by: Max Cohen
This article initially appeared February 2nd, 2020 here: https://thecomedyconsultant.com/when-comedy-goes-south/
A lot of times what happens around stand-up comedy shows is more memorable than the shows themselves. This can be true especially for road work and festivals…
I went to Key West in 2014 for a brand new comedy festival. The organizer said he would take care of my accommodations, and get me a room right in downtown Key West. The room ended up being a crashpad for employees above the bar Cowboy Bill’s. I even had my very own futon! It was quite convenient to just stumble upstairs after a night of drinking there, and it felt just like I was back in college. Only less clean.
The next day the organizer told me I was getting a roommate. Rooming with strangers: I really was back in college now. For one sleepless night I shared a room with a biker comic named Suicide Ricky. It may have been a stage name.
Suicide Ricky regaled me with tales of how many felonies he committed the last time he was in Key West, and the hot waitress he hooked up with. I don’t know if his crime stories were true (probably) or if he was just a guy seeing how much he could scare a nebbishy New York Jew (a lot!), but I definitely believe the waitress part was true, because he told me in the morning he was going over to her place and then I never saw him again for the rest of the festival. I honestly do not remember if he even performed on stage or if playing the role of an extra with a serious back story from “Sons of Anarchy” counted as his set.
Me performing on what looks like a porch.
The shows I was on were a lot of fun. I always enjoy seeing how my act does when I go from local comic in a bar full of tourists to being a tourist in a bar full of locals. The answer this time is I did well for all the wrong reasons. After most shows at least one audience member would come up to me, shake my hand, and say some variation of, “That was great! We don’t get a lot of ethnic humor here!” or the slightly less veiled, “It was like seeing Seinfeld up there! You know, someone from, ah, New York,” pausing before the end only to reconsider if they meant New York or Israel. It still felt nice to be appreciated. And looked at like some sort of novelty ornament.
To close out the festival, I was supposed to co-headline a black box theater. The organizer discussed it with me before I came down, talked about how excited he was to do it when I landed, but somehow it never materialized. It could have had something to do with the fact that he said, “Well it would’ve been a lot of work, and I didn’t want to do it.” It was a real disappointment, but it was it hard to stay mad when I was still just so relieved I survived Suicide Ricky.
The other big disappointment was that the organizer said he would reimburse me for my airfare, which never ended up happening. Lots of handshakes before I left, lots of emails after I left saying it would be coming soon, but that check definitely never came. Inevitably, I’ve found stand-up comedy is often a pursuit of just not LOSING MONEY. Anytime that happens, it’s a WIN!Shockingly, and maybe a bit of a spoiler here, I never heard of a second year for this festival.
With some of the comics.
Everyone involved with the festival was really funny, and very welcoming. At the end of the night as I was packing my bag, some of the waitresses at Cowboy Bill’s came up and invited me to go to a strip club with them after their shift. They wanted to include me in their night! I’ve never been so flattered to be asked to go to a strip club, but if you’ve learned anything about me in this story, it won’t surprise you that I thanked them and politely declined. One of them responded, “It’s okay if you’re gay!” which again, was the sweetest bit of inclusion for something that does not apply to me! For however backwards you may think Florida can be, just know that some waitresses were ready to spend a night at a strip club with an apparently gay-presenting straight Jewish comic from New York.
After my last night on that futon, I went to the airport to head home. I was waiting at the gate, and this couple sat across from me. They were staring at me intently. They whispered in each other’s ears. Everyone had been so welcoming of this exotic New Yorker who may or may not be gay, depending on who you asked. Was this where the friendliness would end? The man leaned forward, “Say, you were that comic at the bar, right? You were so funny! My wife and I haven’t stopped laughing at your jokes. You were great, man.” I questioned a lot of my life choices during my time in Key West, and it was a weird, wild week that managed to end on a really high note.
Flyer from the festival. Good business practice: Always have the comedy show before Sexy Bull Riding.