Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Rehoboth Beach Bound

Woo hoo! The comedy gods (goddesses? demons?) must be smiling upon me this week. It turns out I had exactly two vacation days remaining in 2005, which I'll now be using to perform at the Blue Moon in Rehoboth Beach on Aug. 17.

This, after a surprisingly good set at Therapy Sunday night. Scott Nevins, Therapy's venerable (and venereal) M.C., had warned me not to expect much from the large crowd of drunk queens. True to his warning, there was loud talking throughout my entire (about 8-minute) set.

But even louder than the talking was actual LAUGHTER! They liked me -- they really liked me. As promised on this blog, I did virtually all new material, most of it specific to Therapy. And Goddammit, it worked! Another important lesson learned: know your venue, play to your venue.

Scott was extremely sweet and supportive, and afterwards he actually booked me to be a guest on his high-profile weekly show, "Scott Nevins Presents," which I'll be doing June 20.

I continue to find all of this very surreal: On this date two years ago, I had never done standup. On this date one year ago, I was begging my friends and family to come see me perform so I'd have enough audience members to do a bringer spot. Now it's a year later and some guy in Rehoboth Beach who's never even seen my tape is paying me good money to perform at his club. I wonder what the next step is in this wild ride. (Or perhaps this is it for a long, long haul...)

In any case, the words "grateful" and "humbled" do not do justice to how I feel about these recent developments. Two years ago I told my therapist that if I never made a dollar as a performer -- that if I waited tables the rest of my life and performed for free in front of crowds of five people -- I would be happier than in all the years I had worked as a TV news producer.

And he looked at me and he said -- and I'll never forget this -- he said, "Adam... I'm sorry our time is up."

I JOS KEEDING! No, he was very supportive.

So anyway, my summer's shaping up to be quite a whiz-bang indeed:
June 20: "Scott Nevins Presents" at Therapy
June 23-26: Open for Hal Sparks at Carolines
July 5: The Palace in Cherry Grove (Fire Island)
Aug. 17: The Blue Moon in Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Time to start writing material again...

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Now What?

So maybe I didn't do so badly in Mexico after all. The Atlantis booker recommended me to a club booker in Rehoboth Beach, Del., who now wants to book me for a Wednesday show this summer. (Either that, or I DID do that badly, and the Atlantis booker wants to screw over the Rehoboth booker.)

Anyway, the Rehoboth gig would be REALLY good money, to say nothing of the experience. Here's the problem: My day job makes it prohibitive for me to take any more out-of-town weeknight bookings. I get two weeks off a year, and one week is already dedicated to a family vacation in August for my dad's 70th birthday. Of the remaining week, I used half of it in Mexico and will use the other half for a Fire Island gig the week of July 4th.

(And for those who don't know the geography, Rehoboth is virtually impossible to get to from NYC without a car. It's more than 200 miles away, and there are no direct trains or planes.)

It's a catch-22: I can't quit my job, or I'll lose steady income and, more importantly, health, vision, and dental benefits. But as long as I have a steady job, I can't take more than a once-in-a-blue-moon out-of-town booking. So I have to turn these bookings down, after working for two years to get to this level.

To complicate matters, I actually LIKE my day job.

What's a boy to do?

In other news, I took two of my nephews and a niece to see "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" on Broadway last night. I hate to pan ANY Broadway show, but boy, was it dull.

The flying car is cool, and everything, but you only get to see it for a total of 10 minutes. And there are two little kids in it who are so sugary-sweet that my nephews, ages 10 and 12, were horrified.

Speaking of sugary-sweet, I took them all to Ben & Jerry's on West 43rd Street afterwards, and got the most delicious ice cream I've ever tasted: It's called Appley Ever After, and it's part of their new "Mood Magic" series. Imagine this: brown sugar ice cream with a ginger-caramel swirl and real apple chunks; holy crap. (Eat your heart out, Mark Anundson.)

I'm heading off to Therapy in about an hour. The bar, that is, not the process. (That I do on Wednesday afternoons.) Therapy is celebrating its 2-year anniversary and I'm part of the "entertainment." My bitter Mexico experience still fresh, I'm planning to go off script and do almost all site-specific material.

Or maybe I'll just sing "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

Saturday, May 7, 2005

Bombs Away in Margaritaville

Or: A New York Comic Finds He's Too Hip for the Room

I spent the entire duration of the four-hour flight, reading Joan Rivers's first memoir, "Enter Talking." It is -- no joke -- fascinating. The book begins thusly:

You want to hear stupid? Major stupid? Stand-up comic. You walk onto a bare stage absolutely alone, no comfort, no help, no script or actors to support you, no lyrics and music to give you life -- just yourself saying your own words out of your own head, telling each person, on e on one, the weirdest corners of your psyche. And everybody is judging your personality, judging whether you are worth their money, whether you make them happy. When they do not laugh, that silence is a rejection of you personally, only you.


