Inside the Head of a Performer – Part 2

Inside the Head of a Performer – Part 2

…continued from before

(Ed note: I know I’ve been asking you to do a lot recently: read some other article first, come see my show, make love out of nothing at all, but I REALLY think it’s a good idea for you to read “Inside the Head of a Performer – Part 1” first. Stop me if I’m out of line here, but if I were you, I’d do that. And then if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. But that’s just me.)

So my name was called and I was on my way up to the stage. There was a small amount of panic that I would forget my opening line and start telling the Sucker for Love story that I had spent all weekend doing with great success. But I was prepared. Amy was hosting the show and tried to adjust the mic stand to my height when I got up there. Dead air during this phase is not uncommon during story-telling and I don’t know exactly why. In stand-up, about 15% of the crowd would have gone to the bathroom if we took more than 5 seconds to adjust the mic stand. The goal is to start your set before the applause stops to avoid any dead air. It’s just accepted here. And so she started to try to adjust it. I helped and took even longer, knowing that I was just going to take it out of the stand once I was done adjusting it. Sure enough, the crowd laughed. I should have made a bigger joke of that than I did. Truth is that I needed it to be at the right height for later, so I didn’t want to make a joke out of it. But they didn’t know that. I guess I can’t think of everything.

So I already knew that I wasn’t as “in the moment” as I usually am before I had even said a word. Hopefully I would be able to get in the moment soon or just let my material do the work. My first joke was one blatantly stolen from Bill Cosby, but one I threaded throughout my story, so I kinda needed it. And it DID NOT get the laughter I had thought it would. It was simply “I didn’t go out at night a lot as a child… because that’s when the monsters come out.” I didn’t expect to hit that out of the park, but I was hoping for more than nothing, which is close to what I got. This was not off to a great start.

I had the inside knowledge that they forgot the bell that night. Which means that there was nothing to interrupt me if I went long. I had practiced and my story came in around 7:15 without applause breaks and crowd pandering. So I had the option to leave everything in had I needed to, though I’m not exactly out to abuse the time I was given. I decided to take out a joke in the beginning anyway because I wanted to get to Dominoes faster. I think that may have been a mistake. See, I really like to start out with a bang or two to get the crowd on my side. I believe it’s more important to have a good opener than a good closer for this reason. I think I may have relied too much on the 2 minutes I had already done to death to carry the rest of the 7 minutes.

The basic set-up is that I was working at my parent’s video store, Bridgeport Video, busting my ass all day in a small town that my family was well-known in. I spent most of the first 2.5 minutes painting a picture of Bridgeport. There were a few jokes sprinkled in there that all fell a lot flatter than I had planned. I was shocked up on stage. It’s a good thing I’m a consummate professional now because those duds would have seriously affected my ability to continue a few years ago. I also had the Dominoes scene to look forward to. Additionally, this genre isn’t like the quick pace of stand-up which needs to continue punch after punch. You can lie back for a little while and draw the audience in. When I watch the version of the Dominoes Pizza story that I told online at a Comedy Showcase at the Funny Bone in Kentucky, you can tell I rush through a lot of the set-up because of the impatient nature of that genre. I didn’t need to be as impatient here.

So I battled my way to my first true test. Shortly after I try to open the locked doors of Dominoes and get shunned by their workers, I start on a tirade “Do these Noids not know who the hell I am?” I then speak about my adolescent football prowess and a specific game in which we defeated the King of Prussia Indians with only 12 guys and poor Georgey Lattanze (good Italian name) fell on every play because he couldn’t afford cleats. This went on for literally an entire minute I believe. And I got angrier with every line. And I landed it perfectly! I hit every line and escalated my anger as necessary. And I hit my final line and quite honestly expected an applause break for the tirade I had just gone on. Instead, I got a couple claps. Fuck.

Then I got into the scene. This is the scene that would save me. It’s a great story to begin with, and there are some great hard-hitting lines in it too. (Ed note: this story actually happened to his dad, so most of the lines in it are complete bullshit, but the gist of it is accurate. Unless of course his dad was making it up) So I started. And it went decently. Not as well as I normally do with a Speakeasy crowd and not even as well as I do with that story at a stand-up crowd, which is much tougher to please. But I stayed with my character the entire time, growing with anger. “Well, what’s your fucking address?! Order it to yourself just outside” and “Sir, please don’t call out pizza technicians ‘doughboys.’ They work very hard…” hit the crowd the most. I maintained that anger until I hung up the phone on the manager “Well, your pizza sucks and you’re a dick.” I also thought there would be an applause break there too. Nothing. Just a couple polite laughs from friends I had in the crowd. What the hell? Was I really that wrong about this? Apparently.

