I did a show for five people last night. Thankfully they were a good little group and everybody had fun. One of my biggest laughs came from a practiced ad lib. It’s a line I came up with on stage one night and I break it out whenever the situation merits. I was surprised when my prepared joke, “I saw this guy on the side of the road with a sign that said ‘will work for food’ so I gave him a coconut,” got such a good response. So I said, “Sometimes that one gets nothing. You people are good. Per capita, best audience ever.”
Inevitably after a show like last night somebody makes the observation that it must be tough doing comedy for such a small audience. I like to tell people that I like a challenge (another practiced ad lib). Although last night’s show was more of an exercise in being silly than anything else (five people and the show goes on…really?), I do love a challenge. There is a element of danger in doing stand-up that makes getting laughs such a thrill. Generally the more of a challenge, the bigger the thrill. The most thrilling challenge of my career came back in 2009 when I brought my show to the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground for the 2009 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. There was plenty of people to witness my potential failure on stage at that world famous venue and there were many who expected I would.
Below is another excerpt from my mini-memoir about doing comedy at the 2009 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. From The Big Risk by Dwight York. Copyright 2009 all rights reserved.
Soon after that lonely set on the Sam Kinison Stage, I finally found an audience; though they hadn’t gathered to listen to me. I was scheduled to do a twenty minute set before the start of a bikini contest on the Bikini Beach Stage. The contest was being sponsored by the Hedonism all-inclusive (but clothing optional) resorts in Jamaica. Hosting it were the resort’s two entertainment directors and by the time I arrived, they had already taken the stage. Apparently these experienced showmen had their own idea of how to best ready the crowd for a bikini competition. With Reggae music blasting and several couples on stage competing in an audience participation contest (most sexual positions mimed in ten seconds), the charismatic hosts had the crowd whipped into a frenzy. As the game ended and the couples left the stage, one of the hosts asked the audience if they were ready to meet “the beautiful and sexy contestants of the bikini contest.” The crowd went wild. Then the stage manager walked up to the host and said something in his ear. “Our lovely ladies will be out soon,” he was forced to announced, “But first we have a comedian.” All together, the entire crowd groaned. The loudest gasp came from me.
Though the bikini contest interruption was the most awkward introduction of my career, the one I was given later that night for my big debut on the main-stage was arguably worse. At least the guy from Jamaica had made it clear that I was a comedian. I’m guessing that the main-stage emcee didn’t feel it necessary to hype me much. He probably figured he wouldn’t know me long. Hank Rotten Jr. had hosted the main-stage festivities at The Buffalo Chip for the last twenty-two years and though he’d seen a lot of entertainers come and go, he had yet to see a comedian return. His introduction for me was simple. In his Southern Missouri Hillbilly drawl he told the crowd, “We have a surprise. A comedian. Dwight York.” Hank ran these words together so quickly that I could barely make out what he said. And I was sober.
I had a few decent crowds in the days ahead, but mostly it was comedy hell. Though I was fully aware that trying to do comedy on the secondary stages would be challenging, I’d assumed there’d always be people partying and hanging around. That was another mis-assumption. In the late afternoons and early evenings; most folks were relaxing back at their campers or out motorcycling around. It wasn’t until the main-stage activities began that the crowds began to build. That limited my audience to those gathered to watch the daily contests; the bikini competition being the classier of the two. My new friend Hank Rotten Jr. had graciously invited me to go up after the contest he hosted every afternoon. It was called “Pickle Licking” and you can guess the rules. This didn’t attract the most sophisticated of crowds; nor the classiest of competitors. I watched in fascination – on two separate occasions – as one of the contestants made a great show of first removing her teeth. That’s a tough act to follow.
This August 5-13, I will be returning to the Buffalo Chip where I will be headlining the Buffalo Chip Comedy Club (indoors and air conditioned). It’s the best comedy club anywhere because it’s at “the best party anywhere.”