The First Time

The First Time


Ok, I had been talking about becoming a comedian for years, now it was time to actually do it. Until the early 80’s, comedy was done at different venues in the area, like the Portfolio in Shadyside. All that changed when the Pittsburgh Comedy Club opened in Dormont.

I had just started seeing Chrissie, the girl I would marry and we went to the club on one of our early dates. We went to see a guy we had seen on the Tonight Show and the HBO Young Comedians special. His name was Jerry Seinfeld, you may have heard of him. That was in April of 1982 and I wasn’t even old enough to get in. I looked older than my age and nobody asked for ID. Yeah, nothing you can do about it now.

Here was a place doing comedy full time, with shows from Wednesday through Sunday. I was excited to be there. Here was a place I could get work as a comedian, even though I hadn’t done it yet. I would never do a paid show in that room, but that’s for later in the journey.

I don’t know why it took so long, but it wasn’t until November of that year I finally got up the courage to give it a shot.

They had an open mike on Tuesday nights. I had been working on material for a few years, now it was time to see if it worked. I told myself it was time and spent the day nervously preparing myself. I picked up Chrissie and we drove to Dormont.

When we walked in, there was a group of people standing around the bar area. They were the comedians, nobody else had shown up. No crowd, no show. I can’t deny there was a sense of relief. I don’t have to force myself to do this tonight. At the same time, I had prepared myself all day and now it wasn’t going to happen.

Looking back, it probably wasn’t the worst thing. My brother had a purple old lady wig he had worn for Halloween and I had brought it along with me. I don’t know what I was going to do with it, probably make a fool of myself and ended my comedy career before it started. As we were leaving, one of the guys told me to come out to Tickles on Monday night. They always have a crowd.

Now I would have to wait another week to make my debut. I left disappointed and relieved.

Tickles was the second comedy club to open in the area. It was in the basement of The Holiday House in Monroeville. It was a hotel with a big Vegas Style showroom that brought in big acts. It’s now a strip mall. I headlined the final week in the basement room before it was torn down.

By then it was no longer Tickles, the Funny Bone had taken over the room.

The Funny Bone was the third full time room to open in the Pittsburgh area. The original was on Route 51, not far from the Pittsburgh Comedy Club, which I would find out, caused a problem for which you could work.

It was Thursday afternoon, two days after my failed attempt, and I was reading the entertainment section of the newspaper. Yes, we actually read newspapers back then. We were just coming out of the Stone Age.

Anyway, there was an ad for The Funny Bone. That night they were having open mike before the show. I called the number to ask about it.

“What do I have to do?”

“Just come down and do your shtick man. Can you do that? Should I put your name down or are you going to wuss out.”

What kind of lunatic was I speaking to?

“Yes, put me down. The name is John Knight.”

For some reason, I couldn’t have one of the cars that night, so Chrissie and her sister picked me up and we drove out.

When I walked in the door, I said,

“I’m John Knight, I called about going up.”

That’s the moment I met the two insane brothers who would be a big part of my early days in comedy. Jeff and Keith.

Jeff was seated at the podium, collecting the entrance fee. Keith quickly approached and was in my face.

“You better be funny man.”

Then Jeff chimed in,

“Yeah man, you better be funny.”

Nothing like added pressure for your first time on stage.

Then Jeff informed me that the two girls had to pay to get in. It was a sign of things to come.

There were only three of us that signed up. Myself and two woman. One had been doing open mikes for a few years, the other was new like me. I would have the second spot.

Paul Reiser was the headliner that night and we would be going at the beginning of the regular show. With only three of us that night, it wasn’t too bad. When it got to be eight or nine, the headliners weren’t too happy about it.

I didn’t know who Paul Reiser was at the time. He had been in the movie Diner, which I hadn’t seen, so he was new to me. He was far from a draw at the time. There were only about 45 people in the audience.

The show started and Jeff was hosting. He did a few minutes and brought up the first woman, a heavy set older lady. She wasn’t funny and didn’t do very well. It was my turn. In my head I was telling myself,

“You’re going to do this…You’re going to do this.”

Even though you walk on stage, there’s no guarantee you’re going to go through with it. I remember hosting the open mike at the Funny Bone a couple years later. There were a lot of acts and new people don’t get prime spots. There was a guy going up for the first time. When I told him he was next, he said,

“It’s about time.”

I introduced him, he got to the microphone, looked at the audience and,

“What the hell was I thinking?”

He walked off, never to return.

I heard my name being introduced, took a deep breath and walked onstage. At least I didn’t have the purple wig.

The anxiety was overwhelming, I was trying hard not to show my nervousness and started. Then, I got a laugh and another. Between the nerves and the rush from getting laughs, it was all a blur when I left the stage.

Jeff came up to me.

“You did good man. Ten thousand more times and you’ll be a comedian.”

Yeah, that’s about right.


Next time…Can I do it again?

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