Zip Lines, Parasails and Jet Skis—Oh My!

Ambulance on Beach

Although there’s a lot to do when your ship’s at sea, new and wondrous  adventures await you ashore. Have the urge to remain on the ship and eat yourself into a coma while everyone else is wasting time in port? Snap out of it, Skipper! You’re not (just) some fat and lazy American on vacation; you’re an intrepid explorer in search of danger and excitement—so slather on that sunblock, suck up that gut and whip out that American Express card, because an intrepid adventurer such as yourself is going to want to splurge on some shore excursions for you and your family so you can actually go out and experience—not just visit—the ports. Unless, of course, your idea of a good time is wandering aimlessly around a port area that is the mother of tourist traps screaming, “No! No! No! Yes! No! Yes! Hell no! Hell yes!” to locals trying to sell you fake jewelry, cheap T-shirts, imitation leather goods, marijuana, wood carvings, prostitutes, wool blankets in summertime and Mexican wrestling masks.

So in order to help you maximize your fun in the sun, here are five of the most popular shore excursions for you to choose from:

Excursion # 1: swimming with the dolphins. Dolphin encounters are some of the most popular excursions offered by any cruise line because they allow cruise aficionados such as yourself to treat your family to an experience of a lifetime. In fact, millions of Americans are sailing to the Caribbean this year for the warm sunshine, enchanting evening breezes, sapphire waters, and the chance to swim with cute and cuddly dolphins that weigh 1,100 pounds and can crush a small child like a warm M & M. But despite what the critics might say, swim-with-the-dolphin programs are a great opportunity for dolphins, the second-most intelligent creatures in the world to bond with tourists, the least intelligent creatures in the world.

Swim-with-the-dolphin excursions have become increasingly popular in the Caribbean in the past ten years or so and the dolphins dig it, too. A former dolphin trainer, who spoke candidly with me on the condition that I twist his words around, told me that dolphins love being in captivity where they can perform the same boring tricks over and over again with overweight tourists and their snot-nosed offspring holding onto their fins as they bang their sensitive snouts on the walls of their claustrophobic pens instead of swimming free in deep blue ocean, where the only tourists they’ll meet are drunk cruisers who fall overboard.

“Dolphins are beautiful and amazing creatures in their natural habitat,” the trainer told me. “But stick them in a cage, and they become sad, frustrated and aggressive, making it that much easier for them to relate to humans.”

Excursion # 2: snorkeling and scuba diving. Snorkeling is a particularly popular activity among junior cruisers because kids are less apt to be unpleasantly surprised at how nut-tuckingly cold the water in the Caribbean can be, less apt to become disappointed or angry when unusually strong currents make it difficult to observe underwater life, and less apt to get upset when their eyes are flooded with stinging salt water because their parents were too tipsy to properly adjust their masks for them.

The primary appeal of snorkeling for parents is that it doesn’t require the expense, equipment and training required for scuba diving. But if honest-to-goodness scuba diving is more your thing, then you’ll have to get certified first if you want to dive on your own. If you’re not certified, then you’ll have to either dive with a guide or get hired as an uncertified guide for other non-certified tourists.

Shore excursion # 3: zip-lining.

Are you overweight, out of shape and afraid of heights? Then this is the excursion for you. If you don’t have fun, then your bored guides certainly will because they can definitely use a good laugh.

Shore excursion # 4: parasailing.

Each year, an estimated three to five million people participate in parasailing. This popular activity is one of the most exciting things you can do in port because it’s largely unregulated with serious accidents frequently caused by faulty equipment. There are: no federal regulations or guidelines that establish specific training or certification for parasailing operators;  no requirement for inspection of the parasailing equipment; and no requirement to shut down operations during nasty weather conditions. For these reasons alone, serious thrill seekers are sure to get their money’s worth.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of being suspended 500 above the ocean’s surface, where something as simple as a weak towline, strong winds, or a worn harness can cause a tragic accident, then perhaps the fact that there no are rules or laws preventing you from buying a half-priced bottle of tequila at the duty free shop and drinking it during your flight might seal the deal.

Shore excursion # 5: Jet Skis and ATVs. Can’t decide between renting a Jet Ski or a four-wheeler, then get a package deal so you can do both in one day. That way, you can break your neck and  your back. (And then rent a Rascal scooter back on the ship.)