Joan's story enthralled me. For seven years, until that first life-changing appearance on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" in 1965, she toiled the trenches of comedy. From sleazy strip joints to tacky Catskills resorts to Greenwich Village coffeehouses where she opened for then-unknown singers such as Carly Simon and Cass Elliot, Joan worked like a dog. At every turn she was told by agents, managers, audiences, club owners and her own parents that she had no talent.

I inhaled every word. I underlined key phrases: "When you begin losing an audience, do not get loud; get quiet, make them find you and come back to you." I wanted, in those four hours, to absorb all of Joan's wisdom and life lessons and apply them to my Mexico performance.

The first person I met at the resort was Glenn, the talent booker. Glenn and I had corresponded by email for close to two years, and he had watched my stand-up on videotape. But I had never met him in person; never seen a photo of him; never spoken to him on the telephone.

And yet, the first words out of my mouth when this rather pleasant looking man, about 6'4', approached me were: "Wow, you're much taller than I expected."


Glenn understandably looked baffled. "Really," he said. "Why?"

I reached down into the deepest reaches of my linguistic brain and said the only words I could find: "I don't know. I don't know why I just said that."

The dye was cast.

The resort itself reminded me of nothing so much as the Joseph Morse Geriatric Center in West Palm Beach, Fla, where my grandmother spent the last 10 years of her life. A main lobby and sitting room gave way to an outdoor patio, which was built around a small gurgling fountain. Beyond that were the guest units -- two-story stucco buildings painted in various pale pastels. Further still was the pool, a grass-roof cantina and, finally, the beach.

As for the guests themselves, they were mostly standard issue gay resort fare: single men, many of a certain age, dressed in skimpy outfits (or less), cocktails in hand, huddled in groups of six or eight or 20. A constant barrage of chatter filled the air like so many squawking birds. Esoteric references abounded: to fashion, music, theater, film, classic television sitcoms ("Designing Women" and "The Golden Girls" were among the most frequently cited), Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Bette Midler and Whitney Houston. Iconic references aside, the air was thick with sexual innuendi of every kind, stripe, flavor, color and, more often, off-color.

Being one of the youngest people there, I received a fair amount of attention from the guests. When they discovered that I was not a guest myself but rather a comic sent to entertain them, some of them became rabidly demanding: "Make me laugh! Say something funny! Take off your shirt!"

The resort does not discourage such interaction between its paying guests and the hired help. Rather, I was encouraged to socialize and attend group activities, most of which involved some combination of eating, drinking and dancing.

By day two I was exhausted. I felt tremendous pressure -- not because of my impending performance, but from feeling like I always had to be "on." Any chance I got to be alone I spent silently going through my material -- mentally tweaking it to what I hoped was comic perfection.

The morning of my performance, I went for my sound check at the theater. I had planned a rather complicated opening bit that involved recorded music and a costume change. The bit went as follows: I am introduced offstage. La Cucaracha begins playing over the loudspeaker, and I make my entrance wearing an oversized sombrero and fringed blouse. "Hola amigos!," I shout in an exaggerated Mexican accent. "Cómo están Uds? Acabo de voler de los Estados Unidos, y ay, Diós mío que cansados estan mis brazos!" (Translation: I just flew in from the United States, and boy, are my arms tired!" )

Then I stop suddenly, and in English I say, "Wait a second. You guys don't look like the Mexican Society of Evangelical Christians. Did I get my dates confused? Is this the gay show? Hold on, stop the music. Let's start over again."

I leave the stage, and now a throbbing disco song replaces La Cucaracha. I reappear onstage hatless, shirtless, and proceed to flounce about like a terribly spastic Chippendales dancer.

The joke, for anyone who doesn't get it, is on myself: So desperate am I to be liked that I will pander to what I perceive to be the lowest common denominator of my audience, whether they be Mexican, gay, or otherwise.

Watching me practice this routine was Shan Carr, a lesbian comic who has been entertaining audiences at gay resorts for 20 years and who would be opening for me that night. Her reaction was enthusiastic; the crowd would love it.

I returned to my room for what I hoped would be a long, refreshing nap. But the temperature was a profoundly humid 87 degrees, and due to frequent power outages, the air conditioner in my room was essentially useless. I took off my clothes, lay down on top of my sheets, and stayed as still as I could. Sweat trickled from my forehead and slowly traveled down my face before finally resting in the valley of my neck.

I gave up and went to the pool to practice my material.

I have been doing stand-up for about two years. My material is based primarily on my own life experiences. I tell stories about growing up gay and Jewish -- about coming out to my parents -- about working as a producer for Fox News Channel -- about giving up my career to pursue my comedy dreams -- about my breakup with my boyfriend of four years -- and about the foibles of living in the gay, urban subculture.