Then came a part of the act that I had never tried to pull off before. I needed to put the mic back in the stand during my story. I know it sounds really trivial to those of you who haven’t ever done this before, but remembering what to say and trying to add flavor is tough enough. Try to do that while rubbing your tummy and things can get forgotten. And I was worried that when people saw me put the microphone back in the stand they’d think I was done. But I wasn’t. And I did a decent job of continuing my story while reaching back for the mic stand, which I placed behind me, rather than off to the side. I usually like to have the mic stand off to the side to hang onto with my left hand like a safety net. But it obstructs view from one side and confines you to one spot with the microphone in one hand. Also, the Speakeasy stand is tilted, which makes it difficult to handle without screwing it up.

So the microphone is placed back in the stand as I tell the audience that I did get a pizza that night. And I did it in time to gesture with my next line, which sent me back into another 30-45 second rant that would end my show. But during the rant, I took a Bridgeport Video hat out of my back pocket and put it on my head as I raved of the Ma & Pa stores and how they rule the blue collar town of Bridgeport and they should take the Corporate Chains and send them back to King of Communist Prussia. Again, this wasn’t met with the same amount of fervor I had anticipated, but it was at least enough to get people to clap on the way out. I left the stage, hat still on, and as I was getting back to my seat, Amy said something about the Ma & Pa stores that reinforced my point. I then chanted “USA! USA! USA!” which I secretly wanted to do on stage but never felt like the crowd was in it enough to pander to them. But at least I got to go back to my seat and relax for the rest of the show and catch up on my beer intake.

Once I got back to my seat, I was jokingly offered a card from a therapist. This was the greatest compliment I could receive as an actor. I must have really conveyed my anger well up there. And later Jen brought up the fact that I may have been too good of an actor up there. She thinks the crowd really thought I was pissed off, rather than jokingly pissed. So somehow I managed to pull off what I feel like was the greatest acting job of my stage career and it worked to my disadvantage. But though the crowd didn’t react the way I thought they would, I still feel pretty positive about the performance. I had really only agreed to it as a challenge, knowing that I was doing the Sucker for Love show so close to it. I was helping out Stephanie with her marketing while she was off establishing Western Union (See? That would be funny if you read “Inside the Head of a Writer.” Maybe).

I’m still upset that I didn’t get the crowd going as much as I should have and I wish I had thought about it a little longer, but I’m still pleased with my performance. I should also say that I know people who are tough on themselves and also people who think they’re much better than they are. I like to think I’m pretty practical in my assessments of myself. I guess I was due to come back down to earth after I kicked so much Sucker for Love ass the previous weekend.

Inside the Head of a Performer – Part 1

Inside the Head of a Performer – Part 1

(Ed note: If you haven’t read “Inside the Head of a Writer,” you should do that now. Well, far be it for me to tell you how you should be spending your time, but this will make much more sense if you do.)

I had only really finished writing this piece the day before I was to go on stage. And not only was there a lot of new stuff in it, but also a lot of acting on my part. This was not a normal part of my act. The Sucker for Love performance, awesome as it was, was still just me telling a story. I had to emphasize words and gesture at points, but I wasn’t inventing a different character the way I was with this Dominoes Pizza Story. And not on a day’s notice either.

When I perform, there are two things I break my preparation down into. Memorization and stage presence. If I have everything memorized, but don’t have character behind it – it can lose sometimes as much as half or more of the desired effect. This is why I like to break things down into bullet points rather than fully-composed sentences when writing for the stage. Again, this is just my style. The theory is that I’ll be thinking less about the exact phrasing and more about what words I feel at the moment to get my bullet point across. It enables me to be more in the moment with the audience. That’s the theory. It usually helps me strike a decent balance, but it can backfire to the point of botching jokes and forgetting my place in the act or story. And that is a singly terrifying thing, especially in the very linear form of story-telling. It’s not like stand-up where I can just grab at another bit from my arsenal if I get lost. I’m stuck with this story. And I’m up on stage alone. No team to help if I miss a tackle. It’s more like running up to a hurdle in a track meet and forgetting how to jump over it.

This specific story was going to require a lot of memorization in order to play out my character. There were two specific points in which I needed to come across as irritated to get the act to work. I had planned rants in there that veered intentionally off-topic. If I stumbled on them, I felt like the desired effect would be lost. So I concentrated on those two parts before I went on stage, practicing in the bathroom, which I had never done before. I go over material before every performance, but mostly just to make sure I have all the bullets in chronological order. I leave the rest up to future Dustin to figure out when he’s on stage. This time, I wanted to be on point. I didn’t even have my 3 beers as usual.

See, I have a 3-beer rule when performing. No more, no less. Any less and I get nervous and don’t feel as in the moment. Any more and I forget shit. I decided to forgo alcohol after the first one last Wednesday. I was willing to use my confidence from the Sucker for Love show to try to calm my nerves. Besides, I had killer material. This should be easy. As long as I don’t fuck up the lines or the delivery.

