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Nightmare on York Street

By Larry Gross · July 7th, 2010 · Living Out Loud

Outside of the words I had prepared, I remember very little of what I said on stage at York Street Cafe in Newport last month. I do remember, after realizing I was totally screwed, saying “I’m totally screwed,” but that’s about it.

I thought I more or less knew what I was getting into that night. I thought I was prepared. I can be pretty stupid at times.

A few weeks before the show, local comedian Mike Cody sent me an e-mail about “The Big Reveal,” a storytelling show that would feature comedians, authors and regular folks telling stories that have shaped their lives. Jake Speed was going to be the musical guest. It all sounded interesting to me. I agreed to take part.

The show started at 8 p.m., and Mike said to get there an hour before it started — why, I don’t know. When I arrived, there wasn’t anything to do except stand around and wait for the second floor bar to open. I had to wait for about 10 minutes.

As I ordered my vodka and tonic, I noticed the ashtray on the bar but still asked the bartender if it was OK to smoke. She said “yes.” I soon found out the answer was really “no.”

After I lit up, the woman handling the cashbox for the show approached the bartender and made sure that I heard this was a non-smoking venue. I was allowed to finish my cigarette. The evening went downhill from there.

People started to arrive, including my daughter and her boyfriend and my friends Doug and Ann. As I made small talk with them, I kept looking up at the stage. There was a microphone with a stand but there was no lighting to speak of. I started to worry.

I remembered an e-mail Mike had sent me a few days before the show asking what I would be doing. I said I would be reading something from a book I had published last spring. Reading. I remember saying I would be reading.

As the show started, we moved down to the audience area: daughter and boyfriend, Doug and Ann.

The show started with a standup comic.

And then another standup comic, and then another. I was beginning to realize that except for Jake Speed, I was a writer in a show full of standup comedians.

Feeling panicked, I reached in my pocket for a cigarette and then realized the lady with the cashbox wouldn’t approve. I went down that flight of stairs and went outside. I sucked down two cigarettes.

When I came back, the standup people were still doing their standup. Don’t ask me if they were funny or not. My mind wasn’t on them. My mind was on how the hell I was going to get through my bit.

More sooner than later, right before Jack Speed was to wrap up the show, Mike Cody introduced me and I went up on stage.

I made some small talk (I said something), put on my reading glasses (hoping for the best), opened up the book to where I was going to be reading (I think my hands were shaking a little) and couldn’t see any of the words.

Yep, totally screwed.

What happened after that is a blur. My friend Ann came on stage, found a flashlight or some other kind of light and stood over me trying to shine the light on my book.

Sometimes the light would shine in my face to where I was almost blinded, but most of the time Ann kept the light on the book. There was some banter between the two of us that got some laughs, but what that banter was I don’t remember.

What I remember doing is praying. I’m not a religious person, but that night I prayed to God to just get me through those 10 minutes.

Thanks to God — but probably more to Ann — I survived the reading. I even got a few laughs, probably for all the wrong reasons. I think Jake Speed had an easy act to follow, and I felt totally embarrassed that my daughter and her boyfriend were in the audience.

Weeks have passed since this “event,” and I’m not as upset or as bitter as I was. I want to try and blame this on someone — maybe the lady with the cashbox who doesn’t like smokers — but that’s silly. Really, I need to learn from the experience.

I don’t think Mike Cody is a bad guy at all. Actually, he’s nice and pretty funny and maybe it’s me who got the signals crossed. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is I’m not a good mix with standup comedy.

From this point on, I’m going to stick with what I know. I can do book signings, readings, what have you, but I won’t get involved with venues where I have to guess what’s going to happen. I want to have complete control.

Since the York Street show, Mike has sent me an e-mail saying he owes me money for it and will give it to me next time he sees me.

Chances are I won’t be seeing Mike Cody anytime soon. While I don’t think appearing at York Street Cafe was really a nightmare, I don’t want to relive it in any way.

