On Wednesday I woke up feeling bored and under-employed. A combination of no work and terrible weather was the only gentle prodding I needed to start poking around the Internet for Toronto’s latest comic goings-on. I found blog post written by Aaron Berg, a 10 year stand-up veteran. If you read my previous post, you’ll know what happened next. I berated Aaron for writing what I perceived to be a whiny diatribe about the mediocrity of talent in the world of comedy, Canada in particular. To me, Aaron did not come across as a particularly gifted or original comic and for him to complain about the systemic failures of the industry seemed to be founded more in jealousy than in critical analysis. I called him out.
Hoping that people, including Aaron, would actually see what I wrote, I posted on Twitter and Facebook. Just as I planned, Aaron saw my spiel and this is what happened:
He deleted his first response on Twitter but my phone managed to hang onto it.
This is a knock at my Twitter bio “aspiring comedian and blogkeeper.” He adds:
I take this to be hostile and respond in kind, prepared to engage in a full on “flame war” as it were.
Here’s where it takes an unexpected turn.
We go back and forth a little bit (see the whole exchange on twitter) and I start to think maybe he isn’t interested in a fight or seeing me crash and burn. Maybe he legitimately wants to help me find time on stage. Or is he just trying to lull me into a false sense of security? Either way I’m starting to get antsy.
And that was that. I’m going on. In less than three hours.
The last time I had performed was over two months ago and I had stacked the room with close friends. Now I’m about to perform to a room I’ve never even seen. Suddenly I’m extremely nervous. My heart rate triples. Flipping though my notebook, I cobble together about eight minutes worth of material that I hope isn’t boring and start reciting it over and over again into my phone and playing it back, not sure what to do with what I heard. A vision plays in my head as I rehearse: Aaron crushing my skull with his giant bicep on stage, bone fragments and chunks of brain raining down on a gleeful front row. All of a sudden it’s time to leave. I have a date with destiny and no more time to think.
I arrive at Vapor Central – if you’re not familiar, this is one of Toronto’s more popular weed cafes – and my anxiety peaks despite the marijuana unavoidably (I swear Mom & Dad) wafting into my nostrils. When I tell him I’m performing, the door man points me to the host, Bryan O’Gorman. Bryan nonchalantly acknowledges me and turns away for half a second before snapping back excitedly, “Are you the guy that was dissing Aaron on twitter!?” My reputation had preceded me. He pulls me back to the bar, thrusts me face first towards my nemesis and… Aaron actually turns out to a pretty nice guy.
Boring, right? He was supposed to punch me in the face, then I go on stage with a bloody nose but rise to the occasion and slay the crowd with my wit while inspirational music plays in the background. Nope. Aaron was polite, we shook hands and sorted out our misunderstanding. He explains that what he wrote was meant more as a rallying cry for himself as well as his peers. “We can do better!” That kind of thing. I tell him I agree that Canada is not the ideal place to break into this business. That’s why he’s moving to New York City at the end of the month, to expand his horizons as a performer. He tells me invited me that night because he believes in helping other people out with their careers. Apparently you can accuse a former body builder of writing a “poorly written, infantile lament” and he will make you his opener.
The show begins and Bryan the host hypes up our feud with dramatic zeal, setting the stage for a comedic show down. When my slot comes up, he can’t remember my last name so I’m introduced as “the guy who told Aaron he sucks: Mikey!” I’ve got three minutes so I throw away all my new jokes and perform the material from my last set in front of my friends. The audience at Vapor Central is so stoned, I barely register on their radar. At most my punchlines elicit small outbursts of chuckling, and with all the weed smoke in the air, there’s a solid chance this has nothing to do with me. Aaron goes on after me and kills. His experience shows as he walks the audience through his well rehearsed set. Sure, he was telling a story about being hit on by a big gay black guy, but he was getting laughs as big as anybody else that night. He showed me up.
In the end I realized something very obvious that I already knew. Comedy is subjective. Different crowds like different types of jokes. What I was lashing out at in my last post was that Aaron seemed to be angry at comics playing it safe when he was doing exactly that. A lot of people like jokes about behaving badly while you’re on vacation, but others want to see something a little weirder. I belong in the latter category, but just because I’m not a fan doesn’t mean that a comedian isn’t working hard. And by the same token if you’re not getting laughs in certain clubs doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is necessarily bad. It all comes down to what you want to be as a performer and if you are working your hardest. If you can find an audience, all the power to you. And to all the comedians slogging it on the road telling Charlie Sheen jokes, I guess I respect you, but I don’t have to like you.