Everybody loves a good hell gig. They’re not particularly enjoyable to experience but when it’s over, it’s over. You still get paid and you end up with a great story. Great shows with terrific crowds may be good for the ego, but an evening with flannel clad lumberjack wannabes that hate you is the stuff legendary comedy tales are truly made of. This is one of my favorites.
Wednesday night, I arrive at the Fon Du Lac, Wisconsin Holiday Inn around 7:30. The show is scheduled 8:00. Looks pretty much like every other one-nighter I’ve ever done. I make my way through the lobby to the lounge by following the “Karaoke Tonight” signs. I check in, say hello to my fellow comedian and meet the host for tonight’s festivities. “No we don’t usually start ‘til about nine or so.” Says the DJ, and by DJ, I don’t mean the guy from the local radio station who passes out Leinenkugel shirts and “Get ‘er done” beer holders to the patrons who can belch the most letters of the alphabet in proper sequence without breathing. I mean the guy who sits in the booth and pushes the button on the CD player marked “play.” We’ll call him “Dale”
Dale and I exchange pleasantries. In the course of our talk, I come to find that the real reason anybody is here is for Karaoke. “Every Wednesday is Karaoke night. Only we can’t get started ‘til you guys are done.” Dale also informs me that he is, in fact, a Packer fan, as if the pit-stained yellow sweater with the #4 on an embroidered cheddar wedge background didn’t provide me with my first clue to the mystery of his football preference. He asks me for some credits to mention in my introduction and he jots them down in his notebook. “Could you also mention that I have a CD available?” “No problem. I’ll keep them in the booth for you.”
It’s about 9:20 and we start the show. The sea of flannel we will call an audience is pounding down their karaoke night beer specials in anticipation of the main event. Dale hits the stage, makes a few announcements and brings up the first comedian. We’ll call him John. John does a commendable job of putting his head down and plowing through while they talk among themselves. It’s not completely horrible. He’s getting through it, though the longer he stays up, the less they listen, and the more intoxicated they become. John senses their waning interest and launches into his closing bit, a deer-hunting piece. A stroke of genius! Hit them where they live. He manages to leave the stage with a smattering of applause and he lives to see another day.
Dale returns to the stage and informs the unruly bunch that Karaoke time is not here yet, but if they can last through one more guy, we can get the fun started. He introduces me, sans notebook, and forgets my name. I hit the stage at 10:00 and I feel the room take an ugly turn. “Hate him! Hate him! Hate him!” The vibe resonates throughout karaokeland before I’ve even uttered a word. They are not listening, but they do take an occasional moment to blurt their nonsensical musings and sarcastically scream “NO!” in response to my rhetorical questions while on their way to drop their karaoke slips at the booth.
I select a spot on the back wall at which to stare, and deliver the rest of my soliloquy. I exit the stage. We all rejoice! To a man, they hate me. Dale takes the microphone and wraps things up: “How about a nice hand for Chris Mootay! Chris Mootay, everybody! Be sure to get a copy of Chris Mootay’s CD!
Chris Mootay? I’ve had my name butchered before, but this was the most entertaining of all. Dale retreats to the booth and the love fest of bad singing commences. First up, it’s Connie, with her stirring rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” Now, it’s simple. Get paid. Get out. A hotel employee finds me and says, “I’ll be right with you.” I take this moment to head over to Dale at Karaoke Central, get my CD’s, and hit the road. “Thanks Dale, it was fun. I just need to grab those CD’s. Then, horror of horrors, Dale in a fit of spontaneous ass-holery, stops the music, and cuts off Janis Joplin mid song! “Hey everybody, it’s your last chance to get Chris Mootay’s CD! Get the Chris Mootay CD now! A chorus of boos ensues with increasing volume as Janis Joplin flips me the proverbial finger. Before they can draw their hunting rifles, Dale hits the play button, thus restoring harmony. Just for the sheer hell of if, I asked, “What’s my name?”
“Chris Mootay” he says with conviction. I held up one of the CD’s with my name “Mike Toomey” displayed in bold letters. After taking a beat, to absorb this new information, Dingleberry again reaches for the microphone and yes, stops the music. “I’m sorry everybody, it’s Chris Toomey! Last chance for the Chris Toomey CD!” The Boos are back, only this time with much more fervor. Dipshit re-starts the music yet again. I need to get out, and the only way to reach the exit is to walk past the stage, right in front of Janis where I receive yet another chorus of spastic boos. As the first song ends, I collect my money. Singer number two takes the stage, and as she launches into yes, “Me and Bobby McGee” (I’m not kidding) I head for the door.
On my way out, I sold one CD.