I’m often asked two questions: what’s your favorite show; what’s your least favorite show?
While I may not have a “favorite” show, per se, I acknowledged my most memorable one here.
That got me thinking about the polar opposite; which show would I like to forget the most? Well, it’s actually two shows. Though they took place in different states, they are tethered together by reasons that will make sense as you read.
In 2008, I was making my debut appearance at a comedy club; closing out the show in the headlining position. The show was supposed to start at 9pm, but was delayed for thirty minutes. Not because of technical difficulties or anything reasonable; a birthday party of twelve was running exceedingly late and the club was more interested in catering to their needs than they were punctuality or respecting the customers who had arrived on time.
The action set a poor precedent, because upon arriving the birthday party realized the show had been held for them. Even if they didn’t openly understand the power they had, on a subtle level they did grasp how important they were. While this might humble some people, others will use it to their advantage. Especially those, as was the case with said party, who believe the world revolves around their drunken orbit.
Some bars and clubs will cut off intoxicated customers; others will serve, serve away. The birthday party did shots throughout the opening act’s set, and by the time I hit the stage they were slurring words and heckling like nobody’s business.
When I was introduced, “That’s my brother’s name, too!” was yelled up at me as an opening salvo. From there, they were off and running.
If I ignored them, they talked to one another. If I acknowledged them, they shouted incoherent garbage back at me. If I insulted them, they got pouty.
Instead of being witness to a bouncer or club employee kicking them out or telling them to be quiet, I would look over and see them being served even more alcohol.
It was to my stunned anger when, after asking the table to shut up for the thousandth time, I noticed the owner of the club walking into the showroom.
Finally, something was being done.
Or so I thought.
The owner walked right past the table and handed me a note: “Please stop talking to them and move on with your act.”
I couldn’t believe it.
I felt defeated.
I had just taken two flights across the country, rented a car, driven an hour, and discovered I was neither staying in a hotel nor any private place of lodging, but with an employee of the club. Not just any employee of the club, but a seventy-year-old woman. A woman with an analog television and an enormous old-school cable box atop it living in an apartment filled with clutter that would make a hoarder proud. Now I was standing in front of a group of people who never should have been let in the door in the first place (let alone had the show held thirty minutes for their arrival or been served alcohol) and being undermined by the club.
My mind was racing.
More than anything, I wanted to drop the microphone and walk off the stage and out the door. I wanted to apologize to the people who had actually come out to see comedy that night. I wanted to go on an epic rant against the club owner.
Instead, I was silent.
I couldn’t afford to lose the pay, and then foot the bill for a hotel at the same time. I didn’t want the owner spreading bad word-of-mouth about me…
…and I thought of Adam.
A couple weeks earlier, at another club, I was Adam’s opening act. During one show, a table of drunk women heckled a bit, but quieted down when I shot a couple one-liners their way.
After I exited the stage, Adam was introduced. What happened next was unlike anything I’d ever seen. When Adam hit the stage, he was met with a high-pitched cry from one of the drunk women. It wasn’t a random bullshit as had been with me; she took one look at the person walking to the microphone and knew exactly what to scream.
“Bring it on, nigger!” echoed above the welcoming applause the host had called for, and the room went silent.
I’m sure reading that made you uncomfortable.
Which is good. It should.
Now imagine hearing it shouted in a room of 200 people.
Imagine being the African-American man on stage it was shouted at.
It wasn’t said as a challenge, but more a hoot, like the full-blown cheer of someone looking to have a good time.
To say the audience was stunned would be saying too little; there are rare times when you can make two hundred people gasp collectively and hold their breath, but this was one way to do it.
Adam, to his credit, handled the situation with as much grace as possible. He didn’t lose his cool and blow up at her, but he didn’t let it go.
His first response was a measured, “Excuse me?” to which he received the sentence a second time.
Adam asked why she thought it was an appropriate thing to say, or if she was playing or believing she was somehow relating to him. Her response was to bellow the phrase again.
Given that the room was filled with as diverse a cross section of Americana as possible, and that tension filled it from the instant her first racial slur was shouted, anything could have happened.
In the corner, a table of white trash started laughing. They were your standard Confederate-flag-hat/no-sleeves good-old-boys, and they were eating it up. A table of African-Americans started shouting at the woman. Most people started nervous chatter, which soon rose to a din of uncomfortable confusion.
The club, believe it or not, made no move to have the woman removed or quieted. Adam was maintaining a professional stance I found astounding. He neither lost his temper, nor let the good-old-boys nor the woman off lightly. But the room was still spiraling out of control.
In the midst of everything, the manager of the club carried a note to the stage and handed it directly to Adam. He read it, then resumed his attempts to quell the crowd. Eventually the table of women left, and did so to a chant of “Na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, good bye” from the entire audience. Save, of course, for the good-old-boys. They continued to shout random obscenities throughout the rest of the evening, with no action being taken by the club.
Adam worked his contracted time, eventually closed his set, and the audience gave him thunderous applause for his efforts.
After all had ended, as Adam and I stood by our for-sale wares, every person that walked by us issued an apology on behalf of others. They apologized for the woman and her racial slur, for the staff that didn’t intervene, for the good-old-boys… everyone was contrite except those who should have been.
The exiting audience was also curious. Many remembered the note being passed to the stage and asked Adam what it said. They wondered if the police were being contacted, or if he was given insight as to how the drunks and racists were being handled.
He passed on answering, and instead tossed out vague little lies: “It was about something I had asked about earlier,” “Oh, nothing important,” and the like.
When all was said and done and every member of the public had left, I asked what the note really said.
Adam handed me the paper, and what I saw floored me: “Let it go and move on.”
A black man who had just been called the worst racial slur possible, in front of a room full of people and three times no less, a man doing an amazing job of handling the situation in a club that was doing nothing to monitor its customers, well, he was handed a note telling him to “let it go and move on.”
I had never heard of anything less supportive. 2008 suddenly felt a lot like 1950.
To the manager’s credit, somewhat, she eventually admitted to being in the wrong and said she was sorry for the note and much of the situation. Evidently she and the bouncers were unaware of what had happened, assessed the situation incorrectly, and made the decision to intervene inappropriately.
But that didn’t make it right.
An apology follows an accident, and to not have the comedian’s back showed an incredible lack of tact. I couldn’t believe she had taken the note up there in the first place and was angry on his behalf.
So when I was handed a similar note, I thought of Adam.
I thought of his grace and poise on stage when handling a situation much more difficult than mine, and went on with my show.
Unlike the time I was witness to Adam being blamed for club failure, I was given no apology for the rude behavior or lack of support. I was, in fact, told, “The other tables complained and I had to give out comp tickets because of that group.”
This was somehow my fault.
The final straw on my irritated back came from the doorman, who after the show shook his head in resigned confidence and said: “Those people, I tell you, they came in a couple weeks ago and did the exact same thing.”
Of course they did.
The club Adam was berated at has gone out of business.
The one I was at carries on, catering to drunks.
C’est la vie.
Portions of this story were taken from I Was a White Knight… Once