Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 8

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 8
Logic, Luck and Love

This was my toughest transition. Even harder than Jenn’s Back Porch finish. The end of the show was also the end of everyone’s individual character arcs. The end was bookended by my Mad About You piece. After I started the end, Jenn and Molly had their endings. One hopeful and one successful. Then it was Kevin’s turn. His ending was excellently crafted, as was his entire arc. He spent most of the evening making the audience laugh and really, REALLY knocked them on their ass with his ending. It was very moving and dark and honest. After spending his entire arc saying “What’s wrong with these people,” he concludes with an introspective “What’s wrong with me?” It’s touching and honest and a show-stopper. And I have to follow it.

My part is short. And uplifting. And will hopefully leave the audience hopeful with romance rather than solemn with despair. But I had to tiptoe into the darkness as to not overwhelm the audience with a change in tone. I also had created some extra work for myself on Opening Night by skipping a really important part during the first part of Mad About You. After figuring it out and stewing in my seat about it during the 10 minutes when the other three were delivering their end pieces, I had realized it was a pretty easy fix. This last tiny piece was basically two ideas. “It still takes work after finding someone” and “I don’t believe in most things, but I believe I will try to be the best person for her sake.” I had to fit in “I could pretend fate brought us together post facto if I wanted. Maybe it would help strengthen the bond we have. But it would also devalue all the work we have to do every day to make things work,” which I had forgotten from an earlier part of my piece. As mentioned, this was basically my conclusion, not just a throwaway line.

It thankfully fit very seamlessly into the end of the “It still takes work after finding someone” section. Looking back, it may actually belong there. But I wasn’t about to mess with the show in the middle of this week. So night after night, I got up and tried to let Kevin’s last words linger long enough for the audience to absorb them but not long enough so that they thought the show was over. And as moving as Kevin’s piece is, I don’t think it should be the end. It would certainly take our piece out of the “comedy” section just for the way we left the audience feeling. So I got up and brought the audience around to like this previously arrogant, cold and calculated character. Well, that was the plan. And I think I executed it well each night. As mentioned before, it’s pretty easy for me to get emotional. Honestly, I usually have to stop myself from getting emotional if I don’t want to during parts like this. So I let a little quiver come over my lips and a little glaze over my eyes.

And I delivered what I thought my most moving part was. “I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Meg Ryan. But I do believe that there is somebody out there who I care about very deeply. And as long as I’m around and able, I’m going to try to be the best person I can be for her sake. Because she deserves it. I may not believe in a lot. But I believe that.”

And I backed away slowly to the rise of “Somebody to Love” and the audience lights coming up, along with the rest of the cast. An obvious indication that it was the end of the show. We got a standing ovation on Opening Night (and partial standing ovations in other performances). It was the greatest feeling of accomplishment and justification for all our efforts that we could have asked for. Until the review came out the following day. All the slaving we did over rewrites and the direction we got and the order we put it in – it all worked. Perfectly. No stand-up act I ever did had done what this did. Thank you so much to my great friends and fellow cast members for inviting me into this production. I only hope as we expand and remount the show that you consider me for the role of Dustin. Until next time…

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 7

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 7
Logic, Luck and Love

Joe told me that the first piece was the most important part of the show for me to get perfect because it was the show’s thesis. I don’t disagree by any means. But this last section I was about to embark on was the most important for me emotionally. I was chosen to end the show because my character arc was the most dramatic. I really wanted the crowd to feel my emotions. Truthfully, in the moments just before I was to go onstage again, I would think of Jenn (my girlfriend) and my piece ahead of time. I would look around the crowd to see Molly’s parents starting to tear up. I would picture my dad watching from the back of the room and how proud he’d be. Maybe it’s cheating. Or maybe it’s just acting.

OK. I worked my way up to be emotional. I don’t even really remember who was up right before me now but there was a music cue. Thankfully. Because following something as moving as “So I said goodbye… to my vision of the back porch” or as shocking as “Pussy is finger-licking good. Call me.” was wearing on me. Rihanna’s Umbrella. A favorite of mine since the Taubl Family did it on America’s Got Talent a couple years ago. I don’t know how the audience felt at the time, but the show was winding down and I just got that feeling. I opened with “I didn’t come here tonight to shit all over your beliefs… but, well here we go.” And that was the last real joke.

The rest of the piece was emotional with an analytic approach. And that’s exactly how I wanted to present it. So I stood in one place for the longest piece I had in this show and presented it matter-of-factly with emotion. It was an interesting dynamic. I got choked up at the part when I start to talk about Jenn (the girlfriend) and just let it come. I could have shut it out, but I wanted to show emotion. I even started to cry at one show. But it’s what I wanted to do to identify with the crowd.

