That time I was warmup comedian for Naomi Judd’s TV show
(Part of the 100 Reasons NOT to be a Comedian series)
When I was a standup comic in New York City I had the opportunity to work as a warmup comedian for a television show. I got the gig via Craigslist and so it was surprising that the job was even real. Warmup comics can make as much as $400 per show for very little work. And as most television shows tape during the day, a comedian still has the night off to work clubs and bars making this the best dayjob possible for me.
The television producers asked me some strange non-comedy questions during the interview. Faith questions. I told them I was raised Catholic and was even confirmed. This was certainly true, but as far as religion went, in my adulthood, let’s just say I didn’t do it anymore. My gut told me not to mention any of that, to keep smiling and I got the job. I was to start in two days as the warmup comedian for The Naomi Judd Show.
At the time, my comedian friend Paul Downs was the warmup comic for The Daily Show with John Stewart. I hoofed it over to the West End and stood off-stage as Paul did his thing. The whole process was quick and easy. He did some crowd interaction, mixed in stock NYC jokes for the tourists, hyped everybody up and then introduced John Stewart. The place went banana and Paul was done in under ten minutes. This was gonna be easy! What I didn’t realize at the time was that, unlike J Stew, Naomi Judd didn’t have a rabid following of young excited people that enjoy laughing and having fun.
As far as religion went, in my adulthood, let’s just say I didn’t do it anymore… And fifteen minutes into my warmup I was looking to God to help me tackle this obstacle.
The following day I walked to the set, which happened to be in my neighborhood of East Harlem. It was an old television studio in a run-down building. The producers greeted me. One of them sat me in the green room, which was just a dilapidated corner of a hallway. I was given a list of things I couldn’t talk about in my warmup act and it was alarmingly long. No sex, politics, dating, drinking, drugs, addiction, partying, Jesus, the Bible, the Pope, religion, race relations, mental disorders, homeless people, Bankruptcy, violence, death and swearing was not permitted.
This was no good for me. Of course my act was made up of all these things, but mostly relationship stuff. I went over my bits and decided I would do only the stuff that was, as I called it, Seinfeld like — simple, unoffensive observational musings. I didn’t have much but I figured I could fake my way through fifteen minutes. If it was only fifteen minutes.
The crowd scared the shit out of me on appearance. The Daily Show had two-hundred spectators. Naomi’s New Morning Show had eleven. And they were older midwestern folks just dragged over from the M&M Store in Times Square. I’d done shows for people like this and it never seemed to go well. I was preparing for the worst as the sound guy handed me a wireless mic.
I improvised my way through some welcoming, mentioning as little as possible about Naomi because in all honesty I knew very little about her. My New York City material was out of the question because it was about urine-scented subways, homeless people and transvestites. I mentioned the rats and moved on. Then I got their names, where they were from, what their home town was like and if it had internet yet. They enjoyed my poking fun of their small lives. I accidentally said, “boring as shit” and it wasn’t even awkward.
My New York City material was out of the question because it was about urine-scented subways, homeless people and transvestites. So I mentioned the rats and moved on.
These people were good people. Religious people. Naomi’s New Morning was a religious based show. It celebrated the ways in which God could inspire one to tackle all matter of obstacles. And fifteen minutes into my warmup I was looking to God to help me tackle this obstacle. Where was Naomi? Does it take that long for her to get into makeup? Was she praying back there? Why didn’t she just rush out and greet her raucous audience of barely a dozen?
Meanwhile I learned that Maggie from Wichita, Kansas was into scrap-booking. Scott and Sue from Jacksonville had a son that was going to college on a swimming scholarship. I looked at my watch. I had been out here forty-five minutes. I was running out of shit to say AND I said “shit” three more times out of sheer nerves.
At one point I started walking around the set with my wireless mic asking the technicians, “what’s this device do?” and “what about this long tripod thingy?” then back to the crowd, “does anyone wanna guess how much this shit cost?”. I was killing time. Time was killing me.
There was a keyboard nearby. Why a keyboard and not a guitar? I could play guitar! Couple Lionel Richie songs could burn another ten minutes. I touched some keys and on a whim asked, “can anybody play?”. The youngest person there raised her hand. I remembered her. I remembered everyone, there were only eleven people.
Jamie was bashful yet she confessed she had been a contestant on American Idol and had befriended Naomi at a music festival. Naomi was kind of a musical mentor to her. Good, I thought, at least Jamie wasn’t there because she believed in the fantasies in some old book. I invited Jamie over to the keyboard and she began to play.
Her music had a soulful core and her voice was strong and church-like. She sang with the power of Aretha or Gladys Knight. I loved her original music about lost loves and was immediately attracted to her. I wanted to kiss out of appreciation that she was able to kill ten minutes while we waited for the arrival of her majesty.
And then in the middle of my swear-free interview with Jamie, Naomi emerged from the far corner of the studio. I had memorized a glorious, credit filled intro for Naomi that I had subsequently forgotten because I’d been out there for an hour and fifteen minutes. I just said something like, “Ladies and Gentleman, you know her, otherwise you wouldn’t be here… Naomi Judd.”
So miss Born Again and now Television Host sauntered her way onto the set to a smattering of low-energy claps. She flew right on past me without the any acknowledgement, sat at her desk in front of a big cross and started the show.
In the greenroom I waited it to end. I wanted to leave. Couldn’t wait to leave. But I was instructed to stick around in case there was a reason to stop the show like, say, a technical difficulty. In a case like that I was to get back on the mic and learn more about Candy Stanton’s bed and breakfast in Plainsville until it was fixed.
When the show was over, I waited while the guests walked out. SOme of them thanked me. One woman told me I had potential and not to give up. They were sweet folks that had come to the big city for thrills and then sat through an hour of bad standup and a dull interview with a pastor from Chicago. I wished them some genuine NYC excitement, like witnessing a fight between an Uber driver and a crossing guard. Ya know? Some authentic New York City moments.
Jamie and I had a funny conversation about what I’d just been through. And although I thought I’d navigated it poorly, she complimented my skills on the mic. Jamie was very cool and I invited her to my apartment around the block for a drink.
I didn’t tell Jamie that when the producer gave me my check, he told me that my services were not needed for the rest of the week’s tapings. Or ever. He read off a scrap of paper a list of all the sinful words I’d used during my performance. Apparently I’d said: Jesus Christ, Tittees, shit seven times, and God Damn four times. In addition I didn’t talk at all about Naomi’s illustrious career, but instead mentioned several of Ashley’ Judd’s films and referred to her with the phrase, “hot as balls.” This was the quickest I’d ever been fired from a job.
One door closes, another opens. And within a couple hours I had Jamie naked in my apartment. It was the afternoon and New York City buzzed outside. God damn that was a good day.
If you enjoyed this article, please click on that heart so other readers and writers can see it.
Get Jonesy’s writing, videos and upcoming shows delivered right to your email inbox by clicking here: JOIN MAILING LIST
Jonesy is a broke comedian in Los Angeles. Buy him a beer or two by going HERE or donate a couple bucks thru VENMO.