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Rob P.

All 50 States Day 36: Oklahoma!

OK welcome center

All 50 States Day 36:

Oklahoma!

I had been through Oklahoma several times on cross country trips, since the route from my mom’s place near Fort Worth to my Grandma’s place in northwest Arkansas would take me through the eastern section of the Sooner State. I also performed there early in my comedy career, playing a show at Oklahoma State when I was still based in Chicago, which would mean it was in 1995 or ’96.

For one of my shows at Oklahoma State (I believe I performed there twice) I was told after the show that they had had Adam Sandler perform there the year prior and liked my show better. It was a point of pride at the time because Sandler was on SNL and getting all kinds of attention, and since I played guitar in my act I kept getting compared to him. They also said his show cost them $25K, and I think I made $800 for mine so maybe they just felt my show was more economical.

Other shows in the state have been at smaller schools like Cameron University in Lawton, and Phillips College in Enid, (which is no longer there) and I played one other big university—Tulsa—back in 2008.

On one of my early cross country trips I even got an alternator belt somewhere around Eufala when I was driving to my grandma’s house. The belt broke while driving and the battery was soon going to die, and I was lucky enough to find a service station with an available mechanic on a Sunday! Oklahoma, you really are OK!

  • OK state line, on my to a show at Cameron University, 2002
  • Rainbow near Tulsa, 1990
  • Hwy 69 sign, pic taken for purely juvenile reasons, 1990
US Map with Oklahoma highlighted

All 50 States Day 35: Ohio!

Highway Sign

All 50 States Day 35:

Ohio!

I went to Ohio early and often in my touring career, first hitting the state as a feature act at Connextions 2 in Toledo (you know the shows are funny because of the saucy spelling). I was based in Chicago and the booking agent in Grand Rapids, MI called to ask if I could pick up the headliner at Midway Airport to ride to Toledo with me. That headliner was ‘Wild’ Bill Bauer, an energetic and funny veteran comic who’d been a headliner since the comedy heyday of the 1980s. He was pleasant and supportive throughout the weekend and though I hadn’t seen him since the mid-90s during a week at ACME Comedy Company in Minneapolis, I was sad to hear of his passing in 2012.

My first big years performing at colleges were 1996–1997 and Ohio was a big part of that. I showcased at the Great Lakes NACA Conference, performing a 20-minute set for the student activities boards of colleges in Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania. I booked so many shows after that conference there were some weeks where I’d have 9 shows in 5 days, doing a noontime show at a community college then another show that night at a school within a couple hours’ drive.

I had no idea how many colleges of one- to two thousand students there were in the state. I played everywhere from schools in cities like Capital University in Columbus, Xavier in Cincinnati, and Case Western in Cleveland, to schools in small towns like Muskingum University, Ashland University, Denison, Wilmington, Mt. Union. The list goes on.

There was a fun show at Kenyon College, a beautiful idyllic campus of old stone buildings atop a hill. I arrived early so I poked around the grounds and saw the game of Lacrosse in person for the first time. It seemed so New Englandy and preppie to me. I also remember staying in the lovely Kenyon Inn on campus, and that the show was well attended and opened by a campus improv group.

I also remember a show at Shawnee State in Portsmouth because I was fascinated that a small town had such a large area of mid-19th Century old buildings. The historic district struck me as something that should have been in a much larger city. Apparently Portsmouth, at the confluence of the Scioto and Ohio Rivers, had been a big, bustling city back in the 1800s when commerce flowed along the rivers and not by rail.

See? You learn things by traveling!

  • Ohio Turnpike sign, 2010
  • On stage at Ohio University, 2006
  • Case Western University, 2010
  • Blimp in Cleveland, 2010
  • Country road near Lancaster, 2006
  • Arthur Treachers, Lancaster, 2006
  • Opining at a gas station in Ohio, 2006
  • Kenyon College, 1996?
OHMap

All 50 States Day 34: North Dakota!

Fargo Theater Polaroid

All 50 States Day 34:

North Dakota!

Holy cow! We’re two-thirds of the way through the country! To celebrate I found a picture of a giant cow! She’s called Salem Sue and the billboards promoting her claim she is the “world’s largest Holstein cow.” Turns out Salem Sue is the world’s largest statue of a Holstein cow, a distinction that would have and should have tempered my expectations.

