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I finally went to a show.

Saturday, 28 March, 2009

In lieu of properly posting these last couple of weeks, I lined up several videos related to a weekday flash-video program I enjoy, Break Room Live, and let them roll out over the last several days. One of the hosts of this program is the underrated humorist and monologist Marc Maron. Over the weeks he mentioned appearances concurrent with the South by Southwest music festival on Friday and Saturday. Wednesday afternoon he mentioned that he would also be appearing “in Austin” Thursday night. No other information was provided.

I’ve been tuned to this guy’s channel, literally and otherwise, for more than a few years now. You may recall I don’t like leaving the house until I have a damn good reason. You can double that for SxSW week. Right there and then I resolved to work out where this rare non-weekend show would take place, pass by the show to see the crowd, wander around the neighborhood for about half an hour then go home.

I had to search for info, quickly discovering he was to appear at Coldtowne Theater. Because of my limited social interest, I have passed Coldtowne Theater many times but was otherwise unfamiliar with the place. It looks like a small space as you whiz by at 45 miles per hour. A capacity crowd might be 100? 140 SRO? To the extent I thought about it, I had visions of poor parking options leading to leaving my vehicle way back in the neighborhood on the street, a small but notable crowd gathered around the door, perhaps a line winding around the building. In this line I would find a few mainstream comedy fans who wandered in from suburbia, some angst-ridden twenty-or-thirty-something guys, more than a few suicide girls and gals who hang around the comic-book shops clutching their well worn copies of The Jerusalem Syndrome and assorted members of Austin’s suspiciously small Jewish community who tend to come out for any blatant member of the tribe who makes their way to town.

The actual experience was somewhat different.

Doors at 7:30. Show at 8:00. Translating that to Austin’s practical reality … Doors at 7:00. Show not before 8:45. I roll in about 7:45. All of the dozen parking spots around back are empty. No signs of life around the club. Nothing. Ultimately, this reinforced the value of good publicity. It was so slow I began to doubt whether I had come to the right place. I stood around for a little while and had that last cigarette before entering an environment of emasculation under the law. Gotta love Austin. That’s another law.

Entering through a painted-black glass door, I am immediately confronted with a cash station. A very gracious woman did not seem to know why I was there. Explaining that I had heard somewhere Marc Maron was appearing that evening, she seemed surprised. I fork over a modest cover and was sent to the Valero down the street. Not only did the club have no liquor license, because of the metamorphic and elaborate nature of liquor laws in this state, Coldtowne is not allowed so I am told, to install so much as a sink or refrigerator in that location until their application process goes one way or the other. The liquor laws of Texas, on their own, expose the lie of the Republican party getting government out of the lives of the common man or business. I bought a couple of twenty-ounce bottles of pop and a pack of cigarettes. The C-store was something of a relief, as I was the only paying customer in a room of about a dozen staff and local comics and I don’t mix well.

Upon my return, I find a seat, thumb through this week’s The Onion, and enjoy my soda. It could be worse. The staff was quite courteous and attentive to their customer. We were all a little uncomfortable about it. A subset is at the bar, gathered around an iMac watching the literal interpretation of the music video for Billy Idol’s White Wedding. I must confess I don’t understand the humor, if any, of the literal-interpretation-of-old-music-videos phenomenon. When prompted I could go on at length about the difference between actual comedy and irreverence and how the two are not necessarily synonymous. I get very Jerry Lewis about it, but this is not my room. The minutes pass.

Quite suddenly the door swings open. The black-painted room fills with the setting sun. All eyes turn to the light. A human figure strides in with confidence uncommon in these parts. As eyes readjust and recognition kicks in. It’s Maron. He is only the second bona fide national celebrity I have both seen with my own eyes and recognized immediately. Yes, even in a room where the celebrity is expected. Most present themselves to their conquering hero. I’m at the bar. As you might imagine I don’t have anything to say to him, I’m just some guy. I stay at the bar ever conscious of my tendency to become an annoying, quivering fanboy. The group, on no basis whatsoever I have declared local comics, is attempting to hold court. As you might expect the evening’s star attraction is checking out the room. I’ve been in Texas so long, I’ve forgotten about the tendency to size up the people in a new room. MM approached and I gave what I hoped to be interpreted as a respectful nod. I can tell you this, I have not had the feeling someone is about to kick my ass in some time. This was very similar.

Another paying customer arrives. The comedy specialists retire to the theater proper to hold court. The minutes pass. Quite suddenly, twenty or so people flood in and the theater is declared open. It’s about nine. I was relieved to be in the presence of other people in a proper theater with no external threat of having to interact with anyone.

Except this was an unusual theater. I found my way to a sofa along the back wall some six feet from the stage. The room is tiny. I assume it was originally intended to be the storage area of whatever retail outlet found its way into that storefront. Maybe eighteen by twelve feet, maybe? No seat in the house is more than ten feet from the stage. Thirty-one people are in the house, including talent, and it is essentially full. I have worked through forty ounces of Pepsi Max, and my residual sense of theater ettiquette comes into focus.

to be continued …

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