Fan Friction

loud

After reading about the popular new trend of online “fan fiction,” I can’t stop picturing how cool it would be to have some teenage girl reinvent me as a wisecracking vampire lurking in the shadows, thirsting to drain the lifeblood from inebriated cruise-ship guests who complain about the long lines to get into our comedy club. I have the perfect title, too: “The Fun Dude Sucks!”

Although they may not invent Internet stories about me, my fans are still the greatest. Instead of politely introducing themselves and sincerely expressing their appreciation, my “Fun-atics” go the extra mile by screaming at the top of their lungs like Gary Busey contacting the mother ship: “Hey, look—it’s ‘Jeff the Fun Dude’! Woooooo-hoooooo!!” Because I’m always so friendly and outgoing, they correctly assume that I love being startled and embarrassed while waiting in line for a cup of coffee.

At first, I took “Hey, look—it’s ‘Jeff the Fun Dude’!” as a rallying cry implying something akin to: “Gather around, all ye fans of ‘the Fun Dude’; let us chase the ‘Fun One’ around the ship like a Beatle, screaming, shouting and tearing at his clothing and unruly mop of ash blond hair so that, in exchange for all the joy and laughter he bestows upon us, we can help him forget—if just for a second—that he is but a marginally talented middle-aged man who sleeps in bunk beds!”

Gratefully, however, their strident alarms are for my benefit. They’ll freeze, point, locks eyes with me and shout, “Hey, look—it’s Jeff the Fun Dude!” in a well-meaning attempt to alert me to the presence of myself. I find this extremely helpful. I often turn to these vociferous acolytes in utter surprise and say, “Really? Is that who I am? I thought I looked familiar. I saw myself in the mirror earlier today and thought, ‘Hey is that who I think it is? Naw, it can’t be.’ But thanks to you and the half dozen Bud Lights you pounded before lunch, my suspicions have been confirmed: I am indeed ‘Jeff the Fun Dude.’ Quick, call ‘TMZ’ and let them know I’m on my way to the restroom to take a dump!”

Because my Fun-atics understand how I hard I work to keep them entertained, they feel compelled to entertain me in return. For example, instead of approaching me at work, where it’s my job to meet and greet guests, they’ll wait until they see me reading the paper in a sidewalk café—in port, on my afternoon off, with my head down, trying to enjoy an hour or two of “me time”—and blast me with an earsplitting “Fun Duuuuuude!” Why wait until they return to the comedy club, where they can have my complete attention, when they can just as easily poke their heads out of a speeding cab and scream, “Fun Duuuuuude!!” loudly enough to scare the living crap out of my Mexican waiter, causing him to spill a double vanilla latté all over my Kindle? A waiter frightened by drunken shouts in a country where the sound of gunshots is more common than farts? Very entertaining, indeed.

I make my fans happy and so they want to make me happy. This explains why my biggest Fun-atics always make sure I know how much funnier I am than the headliner I’m opening for. And why they always make sure that the headliner is standing right next to me when they tell me. Luckily, I’m at my happiest when feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

My fans also value my ability to help them discover fun and exciting things to do in port. Sure, they could read the brochures, go to the cruise director’s travel talk or chat with the experts at our Shore Excursions desk, but they would rather ask me while I’m off the ship, walking hand in hand with my fiancée. That way, they can tap me on the shoulder right in the middle of an impassioned kiss and bark, “Hey, You! You come here every week—what is there to do around here?!”

I would love to say, “Well, although there are a lot of interesting tours offered at that tour kiosk located five feet behind you, I would say the most popular activity in this port would be to leave me the @#$% alone when I’m off duty trying to enjoy a little tropical romance with my woman! This port is famous for that!”

I would love to say that. I’m just afraid my fans might take it wrong. They might take it as a joke.

When it comes to intrusions into our personal lives, I’m much more forgiving than my fiancée is. If someone shouts “Fun Dude!” while we’re lunching at a beachside café, she’ll start mocking them instantly by jumping out of her seat and pretending to shout at me. “Oh, Fun Dude, Fun Dude,” she’ll fake scream, “you were so hilarious during your five precious minutes onstage last night that I just had to display my total lack of manners by shouting at you and your fiancée like an idiot and totally ruining the atmosphere of your romantic lunch instead of approaching you politely and introducing myself like a normal human being! Oh, ‘Fun Dude’, ‘Fun Dude’—tee-hee-hee!!”

“Sweetie, those people are just trying to express how much they love hanging with me at the comedy club every night. They’re just having fun on their vacation. Why do you have to call them idiots?”

“Because you’re an idiot and they’re your fans! So that makes them idiots and you their king—the King of the Idiots! And don’t ‘Sweetie’ me, you idiot!”

“Sweetie, I can’t be an idiot: I asked you to marry me, remember? That makes me a genius. If anyone is an idiot it’s you for agreeing to marry me.”

“Good point, Idiot.”

