Like pink flamingoes belong on the front lawn, I belong in the basement. A basement, it seems, is the only place in which I am fit to perform.
It’s nice actually, such an accurate physical manifestation of my stature in the comedy world. It couldn’t be any less subtle if I performed all my shows on the bottom rung of a ladder.
There were the countless mics at basement comedy clubs like The Comedy Corner or East Ville Comedy, the Wednesday motel mics in the basement of the Village Lantern, the mic at the Tangine actually called My Grandmother’s Basement, all of which gave me the impression that the road to top is paved with leaky faucets and menacing furnaces.
At least Ochi’s Lounge, the
club underneath Comix - pretty much the big papa of New York Comedy Clubs – is lovely, easily nicer and hipper and hotter-bartendered then any number of above-ground comedy clubs. I’ve performed here twice, both times as part of the I’ve Got Munchies variety show, which has got to be among the most interesting shows in Chelsea . New York
Why so interesting? Well - first you have the Munchie’s-produced comedy videos which elicit reactions ranging from silent bewilderment to roaring laughter. Then there are the performers, everything from desperate stand-ups (that would be me) to affable storytellers; from naturally-funny magicians to twin-brother comedy duos in matching suits. There was one man from my first show whose entire act was shoving whole meals into his mouth and then speaking as clearly as he could. The crowd loved him.
The producers of the show are also not what you expect from someone booking an important room on a Saturday night. They are the wonderfully irrepressible Jenn Dodd and Sharon Jamilkowski, two ladies who seem incapable of displaying emotions other than jubilation. When Jenn thanked me for doing her show, a show where she gave me a drink ticket and which I didn’t have to pay to do, I was flabbergasted. I’ve reached a point where I feel indebted to anyone who doesn’t out-and-out screw me over.
There’s also the name, I’ve Got Munchies. This is clearly intended to conjure up images of marijuana-induced snack-food binges (of which, mother, I know nothing about) but in truth refers to the group’s ultimate goal to combine comedy routines with easy to follow dinner recipes. Go figure.
Since I’ve moved to
last year, one of the better lessons I’ve learned is that a spectacular failure, something crazy and embarrassing and altogether unforgettable, is preferable to a moderate, garden-variety success. Everyone remembers that diminutive Asian man who became an instant celebrity “butchering” Ricky Martin and no one in the world has any idea who the hell Taylor Hicks is. (Indeed, I had to Google American Idol winners for this reference.) New York City
In this vein, the I’ve Got Munchies’ variety show seems leagues ahead of other Big Apple shows even when acts or videos (or some of my jokes) fail. Even when jokes bomb, I found myself thinking: finally, something different.
Adding to the overall oddball experience, last Saturday night I unexpectedly opened for Jim Gaffigan, one of the most successful and recognizable stand-ups in the country. Undoubtedly the
of my comedy career and it all took place in a basement. high point
I’ve heard of superstar comics doing drop-ins before. Grizzled, open mic veterans are awash with accounts of the times Myc Kaplan or Bill Burr popped in to do some time right after their own set. These comedians always come off desperate, like when a middle-aged guy can’t get over the time his cover band opened for the remains of Lynyrd Skynyrd. But when it happened to me I suddenly understood. To so many comics who never flirt with greatness, to so many comics, like myself, who truly believe that they have inside them the capacity for greatness but will most certainly never attain it, simply sharing the stage with someone who has made it can be a life-defining event. If in 20 years I look back to the night I worked the same crowd with Jim Gaffigan as my crowning comic achievement, I will be supremely disappointed. But it’s better to have that then nothing.
He did not see my set, unfortunately. I was pretty good.
He came after I went on stage and he left after his own set. I fantasized about him seeing me in action, about hearing the laughter, about noticing the two applause breaks I received, and then rushing to phone his agent. Art, you gotta get down here, this guy is killing! And just like that I am whisked away into a world of stand-up royalty where Last Comic Standing has to beg me to audition. But that was not to be, of course. I settled on sharing 22-dollar shots of whisky with Scoots.
I don’t begrudge Jim Gaffigan for showing and then blowing, for the ease in which he arrives at any show he pleases and gets on stage. I am jealous but not bitter. That’s just what becomes of the big boys and he certainly worked hard to be there. Sure, it’s funny that to him this is a bush-league show good for testing unproven material and for me it is marquee, a time to roll out my red-carpet goods, but it’s not unexpected. Comix, remember, is upstairs.
And besides, it’s a win-win for everyone. Jimmy G. gets to try new stuff to a receptive, human audience, I’ve Got Munchies gets to forever advertise that they’ve booked the likes of Jim Gaffigan, and I get to forever regal my friends with the tale of the time I opened for a legend.
Maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet him on the first-floor one day.