I was scheduled to go up 4th, batting cleanup. I liked that position. Earlier and I don’t know that Jen would even be there yet and later would probably weigh on my nerves and also undo all the bathroom cramming before the show (Ed note: the “bathroom cramming” he’s referring to is likely not the same bathroom cramming that will appear in the google image search if the SafeSearch feature is turned off). Jennifer Howe and Katie Kelly went up first and second and I wanted to see their sets (Ed note: their “sets” is probably exactly what google image search thinks it is). Because I was mentally preparing though, I didn’t get to see much of Julie Kraut’s, but I heard lots of laughter, which is good. See in comedy, unlike rhythm gymnastics, it’s good to follow somebody who just got the crowd laughing. Laughter is contagious and once people have been put into that mindset, it’s easier to get them laughing again, whereas in rhythm gymnastics, all you can do is cry about never making it as a real gymnast.

…to be continued

Inside the Head of a Writer

Inside the Head of a Writer

(Ed note: This was originally titled “Inside the Head of a Performer,” but Dustin went a little too long about writing the damn thing. He does that. You should hear him leave a voice message. JEEZ! Anyway, that will probably follow this soon enough. In the meantime, enjoy.)

Let me start by saying that I am an extreme amateur and anything you read should be with that caveat. You are not going inside the mind of Steve Martin or Steve Carrel. Or even Steve from Blue’s Clues. I will probably never make it big as a performer of any sort and that’s fine with me. It’s just nice to have a creative outlet that will likely reach more people than this does (Hi Tom. And Cheryl. And Jen when I make you read it).

Last night was another Speakeasy Performance, and this one was coming on the heels of last weekend’s Sucker for Love show. That was an ensemble performance that I was paid for and last night was another open mic. What I mean by “ensemble” insofar as you need to know, it means I was picked to do that show because they like me – whereas almost anyone could sign up for the open mic, as evident by the drunk guy who tried to pretend he was stoned (or vice versa if you like). So I had put all my time and energy into making sure that was as great a show as possible, so after it was over on Sunday, I breathed a sigh of relief on Monday and woke up Tuesday to the tune of “Crap! That other thing is tomorrow!”

Thankfully, I had chosen to do a story which I had told many times before. It’s the Dominos Pizza Story. I know that story like the palm of my hand (hehe). BUT, the part that I know is only about 2 minutes long. The spot was supposed to be 7 minutes. So I wasn’t out of the woods yet. My selection of the story was a little different than usual. Originally, I had convinced Meatwad into doing his story about getting kicked out of the bar, which I thought would have been awesome. But when he punked out, Stephanie (from the Speakeasy) offered me the spot to fill in for the Meatman. Stephanie is what I call my stage coach, because not only does she coach my stories that I’ll be telling on the stage, but she also used to bring people back and forth from Philly to New York in the 1700s in a covered wagon.

The theme was “After Hours: Stories about things that happen at night,” which encompasses everything I’ve ever done. Rather than having a pre-determined story and going to Stephanie with that in mind, I pitched 3 ideas to her of things I’d already written since I knew I’d have little time to focus on this with that Sucker for Love Show in the rear view. They were the Dominoes Pizza Story (which won), the Cicada Party and a Brick Street compilation culminating in Paul getting taken to the police station across the street. Well, she liked the pizza story. Now I just had to figure out how to frame it to have something to do with the night.

I tried at first to make it seem like the night was scary and play up the concept of fear. That watered down the story like a happy hour long island ice tea. Stephanie suggested I try to take more of a customer service angle before she headed out to California for the gold rush. This was a better fit with the Dominos Pizza part, but not the theme. But at this point, I didn’t care. This eventually led to the frame it currently sits in: the difference between Corporate America and the Ma and Pa stores and their relation to my hometown of Bridgeport, PA.

Somewhere along the line, I decided it would be fun to try to play up the angle of my irritation. This involved the inclusion of a couple well placed rants, which would intentionally veer from the topic to other things that angered me to indicate my level of irritation. So what I’ve basically done at this point, is I’ve taken the Dominoes Pizza story – one of the easiest lay-ups already in my comedic story-telling format – and I’ve made it into the most complicated performance I’ve possibly ever given. And on only one day’s preparation. Dustin Fisher, Comedy Masochist.

Still Standing Right Here…

QOTD credits: Derek Hills – (“or vice versa if you like”)

Our Fan-niversary

Our Fan-niversary

It has always been my belief that couples should not consider themselves official until they’ve endured at least one entire NFL season (two if you’re a Redskins fan because November and December don’t count). Well, as of Sunday around 10:30pm, Jen and I became an official couple. This is great news, mostly for her. Because now it means that football season is over and I have to take down all my Eagles blankets and banners and bar stools (no I don’t, but I wish I did). But it also means that we’ve endured the toughest stretch that a relationship can go through. Though being snowed in with each other for 6 straight days is proving to be an unexpectedly grueling challenge.

