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Opening for Kenny | Pat Cashman
I have several friends who are standup comics. I admire them for their sheer nerve. Think of it: Voluntarily standing on stage in front of a crowd of hostile strangers, trying to make them laugh — and risking stony silence, or even worse: booing, heckling and physical violence. It’s comparable to having your skin flayed and then lightly salted, with just a smidge of lemon juice added.
But at one point, I wanted to give it a try — figuring that really great, witty material would always win the day. Not having any such material, I nonetheless plunged forward many years ago with my own fledgling standup career.
One of my first onstage appearances was opening a music concert in my hometown. I told a few jokes that produced about as many laughs as Schindler’s List. Then I was handed a note. The rock band everyone was there to see had been delayed by a snowstorm over the mountain pass. That was surprising in mid-July.
Things got ugly. A raw egg was hurled and splattered onto the stage floor next to me. I bent down, pretended to taste it and said, “I believe this is a bit undercooked.” I was hustled off-stage before the crowd could find torches and pitchforks.
They say a good comic should have at least 10 minutes of “solid” material. I had about 35 seconds — if I talked real slow.
My big chance came when I was asked to open on two successive nights for Kenny Rogers. Yep, the singer of The Gambler and Coward of the County — in his pre-plastic surgery days.
The first night went well. I got a few laughs. The biggest one came by accident when I tripped walking on stage. I made a mental note to keep it in the act.
The next night was in a different town a couple hundred miles away. Kenny flew in a private jet. I drove my Nova.
When I arrived at the concert theatre, someone told me things wouldn’t get underway until 8 o’clock. Unfortunately, they meant that’s when Kenny was to go on.
So well before 8 o’clock, I was standing at least a hundred yards away outside in the theatre parking lot — when a local D.J. announced to the capacity audience of a couple thousand: “Folks, the man you’ve come to see tonight, Kenny Rogers, will be out shortly. But until then, here’s a young comedian, Pete Cushman!”
When I failed to appear, the crowd began rumbling. Someone ran out into the parking lot and screamed, “Hey, you’re on! They’ve already introduced you!”
That feeling of horror — and then trying to run to the theatre entrance, down the main aisle and up the steps onto the stage — is the thing of nightmares. The closer I got, the more audible the jeering became.
It is all a blur after that. Out of breath, I struggled through my monologue, with the mob giving me no mercy as they chanted, “Kenny! Kenny!”
Finally, with great relief, I left the stage — garnering my only applause of the night.
I didn’t try standup for many years after that.
Guess you have to know when to hold 'em — and when to fold ’em.
Pat Cashman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at his podcast at peculiarpodcast.com. Pat's new weekly local comedy sketch show, "the 206," airs following SNL on KING 5.