So don’t just lounge around Lido Deck, nursing your strawberry daiquiri; book a shore excursion today! There’ll be plenty of time for lounging when you’re in traction in the ICU.

 

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Cruising for Beginners

Cruising for Beginners

Ever wonder why your Facebook friends can’t stop blabbering about how much fun they had on their latest cruise? They want to make you feel bad, that’s why. They know you haven’t cruised before so they keep filling your newsfeed with posts and photos reminding you about how much they enjoyed themselves in order to make you feel that much sadder about your own miserable existence.

But why get sad when you can get even? Now it’s your turn to book a cruise, have some fun, and then spend the next six months blogging about and posting photos from your cruise until your friends and relatives scream “uncle” and go camping.

However, if the idea of revenge isn’t incentive enough for you to set sail on your dream vacation, then here are a few “fun facts” which just might convince you that your first cruise could turn out to be that perfect getaway you’ve always dreamt about. If not, at least I’ll have helped you waste a few minutes of your time you could have spent at your desk, working.

Fun Fact #1: Cruises Are Cheap

Cruises offer big bang for your vacation buck because the fares cover just about everything you’ll need for a fun-filled trip: food, accommodations, entertainment and often transportation from the airport to the ship. It’s a good thing that stuff is included because you might need your cash to purchase a $50 bottle of sunscreen in Grand Cayman.

You’ll often see Internet deals on leading cruise lines for under $100 per person, per night, which is considerably cheaper than you’d spend on land for dinner, drinks and a DUI.

On some cruise lines, kids even sail free or at discounted rates when sharing a cabin with two adults. So if you can find two adults who won’t mind sharing their cabin with your kids, you‘re in luck.

Fun Fact #2: Cruises Take You to Exotic Locations

On a cruise, the ship takes you from one exotic location to another. You won’t need to worry about anything but having fun and getting left behind in Mexico with no luggage, no passport and a killer hangover.

You’ll unpack your suitcase at the beginning of the cruise and wake up in a different tropical paradise every day. Then you’ll have to wake up the kids, wait for your friends or relatives to get ready, go to breakfast, realize you’re all at different restaurants at different ends of the ship, spend the next half hour trying to find each other, eat standing up because you’re not the only family with the bright idea to eat before disembarking, and then wait in line to get off the ship.

Then, once off the ship, you’ll wait for somebody in your party to go back on the ship for their camera, sunglasses or fanny pack. Then you’ll stand around in the blazing heat trying to figure out what to do before realizing that none of you has a clue as to where to go or what to do. So then you’ll waste another half hour nervously negotiating a game plan. Some of you may want to go shopping, some of you may want to go on an excursion, some of you may want to go drinking, and some of you may want to rent a donkey and start the long trip home. But in the end, you’ll wind up doing what Grandma and Grandpa want to do, which is to visit a Guatemalan sex dungeon.

Fun Fact #3: Cruises Are Family-Friendly

If you’re pulling your hair out to find a vacation that your 5-, 10- and 15-year-olds will all love, then go to your local video arcade. But if you want to do something special that will make you feel like model parents but that your kids are way too immature and spoiled to enjoy, then take the family on a cruise.

Most ships have kids’ clubs that are divided by age. Teens have their own cool clubhouse, far away from the playrooms for the rug rats—and even further away from the adults-only areas. How can your kids not love a kids’ club that offers video games, water slide races, dance parties, face painting, arts & crafts and sporting events? Easy, because kids’ clubs are “boring,” “stupid,” and nowhere near as fun as spending the whole cruise riding up and down the lobby atrium in a glass elevator.

So what are you waiting for? Book that first cruise and start making your Facebook friends miserable.

# # #

Draw the Line

Long Line

If there’s one thing cruise ship guests hate it’s waiting in line to see a free comedy show. It fact, some guests get so mad they look like they want to hit me. Only reason they don’t is the line for beating me up is usually longer than the line for the show.

