My rule of not counting a state if your only visit is changing planes at the airport still stands; BUT, it turns out the only picture I can find that I’ve personally taken in the state of Georgia was taken in ATL during a layover. I was on my way from a show the previous night at Fitchburg State College in Fitchburg, MA to a show that night at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, FL (we call that “bad routing”).
But I have been to Georgia for real, I swear! I performed in the New Year’s Eve show at the Punchline in Atlanta on Dec. 31, 2008. When I searched online for evidence of me being in the lineup I even found a video of the club manager promoting the show! Turns out he didn’t mention any of the acts performing in the upcoming show (great marketing!) but he did joke about regretting his decision to hire a little person to play Baby New Year the previous year (I’m not even making that up).
I also played one college in Georgia: Brenau University, on February 20, 2005, and it’s one of the few schools whose swag t-shirts have survived to this day. Since Brenau is a predominantly women’s college with a strong dance program my plan was to wear the t-shirt here in NYC with the hope that various dancer alumnae see it and strike up a conversation. My plan has yet to come to fruition.
The picture from the airport is of a jazz poster that I liked. As someone who’s constantly making flyers for music shows I like to take visual notes of things that appeal to me. The performer in the poster is Rashaan Roland Kirk, a musician who could play multiple saxophones at once and also played flute (including on Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova, a.k.a. that campy song from Austin Powers).
The second “road gig” I ever did was in Florida! In 8th grade I got called up to the high school orchestra for their trip to Orlando because they needed some cellos to round out the ensemble. We flew to Orlando over spring break, had a day at Disneyland, won a silver medal in the competition we were there for, and I bought the t-shirt you see in my High School freshman class picture.
So no, that picture wasn’t actually taken in Florida, but apparently I liked that shirt so much I needed to brandish it in my yearbook for all to see. And did I mention it’s actually a half t-shirt? It was the 80s, we wore things like that.
I have since been back to Florida for many shows. Early in my touring days I did a couple of weeks at the Comedy Corner in West Palm Beach, where I featured for a young Kevin James and a bitter Judy Tenuta (different weeks). I’ve also performed at a bunch of colleges, including Florida State, University of Central Florida (at an outdoor spring festival where I followed a metal band and preceded Less Than Jake), Embry Riddle University in Daytona (where I took a couple of extra days to visit the Kennedy Space Center), University of West Florida way over in Pensacola, and Rollins College in Winter Park.
Florida has also been the embarkation point for several cruise gigs I’ve done in the past few years, departing from Port Canaveral. I’ve even taken non-comedy trips to Florida for a friend’s wedding, a couple of weekend getaways, and since my sister moved to the Tampa area a couple of years ago, family visits!
I still haven’t been to the Florida Keys yet, but I’m sure my Buffet days are ahead of me.
High school freshman year school pic
Crowd at UCF for spring festival show, 2002
Cruise Ship with Kennedy Space Center in background, 2019
Selfie with a rocket, Kennedy Space Center 2010
B&W Polaroid of Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center, 2010
Well, I knew that eventually there was going to be a state I didn’t have a personal picture of. I’ve been to Delaware, I swear! I can still write about it, but I won’t have much to put on instagram <frowny face>.
Keep in mind my rules for counting a state: I’ve had to have performed in the state or spent at least a night there. With Delaware, anyone who’s driven from New York City to mid-Atlantic region cities like Baltimore or DC has driven through the tiny northern tip of the state near Wilmington, but that doesn’t count!
I know of at least two college shows I’ve done in Delaware, the University of Delaware in March of 2001 and a small college called Goldy Beacom College in Wilmington in January of 2003. For the latter show I remember going out to a local bar & grill after the show and seeing an acoustic duo cover band and it was the fist time I think I heard the Jimmy Eat World song “The Middle” all the way through. During the second chorus I joked with the people at my table that if it strictly followed the rules of a pop song it would go to the bridge. It did. During the bridge I said the next rule of pop songwriting is breaking it down for the third verse, and sure enough the song breaks down for the third verse.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing! Standard song structures become standard because they work!
