New Orleans Comedy Festival
Thursday, September 12, 2002
5:00 AM - I wake up early to the alarm clock blaring. I have to be at the airport by 7:00 for a 9:00 flight. I'm on my way to the New Orleans Comedy Festival. I've booked my flight through Expedia.com and have saved $60 by having to change planes twice each way. I'll fly Chicago to Nashville, Nashville to Houston and Houston to New Orleans. It's the kind of routing you'd normally have to do a Tribble run to encounter. Having not gone to bed until 1:00 AM I would gladly pay $60 for two more hours sleep.
5:09, 5:18, 5:27, 5:36 AM - Wake up early to alarm clock blaring.
7:20AM - After dropping my son off at day care my wife drops me off at O'Hare airport. I check in at the American counter. I notice that they have dispensed with the ever so effective baggage inquisition. "Have any swarthy, turbaned middle-easterners placed any explosives or weapons of mass-destruction in your baggage while you weren't looking?" "Did you say turbaned middle-easterners? No." This was always as successful as The Simpson's police chief Wiggum's, "So how about another jelly doughn… DID YOU DO IT?" approach.
8:15AM - Boarding the plane I check out my fellow passengers looking for terrorists. Once again, I am the most suspicious looking person on the plane.
8:30AM - I'm on board the first of three planes I will travel on today, a Fokker 100. (I know it makes me giggle too.) Its not quite as small inside as I had expected but several of us quarrel over whom will have to sit on the hump. The flight crew is going through the safety demo and has announced our flight time as 59 minutes. It took me 45 minutes to get to the airport this morning.
9:00AM - I'm sure the Captain just announced we were first in line for "take down". I hope he actually said, "take off." Either that or that we're going to wrestle before the flight.
9:10AM - Safely airborne. I almost won the match until the pilot got me in a figure four and stuck me.
10:00AM - A very smooth flight and safe landing in Nashville. Both airports have been very quiet. Nashville feels nearly deserted. I had worried that it might be a bad travel day due to people avoiding flying on 9/11 but the crowds are small and the lines move fast. My biggest concern is that I've got a head cold and the pressure in my ears has not evened out. My ears are ringing and my head is swollen like a prop act on a cruise ship. I head for a gift shop and pick up some decongestant. I walk into the restroom to take the pills and the first person I see is the most androgynous man/woman since "It's Pat." I'm pretty sure it's a man but he's got good-sized breast things or chesticles. My eyes dart left and right looking for urinals. Ah. At least I'm in the right place.
11:30AM - The next leg of my trip is on an ERJ 145. Yeah, I never heard of it either. And I thought the last plane was small. This one is so tiny the diagrams in the flight safety card are in actual size. The flight attendant doesn't have to move through the cabin to pass out snacks. The co-pilot sits in the 3rd row.
1:30PM - Houston Intercontinental. This airport is slightly busier but not terribly so. Airports are of course great places to people watch. It is amazing how ubiquitous cell phones are and it is a constant source of irritation to me how there is virtually no cell phone etiquette. It's as if the act of speaking on a phone is supposed to convey some rights or privileges to the speaker. They are no longer required to say please and thank you, watch where they are going or even acknowledge that there is anyone else around them. Instead, stopping dead in the middle of a traffic flow is the norm as well as abrupt sharp turns followed by nasty looks at the people who have just been cut off. Today I witnessed the height of poor cell phone etiquette. Talking on the cell in a crowded restroom at the urinal! I could only wonder how he was able to do all the other stuff you need to do with only one free hand. I think the only positive in our cell phone culture is being able to eavesdrop on a sort of serial conversation. "…and my doctor said he had to remove… my sister, who's seven months pregnant… because the boss got a wild hair up his ass.. after the cubs game…"
2:30PM - On board an honest to goodness full size jet. This is of course the shortest leg of the trip, scheduled for a mere 48 minutes. Fortunately I caught a short nap on the last flight. Now I think I'll peruse the Skymall magazine and try to decide where to put a 680-gallon coffee table aquarium.