In all fairness, I can see why people on vacation wouldn’t want to wait ten minutes to see a forty-minute comedy show. These are the same people who’ll wait in a three-hour line at Six Flags for a two-minute roller coaster ride. The same people who’ll camp out on Canal Street in New Orleans at nine in the morning for a Mardi Gras parade that doesn’t start till noon and won’t reach them until four in the afternoon. The same people who’ll sleep outside an Apple Store all weekend just to buy the new iPhone even though they still haven’t figured out how to use their previous iPhone. The same people who’ll, on the first night of the cruise, spend forty-five minutes in a Free Liquor Tasting line that circles the lobby of the ship just so they can down a thimble-sized sample of Baily’s Irish Cream. So, yes, I can see why waiting ten minutes for a professional comedy show would be too much suffering for their fallen arches to endure.

There’s something about lines (or “queues,” if you’re British) that brings out the worst in people. On a nightly basis I observe grown adults cut the line, save spots for friends, nit-pick about who was standing where, push and shove, scream and shout, and then become verbally abusive (or “get all Parliamentary,” if you’re British) with me or my assistants when confronted about their behavior. Other guests will refuse to join the line altogether and try to start their own line at the exit of the comedy club, refusing to move as they’re trampled by a stampede of 600 departing guests in search of free pizza and ice cream. It’s nights like that that make me wish there were more icebergs in the Caribbean.

Some of my superiors believe that turning a blind eye to such childish behavior falls under the heading of Good Customer Service. I do not. I believe that when passengers pay for a cruise they are paying to travel on the ship, paying to sleep on the ship, paying to eat on the ship, and paying to enjoy the free live entertainment offered on the ship. They are not paying for the right to interfere with our operation, supplant our policies with their own, defy or disrespect our team members or infringe upon the fun of their fellow guests through rude, selfish or discourteous behavior. For that we charge extra.

In my opinion, passengers are called “guests” for a reason: the ship is our home and they are just visiting. In my cruise line’s opinion, however, passengers should be considered “part of the family.” Fine. But if you ask me, that’s even more of a reason for us to call guests on their crap. I’d love to see our more problematic passengers try to pull the same shenanigans in the home of a close relative and see what happens. Try telling their Aunt Clara and Uncle Eugene how to run their household, spill food on their furniture, leave dirty dishes on their stairs, make noise at all hours of the night outside their bedroom door and speak rudely or disrespectfully to them or their cousins and they’ll find themselves at a Motel 6 faster than they can say, “It may be your house but it’s my vacation.”

I love my job and I love my ship. I also love the vast majority of guests who cruise with us week after week. So, please come sail with us soon. I’ll do my part to make sure you have the best cruise ever. But, to echo something we’ve all heard our fathers say a million times while growing up: If you cruise under my roof, you cruise under my rules.

Got a problem with that? Get in line.

# # #

My Two Sense

IMG_9675

My least favorite part of being our ship’s comedy club manager is turning over the showroom between shows. A hard partying crowd of 600 people can leave enough empty beer bottles and cocktail glasses in their wake to make the Punchliner look like Motley Crϋe’s tour bus. So in order to clean the room in ten minutes or less—and to ensure that guests waiting in line for the next show can get good seats without having to shove a fellow guest overboard—we ask the audience to exit after every performance. Not surprisingly, guests are less than thrilled by this policy, because it forces them to do two activities cruise ship passengers are notoriously reluctant to engage in: following instructions and leaving the sitting position. But I find that if I attach a free drink coupon to some fishing line I can usually coax them all out eventually.

I’ve been told I should look at it at from a guest’s point of view. And I have. Their point of view is that they have the right to ignore the rules because they “paid good money to be here.” They paid good money to fill up their gas tank—does that mean they can run a red light? They paid good money to finish their basement—does that mean they can use it as a meth lab? They paid good money for their cellphone—does that mean they can take a photo of their “junk,” email it to unsuspecting women, lose their spot in Congress and then run for mayor of a major metropolitan city? (OK, bad example.)

Not every guest gives me a hard time about our policy, but those who do make my job way harder than it needs to be. These people have been on the ship less than 24 hours and yet suddenly they’re experts in running a comedy club: “I have to leave now that the show is over and people are already lining up outside for the next one and your staff needs to clean up and reset the showroom in less than ten minutes? That makes no sense!”

“Of course that makes no sense to you,” I feel like screaming back, “You’ve never set foot in our club before! But maybe if you were an experienced crowd control expert who possessed firsthand knowledge of the type of traffic flow problems our carefully considered and thoroughly tested policies and procedures have been designed to prevent, instead of a vacationer seeing live stand-up for the first time, perhaps you wouldn’t be so befuddled. You may have paid to be here but I get paid to be here, so whaddya say you keep drinking yourself blind and I’ll keep doing my job?”

