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All 50 States Day 46: Virginia!

Cargo ship on the water

All 50 States Day 46:


The state’s license plates will have you believe Virginia is for lovers but it’s also for school trips to historical sites, many college and theater gigs, and for driving through to get to other places. Like many non-Virginians, my first time in the state was on a junior high trip to Washington D.C. which included stops at Colonial Williamsburg, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, and a Roy Rogers fast food establishment that called itself a “restaurant.”

I’ve been back to the state for many college gigs, including stops at the well known schools of College of William and Mary, George Mason, and University of Mary Washington. I’ve also played a bunch of smaller colleges and universities, like Radford University, Ferrum College, Bluefield College, not to mention Bluefield State College across the river in West Virginia.

I had a rollercoaster weekend in the state back in the spring of 1998 when I played University of Richmond on a Friday and Bridgewater College the following night. The show at Richmond was in a pub on campus and the event wasn’t well advertised or attended. There were a few people watching the show but there more frat boys watching the NCAA basketball tournament across the room at the bar. They were loud, drunk, and when the saw there was someone onstage trying to do a show to a tiny crowd, they were obnoxious.

I had been doing college shows for a few years by this point and I had done my fair share of noontime shows in the cafeterias of community colleges, so I was no stranger to plowing through 50 minutes of material in loud environments. I played to the group of people that were actually watching me and sent a few barbs to the back of the room while the rowdies yelled and hi-fived each other.

After the show one of the loud ones came up to me to, I don’t know, congratulate me? Tell me no hard feelings, it was all in fun, etc. Usually after shows I’m very polite and deferential but I told him to get lost. He seemed surprised and maybe even a little wounded. I was worried my saltiness might have come off as unprofessional but the student activities  board member backed me up, which was nice.

The terrible experience at Richmond was more than made up for the next night at Bridgewater College, a small school in the Shenandoah Valley between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. It was a dessert themed event in which the cafeteria laid out dozens of cakes and pies while the students gathered for a show. Being a small school in a small town with not much to do, and adding the prospect of a free sugar high, the show was packed. I performed for over an hour and had a great time playing to an enthusiastic crowd.

After the show a student came up to me and asked about the work shirt I was wearing. It was the 90s, I wore work shirts. He held up a big red safety coat with a reflective stripe on it and a logo for Giant Food grocery store on the back, and asked if I liked it. I said it was cool and he offered to give it to me.

I politely declined, not wanting to take the coat off of a college students back, but he said he worked there and had three of them. I offered him and his friends some CDs in exchange and for the next several years I proudly wore a bright red Giant Foods coat in the fall and winter. People from the mid-Atlantic would regularly ask about it and if I worked there, recognizing the logo from their hometown grocery stores.

The moral of the story is Bridgewater College was awesome and restored the faith in humanity I lost the night before at University of Richmond.

I also had a stop in Virginia for a show opening for George Carlin in March, 2008. It was in Porstmouth, near Norfolk, and was the first of a 3-show weekend that took me up to Harrisburg and then Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. So much driving!

  • Biscuitville! Danville, 2010
  • Stuck in the stockade, Colonial Williamsburg, year redacted
  • Freighter in Chesapeake Bay, 2008
  • Rifleman, Colonial Williamsburg, year redacted
  • 1950s looking kitchen in Radford U’s on-campus accommodations, 2004
  • 1950s living room in Radford U’s on-campus accommodations, 2004
  • Blurb from William & Mary paper, 2004
  • The famous Giant Foods red coat! Pictured in NYC in 1998 with Ritch Duncan and Lynn Harris, 1998

All 50 States Day 44: Utah!

All 50 States Day 44:


I’ve made a couple of trips to Utah so far, the first was in August 2007 for an orientation show at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. In the vast expanse between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, Cedar City is not only home to S.U.U. but also an annual Shakespeare festival, a fact I learned after the show when some theater people from the fest admitted they snuck into the show on campus.

For that first trip I went to Salt Lake City a few days early and did a comedy show at Moe’s Bar and Grill produced by SLC-based comedian Sina Amedson. I also had time to catch a Salt Lake City Bees minor league baseball game and even took the streetcar from downtown to the stadium.

Before heading back to SLC from Cedar City I drove to Zion National Park for a quick hike. I know I didn’t have time to see much of the park but what I did see was amazing.

I returned to Utah in May of 2008 to open a show for George Carlin at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City. It was a run of three shows–Salt Lake City, El Paso, and Anaheim—and it would end up being the last weekend I worked with George before he died. Abravanel Hall is a beautiful concert space with amazing sound. It’s the kind of place where you’re on stage and you feel like you don’t even need a sound system to reach the back of the room.

At the time Utah law didn’t technically allow bars so any place that served alcohol had to be a private club. If you wanted to go to a bar you could buy an annual or short term membership for a few bucks so the law didn’t really discourage drinking, but it did make me feel a little extra special because instead of just a patron you were now a member. Maybe that’s what the legislators wanted all along?

  • Selfie in Zion National Park, 2007
  • Zion National Park, 2007
  • Hiking trail near SLC, 2007
  • Hiking near SLC, 2007
  • Creek on hiking trail near SLC, 2007
  • Mormon Temple selfie, 2008
  • Flowers in Zion National Park, 2007

All 50 States Day 43: Texas!