Also, I was reminded by my note in the google map of past gigs I put together (check it out here) that the show at Goldey Beacom didn’t have a sound system, I had to play completely acoustic in a multifunction room. the fun of putting this project together is all the little details!
Ah, Connecticut, you crazy Nutmeg State that I have to pronounce “Connect-i-cut” in my head to spell correctly! You’re so close to my home base in Brooklyn, NY, and yet so far!
With its little southwestern dog-leg reaching toward New York City, the Connecticut border is a mere 37 miles from downtown Brooklyn, which makes places like Norwalk and Fairfield accessible for day trips, easy weekend escapes, or even (shudder) the reverse commuting day job. I’ve spent some summer days in Fairfield with friends at a beach house belonging to one of their families, and I’ve also performed in Fairfield at both Sacred Heart University and Fairfield University.
Other colleges I’ve played in the state are Connecticut College in New London, Albertus Mangus in New Haven, and U Conn in Storrs, where I met a second cousin and her family after the show. Turns out I have relatives there!
Two of my appearances opening for George Carlin took place in Connecticut, one at the Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport on March 13, 2008, and the next night at Foxwoods Casino. I have vivid memories of both shows, the beauty of the Klein auditorium compared to the ‘beauty’ of downtown Bridgeport, and having a conversation with Carlin backstage after my set at Foxwoods, when he told me about “Failing: A Very Difficult Piece for String Bass” and thought i’d like it. He said he’d send me a CD of it after the trip and sure enough I got a CD in the mail a week later with a post-it note on it that simply said “from George Carlin.” He was right, I liked it.
And there’s even something from Connecticut that remains in my everyday life: my gold sparkly Music Man Stingray bass that I record with regularly. If you’ve heard any of my self produced albums since 2004, you’ve heard the bass I bought on eBay and drove to Connecticut (either Danbury or Waterbury, I’m trying to verify) to pick up from a music store. The purchase was against the wishes of my girlfriend at the time and in hindsight her opposition should have been a huge red flag. I mean, look at that thing! It’s magnificent!
Foxwoods Marquee, 2008
Ritch Duncan and I, proud of our grilling skillz, 1999(?)
With the Student Activities board at UConn, 2011
Shot of me looking all LL Bean on Fairfield Beach, 2000(?)
The lovely Merritt Parkway in autumn, on a drive back to NYC from gigs in Vermont, 2008
The epic and amazing gold sparkle Music Man StingRay bass! Purchased in 2002, pictured here in 2020.
Transfers at Denver International Airport don’t count! I only count a state if I’ve actually spent a night there with feet on non-airport grounds. Them’s the rules!
I was able to check Colorado off of my to-do list early in my touring life with a gig at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, CO, a flat and dusty railroad stop in the Northeastern corner of the state.
I’ve also been to Denver for a few odd gigs, and when I say ‘odd’ I mean it. One was a corporate gig for Comedy Central at a regional cable provider convention that was set up on the concourse of Coors Field (not during a Rockies game). A magician and I took turns performing on a stage somewhere beneath the right field grandstands.
Another Denver gig was a promotional campaign for a liquor brand. The promotion involved wheeling a portable sound system to different bars so I could pop in and do a quick ambush set of music while aspiring models sold flavored shots. That gig (which also took me to Milwaukee and Cleveland–glamorous!) was mostly terrible but there was one stop at an outdoor plaza in downtown Denver that was fun because I was set up like a street musician and people actually listened. To this day I tense up every time I see a bottle of Pucker.
Other college gigs in Colorado include Colorado School of Mines and Technology in Golden, Adams State in Alamosa, and Ft. Lewis College in Durango, which is a lovely former mining town in the southwestern part of the state. That last gig was during the school’s Homecoming weekend, which included a large bonfire and me hosting karaoke after my set. I don’t remember if I sang the song “Light My Fire” but I should have.