I’ve never understood “that makes no sense” as a guest’s go-to objection to our shipboard policies. Of course it makes no sense: you haven’t received the same training that we have nor are you privy to the same information we are. If you were to take a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods, I’m sure that the machine that drills holes in the bowling balls would baffle the bejesus out of you. But to the guy who has been trained to drill the holes in bowling balls, the ball hole drilling machine makes perfect sense. And maybe if he were to drill a couple of holes into your skull, it would drain enough “stupid juice” out of your noggin so that from now on you’ll no longer demand that things make sense to you immediately and instead learn how to ask intelligent questions that might lead to you having a wider frame of reference, which will lead to better understanding of our polices, which will lead to you realizing that we have your and your fellow guests’ best interests at heart and have no intention of inconveniencing you or ruining your vacation, so please stop thinking that paying for a cruise makes you a senior vice president of the cruise line.

Similarly, when I board an airplane, none of the dials or levers in the cockpit makes sense to me. Difference is, the fact that those dials and levers make no sense to me makes perfect sense to me–because I’m not a pilot! But I’m pretty sure that if I took flying lessons for a number of years, spent thousands of hours in the air before finally obtaining my commercial pilot’s license, all that technology in the cockpit would one day make perfect sense to me. I’m also pretty sure I’d be even less tolerant of idiots that I am now:

“I can’t believe we have to wait an extra twenty minutes before takeoff just because one of the engines fell off the plane—that makes no sense!”

“Yeah, well, go Greyhound next time, jackass!”

# # #

Fun as Ship

Dream

Most cruise ships offer lots of fun-filled activities such as Bingo, shuffleboard and trivia. Granted, these are things you can do at your local senior center for free. But on a cruise you can win prizes. And nothing says “I’m a better person than the rest of you old farts” like going home with a suitcase full of plastic “ship-on-a-stick” trophies valued at twenty cents apiece.

But if you’re too busy establishing your intellectual superiority over your fellow passengers by taking first place in “TV Theme Song Trivia,” you might miss out on some more satisfying cruising experiences (such as “Movie Theme Song Trivia”). So here are some tips for getting the most out of your next cruise:

  1. Attend the shopping talk.

The Shopping Talk is a brief (six to eight hours) seminar given by your shipboard shopping specialist “Chet,” who will provide you with valuable pointers for shopping in your ports of call. Pointers such as:

  • Only shop in an “approved” store so you’ll get the best deal possible—and Chet will get a commission, a bonus, and a hot oil massage with a happy ending.
  • Never shop in an “unapproved” store because you’ll be kidnapped by Somali pirates and/or ISIS.
  1. Choose the buffet over the dining room.

You can’t go wrong eating in one of your ship’s fancy dining rooms, where you can feast on steak, lobster, fine wine and exotic deserts; however, the high-quality food and superior service may cause you to relax and enjoy yourself (even though you’ll be expected to wear shoes). And since finding things to complain about makes cruising much more enjoyable, you’ll be better off heading up to Lido Deck where you can fight your way through the gluttonous throng in your bare feet. Besides, later on, when you’re down at the front desk complaining about the long lines and limited selection in the buffet restaurant, not to mention the fact that you paid good money for this cruise yet nobody from the Miami offices ever called and advised you to pack footwear for formal night, the Guest Services associate on the business end of your vitriol will be more likely to offer you financial compensation if you have chili-dog breath.

  1. Camp out in the casino.

Screw Las Vegas; spend as much time and money in the ship’s casino as possible. Cruise-ship slot machines are looser than a biker chick with a meth habit. Especially on my cruise line. In fact, you’re going to need a duffle bag to haul all those shiny silver dollars back to your cabin. And I’m not just saying that because the more money my cruise line makes off of delusional chain-smoking gambling addicts like you, the better chance I have of getting a raise.

  1. Luxuriate in the all-ages hot tubs.

What better way to relax on a luxury cruise liner overrun by unsupervised eight-year-olds than with a nice hot urine bath?!