4:00PM - Picked up very promptly by Gerry Thompson, a local comic and member of the NOCF executive committee. He is hosting the show I'm on tomorrow night. He is also picking up Mark Scalia, a comic from Boston who flew in from New York. He told us about being in New York for all the tributes and how moving it was. Mark and I met here last year. He is on the Comedy with Attitude show tonight.
6:00PM - After checking in to the host hotel, the Iberville Suites, I went to the drug store to get some drops for my ears. (My head is still huge.) Got back just in time to get a call from Brenda Coston, associate producer of the festival. She wants to know if I want to perform tonight. (I'm not scheduled for a show until tomorrow.) Apparently Gabe Kaplan, the headliner of the festival, has called in sick. My only hope is that I'm the first one on stage to say that he had a note from Epstein's mother.
7:55PM - I arrive at Tipitina's, the main venue for the festival. It is primarily a music club with 3 locations around town. This one on St. Peter's St. in the French Quarter has a huge stage. The center is taken up by a drum set but there is still plenty of room for the comics. To the side of the stage there is a cordoned off area with several tables for the talent and a screened off backstage area. One of the sponsors for the fest is Red Bull and there is a cooler of complimentary Red Bulls backstage.
I see Brenda Coston in the lobby. She is looking a little frazzled as she talks on her cell phone. No urinals are in sight. She finishes the call and fills me in. Gabe Kaplan was supposed to do an 8:00 and 10:00 show in the show room at the Harrah's casino a few blocks away. This was one of if not the big event for the fest. Any proceeds from the fest were going to go to the United Way but these shows were billed explicitly as benefits for the United Way. The Coston's didn't find out that Kaplan wasn't coming until 5:00 tonight, just 3 hours before show time. They had been scrambling to fill the spots on the two shows to replace Kaplan when the Harrah's people dropped the bomb. They've cancelled both shows completely. Tipitina's has immediately agreed to add a 10:00 show tonight. Fest volunteers at Harrah's are directing audience members over there to come here. The first show will be held up a little to allow them some time to get here.
This is a major blow to the festival not to mention a big financial hit to the United Way. The Harrah's people are justifiably pissed but they are taking it out on the wrong people.
(Note: After talking with Tim later, I learned that the Harrah's people were more than happy to do the show with Will Durst filling in. It was the representatives from the United Way that pulled the plug. They had advertised the show as their own and not part of the Comedy Festival. They had been using or abusing the festival's generosity and now were screwing over the very people they were allegedly raising money for by canceling the shows. Tim begrudgingly was still going to give this years proceeds to them as promised but will not work with them in the future.)
8:20PM - The first show starts to a relatively full house. Brenda Coston introduces comedian Tom Gregory who will host the show. Tom started his comedy career here but has recently moved to New York. The show has some good talent. I am particularly impressed by Boris Hamilton and Tommy Savitt and of course Will Durst who closes out the show. The audience is invited to stay for the 10:00 show. By the way it's now 10:35.
10:50PM - The 10:00 show gets under way. The audience is much smaller than the first show, mainly because very funny local Italian comedian Jodie Borello's immediate family has left. There are still about 30 to 40 people and in some ways they are a better audience than the first show. They are very attentive and responsive. Unfortunately they are spread throughout the room.
Tim Coston hosts the show. Brad Tassel goes next and kills. One of the main reasons Brad wanted to do the festival was to open up for Gabe Kaplan but performing 12 minutes for 30 people at ten minutes after eleven on a Thursday night is just about as good on the resume. Durst goes on as a surprise guest and does a completely different set. I follow. Five hours after thinking of it, I get to do my Epstein's mom joke. I am very pleased with the response. In fact I feel really good about the whole set. I get several handshakes and "Good Set"s from other comics. I am now no longer the creepy guy who has just been hanging around all night. Tim Coston does an impromptu ventriloquism act with a dust mop and for a moment I really believe the dust mop is talking. Jim McCue, a Boston comic and the Sr. Executive Director of the Boston Comedy Festival, has a great set and I'm not just saying that because he is the Sr. Executive Director of The Boston Comedy Festival either. I'd say it even if he were a Jr. Executive Director of the Boston Comedy Festival. Louis Johnson closes out the show with a strong set.