A lot of people in the performing world do a stint in southern California at one point or another but I got mine out of the way early by going to U.S.C. to get my undergrad degree. They were kind enough to give this Midwestern kid some financial aid and I didn’t even have to pretend to be on the women’s rowing team! I got to study fiction writing with T.C. Boyle, started doing standup in campus shows and then open mics and clubs, and I met great friends while getting a solid education.
I had visited California a couple times before college; my mom had family there and my dad knew just about every Armenian in Pasadena, so I had seen cities from El Cajon to Modesto (Mom’s side) and Pasadena to Hollywood (Dad’s side). Those trips included the obligatory visits to Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, And Ben Frank’s diner.
As a performer I’ve taken several trips back to L.A. and the area, performing at area clubs, including one of my favorite comedy clubs in the country: The Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. I’ve performed in San Francisco, opened for Lily Tomlin at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga in Silicon Valley, and even did a show smack dab in the center of the San Joaquin Valley in Visalia, California.
It was hard to pare down my California photos to just a few, so here is a ridiculous assortment:
Family trip, early 80s
U.S.C. Graduation with Mom
Downtown Orange, CA circa 1998 (in front of building that was the appliance store in That Thing You Do!
World’s Biggest Thermometer in Baker, CA, late 90s
Joshua tree, late 90s. Tried to find the spot on google maps but THE STREETS HAVE NO NAMES!
Hiking in Los Padres National Forest, 2007
Thumbs Up For Nature! Literally. That’s the file name of this picture. Because I’m a doofus.
Pic of a pic of me in Downtown LA, 1998, my most recent trip to Cali.
I’ve been to and through Arizona a lot of times but it remains the only state I’ve never performed in. I hope it’s not personal. My first experience with the state was driving through, between Texas and California, which I’ve done 4 or 5 times, so I’ve seen every inch of I-10 in the state. I even stopped at The Thing, a roadside attraction somewhere between Tucson and New Mexico.
While in school at USC in Los Angeles I would visit friends at ASU in Tempe during my junior and senior years, where I caught a USC-ASU football game, had wings at the (in)famous Long Wongs, and had a dude who I’m sure was wired on cocaine insist I listen to a Spin Doctors song over and over.
Back in 2009 I was visiting my fellow comedian Mike Siegel in L.A. and we took a road trip to Mesa, Arizona to catch the Cubs in a spring training game. The Cubs game also happened to be the only place where we were able to get an Old Style west of the Missouri river because you can’t have Cubs baseball without Old Style. Ya just can’t!
When I tell people I’ve been to all 50 states people often ask, “even Alaska?”
Yes! Even Alaska! It’s one of the 50 states! I’ve actually been to our 49th state multiple times (5, I think, two of the trips kind of blend together), with my first visit being relatively early in my touring career.
Back in mid/late ‘90s, as an eager, young comedian new to the college entertainment market, I showcased at the Pacific Northwest Regional NACA conference and landed myself a ton of shows over the next year throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. University of Alaska Anchorage took advantage of one of those blocks of shows and brought me up for a show in April 1997.
I spent a few extra days in and around Anchorage and took a day trip up to Talkeetna, a few hours north, to see if I could get a glimpse of Denali, the highest mountain in North America. The weather gods were good to me that day and the normally clouded over peak was on full display.
I’ve been back to UAA a few times since, once in February during a big festival called the Fur Rondy, and a couple times in August during orientation. Each gig I would take time for a few day trips, a snowy drive down to Seward on the Kenai peninsula and an August trip to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer to name a few.
In the summer of 2018 I got my first taste of southeast Alaska working a cruise ship that took me from Juneau to Vancouver, with a stop in the town of Ketchikan. While having lunch in Ketchikan a local asked me if I was a charter boat captain—fishing is the main industry there, aside from tourism—and I had to confess that I came in on a cruise ship. At least I could take solace in the fact that I wasn’t such an obvious tourist.
