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Sometimes I’m Funniest When I Don’t Try to Be

Recently I did a comedy show at a multi-plex movie theater, Grand Cinema Hinckley (July 1). Hinckley is a small town in Minnesota about an hour north of the Twin Cities. Once every month, for the late showing, instead of a movie, one of their theaters (they have eight) is home to a live comedy show. A microphone is set up in front of the big screen and the audience sits in comfort as they would when enjoying a film. They also set up a beverage cart so a beer or wine cooler can also be enjoyed.

On account of the weather, crowd size was less than expected. Severe thunderstorms had struck earlier that evening. Many in the surrounding areas lost power. Trees were down. Roads were closed. Structures were damaged. I had a perilous drive through torrential rain and extreme winds on my way up. Additional watches for another band of storms had been issued.

Although my white-knuckled drive took longer than expected, I made it to Hinckley safe and sound. We delayed the start-time thirty minutes to allow people who’d purchased tickets to arrive but eventually realized there were going to be no-shows. The opening act did his thirty minute set, there was an intermission, then I took the stage. Although it felt a bit odd to be doing stand-up comedy in a movie theater, I got laughs from the get-go and settled in to my joke slinging rhythm.

Then about thirty minutes into my set, there was a distraction. In the moments of silence between me talking and the audience laughing, I heard a soft continuous high-pitched whine which I could only assume was a tornado warning siren. I’ve been doing comedy for twenty-two years but have never before been faced with this situation. What do I do? Keep going until someone tells me to stop? I made a snap decision. I had the microphone. That made me the leader in charge. So I stopped joking, got serious and suggested we take cover.

Nobody from the crowd moved. Or said a word. I waited. I had done my part and assumed somebody from management would break in with an official announcement. Certainly they must have a microphone too. After a long moment of silence, I concluded that the crowd felt safe enough, management didn’t care and everybody wanted me to continue. So I explained that I was certainly willing to start telling jokes again, but that — at the very least — I had to address the situation. Right? Suddenly I felt defensive for being such a pussy.

Still nobody from the audience said anything. I could read their puzzled faces. Is this part of the show? What’s he talking about? Maybe, I thought, from were they were sitting, they couldn’t hear what I did. So I asked the crowd if they heard the siren? Finally, after an awkward pause, the young lady selling beverages said, in a voice just loud enough for everyone to hear, “It’s a vacuum cleaner.” After another awkward pause, I responded with my biggest laugh getting line of the night, “Oh.”

Sometimes I am funniest when I don’t try to be.

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