Friday, July 14, 2006

My Life Amongst the Squinty-Eyed Carny Folk

While some people are enjoying microbrew and famous authors, I dwell in the hinterland.

People who have never been to Michigan think it's is all about Detroit. Motown. Hockeytown. Where the weak are killed and eaten. It's all suburban sprawl because everyone has a car and no one actually lives in Detroit.

But outside of the land of eternal suburbia, there are the wilds of Michigan. The place where Hemingway vacationed as a kid and learned to hunt and fish. The Upper Peninsula (or U.P for short) has no one up there. It's a vast wilderness. And in the rest of the state it's either waterfront or farm land. And I'm in the farmland.

I've delayed writing about this because it didn't go well for someone I really like. His name is Mike Birbiglia and he's very funny. He even has a Secret Public Journal that he'll let you read and listen to.

Now because I live with the hicks in the sticks, we have our comedy shows outdoors.
At the fairgrounds.
The day before the tractor pull starts.
No, I'm not making any of this up.

And the lineup was very good. Dan St. Paul who does a great bit about the first baseball game ever broadcast (with a dead on Harry Caray impression), Tim Bedore (chronicler of the animal conspiracy), Tim Cavanagh (the master of the one minute song) and Mike Birbiglia. They're all great and if you get the chance to see them, please do so.

But the stage set up was very oddly. It was a covered grandstand but they had the stage on the infield. And yes, the tractors that would be a pullin' later in the week were already out on the rest of the field. So yes, there were comedians and behind them were a couple of trailers/dressing rooms and behind that there were an odd assortment of John Deere tractors.

And because it was at the fairgrounds, they had beer. And I'm not talking normal beer. They only sold Jethro-sized draft beer in 32 oz gigantor glasses or 16 oz tall boys. Now I'm never one to complain that there's too much beer. That's an uptown problem. But a comedy show (unlike the interweb) isn't really meant to be interactive. So when the audience begins to participate (usually by yelling inarticulate, rambling incoherencies at the professional comedian) it won't go well.

And some woman decided that she'd start yelling at Mike Birbiglia. I don't know what conversation was happening in her head, but it didn't make a lot of sense to the audience or to Mike. And Mike politely tried to tell her that he's there to tell his funny stories to everyone not just her. If she'd let him do that, maybe he could talk to her later. Which only resulted in more incoherencies. This exchange went on for about 4 minutes. Which in a really uncomfortable setting that involves several thousand people lasts forever.

Now Mike has the rare ability take any awkward situation and make it even more awkward. He tells a story about how when he was moving into an apartment, a lady let him in because he had his bed with him. She said, "I'll let you in because a rapist wouldn't bring his own bed." Now the correct response is nothing. But he said, "Oh, you'd be surprised." Like I said, the ability to make any awkward situation even more awkward.

I always thought the standard response to any heckler was, "Hey, I'm trying to work up here. I don't come down to where you work and slap the dick out of your mouth."

But Mike didn't go with the standard response and tried to reason with her. He asked if she could just wait a bit to express her great enthusiam and let him go on. And I just don't think she was in a reasoning mood. Eventually her friends quieted her down, or she fell asleep or fell through the grandstand and hit her head and died a painful death. But you could tell it flustered Mike.

And he didn't seem to deal with it very well and never really got back on track. I just felt sorry for him because he could never get his rhythm back or the crowd back.

I've never really felt sorry for a performer before. Even mimes. I mean they're in that imaginary box by choice.

But I felt sorry for Mike that night. I hope he comes back because he's really funny. But he probably just thinks that farmers are stupid drunks who won't even let him tell his swell stories.
We apologize for the drunk lady everywhere Mike. Come back, Mike. Come back.


kris said...

Seriously, this pains me. It sounds like watching a little kid forget his words on stage and run off crying. I can't take it.

This is why I find it excruciating to go to improv shows sober.

mike birbiglia said...

kris, funny telling but i was fine with it! what else can you expect at a Fair? i'll be back to midland. next time, in a place with walls!

t2ed said...

Who knew walls would be a pre-requisite to comedy?

But it's true.

Can't wait for you to come back, Mike.