What exactly is a Maui Taco? I'm still not sure. All I know is that the place that makes them has a basement wtih a stage and a weekly gathering of New York City's unsightly's - including myself. For that one week, at least. Perhaps more in the future, but I'm still recovering from my first experience in front of that disheveled graffiti tin-roof background and duct-taped microphone.
The Maui Taco is indeed a taco eatery, although I did not partake in any of their menu items. I can't eat before I perform. Well, I can, but I've found that my time before getting on stage is best spent looking over my tentative set list than umm. . . well, you understand what I'm getting at. No need to be rude. Let's just say I still get a bit anxious before I perform.
I brought a few friends along for moral support in case the place turned out to be some kind of scary dive bar. In high school I did attend open mics at such places, but never by myself and always with my two 30-something trench-coat wearing bitter yet endearing male comedian friends. And, especially in the city, I was determined not to make a go of it alone at this juncture. My mom makes sure to relay every story about young college girls being raped and mugged in late-night Manhattan.
When we got to the outside of the "venue" -and I use this term loosely - I was confused. It looked like an indie version of a Taco Bell. I kept apologizing profusely to my companions, warning them that this wasn't a regular show, open mics are usually sucky, and not to be alarmed. I promised them that I would do whatever it takes to make up to them this possible several hours of torture. As a comedian I am used to such drudgery, and once once goes to an open mic one realizes why many comics are so bitter and "tortured" and angry by the time they make it. Go to one on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, and stay the whole time no matter what. You're bound to ooze frustration. But it's part of paying your dues and any performer should never complain if they're getting an opportunity to step on a stage. But I still believe it's okay to realize that watching one unfriendly yet unfunny and uncleanly performer after another drunkenly swagger onto a stage that barely sits six inches high off of the floor is a pretty shitty way to spend a night. Getting your own five minutes during which other breathing human beings are forced to listen to your words is definitely worth it, however. I think in a later blog post I will get all "deep" about how weird it is to be alone in front of people with only your words to woo them and get them to like you. The performer is basically in control of the audience's lives for however long they stand up there. But back to the Maui Taco.
The host was drunk, 80% of the other comics were at least a couple drinks in, and the friends I brought were the only non-performers in the dank, dark basement dungeon of forced, uncomfortable laughter. I felt right at home. When I first moved to New York City I had been afraid to perform here, even at the no-pressure open mics. I imagined that everyone would be very cold and snooty and look down on me as a young know-nothing loser who doesn't know a tag from a call-back. So wrong I was. The open mics here are E X A C T L Y like they are in Albany. Awkard but kind of exciting, small audience, small stage. I think it must be universal. It's an interesting experience; everyone pretty much keeps to themselves and talks to whoever they came with. They sit at tables alone while scribbling and clandestinely peering around. There's always one or two comedians that will come over and introduce themselves, and it turns out to be just a passing greeting or something "clicks" and you end up having a really long exchange about your crazy families until the event commences.
Here's a few realy embarassing pictures of me and a couple of my best friends from high school at various open mics around the Capital Region:
I would have just posted a couple here, but Blogger is being a douche.
It's nice to connect with other people who have similar inner-workings of the mind; others who are not afraid to share things about themselves at the expense of being considered Odd in "normal" situations. The reality is, once you find someone like that to converse with, you're not weird at all. You fit right in. I kind of befriended this one young woman who used to go to NYU just like me, and she told me some of the darkest, disturbing details of her life and how she got into comedy. I shared some similar stories -although I'm not sure I topped her long family history of debauchery and drugs. Still, I've always felt that in order to be a really good performer, you have to have some kind of burning sense of redemption and miscellaneous yearning working for you. That moment was the first time in a while that I thought, "Wow, this is it. This is where I'm supposed to be. (Not specifically at the Maui Taco, I think I'm at least ready for the Alaskan Enchilada). This is probably the only place where I won't consistently get that 'awww you're kind of funny but really weird and take it a little too far' look." Just ask me about performing at the sonic boom that was Gould Plaza. And any recitation or group hang-out with new people I've ever attended.
I'm so grateful for my friends who came to support me, but there was a point when I felt them getting bored and creeped out by the excessive and aggressively not funny dick/boobie/vagina jokes. I don't really hear them anymore. Whenever there's someone who's having a difficult time onstage, it's best not to dwell on it and I always make sure to laugh heartily at anything they say that might have some kind of potential. What I actually really liked about this particular open mic was that if you had good material, you got laughs. I've been to way too many places where the comics just sit there stone-faced, even trying not to laugh, just because they're too absorbed in their own stuff.
I do believe that mis amigas gained something from the experience. Not only did we "fuse like a family," as any emotionally harrowing experience spent in a beer-stained basement that reeks of sour cream and old salsa (just listen to Colin Meloy and his musical account of male prostitutes), but I think they learned a bit about why I am the way I am. Most importantly, they learned never to eat nachos constructed with a Hawaiian flare.
Here's the video from that night. Thank you Katy for posting it! I look pretty terrible but I'm willing to blame it on the poor lighting choices made by the interior designer of that classy cellar of a room. No, I don't know why I did a jig in the middle of my set, either. It's a compliment that the camera shook a bit at some parts because it means at least Katy was laughing.
Remember, similar to the disclaimer I fed my friends, it was just an open mic. But it's still somethin'.