Unfortunate Crowd Work Scenarios

You may have guessed by now that I’m a pretty big fan of stand-up comedy. Stand-up informs a lot of what I do here on this blog and in my writing as a whole. So you can imagine how much of an honor it was to be able to see Louis C.K. a couple years ago while I was at school in Savannah.

There was a surprising amount of comedians that passed through town during my time there.  I actually got to see comedians such as Daniel Tosh, Kyle Kinane and the late Robin Williams on separate occasions. But when a friend of mine told me that Louis C.K. was passing through, I dropped everything and hopped online to buy tickets. Apparently we were the only people in Georgia who knew this was going on because I was lucky enough to nab a ticket that was front row center.

Oh to bask in the sweaty glow of greatness.

Oh to bask in the sweaty glow of greatness.

Needless to say I spent the next three months in a giddy little tizzy. I’d been to stand-up shows before and since, but I’d never had the privilege to be that close to the performer. This was some serious closeness. “Put your feet up on the stage” closeness, “security might restrain me if I take another step” closeness, “prime ‘crowd work’ area” closeness.

Crowd work is a timed honored tradition of the performer interacting with the crowd directly, usually in the form of questions or funny quips about your clothes. I spent weeks daydreaming about what it would be like to have Louis C.K., the biggest/most important comedian of that specific time, look down from his mic and say something to me. Anything. From “Hey, how you doing?” to  “Please stop staring at me like that.” I prepped for witty banter in the mirror before school. Working on my reflexes, answering questions without a moments hesitation. Everything from “Where do you go to school?” to “Are you married, kid?” Anything I could do to lend a hand to his art.

Maybe he might say something about my beard. I am very fond of my beard, he has similarly distinct facial hair. We could be buddies. On an album I once heard a comedian comment on someone’s distinctive laugh and so I desperately wanted him to notice my laugh. If you haven’t heard my laugh in person, you are missing out. It is a sound that should not come out of a grown man of my size. It’s a laugh with the power to shut down entire class schedules by starting a chain reaction of laughter. During the show, I actually forced myself to project my laugh just to try to be noticed, but to no avail.

The day of the show finally came and I made my way to the Johnny Mercer Theater with my friends. They were lame and lacked my lightning fast reflexes and had to sit several rows behind me, so I walked to the front of the auditorium alone.

Right there. That middle bit, that's where I was!

Right there. That middle bit, that’s where I was!

I sat restlessly as I waited for the show to start. I looked back and made eye contact with my roommate to gloat but also to plea for someone to talk to. No one else had arrived on my row yet so I snapped awkward photos of the stage to show my dad how close I was. I stretched my legs out to confirm that I could indeed put my feet up on the stage (and then quickly took them down so I would not be thrown out before things started).

Suddenly, my seat neighbors came rolling in, tripping over themselves and me, struggling to hold the massive cans of Bud Light they were carrying. They plopped down in the two seats to my left, gave me a friendly “‘what’s up’ nod,” and then proceeded to bro out until the lights began to dim.

Louis’ opening act was comedian Todd Barry. A very talented and accomplished comedian, if slightly lesser known than the headliner. I didn’t know who I was expecting to open, usually someone relatively unknown, but I was surprised and excited to see Barry take the stage. I’d spent the summer before going through his entire discography, listening to every bit he put to tape. It was a little more star-power than I was expecting, even if I was the only one on the row who seemed to know who he was.

I think there's a correlation between baldiness and humor.

I think there’s a correlation between baldiness and humor.

Barry began his set and the crowd instantly climbed on board with his dry sense of humor. I watched in but awe and anxiousness as he singled out people from the front section of the audience. I looked over to my right and saw a young woman answering questions, mere feet away from me. He’d toss questions to the left. He’s the opening act, he’s supposed to get the crowd lose, engaged. I don’t know why this surprised me.

I had spent so much time preparing for Louis to ask me how long I’d been growing my beard, that I was caught off guard when Barry asked the crowd, “Where do you go to school?” I looked up to see his finger pointing lazily down at the front row. It pointed somewhere in the middle of me and the Bud Light bro to my left. My eyes met with my seatmate’s and we both shared a brief moment of “Is he pointing at me?” A silent infinity. Then I graciously extended my hand, bowed my head and let my neighbor answer the question.

Why the fuck did I do that?! To this day, I have no idea what went through my head. Here it was, my moment! The one I’d been practicing for for months, but instead I was all “I don’t speak to the opening act. You field this one.” Like some kind of idiot!

I instantly knew I had made a mistake, but it was too late. The damage was done. Bud Light Bro answered confidently, “SCAD” and they were off. A beautiful back and forth. Barry asking, “What’s that?” and then cracking jokes about the fact that it was an art school. He’d throw a clever insult and follow it with a trade mark “destroyed him.” I sat there, sinking into my seat, wanting to laugh, but I knew that it was me that should be getting “destroyed.” That he should be making fun of me and not this stupid jerk beside me.

My one chance to have a professional make fun of my school choice instead of just my high school counselor.

My one chance to have a professional make fun of my school choice instead of just my everyone I knew in high school.

But hey, me and this guy both went to SCAD. Barry never asked for a name. I could tell everyone that it was me he was talking to all along. Sure I’d be living a lie, but there was a part of me that needed this. Then Barry asked what the guy was studying. “Film.” I do not study film. Everyone that matters knows that and there were plenty of people I knew in the audience who could now refute my claim that I was the one bantering with the stars.

The interaction lasted for about a minute, but the rest of that set lay slightly tainted. Barry continued to bounce around, but I knew his interactions were like lightning strikes, never to return to the same row a second time. As he bowed and exited the stage, I hoped for redemption from the man of the hour. But Louis rarely looked at the front section, instead spending most of his time engaging the farther rows, making sure everyone was having a good time.

The whole show was great. Most of Louis’ material would go on to make it to his HBO special, “Oh My God” and it was great to see it live. But there’s a lesson in there about seizing the moment. Who knows man. I stare at this WordPress page, I wonder what if Todd Barry had asked me, “What do you study?” and I got to say, “Writing.” Would he have asked, “What do you write about?” Maybe I could have plugged the blog. Maybe I could have made a fan and be working on projects with Louis C.K. I could have missed out on a life of riches and fame all so Bud Light Bro could have a moment in the spotlight.

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