Wednesday, March 05, 2014

My short-lived stand-up career

This was going to be my big moment. It was the mid ‘70s and I was a disc jockey on B100 San Diego. The hottest group in America at the time was KISS and B100 was sponsoring their only San Diego concert. They sold out the 16,100 seat San Diego Sports Arena in like fifteen minutes.

I was selected to introduce them.

I had never done stand-up comedy but figured ‘what better place to start?’ Who needs open mic night in front of eight drunks on a Monday at 1 AM? I was a funny guy. I could skip a few steps. Go right to a sold out arena.

I asked how much time I could have and was told a couple of minutes. Perfect. I would write up five or six killer jokes. Piece of cake. And the audience knew me from the radio. So it’s not like I was a stranger. I felt sorry for all the poor stand ups who struggled for years in dive clubs and dive towns. Lucky me, I was able to bypass all that shit.

So I wrote some jokes. The smart thing to do might’ve been go to a comedy club and test out the material. A free rehearsal and a chance to fine tune. But no, didn’t do that. It’s only a few jokes. I’d been doing comedy on the radio for years. I knew how to sell a line.

The night of the concert I report backstage before the show. Lots of hustle and bustle. A greasy dinner is served in the bowels of the building for all the performers and crew members. Actually, the performers were in their dressing room either eating there, getting their make up applied, or more likely banging some fifteen-year-old girl. So it was me, roadies, and security thugs. The thought occurred: maybe I should try one or two jokes out on them. Get some feedback. Nah, either I was confident in the material or I wasn’t. I was so why bother?

The concert was supposed to start at 8. I was ready to go. KISS wasn’t. By 9 the audience was getting restless. Some chanting and stomping was heard. KISS was there. They had been in the arena since 3:00 for their sound check. Keeping the audience waiting was a calculated move. Never let it be said that KISS front man, Gene Simmons, wasn’t a savvy guy.

Now I’m getting a little nervous. Has waiting drained a little of my adrenaline? Will I still be able to deliver my lines with the same pizzazz? And how long should I wait for the laughter? It was a big cavernous barn. The big laughs might sweep across the Sports Arena like giant waves. I had to be prepared. And if the laughter was too big and long I might have to drop a joke. I decided which joke to drop.

Finally, the band joined me backstage and I was given the signal to go on.

I marched out onto that big stage and approached the mic. The sound was deafening. 16,100 crazed, stoned, drunk, impatient, surly kids screaming and some booing. Stage lights assaulting me. Like fireflies, thousands of lighters were held high by crowd members. I stood at the mic, surveyed the scene, and this was my first ever stand up routine.

“BIOO presents KISS!!!”

And I got off that stage as fast as I could.

That was also the end of my stand-up career. I figured, why not quit while I’m ahead?

21 comments:

Scooter Schechtman said...

Brave cannon fodder! Were you wearing a red shirt at the time?

Carol said...

Stories like this is why you need to write a sequel to your Me Generation book.

Dave Wilson said...

I went to a J. Geils concert at the Santa Monica Civic. Best rock 'em sock 'em rock and roll event I ever saw. Amazingly, the introductory act was a James Taylor wannabe David Blue, whose patron was Graham Nash. I felt sorry for the poor guy. During every mellow song he sang, the raucous crowd was constantly yelling "J. Geils!". Eventually, Nash came out to do a song or two with him, so we got to see him a bit. Tough crowd...

Stoney said...

Forgive me but this reminds me so much of an old Albert Brooks bit about opening for Richie Havens in San Antonio.

H Johnson said...

I love your blog Ken. And it's a funny story. But Kiss was never the hottest act in America. Super popular with the doofis (plural of doofus. I had to look that up).

You'd have had to kill Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Led Zepplin and the Beach Boys even to move Kiss into Captain & Tennille territory.

Sorry for being a douche, I just hate it when history is changed via the internet.

Phil In Phoenix said...

You did good, Ken!

John Travolta would have done it as "Dloo presents Siks!"

Mike Barer said...

If you were introducing Flo and Eddy in the 70s they would have joined you in the comedy.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Great comment Phil!

MikeFab said...

Well Ken, in comedy it's said that timing is everything. And it was time to get the hell off that stage. So that's funny, right?

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

blinky said...