I will be on the Will Durst show on Saturday and I make plans with him to do an interview then.
Friday, September 13th
I sleep in. I had wanted to get up for the hotel's complimentary breakfast buffet, which everyone has raved about. When my alarm goes off at 8:30 however I shut it off and go back to sleep. In the afternoon I go walking through the French Quarter in search of lunch. There is no shortage of great places to eat but I've decided to eat at the Café Mespero on a NOCF welcome package recommendation. After lunch I walk around for an hour or so. It really is a great place to walk and there is plenty to see. It's only 1:30 and people are already trolling the streets with beers and daiquiris. The strip club hawkers are at work as well, "Hey buddy, no cover. Air conditioning." Ah, free naked women in chilled air. I keep walking to Jackson Square. It's a large park in the middle of the French Quarter surrounded by street performers, artists, tarot card readers and vendors. There are two things that you'll see repeatedly here. The first is the "Stand-completely-still-for-money" people. These are street performers who do just that. Some are dressed as characters such as construction guy on a ladder, but most paint all their exposed skin silver or gold and wear similarly colored clothes. They put out a bucket for money then stand mannequin-still. Every minute or so they robotically shift to a new position. And people put money in their bucket. For standing completely still. They pay them. For nothing. I believe that this is actually part of the local civil servants exam. Also, I've always wondered if the ones who paint their faces gold had to first paint their faces silver for like five years before getting promoted.
The other thing you see a lot of is the shoe scam. Someone will approach you on the street as if to ask for directions or bum money and they'll say, "I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes." They may even offer to guess in what city. If you take the bait they ask you for a dollar if they get it right. If you agree you are rewarded with, "You got your shoes on your feet in New Orleans. One dollar please." This is apparently a profession for people who just can't stand still.
When I get back to the hotel I stop by the front desk. I have printed up 4X6 postcards of my headshot with the times and places I will be performing. I ask if it's okay for me to leave a few on the hotel desk, as there is no festival table. The girl behind the desk tells me it's okay. Later when I head out to catch my ride I notice that they are gone. Somehow I don't think they were taken by guests.
7:00PM - Jodie Borello and Gerry Thompson are at the hotel to give us all a ride to the venue. By venue of course I mean the neighborhood bar with the backroom that seats 40 at which we are performing tonight. The bar is called Martine's. It hosts a regular comedy show of local comics called the "Comedy Crew". When we arrive there is no one in the showroom. A few people are in the bar but it has all the markings of a hell gig.
8:00PM - Show time. Two non-comics are in the room. If this were a movie the soundtrack would be playing "Highway to Hell" right now.
8:15PM - The room is full. Everyone has walked in as if they rode the bus together. Jodie introduces the show and brings up Gerry who will host. The show is very good. Yes the room is small and the tables and chairs rickety, the backdrop is right out of a "Little Rascals'" my-daddy-has-a-barn production but the audience is very receptive. Everyone has a good set. The line up is Tony King, Todd Pesick, Annette Mae Harrings, Jim McCue, myself and Tommy Savitt. After the show a photographer from the Picayune wants to take some photos. The guy is a quiet talker. I'm literally 2 feet away and can only hear every other word. He doesn't want the photos to look staged… so he stages them. He splits us into two groups of four. I'm in the first group. We're supposed to stand around on stage talking to one another under the festival banner but all facing outward. You know, the way comics do after a show. The other four get to sit at a table with the one seat open in that oh-so-natural sitcom dinner table way.
10:45PM - We get driven back to Tipitina's. The late show has just started. The room is full and the audience is great. I've done two shows so far and performed for less than half the number of people here.
12:30AM - The VIP party. The fest has rented a party room with a balcony above a bar on Bourbon St. They have even supplied the beads. This is another great New Orleans tradition. For a string of cheap plastic beads that you wouldn't pay 50 cents for, regular women who would normally blush at a dick joke will show you their breasts. Definitely a custom which should sweep the country. "Yeah, let me have a filet-o-fish, a large fry, diet Pepsi and oh, let me have a peek at your Ta-Ta's."
