somehow managed to walk out of the bar, down the street, across two lanes of highway, and then fell down onto the median. At least that’s what it looked like happened to me. Since I have no memory of any of this, and no one has ever reported having seen me after I got up and walked away, I still have no real clue. Honestly, I can’t be sure to this day what actually went down.
“My head really hurts,” I said, reaching up to touch it. The nurse took my hand and held it politely so that I couldn’t. That was not a good sign.
“You’ll be okay,” she said, “but you should prepare yourself.”
Prepare myself for what?
She held a mirror up to my face and I saw why she didn’t let me touch it. The entire left side of my face was smashed and bruised. I had a black eye, my cheek and forehead were scratched, and I looked as if someone had hit me in the face with a crowbar. Apparently, I’d fallen into that ditch with nothing to break my fall but my cheekbones. It was at that moment that I was really pissed that the nurses had insinuated that I’d been kidding around.
They told me my wallet was on me and full of money, so I hadn’t been robbed and beaten. I looked at my fingers and noticed that my rings were gone. I always wore silver rings, three on each hand. Ever since then, I only wear the two that were found on me that night.
“I didn’t even drink that much.”
“Your blood alcohol level was almost fatal,” the nurse looked at me like I was full of shit.
Meet me in the middle.
“I’ve been drunk before,” I said, “and I’ve never blacked out. Not once. Not ever.”
“Have you ever heard of Flunitrazepam?” the other nurse jumped in for the first time.
“Should I have?”
That one I had heard of, alright. Rohypnol. Commonly known as “roofies”. Also known as “The Date Rape Drug”.
Someone bought us drinks, the redhead had said to me.
But who bought us those drinks? And why? And did they drug me? Did they mean to drug me? Or her? And do people actually put that shit in people’s drinks?
To this day, I’ve never blacked out from drinking before or since then. And the fact that some people use that drug to date rape women scares the living shit out of me. Hours went by in seconds, with no memory whatsoever as to what happened to me that night. To this day, the memory has never come back.
One would think that I would’ve just laid in that hospital bed, asking a billion questions, trying to piece together what happened to me and making sure I wasn’t sodomized. Instead, I was suddenly hit by the realization that it was after noon, and I had to be hours away for a string of shows in Pennsylvania. I had no idea where I was, how far from my hotel and car I was, or how I was going to perform with a broken face. But the last place I wanted to be was there. I was on my feet demanding the IV be removed from my arm while the nurses were still trying to preach to me about the dangers of alcohol.
“Where are my clothes?” I asked, standing in the middle of the room in nothing but a hotel gown.
“That’s a problem,” the nurse said, “we cut them off of you.”
“You did what?”
“When you were brought in,” she tried to calm me down, “we didn’t know if you were injured or not, or if you had broken bones. So we had to cut your clothes off of you.”
They handed me a bag and, sure enough, inside it was a nice pair of jeans and shirt, cut right down the middle. If I was going to leave the hospital, I was going to do it in a hospital gown and underwear.
“And you can’t drive for a while, because you’re still legally drunk.”
The day just kept getting better.
They did let me leave the hospital, but not before I had to sit and talk for twenty minutes to an alcohol counselor. If you’re admitted to the hospital for an alcohol-related incident, they will not let you check out until you’ve been reviewed by a counselor to make sure you’re not a dangerous, raging alcoholic who might be a threat to yourself and those around you. As it turns out, I’m not. But talking to an alcohol counselor is not fun. They seem to think everyone has a drinking problem.
“Do you ever drink alone?” she asked.
“Yes.” I replied.
“That’s a sign of being an alcoholic.”
“I also drink with friends.”
“That’s also a sign of being an alcoholic.”
“Is it also a sign of not being an alcoholic?”
“I’d like to leave now, please.”
A half hour later, I was back at the hotel, walking right through the front door in nothing but that hospital gown. The look on the cab driver’s face should’ve made me smile, but I was still reeling from my pounding face. What’s more surprising is that the man behind the front desk at the hotel didn’t even blink when he saw me. As if half-beaten-to-death, hungover hotel guests always walked up to the desk wearing nothing but a paper bathrobe.
“I was in room 222,” I said, “but I obviously have misplaced my key.”
“Oh.” The clerk said in that way that is always followed by bad news, “Well, it’s after 2pm. Check-out was at 11am.”
“Yeah, I was a little busy.”
“I see that,” he wanted to smile, but knew he’d better not. “Anyway, when you weren’t in your room at check-out time, we had to put your belongings somewhere else.”
Twenty minutes later, I’m in the basement of a Holiday Inn, retrieving my luggage and other belongings from a janitor’s closet. I come to find that this is where they throw unclaimed belongings. Had I never returned, the hotel staff was going to draw straws to figure out who would get my laptop. In my mind it hadn’t even been two hours earlier when I was having drinks with a cute redhead. Now I was changing clothes in a janitor’s closet with a mop halfway up my ass and my head still aching from what should’ve been a great night.
I hung around town long enough to get some food in me and legally sober up. Before leaving, I stopped at the bar to see if anyone could tell me what happened. When I got there, Scott was the only person around, and he was setting up the bar for the dinner crowd.
“Hey, man,” he greeted me just as warmly as ever, “What happened to your face?”
I asked if he knew, since I had no clue.
“Honestly, pal,” he said, “I didn’t even notice you were gone.”
Great. So, not only did no one know what exactly happened that night, but I’m also apparently boring as hell and easy to forget.
“I didn’t see what happened to you, but I noticed that that redheaded chick left with someone else.”
Of course she did.
I drove to Pennsylvania and got to the comedy club just before show time. I was still trying to find a joke somewhere to explain to the audience why the comedian looked like a mutant. Even now, years later, this is one experience in my life about which I have no jokes in my act. Not one. I didn’t drink at all for six months and, since then, I’ve never let anyone bring a drink to me that wasn’t a waitress or bartender. No more strange booze, no more drinking games, and no more goddamned karaoke.
My night in the hospital cost me just short of two grand, by the way, and I spent the next several gigs paying it off. So, not only did I not get to actually enjoy the private party that night, I felt as if I paid for the entire thing and left before it began. And got beat up. And thrown in a ditch. And had my clothes cut off of me.
But, hey, the drinks were free.