On the Road

Sonic-Simon 2018: Flour to the People (Tour Recap)

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ALRIGHT! Now that we are finally home and I’ve had a few days to recover while still being incredibly far behind on just about every imaginable element of my life, it’s high time for me to throw together a thoughtless recap of the third Sonic-Simon tour, Flour to the People! I mean it; if I were to put expansive thought into it outside of the wholly unrepresentative-of-my-writing-skill scrawl you’re about to read, then it would take until April at least for this shit to appear online, and everyone we met or helped us out on the road would have forgotten us by that point. To quote our friend Dustin Meadows, who treated us to dinner and a rousing game of Clue: Alien vs. Predator Edition on night five (while listening to the Predator soundtrack on vinyl because fuck yes), “roll that beautiful bean footage.”

INDIANAPOLIS

0310181301_Film3Our first tour stop (and longest drive stretch) was a house show in Indianapolis. Sean had never been to Indy, and I had only been through there briefly in 2015 en route from Knoxville to Madison, WI. I stopped at Shapiro’s Deli then, home to one of the best Reuben’s I’ve ever had. I knew Indianapolis was not lacking for good Reubens, but would it meet those high expectations in terms of comedy house shows?

Spoiler: yes, it did. Sean and I began our tour at a private residence around the Butler University community, never having met anybody on the show or in the audience. Fortunately, they were all awesome. Even the dude with diamond frames inside his circular frames who squeezed my arm extra hard after the show telling me I was so funny was pretty awesome. The veritable murderers’ row of comics who opened for us were all hilarious, and I got to nearly pet a cat while onstage during my closing set. Sean sold a loaf of bread and almost all of his biscuits, which was fortunate because those biscuits were low-fat (made with yogurt) and didn’t keep well. After the show, we went to the Sinking Ship with Katlin, Candice, Shannon, and some associates. Being in the sinking ship made me mad at Knoxville for not having a bar like the Sinking Ship (combining pinball, metal, and hockey), so we headed back to our hotel. Such a great opening night!

The next morning we got up early enough to see some of downtown Indy, including the City Market, Luna Music (boy we spent a bundle), and of course a couple of massive fountain monuments, where we were able to get a good Foamez shot or two.

On through the Ohio to…

PITTSBURGH

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Taken about twenty feet from the house where we were staying. If it weren’t for all the unenviable things about my life, I wouldn’t be surprised if you all wanted my life.

If there’s one thing anybody who knows me knows about me, it’s that I hate the Pittsburgh Penguins more than any sports team in history, even more than the New York Yankees (though admittedly not by much, adjusting for 1999 hate-inflation). My hatred of the Penguins has spilled over into my antipathy for their other teams (as much as I fairly indifferent about the Pirates). But I will admit that, as much as I hate Sidney Crosby, I fucking love this city.

Prior to our arrival there on Saturday evening after a lengthy drive from Indiana, I had only been through Pittsburgh once. I stopped by Jerry’s Records and ate a giant sandwich at Fathead’s en route from Ann Arbor to DC sometime in 2011. It seemed cool at the time, but holy hell was the city a fun host this time around. Sean and I got to stay in a crazy cool box of a house atop the one-of-a-kind Troy Hill thanks to our show-producers and hosts, Alex Stypula and John Dick Winters. Sadly, neither of them were around; John was at the Memphis Comedy Festival and Alex was seeing his cousin get married in some (assumed David Lynchian nightmare of a) place called Bee Cave, Texas.

Anyway, the Race to the Coffin consortium was well-represented at Hambone’s that night, where the late show kicked off around 10:30. Jesse Irvin stepped in to host in tandem with Shannon Norman, whose star turn had happened earlier that night with Viceland pumping him full of shots and following him around with cameras. No clue. Anyway, the show was a blast for all of us, especially once the table of horrible, horrible drunks off to the side got bored with themselves when Sean wouldn’t indulge them and left. The crowd at large was fantastic and super pumped about the show. Here’s some photographic evidence:

We got a full-quality recording of the show, and hopefully it will emerge on Soundcloud or something sometime soon. I also reserve the right to second-guess everything I said onstage and withhold the recordings indefinitely. We’ll see.

