I have a new favorite pastime: attending amateur night at the Funny Bone Comedy club in Springfield. The jokes are mistimed, the beer is over priced and the tile floor looks more like a public bathroom than a home for hilarity. This past Wednesday night, four amateur comedians each threw in five bucks, and event M.C. picked the winner, who gets the whole bounty. The three runner-ups received tickets for the touring comedian scheduled to play the club next week. The M.C.'s job as judge could not have been easy. Deciding the winner was like picking the skinniest refuge in Sudan, but awkward silences and DOA jokes provided enough comedy to keep me going until the next contest a month from now. Amateur night appeals to two kinds of people: (A) undiscerning folks who laugh at any mention of sex, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson and/or dookie, or (B) the kind of people who find nothing more funny that seat squirming awkward silences and butchered entertainment. I'm a "type B" attendee, although dookie does make me laugh.
One contestant drove in from some surrounding farm town. His first bit detailed a redneck with a prior DUI conviction who crashed his tractor full of beer cans into a tree and proceeded to call the police. The punchline consisted of something like "I drink whenever and wherever I want." The crowd was still waiting for the hanging air of disappointment to settle and a punch line to follow. But, as usual, that was both the pinnacle and nadir of the joke's flat-lining arch.
Next up was the self-nicknamed "Buddha," a short and stout, balding goateed man of about 35-years-old. The first joke in Buddha's repertoire explained why he thinks he is "gangster Amish." He wears "hip clothes," aka jean shorts and a large black t-shirt that barely contained his rotund belly, yet likes to avoid modern technology. . . the joke makes as much sense on this page as it did Wednesday night.
Budda's best collection of misplaced timing and misunderstood delivery occurred when he heroically deconstructed common sayings. "My mom used to say don't cry over spilled milk ... but I spilled some gasoline in the garage and I cried ... yeah, gas is pretty expensive."
The ringer of the crowd was a black cowboy from St. Louis. It wasn't clear if he was in Springfield solely to beat three other saps in the amateur night at the Funny Bone, or if he was in the capital and happened to stumble upon the contest. Either way, he managed to win through sheer stage presence and his "black cowboy" gimmick. His jokes were a combination of lame pop culture references and other inconsequential observations that I don't remember. The guy has obviously practiced his shtick for years, but hasn't found any material to graduate from an ameteur to a touring, semi-professional stand-up comedian.
As much fun as I had soaking in the awkward atmosphere, you've got to feel for these guys. They must know how horrible most their jokes are (except for the first poor soul who videotaped his performance, preparing for his next barn-burning show) yet they love standing up and telling jokes so much they keep coming back to the Funny Bone for the polite applause and overpriced Bud Light. I don't have the guts or material to stand up in front of 25 locals and kill, but I will be back next month to shit all over myself and everyone else in attendance.