  1. Book an interior stateroom.

Sure, you can spend the extra money for a balcony or at least a porthole if you want, but cruising is so much more adventurous and exciting when you cram your entire family into a tiny windowless cabin the size of your kitchen pantry at home.  You’ll never know what time of day it is when you wake up, and the lack of fresh air with five people in the room will keep things interesting. And, better yet,  you’ll be that much more excited about reaching the Bahamas.

  1. Rent a mobility scooter.

Why should old folks with bad knees have all the fun?  Rent a scooter for your cruise and skip to the front of every line.  Crew members will take pity on you and wave you past the long parade of upright losers waiting to be seated for dinner or a production show, without so much as a second glance. Thankfully, it will never occur to them that the last person who needs to be advanced to the front of a line is someone who is—wait for it… SITTING ON A MOVING CHAIR!

What does it matter if Grandma has to wait a few extra minutes to sit down for dinner or a show if she’s already sitting down?! Allowing someone to cut in front of you because they have a scooter is like trading your seats behind home plate with somebody in the bleachers because he has binoculars hanging around his neck (or something like that only funnier).

So rent a scooter. You’ll get special treatment and you can zip around the ship drunk, running into stuff and knocking over people with actual mobility problems.

  1. Use your cell phone as much as possible.

If there’s someone in your family whom you couldn’t afford to bring along on your cruise, be sure to call them every day that you’re at sea. The amount you’ll rack up in roaming charges will make it seem like you paid their way.

  1. Book a cruise with one or more “tender ports.”

When a port lacks a pier big enough to accommodate cruise ships, it’s what we call a tender port. A tender is a boat that takes you from the ship to the island in the time it would take you to swim. Tendering is lots of fun because you get to wake up early, report to one of the ship’s lounges with hundreds of other tired and impatient guests, and wait for hours on end watching CNN on the big screen with the sound off (so you can hear all the screeching babies and screaming toddlers sprawled out around you) until you decide to jump overboard and swim ashore.

Once on the island, you’ll be free to slouch around in the scorching heat for ten minutes trying to find a discount T-shirt shop with functioning air conditioning until you finally realize that you’re in a third-world country that doesn’t really have all that much to see or do so you might as well get in line for a tender back to the ship, where you can be laughed at by all the experienced cruisers who stayed on board.

  1. Purchase a shore excursion from a local vendor not in any way associated or affiliated with your cruise line so that you can either miss your non-refundable tour due to the ship arriving late or miss the ship after your tour ends because the bus carrying you back to the pier is ambushed by guerrilla fighters.

Fun times!

         10. Complain. Complain. Complain.

If you really want to have fun on your cruise, don’t spend your days laying out by the pool or relaxing at the bar. Instead, make frequent trips down to Guest Services and complain about anything that comes to mind. If your complaints are inventive enough, the ship’s Guest Services associates will often offer you financial compensation just to shut you up. If you’re unlucky enough to cruise on an awesome ship like mine, however,  you’ll be hard-pressed to find many legitimate issues to complain about. In that case, here are a half dozen doozies to get you started:

  • “The sound of the ocean keeps me up at night. Can you turn it off?”
  • “My cabin doesn’t look the same as the photo on your website. That cabin had blue carpet; mine has red. Can you please make the switch while I’m upstairs in the ship’s gift shop complaining about merchandise I bought on land?”
  • “It’s too hot on the open decks. Can you ask the Captain to turn on the air conditioning outside?”
  • “It’s too long of a walk between decks. Can you shorten your stairs?”
  • “The midnight buffet is too late at night. Can you reschedule it for noon?”
  • “I hate discos and disco music. Yet every time I go into the disco all I hear is disco music. Can I have a free cruise?”

So there you go. Use my tips and your next cruise is guaranteed to be your best vacation ever.

If not, you can always walk the plank. Make a big enough splash and you just might win a prize.

Heckler Skelter

hecklers

Repeat after me: Heckling does not help a stand-up comedy show!

To get an idea of how unhelpful hecklers are, imagine if you were forced to read the above sentence while trying to read something else for pleasure. Let’s say, a Dan Brown novel:

“That’s it,” thought Langdon. “The answer was right in front of me the whole time. If one translates Beowulf from the old English into Portuguese using a code key hidden in the original handwritten lyrics of Francis Scott Keyes’ ‘Star Spangled Banner’, then the name ‘Grendel’ changes to ‘Dick Cheney’, which means the murderer has to be…” –Repeat after me: Heckling does not help a comedy show!

