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Starting over every day and getting laughs from the Pledge of Allegiance

In a lot of ways, I'm starting over. I began substitute teaching down in Raleigh. I have always said that being a teacher made me a better stand-up and that being a stand-up made me a better teacher. There is something about standing alone in front of 200 drunk adults on a Friday night that is eerily similar to being in front of a room full of eighth graders on Monday morning.

It turns out that teaching as a substitute is even more like an average night of comedy. Every day I walk into a new environment. I'm a stranger in a new place with new, smaller strangers looking to me for instruction. The audience of students is different each time. That's the allure of comedy. Every show is different, every venue is different and every crowd is different. Each week is unique. And plans can change in a moment.

This week I got a message on Wednesday from a guy named Ed. Ed runs a comedy club in The Outer Banks. I reached out to him a couple of weeks ago hoping to set up some work when his club reopens this summer. It turns out he runs a room in Williamsburg, Va. as well. In his message he asked if I wanted to do a show on Saturday - a 30-minute set for $100 pay and a hotel room for the night. I mapped it to find that Williamsburg is a three-hour drive.

Now if I were living in Buffalo, I wouldn't exactly jump at the opportunity of a six-hour round trip to some place like Utica, for $100. I think I'm worth a little more than that. (At least $150). But I remind myself that I'm not in Buffalo anymore; I have to prove myself to new bookers. I have to do shows in the hopes of meeting new comics who might be able to give me some good leads on what else goes on down here. In this new territory, I'm starting over. Throw in a decent hotel for the night, and I've agreed to do the show within a matter of minutes.

I find out that the show is being held inside the same hotel at which I'm staying. Williamsburg is home to Busch Gardens Amusement Park, but no water rides or roller coasters run in January. The park, which is directly next to the Double Tree they're putting me up in, is closed, and in my experience hotel shows can be hit or miss. More often - miss. It's impossible to predict what the crowd will be like.

I check in and walk down the hall to scope out the stage and set-up. It's almost exactly what I pictured. The stage is in the front of a small meeting room with about eight round tables.

It's almost time to start and I'm scheduled to go on last. Twenty-four people have come to our little Saturday night show, and they seem to be a fun group. Some are locals, some are couples staying at the hotel. As I watch the comics before me from the back of the room, I start to think about how I want to open my set. There is an American Flag in the corner of the room. The teacher in me decides to start by saying The Pledge. There are also two shadows being cast by the only two lights in the room.

It's my turn. I take the stage and ask everyone to rise. I plow through The Pledge of Allegiance in a way that is respectful, amusing and confusing to my small crowd. I make some jokes about how a lot of PowerPoints and third marriages were probably celebrated in this very room. I get into a "good vs. evil" discussion with my own two shadows on either side of me. I finish my 30-minute set and close the show.

In the end, it was a good show and a nice night. Ed approaches me afterward, and I must have earned his approval because me offers me more work. This time it is 10 hours worth of driving for two shows and $200. I confirm the dates with him and mark them on my schedule for late February. It's a small step, but almost any opportunity is worth taking when you're somewhere new and starting over.

*Look back at Brian's stand-up journal:
- Part I: A funny guy from Buffalo tries to make it in stand-up
- Part II: Bad waffles, too much laughter and other tales from Albany

Brian will be writing about his stand-up life for the next two months, culminating in his March 25 appearance at Shea's. Visit each week to follow along.


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