This story was originally released as part of my monthly emails called “Stories From The Road” where I tell stories, talk about some issues and have my tour dates! If you want to subscribe and keep up with this stuff, sign up for free today!
In my early 20s I started trying to tell stories in my act. In doing so I got the reputation as one of Pittsburgh Clean Comedians. Because of this I wound up doing private engagements quite often. I have performed at my fair share of adult birthday parties! That’s birthday parties for adults not a birthday party with an overwhelming amount of dildos. One of these parties I got booked for was on the same night as a show I was going to headline at a little black box theater outside Pittsburgh.
I took both gigs because the party was going to have me go up at around 7:30pm, perform 30 minutes of my comedy, and then I’d drive the 45-50 minutes to opposite side of town to close the theater show. The party was going to cover my rent for the month and then some, but the theater was most definitely going to be more fun! And as a broke comedian, sometimes you have to do things for the money.
Now I realized very quickly that I undersold myself to the private party when they didn’t try to negotiate me down from my first price. And then I really realized that I undersold myself when I drove up to the house. It was a huge place, with a gate and multiple fountains! MULTIPLE! I walked up to the front door and rang the bell. A woman in a very fancy sari opened the door.
“Hi. Who are you supposed to be?” the woman asked very confused.
“Oh hello, I’m the comedian that supposed to perform at the party tonight!” I replied.
“Oh! That’s you! Ok, you can’t come in through here. You have to go around and enter through the basement doors. The first floor is not for you.”
She shut the door and I walked around the huge house. Down some brick steps and into the basement. I met the gentleman that had booked me for the evening! He was very excited! I should explain that this is a birthday party 2 Indian Men turning 60 on the same day.
“Welcome! Ok, so has anyone explained the program to you?” he exclaimed.
“Program?” I replied.
“Yes, so you are going to big closing act to our program! We are probably going to start around 6:45pm. We have some of the grandkids doing a dance and some poetry. Oh and then, you’ll love this, we have of the members our friends group doing a little skit!”
“Oh wow. Ok, so would I be going up after the skit?”
“Yes! And we’d love it if you roasted the birthday boys!”
“You want me to roast a bunch of people I’ve never met before? I don’t know if this is a good idea!”
“That’s ok, you can talk to their kids and get some material from them! It’ll be fun!”
I checked the clock. I had less than 45 minutes to “get material” from the children of 2 men I’d never met before in my life. So I wound up talking to the kids for a while and learned about these 2 guys. They both came from very humble beginnings in India. They moved to the States in the 70s, worked very hard to get their doctorates! Then struggled through their life to move up chain in their respective fields and become very wealthy and successful. Wealthy enough to have several fountains in front of their mansions.
As it starts getting closer to 6:45, I have no idea what I’m going to do about this roast. Now, in hindsight, I could’ve just skipped it and done my act and just been fine. Besides, that’s what I had been hired to do. But I wanted to impress the person that had hired me to maybe make a recommendation to other folks. So I kept thinking about what I could say, and how I could roast them in a positive way instead of making fun of them.
6:45 came and went. 7pm came and went. Finally at around 7:20, they started their program. I was now going to be late to Black Box Theater gig! So I texted the show runner and then tried to see if we can bump me up in the program. But there was no budging. There were little dances, poems and a lot of adorable things.
Then the skit started. The whole sketch was a bunch of 50 something Indian dudes, talking about their boners for way too long. I think there should be rule that you shouldn’t talk about your boners longer than the boners last. And most of the audience was very confused about why this was happening! But hey, it was almost time for me to go up!
But as I began prepping myself to go in front of these people and roast strangers that I had yet to meet, I heard the gentleman that booked me say, “Well, I think it’s to cut the cake!” CUT THE CAKE? What? And then me? That’s outrageous. I can’t follow cake. No one can follow cake. Cake is always the headliner at the party!
Look, my self esteem is way better than it used to be, but it’s not “I’m better than cake” good! Muffin, sure. I’m better than a muffin. Possibly even a cupcake, but not a full cake. Oatmeal Raisin cookies, I got that, no problem! And I felt even worse once I discovered it was ice cream cake!
Everyone congregates around the cake and sings the song! It is now 8:15. The Black Box Theater show is about kick off. I have 45 minutes before I am supposed to get there for my set. I text the show runner to see if he can stall. I buy myself another 15 minutes. Nobody was headed back to their seats. That’s because Cake the headliner.
The gentleman called everyone’s attention and signaled to me that it was turn to be up. Almost an hour behind schedule. “Alright everyone, come gather around! We have our main event for the evening! Something I think we are all about enjoy. This young man is going to make us laugh and is like our very own Russell Peters!”
He turns and waves over, “Come on young man!”. He had forgotten my name. And then as I approached the “stage” area, he handed me my check in front of everyone! Well that’s not how I expected this to start, so I tried my best to subtly pocket the check and begin my act.
A quick side note here. There’s a percentage of Indian folks that find me and think I’m going to be like Russell Peters or Aziz Ansari, 2 very famous Indian Comedians. I think folks that have seen me and followed my work, will know that I am quite the opposite of that. I don’t hate Russell Peters. In fact, he’s the reason I even decided to do Stand Up. But I don’t want to be a version of him. I was always uncomfortable with the comparison. And when folks come to see me because they think my material is going to be like his, they wind up getting very disappointed.
So back to this party! I tried a few of the roast jokes and none of them were landing. As I feared, it just came off odd and kinda uncalled for. So after 3 or so failed jokes, I looked at the birthday boys and asked how they met.
“College”, the first fella replied.
“Oh wow, so you guys have known each of a while huh? What did you guys study?” I was desperately try to get this show headed in the right direction.
“We have our doctorates.” the second fella responded.
“Well I’m a diagnostician, so I have a doctorate in medicine!” the first fella replied.
“I’ve got my Ph.D in Chemical Engineering!” the second fella replied.
“Oh so you’re not REALLY a doctor then!” I cracked back. The room finally laughed! I felt a little calmer! But just as some calamity started washing over me, the second fella jumped up and grabbed the microphone out of my hand and spent 5 minutes defending his Ph.D and his thesis!
This was I think the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me in my comedy career. But it did give me an out from the roasting and segway into my own material about some family stories! Now even though I’d gotten the room to relax a bit they were still mildly confused about my stories. Again, if they were expecting Russell Peters or Aziz Ansari, then they’re probably going to be disappointed.
I wrapped up my set, looked at the clock and rushed out. I drove like a mad man down to the highway trying to make the second show. I call the show runner and tell him I’m about 20 minutes away. But I wasn’t going to make it. The feature comic had been stretching his time and had already been on stage for 30 minutes. I was so disappointed that I missed a gig.
So I drove back to the city, and met up with my girlfriend at the time, embarrassed and heartbroken that didn’t get to do the second, more fun & freeing show. The following week, I decided I had to make amends with the producers of the show in person. I knew one of them went to this weekly Improv Jam. I saw him waiting by the bar and asked if I could buy him a beer and apologize for what happened.
“I am so sorry for missing the show! I never double book a date unless I know for sure I can make both shows. It was irresponsible for me to do something like that. I’m so embarrassed and feel really bad about this!”
He looked at me and said “It takes a big person to apologize and accept fault in person, so I appreciate that. Truth be told I was pretty pissed off at you missing it, but the fact that you came here in person knowing that it would be uncomfortable, means that you’re an ok guy. We’ll get you back for a future show.”
I thanked him for his forgiveness and the chance for another opportunity. “So why did you miss the show anyway?” he asked me. I told him the story you just read.
He laughed and said, “Looks like you got the punishment before the crime!”