Top left: view of Denali from near Talkeetna, AK, 1997
Top center: selfie in beautiful downtown Talkeetna! 2004
Top right: top of Flat Top Mountain, outside of Anchorage, 2004
Bottom left: selfie from cruise ship with downtown Juneau behind, 2018
Bottom center: signpost in Anchorage, 2004
Bottom right: selfie on Creek Street in Ketchikan, 2018
Fun fact about Rob P.: thanks to years of touring as a comedian and musician I’ve been to all 50 US states! And while we’re all on lockdown for the Coronavirus pandemic I figured it was as good a time as any to archive the accomplishment. My plan is to do one a day, I’ll go in alphabetical order, and hopefully by the time we get to Wyoming we’ll all be able to travel again. Or at least have an effing picnic!
So let’s get started with…
I’ve taken one trip to Alabama and it was brief, a one-night stay for a show at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in April of 2004. It was an “isolated date” as we called them in the college entertainment world, meaning it wasn’t part of a block booking and I didn’t have any other gigs in the area that week. I did a show at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois a few days prior and was staying with family in the Chicago area before and after the trek to Huntsville for the gig.
I remember flying in to Nashville and renting a car for the 2+ hour drive to Huntsville, which is about 20 miles south of the Tennessee-Alabama border, opting for the fly and drive because a flight into Huntsville proper was too pricey. I’m glad I did because just after I crossed into Alabama on I-65 south I saw an interstate rest stop and I was greeted with a good omen for the trip: an actual Saturn 1B rocket.
I love roadside attractions and I love space stuff, especially Apollo-era space stuff, even more; so yeah, I pulled over to see this beast of a rocket up close, on display as part of the Alabama Welcome Center. It was a good omen for the show that night because, what I wasn’t aware of until I got on campus, Huntsville is a big engineering and tech hub. NASA’s Marshall Flight Center is there, UAH has strong engineering and science programs, and the crowd at my show skewed toward the brainy and nerdy and away from the fratty and party obnoxious students.
I don’t remember many specifics about the show and my journal entries from the time are more focused on getting over a bad breakup, but I do remember it being a fun show and a good trip. Any time you get to see a rocket up close is a good trip.
This is the week I was going to start the big promotional campaign for the March debut of my musical, but issues with the venue and changes at the theater group have led them to cancel the production. Despite my deep disappointment at the news I hope there is some good that can come from the experience, and I still fervently believe in the quality and commercial viability of the project. I know it will hit the stage someday.
First thing to mention on the positive side is that the table read I did with the theater group in June of 2019 went really well. Not only did it renew my conviction that this work I spent most of 2015 creating is an appealing story with a funny script, it led me to do a fresh punch-up draft of the book. And just last week, with the fresh draft in hand, I submitted the project to a theater festival for the first time since 2017.
Another big task I had to tackle for the now-canceled March debut was to create and transcribe five-piece scores for the 20 songs in the musical. I had existing, fully arranged demos for all the songs but I had so far only written out a few of the pieces as lead sheets. To create a five-piece score for each of the songs I had to consolidate the arrangements from the demos into five parts; and digging back into the project files from the demo recordings required me to transfer all of the session files from Pro Tools to Logic Pro X, which is what I run my studio on after converting in late 2016.
Creating these scores took the better part of my free time in September and October, and with the production now canceled could be considered a colossal waste of time. But the fact is I know have finished five-piece scores of the entire musical, along with a new overture and incidental music, and these scores aren’t going anywhere. It will be less work for the next production.
Working on the scores was also really satisfying. Up until this point I had only created lead sheets for songs, or at most a score with a melody/vocal line and a basic piano accompaniment. When the theater group offered to stage the musical I took on the challenge of writing out the scores. With some pointers and encouragement from a good friend Scott Wasserman, who does this kind of thing for a living, I dove in, learned a lot, got up to speed on the amazing freeware app MuseScore, and got it done. Between the confidence gained and the actual scores there are a lot of real benefits gained from the project, even with this production being shut down.
