One of the great things of this Job is how many strange evenings come your way. Not many have been stranger than the one described below:
Osoyoos, January 2013
I was pleased to see I’d be returning to Osoyoos. It’s a beautiful town. Nestled on the American border in the South Okanagan, it’s a sleepy town with mystic, cosmic energy. It’s the first, and only, place where I’ve seen a Transcendental Dreaming Billboard on the side of the highway. It’s always interesting in Osoyoos, but I wasn’t prepared for just how interesting it was to become.
The Venue was a lively Pub on the Lake. I’d played it before. In fact, when I came in in the afternoon to tell them I was in town, I was greeted by the bartender from the last show. He remembered me well, and had a laugh, as the Heckler from my last show was there, and was back for more.
Time erodes memories, but I remembered this Heckler well. The show was going fine enough, but not fine for our fair, older, drunken heckler. He decided to say loudly, in no uncertain terms, what he thought of both me and the show I was putting on. Little did he know this was exactly the kind of opportunity I was looking for.
I preceded to go up one side of him, down another, and doubled-back for good measure. I showed the kind of mercy that one develops for old drunks after years and years of bar shows – none.
Now, people will pretend they’re all good hearted and loving, but I will tell you this with %100 certainty – people LOVE when the Comic destroys a Heckler. LOVE IT. Crowds love to hear one of their own get hammered, especially when they’re a little too drunk to defend themselves. It was a mauling, and to my surprise, he would be back for more for THIS show. I noted the fact, and went to my Hotel room to prepare for an evenings battle.
When I came back for showtime, I was relieved to see the Heckler was gone. There was to be no re-match. I was pleased to see a normal crowd fill in, and expected to enjoy a fun night or relatively normal Bar Comedy. I was supremely incorrect in my prediction.
The show went downhill quickly. Within 10 seconds of being onstage, a man, somewhere in his 50’s, perhaps drunken, somewhat in distress, walks up to me and slumps on the front of the stage. I hadn’t even finished my first joke. Nobody from the venue came to get him. Nobody seemed alarmed. Is this normal? All I knew was that, judging by the non-reaction of everybody who worked there, I was on my own to deal with this.
It was an on-and-off process that played out over 15 or so minutes, but it went like this: He starts by putting a penny at my foot. Then, a crucifix. What the hell is going on? You want me to strip? I’ll need more than pennies. Anybody want to be exorcised? I do what I can to get some laughs going, but the show had just started, and it’s already quite weird.
He walks away. I try to re-start things, but a couple minutes later, he returns. He puts more pennies at my feet. And safety pins. And a washer. Nobody is coming to help me. Next, a dream catcher. Considering how the show is going, I ask if it’s a nightmare catcher, because if it is, it’s working. I’m doing all I can to turn this back into a normal show, but things are far too strange now. Why is no one getting this guy out of here? He walks away. I continue attempting to right the show.
He returns yet again. For the first time, I hear people say ‘Vince, that’s enough’, But, nobody is stopping Vince – he’s my problem now. Now he takes off his sweater. You’re stripping? Good thing I have these pennies. Next, he removes his necklace, which has a sac connected to it, and hands it to me. Is it drugs? You want to smoke it? Let’s do it, this show can’t get any weirder. I get the first good laugh of my set with that. Perhaps I’ll get this show on-track yet.
Finally, he speaks. It’s what? What? It’s not drugs, it’s your brother’s ashes?! He died 2 weeks ago!? I see. The laughter turned into the sound of 100 people feeling incredibly awkward. I remind him of my offer to smoke it. People laugh, which is universally viewed an encouragement to continue with the idea. I hear dead-guy is a good high, let’s party! That cuts the tension in the room and gets everybody chuckling again, but it also crossed the line with Vince. He’s mad. He lunges at me. Am I getting attacked?
