So I've been trying something of an experiment this tour: in between Festivals, I've been contacting venues in major cities that I pass through for one-night engagements. My rule? Spend no more than $50 contracting each venue. Pursue press aggressively. See if I can get audience.
MOTTO: First Class City, First Class Service
VENUE: The C4 Creative Salon
Of my three cities thus far, I did by far the best here, which is totally unsurprising, mainly because
- I grew up here, and
- I worked here for several years.
Also, its proximity to Minneapolis gave me the opportunity to drive down several times in the weeks before the show, both to investigate and promote -- the week before, I performed at their open-mic and aggressively handed out postcards. Local press was quite friendly as well, and C4 was more than enthusiastic about advertising the event via social media.
As for the show itself, I was startled to find that my audience skewed quite old -- I would estimate that median age was well over fifty -- with a pocket of twenty-somethings in the front row. Dick jokes are a tougher sell to baby-boomers, and I definitely got some pullback on the crasser material. (I'd say most of it still worked. "My 2016 Presidential Endorsement", a comedy set I do about Sarah Palin, is one of my favorites to perform, because it initially gets resistance -- and then it just keeps going on, and gets worse and worse, and audiences usually break down and start cackling in spite of themselves at how ridiculous it gets.)
My mailing list swelled quite respectably, and I was pulled aside for a solid twenty minutes by another libertarian. One of my favorite things about doing the political material is that in every city I do, these guys just find it, they come out of the woodwork -- and they're so grateful to find a like-minded individual in the entertainment industry. Libertarians are lonely folk, and there's so many more of us than we think -- we're just so goddamn afraid of making ourselves visible.
I made the same comment at both the open-mic and at my one-man show -- that I grew up in this town, and there was just plain nothing like this venue when I was here, and it would have made one hell of a difference to a teenage me struggling to find his creative identity. I remain deeply ambivalent about the city, but fell right in love with this venue. WOULD PURSUE AGAIN
HIERARCHY: large city
NICKNAME: The MKE
VENUE: The Irish Pub Milwaukee
Despite this, I got a very nice plug from Express Milwaukee -- the local alternative weekly, roughly equivalent to the Minneapolis City Pages. (Online edition, not print, which believe me makes a huge difference -- uh, people who are reading this online.)
Should probably have canceled, but I was determined to continue with the experiment. The experiment didn't fail, because experiments by their nature *can't* fail, they can only yield new data, but boy did the show fail. Canceled due to lack of turnout.
Did hit it off quite nicely with the server, however, who invited me out to eat with her husband -- both of them quite well-traveled, and we spent the evening trading stories about places that we've lived and worked. Certainly eased the sting of humiliation.
Any data from this is naturally skewed by the ludicrously short turnaround time I had (I typically spend at least two months on press -- here I had less than two weeks). Nevertheless, don't believe I'll be booking another show here anytime soon -- city seems like a lot of fun, but not a good fit for my material.
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN
NICKNAME: The A2
VENUE: The Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room
Vault of Midnight. I did have a healthy wariness of bringing this particular show here, however. After all, Michigan is notoriously left-wing union state. And Ann Arbor is a notoriously left-wing college town. And I managed to book a venue that really could not possibly be more left-wing. (You don't expect to see my kind of material in a place that sells healing crystals.)
I was very up-front about the nature of my jokes, and they didn't bat an eyelash about renting their community room to me. Was still a bit surprised to arrive at the space early and find one man feverishly waving his hands around another man's still body (my best guess? Massaging his chi).
They were game to let me putter around and set up, however, and I entertained myself behind the box office by reading Barack Obama's memoir while my iPhone blasted a pre-show playlist consisting of "Taxman", Public Enemy, and Ice-T. Actually managed to attract the attention of some of the clientele, including a beaming, wide-eyed woman who asked
HER: So what's the show about?
ME: It's political comedy. I should warn you, the material's very crass. And very juvenile.
HER: Oh, so, like...I won't get the references?
...no, like, it's really baby-Jesus-corpse-fucking-irrationally profane. Was a bit nervous about it -- after all, the kind of thing I do is mostly only for the kind of people who are actively seeking it out, and I don't want anyone to be unpleasantly blindsided -- until her husband trundled up and chattered away while she visited the facilities. Was pleasantly surprised to find out that, hey, he belongs to my target audience -- a jaded, foul-mouthed libertarian -- and enthusiastically invited them to join the show.
Audience was small enough that I took the liberty of turning it into a kind of workshop -- talking freely to the audience throughout, and getting feedback on the individual pieces as I was doing them -- and turned out to be surprisingly fun. Would probably do it again -- and have some ideas as to which shows to bring, and how to better target the locals.
SO WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?
I think the biggest lesson I've pulled from this experiment so far is that touring outside of a Festival context requires cooperation from the venue. If they're willing to cross-promote, and get your information out to their own mailing lists and clientele, you've got a good shot of drawing a local crowd. If they're hesitant, it's time to find another venue.
FIRST AMENDMENT BOX RESPONSES
As part of the tour, I've included in each programme a "First Amendment Box", in which audience members may write any extreme, absurd, or politically incorrect thought -- and submit it anonymously. I share them here, with no commentary or context.
"Islamists claim to be inviting a Crusade. This is a grave error for them and the majority of fine upstanding Moslems who do not suppress them. They invite the gentle mercy of the victors at Beziers in the Afghanistan crusade. 'Sir, how do we tell the good Moslems from the fanatical Jihadists?' 'Kill them all, Allah will know his own.' There are no Cathars left. Anywhere."
"phil, I have never had such terrible imagery in my head...ever...thanks...? I lost my virginity to 'Loser' by Beck."
"Speech without context. Is it really free?"