I don’t want to sound like too much of a downer, but I think I may soon be 0 for 2. I’m currently batting a 2009 David Ortiz-esque 0.00 when it comes to comedy auditions, and unless 75 other amateur comedians have been stricken dead since I left Caroline’s a few hours ago, my average isn’t going up anytime soon.
(And in case you were wondering, if there were some sort of comedy performance enhancing drug, I would shoot up like a rocket ship. I have absolutely no problem seeing this sentence in newspapers one day: Gregory Quinn. 2010 New York Comedy Champion* )
Today, there was an audition at Caroline’s on Broadway. It was my second in the past two weeks, and both took place smack in the middle of a workday, working on the (fairly accurate) assumption that most comics are unemployed. I arrived three hours before the audition started and was the 17th comic on the list. One young man was curled up in a sleeping bag, and even he wasn’t number one. (Some character by the name of Skim Milk had that distinction.)
The first audition was at Comix on W 14th Street. I couldn’t manage to get the morning off and had to run to Comix during my lunch break. I arrived 2 hours after it started and was number 206.
Both of the auditions were for similar events: a March Madness-style comedy competition. The auditions were to narrow the field down to 64 contestants who will compete against each other in a series of shows until there are four finalists. The ultimate winner gets a weekend of booked shows at the respective clubs and a shit-load more Facebook friends.
They were whirlwind auditions. The Comix audition gave the comics one minute to deliver their best material in front of a panel of judges. We went in groups of twenty and each watched as 19 other comedians tried desperately to cram as many punch lines as possible into sixty seconds. A single bell went off to start your minute and then went off again, incessantly, after the minute was up. Trying to finish a joke after this bell went off was maddeningly impossible, like a substitute teacher trying to continue a lecture after the fire alarm goes off.
I barely made the cut-off at Comix. They stopped taking people after the 215th comic, only minutes after I arrived. I sat on a bench in the lobby, talking with another comedian for three hours while my nerves boiled inside of me. I timed my bit over and over again, each run through coming in around 48 seconds. I figured I had it down.
That infernal bell went off seconds – seconds! – before I got the big finish, the line that usually gets a nice pop. I soldiered on, and delivered the punch line to a shuddering silence. I walked off the stage while number 207 walked on.
A nebbish man with round spectacles and curly hair showed our group out the theatre, telling us that the selected comedians would receive an email and a link to a video clip, where our friends could vote for us. I was not emailed.
There was another audition at Caroline’s this morning, for an event nearly identical to the Comic contest. From what I’ve picked up ‘round the comedian circles, the Comix contest was started by a group of friends a few years back. Eventually there was a falling out, and a few off the comedians broke off from the group to start a similar contest at Carolines. I’m not sure of the accuracy of this story, but I do believe you can read all about it in the late Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the Untied Sates.
At Carolines, we each got a scrumptious two minutes of stage time. I stuck with the bit I used at Comix, as well as adding two shorter jokes to bookend. I sat in the corner of the bar, going over my bits in my notebook trying to eliminate every unnecessary letter. I talked briefly with other comedians, all of them looking so calm, so confident, so at peace with whatever the result of the audition would be. Perhaps they just hid it well. But I did not; I was clearly a wreck all morning. I would take sporadic walks back and forth around the bar, “shaking out” my arms and rubbing my neck. I threw back cup after cup of coffee.
The audition process at Carolines was not as disciplined as Comix and didn’t run as smoothly. They called each comic in one by one to perform for the judges, exactly how it’s done on American Idol. It was a laborious process. I stood outside the theatre door and waited anxiously until my number was called. The judges were very friendly.
“Next up…Gregory Quinn. Any relation to Colin Quinn?”
I smiled and gave some doofus scripted answer; something like “I get that all the time!” I immediately regretted not just saying, “Hell yeah! I love Uncle Colin!”
I got through my first two bits with a modicum of chuckles and bemused smiles before the middle judge told me that was enough. I was mortified; they couldn’t even stand two minutes of my material. I started to walk away before the same judge asked:
“So you’re from Boston?” (This was mentioned in a setup to one of my jokes.)
“Yes, sir,” I replied. I treat anyone of even the slightest authority like they are an Army Sergeant.
“Well, I think I am going to be seeing a lot of you.”
Then he said thanks and called for the next.
I can’t decide if what the judge said is a good thing. It sounded good initially, but I can’t help but think it’s one of those things they just say to every comic. I don’t know. It’s really hard to tell. I always perform the same at these shows. Not so bad that I can’t get over it for days, but never good enough to feel as if I’m going to move on.
My gut tells me I won’t be moving on this time. You can just kind of feel these things. And that would mean I went down hard at my first two chances of the New Year. That is going to be hard to swallow. I know it will not stop me from going on, but the failure will chip away a little more from my crumbling confidence. Which sucks. Sometimes, out there in this city, I feel like I never have enough.
There’s another audition in March. I’ll be there.