When I was seventeen or eighteen, I had dropped out of high school and was working nights as a telemarketer for the New York Theater Workshop. As far as these gigs go, it certainly wasn’t the worst. It was the year Rent was being workshopped in preparation for its Broadway run, and I can still tell you it’s “the rock opera version of La Boheme by the late Jonathan Larson.”
Thursdays we would get our paychecks, and I would take mine to the check cashing place and spend the evening at the Comedy Cellar. This was well before the Cellar was cool, and more times than not the woman at the door would let me in for free, especially if I got there late enough after the show started. I was an early fan of Dave Attell, Wanda Sykes, I saw Chappelle do a couple of drop-ins. I always meant to bring a tape recorder and bootleg a show so I could listen to it at home; this was well before YouTube, when nobody did this at comedy shows and so who would give a fuck. It never happened, though.
Anyway, I saw th same comics over and over but never really got tired of it. And if I did, I’d go to the Boston Comedy Club and watch Red Johnny and the Round Guy or whoever the hell was appearing there. But the Cellar was my favorite.
Anyway, the reason I bring all this up is there’s a few moments I still have burned in my memory, and one of those was the night some poor nameless comedian (and there were many of those, who I still only remember as “The Guy With The Bobbit Bit That I Recognized Back Then Was Hack But Which Also Always Killed,” or “That Fella With the Bit About Relationships Being Like A Game of Chess and Not Much Else.”
Anyway, there was this comedian who was not doing so well, and he decided to go into the audience and pick on people. And he started fucking with this one guy in a suit on a date. And he said, “What do you do?” And the guy said, “I’m a talent agent.”
And everybody laughed.
And then the comic said, “No really.” But, you could tell, with less bravado. And the guy said, “No, seriously.”
“What kind of agent?” “I book comedians for tours.”
And that was the end of it. The comedian did more time and got offstage, but he was a beaten man walking out of the ring. Like I said, I don’t remember that comedian’s name, but as a mental exercise when I’m walking down the street, I still sometimes go through that exchange and try to figure out how I would have handled it if it were me. It keeps me sharp for when I do have difficult crowd work.
More on an example of difficult crowd work this week, I think.