Saturday, November 20, 2010

I’ll Leave The Blight On For You

“I once stayed in a hotel that was such a dump,
on the postcards the bed wasn’t made.”
Mickey Freeman

Let me start by stating how grateful I am to have a job in the entertainment industry; I am truly blessed to live the life of my dreams. Not to brag, but I have nibbled caviar with movie stars, done shots of tequila with rock stars, celebrated pagan holidays with European royalty, and shaken the hands of Presidents. That being said, I am currently writing this in a motel that has a number in its name. (And you know what you never hear a guest of a motel with number name say? “Guess who I just met on the elevator?”) I can attest that living the life of your dreams is not always a dream-life.

One of the greatest misconceptions about show business is the notion that it is eternally glamorous. TV programs like Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous and MTV Cribs have people believing that just because one stands in front of a microphone or camera for a living they live in continuous luxury.

The stereotypical lifestyle of a “star” may hold true for a select few, but for the vast majority of comedians who spend the vast majority of their time performing on the road, we are at the mercy of the person who provides our accommodations. I can speak for all comics when I say our life is a roller coaster ride spanning the entire economic spectrum of housing, from the mansions to the slave quarters. There has been much talk of late about the gap between the rich and poor; my occupation requires leaping that chasm with regularity.

True, there have been times when I’ve been lucky enough to receive the royal treatment, literally; I once stayed in a palatial suite in the luxurious Adolphus Hotel that had previously been occupied by the Queen of England, and in Vegas, I stayed in a room fit for a King (AKA Elvis Presley). But these experiences are exceptions to the rule, and that rule is: the person who hires me wants to spend as little as possible putting me up.

There are three forms of accommodations that my employers use: rental properties (commonly called comedy condos), hotels, and my least favorite, staying on-site.

I’ve performed at some colleges offering degrees in hospitality whose students maintain a one or two unit “hotel” on campus. I always feel odd when they give me a key to my room and then another key to the front door of the Student Center it is located in. Worse than that is when they expect me to stay in a dorm room, usually without a television or private bath; sure, dorm rooms look comfortable in movies and TV, but in real life they are closer to prison. Worse still is being stuck in the dreaded Alumni Guest House, which I invariably have to share with the caretaker, usually an older woman (actually, the mother of an older woman) who can’t understand my resistance to spend the evening sitting next to her watching the Lawrence Welk Show. I have learned to always pack a book so I can entertain myself in privacy (no, not that kind of book!)

The comedy club equivalent to the Alumni Guest House is when you are expected to live at the club owner’s house. Thankfully this is rare, but when it happens I always feel a flashback to my teenage years when I was living with my parents, only this time we are the same age. Ask yourself, how comfortable would you feel if your roommate was also the person that signed your paycheck?

Comedy condos are like living with the owner once removed, since they are always furnished with their hand-me-downs; when the owner gets a new couch the condo gets the old one, so you feel as if you have traveled back in time, because you reside in a decor that was popular about the time you were born. I can say in all honesty I have shared sheets with some of the hottest female comedians in the world, from Sarah Silverman to Chelsea Handler, unfortunately, not at the same time. To give you an idea of how often condos get new sheets, I once had the son of the club owner visit the condo and comment “Oh wow, those were my sheets when I was in third grade.” At the time he was thirty-five. These condos are frequently lacking what most would consider modern necessities; these days, I don’t know anyone, even a five-year-old, which does not have cable or internet connection. But in condos, you consider yourself lucky if you’re provided toilet paper.

If fairness to the owners I have witnessed some comedians realize they will not be asked back to the club and trash the condo in their wake. This barbarous behavior runs the gamut of tossing baked beans on the ceiling to defecating in dresser drawers. This happened at a condo in Oklahoma City the week before I arrived. The owner was so incensed he removed almost all of the furniture; my bedroom had nothing left but a mattress on the floor, I felt like I was on the set of Roots.