I also grabbed a selfie—which, in the days of non-phone digital cameras was way more challenging—in front of what was at the time the world’s largest structure. It’s just a TV station’s broadcast antenna, but at 2,063 feet it was the tallest manmade thing in the world until the Burj Khalifa surpassed it. It now ranks 4th after the Tokyo Skytree and Shanghai Tower hit 2nd and 3rd, respectively.

And lest you think North Dakota is all World’s Largest Things, I’ve done some work in the state too, playing UND, ND State, Valley City State, Minot State, and Dickinson State. I’ve spent some days off in Fargo when I was between gigs in Minnesota and North Dakota and have driven to and through just about every corner of the state. The east is mostly flat prairie and in the west, around Teddy Roosevelt National Park, you get some very Badlands-like terrain. There’s lots of space out there, and driving through the state gives you lots of time to ponder the big questions. Maybe even the world’s biggest questions…

  • Salem Sue! 2008
  • On the edge of Minot, 2007
  • Kickin it in Fargo, 2007
  • Fargo Theater, 2007
  • World’s tallest structure at the time, a TV antenna, 2007
  • Backstage at Valley City State University show, 2007
  • Polaroid of Fargo Theater, 2007
NDMap

All 50 States Day 33: North Carolina!

Motel

All 50 States Day 33:

North Carolina!

My first comedy interaction with North Carolina was with a booker there that ran a comedy club and booked other clubs and dates in the South. I was starting to feature on the road, performing the 30-minute middle slot of the typical opener-feature-headliner format, and a comic in Chicago suggested I contact the North Carolina booker. “They’ll love you,” he insisted. Apparently this club was an early booster of Carrot Top, who in the mid-90s was one of the top grossing comedians in the country.

The club charged $25 to review a comedian’s tape, a suspicious and unsettling policy, but I sent in my tape and a check and waited to hear back. Months passed. Then more. I started going on the road and doing a few colleges, all the while writing new material and improving my act.

The club had cashed my check, I had a record of that, but as the one-year mark arrived  I hadn’t heard anything back from the club. So I sent them an anniversary card.

I wrote lovingly of my year of anticipation and waiting for a reply. I did my best to balance my tone between lighthearted ribbing and “OMG, F you so much!” Whatever I wrote, the gambit worked and I got a reply.

After a year of waiting they gave me a modestly positive review, what felt like a B- to me. They told me to start sending in my avails (schedule and bookings) and maybe they’d find me some feature work. I had developed a lot as a comic over that year and the 15-20 minutes on the tape they had reviewed was no longer representative of my act so I felt that when I got booked at one of their clubs I’d improve in their estimation.

That chance never came since that booker never booked me, but I have played several shows in North Carolina over the years, from big universities like Wake Forest, UNC–Asheville, UNC—Charlotte, to smaller colleges like Elon and Greensboro College. I had a very unique show in an outdoor amphitheater at the Raleigh Little Theater back in 1999, part of a Comedy Central live event, and I once did an open mic in Asheville when I was passing through in 2010.

On a different trip to Asheville I spent a few extra days there when my car broke down only 40 miles into my drive back to New York. My engine shut off as I was coming down a mountain—just cut out completely—and I coasted to the bottom of the hill, down an off-ramp and onto the grass. The car wouldn’t restart. It was Sunday and people were starting to return home from church and several people stopped to check on me. One guy called his cousin who was mechanically inclined to ask for advice. I think I met everyone who lived in that holler, a diverse bunch and they were all very friendly, and eventually they helped me call a tow truck (it was the distributer).

I had my car towed to a Firestone that would open in the morning, I checked into a motel within walking distance, and took it as a good omen when my motel TV was playing a Cubs game on WGN.

I have few pictures of North Carolina but apparently plenty of stories! There was that other time in Asheville…

  • Selife with the crew at Wake Forest, 2010
  • Polaroid of the Blue Ridge Motor Lodge, 2010
  • Polaroid of the Mount Vue Motel, 2010
  • State Line!
NCMap

All 50 States Day 32: New York!

view of lower manhattan skyline, 1997

All 50 States Day 32:

New York!

