Monday, June 21, 2010

With Apologies to Gregory Quail.

I did a booked mic at the Village Lantern not so many days ago, and the waitress (a dark haired, ethnically indeterminable woman) greeted me in the basement room where the mic was held and immediately asked what I'd like to drink. Seeing as I was early and a first-timer in this room, I asked her if I was in the right place, and she hadn’t the slightest idea what I was talking about, forcing me to head outside in a panic and phone the booker, who informed me that yes, I was just where I was supposed to be.  This story is apropos of nothing. I just thought it was a classic indication of the relative ramshackleness of even the most established of open mics.

The Village Lantern is down on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village, only a few blocks from both the Bitter End and The Grisly Pear, two subjects of past blogs which I’m sure you all remember. The top floor was a typically classy Lower Manhattan bar, but it was in the basement where the Wednesday Motel open mic was held and the basement was a different story; a dark, squalid room.  I was the first comic there and waited in loneliness for any signs of other human life. I explored the basement room a little.  

The dingy bathrooms were at the terminus of an even dingier hallway that began just to the right of the stage.  Each stall was their own independent room; a small chamber with only a toilet and a mirror-less sink flanking in to the left.  The inside was actually quite pleasant, as a quiet and isolated room is a rare commodity in this part of Manhattan. The walls were covered in rapidly crumbling, presumably decade-old red paint, and years of pornography consumption had me instinctively searching for a waist-high hole in the wall, perhaps with a stalwart penis poking thru in search of gratification. 

After twenty minutes or so, other comics finally arrived and I took a seat  in the back of the room in my favorite open-mic location; right near a door in order to facilitate a swift exit should the need arise. The host of the show was comedian Ray Combs, son of the late Ray Combs Senior, the iconic host of Family Fued who hanged himself with his hospital bedsheets only a few years after his version of the Fued was cancelled. 

(I say iconic because I mean it. For people my age, Ray Combs is the Bob Barker of Family Fued, the host we identify with as inseparable from the show. Ray Combs was the host of the show while we stayed home sick at Grandma’s, the host who hosted weekdays after school. Ray Combs was the voice emulated on the Sega Genesis version of Fued and made a celeb appearance at Wrestlemania VIII for goodness sakes.) 

I sat in the rear of the Lantern basement, aware of who Ray Combs Jr. was and aware that if I were to write a blog about this mic, I would like to make mention of his father's suicide. But I felt distinctly guilty, like I had no right.  I don’t know Combs Jr. personally, this isn't my place. I made up mind to make no allusions to the tragic Fued host and his demise, planning to skirt around the issue by giving Combs Jr. a fake blog name as I am prone to do.

This was all until Ray Combs Jr. got into the flow of his act and made not one, but several jokes about his famous father and the way in which he perished.  Ray Combs Jr.  reveled that his grandfather also committed suicide and if things stayed the same, maybe he would tighten the ole’ hospital bed-sheet himself.  After all that, I felt at least permitted to make mention of the fact here. Not that I am offended that he would joke about such a tragedy, I’m actually quite impressed and inspired by his candor, (see the quote at the top of this page) but I do get the impression from his set that the subject is an acceptable one to broach. 

Combs Jr. was an aggressive, offensive but altogether entertaining and funny host. The main subject of his material, his downtrodden existence and his near-misses at celebrity (my favorite story: how he impregnated Miss San Diego 2005) was constantly hilarious, and while he made fun of nearly every comic who went on stage, he seemed to have a legitimate affinity for them, as if he considered his fellow comics a  brotherhood. Ray Combs Jr. spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince one woman comic to partake in a Byzantine I’ll-expose-my-testicles-if-you-expose-your-vagina deal that was to commence on stage and to pretty much everyone’s chagrin, he failed.

All of this left me fairly excited to see what comments Combs Jr. would have for my set. But I never got the opportunity. Despite being the first comic at the Wednesday Motel, I was one of the very last to go on stage. The mic was a lottery sign-up. After all the comics were present and accounted for, their names were put in a bowl and the order was drawn. It seemed early on that luck was not on my side.

By the time I went on, Combs Jr. had left for another set and was replaced by an affable, but not as exciting  host. I did my set and kind of bombed. I had clearly picked the wrong set to try some new “clean” material I’d been working on, but was too stubborn to change my jokes once I arrived at the show.   After my set I contemplated leaving, but seeing as there were only 2 or 3 comics yet to go, I decided to stick around.

It was lucky I did.  A Wednesday Motel Mic tradition dictates that at the end of each show, a name is drawn from the sign-up bowl, and that person receives half of the door back; last Wednesday that equaled 40 dollars, hard cash.   I heard the new host tell us this and sat up in anticipation because I had the distinct feeling that fate had kept me at that mic, fate had wanted me to have those 40 dollars.

And I was almost right. Fate actually wanted Gregory Quail to have that money, at least that’s how the random dude who was chosen to draw read the name on the slip of white-lined paper. I rationalized that this was close enough to Gregory Quinn, and that if there were an actual Gregory Quail, he was probably taking a leak in those frightening bathrooms anyway. I raised my hand, said right over here, and made off 40 large like a bandit.   My second paid gig.  

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