The show ended after midnight, so we retired to Troy Hill (seriously, how the fuck did they build houses and stuff up there? You can’t even fit buses up there and you have to walk down gigantic, fairy-tale staircases to get to the street) and got up the next day to marvel at what I’m now convinced may be one of America’s coolest cities. And by “marvel” I mean finding actual pierogis. Our biggest mistake, however, was going to Polish Hill on a Sunday. For those of you unfamiliar with Polish and Polish-American people, they tend to be pretty Catholic and like to not accept our money for pierogis on Sunday. Our good buddy Harnàld Gravssünd also got to pay a visit to the Duquesne Incline, and a travelogue will hopefully emerge soon on FAPTV. Some photographic evidence:

We eventually found delicious Polish food in the Strip district and headed out to Cleveland with full bellies and warm hearts.

CLEVELAND

We were really mad at daylight saving time for robbing us of an extra hour in Pittsburgh, but because we’re damn professionals we headed out to Lakewood, OH to find the Avenue Taphouse. We got there around 6:15 to find the most obnoxious birthday party being celebrated in Ohio that day being celebrated there. We also saw a singer-songwriter dressed like a prospector playing on an elevated stage behind the semi-circular bar. We also looked around for an intimate comedy room in the venue, and found nothing. Were we about to perform on top of a semi-circular bar to a room full of loud drunks who were all gigantic? I guess so.

Jess Faulstich and Spider Jones got there to begin for the show. The party’s reservation ended at 7, but a motley crew of drunks stuck around for the beginning of the show, seeing fit to scream “SUN-DAY FUN-DAY!” at the top of his lungs at the top of every minute.  Sean took some notes to reflect his feelings at that particular moment:

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Fortunately, the drunks took off a few comics in, and Jess and Spider both did a great job to even things out. Later on, some dude decided, despite a room full of people drinking and laughing at comedy, that he was going to play pool. Spider went to respectfully request that he wait until after the show; the dude eventually relented, but not until after he called the bar’s owner like some petulant elementary school kid annoyed he had to wait his turn on the slide. Oh, and he also repeatedly stopped by the DJ stand to say nasty things to the producers. It was awkward, but the producers and comics involved did a great job diffusing the situation and sticking their necks out. Despite the high octane entitlement coursing through the environs of Avenue Taphouse, we had a good time onstage and a great time chatting with some locals afterward.

Fast forward to this Sunday morning. Spider gets a text from the Avenue Taphouse owner, which he posts to the Cleveland comedy group on Facebook. The owner says they have to cancel comedy because their regulars were “getting upset that they couldn’t play pool.” I can’t verify that the owner didn’t receive any other hypothetical complaints about hypothetical plans to play pool from other regulars over the course of this week, but from what I saw at their final show, it was one entitled asshole. One. The owner apparently milled it over for a week and pulled the plug on Spider and Jess this morning, after they’d already booked and promoted a show tonight. Several comics and some friends had probably made arrangements to go, drink, and have a good time, but the alcohol sales and potentially good word-of-mouth paled in comparison to one entitled regular and a sackful of quarters from one pool table (which, at a dollar per game, might bring in the bullion of $20 per night… provided the bar actually owns the pool table and collects on it). Other Cleveland comics testified to seeing one patron of the Taphouse throw up out the window of his truck then turn it on and drive away; the bartender shrugged when said comic confronted them with this observation.

In retrospect, this was probably a blessing for both the bar owner and the show runners.  The show runners worked hard to provide a Sunday spot for the Cleveland comedy scene, and from what Jess has said, they already have a new venue lined up.  I know running a bar (particularly one that appeared to be in the middle of an expensive-looking build-out) is a massive headache, but if this owner was anything like others I’ve dealt with in the past, they were probably looking for excuses to get rid of comedy for a while. I’ve seen this happen several times since I’ve moved to Knoxville, only our establishments have used football as a straw-man excuse to expunge comedy. Every comedy show that gets canned in this manner serves as a cogent reminder for comics to (1) work to get funnier/beef up the quality of the shows overall anyway and (2) SUPPORT the local venues that actually support comedy (not merely tolerate), and not just on nights that comedy happens there.  Don’t take these places for granted – they don’t owe us anything.