So that’s the status of the musical. I usually don’t post such long behind-the-scenes stories—I prefer to let my work speak for itself—but since I had announced the worldwide debut of the musical I felt it somewhat necessary to explain its absence from my show calendar. Don’t worry, when it gets into a festival or we put on a staged reading, and when it finally does debut, I’ll start yammering about it all over again.
I’m excited to be performing at First Night Morris in Morristown, NJ on New Year’s Eve! I’ll be doing a family-friendly 45-minute set at 9:45 and repeated at 10:45, which gives you the flexibility to see some of the other fine performers and activities at the biggest First Night celebration in New Jersey!
My performance venue is the Hyatt Regency right in downtown Morristown, and the show will be in the Regency room, right off the main lobby. Earlier in the Regency room, at 7:15 and 8:15, is the very funny comedian Andy Pitz, with whom I’ve worked many times over the years and is an absolutely hilarious pro. Come check us both out! And fireworks! And food! And activities!
This will be my first First Night in quite a while; as a matter of fact one of my first paid gigs was at a First Night in my hometown of Waukegan, IL back when I was a senior in college and just getting started in comedy. Egads, that was a while ago!
But enough about the past, on the 31st we’ll be celebrating the future. Come join us!
It’s hard to believe my monthly show at Q.E.D. is about to celebrate its 5 year anniversary! We launched as Don’t Feed the Musicians!, a title I coughed up when putting the first show together, and I renamed the show The Odd Rock Comedy Hour in 2017. That’s 60 installments of comedy, music, variety, video and more! And I only missed one show!
To celebrate we’re… well, just gonna keep doing our thing. Our November show will be Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 and we’ll kick out the jams like we always do. Q.E.D. however, is celebrating their 5 year anniversary (we started the month they opened!) on Nov 4. at 7pm! I’ll be there telling a joke first told at the Odd Rock, along with tons of other comedians, writers, storytellers and more who have performed at Q.E.D. over the years.
Check out the gallery to see some of the people who’ve Oddly Rocked with us over the years!
A few years ago I took some time off to write a musical—a fully-fledged, 2-act, 20-song musical—and this year, after a really fun and productive read-through, a theater company in the Tampa, FL area has expressed interest in putting it on their 2020 schedule! I’m beyond excited for what the future of this musical will be, and even at this early-middle stage the project already has an interesting history.
It started with a sketch I wrote for my 2001 album Keep Your Jazz Hand Strong in which a shady boyband manager (played by the wonderfully talented Michael Bernard) informs a member of one of his boybands that he’d been traded. The boyband-as-baseball team premise included talk of cutting payroll, a farm system of up-and-coming younger bands, and a career arc for performers similar to the career spans of athletes. In the sketch I chose Tampa as the location for the young band because at the time Orlando seemed to be where the major league boybands were coming from (Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, O-Town). Tampa felt like the right market for a feeder team. Plus it’s an inherently funny-sounding name. “Tampa.”
For years the idea of expanding the sketch into a film script rolled around in the back of my head. The idea of a veteran performer forced to take a big step back in his career plus the hilarious shadiness of a boyband manager unabashedly treating pop music like one big grift were waiting to be explored and played with. I thought it could be a really fun movie with lots of music, like the Blues Brothers or Tapeheads. But a movie with a lot of music is—duh—a musical! So I decided to just do that.
After submitting to several festivals and theater companies—and not hearing back from most of them—I began to pursue other projects and career paths. I wasn’t completely discouraged though, I still believed it was a really solid script with good music that would make for a fun show. The project wasn’t lost, it was just hibernating. The work that went into it would still be worth it if and when the time came for it to hit the stage.
And that time might be next year, in 2020, and the place will be, oddly enough, Tampa, Florida! And the way my musical that is set in Tampa found it’s way to a theater company in Tampa is a bit of a story in itself.
