Bergman: ‘Two Buck Yuks’: A comedian on the roadWritten by Keith Bergman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“I know you. You’re in here more often than my manager,” the kid at the rent-a-car counter said. “Didn’t you just drop off a car Tuesday?”
I had. It was a Chevy Cruze, and it had scarcely been a match for me and three other large dudes who nevertheless packed duffel bags and laptop cases into it, loaded up on stale gas station coffee (fresh every 30 minutes my ass, Speedway) and pointed the nose southward for a six-day comedy tour. Two days after returning home, I was flying solo, just going to Cleveland for a quick gig, but still renting a car.
I’m trying to become a full-time working standup comedian. I’ve been at it for a few years now, and if there’s a ladder to fame and fortune, I’m dangling from the low rung while the realities of life hammer on my clutching fingers in an attempt to send me plummeting toward oblivion. I rent cars everywhere I go now, because I don’t make enough money doing this to replace my beloved, elderly Chevy AstroVan which gets the gas mileage of an incontinent great-aunt and can no longer be shouted over at fast-food drive-thrus.
I’m not complaining. This isn’t digging ditches or anything. I’m in a position to rent a vehicle, drive far from home, get paid to tell dirty jokes to strangers, and sometimes even get fed or put up in a hotel for it. Are you kidding me? That’s a fantastic blessing, even when the food is your third cheeseburger of the day, the strangers all look like “Duck Dynasty” stunt doubles who think your big-city accent sounds like an invitation to a parking lot fistfight, and the motel mattress is comprised entirely of bedbug carcasses and the sloughed-off skin cells of long-dead traveling salesmen.
Getting paid at all is a fairly recent phenomenon, too. I started out by corralling carloads of like-minded idiots and driving to Cleveland or Kalamazoo, or Grand Rapids or Lima or Port Huron, often on weeknights, to perform for free at open mic nights. I still do this, too, though not as often lately as I transition into paid work. Many people don’t get it, and I can’t blame them at all. But the running back you cheer for on Sundays didn’t walk onto the field after three scrimmages and get put in the game. You pay your dues, and then when you think you’re all done paying your dues, you realize you’ve just started the real work.
I’m a 41-year-old father of two, a failed rock star, a sarcastic smartass with health issues who rightfully should have settled into a cubicle long ago. But I’m OK with being on a first-name basis with the rent-a-car guy, and living on road food, because when the drive is smooth, the gig goes well and the moonlight hits your windshield just right on the way home, there’s no better way to muddle your way through a life. O
Keith Bergman hosts the “Two Buck Yuks” comedy show at The Blarney Event Center, 601 Monroe St, every Wednesday at 8 p.m. Steve Sabo headlines Sept. 18, while D.K. Hamilton tops the bill Sept. 25.