By Kurt Weitzmann
For every comic with a modicum of self-esteem
opening a one nighter for a stranger in Winnemucca is easier to
say no to than a prison gang rape. I try to tell the pushy little
freak on the phone that I don't open one nighters in ... where is
"It will be fun", he says. "I have
pot", he says. I tell him I don't smoke. I can feel his disappointment.
I am an empath. I actually start to feel sorry for the guy. I know
he's not gonna find another comic in San Francisco to drive him
to the depths of Winnemucca and back. And something tells me there
is an adventure connected to this rude and unexpected phone call
from headliner X. I say yes with an inaudible smirk.
Why can't this be fun? A road trip. My friend
Scott Canzano has always wanted to go to Winnemucca- really. He'll
go. THIS WILL BE FUN! It took me about 3 days to realize the subtle
insolence of that conversation. The more I ran that smarmy little
voice in my head the more I realized that Mr.. X must think he got
one over on me. Jesus, I even agreed to pick him up at the Reno
greyhound station. He had no idea I was doing this for a lark -
a story. In his eyes, I had meekly fallen into the role of eager
young opener mesmerized by his seasoned comic telemarketing skills...
Who was this guy?
The night before the gig I slept all of three
hours tossing with dark thoughts of impending doom. 'What am I doing?
Why did I agree to this public humiliation, this brutal flagellation
of my self-respect? Opening in Winnemucca? And what is this anxiety?'
I was beginning to convince myself that what started out as a little
private masochistic joke really could end in tragedy. To get to
Winnemucca from San Francisco one must drive over the infamous Donner
Pass, and all night long I had nightmares about a faceless comic
taking bites out of my frozen liver and spleen while he juggled
them with a feather and a bowling ball. But I think my biggest fear
was that absolutely nothing might happen.
I had to wake up an hour early in order to pick
up my fourth passenger. My buddy Christopher volunteered to join
us as a distraction to his otherwise miserable life. Christopher
is a lot of fun and a good person to have along if one wants an
uncomfortable situation to escalate. I never really figured it out
but I think his long history of violence has something to do with
the world owing him a pony. A good deal of my anxiety had to do
with the possibility of him callously telling the headliner the
truth about his act, or sending Scott into a silent rage for 6 hours
of hard driving.
We miss all traffic, get over the pass and reach
Reno without incident. To my surprise Christopher and Scott seem
to be getting along. We eat, lose just enough money gambling to
say we did it, and head over to the bus station to pick up roady
Although I don't even have a description of him, I just naturally
assume he's the lanky 40-year-old lad with the long, early Duran
Duran mullet molesting the teen-age girl in the corner. Although
he sees us instantly, It takes him about five minutes to finish
his conversation before walking over and acknowledging us with a
witticism that I will chivalrously spare the kind reader. He turns
and puts his hand up - a good bye from across the room and the poor
girl waves back meekly, thinly veiling a mixture of relief and disgust.
Who the fuck was this guy?
Rudely ignoring the two civilians, our new friend
wastes no time in establishing the Alpha comic. Have I ever played
here? Ever played there? Do you know so and so? This ritual is not
unlike a dog smelling another's butt. I must admit that his knowledge
of shit holes and road hacks made me want to roll on my back till
he was done sniffing my crotch, but instead Christopher saves me
by starting a violent one sided argument over who would ride shotgun.
Back on the road the rubber popped against the
cement, loud enough to keep me awake, steady enough to put me to
sleep. This was the part of the trip I liked the best. The trivial
conversation had ended a while ago and our tete-a-tete on the "art
form" had faded uncomfortably about three miles back. Now I
was safe to turn up the music and try to ignore my new passenger.
The headliner: We disliked him instantly. His
conversation ranged from comedy advice to sleazy road conquests,
and it was not more than ten minutes into the trip before his tedious
diatribe turned to LSD and his performances at the rainbow gatherings.
"I'm only telling you guys this 'cause you seem cool. Do you
guys know Kevin Meaney?... Well, he's the only famous guy I've ever
tripped with. You know his act? That thing about his mother? Well
I do that at the gatherings but I change it to a hippie mom. They
We could now add thievery to his crimes against
humanity and, if my instincts were correct, I was pretty sure that
his act could also be found near the top of that list. He stole
from the only peripherally famous person who would trip with him.
By the end of our adventure this would be the least of his breaches
in drug decorum.
Discreet is good. Sometimes better than no drug
habit at all. There is nothing worse than a hack without a drug
habit. They are always rudely uncomfortable with the smell and general
disarray of the car, or spend the trip quietly pitying you in pleasantly
hostile silence. The megalomania, and it is always present in the
case file of a shameless road hack, is much easier to stomach when
connected with drug use. But alas, the days of drug habits were
all but over in the late 90's. Prozac had virtually destroyed the
cocaine traffic in comedy circles. As a lot of the old time comics
had gotten writing jobs and Day jobs as script readers, the high
of cocaine and road dust had been replaced by power and money rushes.
Hangovers interfere with meetings. People had even stopped selling
themselves. They now sold what the widest demographic would most
likely perceive to be themselves.
This guy could have been an enjoyable anomaly... if he wasn't such
Throughout the ride he kept calling me Mike, and
by the time we got to Winnemucca I had stopped correcting him. As
we pulled into the parking lot of Winners Casino the awkward silence
was deafening. I felt
responsible. But all in all the two hour drive from Reno was uneventful.