Although I can definitely be an idiot at times, my fans are not idiots. They just don’t know how to act around me because normal folks aren’t used to having access to professional entertainers. When a play ends, the actors exit the stage and hide in their dressing rooms. When a movie ends, the movie stars leap off the screen and go back to rehab. But when a comedy show ends, the comic is right there at the exit shaking hands and bumming free drinks. Guests now feel they have a relationship with the comic. And because they can’t just call his cabin and invite him to dinner, our guests jump at the first chance they get to interact with the comic. It doesn’t occur to them that the comic they see out and about the next day may be trying to relax, read a book, write some jokes, call his wife or catch a plane—they just want to feel a connection and their only chance is now.

But my situation is a little different. I live on the ship; therefore, guests have plenty of opportunities to introduce themselves and say hi. So, because I’m not a loud person, I’m always quite mystified as to why folks who like me and are intrigued by me feel the need to yell and shout at me instead of just striking up a conversation with me. But then, of course, I smell the rum on their breath from 50 feet away and the mystery is solved.

Regardless, I feel it’s part of my job is to show respect and compassion to socially awkward guests and treat them with the same manners and social skills which they so sorely lack. So what if my fans invade my personal space every once in a while? The important thing is that, over the course of 20 comedy shows during a seven-day cruise, my Fun-atics and I are “bonded by fun,” so to speak.

Besides, anytime my fans are a little overzealous or a tad inconsiderate, I can easily seek some harmless revenge by writing a humorous essay such as this one and breezily venting my frustration.

The best thing is I don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings. My fans are way too busy hooting and hollering to read.

I Kid You Not

I Kid You Not

The coolest thing about being a cruise ship comedian is I get to perform stand-up for children way too young to visit comedy clubs on land. One night, this adorable little Chinese-American girl in the front row raised her hand halfway through my set.

“Do you have a question, Sweetheart?”

“Yes. When does the good part start?”

Needless to say, the audience went nuts.

Feigning outrage, I said, “Hey, Kid—I don’t come down to where you work and knock the iPhone parts out of your hand, do I?”

As the wave of laughter washed over me, I stuck out my tongue and did a victory dance. Apparently, this was the funniest thing her little brother had ever seen. And when he jumped out of his seat to hi-five me, their parents lost it as well.

I thought I had won that round until the unimpressed cutie opened her coloring book, started coloring and shouted—with perfect timing, “Boring!”

Point. Set. Match.

The difference between a ship’s youth counselor and a ship’s comedian is one entertains immature crybabies and the other entertains their children. That’s why I love having kids at my shows. They save me the trouble of dumbing my act down by explaining my jokes to their parents.

Why are little kids such a joy to perform for? Well, for one thing, little kids don’t drink. Or, if they do, it’s usually just a beer or two to take the edge off of all that free ice cream. Because they’re sober, little kids pay attention. And, for boat acts such as myself, getting the audience to pay attention is half the battle. When your typical adults-only, midnight-show crowd consists of inebriated NASCAR fans whose idea of whispering during a live performance is talking with their mouths full, a front row filled with enchanted third-graders staring up at you in wide-eyed fascination is like a breath of fresh, non-rum-and-tequila-scented air.

Because my family show contains inoffensive yet mature material aimed at adult fans of clean comedy, most of my punchlines sail right over the munchkins’ heads. But most kids don’t seem to care. They seem perfectly happy just to be there witnessing my show, if not participating in it. I can almost see the wheels in their tiny noggins spinning as they struggle to wrap their hungry brains around the novel concept of stand-up comedy: “Who is this real-life wizard up on the stage magically making grown-ups laugh with nothing other than the words coming out of his mouth? Can I become a comedian when I grow up or are my grades too good?”

Don’t get me wrong. Performing stand-up for children can be daunting, especially for newer acts. The way our cruise line bills our family-friendly shows can sometimes make the comic’s job more challenging than it needs to be. Parents hear the phrase “family-friendly” and mistakenly assume that our family-friendly shows are for kids. They’re not. They’re for adults. Adults who want to enjoy a professional comedy show without entrusting overworked and sleep-deprived youth counselors to keep Junior from following a bouncy ball over the bow of the ship. Unfortunately, some parents bring their too-young-to-understand toddlers to the comedy club expecting to find an on-board Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater. Although enthralled grade-schoolers can energize a front row, do you have any idea how hard it is to deliver perfectly timed punchlines with an exhausted rug rat screeching, crying and climbing on his seat—three feet from the stage? It’s enough to make a comic wish he were  at Chuck E. Cheese so he could play a nerve-soothing game of “Whack a Two Year Old.”

Even though entertaining adults and kids at the same time with the same jokes is the stand-up comedy equivalent to skiing a black-diamond run, the sense of accomplishment I feel at the bottom of the hill is exhilarating. Nothing makes my day like stepping off an elevator onto Lido Deck and watching a star-struck little boy point up to me and say, “Look, Mommy, it’s that funny lady from the comedy show!”

Nothing, that is, except watching his big sister grin from ear to ear and shout, “Boring!”