I guess it’s obvious that I’ve been to New York since it’s the state I’ve lived in for half of my life and most of my adulthood. There were a couple of family trips to New York when I was a kid where we’d visit my aunt and cousins just across the river in Weehawken, NJ, and come in to the city for sightseeing and Broadway shows. My dad and I also visited between my freshman and sophomore year of college.

But my New York life began in earnest in 1996 when I flew in to town and sublet an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen for the summer. I knew about 6 people in town, some friends from Chicago who had made the move before me like Joanne Morrison, Bill Chott, and John Bongiorno, and my sister’s college roommate Nancy, without whom I’d have had a harder time moving to the city because she found the summer sublet for me.

After being introduced to the concept of “bringer shows” I got turned off of the comedy clubs in town and found myself in the performance scene of the Lower East Side where the performers and shows were wildly creative, covering genres from poetry, music, comedy, performance art, burlesque, and everything in between. The support from the community and small theaters like Surf Reality and Collective Unconscious allowed me to try wildly different things, like solo shows, sketch comedy, and collaborative efforts like The Sacred Clowns. I even wrote the music for the St. Reverend Jen’s theme song, which is still near the very top of my list of 1990s Lower East Side bona fides.

I moved to Brooklyn in the fall of that first year and I was still on the road a lot for the next several. In 2000, when I hit a lull in my college touring schedule, I found my first day job in town in the production department of a catalog company. It turns out the years of designing and printing flyers for bands and shows taught me my best marketable skill. I’d go back and forth between day jobs and touring, a few years working in town, a few years on the road, and I’m grateful for my experiences with each. The day jobs not only helped me pay the rent but also introduced me to new friends, different neighborhoods in Manhattan, and the rhythms of New York daily life.

I’ve also seen a fair amount of the state outside of New York City. College gigs have taken me from the finger lakes to the northern reaches, the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, the Southern Tier, and the western edge (I think I got a muffler replaced in Jamestown once). Upstate New York is huge, and lovely, and is full of small towns mid-sized cities, and vast ruralness. It’s like if you took Wisconsin and fused it to a super-sized Chicago (and then took out the Midwestern niceishness and replaced it with East Coast brusqueness). 

OK, enough yakking, let’s get to some pretty pictures! (click on an image for the carousel and captions, too many to list!)

So many pics! Click on the carousel to enlarge and read captions. There are too many to list!

NYMap

Catching Rays (on the Fire Escape) Quarantine Music Video!

Closed beaches and social distancing will not keep me from getting some sun! And to celebrate I did a 60s beach pop style song about the only place I can responsibly sunbathe: the fire escape of my Brooklyn apartment. Enjoy!

 

Well, the beach is closed
and I need some sun
but when I go out
I can’t avoid everyoneI wanna get some sunbeams on my face
But I gotta give everybody their space
So that means I can only go to one place…

I’m catching rays (rays, rays, catching rays)
On the fire escape (scape, scape, fire escape)
It’s been too many days (days, days, too many days)
How much more can I take (take, take, what can I take?)
I’m going out of my mind
I need some sunshine
That’s why I’m catching rays on the fire escape

I got a beer and a shot (shot, shot, a beer and a shot)
And the wind in my hair (… “shut up!”)
I always get a spot (spot, spot, get a spot)
Cuz no one’s ever there (I’m so alone)
Oh, here are no ocean sounds
But it’s the best place that I’ve found
To avoid people cuz it’s 12 feet off the ground

I’m catching rays (rays, rays, catching rays)
On the fire escape (scape, scape, fire escape)
I hope it’s just a phase (phase, phase, just a phase)
It’s really not that great (it’s not that great)
It’s not sexy at all
And there’s a chance that I could fall
When I’m catching rays on the fire escape

I can’t play any frisbee, I can’t lie in the sand
I can do two whole things, I can sit or I can stand
I smile at people far away as they walk by my place
But I don’t know f they’re smiling back cuz they’re covering their face

I’m catching rays (rays, rays, catching rays)
On the fire escape (scape, scape, fire escape)
Can’t catch any waves (waves, waves, catch any waves)
I’ll never get in shape (I’m getting fat)
It’s not a perfect plan
But at least I’ll get a tan
When I’m catching rays on the fire escape
I’m catching rays on the fire escape
I’m tired of catching rays on the fire escape

All 50 States Day 31: New Mexico!

Cliff in NM

All 50 States Day 31:

New Mexico!

