Featured Article: Sally Brooks
Women on the Road
Talented writer and stand-up comedian Sally Brooks provides a peek into her life touring on the road for a week.
There are a few ways to become a road comic. The first is to be on television, maybe doing stand-up, but preferably on a sitcom or non-comedy reality show. You can then use that success to headline comedy clubs across the country. The second way is to be friends with the first person and ask them to bring you along for the ride. The third, and least desirable, is to work your way up from the bottom. You start as an emcee in your local club, do that for a year or two; move up to the middle or feature spot at that club, and then eventually find your way into nearby clubs and bar shows, get recommended by other comedians or bookers to do even more venues, apply to festivals where you might meet bookers, impress them, and then years later find yourself working in comedy clubs, colleges, theaters, casinos, back rooms of bars and Moose Lodges more weeks than not wondering what happened to your life. I went the third route. I've had some truly amazing experiences along the way. I've done shows that had me walking on clouds for days, met people that became lifelong friends, and watched performances that inspired and challenged me, but the following is a more typical snapshot from a week in that life. I wouldn't change anything.
I sat in the Pittsburgh airport at 7am looking down at the email I’d just received. I blinked a few times to clear my tired eyes. I’d been up since 4am to pack and then drive the hour and a half from my home in West Virginia to get to the airport for a 7:30am flight to Minneapolis.
“Fargo show is cancelled, please confirm you’re able to do the rest of the run.”
I started typing my response, “I’m at the fucking airport on my way to the fucking Fargo show, what the fuck else am I going to do?” I took a breath, deleted my first draft, typed “yep” and hit send.
Three months earlier, I’d been booked to feature on a run starting with the now non-existent Fargo show, then a show in Williston, North Dakota, one in Brookings, South Dakota, and finally a weekend at a comedy club in Rochester, Minnesota outside of Minneapolis. The profit margin on most road work is slim, even more so when you have to buy a plane ticket and rent a car. Without the Fargo show, I was barely breaking even because in addition to losing the money for the cancelled show, I now had to pay for a hotel on my free night.
I’d driven to Fargo the night before and so only had six more hours of wintery North Dakota roads to drive to get to the venue that night. I stopped for lunch and googled Williston, hoping to find a local reference that would get the crowd on my side. The first hit was a New York Times article dated two weeks earlier with the headline “An Oil Town Where Men Are Many, and Women Are Hounded.” I called the booker.
“Hey, is this place safe for women?”
“I think so?”
“You think so?”
“We’ve never sent a woman there, but you'll be fine. Everyone says you’ll sell a ton of merch.”
He was right about one of those things; I did sell a ton of merch.
I spent my eight and half hour drive to Brookings making Vines and feeling thankful that the five oil workers who followed me out of the gas station that morning in Williston had to go to work, which I knew because one of them said, “she’s not gonna talk to us, let’s go to work.” At the show that night, in the back room of a restaurant, I laid into a rowdy group of college kids and got a standing ovation from the audience. I did not sell any merch.
Friday and Saturday
I arrived at the hotel in Rochester and had to check my itinerary twice to make sure I was in the right place. It was the nicest hotel I’d ever stayed in for comedy. I spent my day going to the gym, hanging out in the sauna, laying on a bed in a hotel robe so comfortable I contemplated forking over the $50 to take it home. My trip was turning around. The club had a great reputation and I was excited to stay put for four shows. That night, I got to the club and found out the headliner was a guy who’d once told me, “You should tape your sets, there’s just something really unlikable about you on stage.”
After a drive to Minneapolis, two plane rides, and the drive back to West Virginia from the Pittsburgh airport, I was home. My husband had a pizza waiting for me.
“How was it?” He asked.
“I’ve done worse.”