Ray Charles paid my rent

Thirty years ago, as a baby comic, I would  venture almost anywhere my car would take me to do comedy. Living in San Francisco (when a starving artist could live there), I was always on the hunt for places to play and ways to make this laughter thing “full time.” Back then, I just skipped the odd meal here or there. (Like lunch for most of 1987.)

My search led me to a comedy competition in the East Bay of the San Francisco area. Going there was a big investment because in addition buying gas, I had to pay a bridge toll to get home.

But no guts, no laughter, right? So I go.

When I arrived and tried to sign up, the bouncer let me know it was an “all black” competition. With astounding naiveté, I respectfully declared that “funny should be funny, and color shouldn’t matter.” Of course back then, I didn’t consider the realities of the society I was in. There were plenty of places for me to perform that might not welcome comedians of color because of the small mindedness of the management or the audience.

I really wanted to perform because I had to pay a $3 bridge toll to get home, stage time or no stage time. That’s what I told the bouncer and I further pointed out that the ad said nothing about exclusivity. In conclusion, I should be allowed to go in!

“You wanna go in, you can go in. Good luck!,” he said with a laugh. (This was significant progress from first thing he said to me: “You lost?”)

Aside from not being aware the extreme awkwardness of the situation, I went up and got a few laughs. Actually, enough laughs to get me to the finals a few weeks later!

At that event, I got some more laughs as well as a few heckles that I handled without getting beat up. My comebacks generated some of my biggest laughs. Still, when the votes came in I was dead last. At least the green room had snacks for the competitors, so dinner was on them. 
I was happy for the additional stage time, happy to meet comics other than the ones I always ran into in San Francisco, and happy that the bouncer shook my hand when I’m pretty sure he didn’t think he’d see me a second time. The best part was that I handed out 10 business cards.

The following week I got a call to check my availability for what would be my biggest gig to date. The people on the line wanted me to be one of the supporting acts for a Ray Charles concert held at the Richmond convention center. Ray Charles!

At that gig, I had a dressing room, someone to walk me to the stage, and a pitcher of water. It was something. Okay, it wasn’t perfect: I had to do my own intro, and the lighting guys weren’t ready when I walked on stage, so I delivered material for the first five minutes in complete darkness. Apparently you don’t need to see me, you just need to hear me. But I got to intro Mark Curry, who later starred “Hanging with Mr. Cooper.” After our sets, we were treated to great seats to watch a true legend. Ray Charles!

That gig paid my rent and more than a few lunches for a few months. Thirty years ago, I was just a kid looking for a place to play and ended up stumbling into the biggest credit of my early career. Ray Charles!

Remembering Shelley Berman

Shelley Berman, one of my comedy idols, died this week and will be mourned by many.  He leaves a wonderful legacy filled with the echoes of laughter that will continue as long as we can listen to his recordings and remember his wonderful creativity. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure (on his birthday) ofContinue Reading

An inside view of VidAngel

For the past 2+ months I’ve thought about, written, re-written and rehearsed for a show I was taping through VidAngel: a company that offers its users the ability to filter unwanted elements (like swearing) from a show, movie, or program. The idea is lovely, as a program can be watched by many ages at theContinue Reading

No longer listless

Thirty-five years ago (ish), I met my great aunt Frieda’s cousin, Edie. Who ended up being the oldest person I’ve ever met as she lived to be 104 (ish.) She lived through a great swath of humanity, or human evolution, or human progress. Came across the plains in a covered wagon a bit after theContinue Reading

Three things no comedian needs: heat, hecklers and hubris

Stage time is often golden time. This stand-up comedy show-biz “thang” needs to be kindly cultivated and given adequate time for random thoughts…to become jokes…to build an act…to land  a gig…to (maybe) sustain a career. I see it this way: There’s the thinking and deciding what’s funny (or not), there’s the writing and picking wordsContinue Reading