Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Boats Johnson and the Standing Ovations

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a little post called "Learn to Say Ain't." Setting aside the fact that John Tester and Jim Webb and other campaigns in 2006 validate me as a media genius, there's the bit in there about "Boats" Johnson, the road comic who taught me how to tell gun control jokes in Montana.

I got this in the e-mail this week:

Hi John,

My name is Sam Johnson, son of Mike "Boats" Johnson. I just wanted
to send an email saying I recently read your blog about saying aint
and how you told the story of my dad in Wyoming. Every now and then
I come across a mention of my dad online.. or hear new stories from
people that knew him and they really cheer me up and make my day. I
love seeing that he did or said certain things to make a lasting
impression on people.

I am not sure if you know.. but unfortunately my dad died in January
of 2004 from liver failure due to another bone marrow transplant.

If you have any other stories I always love to hear them.

Seeing as he changed my life and career, hell yeah.

Eighteen odd years ago, in the dying embers of the comedy boom , every Chinese restaurant and sports bar had a Comedy Night. This was a natural, if intermediary, step in the evolution of nightclub entertainment. Bar owners had just discovered that stand-ups were cheaper to book than bands, but had not yet sussed that karaoke was even cheaper.

Subsisting well under the HBO-level strata, but mining that rock for all it was worth, were the one-nighter booking agents. They strung together tours of these one-night gigs in the hinterlands in order to make the trips profitable for the comics and affordable for the clubs. There was no way in hell a comic was going to drive to Klamath Falls to do a $200 one-nighter. But if it were the Saturday on an Albany/Corvalis/Eugene/Roseburg/Klamath Falls run for a $1000 plus hotel, well then, that's a week worth travelling for. These agents would also rep you at the regional conventions for college entertainment, folding the two aspects of the trip together for maximum profitability. Name a community college in the Pacific Northwest, and I performed stand-up on one of their cafeteria tables.

My original one-nighter agent out in the Northwest was Donna Richards, a real sweetheart who eventually moved into the travelling gameshow and Christian comedy market (and made a killing, might I add). However, this is not a story about one of Donna's considerately constructed comedy runs.

This is a Tribble Run.

David Tribble -- who may still be doing this, for all I know -- ran the one-nighters in the Northern Colorado/Wyoming/Utah/Idaho region. You may note that the states I just cast together constitute a helluva lot of "region." You would be correct. For David's rule of thumb was: if you can make the trip in one day, that was a legitimate connection. That is, if Monday's club was no more than a day's drive from Tuesday's club, then it was fair game. Tribble, however, always held that a "day's drive" could be a full day. As in ten hours of driving. Overlapping radii of six hundred miles each, for each gig.

Now, I'm not really complaining. I met a lot of great people I never would have met working just the mainstream clubs, saw some of the most beautiful parts of America, and I was making a hundred bucks a night to tell half an hour of jokes. This was not a bad life.

At least Tribble was, when I worked for him, honest. There were runs where the booker would lure you out to just north of Bumfuck, British Columbia, you would drive seven hours a day, and when you arrived in the tiny woodland towns you would discover that the gigs had long since ceased to be. Comics won't take these tours without the full week, so the booker would "forget" that the gigs had fallen through. As alluring as Alert Bay is, it isn't high on my list of freebie tourist destinations.

(True Alert Bay story #1: the other comic and I are checking into the hotel. A bystander remarks "Hey, you must be the comedians!" I'm pleased: "That's great you recognized us! They must really be promoting the show!". To which he answers "Nah. You're the first strangers off the ferry in a month. You must be the comedians.")

(True Alert Bay story #2: I'm on stage, and a sullen guy in the front row has a full wrist-to elbow cast on both arms. Fifteen minutes in I stop. "Listen, I'm sorry, I have to ask. What the hell happened to you?"

"Well, my girlfriend called me an idiot, and I was drunk, so I punched the wall and broke all the bones in my right arm."

A beat. "What happened to the other one?"

"When I punched the wall it hurt so much, and I got so mad, I punched the wall again with my other hand. Broke that one worse."

At which point a small, high voice from the back pipes up. "You're still an idiot."

"Will you SHUT UP!"