My first experiences with New Mexico were traversing I-10 along the southern edge of the state on road trips to and from California. I finally landed a gig and spent a night in the state in 2002 when I played Eastern New Mexico University in the town of Portales (por-TA-lace), which was so far away from the main cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque that I flew to Lubbock, Texas and drove. I also drove the extra 180 miles round trip from Portales to Roswell to check out the town and of course the UFO museum.

Three days after that show at ENMU I had a show at the University of Alaska Anchorage, which I flew to from Denver. That gave me about a day and a half to take a scenic route from eastern New Mexico to Denver. I drove up to Santa Rosa, along I-40 and old Route 66, stopped at a classic diner (I think I had a patty melt), and then continued up to Taos to poke around and take in the crunchy artsiness.

I know that I took Hwy 64 from Taos up to Colorado because I have a picture from Cimarron Canyon State Park, which Hwy 64 travels through. The name Cimarron had always stuck in my head and I remember stopping to see a scenic cliff along the drive. I knew somewhere I had a picture of it, and in 2002 I had my first decent digital camera, the Canon PowerShot 110, but I couldn’t find the picture I remembered. I finally tracked it down in a roll of prints from my travels that month, a roll that included New Mexico, Alaska, and a run of shows stretching over a 1500 mile loop in Montana and North Dakota.

It took some internet searching to find the spot where I took the picture, and it turns out to be the Palisade Sill in Cimarron Canyon State Park. So even though I was only in the state for all of two days I did get to see a nice representation of it.

  • Diner Selfie! Santa Rosa, 2002
  • Palisade Sill in Cimarron Canyon State Park, 2002
  • Getting some kicks, or at least a selfie, on Route 66, 2002
  • Rio Pecos Truck Terminal, Santa Rosa, 2002
  • Diner on Route 66, Santa Rosa, 2002
NMMap

All 50 States Day 29: New Hampshire!

playground truck

All 50 States Day 29:

New Hampshire!

The first show I opened for George Carlin was in New Hampshire at the Hampton Beach Casino in August of 1997, I was a last-minute fill in for his regular opening act Dennis Blair, who couldn’t fly out of Chicago due to weather. Carlin’s manager called me around noon, asked where I was (in my apartment in Brooklyn), and then asked “can you get up to New Hampshire to open for George tonight?”

It was about a five hour drive so I said I’d be there, I hopped into my hatchback and started driving.i had been scheduled to open for Carlin for a three show weekend that November, a date on my calendar that at that point still didn’t feel real. The fact that my first gig for him was unplanned and last minute probably helped me from overthinking it too much.

I arrived at the venue too burnt from the drive to joke with the parking lot attendant when he found out I was a comedian. My car had no AC and when he said “you don’t look funny,” I simply said “I’m not.” Luckily I had time to chill, even take a shower my green room, and do a sound check before George showed up.

When he arrived I heard his voice from down the hallway, after the manager said, “I want you to meet Rob, you’re opening act for tonight,” an he said, “is that that Armenian kid you found?” Carlin and Jerry, his manager, came into my dressing room and after the introductions Carlin mentioned that he had watched my Pachelbel Rant on the drive in (iPhones had just come out and I remember thinking it was cool that he had one and watched my video on it). “It’s pretty good,” he complimented, which is still one of my most cherished reviews.

The venue was a loud, open space, more suitable for a rock concert than comedy, and I had to rely on my experience from noontime shows in community college cafeterias to  get through the first ten or fifteen minutes while the crowd was still buzzing with conversation, getting their first round of drinks, and finding their seats. I figured if I could get them focused and paying attention by the end of my set I had done my job, and was able to make that happen.

I went on to open for Carlin for about a dozen more shows across the country, and I was scheduled to open for several more that didn’t happen due to his passing in 2008, but that first show on the boardwalk in New Hampshire will always be special.

I’ve also performed in New Hampshire at several colleges, including UNH, SNHU, Franklin Pierce University and Daniel Webster College, Rivier College, and Keene State College in Keene, NH. That last show was less than 2 weeks after 9/11 and I remember the quaint downtown had messages of peace written in chalk along with melted candles from a vigil the night before. I also have a random polaroid of a playground truck thing from UNH, I don’t know why.

