Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rage Across America Tour: September!

"The Gambler's the belief that if deviations from expected behavior are observed in repeated independent trials of some random process then these deviations are likely to be evened out by opposite deviations in the future...[it] implicitly involves an assertion of negative correlation between trials of the random process and therefore involves a denial of the exchangeability of outcomes of the random process."

I've been thinking about the Gambler's Fallacy a lot on this tour, as my audience numbers have been wildly yo-yo-ing up and down from city to city. (Not that attendance is a random process -- there's some pretty clearly evident variance in cause and effect -- but the emotional results can certainly feel that way, and the Fallacy's more about a psychological phenomenon than a mathematical one, anyway.)

tl;dr: you can't make predictions based on what you feel like the universe owes you.

POPULATION: 2,695,598
HIERARCHY: metropolis
MOTTO: Urbs in Horto
VENUE: Youth Company Chicago

I find myself doing a more ambitious tour every couple of years. By the end of each one, I'm exhausted and frustrated enough that I swear not to do so again, but then a few years pass and the itch of wanderlust returns. In this case, my primary motive (perhaps appropriately for a libertarian show) was financial.

To say that I regard myself as a somewhat private person may seem absurd, coming from a blogger who got engaged onstage, but there are many aspects of my life that I try to keep guarded from just how crass I know show business can get. In this case, the anxious/euphoric/stressful cloud over my head that I haven't been mentioning for the past couple of months is that I'm getting married -- in, Jesus, a few weeks here now.

A longer tour seemed like an opportunity for me to generate some badly-needed cash to help finance the shindig. Unfortunately, my unbroken track record for failing to predict how successful one of my shows is going to be seems to be spot-on -- while I have turned a tidy profit (and I'm deeply amused by the notion that such irreverent material is contributing to a very reverent event, which seems like an apt metaphor for the whole relationship, really), it's fallen pretty far short of the economic neighborhood I was aiming for.

The other complicating factor is the fact that traveling to raise money for the wedding means that I haven't been physically present for much of the actual wedding planning. I have the most phenomenal fiancee on the planet who's never been anything but supportive, but I've definitely been able to hear the stress in her voice, and our shared frustration at my inability to shoulder some key bits of the workload has been wearing.


The inverse of the Gambler's Fallacy is the notion of streaks of good and bad luck, and though they're mathematically problematic I've never been able to help being swayed by them. In this case, I found a number of troubling signs collecting around my approach to the Chicago Fringe:

- the complete lack of any press response, despite an unusually high level of marketing aggression on my part.

- the cancellation by my billeter shortly before I arrived in town. I want to emphasize that this is no way the responsibility of the Festival's housing coordinator, who went above and beyond the call of duty, offering her own living space to be shared by myself and another artist.

- the parking situation, which I anticipated would be problematic but has grown exponentially more so since my last time working in town (in 2011). After several hours of searching, I couldn't find any space nearby for my car that wouldn't set me back several hundreds of dollars that I hadn't budgeted for, and circumstances would require me to move it several times. This, in addition to basic day-to-day costs of being in a city the size of Chicago, was placing me in some pretty dire financial straits.

- early on, I also had an episode of night terrors that cost the artist I was sharing a room with to lose a precious night's sleep. I've been plagued by a number of parasomnias, loud screaming and sleepwalking among them, but they've never been a problem while touring -- until now. Mortified, and since I am apparently incapable of moderating my behavior while unconscious, I quarantined myself to sleeping on the patio, to prevent future soporific episodes from plaguing anyone else.

- I'd say that the final stroke, however, came when I ended up canceling my opening night due to lack of turnout. It's my second such cancellation this tour -- but the first one was a one-night deal, due to some pretty mitigating circumstances. Canceling an opening night in a major city is a very, very bad sign.

I found myself playing through the upcoming two weeks in my head. I was exhausted, and hadn't had an uninterrupted night's sleep in over a week. I was hemorrhaging money at an alarming rate that I was now clearly not going to earn back. What was the best-case scenario? That a handful of other artists would take pity on me, show up to offer their support, and I'd give them a free show? I had just that last little bit of pride left, that stated that it would be preferable to give myself a penile frenulectomy with an icicle.

