Now that we're living IN THE FUTURE, we can spend most of our free time in a pursuit that our friends and relations have only the vaguest idea even existed.
Me: I'm a comedy nerd. I know the best comedy podcasts to listen to. I know the best places for live comedy in LA, New York, Philadelphia, and Austin (even though I've been to none of them). I know which household names have no respect in the business and which ones do. I know that Rooster T. Feathers is an actual comedy club.
And why is it important to me? I don't know. Why was it important to me to collect all the Peanuts comic strip collections as a kid? Or all the Tumbleweeds comic strip collections? Or Bloom County after that? Or Calvin and Hobbes? Why did I quote Steve Martin throughout high school? Why are nine of my top ten movies of all time comedies? Laughing is important. It may be the thing keeping me afloat.
Speaking of floating, Helium Comedy Club opened in Portland this last summer. I was excited because although Portland had a comedy club, it was (is) a dump and doesn't draw top names. This new one was an offshoot of a popular club in Philadelphia and the word among the comics I admired was that they would try it out. And advance notice from the first few comics was good.
We saw Jimmy Pardo last August. We drank in the bar before we went into the showroom - rookie mistake, as those drinks don't count toward the two-drink minimum required in the showroom.
The comedy club two-drink minimum custom is an annoyance, and seems like a rip-off after you've paid good money for your tickets, but the sad truth is that ticket sales do not cover expenses. It's like the airlines with their goddam luggage fees. They could charge you a fair price for the whole service up front, but they are afraid you might not buy the ticket at that price. Same holds true for comedy clubs. It works, too. I remember recently deciding not to go see comic Mike Birbiglia because the theater tickets were like $100 for the two of us. Last night at the comedy club, we spent $50 for the tickets, and another $40 for food, drinks and tips. Comedy club win. Honest theater ticket price fail.
Back to Jimmy Pardo. Luckily for us, food orders count towards that two-thing minimum, so I still remember the evening. If you ever get a chance to see Pardo in person, I highly recommend it. He does very little touring as he serves as Conan O'Brien's warm-up act on the Conan show (as he did for Conan's short run as Tonight Show host), but we were lucky to catch him between gigs, so to speak (after the Tonight Show ended and before Conan began production). Pardo should have his own television talk show. He hosts an excellent one via podcast - one of the few pay-per-view podcasts that is a going concern, and the only podcast I pay to download (see Never Not Funny at Parcast.com).
We saw Greg Proops in September. He made a tactical error by starting off the set by mocking Portland's large bicycle riding community. Especially all those bike riders wearing helmets. Huh? This was met with a few laughs and A LOT of icy stares. After that, he seemed to retreat into tried-and-true material and did better, but never really won back the crowd. Pleasingly multi-syllabic? Certainly. Comfortably left-of-center? Sure, but never hilariously so. In the meantime, all I can think about is how hungry I am. Our waitress forgot to take our food order, and as we were in the front row (which in this room is practically on the stage), there was no way we could have tackled a waitperson without causing a scene. So hungry.
Another digression about comedy clubs: why do they have to deliver the check for your table JUST as the comic is ramping up to his big finish? We're all following the comic, happy to be in his or her head instead of our own, and then, just as it's getting good, we all have to stop and do math! That's bullshit. And it cools down the room for the comic - that rapt attention is lost just when it is needed most. There must be a better way - like a McMenamins movie theater system, where you order and pay for your food up front and then go in and sit down, and the waitress brings it out. Do I have to think of everything?
Back to Proops. So he's working hard, trying to get us to commit, and here comes the waitress with our bill. FOR TWO DRINKS EACH. What? We might have ordered two drinks if we had had the chance! Drew throws his credit card on the bill without putting his glasses on to read it, and I say nope, not paying. This catches Proops' eye, which gives him a focus for all the frustration he has amassed up to this point. He spits something like, "look at these out-of-towners trying to figure out what to tip. They must be from Gresham!" A cheap, old, easy laugh that he paid for with our icy stares for the remainder of the set, which ended with another elderly bit about how when we were growing up, we didn't need any of those dumb seat belts, and we grew up just fine. No, seriously, that's what he closed his set with. Ouch. HIS new podcast is called The Smartest Man in the Room. It has received a lukewarm reception from critics of such things.
Oh, and we convinced the management not to charge us for drinks or food that we weren't able to order.
After the Proops Incident it took some arm twisting to get Drew back to Helium, but when I heard Patton Oswalt was coming, I said "please" and he gave in because he likes to make me happy. This time I didn't pay extra to get reserved seats, which means we would have to line up like cattle to get our seats and share a table with two strangers, but it also meant that we wouldn't be sitting up front in danger of stand-up push-back. Luckily, it's a small enough room that even if we were seated at the back, it wouldn't have lessened the experience.
We got fairly good seats, and our waitress took our order! Yay! The feature act was good for a beginner. He was 26. My son is 26. If you had lined them up side-by-side, you would have thought that (a) they couldn't possibly be the same age, and (b) they may not even be the same species. But I think that's due to the fact that they were both outliers - in opposite directions. One a full-time athlete and one a full-time gamer.
Patton Oswalt is one of the great stand-ups working today. If you only know him from King of Queens or Big Fan, do yourself a favor and Netflix one of his recent stand-up specials. Or just go see him live. Or watch this You Tube animation. As much as I enjoyed Jimmy Pardo, I laughed more at Oswalt. Just a flawless set - whether from prepared material, or riffs on Portland, or crowd work, or marveling at the (pretty bad, but very colorful) backdrop mural, it was funny.
And therapeutic. Better than a spa day. I think. I've never actually had a spa day. But if you want to get to the bottom of this, you can always arrange one for me.