Barry Smith: Irrelativity
September 15, 2008
(Barry is on tour, performing his comedy shows across the United States and Canada all summer long. Today’s dispatch comes from Vancouver, B.C. …)
I met Spalding Gray once, briefly.
Spalding Gray’s monologue-film, “Swimming To Cambodia,” is what made me want to do solo shows. It’s probably what made everyone who does solo shows want to do solo shows, even those who’ve never seen it. The Wheeler Opera House was one of his tour stops, so I saw all of his monologues from 1991 on performed there. I was a fan.
I met him about 10 years ago after a performance of his last monologue, “Morning, Noon and Night.” We had a mutual friend, so I managed to get backstage. It was one of those typical backstage meetings, where he was in that post-show buzz, doing a good job of being gracious and appreciative while everyone swarmed around to tell him how great he was and how much they liked his show. My friend introduced us, and I told him how great he was and how much I liked the show.
He replied, “Did you think the music was loud enough? I think it could have been louder.”
He was referring to one point during his show where he picks up a boom box, hits play, and starts dancing around with it. It was about 90 seconds of the hour-plus show.
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“Sounded good to me,” I said. And it did.
“I think it should have been louder,” he repeated, obviously a bit disappointed.
I didn’t understand, but this was long before I ever imagined that I’d do my own show someday.
This past week in Vancouver has been a very good one. I’m on the final week of a long, long summer on the road, and the new show is being incredibly well received. The reviews have been absolutely perfect, as if I’d written them myself in a particularly non-humble moment. People have been laughing very, very hard at the funny parts. Last night a woman in the front row was laughing so hard that she was doubled over and her leg was doing that involuntary kicking thing that dog’s legs do when you scratch their bellies.
I looked down at this woman and thought, “This is my job!”
My job is to make people kick their legs involuntarily ” and yesterday’s show was a particularly good day at the office. Everyone was having such a good time, and I was so happy that this is what I get to do. This is it. I’m the luckiest person alive.
But then I had a thought: How come there aren’t more people here?
Or, more specifically, how come there are empty seats?
Or, to be fully honest: Why the hell didn’t I sell this freakin’ place out?! I’ve had great reviews, great shows, and this is a great time slot! Where the #%$^ is everybody else!?
Now, this is a screwed-up thought to have, especially right in the middle of a great show. But there it was, being thought, no way to deny it.
This is so wrong in so many ways. First of all, there were loads of people there. And they were enjoying the show thoroughly. So why have this thought of greed and dissatisfaction RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF PURE BLISS?
Because I am clearly insane.
Now, part of me wants to say that this is healthy ” this dissatisfaction and drive is what keeps me moving forward, always striving for more, right? Hey, Spalding Gray did it ” he was the most famous monologist ever, an award-winning writer and performer, performing in a beautiful opera house in Aspen, and he was nitpicking over the music volume. So that’s just the way artists are, right? Then again, Spalding Gray killed himself, so maybe his are not the healthiest footsteps to follow in. Maybe these kernels of dissatisfaction can lead to much more drastic measures. Yikes.
It feels like a much deeper problem ” there’s nothing wrong with wanting to grow and progress, but not when it comes between you and what you have at the moment.
Hmmmm … anyway, I’m feeling all reflective because I have one final show left on the summer tour. Nine cities, 70 or so performances (I lost count), and it’s now down to the very last one. And it’s tonight. The potential is all there for it to be great, but I think I’m OK with expectations at this point. All I can do is have fun, try not to think stupid things, make sure my remote control has fresh batteries, eat a banana half hour before showtime ” all these things are within my control. And I like bananas.
Next time: End of the road.
Barry Smith’s Irrelativity appears Mondays.
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