The main point I wanted to get across is that I have run the numbers, they’re correct, and I was able to use them to figure out how to be happy. This was our story of origin. I talk about how we met because I decided I needed to move to “find a new them.” I go on to say that “I could pretend fate brought us together post facto if I wanted. Maybe it would help strengthen the bond we have. But it would also devalue all the work we have to do every day to make things work.” This was my closing argument statement. And I fucking forgot it on my opening night.

I sat down after being on stage for about 5-7 minutes convinced I had forgotten something. Meg Ryan? No. Compatibility points? No. Holy shit! I forgot the whole closing argument statement. I was thankfully still due to get up one more time after the other three had their closing pieces. I could skip it and go on or try to force it in somehow. Damnit. I needed to get it in. It would have been easier to forget it, but this was too important. So now I had a job. How was I going to find a way to get this part in?

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 6

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 6
Logic, Luck and Love

We’re deep into what a good friend would consider the “middle half” of the show. A lot of us are going through the arching part of our character arc. I just did my “I Hate Brick Street” piece and I’m about to get up to do my “Confused Narcissist” part, together which, I referred to as “The Reason” when writing, as to give myself some focus. My ultimate character arc isn’t necessarily one of chronology like Molly’s is. It’s more in the reveal of how I came to believe what I believe and showing that love and logic can coexist. But this next part is my turn. I talked of my logical approach to love and followed that with a flashback to getting my heart (and brain) crushed out in Ohio not from a particular lover, but from the lack of any at all. And so here comes the self-introspection I went through to get to where I am with the Statistical Probability Model.

But I had a problem. This piece, though introspective and a big turning point for my character, played itself out in a humorous way. But Jenn leaves the stage after her Back Porch story, which mirrors the depressing parts of Eat, Pray, Love (or so I’m guessing, as I don’t know because I’m a real man). She leaves the stage with “So I said goodbye… To him… to the roses… and to my vision… of the back porch,” which in this case represented her chance at long-term happiness. I don’t exactly want to come in with guns blazing and my piece isn’t as high energy as the last one, but I never felt comfortable with my entrance. This was complimented by Jenn actually asking me after our 4th performance to try to delay my entrance a bit. So she noticed it also. I don’t want to step on the feelings she’s creating either, but once again, the only real training I have as far as the audience is concerned, is knowing how to let them laugh. The depression they were supposed to be feeling was much harder to gauge. So I came in softer and/or later each time. To a completely silent and solemn audience. OK. Time to laugh again, people. Please.

So the deck is stacked against me. That’s fine. I know at least one line in here that will get laughs regardless of context. I try to ham up my introduction on occasion with a goofy smile followed by a furrowed brow on “…after all, I am the only common link in all my failed relationships.” Mixed results. I still can’t find a pattern with the crowd reactions and that is frustrating. I have a series of 6 questions that I ask and answer myself. There’s an order I try to follow but really as long as I end on #6, I can mix it up. Which I believe I did every single time without intent.

One of these questions is “Am I not funny enough?” I originally answered it with this long sentence about Dane Cook and Bill Cosby, but it didn’t really work in the first two shows and just ruined the flow. So I decided to try something on Wednesday evening. Instead I just looked at the audience and said “Please.” It was a risk, as I’m not sure if the audience really considers me funny. But they like me! They really like me! Success! It stays in the show. Molly even compliments me on it after that Wednesday performance.

There’s another question that I ask which is my only definite laugh line of the piece. “Am I not good-looking enough? Maybe not for some skanks.” And then I pause briefly. The laughs usually don’t come until I start to ask the next question when they realize that was it. No further explanation. Just a casual shot at skanks. The line made Molly and Jenn cringe behind me as I found out later, but oh well. It got me some laughs and I was still in my transition from dick to likable dick. This was normally second in the order, but not always, as I mentioned earlier. But on Closing Night, I couldn’t access it in my brain. I did the first one (too picky?) and forgot it. No problem. I could go on to the next one and while I delivered that line, I was trying desperately to access that part of my brain. This was a first for me. I normally wasn’t prepared enough to think ahead while still talking. Steve Martin mentioned in Born Standing Up that he had done his material so many times that his mouth would be in the present and his mind would be in the future. That was happening to me now! This was damn exciting! Except I was coming to #6 and still hadn’t accessed it. That’s the bad kind of exciting. I had done the two that rhymed (money and funny) and was in the middle of #5 (good in bed). After I was done that one, I paused a little bit longer (only a second or two) assuming I’d remember it. But I couldn’t. Still didn’t until the show was over either and the gang reminded me. Kevin said he thought it was unprofessional to change my story like that. Get it?