Not really sure if this is where I can submit a Friday Question but...
On some shows the characters devolve or melt into one composite. For example, on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia everyone has become the same character. In the first season they had distinct identities but after Danny DeVito came on board they are all Charlie: stupid, impulsive and eager to do the exact wrong illogical thing.
On Cougar Town all the actors are winos taking turns delivering wacky lines.
Is this a result of taking the easy way to laughs? How does a good show keep characters distinct?

thesamechris said...

Good idea to drop all the jokes. Here is a funny bit by Paul F. Tompkins on stand-up opening for music.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMVcWEy9cFA

Matt said...

Friday question--

When Frasier was in the studio and "on-air", was his RE20 hot?

Dale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob said...

I saw Steve Landesberg open for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in about 1976 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. He seemed to think that he was in Notre Dame and kept telling lame Catholic and football jokes. In short he bombed.

We went to the after party (I was working in radio at the time), and a friend went up to the bar to get a drink, just as Landesberg walked up. "I saw your show," she said. "Thank you," he replied. She said "I didn't say I liked it," and walked away.

Ken did the right thing.

DBenson said...

Billy Crystal had a one-night gig introducing Blood, Sweat and Tears. He had to fill time when the band was late; then had to go back on when the lead singer abruptly walked off; then had to go on AGAIN when the singer walked off a second time.

Gary Theroux said...

In 1974, shortly before Ken’s stand-up debut, I was working at KIIS radio in the Playboy Building on the Sunset Strip when the lobby receptionist called me all upset because there were picketers outside on the sidewalk Wondering what the deal was, I discovered the picketers were four rather weird looking guys in clown-like make-up who were upset because our station was not playing their debut single. After all, shouldn’t KIIS broadcast the first release of -- Kiss? I invited them in, sat them down in an unoccupied studio and thus began recording Kiss’ very first radio interview. In it, Gene Simmons explained their make-up and attire were simply desperation gimmicks. He’d been trying for years to get noticed amid the avalanche of would-be pop stars in Hollywood and finally decided that the only way a band of moderate talent could get any attention would be if they not only adopted A gimmick but became the ultimate multi-gimmick musical ensemble. And that approach was perfectly in sync with that of Neil Bogart, the owner of the newly-formed Casablanca label. Neil had built his entire career on the backs of short-lived novelty acts like The Lemon Pipers, The Ohio Express and The 1910 Fruitgum Company and saw no reason to mess with a successful formula. His secret, as he explained it to me: “Spend as much or more on promotion than ou do on everything else combined.” What later shocked and delighted Neil was when three of the acts he signed to Casablanca as flash-in-the-pan novelties – Donna Summer, The Village People and Kiss – actually developed careers which lasted longer than a few months. I must say I was quite impressed with Gene Simmons’ direct honesty and his group’s ebut single, “Kissin’ Time” – but warned Gene that acts built on novelty alone tend to burn out very quickly. He assured me that once the novelty angle got people to actually sample Kiss, they’d discover that their music was not novelty-oriented and that it and the band itself had staying power. Turns out he was right. (A footnote: Shortly after that interview a new man came onboard at KIIS; some guy named Ken Levine. He’d been a DJ in San Diego under the name “Beaver Cleaver” and had dreams of becoming a TV sitcom writer. I immediately locked into that as we shared the same sense of humor and my dream was to become a TV sitcom actor. I wonder whatever became of that guy.)

Mike said...

Nice comment from Gary Theroux.

Simmons did a couple of series of Rock School in the UK. In the first, pupils from a posh private school formed a band and opened for Motörhead. In the second, pupils from a less salubrious state school formed a band and opened for Judas Priest in the States. One kid retained some limelight for a little while.
(That's about the most interesting thing I can write about Kiss.)

Doug said...

"Savvy" isn't the adjective that normally comes to mind when Gene Simmons is brought up.

Hamid said...

If Liza Minnelli had been walking by, she'd have got on stage and hugged all the band members.

Johnny Walker said...

Great post, great comment.

I can't say I've ever seen a standup before a band, but I've been in enough audiences to know that one would go down like a lead balloon. I can't believe anyone has EVER considered it a good idea, but you hear so many stories (Billy Connolly tells some in the latest WTF). For fans of bands with loyal followings, support acts are the greens you have to force down before you get desert.