I’ve also encountered a handful of lonely club owners that impose a “no guest” policy in their condo; if they are not getting lucky they don’t want you too either. Sometimes this policy is limited to the club’s staff. I worked a club in Houston that was so concerned about the waitresses visiting the condo the manager would get drunk and raid the place in the middle of the night, reminiscent of a Gestapo Storm Trooper bursting through the door while screaming “Vere are da Jews?”

One of my strangest experiences was when a club mailed me a map to their condo with my airline ticket. I arrived to find the door unlocked and walked in with my luggage to see a large man holding a butcher knife while making a sandwich. I assumed he was the other comedian, so I introduced myself and asked him which bedroom was mine. I walked down the hall with my bags exploring the place as he followed stammering “What the f…” After a few very awkward moments I discovered that the club had moved their condo and had not bothered to tell me; I had just tried to move in to a stranger’s apartment.

Hotels offer a vast range in quality, from Plaza to Bates, and I’ve stayed at every kind, from the ones that make you wonder what the peasants are doing to the ones that make you fear for your life.

My biggest complaint with hotels involves the people I have to share them with. Living on the road is lonely enough without having to hear the couple next door on their honeymoon. If the unmistakable sound of sex gets too much for me to bear I resort to dialing room to room and saying, “This is hotel security, we’ve had reports of screams coming from your room, is everything okay?” A panting voice then assures me everything is fine and promises to keep it down.

The hotel employees are usually no more considerate than the guests. It is common comedy fodder that to get a job as a hotel maid you must prove you are unable to comprehend the words “Do Not Disturb.” (For the funniest take on this, seek out the late, great, Bill Hicks’ routine on hotel maids.) Too get even, before I check out, I unroll about twenty feet of toilet paper and write “Help! I’ve been kidnapped by the maids! Call 911!” Then I roll it back up neatly for the next guest to find.

Hotels offer more scares than a Halloween Haunted House, from two-legged lunatics to six-legged bedbugs. You just never know what malady is lurking. For example, while performing in Saint Croix, my opening act, a comedian named Martha Jane, had the rudest awakening ever. During the night, a drain underneath her hotel bed backed up... raw sewage! The moisture seeped up the linens and woke her. Still half-asleep, she stepped barefoot into the ankle-deep mess to see her luggage floating in it (without a paddle).
My comic friend, Al Ducharme, was shaving in his hotel bathroom. In the mirror he caught the reflection of a large rat crawling in his luggage. He was forced to ponder whether it was from his present hotel, or if he had packed the rat from the seedy hotel he was in the previous night.

At a Super 8 in Wise, Virginia, I was locked in a bathroom for over an hour with no one to hear my screams, before I turned into MacGuiver and finally took the lock apart with a fingernail clipper, a Q-tip, and a box of Kleenex. But being locked in is better than being locked out, as I learned at the Salisbury Hotel in the heart of New York City. At the time I was married to a woman who had been tremendously over-served by a bartender that evening, resulting in her vomiting in the hotel room trash can, before passing out. The rancid smell soon became such a problem, I decided to place the trash can out into the hallway... without a stitch of clothing (I had the same bartender). No sooner out the door, than I heard it click behind me. Locked out of my room with nothing to hide my shame but a bucket of barf! And she was too unconscious to hear my pounding on the door. As fate would have it, at this very moment, the elevator opposite my room opened. I'm not sure who had the more shocked expression, me or the dozen people, who upon seeing a nude man holding a small trash can at waist level, chose to stay in the elevator.

Ooops, I’ve got to go get some clothes on; the maid just barged in…

“The Laff Guru” has taken his message of LAUGHTER=NIRVANA to all 50 states and 23 countries. His awards include: “Comic of the Year,” “Campus Performer of the Year,” and a “Cable Ace Award.” His credits include over fifty TV appearances, including: Showtime and The Late Show. He is represented by GP Entertainment. To find out more about his award-winning comedy act please visit:

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