  • Selfie at SNHU, 2010
  • Blending in at the yogurt shop in Durham, 2013
  • On campus at UNH, 2013
  • Creepy hotel hallway, Manchester, 2010
  • Playground thing at UNH, 2009
US Map with New Hampshire highlighted

All 50 States Day 28: Nevada!

Selfie on a balcony

All 50 States Day 28:

Nevada!

As an entertainer I viewed performing in Las Vegas as a right of passage, an experience without which my career wouldn’t have felt complete. I also have a family connection to Las Vegas as one of my sisters was a singer there for several years, mostly working at the Riviera, which at the time was the spot on the strip. So when I landed my first week of work in Vegas—at the Riviera—it felt ceremonial. Importantish.

It was also bloody hot. The week was in the middle of July and when the radio announcer said that we’d be nearing a record high that day I knew it was going to be unpleasant. But it was still cool. I worked with the late, great Kip Adotta, a veteran headliner whose work I had heard on the Dr. Demento Show growing up.

I went back to the Riviera the following year (also in July) but my most exciting Vegas experience by far was opening for Lily Tomlin at the MGM Grand for 10 days in November, 2009. After George Carlin passed away his manager worked with Lily Tomlin getting a headlining show together, and he brought me in to be the opener. The show was in the 750-seat David Copperfield Theater and I got to meet Lily Tomlin and watch a comedy legend work for a week and a half. She was amazing, gracious, and nice, and I got to take a picture with her in the big rocking chair!

I had been going back and forth to Vegas a lot already in 2009, including flying round trip from NYC in one day to do a promo at the Las Vegas Speedway. I was a semi-regular in a variety show called Amazed, at the V Theater at Planet Hollywood at the time. The show put up the performers in an apartment off the strip, near Summerlin on the way to Red Rocks, and it was lovely to be in Las Vegas away from the Strip. And since the show was in the afternoon the other performers and I had our nights free to check out other shows or parts of the city. I even hit a Las Vegas 51s game.

My only non-Vegas Nevada experience, aside from driving along I-15 to get there from L.A., is with Laughlin, Nevada, a small town on the Colorado river in the pointy southern tip of Nevada. My college friends and I went there for a very budget spring break, piling into 2 cars, cramming in to 2 rooms and splitting the ridiculously low weeknight rate between us. We entertained ourselves with $2 blackjack and cheap steak and lobster the size of crawdads.

  • Selfie on comedy condo balcony, near Summerlin, 2009
  • Riviera marquee, 2002
  • Lily Tomlin and me, MGM Grand, 2009
  • Selfie with legendary lounge singer Cookie Jar, 2002
  • Riviera marquee, 2003
  • Performing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 2009
  • Me and Wax Elvis, 2003
  • selfie at the top of the Stratosphere, 2009
US Map with Nevada highlighted

All 50 States Day 27: Nebraska!

B&W Photo of Carhenge

All 50 States Day 27:

Nebraska!

One of my favorite pictures from all of my travels comes from an unofficial stop in Nebraska. I was driving through the chunk of the state that’s wedged between Colorado and South Dakota, on my way to a gig in Sterling Colorado after a show in Spearfish, SD. On that trip, in September of 1995, I had my old Pentax K1000 camera with me and it was loaded with black and white film. So many of my favorite travel pics are from that roll and here marks the first appearance of a frame from that legendary spool. Behold: Carhenge!

B&W Photo of Carhenge

You’re darn right that’s a recreation of Stonehenge made out of junk cars! If you’ve been following this series you know I love me some roadside attractions. I’ve visited the Field of Dreams in Iowa, the Spam Museum in Minnesota, the Thing in Arizona, so when I saw that something called “Carhenge” was only a few miles off my route there was no way I was not going to stop in and check it out. It’s even noted on the Rand McNally Road Atlas so you know it’s important!

Yes, I’ve also been to Nebraska for shows, playing University of Nebraska and Nebraska Weslyan in Lincoln, Creighton in Omaha, Midland Lutheran College in Freemont, and a run of noontime shows at community colleges in Grand Island, Hastings, and Columbia. For those noon shows I took my video camera along and documented the glory of playing community college cafeterias in the middle of the day for my Life as a Comic series.