My routine, at that point,was not just fluous. It was superfluous.)

Back to Boats. He was my headliner, and had taken great pity on me during my first Tribble run. His "Learn to Say Ain't" lesson came at the end of our brief tour. Up until then, however, he'd been no less sweet -- charming, funny, relaxed, comfortable with every audience we stumbled across. A lot of comics made impressions on me when I was touring, but I think Boats really set the vibe I went for with the rest of my career: odd little stories, a feeling that you were hanging out with the guy rather than watching him perform. Let's just say, if you're going to be a college-aged Boston Irish physics geek driving across Wyoming, doing jokes for Mormons and rodeo folk, you can do no better than having Boats Johnson as your mentor and guide. He was also eminently practical, with a ruthless business sense born of being a freelancer in the comedy scene.

Which brings us to Rawlins, Wyoming. Rawlins is midway between Cheyenne and Rock Springs.

I repeat. Rawlins is midway between Cheyenne and Rock Springs ... yet at the time was still infinitely more desolate than even that sentence can convey. We actually had to drive into town along the train tracks, as the off-ramp from Route 80 was being repaved. By convicts.

We park at the hotel where we're performing that evening. There is no wee poster on the front door, bearing our faxed/photocopied headshots. There is no notice on the front door that a show even exists. There is no front door.

"This place is under construction. " I not only don the Captain Obvious hat, but give it a jaunty tug. Boats strings together a marvelous combination of invectives. We enter.

The manager of the establishment tells us he'd "forgotten" to call Tribble and inform him that the hotel and bar were being renovated. The manager had a fine motive for forgetting: he'd signed a contract for X months, and when the audience attendance didn't result in commensurate drink sales, he didn't want to cough up that $300 bucks a week for the funnymen. Contract's a contract however. What's an entertainment mogul in Rawlins, Wyoming to do? You'll see.

He led us to the attached sports bar where we'd be performing. As stipulated in the contract, there were audience tables set up. Two tables. Sandwiched behind band saws and stacked drywall. Add a stage -- a slab of plywood atop four cinder blocks. The lighting was a bit spotty, the nova-white construction lamps refracted through the -- I shit you not -- plastic sheeting draped from the half-finished ceiling and walls behind the stage. At least it covered the 2x4 studs.

Boats nearly throttled the manager. "What the hell is this?"

The manager smiled and shrugged. "Hey, if you don't want to do the show ..."

Ah. Ahhhhh.

There's an old road rule. If the manager pulls the plug on a show after you've made the drive, he still has to pay you. But if you pull the plug, no harm no foul, no pay.

The manager leaves us to stew. No promo, no audience, no room to speak of ... son of a bitch. I'm waiting for Boats to make the call. We're talking two days of driving for no money if we bail. He looks around the rest of the "complex."

The bar itself was finished, a cut-out hole in the wall with a bored ex-high-school quarterback pulling Coors. At the bar, oddly, were two respectable-looking thirty-year old in suits. What the hell were they doing here at six o'clock, drinking in a half-finished basement --

-- Sally.

Wearing the traditional late 80's sports-bar waitress garb of bicycle pants and t-shirt, Sally was ten pounds of classic American Midwest pulchritude poured into a five pound bag. You would gladly charge the Russian encampment, straight into the teeth of hot .50 fire, screaming "Wolverines!" if it meant liberating Sally from the other side of the razor wire. She had a high-country complexion, a visage so radiant and pure that if Scarlett Johansson were to cut off Sally's face and caper onscreen wearing it as a macabre skin-mask, you would consider it an upgrade.

Both men were plainly in love with her.

Boats walks up to the bar patrons. "How's it going, guys. I'm Boats, the comic for tonight." The gentlemen are "Rob" and "Dave". Two local professionals. Unfortunately, they're about to leave. Can't stay for a show. Not that they knew there was one.

Without missing a beat, Boats turns to Sally. "You're working the show, right?"

Sally shrugs. "Well, sure, if there's a show, that means bar's open and I'm working."

Rob and Dave sit down.

As it turns out, it was a damn fine show. We escorted Rob and Dave to the front table. We bought the first round. I did my half-hour, Boats did his hour. We both got standing ovations.

