I have five columns for the Dead Dad jokes:
||Shaky But Promising
||Shaky Not Promising
||I Can’t Look At This Anymore
My task for the next six and a half weeks is to fill the Finished column and empty the others. I’ve never worked backwards before. Usually when a comic says, for example, “I’m going to be on Conan,” it’s because the comic just taped Conan, the set was good and she wants you to see it. Additionally, the set was good because she or he worked on the material for x amount of months prior.
That is the natural order of things, that is how I’ve always done it.
Except now. This time, I’ve announced the date 8 weeks in advance. Before I’ve taped the set and, even worse, before I’ve written it.
Oh, I have a few minutes in the “Finished” pile- like 5. Maybe 6 if the crowd is great. When I squint, I see 8 in “Shaky But Promising.” There’s more than I can count in “Shaky Not Promising.” And after this weekend in Seattle, “I Can’t Look at this Anymore” has a new member. RIP, that bit.
It’s unfair that after 27 years of doing comedy, I can’t tell if a joke is funny until I say it onstage. You’d think I’d have some instincts, but no. I had two dark bits to work in Seattle. I was CONVINCED they would both kill. So cocky was I that I pasted them in the “Finished” column before they’d even been tried on an audience. And one worked in front of the worst possible crowd, a casino. But the other? Tanked everywhere, including what I consider the most dark joke friendly room on Earth- a Thai restaurant in Capitol Hill. Do you know how unsalvageable a joke has to be to tank at a packed house in a Thai restaurant in the hip part of Seattle?
Jokes that work are the result of skill, surprise and a little bit of alchemy. I have a ton of stuff that, on paper, resemble jokes. They’re well written (if I do say so myself) and they surprise. However beyond that, they lack that little bit of fairy dust that makes an audience laugh.
That’s always been the case, but right now, the topics (Dad, death, cancer, hospice) make each set a Class 5 white water trip. The only thing that keeps an audience in my raft is jokes that work. If ONE joke lays there, people jump. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing! We’re gonna drown!” they say.
Friday night was a regular headlining set at the Snoqualmie Casino. I snuck a few “45 Jokes,” and returned to normal material when they pulled away. But Saturday was my 45 Jokes night. I had 3 sets planned- the bookers all knew what I was up to, I was free to not kill. My 2nd set, at Jai Thai, was so fun. No one bailed. My 3rd set, on the 10:30 show at the Seattle Underground was also fun. A few people clutched their lifejackets but all in all, fine. Late show audiences like the weird shit. But the 1st set, on the 8:30 at Underground?
Guys, I lost a passenger.
It was a full house. I did some legit “Finished” jokes, they worked. I was on solid ground, for the most part, the audience trusted me. Then I tried the 2nd new dark bit, the one I have since moved to the “I Can’t Look At This Anymore” pile. It laid there. And in the silence, a woman said, “My Dad just died and I don’t have to listen to this shit.” She said it loudly, and loudly was also how she walked, out of the room.
I don’t mind telling you, it was awkward.
I told the crowd, “Mine did too, and I wrote some jokes because… that’s what I do. Are you guys cool?” And enough of them were so that I could finish. The closing joke is really strong, and it ended well. Afterwards, the woman’s son came up to me and apologized for his mom. He said, “I lost someone too, my grandfather, and I thought you were funny.” (Luckily, he said it when I was standing next to the booker.)
This week, I have a few booked shows in LA. On the other nights, I’ll do open mics. Then on Friday-Sunday, I’m headlining a GREAT room in Tucson, AZ, called Laffs. My plan there is to drop the strongest of the 45 Jokes into my regular 45 minute set, and practice performing the shit out of them.
I’ll let you know how it worked next week. Hope to see you at the taping Oct 17-18th in LA at the Lyric on La Brea.