I also made time to stop by a decommissioned naval munitions plant, upon which the Hastings branch of Central Community College stood. Because historical markers are like roadside attractions coupled with the magic of history! <the more you know star gif>

  • Glorious, magnificent Carhenge, 1995
  • Selfie at naval munitions plant, 2007
  • frame grab from Life as a Comic, in Grand Island, NE, 2007
  • another LaaC frame grab, either Hastings or Columbia, NE, 2007
NEMap

All 50 States Day 26: Montana!

river with raft

All 50 States Day 26:

Montana!

In the spring of 1997, early in my college touring career, I had my first big trek through the Pacific Northwest, 12 or so shows stretched over a three week span. The tour started in Havre, MT, a small town along U.S. Highway 2 in the middle of the northern edge of the state. The tour ended in the Seattle area so I flew to Seattle, rented a car for three weeks and started the tour by driving to Havre.

There were several non-show nights on that trek, nights where I could choose where to stay, so I tried to pick interesting spots. One of the spots, either on the way to or back from Havre, was Whitefish, Montana, near the western entrance of Glacier National Park. It was the off season so I could only get to the visitor center near a small lake. And even though it was the ancient days of film cameras, I actually have a picture of it!

In 2002 I had a more Montana-centric tour, playing colleges in Billings, Havre, and Dillon, along with a show in Dickinson, North Dakota. For that tour I flew in to Billings where I rented a car for a week and the rental agency insisted I upgrade because he had a brand new Jeep he was determined to rent. “Even if you offer something crazy like $5 a day I’ll accept,” the rental agent said, so I offered $5 a day and rented a brand new Jeep Cherokee that had just been delivered and had about 6 miles on the odometer.

After my week of driving to Dickinson, Havre, Dillon, and back I returned the car with over 1500 miles on it. The rental agent looked at the odometer reading on my rental form and remarked, “you did some driving.” Yup. Thank heaven for their unlimited miles policy.

I even took a detour near Dillon into a national park to try to find a Sacagawea Historic Site, though I never found it. It was winter and my cell lost all bars in the park, and the road I was on was dirt and turning into snow and slush, so I decided I should get back to town and get ready for the show. I didn’t want the headline of the local paper to be “New York Comedian Eaten by Wolves in National Park, Is Idiot.” I also took a picture there so the paper would have something to run with the story.

In ’02 and ’03 I played summer orientation shows at MSU in Bozeman and it was great to see Montana in the summer. The shows were on Mondays and flying in the Saturday before not only afforded me a cheaper airfare, it allowed a few extra days to see the state. The student activities advisor was a great host both years, one year taking me to Yellowstone for the day and the next year putting together a rafting excursion on the Yellowstone River. Sadly, my Hurly baseball cap was lost in said river.

I’ve also played Carroll College in Helena a couple of times and spent a few more days off in Bozeman. In fact, it was a rock club in Bozeman where I saw a the band 40 Watt Hype from Fresno, and became a fan. Montana (has) rocks!

  • Rafting Selfie! Yellowstone River, 2003
  • Rafting on the Yellowstone River near Bozeman, 2003
  • Jeep lost in a national park near Dillon, 2003
  • Church near Whitefish, 1997
  • Lake in Glacier National Park, 1997
  • Sign for Lindsay, MT, in the gosh dang middle of nowhere, 2002
MTMap

All 50 States Day 25: Missouri!

Rob at hotel pool

All 50 States Day 25:

Missouri!

Holy Cow! We’re at the halfway point of the list and we’re in the middle of the country!

And right in the middle of Missouri is Columbia, where I’ve performed at 3 different venues: the lovely Jesse Auditorium on the University of Missouri Campus, where I opened for George Carlin for two shows in November of 2007; the Deja Vu comedy club, where I performed with my friend John Bush in 2013; and Columbia College, my first gig in the city back in Nov. 2002.

The weekend at Deja Vu had a one-nighter connected to it down in Osage Beach on Lake of the Ozarks, where the Netflix series Ozark takes place, so yeah, that show’s pretty much about me, but they changed the comedy thing to money laundering. The whole weekend came up because I was doing a corporate gig in Lake of the Ozarks and I got to stay in a pretty sweet hotel in peak season.

College gigs have taken me around the state with shows at University of Missouri—Rolla, which I’ve played twice over the years. Back in 2003 I played Truman State up in Kirksville, where I have a lovely pic of me in the rental car at 5 am because I had to drive, fly, and drive to a gig the next night in West Virginia. I’ve also played Cottey College out west and Maryville University in St. Louis.

