So That Happened #1: A Girl Danced On Stage…While I Was Performing.

Sometimes, I’m going to write about things that happen to me in my comic life. Lots of people ask me what it’s like to be a comic. Most of the time, it’s great. Sometimes, it sucks. Sometimes, it gets super weird. This is one of those times.

Last night, I performed a show in Vancouver at a new restaurant/bar in Yaletown called Hooker’s Green. For those unfamiliar with Vancouver, Yaletown is the richest area in downtown, and the bar, as such, has a certain clientele. That’s what made last night even more strange.

The bar itself is a weird set-up for comedy. I am good friends with both guys who run the room and they are doing their best, but unfortunately, the construction gods are against them. The bar is very narrow, and the stage is buried in the back. It has a small viewing area in front of it, and then the rest of the bar feels somewhat detached(with several tables out of view of the stage), which makes people who are not directly in front of the stage feel no guilt/shame over talking. Loudly.

So the room was already conspiring against us, but the comics before me had done a nice job eking out their sets. As the comic before me took the stage, a patron from the bar area of the show wandered in by herself, and took a seat right in front of the stage. As his set went on, it became increasingly obvious that she was both

a) insanely drunk; and
b) very much wanting to be a part of the show

Unfortunately, the other comic had to essentially make his entire set about dealing with her(more on that later). At one point, she threw her boot on stage at him, and while he handled the situation with great aplomb, he ended his set right there, as there’s nowhere really to go from there in terms of telling jokes effectively.

I was up next, and was sort of hoping that “Lulu”(she said that was her name but I’m not sure she was coherent enough to even know her own name) would’ve got what she wanted and left me alone.

So I got on stage, and she immediately began to assert her authority over my set by yelling “boot! boot!” at the boot she had thrown on stage. I told her that it was, in fact, a boot, and I was impressed with her ability to name objects. I think she wanted me to hand it to her, but that wasn’t about to happen. I then pointed at the stool on stage, and asked her what that was. She said “stool!” and took that as an invitation to sit on it. So now she was on stage. It was a glorious moment for both of us. In hindsight, I should’ve threw the boot at her and done us both a favor.

In an attempt to get her off stage, I took her boot, threw it off stage, and told her to “fetch.” Instead of doing that, she danced around on stage for about a minute, while I watched. She finally decided to leave the stage, and I thought my set was about to begin. I began the set by talking about the books that were on shelves at the back of the stage–what I thought was a weird set design–and Lulu took that to be an invitation back on stage, to come choose a book for home. So again, I had to secede the stage to my drunk friend as she “picked a book”. I made fun of her a bit more, and then finally, mercifully, the guy running the bar came on stage and removed her from the show.

People who had seen the show would’ve said I handled the situation “well”, as I kept the audience laughing throughout Lulu’s antics, and there still seems to be a sense that heckling/participating in the show without being asked is an okay thing. It isn’t.

I will never understand, no matter how drunk someone is, their desire to be a part of the show. You are at the show to be entertained, not to be the entertainer. In that sense, stand-up comedy is the weirdest art form. No one brings one of their own works to an art gallery showing and just tries to put it on display. No one brings a guitar to a rock show and starts trying to have their own show. No one walks on stage during the middle of a performance of Macbeth and tries to be a part of the festivities.

It seems odd to me that these people think they are improving the show. Here’s the thing. I have a day job. I am a very busy person. I make time out of my day to go down a bar late at night, pay for parking, deal with drunken idiots, so that I can work on some new material. The stage time that we have is our work time. It’s our time to become better as comics, especially when we’re there on a Tuesday night in a venue not suited for comedy, performing for 70 people, only 20 of whom are paying attention. We’re there for that microphone and that stage. That’s about it. When a show gets interrupted in that fashion, there’s simply no way to recover.

I tried to tell the new joke I had been working on after Lulu’s little escapade, but here’s the thing: telling jokes after these episodes rarely works. Once the show becomes about someone other than the comic on stage, it is very difficult for that comic to recover. It’s very hard to transition back into telling jokes, because the audience’s disbelief is no longer suspended. They’ve just witnessed one of the weirdest things they have ever seen during a stand-up comedy show(it was certainly one of the weirdest for me and I’ve been to probably a thousand shows at this point), and they associate me with the whole escapade. Even though I made the audience laugh nearly the entire time Lulu was doing her thing, the whole show becomes a waste of MY time because now I can’t do anything that I wanted to do. I love doing comedy because I love making people laugh, but there comes a point where practicing the craft has to take precedence. Make no mistake, at 11 PM on a Tuesday night when I have to be up to teach the next morning, I’m there mostly for myself. I want this new bit to work, because I want to make people laugh a bunch more over time(and not just during this one episode) and now I’ve just lost valuable practice time.

So yeah, Lulu, you were kinda crazy and kinda funny, and yeah, audience at Hooker’s Green, we laughed and we bonded over one of the silliest things that has happened to me so far in this comedy journey. But Lulu, what you did was intensely selfish and bizarrely self-aggrandizing. You aren’t the show. I am. And last night, I couldn’t be.

If you want to yell a little something at me, as long as it isn’t offensive or a denigration of my skills, I don’t mind it. I find hecklers can be a fascinating part of the show and I don’t mind a little interplay. But once it’s over, it’s over. Some people might say “but how can we know when it’s over?” Trust me, you’ll know. People aren’t at the show to hear you yell at me, or to hear me put you down, no matter how funny it might be. People see douchebags interact all the time, they don’t need it when they’re paying $5-25 a ticket to have a night out.

Oh, and if you’re going to get really drunk, do it somewhere else. You’re not going to get the jokes anyway, and unless you enjoy having an entire room of people absolutely loathe you, I hear there’s a lot of “dance clubs” looking for your business.

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