The manager, literally swearing under his breath the entire time, pays us. We each tip Sally $25 bucks, retire to Boats' hotel room with a bottle of stolen Johnny Walker, and the man schools me on how you never, ever let the fucking suits win.

Oh, and always have a dick joke. Just in case.

Thanks, Boats. Next one's on me.


Anonymous said...

Thank you.

And thank you, Boats.

Anonymous said...

Much as I like invective and geekery, I love it when you tell road tales. More please :-)

Anonymous said...

So what was the dick joke?

Anonymous said...

A. You've actually made me nostalgic for Tribble Runs, which I would have thought impossible.

B. I'm going to keep this on my computer so I can email it to every alternative comic who asks me, "But WHY would you do the road?"

The Minstrel Boy said...

i think the thing that draws me to the blogs of writers like you is that "tribble" runs, and all that goes with them were part and parcel of my music career before i totally sold out and became a jingle whore. little games with managers, trying to get two guys to stay and calling it a crowd, and the sallys. god bless the sallys. and boats. and you.

Alex Epstein said...

So how do you do a show for two guys? Must affect timing something fierce... Do you make the whole thing more conversational?

DJ said...

More Road stories please...and Alex one of the best show of my life was for seven people. you do not just do.

Unknown said...

More Road stories please...and Alex one of the best show of my life was for seven people. you do not just do.

Bullshit. The best show of your life was every show you did before me in Melbourne. Fucker.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear more Australia stories - you and DJ have been hinting at stuff for ages.

DJ said...

True, true. I would love to tell Australia stories but there is that court order and that they make Rogers weep.

Anonymous said...

DJ - all the more reason for sharing!! John has my email address if you can con it out of him. Should be easy for you.

DJ said...

Pam- where would I start. so many stories. I am very tempted. but he has a little to much on me for me to be that brave. I chose the better part of valour. that being said I can be bought for a good glass of single-malt or many galssses of average scotch.

Grubber said...

Vote here for Australian stories. Wasn't for the Melbourne comedy festival they have was it?

Anonymous said...

JaySuS!!! I can't imagine doing stand up in the home of the Killer Whale. Ye olde Orca Inn is a comedy act without a comedian in the house.

Great story!

I'll look forward to future road stories. (Even if Alert Bay is still a part of them.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks John for posting the story, it was great! I printed off both articles and gave them to my Mom and she loved them. It is funny because we both knew a lot about the Tribble runs and had heard many things about them.

Roddy, we lived in San Francisco for many year and he did preform a lot around the city but the only place that sticks in my head is Cobbs.

Anonymous said...

Dude - what a great tribute!

I like the look of your blog - I was referred here through "Mommy Mishmash", a blog on the Iowa City Press-Citizen website.

I'll be back when I can!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story about Mike "Boats" Johnson....I am so sorry to hear of his passing...I used to be his neighbor in an apartment complex in Portland...his wife was a friend....Mike was special...

Anonymous said...

货架 网站流量分析 月嫂 大屏幕 婚庆公司 吸声喷涂 进口轴承 保洁 保洁公司 加固 滑雪 北京滑雪 滑雪场 北京滑雪场 性病 梅毒 疱疹 前列腺炎 尖锐湿疣 非淋菌性尿道炎 高血压 高血压治疗 治疗高血压 真人cs 司法考试 国际机票 保温喷涂 机柜 北京保洁 北京保洁公司 国际机票 婚庆 标签纸 条码打印机 星辰科技 司法考试

Anonymous said...

After a bad night last night, this morning I was googling "Tribble Run" and found this entry. I just wanna say, "Thanks"...this was inspiring.

Great imagery...your story remeinds me of Ralph Tetta's "road stories". That's a compliment.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I knew Mike a little from my Portland days too. And his nice wife Valorie.

I wrote a profile on Mike for the very local NW Portland paper The Neighbor about 1984, and performed at an open mike (Reuben's Five) when he hosted.

And I'm also sorry to hear he is gone. A good guy.

Thanks for the road story.

Anonymous said...

Penyakit ini umumnya muncul karena penderita mengejan terlalu keras pada saat buang air besar. Dengan mengejan terlalu keras, maka pembuluh darah di sekitar anus dapat melebar dan pecah menimbulkan infeksi dan pembengkakan yang berakhir pada masalah wasir atau ambeien tersebut.