See how frustrating that was? Just before you could confirm your hunch that George W. Bush is the scion of Jesus of Nazareth, hell bent on destroying the Catholic Church so that he can paint over Michelangelo’s  work on the Sistine Chapel with a giant portrait of himself dodging a flying shoe thrown at him by a rogue Iraqi assassin as revenge for the time he tried stealing the original Declaration of Independence as an initiation prank for the Skull and Bones Society in an attempt to uncover the conspiracy to murder General Patton, who was actually a high-ranking secret member of the Free Masons, the Druids and the Illuminati—I had to go and ruin it by thinking that what I have to say is more important or entertaining than the carefully written and edited prose of the bestselling author you paid good money to read during your valuable free time.

Why? Because I’m disrespectful and self-centered. And a member of the Illuminati.

Although the average headliner can make crushing a drunken redneck under an avalanche of well-rehearsed stock lines look easy and fun, as well as therapeutic, comedians don’t need hecklers to help them get laughs.

That’s what jokes are for. Jokes: you know, those things comedians write and perform every day for a minimum of five years before becoming a paid professional?

Hecklers always think they’re helping the show. Sometimes, they even feel as if they are the show. Unfortunately, hecklers want to be part of the show without putting in any of the hard work required to prepare, produce or promote the show. Most hecklers are so egotistical they actually think that the interplay between themselves and the comedian is somehow superior to the material the comedian has spent the past decade or so honing.

I don’t spend hours at the computer perfecting a piece of material just so an audience member who shows up five minutes late to a show can interrupt me and force me to make fun of the lime-green tank top he’s wearing on Formal Night just so he can feel like a superstar for the rest of the cruise every time somebody yells, “Hey, look it’s ‘Lime-Green Tank Top Boy’!”

We comics don’t slam hecklers in order to get laughs; we slam hecklers in order to embarrass them into silence so we can get on with our acts. Problem is most hecklers have a simplistic sense of humor. So, when a comedian whips up a witty comeback right off the top of his head, what most comics would consider a run-of-the-mill heckler slam comes across as pure comedy gold to the heckler. Therefore, the heckler reasons that in order for a comedian to drop the boring crap and start with the real jokes you have to heckle—or help—him. This reasoning is illogical because it totally ignores the opinions and preferences of the other three hundred people who paid to see the show. Without having any affiliation with the comedy club other than clipping a free coupon out of the newspaper, the average heckler decides that he knows what’s best for both the comedian onstage and the rest of the audience. The product of a perfect blend of narcissism and Long Island Iced Tea.

If heckling is so integral to an act’s success, then why don’t comedy clubs audition hecklers and book them six months in advance just like comedians? When was the last time you walked into an Improv or a Funny Bone and saw a poster that advertised: “Tonight: Marc Maron! With special guest: ‘Some drunken redneck in a Nickelback T-shirt’ ”?

Once a heckler opens his mouth, the show’s focus transfers from the performer onstage to a member of the audience who may or may not have paid to be there. Most people who pay to see a comedy show do so because they’re either a fan of stand-up comedy in general or a fan of a specific comedian:

“Jim Gaffigan is coming to the Civic Theater next month. I love that guy—let’s go online and buy tickets… (so we can sit in the front row and shout, ‘Hot Pockets’ every five seconds until Jim throws the microphone at us before running offstage to put his head in a microwave oven).”

Nobody who buys a ticket to a comedy show is paying to see the audience:

“Gee, I hope that same drunken redneck in the Nickelback T-shirt who heckled Brian Regan at the Hard Rock Casino last month shows up at the Jim Gaffigan show tonight. His non-sequiturs about Bud Light and bass fishing were way funnier than anything two of the best joke writers in North America who make millions in ticket sales every year have to say. Better yet, I hope there’s a loudmouthed bachelorette party sitting front row center. I pray that, as soon as Jim launches into a hilarious bit about how much money he spends on groceries every month feeding a family of six, some barely coherent bachelorette does one too many shots of tequila and tells Jim straight up how unfunny he his. That way he can abandon the material he’s spent the past year perfecting in order to make some hysterical, off-the-cuff comparisons between plantains and the giant penis hat that demure flower  is wearing.

“Now that’s comedy, cousin!”

# # #

 

 

Shut Up and Laugh!