So now we have comics, free booze and an opportunity to see free breasts. I have a feeling so many beads are going to be exchanged Peter Minuit could have bought Manhattan five times over. The balcony is about 25 feet wide and 8 feet deep. Structurally, it appears to be held up by three poles that would be stressed by a Cub Scout's tent. It's supposed to be limited to 20 people at a time. Right now there are about 33 people on it all leaning over the railing waving their arms. I'm going back inside. For now. I have also determined that the lazy voyeur can just camp out under the balcony and let the guys upstairs do all the work.
At one point a little later in the beer, I mean the evening, revelers in the street turn the tables on some of the women on our balcony and start chanting for them to show something. Without giving too many details a comic, a manager and a booker were able to recoup some of our bead expenditure from earlier in the night.
Saturday, September 14th
12:50PM - I'm on my way to the Comedy Writing Seminar which is in a conference room in the hotel. I have brought another stack of my 4X6 cards to lay out. This hotel lobby, beautiful by the way, has tables and chairs everywhere. I scatter small stacks of the cards throughout the lobby. I make sure to put some on a couple of tables near the conference room for people coming in or out.
1:00PM Comedy Writing Seminar. The panel consists of comedians Tim Homayoon, Jimmy DellaValle, Carl Guerra, Louis Johnson, and Will Durst. Tim Coston acts as moderator. Tim and Jimmy have written a sitcom that is in the development stage. They can't discuss any of the specifics but the show has a gambling theme and is called "Lo-Rollers". The seminar is fun and good spirited. The information that comes out of it is probably more helpful to young or starting out comics and the topics drift into performing as well as writing. The hour passes too quickly. A couple of highlights; Durst's comment, "Saying egomaniacal comic is like saying cheap club owner," and the guy in the audience who thinks he's part of the panel. He asks questions but half way through the question he subtly turns around to the audience and begins answering it as if he has multiple personality disorder. He has enough knowledge that he is almost certainly a comic. I'm sure not being invited to be on the panel was merely an oversight.
2:30PM - The How to Get Booked Seminar. Once again Tim moderates. This time the panel consists of talent managers Marty Fisher of Gold Star Entertainment, Pat Wilson of Comedy West (and also a major organizer with this festival), Brenda Coston, the talent booker for Blah, Blah, Blah Entertainment and Kevin Kearney the National Booking Manager for Catch A Rising Star Comedy Clubs. There is some very good information presented here but each member of the panel has a different opinion on almost every topic. From the length of tapes they like to have submitted to them to whether you should work dirty or clean to when to call. The truly important point that they make is that you should find out what any individual wants or expects and then when submitting materials or calling do that. A funny moment occurs when Pat Wilson is talking about professionalism. She says, "If you're rude, unprofessional, getting drunk, hitting on the waitresses…" when Marty Fisher throws in, "Then you're a manager."
3:30PM - Leaving the seminar I notice that about half the tables I put cards on are now empty. Maybe the whole housekeeping crew is coming out to see me. I get the idea to put cards on the tables near the elevator on each floor. I go back to my room on 7 and get the rest of the stack. I put a few on the table by the elevator and get on. I press 8, 9 and 10. When the door opens I jump out, drop a couple on the table and jump back on. On 10 I hit the buttons for 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2. On 5 another hotel guest gets on so on 4, 3 and 2 I feel like an idiot. Self-promotion is a bitch.
Throughout the last two days I've met a few people that I would like to see my set tonight. I made sure they all know where and when I'd be up and they've said they will be there. I head back to my room for a short nap to be rested for my set tonight.
7:30PM - I get to Tipitina's. It's pretty empty right now but people are trickling in. Karith Foster, a New York comic whom I met at The Boston Comedy Festival is MC'ing. The line up is Karith, Kieth Alberstadt, Greg T., Steve Kelley, myself and Will Durst.
8:00PM - Show time. There is a good-sized audience now. I look through the room for the agent and managers I wanted to see me. No sign of 'em. At least Kevin Kearney is here. I introduced myself earlier and I'll go talk to him later in the evening.
8:30PM - They're not here yet and I'm up next. The show is going very well and everyone is having great sets.
8:35PM - My turn. I didn't see a one of them except Kevin.