And yes, there’s even an old, embarrassing family photo from a trip to Meramec Caverns back when I was, like 2 1/2 or something. I look thrilled, but those plaid shorts are dope.

  • Kickin’ it at Lake of the Ozarks in summer 2013
  • Early morning start of a drive-fly-drive trek from Truman State U. in Kirksville, MO to Concord College in Athens, WV, 2003
  • Fire truck celebrating our pilot’s last flight at the St. Louis airport, 2013
  • With the Y107 morning crew in Columbia, MO, 2013
  • Another in the “Gaudy Hotel Room” photo series, Kirksville, MO, 2003
  • Family trip to Meramec Caverns, date redacted
Mo_Map

All 50 States Day 24: Mississippi!

Spinal Tap with Hello Cleveland text

All 50 States Day 24:

Mississippi!

Did you know there’s a Cleveland, Mississippi? It’s the only town in Mississippi I’ve been to, thanks to a show at Delta State University sometime in the late 90s. I don’t have any pictures from the show but I remember there were other acts on the bill, which makes it stand out from most of my college shows.

Usually at a college I’m the only performer and I perform an hour set. Every once in awhile a school will book two acts and have them each do a half hour or so to split a 60-75 minute show between them. On more than one occasion I’ve shown up at a school to find they’ve booked three acts, all headliners, and expected them to do 45 minutes to an hour each, which would result in a show that runs 2 1/2 to 3 hours, which is a terrible, terrible idea. It’s comedy, people, not a Wagner opera!

We performers always try to discourage these marathon shows, but as someone who’s signed a contract to perform for an hour it’s a tricky situation to demand to perform a shorter set. Usually we leave the final call to the student activities board with a strong suggestion to keep the show under 2 hours total.

Such was the case at the Delta State show, I think the other act was a magician or juggling duo, if memory serves. I also remember hitting a very small bar/hangout after the show because it was the only place in town that served food at that hour–fried fish sandwiches (which I think were just a couple of fish sticks on Wonder Bread).

For this post I even dug around for pictures of me near the Mississippi River, which I’ve seen in New Orleans, St. Louis, the Quad Cities, Dubuque, and as a tiny little stream near Brainerd, Minnesota, but couldn’t come up with anything, so enjoy a picture of Spinal Tap:

Spinal Tap with Hello Cleveland text
US map with Mississippi highlighted

All 50 States Day 23: Minnesota!

Polka Band on stage

All 50 States Day 23:

Minnesota!

I love Minnesota. it’s beautiful, friendly, midwestern, freakin’ huge, and it has the Twin Cities and some other really cool spots. My first college gig ever was in Minnesota, at the University of Minnesota–Duluth!

For that first show I drove the 8 hours overnight, got into town about 8 or 9 in the morning, and was lucky to be able to check into the hotel early and sleep. It was a welcome week show at the beginning of the school year, I wanna guess August 95. I remember being really nervous, getting through it, and not knowing how to gauge whether it went well or not because I was used to performing in comedy clubs to adults who were drinking, not nervous 18-year-olds in a student union. I felt better when the student activities board took me out to a Perkins diner after the show, which would be the first of over 400 college shows I’d end up doing in my career.

I spent the coldest week of my life in Minneapolis in January of 1996 doing a feature week at the ACME Comedy Company, a great club in a warehouse building near downtown. It was -30° F (-34.4° C) without wind chill. All week! Another Minneapolis visit had me hanging out with my friends in the Second City Touring Company when they were doing a week in Minneapolis and I was in the area for some college gigs. I believe that was my first experience with Nye’s Bar, a polka bar/rock club that is legendary.

When I was in Minneapolis in 2015 for MarsCon, a really fun, fan-run Sci Fi convention, I heard that Nye’s was soon to close permanently and I had to jump on a Metro Transit and then walk the mile to the bar just to get a burger and hear some polka. Apparently a new Nye’s opened a few years later, I have yet to check out the new spot.

I ran into another friend on the road in Minnesota back in 2007 when I was on my way to do shows at Bemidji State, U of M Crookston, and North Dakota. My buddy Mike Siegel was working on one of the dozens of TV shows he hosted and they were shooting at a house somewhere between the Minneapolis airport and Bemidji. I met up with him and crashed the craft services table.

