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There was a doo-wop group, a “human statue of liberty,” a boy band, a flamenco dancer, and a piano player from New York who sang in Yiddish. Once ensconced, I studied the pamphlet I’d been given.
The audience consisted of 500 extras from the movie “Cocoon,” several of whom according to the showcase coordinator were “survivors.” Bussed in by cruise lines, they were used as a litmus test for picking performers. It was a sort of employees’ guide to the cruise line and it was mind-bogglingly rigid.
This guy annihilated so hard that at the end of his set, an old lady in a sunhat slipped him a number and said, “I got a daughter in Queens. “That’s where the shows are at, but first we got a ‘welcome aboard’ show. It was tiny, no windows, bare floor with a bed, a small desk, and a bathroom where I discovered later that, to fit onto the toilet, I had to jam both legs into the shower stall. My act would be graded based on such criteria as “Did comic receive big laughs at regular intervals? ” There were select allowable words for “family shows.” “Change ‘hell’ to ‘heck,’” the pamphlet read, “‘damn’ to ‘darn,’ ‘bitch’ to ‘witch,’ ‘sucks’ to ‘stinks,’” and “avoid words like ‘sex’ and ‘gay’ as well.” I had a total of two “family shows” and three or four regular shows, plus one “welcome aboard” show.Single.” Even though following that guy was like following Springsteen in Jersey, I managed to book one gig. “I guess I’m gon’ be your orientation.” “Where’s the venue? It was also freezing, with no way to turn down the air conditioner. My act had to be completely rearranged into three different half hours, one child-friendly, each one repeated once, plus a different “welcome aboard” show, not to be repeated.It was with a cruise line that, as a professional courtesy, I’ll call “Circus Cruises.” It had the collective ambience of a floating Red Lobster. I flew into Texas where the ship, headed to Mexico, would be taking off. My act is essentially a low-budget indie film about my life in New York with neighborhood characters like “heroin dude” and “check-cashing place lady with beard eating an LGBTBLT.” I’d also been warned that if passengers complained about a performer, that performer could be helicoptered off of the ship. Cruise ships are one of the last refuges for veteran comedians to make a living doing what they do.Only way to pay for things.” “No.” “Show you where your cabin is? At the time I was hired by Circus Cruises I was pulling up on 50 years of age, a combustible ingredient, especially after 30 years working in a field with absolutely zero stability. “I’ll just see if I can score a parka at the gift shop.” .
One particular cabin, I was told, doubled as a pop-up brothel where you could either “dock your boat” or “get your anchor tossed,” depending on your proclivity.