The last question provoked the line “I’m a confused narcissist in this town…” The funny part was the explanation of what the term meant, but I occasionally got a laugh with just the term alone, which I need to credit to Dave Walker. In the revision of this piece, I probably cut out over half of what I had originally written with no complaints. The one argument I had was about leaving in the confused narcissist line. It turned out to be the only decision that I made in spite of Joe’s advice that panned out. I believe he still wins that overall battle, but I at least had one in the win column. Thanks, Dave. No dramatic last line, no false exit, just a three-minute journey over the hill of my arc. And back to my seat to mentally prepare for the emotional conclusion. Which I was apt to screw up because of the length. Time to study the notes in my head.

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 5

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 5
Logic, Luck and Love

Molly would be doing her thing on stage (and off stage for a bit) and I would still be onstage, but upstage (which I learned means “backwards” among silly theater folk). I stared at that blond chick at least for long enough that I felt everyone was looking at Molly. She was pretty dynamic up there and garnered a lot of laughs, which was great. She also painted herself to be a jerk, but not the way I did because she had previously mentioned how she lost a lot of weight from when she was the “funny fat girl, like Natalie from the Facts of Life.” She went on to say it didn’t get her any dates, “but who did Tootie turn to when she needed a shoulder to cry on?” The mere alliteration alone should have earned her an applause break, but that line never hit like we wanted it to. Anyway, it was time for her to tag me in. And she did it in style. My two previous cues were Jenn’s “You simply must believe” and Kevin’s “What the hell is wrong with them?” This time Molly said “Pussy is finger-licking good. Call me.” It got more gasps than laughs, but they were fun gasps. She smacks herself in the head and fades backward as I stare back at the blond and creep forward.

“Blond – probably bleached – definitely bleached – which reeked of equal parts superficiality and insecurity… My favorite.” As I said this, I walked slowly toward the blond I picked out, always on the right side of the audience (stage right, that is – which is a theater term for “left”). I glance at a person on the left side of the audience for every aside I make, as if he/she was in on the joke. And that works well. I believe it starts to endear me to the crowd in a way. Which is what I need as I’ve just referred to the blond girl as a gazelle separated from the herd (And one performance, I actually referred to her as a “nightingale” by accident. Ha. Oops).

And then my mood changes when I have to impersonate a frat guy swooping in to pick up my mark. I try hard to make sure I’m as high energy as possible. I’m doing physical comedy, which I don’t really do much of on stage. I actually think it’s kind of cheap. But it works and I’ll take cheap laughs after spending the first third of my character arc being an analytical, dream-pissing on assface. So I go on to do what I called the “Douchebag Dance” where I grab my foot with one hand and the back of my head with the other and do the actual dance while narrating it with an obvious film of disgust on my voice. I get a decent amount of laughs while doing the actual dance, but my biggest laugh of the evening came every night when I was finished and I angrily yelled “And you know what?! That shit worked!” If this was a stand-up routine and I got a laugh like that, I’d have said “Thank you all! Good night. Drive safely” and walked off the stage. But that would have put the cast in even more of a pickle than Kevin did on Thursday. So I continued.

After the bit, I paused. Silence. Partly for laughter, mostly to change the mood. I put my collar back down, which I had popped talking about the Douchebag Dance. Stephanie (of Speakeasy fame) actually claimed that as a part she loved about the piece after her Opening Night viewing. And it wasn’t like she mentioned 37 things about the show. So I kept it in. And made sure to exaggerate it. But my favorite line (and Amy’s and Joe’s too) was next. After the silence and feeling my loathing for this situation I was in. “It seemed like hours had passed… Probably because – hours had passed.” It may have been my favorite line too. I found the humor was intact as long as I said it calmly the first time and EXACTLY the same the second time. It didn’t get my biggest laugh, but it was certainly passable.

This original piece had about 4 or 5 different places it could end. We (Joe) decided to cut out most of them and stop right after the Wonka World reference. That bit normally goes over pretty well in my stand-up routine but didn’t hit as hard here for whatever reason. I make a reference to having a banana in my hand at the end of that bit as a metaphor for masturbation and that’s how it ends. With my hand grasping an invisible banana/cock. During the last performance, I decided to mimic throwing the banana away as I turned away from the crowd and went back to my seat. I did this mostly because I wasn’t ending as strong as I wanted to and wanted to think of something to fix it. I’m just not used to developing characters and not getting laughs. But it got a little extra laugh anyway. So I was happy. And I was also almost done. So I was happier. After all, the performance is fun. But the applause is better.