All 50 States Day 43:


Texas is huge and should count for like 4 states, and I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of it over the years. My mom has lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area since I was in high school and I’ve spent a ton of time with extended family there. Workwise I’ve done a few college tours which took me to the hill country, west Texas stops in Abilene and San Angelo, a week in the Rio Grande Valley, Nacadoches in the east, and up to the panhandle at Texas A&M Western in Canyon, Texas near Amarillo.

Austin, Texas, has been one of my Escape From New York fantasy towns for as long as I can remember. Any time I think about leaving New York for a less intense but still artistically stimulating place Austin is near the top of the list. My first experience with the city was visiting my college roommate just after we graduated and I’ve been hooked since. I’ve played a college gig there (at St. Edwards University not the enormous UT campus) and back in 2014 performed at the Out of Bounds Festival, which was one of my favorite performance fest experiences ever.

One of my shows opening for George Carlin was in El Paso on the western tip of Texas. You don’t appreciate how far Texas extends to the west until you have to get to or from El Paso. In fact, the drive from Phoenix to Dallas, which I made a few times on cross country trips, is 1,000 miles and 620 of those miles are in Texas, from El Paso to Dallas. Needless to say I flew to the Carlin gig because the night before we were in Salt Lake City (and the day after I did my last show with him in Anaheim, CA).

I also flew to El Paso when I had a show in Alpine, Texas, which is down near Big Bend National Park. Alipne is about 3.5 hours from El Paso and that’s still the closest airport. That show in Alpine also allowed me to make a stop in Marfa, a tiny town that’s become a bit of an artist colony over the years. It’s also famous for being the location for the James Dean/Rock Hudson/Elizabeth Taylor film Giant. The Hotel Paisano in downtown Marfa makes a lot of use of the fact that big stars stayed there and they named their pricier rooms after them. I didn’t spring for Rock or James’ suites though, I was probably in the Gaffer Room.

My most recent work-related trip to Texas was debarking a cruise ship in Galveston after a December voyage in the Caribbean. I got up before dawn to debark in time to make a flight, and as I got some air and coffee on the top deck I saw a very bright Venus in the eastern sky. Below it was another planet, I guessed either Jupiter or Saturn, and to confirm I opened my Planets app. The app said that Mercury was just next to Jupiter so I looked closer and sure enough there was a very faint pinpoint of light next to Jupiter. It’s the first time I ever saw Mercury and you can just make it out on the iPhone picture I took.

  • Longhorn steer, 2010
  • Austin Food Truck, 2014
  • Palace Theater, El Paso, 2008
  • Fort Worth Cats mascot, 2006
  • Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury, Galveston, 2018
  • View of mountain through binoculars, near Marfa, 2013
  • Me on the Grassy Knoll in Dallas, 2003
  • Mural of Eighter from Decatur, 2018
  • B&W Polaroid of Downtown Marfa, 2014
  • Corpus Christie, 2005
  • Food Truck, Marfa, 2014
  • Eva Longoria, Miss Texas A&M Kingsville 1996, pic from 2005
  • Pre-show in Brownsville, 2002
  • Moonrise over Eagle Mountain Lake, 2018
  • Crowd at Texas A&M Commerce, 2016

All 50 States Day 38: Pennsylvania!

Theater Marquee

All 50 States Day 38:


As I’ve mentioned in my Ohio and Michigan posts, my first really busy season touring colleges was 1996–97 after showcasing at the Great Lakes NACA Conference, a region that included the western half of Pennsylvania. I must have played a dozen Pennsylvania schools in that initial run, and over the years I’ve probably played a dozen more. From small Penn State and Pitt extensions to private schools in every corner of the state. My favorite satellite campus? Pitt–Bradford, home of Zippo Windproof Lighters! Even went on the factory tour.

The first college gig I did after moving to NYC was at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh, and since I was living in a Manhattan sublet at the time and without my car, I took Amtrak from Penn Station to the gig. At one point west of Altoona a Park Ranger came aboard to lead a sightseeing tour, which included Horseshoe Curve and stories of the Johnstown flood as we passed.

Three of the shows I opened for George Carlin were in Pennsylvania. The first one that was officially scheduled—which turned out to be my second gig for him after a last-minute fill in at a show in New Hampshire—was at the Warner Theater in Erie. While I was doing my soundcheck the power went out. We thought it was the theater but it turned out to be all of downtown Erie. The crowd milled about outside, city and electric company workers came to figure out the problem, and eventually we got the show started. I had my DV video camera with me and used its Super Night Shot setting to get some grainy black-and-white video of a darkened downtown Erie, looking like I had entered a 1940s Noir film.

And like Ohio, I knew the 310-mile Pennsylvania stretch of I-80 incredibly well during my first years in New York. I made the drive from New York to Illinois more times than I could count, it was 840 miles door-to-door and I could do it in about 14 hours with breaks for food and gas.

  • Selfie in Pittsburgh and for some reason I’m displaying a modest wad of cash, 2008
  • Warner Theater marquee in Erie during blackout, 2007
  • Sepia toned Polaroid of friends at Rohman’s Inn in Shohola, 2012
  • Street view of York, the mini Baltimore! 2009
  • Crowd outside Warner Theater, Erie, 2007
  • Tow truck towing a tow truck at Arcadia University, 2009

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
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