Christopher had not smashed the headliner's face into the dashboard,
and once we were out of the car we were all just happy to be in
Winnemucca. Jesus, this guy was an asshole!
We check in and there is nothing to do except
lose money till the show. If you've never been to Winnemucca- don't.
But if you do you'll find that people are nice in Winnemucca. They
have to be. For one simple reason: guns. Nowhere else in my travels
has the double entendre of the phrase 'simple people' been more
apparent. With ignorance comes a refreshing lack of cynicism, and
there is a certain personality trait of endearing innocence that
comes of inbreeding.
Mike, the house MC, is a great guy; a transplanted
LA cowboy; a
know when to walk away, know when to run kinda fellow. Whatever
past I assume he's hiding from in Winnemucca is far behind him and
he seems to be having a blast. This is no small feat in a one-casino
town in northern Nevada. We like Mike. Ironically, our headliner
can't remember his name either, and constantly refers to him as
"that MC guy". Mike hates our headliner too, but peripherally,
with the quiet annoyance of a 300 pound biker getting one too many
My time on stage is well spent. I actually have
a lot of fun. The crowd is surprisingly worldly, dare I say hip.
This is good news for me but rather bad for X the unknown, who condescends
to simplify. It's a weird act, an odd combination of the offensive
and the cliched. It's mostly made up of the difference between boys
and girls, drug references, and creepy quips on masturbation. I
can only assume that the jokes about living with his parents are
20 years old, but I have my doubts. The audience doesn't really
buy it. I just wish they had spent the day in a car with him. I
think they would have been a little harder on him.
After the show he critiques my act as we 'cash
out' our checks. In between asking me if I want to trip with him
and explaining to the teller that he doesn't have an ID, he tells
me that I look very natural up there-"like you're just talking".
Back in our room Scott, Christopher, and me compare
notes and confer that it's not just us; that he is, well... Unfuckingdefinable
is what he is! And clingy. He want's to trip with us! Scott and
Christopher actually consider it and go to his room where he offers
them a hit for free that's been in his bag 'for about a month',
while he intends to do some from a sheet of 20 he just happened
to bring with him. TWENTY! What the fuck is racer X doing with twenty
hits of acid at a one nighter in Winnemucca? And what is this empty
crack vile doing in his bathroom, Scott wonders - and why do we
get the shitty acid?
I'm getting ready for bed watching comedy central
when my new guru knocks. He is still trying to talk me into tripping.
All I want to do is sleep; kill him, then sleep. As if just to prove
that my distaste for his sense of humor is well grounded, he laughs
out loud at every shitty joke coming out of the box. Not wanting
to be rude, I figure I had better add to the conversation. Something
on the tube prompts me to make an off-hand funny about Vince Champ
the comic -slash- serial rapist. He suddenly gets serious and replies
to my rhetorical Quip: "awe dude. C'mon. There's not one comic
who hasn't thought of doing that."
What do you say to that? My frozen smile could
not have hidden my disgust. "Every comic has thought about
putting on a ski mask, walking into a practice room, and raping
a co-ed?" I say as lightly as possible.
"No, dude. But you know what I mean".
This just kept on getting better and better. This guy was a piece
of fucking work!
After promising him I would try and convince 'what's
his name and the other guy' to drop acid he left for the casino,
and just as I was finally drifting off to sleep my comrades returned.
We again compared notes and quickly locked the door. After hours
of unnerving harassment it seems that Scott had finally just lied
and said he dropped. And so we spent the first few hours of restless
sleep hiding from the tripping-monster who occasionally knocked
and kicked at our door, until Christopher rushed out in the hall
way in his underwear and threatened to kick his ass. Fear and loathing
in Winnemucca. Jesus.
The next day at breakfast I am affronted with
an account of his evening. "I went to a night club, asked this
girl if I could eat her pussy. She said no. I gave her a massage
at the bar, but she wouldn't let me see her tits. Then her boyfriend
she's been seeing for about a week showed up. He was cool. Oh, could
you drop me off in Sacramento?"
It is very bad form to leave the headliner in
Winnemcca. It just isn't done, so I tell him to meet me at the car
in an hour.
As I'm leaving my room, suitcase in hand, I can't
help but notice security outside my neighbor's door. Trying to look
natural I ask with a light chortle, "Someone lock himself or
"We have to get into this room." is
the gruff official response from officer friendly. It looks like
I might be testing that theory about prison gang rape after all.
Down in the lobby I tell Scott and Christopher
the situation and they contend that there is absolutely no question
but to leave the guy here. Besides, they just dropped their acid.
I say we give him till five after, all the time wondering where
this loyalty was coming from. I think that I just really couldn't
believe this was happening. It did make sense, after all. We had
no idea what he said or did last night or to whom. Just one question
really remained: drugs or rape? Or both?
At twelve sharp he saunters up to the car. "What
room are you in?" I ask.
"89." he says.
"Good". I give the boys a knowing look
of relief and shake my head as I get in the car.
Not his room. What were the odds? He sleeps the
whole trip back. Thankfully, the acid that Christopher and Scott
took didn't even work and I was done baby-sitting.
As we pulled away from the Sacramento greyhound
station I felt like an exorcism had taken place. I could almost
hear the departing bus choke, "come into me, come into me!"
Was he real? Or was he just a spectre, the culmination of all that
is wrong with stand up comedy. Every time I tell this story to another
comic I fully expect his face to turn white and hear him gasp, "Neal
Graham?... Why, he died 30 years ago in a brothel in Winnemucca.
They never found the body".
THE END ?
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