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 4

Inside the Head of a Performer III – Part 4
Logic, Luck and Love

My sense of panic on Thursday night when Kevin went rogue and forced us to all follow him down the rabbit hole or get left behind when the bus pulled out of Mixed Metaphorland has been well-documented. For the other four performances, this 15 minutes of non-stage time was a welcome break from the exponential tension that built up from the moment we were herded backstage half an hour ago. I would spend most of these 15 minutes scanning the audience for a victim (hot chick with blond hair, hopefulyl bleached and not very timid-looking) in the first two rows for my Brick Street piece.

I had bit parts in Kevin’s two stories, one where I had to sing, and one where I had to shout two movie lines in sequence with Molly and Jenn. In fact, the line I struggled with the most every night was my movie line. In the middle of a bunch of sappy lines from romantic movies such as “You had me at hello” and “You complete me,” I say “I see dead people.” The crowd always laughed, but I tried it several different ways – sarcastic, serious, lovey, eye-rolling and painful. I still don’t know quite how to say that line. But it gets a laugh just for being written into the show anyway, so I probably shouldn’t worry so damn much.

“What the hell is wrong with them?” This was Kevin’s last line and my cue. It’s fun time. This was the part of my quarter of the show that was put in because it was funny. I had written the first part (which was interesting, but more thought-provoking than laugh-provoking) and the last section (which was more moving than funny) first and then realized that I had relatively little funny in the show. And I was selected by Molly, Jenn and Kevin almost entirely for my reputation as a comedian. What the hell was I doing? So I made sure to throw in some funny. And at about the 20-25 minute mark of the show, it was funny time.

But it didn’t start strong. Not like Kevin’s. When we remount the show (which is apparently a theater term that doesn’t mean what it does in equestrian or porn circles), I may look to come out stronger. But this was my chance to bitch about Miami University and how it fucked up my head, especially with respect to dating expectations. The story was originally titled “The Reason,” as it was written to explain why I was so analytical and bitter. I used Brick Street as my backdrop and talked about a real incident that happened over and over for 3 years until I finally found the right mixture of good sense and discontent to motivate me to move back here.

This Brick Street piece was split into two parts, spliced in with Molly’s bar story of how she would try to pick up hot chicks 10 years her younger and get shot down. They were painfully similar. The first part was an explanation of exactly what goes on at Brick Street. I come out with a couple jokes about my age. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they missed. But one always got a laugh and it was probably the last one I threw in there.

Talking about the culture at Brick Street, I would say that I’d never seen so many shorts with words on the ass. I would bend over and point to my ass, as I had already turned around to talk about tramp stamps anyway. It was kinda cheap for this show, but I needed to interject some physical comedy into my portion of the show to get some more energy. I then stood up after pointing to my ass and said “I don’t know what ‘Pink’ is, but… I’m a fan!” And the cheesier I delivered the line, the better laugh it got. I found out later that the laugh was coming at my expense rather than at my delivery (See picture below). The line about this move being good for my ego… and also presumably my id – just wasn’t sticking the landing. But I thought it too clever to take out. I need to take my own advice and not fall in love with certain lines.I realized my problem with getting laughs at this point in the show with material like that is that I’m not really an endearing character to the audience yet. And that’s by design which makes my character conclusion so much more meaningful. But it isn’t helping now. Especially not when I’m talking about girls in such a sleazy manner. For good reason, many of the members in the crowd probably didn’t appreciate this ass hole on stage enough to care about his trials and tribulations trying to score with women. Hell, I walked right in front of Jenn to start the show just after her “you have to believe” moment. I was made the villain. Oh well. Fight through it and get what laughs you can.

Then I got to talking about this culture that I wasn’t a part of, which was a person the audience could relate to. Though I did have a line about girls dancing with their hands “sometimes already on their ankles” that made Molly and Jenn cringe for real and they know me. In retrospect, this makes a lot more sense now. I talk about witnessing a guy go down to the dance floor and mimic him riding her from behind like a racecar seatbelt. I try to channel some of Kevin’s energy for this part. It gets a laugh, but not the one I’d hoped for. Nor does my “five-point harness” comment. Just throw it out, already.

So I come to a part where I have to try to figure out what to do in this town. Amy came up with the idea to pace around the stage like a mad scientist talking to myself. This went over awesome. The crowd is starting to identify with me more. And then I seek out that victim I’ve chosen while sitting in my seat for the last 15 minutes. And I stare at her. And I’ll tell you, it’s fun, but sometimes it doesn’t go well. Sunday night, I had picked the same girl as the first part, which I didn’t always do. She was equally uncomfortable this time too. Oh well. The show must go on. This isn’t about her anyway. I stare at her. I freeze. I slowly back up. Molly comes in hot. “I would drink 6 Miller Lites and approach the prettiest girl in the bar…” Still staring. Why not?