Unknown said...

Penderita Penyakit kondiloma atau Kutil Kelamin yang telah terinveksi disarankan untuk segera melakukan pengobatan secepat mungkin sebelum Virus HPV penyebab kutil kelamin makin banyak berkembang biak di dalam sel darah makin lama dibiarkan akan memperparah kondisi organ vital karena kutil kelamin akan terus membesar sehingga terlihat seperti jengger ayam untuk penderita yang baru tertular kurang dari satu bulan biasanya akan lebih cepat ditanggulangi obat kutil kelamin Paling ampuh dari De Nature dan terbaik ada hanya di untuk mendapatkan informasi yang lebih jelas mengenai pengobatan kutil pada kelamin silahkan kontak langsung di nomer 0852 808 77 999 atau 0859 7373 5656 Bagaimana mengobati Ambeien itu sendiri. pengobatan yang terbaik untuk Ambeien adalah dari luar dan dalam sehingga Ambeien benar benar tuntas dan tidak akan kambuh lagi. obat Ambeien terbaik "Ambeclear dari De Nature" AlamiAdalah obat Ambeien herbal yang memang terbaik untuk mengobati Ambeien, dan sudah terdaftar di badan obat dan makanan (BPOM) dengan nomer registrasi POM TR: 133 374 041. terbuat dari bahan alami antara lain terdiri Daung Ungu, Mahkota Dewa dan Kunyit Putih.

Anonymous said...

cara yang alami menyembuhkan penyakit wasir ambeien secara alami dengan menggunakan daun ungu serta mahkotadewa aman untuk ibu hamil tanpa operasi cukup dengan menggunakan obat wasir herbal ambeclear terbuat

Anonymous said...

wasir ambeien bisa sembuh tanpa harus di operasi maupun injeksi cukup dengan obat wasir ambeien herbal ambeclear herbal de nature dari daun ungu serta mahkotadewa aman untuk ibu hamil

Unknown said...

Penyakit kencing nanah bisa disebabkan oleh beberapa faktor seperti seks bebas, penularan, virus hpv, lingkungan, gaya hidup dan lainnya, Maka dari itu kita harus waspada dengan penyakit kencing nanah ini, karena penyakit kencing nanah sangatlah berbahaya, Namun untuk anda yang menderita penyakit kencing nanah, maka anda tidak perlu khawatir,

Unknown said...

Bukan hanya pengobatan medis saja tapi ada juga pengobatan rumah alami yang dapat digunakan untuk menyingkirkan penyakit kutil kelamin ini. Intinya, karena kutil ini muncul di daerah yang sensitif, maka anda harus mencari pengobatan yang terbaik pada kulit Anda dan jika diperlukan juga dibantu dengan tenaga medis yang professional. Sebab dokter akan menjadi sumber informasi yang baik untuk mengobati penyakit ini.

Unknown said...

Cara yang sering di lakukan untuk menghilangkan kutil kelamin adalah dengan cara pembedahah atau operasi, cara ini tentu memerlukan dana yang tidak sedikit. metode Pilihan pembedahan yang dapat Anda lakukan

Unknown said...

Kadang disertai
dengan sakit saat kencing, perih, organ intim terasa panas menyiksa,

Unknown said...

Sekitar Vagina Tumbuh Daging, Berbahayakah? Kutil Pada Kepala Penis mirip bunga kol atau jengger ayam, Merupakan Penyakit Yang diakibatkan Oleh Virus.Kutil kelamin, atau disebut juga condyloma acuminata, adalah kutil atau daging berwarna kulit atau keabuan yang tumbuh di sekitar alat kelamin dan

Unknown said...

penyakit yang ditularkan melalui hubungan seks : vaginal, oral dan anal. Juga dapat menular melalui persentuhan kulit dengan daerah yang terinfeksi.

Unknown said...

Obat Ambeien Resep Dokter Ambeclear dari De Nature Ampuh Tuntaskan Ambeien Sampai Tuntas

Reseller De Nature said...