Also, on a selfish note, I think this may be the first time in my “career” that a show got its plug pulled the week after my gig rather than before. Moving on…

After the show, we headed to our hotel downtown, where we discovered that Taco Bell opened one of their late-night Cantina restaurants (where you can get booze) right next to Public Square. Our boys Baryl and Scroot even filmed a fun video, which some of you can see if you click that link. It was the only proper way to celebrate 311 day.

Because our Monday gig was less than an hour away,  we took full advantage the next day and did some touristy stuff in Cleveland. After bumping into Hot Snakes on the way out of our hotel (you know, as one does), we swung by downtown for a few photo ops and we headed over to the Christmas Story house, which sat atop a serious cache of film tourism I had no idea existed. Our decision to take the tour was an invariably great one. Our tour guide was a seasoned professional who knew all the ins and outs of both the film’s production as well as the restoration of the house, which was apparently serving as a motorcycle repair shop when they purchased it back. The movie’s low-budget and locally-sourced production made me love it even more than I already did. Some photographic evidence:

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Civilization Coffee in Tremont. When we got there, a group of folks were planning a wedding at the table next to us, which exhausted us just listening to all the details that went into it. My ears perked up a bit when they mentioned the blessing of the challah, though. The snow began picking up around 6:30, when we hopped back in our car and hit the road for…

KENT

We got to Water Street Tavern well before Anthony Savatt, the venue’s longtime host and producer did. We went downstairs to set up our merch table, passing by a group of scream-talking motherfuckers who made the meatheads at Avenue Taphouse seem tame. We were grateful to be doing the show in a separate downstairs room with its own bar. The bartender even knew how to keep his voice at an appropriate volume. To be perfectly honest, the show was pretty enjoyable. We got to see some funny Northeast Ohio comics like Phillip Bounthisavath and Dwayne Duke, which was an added bonus. Sean sold the last of his available loaves to a guy in a gigantic red sweatshirt. As Jean Shepherd said at the end of A Christmas Story, “all was right with the world.”

The next morning, Anthony brought us out for a fantastic cup of coffee at Bent Tree Roasters and then to Taco Tontos, where we slowly killed ourselves with Mac Daddys, a pile of mac & cheese with bacon rolled into grilled tortillas. As I attempted to finish it, I couldn’t stop thinking that it was (1) so good and (2) why the terrorists hate us.

Then we went to a dusty old comics and collectibles shop on the main strip around the corner. This doesn’t bear a whole lot of relevance to the tour, but we did get to hang out and pet a fluffernutter of a store cat,  pictured here:

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The weather was also bizarre, considering how it was blizzarding for twenty minutes and then beautiful and sunny for another twenty. This cycle repeated as we headed out of town to…

COLUMBUS

I was particularly excited to be back in Columbus, because (1) it’s been my comedy home-away-from-home since 2012 and it’s full of wonder-people, and (2) it actually formed the genesis of the tour. I had the opportunity to go back up there for 50 First Jokes in January. I was talking about bringing Sean with me because he’d never been to Columbus (or, Ohio at all, for that matter), but he couldn’t make it. So, like a pair of crazy people we decided to plan a run back through there.

The periodic white-outs continued as we drove down from Kent, and we pulled into Dustin’s place to check in. Rather than rest up, shower, or do anything sensible, we went record shopping. I may have smelled awful, but I picked up a brand new reissue of my second-favorite Belle & Sebastian record, so who’s the dummy now!?

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Anyway, after some pizza and AVP Clue, we all headed to our respective shows: Sean and I to Slammer’s, and Dustin and his partner in crime (and romantic stuff) Michelle to Shadowbox for the Roast of Disney Sidekicks. It was snowing so hard when we drove into downtown that most of the city was barely visible, which didn’t bode well for our audience.