Now, I’m not a violent man, but one thing I’ve vowed is if I’m ever in danger onstage, I’ll beat the living hell out of whoever attacks me. I’m a big man. Between my size, the adrenalin of being both onstage and under physical attack, I’m %100 certain I will not be taken down. When I played hockey, I was tough as nails, and it’s that mentality I’ve taken to stage. Ridiculously enough, it’s helped me tremendously – not backing down to people has gotten me out of every bad situation I’ve found myself in onstage.
The Golden Rule, though, is to strike second. Never strike first. If you strike second, you then have complete validation to beat down your attacker. Strange that this logic is required for Joke telling. So as he lunges, I am completely ready to bar-brawl. Who knew Comedy would come to this? But he doesn’t want to hit me. He wants to the microphone.
Now I’ve learned one of the worst things you can do is give the microphone to anybody. Just don’t do this. It’s like a cop giving a suspect his gun. All the power is gone. So, I floated like a butterfly, eluding his grasps, after stinging like a bee with my request to smoke some relative. The Show had degenerated into a Benny Hill skit.
Thankfully, this ruckus is enough for the manager on duty to come onstage and help out. I was relieved. As the manager grabs Vince, he shakes free, and heart-wrenchingly screams, “My Brother!!! My Brother!!!!”.
It became instantly clear to me that this was a man in severe distress, and offering to smoke his brothers ashes, either with him or alone in my Hotel afterwards, is no longer the right thing to do. I go silent and let Vince have his moment, as at this point, I am no longer a Comic – I am a man watching another man dealing with extreme agony. Plus, I have no idea what to say anymore. It’s officially too weird.
He screams for his departed brother a few more times, then, graciously, is taken out by the manager. Vince is gone. And like that, all eyes are back on me. It’s back to showtime.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to turn a situation like that back into Comedy, but I did the best I could. I asked the crowd who he was. Turns out Vince is the one and only homeless guy in town, and he lives in the parkade under the Venue. There’s even t-shirts in town featuring his image. He’s something like the Town Mascot. And yes, that really was his brothers ashes in that sac. I’d never been more relieved to not check the contents of something given to me.
After 30 additional minutes of weird Comedy in a loud bar that simply can’t go back to being a normal evening, the show ends. I head directly to the bar to grab a much-earned post-show drink. As I do, people come talk to me, and are generally happy and entertained. It’s not every day you see a weird show like that, and everybody seemed to appreciate how it was handled.
But one woman was livid with me. As she and her Husband walk by me, I can see the tension in them. She looks at me with daggers in her eyes, and approaches. Her Husband shakes his head. He can’t stop her. She stands directly in front of me and pauses, staring angrily at me. Unfortunately I cannot take advantage of the strike-second rule of thumb here – she’s a 60 year old woman, I’ll have to deal with this another way. And, after the show I just had, I only had the energy to listen. I look into her eyes and silently offer her the chance to make her statement. What the hell do you want?
She inhales deeply and says ‘Why don’t you use your brain when you speak?”. She’s trembling with emotion, the most prevalent of which is certainly anger. “How could you say things like that?”. She spits her words like bullets intended to rip my sense of well-being. “Pretend your Grandmother is in the audience next time you feel like speaking like that”.
I had no idea what things she was specifically talking about. Was it the offer of smoking Vince’s brother that set her off? Was it the War Veterans joke, the one that dumb people always take out of context, which is the precise reason I tell the joke the way I do? Furthermore, how does she know what kind of Comedy or language my Grandma may or may not have liked? My curiosity was piqued.
I say no words though. I just stare back at her. My eyes did the speaking for me – “Go ahead, say everything you have to say to me. Let it out”. She stammers, realizing she has not bothered me anywhere near as much as I apparently bothered her. She repeats her initial query of wondering how I could say the things that I do, shakes her head, and walks away. I sip my drink, shrug my shoulders, turn back to the bartender who heard every word of the exchange, and share a bewildered laugh.
And that was the Evening, minus some non-confrontational conversations with normal people. Thanks for being a fun group. It never ceases to surprise me at just how bizarrely a show can go. I think of a favourite line, from a favorite song by the Foo Fighters – “DONE, DONE, ON TO THE NEXT ONE!” Thanks, Dave Grohl, for showing the way.