I finally caught a comedy show in Redding, CA. It is something I’d been meaning to do for a while, but just hadn’t made happen until Sunday night. What a crazy, eye-opening experience.
When a memory of the show flashes across my mind, I immediately start to shake my head and whisper angry insults under my breath until I can pull it back together with some deep breathing. I don’t know what I really expected from a show by a comic I’d never heard of at a restaurant/brewery, but I’m disappointed in Redding for being a such a shitty audience and at the comic for letting the crowd walk all over him. He seemed to have zero control, and couldn’t shut them up with laughs.
I’m no comedy expert and I’m also deathly afraid of speaking in front of large groups, so there’s no way I could have done better. I would have been a thousand times worse. Anxiety immediately bubbles up when I even think about trying to do that myself. I’ve never done stand-up, but I love funny people, have big respect for the craft, and appreciate what it takes to go up on stage and make people laugh. I’m also really fascinated by and respect people who hit the road and bring joy and laughter to people in cities across the country. Sunday night I learned that you need a minimum of two things for a successful comedy show: a genuinely funny comic, and an audience who actually wants to laugh.
I saw Seinfeld with Tom Papa many years ago in Redding; Marc Maron with Jen Kirkman in San Francisco five or six years ago; and a live Harmontown podcast in LA last year. All of those shows were undeniably hilarious. I’ve watched a lot of comedy specials and sets online. I knew a local show at brewery restaurant in Redding probably wouldn’t be great, but morbid curiosity drew me out of the house on Sunday night. I wanted to find out how a road comic would really do playing here. Who comes to Redding to do comedy anyway?
Finding out was a painful experience. The comic did over an hour and had some pretty funny crowd work and jokes that made me laugh. I laughed quite a bit, but the painful part was that he had almost no control of the crowd and had a tough time keeping things rolling throughout the show—especially during the last half-hour which was constantly interrupted by characters who emerged from the crowd like “Drunk Jesus,” “Cranberry Sauce Guy,” and a lady dubbed “Saddle Up” by the comic. It was pure, unmitigated chaos.
I don’t understand people who pay to go out to a meal and a comedy show, then sit there with their arms crossed and a sour-puss look on their face. I could sit at home on the couch and be unamused. Did you come here laugh and have a good time? If not, why don’t you GO HOME?
The most horrific part of the show was the out of control chiming in from the many characters I mentioned above and a few others. My take-away: If you rely too-much on riffing with crowd work and don’t have the material or improvisational skills to seriously back it up with big, consistent laughs, you. are. royally. fucked. I’ve seen comics expertly shut down hecklers and chimers-in and it is a sight to behold. Usually it happens with a hilarious, rage-filled rant, or a few sharp and witty retorts, followed by an, “OK, why don’t you shut the fuck up.” The bottom line is that they must get big laughs after a hard-core shut down. Unfortunately, this poor dude didn’t have the chops to do that.
I don’t know what was up with the audience, but it was seriously disturbing and disappointing. I’m really glad I went though because it made me realize that I want to live somewhere that really appreciates live comedy and has a shit-ton of it.
I’m going to go back and see the next show at the same venue in December with a different comic to continue the experiment. I’m actually really glad that someone is trying to bring comedy to Redding on a regular basis. I’ll keep you posted.