I think I’m going to e-mail Mike back and just tell him to put that check in the mail.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross@citybeat.com



07.07.2010 at 03:15 Reply
I was also asked to be a part of this show but had to decline because of a scheduling conflict. I don't think that you being the only non-stand-up had anything to do with the response of the audience. I can't speak for the exact words that were said in your invitation, but in mine it said I'd be telling a story, and it had to be a true one. If your story was a true one that you had written and probably rewritten in a book, don't you know it enough to wing it? Or is reading it exactly as written the only way to tell it? I applaud Mike Cody for taking on a (yet another) new idea and trying to help this city catch up to almost every other one with new forms of art and new places for artists to be heard. I guess my only problem is that this article/review implies (whether you mean for it to or not) that it was not fun, that you were misled, and that people shouldn't go next time. I would tell the readers of this to attend as many of these types of shows as possible and embrace the comedic, literary, and musical talent that this city is flourishing with. Mike also does a show once a month at the Southgate House called "Underbelly" which has gotten rave reviews and which I highly recommend. This was also the first time this show has ever been put on, so let the kinks get worked out before you label this as just some stand-up comedians who are looking for a new stage.


07.16.2010 at 08:15
OhioJoker, the only reason why Larry couldn't read the words of his story was because he was shit your pants drunk on stage. Not only that, but during the comedic performances he was talking during them front row center. Comedians and writers all eat the "comedy dick of doom" now and again. It happens. Get over it. Move on. Larry, just because you have the power to write an article and get it published doesn't mean you need to blame your terrible performance on the lack of lighting and not being able to smoke and getting there an hour early and having to wait downstairs for 10min. You didn't get "stiffed" on your $10 wage for the night, not that you deserved it, you left before the show was over, which was probably a good thing, and you probably should have consulted the coordinator of the show before leaving. You won't cross paths with a certain someone again, that's your decision. I happen to know that certain someone is a great guy and continues to do a magnificent job in putting together comedy shows around the Cincinnati area. Larry, I'm very sorry you wrote this article, I question your character. I do wish you all the best and good luck at your next Big Reveal if you choose to do so again.


07.07.2010 at 04:27 Reply
I read Larry Gross' column and was also at the York Street Cafe to catch the show. I don't think Larry was as bad as he thought he was, but he was the one struggling to find enough light to read his story and anyone there can tell you there was almost no light on that stage. If I said I didn't "feel his pain" I would be lying but OhioJoker is right when he says this ongoing show will need to work out a few kinks. Larry caught got in a "kink" and it did make for an interesting column. p.s. I've always enjoyed Mike Cody.


07.07.2010 at 04:57 Reply
Way to make it sound like Mike Cody stiffed you, and is avoiding you on pay. That may not have been your intention, but that is how it comes across reading it.


07.07.2010 at 05:38 Reply
Comedy is writing. I'd like to put that out on the table immediately. The Cincinnati scene has long been suffering for some artistic and creative forums, and unfortunately, articles like this can unintentionally put the kibosh on that. The York Street Cafe show is in it's fledgling stages and knowing Mr. Cody, one of the intents is to get people, whether they be comedians or not, to try creating in a different format. Doesn't sound like a pre-requisite of the show was necessarily to be funny, but at least engaging or amusing, or just flat out interesting. Comedians are first and foremost writers. Their type of writing merely has a prime directive, much like anything else. The frustration of the author, while noted, understood, and sympathized with, doesn't give him the excuse to throw the rest of performers and booker under the bus. It's live performance, and stuff just isn't gonna go your way 100% all the time. My advice is to give it another couple times and see where the journey takes you. Finally, mentioning being owed money is a cheap shot. It probably wasn't much, and Mike Cody is a guy of impeccable trust, not just "pretty funny". FYI, Larry, beware verbally admonishing comedians (not that you did but if it crosses your literary mind). They're strange, but close-knit and vicious. And all it will take them is a five-minute set and a couple of good punchlines. I'd say give the show a shot.