By Jesse Pangelinan, Comedian ( bio | website )
Every comic will tell you that he or she has a favorite place to perform at. There are a variety of reasons why that place might be their favorite. Sometimes it's the accommodations. Sometimes it's the room itself. Sometimes it's the audiences that come out to the show. Whatever the reason, most comics won't say in public what their favorite room to perform in is, for fear of pissing off other club owners. Other comics literally go into every room and tell the club that that is his favorite room. Anything to get booked back, you know.
I have a bunch of rooms that I love to play in. I also have a bunch of rooms that I can't stand performing in. That list will NEVER go public as burning bridges is not a wise thing to do. I will play in those crappy rooms, because I still have to work. But then there are the rooms I love to play at. These rooms are in different cities all across the country. Of all these great places to play at, I do have an absolute favorite room. And it is in the unlikeliest of places for a Latino comic to enjoy performing in.
Last year, I scored a run through the south. It started in Georgia, then moved to Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. I was really excited because one of these rooms was The Stardome in Birmingham, Alabama. This is one of the universally acknowledged best "A-room" comedy clubs in the country. This run also had a stop in Daleville, Alabama. If you've read my previous journal entries, you'd know I've never really had a good show in Daleville. The weekend for this run was going to be in Tupelo, Mississippi at a venue called Papa's Place. I had no idea about what to expect from this gig. All I knew was that I was getting put up in a Holiday Inn Express. Already this gig was starting out good.
I showed up at Vanelli's Restaurant in Tupelo. Papa's Place was inside Vanelli's. The owner of the club is a cool Greek cat who goes by the name Vaz Vanelli. The first thing Vaz did was take me into the back of the restaurant and introduced me to his entire staff. Then he told me to order anything off the menu. I had a killer plate of shrimp scampi with the most awesome homemade garlic bread. I went to my room, rested a little and got ready for the show.
The emcee was a really great guy named Doug. This guy knew his audience. Since this was a one-man show and I had no opening act, Doug's crowd work was crucial. He went up and started things rolling. Then it was time for me to take the stage.
I was very nervous about performing for this crowd. How were people from Tupelo, Mississippi going to relate to a Mexican guy who talks about his family? Vaz must have read my mind. Right before I went up, he pulled me aside and told me just to have fun. His crowd was pretty hip. And they were. I had two absolutely great shows that weekend. This weeklong run in the South turned out to be one of the best I had last year.
So when the Tupelo tour came about again, I was ready. It's a really hard run to get, because the comics who've done this room before will tell you what a great total experience it is. But first I had a few other gigs to do. This time the run started in Winter Haven, FL. I already wrote about that gig last week. Then I went to Daleville for the third time. I have to admit that my expectations for this gig were nil as hell. I was so surprised that the audience that night in Daleville was unbelievably good. Next, it was a guest slot at a club in Memphis called Comedy Tennessee. I love going to Memphis. This club has so much promise. There were a lot of good local comics in Memphis. Finally it was time to hit Tupelo.
I showed up at Vanelli's and found Doug the emcee right away. He took me to a booth and gave me a great meal. Then I sat down and talked to Doug and Vaz for a little while.
I have to tell you, Vaz is without a doubt one of the most unique guys I have ever met. He is a musician who plays all kinds of different instruments. He reminds me of a beatnik with his goatee and trademark hat. Vaz and Doug were sitting at the booth looking at me gush about coming back. They looked at each other with surprise. Vaz told me that he was a little surprised that any comedy club would treat their comics badly. He said that he was grateful that comics would come out to Tupelo to perform and he wanted us to be comfortable.
I couldn't even wait to begin and regale the guys with horror stories from the road. I can't tell you how many clubs treat the comics like shit. In some clubs, the managers act like total assholes and barely even speak to the comics. Every now and again, the wait staff has a really shitty attitude towards the comics. The comics really shouldn't fraternize with wait staff anyways, but it doesn't hurt to be civil. Sometimes the motel rooms I have been put up in have been absolutely horrible. Other clubs have so many rules that it makes working the place almost unbearable. Some clubs take a percentage of the merchandise sales of the comics (which, truthfully, is their right). There is one club that won't even provide the opening and feature acts with a free meal on the weekend. These were some of the reasons why I look forward to performing at Papa's Place. Once I weigh all my other experiences on the road, I couldn't wait to get back to Tupelo.
Vaz has a killer restaurant, but he said that running the restaurant is his father's dream. Papa's Place, the little lounge of the restaurant where comedy and music happens every weekend, is Vaz's dream. Vaz has a killer sound recording system as well as an HDV camera. Vaz recorded my two shows this weekend and the sound and video were just incredible.
And these guys really know what they are doing. The Saturday night show had a blues band before I took the stage. The band had brought out a bunch of their friends. And their friends were pretty rowdy and having a good time. There is nothing wrong with that at all. But I knew this crowd was going to be unruly for my show. Vaz and Doug both told me to handle it as best I could. Doug showed his true mettle as an emcee. Instead of going up and getting the crowd even more riled up, he actually sat down on a stool onstage and talked to the audience. He explained the rules and was funny about it. He actually managed to tame an unruly crowd and get them ready to listen to comedy. I know many emcees who work a lot of different rooms who would not have handled this particular audience that skillfully. It was completely masterful and awesome to watch Doug work the crowd.
I have played in some of the best clubs in the country. I've played Improvs and Funny Bones and Punchlines and many other prestigious venues. But when you get a chance to work in a place where you are valued as a person and your work is valued for its artistry, how can that place not be your favorite? It would be enough that Vaz is bringing a piece of the world to Tupelo. He could bring the usual Southern style comics here if he wanted to. But he's not letting his audience dictate the agenda. Vaz has a true vision of what he wants to do in Tupelo. And he is not going to be denied his vision.