Obat kencing nanah doxycycline
Obat kencing nanah di samarinda
Nama obat kencing nanah di apotik
Nama obat kencing nanah di apotek
Obat kencing nanah kimia farma
Obat farmasi kencing nanah
Obat kencing nanah gonore
Obat kencing nanah generik
Obat kencing nanah go
Obat gonorrhea kencing nanah
Obat gejala kencing nanah
Nama obat kencing nanah yang di jual di apotik
Tempat jual obat kencing nanah
Apotik jual obat kencing nanah
Apotik yg jual obat kencing nanah
Jual obat kencing nanah di jakarta
Jual obat kencing nanah di surabaya
Jual obat kencing nanah bandung
Obat kencing nanah kaskus
Obat kencing keluar nanah
Obat kencing keluar nanah di apotik
Obat kutil kelamin tradisional
Obat kutil kelamin
Obat kutil kelamin wanita
Obat kutil kelamin di apotik
Obat kutil kelamin denature
Obat kutil kelamin resep dokter
Obat kutil kelamin malaysia
Obat kutil kelamin apotik
Obat kutil kelamin di anus

Anonymous said...

This was a fantastic article. Really loved reading your we blog post. The information was very informative and


Obat Kondiloma Akuminata Manjur
Pengobatan Kondiloma Akuminata Mujarab
Nama Obat Kondiloma Atau Kutil Kelamin
Cara Mengobati Kondiloma Akuminata Herbal
Pengobatan Ampuh Kondiloma Akuminata Tradisional
Bagaimana Mengobati Kondiloma
Obat Penyakit Kondiloma Akuminata Alami
Kondiloma Akuminata dan Pengobatannya
Pengobatan Alternatif Kondiloma Akuminata
Pengobatan Kondiloma Akuminata Pada Wanita
Penyebab Kondiloma dan Pengobatannya

Obat Kanker Payudara Paling Manjur
Mengobati Kanker Payudara Dengan Cepat dan Aman
Pengobatan Herbal Kanker Payudara Stadium 3
Mengobati Kanker Payudara Tanpa Operasi
Cara Mengobati Kanker Payudara Ampuh Stadium Akhir
Cara Mengobati Kanker Payudara Mujarab
Inilah Obat Kanker Payudara Yang Ampuh
Penyakit Kanker Payudara Tanpa Operasi
Obat Kanker Payudara Tanpa Operasi Stadium 2
Cara Tradisional Menyembuhkan Kanker Payudara
Cara Menyembuhkan Kanker Payudara Tanpa Operasi

Bagaimana Cara Mengobati Jengger Ayam
Obat Tradisional Penyakit Jengger Ayam
Cara Pengobatan Jengger Ayam Mujarab
Cara Menyembuhkan Jengger Ayam
Obat Herbal Penyakit Jengger Ayam
Obat Mujarab Untuk Jengger Ayam
Mengobati Jengger Ayam Pada Wanita
Mengobati Jengger Ayam Pada Pria
Pengobatan Tradisional Jengger Ayam
Apa Nama Obat Jengger Ayam
Obat Jengger Ayam Ampuh di Apotik

Unknown said...

manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur manjur

obar herbal manjur alami said...

alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami alami

Anonymous said...

Bagaimana cara terbaik untuk mengobati wasir secara alami?

Vifa herbal said...

Penyakit Sipilis Pada Wanita
Penyakit Sipilis Adalah
Penyakit Sipilis Pada Pria
Penyakit Sipilis Pria
Penyakit Sipilis Bisa Sembuh
Penyakit Sipilis Lelaki
Penyakit Sipilis Lelaki
Penyakit Sipilis Wanita
Penyakit Sipilis Dan Pengobatannya
Penyakit Sipilis Atau Raja Singa
Penyakit Sipilis Bisa Sembuh Total
Penyakit Sipilis Pada Ibu Hamil
Penyakit Sipilis Dan Obatnya
Penyakit Sipilis Pada Kelamin
Penyakit Sipilis Menular
Penyakit Sipilis Rajasinga
Penyakit Sipilis Pada Kehamilan
Penyakit Sipilis Menular Melalui
Penyakit Sipilis Disebabkan
Penyakit Sipilis Apa
Penyakit Sipilis Apakah Menular