It didn’t always look like we were going to get here either. We started dating around playoff time last year (early January) but things didn’t get serious until I moved in sometime around draft day (mid-April). I know. I work fast. I warned her then but I don’t think she understood the magnitude of my addiction. There were some hiccups around August when pre-season games started popping up on the TV and fantasy drafts took up a couple weekends. But then the real season started. I don’t know that I saw her for the first four weeks.

See, I’m a Philly fan and before any of you say anything, I did not personally electrocute any dogs – so cut that shit out. Living down here in Redskin territory means that I have to leave the house to watch the game. I was out of the house so many Sundays in a row, Jen thought I had found religion. And that’s not an unfair parallel to draw. I would get dressed and attend every mass every Sunday afternoon at Our Lady of the NFL. We pray to the Holy Roller, the Music City Miracle and the Immaculate Reception, Amen.

And every Sunday, we had the same conversation. “I’m out at the bar… Because the game’s on… No, it’s not on at home… Yes, I know we get 8,000 channels, it’s not on any of them… No I can’t… Because there’s a game on after that and another one after that. I told you all this shit back in April – you said you’d be cool!” 17 weeks and I think we had a similar conversation at least 13 times and she was in the Ghaza Strip for 3 weeks.

Then she’d ask why we couldn’t do anything Monday if the Phillies already played. And yes, she called them the Phillies more than once. And guys, why do we have to watch the Monday Night games, even when it’s Cleveland and Oakland? Because we have Zach Miller on our fantasy team and we still need 8 points to win our matchup. That was the part that almost got the locks changed.

But we shot the gauntlet and made it through. So many other couples have failed. Not us. But it wasn’t easy. Getting grilled on politics and religion by her father the day we met was a cakewalk compared to these last 5 months. So congrats to us. Now that we’ve officially made it, she’s saying something about a ring. I assume she was talking about the Superbowl. I know. She’s great.

Oh, and ladies. If you’re one of those gals who thinks that your relationship is fine because your boyfriend doesn’t like football, well then he’s gay. And isn’t this a shitty way to find out.

Still Standing Right Here…

QOTD credits: Kevin Hershey – (Fanniversary, see comments below)

Snowmaggedon 2010 – Part 1

Snowmaggedon 2010 – Part 1

I’m not a meteorologist. You know this. But what I am is someone with a memory and eyes. Normally when I hear crap like “record-setting snowfall,” I think about all the cars that seem to all be the best in their class. How the hell is that possible? How many classes are there? Could I just come up with a class and vote for my own car and claim that it was “2010’s best in-class?” I believe that’s the only reasonable explanation. But anyway, I figure that there’s probably some way to skew the statistics with regards to snowfall to make it sound like whatever we are in the midst of is the worst snow ever. It makes us feel like our meaningless life has purpose when we’re a part of history, even if we didn’t really do anything to earn it. But with another 12-20 inches predicted to come tomorrow night, that puts the weekly total at around 50 inches, which is three times the amount we normally get in one whole season. Those are numbers not even car buyers can disagree with.

I’ve seen storms that had a lot of hoopla beforehand only to turn out a small dusting and also storms casually mentioned on the news which debilitated cities for days. Well, they got this one right. I thought everybody was being little pansy babies, shutting down school on Friday and stocking up on water and toilet paper the night before. And why water? Do faucets stop working in the snow? Maybe I’ve just been blessed with decent pipes all these years.

But when the snow started coming and I saw all the salt trucks waiting in the on-deck circle on the side of the highways for the manager to call them to the plate, I realized this wasn’t one of those overhyped dustings. This was the real deal. And I needed cat food. We had enough human food and toilet paper at our place to last us through the weekend, and I was confident our plumbing system would keep delivering. But the cats needed to eat too. They were going to be stuck in the same damn storm. And because they never leave the apartment, I was going to have to get their food for them. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to wait in line at Giant for 2 hours just to get cat food. They’ll be eating spaghetti and clementines before that happens. So I figured I’d go way out of my way to the specialty pet store north of Baltimore on my way home from work. This made less sense as the snow was starting to accumulate, mostly because there was a moment of panic when I was about 2 miles away when I had a thought. If high schools, colleges and all government agencies were already closed for the day, what made me think a privately-owned, report-to-no one, independent pet store would still be open? Boy, I really hope I have enough pasta. Well, to make this story super anti-climactic, the store was open. And I got my kitty food. And to subtract even more from the drama, there was still plenty left. Probably enough for another 2 weeks. I think Jen just likes to make stuff up when she calls me to see if I’ll actually do it. Next thing, she’ll be asking me to go get bottled water.