8:45PM - I get off. Backstage Will Durst tells me good set. I walk out and get a couple more compliments. I go to stand near the entrance to watch Durst just as all my New York agent/manager friends walk in. Shit. Well at least Kevin Kearney was here.
10:30PM - The Late Show. Local comic Mike Strecker is MC'ing. He is introduced as having almost opened for Gabe Kaplan. The audience has thinned out some but it's still a good show. At the end they call for all the comics still in the room to come up on stage for a final bow.
12:30PM - The after party is here in the club. The tables and chairs are cleared out. A free bar is set up and food brought in. There are individual sized muffalettas, a local cold cut sandwich, and gumbo. People mill about talking. I get some gumbo and sidle up next to Kevin Kearney. "So did you see my set?" "Oh, no. Sorry, a friend came in and we stepped outside for a bit." Fuck! "I'll send you a tape." It's my own fault. I should have just stopped by and mentioned to him that I was on that show and would like him to watch and I'm sure he would have.
The party is fun. It's the last time most of us will see one another for some time. There is a little scare at the end. Tim Coston has developed some kind of growth on his leg and after an already long and tiring week Brenda takes him to the emergency room.
Sunday, September 15th
11:00AM - I've missed the complimentary breakfast buffet again. Well, maybe next year. I have rescheduled the interview with Will for sometime today. I call his room and leave a message. I call Tim's phone number to see how he's doing and leave a message there as well. I head out to find a sports bar that will have the Bear's game on. The concierge has recommended Kabbies at the Hilton but he is French so it comes out Kah-bees aht zee Eel-tone. After I ask him to spell it for me I get an incredulous H-I-L-T-O-N. Once again I feel like an ee-dee-ote.
4:00PM - Bears beat the Falcons, Packers lose to the Saints. All is right with the world. I look forward to watching all the sullen faced Packer fans, plastic cheese shaped hat in hand walking about later. I go back to the room. There is a message from Tim. It was a blood clot in his leg. He sounds heavily medicated but says he is fine and he didn't have to stay in the hospital. I have missed Durst's call so I leave him another message.
7:00PM - Will comes down to my room for the interview. He's always fun to talk with and I feel it goes very well. I had prepared questions for Kaplan as well and Will graciously agrees to answer those for a joke. He is checking his watch so I buzz through as quickly as possible. It's 5 to 8:00 and now I know why he was in a hurry. He says he's off to watch the season premier of The Saprano's. I stay in my room and watch it too. I must confess that this is the first time I've watched it. I've seen bits and pieces but never a full episode. I tend to jump on bandwagons just as they're pulling into the station. I didn't even start watching American Idol until it was down to Justin, Nikki and Kelly.
After the show I head out to the Quarter for one last local meal. I have jambalaya on Bourbon St. than walk around a bit. It is still relatively crowded even though it's Sunday night. The packer fans are out in force and seem to have shaken off their blues. I do seem to see a lot more Saint's jerseys now though.
I hear Jimmy Buffett coming out of a small bar. I thought it was a jukebox but it's Al Miller. He is doing a drop dead Buffett. I request "A Pirate Looks at Forty", a song which led me into stand-up in a round about way. After the set I thank him. He's been at the Tropical Isle for 17 years with his band "Late as Usual". 17 years and I just got on his bandwagon.
As I walk back to the hotel a guy comes up and tries to pull the shoe scam on me. I cut him off with, "I got 'em on my feet in New Orleans." He says, "Well, I bet I can tell you how many children your daddy had including you."
Monday, September 16th
12:00PM - Tim and Brenda pick up the Dursts and me for a ride to the airport. Tim is coherent now. The blood clot in his leg is not life threatening. It is not the type that can travel through the bloodstream so they will be able to fly home on Tuesday.
Tonight they are having the post-festival meeting/party/debriefing with the committee. Will asks if there will be a 6th annual NOCF and Tim gives a quick yes.
12:30PM - We all say our good-byes at the airport and I make plans with the Costons to talk on Wednesday for the article. As I walk through the airport I can't help but wonder how many of the now properly dressed women here were earning beads on Bourbon St. last night.