Georgia Barnes, who has just got back from performing at the Memphis Comedy Festival, greeted us when we got to Slammer’s. As the bartender told me later that night, Slammer’s had been a mainstay in the Columbus LGBT community for well over two decades. It was a fortunate stroke for Georgia, who passed by it one night on the way home from a show and inquired about starting a monthly show in their back space. Despite a somewhat small audience on account of the weather, the show itself was a good time and we had a handful of engaged viewers who walked in. For some reason, I decided to play cornhole while I told jokes. Georgia was great as always, the our openers Humza Bashir and Graham Gibson were a lot of fun as well.

After the show, we swung by a couple of mics to check out the scene(s). We stopped by Bossy Girl Pinup Joint, where I caught up with Leslie Battle for a few and got to say hi to Mark Lucas and the talented OSU stand-ups I met super briefly at Fifty First Jokes. Also, one performer’s closer involved her stripping down to a catsuit and lashing a whip around the stage.

We had most of the next day in town, so we did what any self-respecting visitors would do: we got Reubens at Katzinger’s Deli with Lauren Bencaz.

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We took this photo to send to Todd Lewis, whose love of Reubens and appreciation of Lauren’s humor are both well-documented. He replied to say we looked unhinged.

Okay, I’m getting tired, so I’m going to cut to the chase: on the way out of town, we swung through Dublin, OH to see a gigantic field of corn statues. It was sublime.

 

CINCINNATI MONTGOMERY, OH

Our final tour stop was at the Pro-Am night at the great Go Bananas club in Montgomery, OH, a quick ride outside of Cincinnati. For those not in the know, you should know this club rules. And I don’t say that about a lot of clubs.

My phone was dead during the show (as it should be, all the time), so Sean filmed our sets and was the only one who got visual documentation of the show, but it was a blast. Special thanks to Cam O’Connor for the spots and the quality time catching up. My set also unwitting began a game of roasting dominoes. Blake Hammond, who was just profiled somewhere in Cincinnati magazine, dug into my set at the beginning of his. The crowd (who, as Sean noted, was probably the coolest and best-trained crowd we’d seen) really enjoyed it, and it got even funnier after Blake’s set, when Mark Chalifoux got onstage and lit him up. I don’t remember how many sets this cascading roast-waterfall continued for, but it was a handful and the crowd was seriously on board. We had a great time talking with a few of the other comics, including Conor Delehanty, who (incidentally) will be headlining Beth Tomkins’ show at Sugar Mama’s next Saturday, March 24th. Go.

Sappy Conclusion

After our closing night show at Go Bananas and a great series of conversations with the local comics and fans, Sean and I decided to take advantage of our temporary proximity to White Castle and swung through a drive-thru. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t the second store we went to after finding the first one (closer to the highway) closed despite the LIES posted on Google that their drive-thru was open until 11. So, we wound our way through a very cool-looking working class neighborhood off Montgomery Road to one that respected us enough to stay open late. As we sat in our car, scarfing down our piles of flavorless crinkle fries and sliders, we took a few minutes to reflect on our breakdown of shows.

Though I can’t speak for Sean, the most interesting element to me was how, in six nights, we did six different types of shows in six different types of venues. We performed on a house show, an urban barbecue joint, a suburban sports bar, a college bar basement, a pizza place, and a genuinely good (we’re talking outlier-level) comedy club. We met great funny people at all of them, and it would be difficult to pick our favorite. Even the less-attended shows had plenty of great things about them, and we walked away in a good mood from each one. I’ve spent a lot of time on this site blathering on about all the great things going on comedically and artistically throughout the American Southeast, but the American Midwest deserves just as many props.

So, Sonic-Simon 3.0 is in the books, and by most metrics of DIY touring as a pair of unknown comics in 2018, it was a success. Also, full disclosure, we arguably almost broke even, if you don’t count food (which you shouldn’t, really; you’re gonna eat even if you stay home) and the piles of records and books we bought at the aforementioned shops. Will Sean and I be insane enough to do a 4th tour? That’s a question to wait, like, a long time before asking again. We’ll see where we are next year.

But in the meantime, you can see both of us in a couple of weeks, headlining the historic Grove Theater in Oak Ridge on Friday, March 30th! Event details and tickets will be on sale soon. Also, you can also see both of us on a near-weekly basis collaborating on the Friendlytown show, every Monday at the Pilot Light.

 

 

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