For my Cancún set, I decided to focus on the latter. What better audience for such material, I thought, than the very people immersed in that subculture? To my way of thinking, I would be doing Borscht Belt material in the Catskills. It couldn't fail.

The opening went even better than even Shan had predicted. The moment I retook that stage shirtless, the 200-strong crowd went wild. I actually waited an extra 30 seconds before speaking, soaking in the adoration.

"Now I'm going to put my shirt on," I said.

"Booo!," went the crowd. I had anticipated this.

"No, come on," I said, dressing myself, "I know what will happen if I keep my shirt off. You guys will listen to my comedy for about five minutes, and then one of you will lean over to his friend and say, 'That guy should really work on his shoulders.'"

"Ha ha ha!," went the crowd. So far so good.

My first 10 minutes followed suit. I trashed Fox News. I told my coming out story. I told them my mother was like the Jewish version of Martha Stewart -- but without the warmth.

They ate it up. And I, stupidly, foolishly, forgetting all of Joan's advice, said to myself, "I got 'em. It's smooth sailing from this point on."

It wasn't. I launched into my bit about breaking up with my boyfriend, which involves a long screed about the perils of Fire Island. "Fire Island, in case any of you have never been there, is a magical place where gay relationships go to die." A few muffled twitters. "Unless of course you're a lesbian, in which case it's where gay relationships go to garden." Even fewer twitters. "A Fire Island share after several days begins to resemble a crackhouse. With actual crack in it!" Somewhere in the distance, a cricket chirped.

The worst part of the performance was, I couldn't see a single audience member. Whereas a bright spotlight followed my every move, the house was completely black. I had no faces to play off -- no visible reactions to tell me when I was headed off a cliff. And as in my room, the heat was oppressive. "Wow," I said, mopping my face for the hundredth time, "I'm sweating so much I feel like a drag queen at a Nascar race." Big laughs. "Seriously, I feel like Meat Loaf in concert." Silence. And so it went.

To be sure, there was laughter throughout. But it was few and far between. By the time I saw the winking flashlight indicating my time was up, I felt something like despair. Panicked, I heard myself launching into my 1010 WINS bit, which is based on that radio station's coverage of the Blackout of 2003.

The 1010 WINS bit, in which I do a near-perfect John Mantone impersonation, is comedic duct tape for me; it fixes everything. No matter how badly a set has gone, I know I can always pull it out at the end and leave on a high note. And here I was, desperate, hoping it would turn the trick once again.

Ten words in, the awful truth hit me: I am not in New York City. I am in Mexico, in a sweltering theater, performing a routine that is not only specifically but essentially New York City in both substance and style -- in front of 200 men, the vast majority of whom do not live in New York City and have no idea what 1010 WINS is and did not experience any blackout in 2003.

"Uh, well," I stammered midway through the story, "I'm sure you guys have all-new stations in whatever cities you live in, so you can imagine." The lone cricket was silent.

Miraculously, they roared at the punchline; it's that good a bit; even they got it. "My name is Adam Sank," I bellowed over the applause, "and you've been great. Thank you." And I grabbed my sweat-soaked towel and hightailed it offstage.

Tall Glenn found me sitting on the stone steps leading out of the back door to the theater. I was talking with Kris Andersson, who performs in drag as Dixie Longate, Tupperware saleswoman, and who would be going onstage later that night.

"So how'd that feel?" Glenn asked me.

I told him it felt OK. I told him I thought maybe I had chosen the wrong material -- that maybe it was too local for a non-New York crowd.

"Yes," he smiled and nodded vigorously. "They liked you, and they wanted to like you. But they just didn't get a lot of it. The whole thing about Fire Island shares -- that's something none of those guys have ever done."

"Actually," said Kris, who lives in Los Angeles, "when I hear 'Fire Island,' I just think about all those people who died of AIDS in the 80s. You know, like in those movies."

Hilarious, indeed.

Shan was even more blunt in her assessment. Spotting me later at the grass hut cantina, she said, "You need to get out of New York once in a while."

The rest of my stay was uneventful. The general consensus was that I was "appealing" but "too New York." (It was later pointed out to me that the latter phrase is sometimes used to mean, "too Jewish." Perhaps; I did do a whole Bar Mitzvah bit.)

A number of people told me they enjoyed my performance. One of the resort staffers came up to me and said, "Thank you for making us think about ourselves."

But my favorite moment came the last night, at dinner. I was sitting with a group of guys with whom I had become familiar. Two people I didn't know joined our table, and began talking about how much they enjoyed Dixie Longate's performance. "Well, I'll tell you this," I chimed in, certain that they recognized me, "she was a helluva lot better than that guy who went on before. He was horrible!"

"Totally," agreed one of the guys.

"I would say 'bitter,'" amended the other.