My older sister moved to the Tampa area about two years ago and just this past year started playing oboe in a few local bands and orchestra pits (we’re a musical family :P). While playing in the pit for Ragtime she told the musical director about my musical; the fact that it was set in Tampa (and that he was familiar with my Pachelbel Rant) intrigued him enough to take a look at the script.
My sister suggested we try a read through should I visit the Tampa area, and that read through happened just this past Monday at the offices of Not Your Normal Entertainment. Joseph Scarbrough, the head of NYNE, brought together a lovely group of actors who brought life to the script while I played demos of the songs from my laptop. The jokes landed, the story flowed, and hearing people who live and work in Tampa react to the song “What’s in Tampa?” was a double bonus!
I am thrilled by the opportunity to debut this project on the stage. I’ll update here and on my social media, and follow NYNE on social media too, they do amazing work!
We finally pulled the trigger and pushed our site redesign live! There are still some bugs to work out, some of our “load more posts” buttons don’t seem to be working, but a lot of the new pages are here and ready to go. And if you’re looking for an older post that you can’t find, fear not! It’s sill in our database, we just need to get all the links and buttons pointing to the right things.
Give us a few days to get things running smoothly, and after that if there are posts or things you’re looking for that you can’t find or access, let us know and we’ll do our best to track it down.
OK, I think I just made up a French verb, but it doesn’t matter because everyone speaks the universal language of Music With Funny Lyrics But If You Don’t Understand Them You Can Still Enjoy the Music!
I had a wonderful time doing shows in Switzerland and Paris, and catching up with my longtime friend Jen Kirwin, an American comic who runs several English language Expat Comedy Nights in and around Geneva, Switzerland.
My first show was the day after I landed (and was still pretty jet-lagged) at Mr. Pickwick Pub in Geneva. The English-style pub is a haven for expats and the downstairs showroom was a perfect spot for a night of English language comedy. Sharing the bill with me were Magda Mihalia, a very funny Romanian comedian who performs in English, French, and Romanian; Robbie Toole, an American currently living in Geneva; Marie Connolly, an Australian comic who now makes her home in Lyon, France; and Jen.
The crowd was a lot of fun and included people from several countries, not just the English-speaking world. As a performer it was interesting to see the different levels of English comprehension and how it affected my set. I have a few songs where the lyrics are rapped rapid-fire so I tended to slow down as much as I could without changing the groove of the music from pop track to ballad. One person, an Italian I think, said after the show that he couldn’t understand everything but even when he couldn’t he enjoyed the music. Totally made lugging my guitar across the Atlantic worth it!
The day after my first show I hopped a train to Paris, and not just any train, one of those fancy high speed ones! Got to Paris in 3 hours, spent a lovely weekend there and did a set on an English language monthly show called The Great British American Comedy Night! There were 5 comics in the lineup, 2 French, 2 Americans currently living in Paris, and me, and the crowd was packed into a cozy showroom on a boat docked in the Seine.
The crowd was energetic and amazing and it was a truly unique experience.
Then it was back to Switzerland and another Expat show with Jen and Magda, this time in a lovely music room called the Bleu Lézard, in Lausanne, Switzerland. They call these basement rooms “caves” (pronounced “kaaahve”) and the Bleu Lézard was my favorite of the bunch. Even though my voice was a little scratchy from a long weekend in Paris I had a blast performing.
And here’s a short clip from that show, unlisted on YouTube just for you guys. I opened with a very old bit of mine about the Friends TV show’s theme song, but even though that joke is pushing 20 years old it was a great opener for the international crowd because not only was/is the show popular in Europe, the bit was a good gauge of people’s familiarity with American English!
And rounding out the performances on the trip was a Valentine’s-themed show at the Caustic Comedy Club in Carouge, Switzerland, just outside of Geneva. Caustic is a beautiful and friendly club and the showroom is another amazing “cave.”
I hope to get back to Europe soon for more shows and to hit these spots again, and check out the photo gallery above for some other pics from the trip, including the invasion of Brooklyn hipness into downtown Geneva!