I can’t quit! You fired me!

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on October 11th, 2012

We’ve all been there. You have a gig coming up. You want to maybe supplement the income from the engagement with the money from another gig, a one-nighter, in somewhat close proximity. But there’s one problem– it’s an atrocious gig. Awful. So awful that you vowed– halfway through your first time there– that you would never do it again. And it didn’t just go poorly for you. Oh, no. It goes poorly for nearly everyone. One comic after another proclaims it to be a “shitty gig.” A historically crappy one-nighter that is poorly conceived, run and executed. (One of those venues where, as you’re doing your set, you wonder to yourself, “Why are you, the audience, here? I know why I’m here… I’m getting paid… handsomely so… but why are you people here? There’s only two walls, you’re not paying attention, you can barely hear me over the cacophony of the surrounding casino floor… there’s no effort made– either through good lighting or sound or other theatrical niceties– to signal that a real-live, professional comedy show is being presented… why are you here?”)

So you cross it off your list…

But in a moment of weakness… you send an email inquiring as to whether it might be available. You wait a bit.

Then you receive an email that says that the venue …doesn’t want you back!

HA! A cosmic joke! The shitty one-nighter doesn’t want you back! It’s a classic!

Then you hate yourself for that moment of weakness. You’re not all that upset that the venue has made it clear that you are not to return. That’s happened a lot. In fact, it’s kind of a relief. It’s freeing. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that you had that moment of weakness. That momentary breakdown in integrity that allowed you to momentarily suck it up, resolve that you can endure the mild humiliation that comes with sticking it out on a stage that regards the comedian as an afterthought, a prop, a tool to push patrons one way or another in the hope of maximizing this or that. It’s that Wile E. Coyote moment where you hit send, then open up the email response and watch the fuse on the dynamite stick fizzle down to its last millimeter and BOOM!

A few years back (in fact, a long time ago), we resolved to knock off the one-nighters. We swore off shit gigs. We washed our hands of the taverns and restaurants and hit-or-miss, fly-by-night dates that so often disappointed, deflated and demoralized. And, by golly, the world didn’t fall apart. Not only did the earth stay intact, but we were happier for it. And we ended up working smarter, not harder. And it turned out to be one of the wisest decisions we could have made– business-wise and soul-wise. “Leave the crappy one-nighters to the folks who might truly benefit from them!” was one of our mantras. It seemed like everybody was a winner.

In the intervening years, we’ve shed the hell-gigs (and the often shady promoters/bookers that went along with them) like a snake sloughing off its skin. (Or, to make us less reptilian, like a bird shedding his feathers.) And this entertainment ecdysis has had multiple direct and indirect benefits.

Occasionally, we’ll hear about a tremendous one-nighter that pays well, is well-produced and is consistently pleasant for all who perform there. And you take it and it is a great experience.

But when you hear that a gig is awful, and you do it anyway– all the while hoping it will go better for you– and it goes horribly wrong… and then… against all your better instincts and plans and policies… you request it again… that’s just wrong. The rejection is a cosmic glass of cold water in the face telling you to hew to your better nature, avoid the horror and figure out a way to do without.