The Sounds and Sights of Hasbrouck Heights: Part 1

"You British?" the man at the table in front shouted. "You limey fuck!" he added, as the audience erupted in rapturous applause.

I looked down, still gripping the mic like a police baton, and tried to think of something clean, witty and funny to come back with. I snorted, then opened my mouth to respond, but all that came out was a small puff of dust.

The silence was punctured by a loud "Ha!" from the very back of the room.

This was going to be a long weekend.

 

9am Thursday

I got an email from my Agent "Are you free this weekend?"
As it happened, I was. Save for a couple of open mics and a half-organised brunch with an expat boot designer, I was wide open.
"Good. You're hosting at Bananas Comedy Club in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. 1 show Friday, 2 shows Saturday. No F-Bombs."

 

12:00pm Friday

I packed a bag, left my F-bombs in the cabinet and booked a bus ticket, set to leave Friday afternoon. Sophie, with a newfound interest in visiting the bustling metropolis of New Jersey, decided it was going to be a fun adventure to join me. I booked a second ticket and met her at Port Authority, 3pm Friday afternoon. The magic hour.

The smells of Port Authority on a bustling Friday afternoon are bordering on indescribable, but I'll attempt it:

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The Port Authority Bus Terminal smells like a hot fuselage of poo waft combined with a generous smattering of week-old homeless guy piss, a sprinkle of cheap cigar smoke and the slightest soupçon of wet old dog. Combine that with the cheapest possible bathroom cleaning chemicals and you have a formidable perfume of failure that can only be found on 8th & 42nd.
______
 

Sophie and I wound our way through tunnels, staircases and escalators which she really enjoyed.

Immediately regretting her decision to join me.

Immediately regretting her decision to join me.

4:15pm

We stood in line for what felt like an eon. We jostled for a decent position with business men, office cleaners and part-time DJs all wanting to exit the city for the spacious expanse of New Jersey. Our jostle-game wasn't strong enough to get a decent spot on the bus, so we ended up standing on a 45-minute hell ride around turnpikes and highways. At one point someone punched me in the leg for being too close to them. To be fair, I was almost completely sitting on his shoulder. Fair.

Counting down the stops to Boulevarde / Franklin, we were getting desperate to breathe oxygen again. Two stops before we were due to get off, a gentleman offered to lick Sophie's arm. She politely refused the generous offer.

We clambered off the death bus to find ourselves before a statue of the Hasbrouck Heights Protector...

 

I felt safer already.

5:00pm

We stood on the main street, 25 minutes walk from our lodgings - the glorious Holiday Inn, located right on the on highway between a McDonalds and a Dunkin Donuts. This was also the location of the comedy club, which had been operating since 1988.

We strolled through the green streets of The Heights and eventually arrived to check in. We skipped that part and went straight to the bar for a few whiskeys to shake off the bus vibes.

I told Sophie "I'll be right back, I just need to check in with the club."
She pulled my arm as I was leaving and pointed to the left of the bar. 
The club was here, in the lobby of the Holiday Inn. Perfect.

I checked us in and found a large red button on the counter. Little did I know how much I would wish I had one of those later in the evening.

 

7:00pm

The feature and the headliner arrived and ordered some food. They sat at the back of the room for most of the night at a table about as far from the stage as one could possibly manage.

I ordered some chicken salad and a water, because I'm the whitest person I know. Sophie had some food and sat at the back of the room at the 'comics table' drinking wine, ready to watch the horror unfold.

7:30pm

Showtime.

The room was a hotel conference center/ballroom converted into a series of dinner tables with one small stage at the far end, decorated like a wonderful high school diorama in palm trees, monkeys and, yes, fresh bananas. Jim Jefferies would have a fit.

There was a pre-recorded intro to the show that played as I stood by to run up on stage. My intro said I was from ABC TV, which isn't a complete lie, but because it's ABC Australia, it sort of is.

As my name was said, there was a loud clatter of people put down their knives and forks to applaud as I took the stage with great gusto. I grabbed the mic right out of the stand and asked everyone how they were doing.

That was about as good as I got.

A young man to my right, just in front of the stage caught my attention as he had an interesting face. I asked him his name and what he did. He said he studied computer science and was single. Cool.
I proceeded to do crowd work, material and sunk deeper and deeper into a special kind of bombing that I think is only reserved for drunk best man speeches where the groom is revealed to have had a secret family in Portugal.

All I knew was I had to work clean. No F-Bombs. I was trying everything. I started sweating, going to old material, new material, closers, openers... nothing worked. These people were sitting, arms crossed staring blankly up at me, chewing their chicken parmigiana like cows in a field. They couldn't have been less interested in anything I was saying.

"You British?" the man at the table in front shouted. "You limey fuck!" he added, as the audience erupted in rapturous applause. I had already done 5 minutes of material about being Australian, which made it sting a little deeper.

I looked down, still gripping the mic like a police baton, and tried to think of something clean, witty and funny to come back with. I snorted, then opened my mouth to respond, but all that came out was a small puff of dust. 

The silence was punctured by a loud "Ha!" from the comedians table at the back. I'm pretty sure I heard Sophie muttering "Hubboy..." -- Then to my right I saw a lady listening to the Mets game on her phone. Cool.

After 15 minutes, I was lit by the booker and had no choice but to bring on the support act.

He came on and basically tried to do what I should have done, which was crowdwork and warming up the crowd, but I didn't make it easy for him.

I sunk into my chair at the back as Sophie swilled her wine and grinned sheepishly. She knew it was bad. Really bad. The booker was sitting, watching everyone (and they wouldn't be here for tomorrow night's shows to give me an opportunity to redeem myself. I was never going to play in this town again.

The headliner got up and immediately started dropping F-Bombs. Applause. Laughter. Rapture. 

Now, it wasn't just that he was using F-bombs. He read the room better, his pacing was better, his material was great -- but he also went out to a room that hadn't been 'burned' by the feature or MC using curse words. He did an hour or so and the show closed out.

Nothing I did in between, or at the end of the show could redeem my piss-poor performance. I slunk away outside into an Uber Sophie had called and went to the only bar in town; The Heights.

We sat at the bar for what seemed like days, drinking whiskey and eating ruinous portions of fried food while punching every Chris Cornell song into the jukebox and sighing loudly.

I don't remember how we got back to the hotel, but I do remember watching late night cable TV and nibbling on whatever fried garbage we stashed into the 'to-go' bag we requested. This is the life.

 

 

To be continued...