A mid-Festival cancellation is rare, but not unheard of. Even considering it brought an extraordinary amount of guilt and shame -- it is, after all, a slot that could potentially have gone to another struggling artist, and it creates just that much more work for the Festival organizers who are already spread terribly, terribly thin. The third -- and, in my view, the greatest factor -- is the betrayal of the audience.

And, in a sense, it's that third factor that convinced me. What audience? What audience was there to betray? This ain't my first rodeo. I know when it's time to call the patient. I sat down with the housing coordinator, explained my situation; contacted the director, and swung by my venue to pick up my properties; told Siri to take me home, and with that, I pulled the plug.


The trip home was not without its stresses, including faulty brakes and several lightning storms, because Loki apparently can't resist the urge to sign his work. Partway to my destination, I received a text from my fiancee, telling me (to my astonishment) that I was expected. One of the downsides of being in love with a detective is that it's impossible to surprise her. A few hours later, I let myself in her front door. There was a box of wedding invitations on the dining room table, and my groomsmen's jackets were laid out on chairs surrounding it.

I was coming out of a lot of shame and frustration and anger. I knew I had a lot more in front of me, as I worked through the consequences of my decision. I've made a lot of shitty choices in the past couple of months. But in that moment, for better or worse, I knew that this one was the right one. I was where I needed to be.

VENUE: Amsterdam Bar and Hall

You never want to end with a matinee. It's one of those unspoken bits of production wisdom: you always want to have a matinee, for the audience that can't make your evening show, but it's not going to have your strongest turnout. And you want to end strong.

Booking a Saint Paul show was all about trying to end strong. There was already an element of risk here, since Fringe remounts traditionally have to struggle to find audience, and this show had already struggled in Minneapolis: but I knew that I wanted to close out somewhere close to home. I knew the venue -- I'd hosted a burlesque show here last year -- and it had the added resonance of being less than a mile from the state capitol. I booked it eagerly.

I did everything I could think of to make this one special. I made it a fundraiser, donating half of the door to FairVote Minnesota, an organization devoted to electoral reform -- and they were kind enough to send several volunteers with T-shirts and a mailing list. I invited two other libertarian comics to perform with me on the bill. I officially announced the release of the sketch comedy album I've been secretly working on for the past several months (available now on Amazon! And iTunes!). I didn't know how many people were going to show up, but by God there was going to be a party for those who did.

Turnout was, unsurprisingly, small -- not embarrassingly so, greater than my fears but short of my ambitions. Most importantly, it was just short of that critical mass that every comedian desires -- the number of bodies that generate the collective response of a crowd, rather than the response of a collection of individuals.

See, but this was actually one of the most interesting aspects of the show. My marketing blitzkrieg had resulted in several disparate groups -- there were Fringers, there were libertarians, and there were electoral reformers -- and the overall result was that you could hear ripples of laughter from individual pockets of the room: one joke would hit one demographic, another another. The performance felt, at times, almost like a textbook study of targeted jokes. And a death knell to the notion of universal comedy.

Which, really, may have been, if not the strongest, then by far the most appropriate note to end this tour on.


I think that I may actually be dumber now than I was when I started.


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.

"I believe passionately in the right of individuals to recuse themselves from coercive acts of the state. Specifically, I believe in the 13th Amendments of the (SERIOUSLY ENDANGERED) United States Constitution, and that it enjoins the federal government or any state or local government from obliging involuntary servitude in any form - civilian and/or military - whatsoever. LEGALIZE THE U.S. CONSTITUTION!"

"I hate men. I pretty much think they're all pedophiles and idiots. And warmongers and controlling sociopaths. (Well, most.)"

"AN-CAP *voluntaryist/abolitionist +Voting is immoral & the lesser of two evils imposes aggression by proxy."

"I had to urinate SO BAD that my bladder was walled against my feces, only the strength of my anus can save me now"

"I don't think much I don't say; so, I'll say this: fuck Kanzer and Bieber - Thought"

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
My term of endearment:

(I just want to indicate that my transcription cannot capture the loving calligraphic detail, as well as the illustrations and flourishes, with which that last poem was written. And I can't imagine a better note to end this entry on. I'll plan on penning an overall reflection sometime next week: otherwise, thanks for reading!)

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