I even stopped at the Spam Museum, in Austin, along I-90 in the middle of the southern edge of the state. I was on my way to a show at Southwestern Minnesota State and I kept seeing billboards for the Spam Museum. I love roadside attractions and tourist traps so I definitely had to stop in. Even watched their trivia game show (hosted by Al Franken) by myself in the little auditorium. I don’t remember my score but I’m confident it was the best in the room.

  • Selfie at Nye’s bar, 2015
  • Polka band inside Nye’s, 2015
  • Crashing Mike Siegel’s TV show set, somewhere in Minnesota, 2007
  • The Spam Exam, hosted by Al Franken, at the Spam Museum, 2002
  • Downtown Duluth, pictured in 2009
MNMap

All 50 States Day 22: Michigan!

Detroit I-94 sign

All 50 States Day 22:

Michigan!

I’m amazed at how few pictures I have of Michigan considering the amount of shows I’ve done in the state. A very rough count has me at 17 venues—15 colleges and two comedy clubs—and yet I have only the most random photos.

I played colleges all over the state, from Central Michigan in Mt. Pleasant, to Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech in the Upper Peninsula, from Hope College and Grand Valley State on Lake Michigan to Wayne State, Oakland University, and U of M Dearborn near Detroit.

Early in my comedy career I featured at a comedy club in Battle Creek (and bought a new computer at Sears that weekend! Yes this was last century, shut up!), and in 2011 I did a set at the Detroit Comedy Festival at Mark Riddley’s Comedy Castle (and made a clever castle joke on twitter). And way back in 2001 I dropped in to the Dementia 2001 fest in Detroit between shows in Michigan and Ohio. For that I do have at least one picture, because the con took place in March and for some reason there was a Christmas-themed sketch. I was… confused.

A lot of the college shows were in the 1995-97 range, and then again in 2001, because those were years I showcased at the NACA Great Lakes regional conference and landed scores of gigs in Ohio, Michigan, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It was a time when we didn’t have cameras on our phones and didn’t take 50 pictures each week so I guess I’ll have to accept that my time in the state isn’t visually documented so well.

US Map with Michigan highlighted

All 50 States Day 21: Massachusetts!

All 50 States Day 21:

Massachusetts!

My favorite show that I’ve ever done was in Massachusetts, in Boston opening for George Carlin at the hilariously named Wang Theater on March 15, 2008. The night before we played at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut to a crowd that was okay but not as lively as Carlin crowds usually were. The Boston crowd, on the other hand, was exceptional.

It was the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day and the theater was sold out. My 30-minute set went over like gangbusters, and when I got back into my dressing room below the stage Carlin came in from his dressing room next door and said “a lot better than last night, huh?” I was still really amped from the set and stumbled out some humble drivel like “they’re in a good mood,” or something, but eventually calmed down.

Carlin’s manager, Jerry Hamza, came in and we all chatted for a few minutes and I asked Jerry if he’d take a picture of me and George, joking “to prove to my mom I’m actually opening for you.” I hadn’t taken any pictures with him yet, I wanted to focus on doing good work and getting asked back, but the rush of confidence from the packed Saturday night theater helped me build up the nerve.

Jerry took my little digital camera and Carlin threw his arm around my shoulders and said, “a couple of assholes,” right before the picture was snapped. It’s one of my favorite nights in my show business career.

There have been other stops in Massachusetts before and after the Carlin gig in Boston, with a big college season in 2001–2002 that included UMass, Brandeis, Fitchburg State, and the “Worcester Trifecta” (term I invented) of Holy Cross, Assumption, and Worcester State. I even played the fancy schmancy prep school of Phillips Andover! More recently, okay, 2011, I did my first show for one of the Seven Sisters at Smith College in Northampton.

Other Boston area shows include a stop at the Comedy Studio in Cambridge back in 2001 and the Wentworth Institute of Technology in 2003.

  • Marquee for Carlin show at Wang Theater, March 15, 2008
  • George Carlin and me, Wang Theater dressing room, 2008
  • Flyer at Fitchburg State student union, 2010
  • Selfie frame from FlipCam vid at Fitchburg, 2010
  • Keep Dudley Clean sign, Dudley, MA, after show at Nichols College, 2001
MAMap
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