Two Buck Yuks: You Get It Or You Don’tWritten by Keith Bergman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last night, I drove to South Bend, Indiana to do a “guest set.” That’s the term for doing stage time on a paid, professional show when you’re not on the bill. It may be offered as a favor to a pro passing through town, who wants to work on new material or just spend some time at the club with the comics people are paying to see. It also works as an audition of sorts, a chance for bookers to see someone at a show more well-attended and high-stakes than most open mic nights.
The impending snowstorm doomed the show — the audience would have been in the single digits without local comics hanging out in the back. But Mo Alexander, the headliner, did a good job and entertained the room, and my set went as well as it could in those circumstances. I walked out of the club to find my car blanketed in snow already, slid my way to the Indiana Toll Road, and crawled home on unplowed highways.
I was supposed to have had a show the next night in Illinois, but it had fallen through a few days before. So I spent Saturday watching the snow pile up outside, enjoying the warmth and safety of home, and catching up on things around the house. I was glad – at least the rational part of me was – that I didn’t have to make my way westward, further from home, as the storm buried us.
But there was that nagging buzz in my brain. I bet that show could have been fun. Your other comic friends are out doing shows tonight. You’re missing out on a night of being on stage.
This has been a compulsion of mine since I started performing live, and it’s never been stronger. My sister (whose husband plays guitar in bars and clubs most nights of the week) recently told me she didn’t get it. “It,” of course, being the urge to leave home and comfort to take the stage once again, maybe for no reward, maybe for a bad night or a lame crowd, certainly at the cost of sleep and sanity and hours with family.
For my part, I don’t get not getting it. That drive to do the next show, and the next one, is like a clock in me, and I don’t know what occupies that space in other people if they don’t have the same clock. I don’t talk about shows like Friday’s to brag about them — what sane person would? I burned up a night and a tank of gas to perform for six people. It’s just thing I do, for its own sake, even when it’s preordained to be wretched, like Saturday would have been. If I don’t, I feel like I lost something.
I don’t know if that makes this a calling, an obsession, or a neurosis. I guess how you define it just depends on whether you get it or not.