Featured Writer: Erin Mcguire
Women on the Road
East Coast comic Erin McGuire tells a story about the time she booked a gig in Japan and explains why every touring comedian needs to bring their own towel.
I’m a 5’7” Irish ginger. My skin is so white you can see my liver through my stomach. I have a healthy fear of nudity. Now, download that into your head and put it to the side. This is a tale of humility and cultural differences.
I was hired to do a comedy gig in Osaka, Japan because nothing says funny like a girl who looks like a Muppet. I won’t belabor the details on how this gig came my way. Just know that someone waved a check in front of my face, and I lined up like a Von Trapp child. It’s amazing what happens when money is involved. Here’s the average negotiation between a comic and a booker.
Booker: I’ll pay you $200 for 10 minutes.
Booker: Oh yeah, you’ll be performing in my bathroom. But the acoustics are great.
Comic: (pauses to consider ego/standards for two seconds) Yeah sure, why the hell not?
Off I went to Japan, where the appliances are smarter than you! Whenever I travel, I make it a point to learn my surroundings quickly and to ask as few questions as possible. Assimilation and self sufficiency are vital to me when touring. That being said, when there is almost no English, a word to the wise: never be too proud to ask questions. I learned this the hard way. I was given a tour of my very smart apartment for the week. When my guide asked if I needed a quick tutorial on the toilet, I passed. It’s a toilet. How hard can it be? The answer is very. There was a button panel to my right with more options than one of those fancy Coke vending machines at the midtown AMC. But instead of Coke, Diet Coke, and Dr. Pepper, your options were flush, seat heat, or “wash.” I hit the bidet button by accident. The water heat was set at about 200 degrees, leaving my vajutza looking like a Dali clock painting.
Another aspect of travel that is of utmost importance to me is taking in local culture. An off-the-beaten path destination is more exciting than a place on a postcard. I would rather come back with a good story instead of a tan. Irish don’t tan anyway. I asked said liaison to take me some place so Japan. She opted for the Japanese spa. Sounded good to me. I’m a basic bitch at heart, and I love a good spa treatment.
That. Was. Not. This. Spa. A Japanese spa is basically a human stew. Everyone you never wanted to see naked bathing as a team. Get the image of nubile Japanese women, naked, pouring ewers of water over each other and giggling out of your head. These are the people whose skin hasn’t seen the light of day since Khan ruled, walking pool to pool with all their bits and pieces hanging out.
You’re given a towel from a vending machine. A hand towel. And you’re sent into a room to “wash” before getting in the Jacuzzi pools. As a “never nude,” I picked a God to pray to and walked into the “cleansing area,” aka stools and handheld shower heads. All I could think was how many asses had rested on that plastic and how no one looks sexy squatting a foot above the floor. Knowing this “cultural experience” was working my nerves, my friend Julie decided to join in the fun and spray me with the shower-head. I felt like I was in “Silkwood.”
After a lot of hemming, hawing, running, and covering myself with a hand towel, I finally ended up in a jacuzzi and leaned into the experience. Just as I started to achieve the “zen” that this kind of place is supposed to deliver, a frantic employee made a beeline for our group. She started machine gun talking at us. I don’t speak a lick of Japanese, but I did recognize the word “Yakuza.” I’d like to thank my abnormal obsession with the movie Kill Bill for that one.
Once she took a breath after her intense diatribe, our Japanese liaison turns to me and says, “You have to leave.” “Me? Why?” “They think you are Japanese Mafia.” Yakuza. Apparently, in the Japanese culture, tattoos are a sign that you are Japanese Mafia. Or at least, Mafia adjacent. So, this 5’7” lily white, Irish ginger with a tramp stamp (a souvenir from my grunge days) was being booted out of a spa for being Japanese Mafia.
I don’t think there’s a walk of shame that beats mine: walking naked and bent over, shaped like a question mark, attempting to cover my junk with a hand towel while 50 Japanese women looked at me with judgment. Take that, Lena Dunham.
So my words of wisdom for all touring performers:
1. Do your cultural homework.
2. Throw yourself into the experience.
3. Bring your own towel. And make it big.