No Talking

My main duty as a comedy club manager is to monitor table talk and heckling during a show. The reason “policing the room” is so important is because stand-up comedy is a delicate art form. In fact, the only thing more delicate than stand-up comedy is the ego of a tipsy redneck who thinks stand-up comedy is neither delicate nor an art form. That means I constantly have to be on the lookout for potential disturbances that can interfere with a comedian’s performance. A skilled comedian’s punchlines are so precisely timed that distracting him for even a second can cause the funniest joke in his act to become painfully unfunny and then, before you know it, Larry the Cable Guy’s doing it on TV.

They say that dying is hard but comedy is harder. Harder still is trying to get cruise ship passengers to shut the hell up for half an hour. The difference between a well-rehearsed joke killing or dying can be caused by the slightest change in the inflection or pronunciation of a single word in the setup or punchline. Believe it or not, a comic can’t concentrate on the nuances of delivery if his inner technician is being drowned out by a bachelorette party seated ten feet from the stage arguing over who has the classiest tramp stamp.

So it’s my job to go from table to table begging the self-centered and inebriated to act like grown-ups for thirty short minutes. But, on a cruise ship, where guests have paid a pretty penny for the privilege of being obnoxiously drunk in public, getting them to give their respect and attention to a professional entertainer is sometimes a mission even “The Expendables” would turn down.

That’s why the average audience member gets defensive when I shush them. Rarely does anyone ever apologize for getting caught up in the moment and not realizing how loud they’re being. Rarely does anybody say, “Oh, I’m sorry. This is my first time in a comedy club. So when I heard your offstage announcement asking me to keep my table talk to a minimum, I thought you were joking. And so when the comedian onstage told me to pipe down and the entire room erupted into thunderous applause, I thought he was joking. And so when the table of half-deaf blue-hairs in front of me turned around, screamed ‘Shut the @#$% up!’ and started pelting my abnormally sloped forehead with gin-drenched ice cubes, I thought they were a geriatric flash mob. It never occurred to me that I’m not actually supposed to chit-chat at full volume while others are trying to enjoy a professional comedy show. Thank you, sir, for inspiring me to become a better—and quieter—person. I beg you to reach deep within your heart and find the mercy to forgive me for breaking the unwritten social contract of “he talk, me listen” which has existed between a boat act and his audience since time immemorial. Now may I please have a glass of water to take my lithium with?”

Actually, nobody ever says that.

Instead, they say: “What do you mean I can’t talk in a comedy club? Oh, so only the comedian is allowed to talk, is that right? I’ve never heard of that before. What is your name, sir? I’m going to have you hung, drawn and quartered for ruining my cruise and scarring my soul with your unreasonable and unthinkable demand for silence during a live presentation in a theatrical setting! How about crying—is crying OK in a comedy club? Because that’s what I feel like doing now that you’ve embarrassed me in front of my equally drunk and inconsiderate friends by politely and gently reminding me of a policy you clearly mentioned a dozen times in your preshow announcements!”

Although I can understand somebody not knowing how to behave in a comedy club, what I can’t understand is how a grown adult can argue with somebody who works someplace about something only a person who works at that place can possibly know anything about. I was raised Catholic. Not once did I have to take off my shoes or put on a yarmulke upon entering my church. Therefore, it wouldn’t occur to me to take off my shoes before entering a Buddhist temple, just as it wouldn’t occur to me to put on a yarmulke before entering a Jewish synagogue.  But even though I’m not a religious person anymore, I wouldn’t think twice about losing my shoes or wearing a yarmulke upon entering another’s house of worship. I’m a guest on their turf and, therefore, good manners dictate that I respect their traditions and customs without question. You’ll never hear me say to a rabbi, “Sorry, dude, but I put a five-dollar bill in the collection box before entering, so that means I paid to be here, Chuck. And since the customer is always right, I’ll waltz into this dump wearing a Nazi helmet and a Speed-o if I want to. A man wearing a yarmulke in a synagogue? I’ve never heard of that before.”

Policing the room is normally much easier in a land-based comedy club. At my home club, Hilarities 4th Street Comedy Theater @ Pickwick & Frolic, in downtown Cleveland, there’s always a showroom manager and anywhere from two to six ushers in the showroom at any given time. The moment customers start heckling or chatting too loudly, Usher #1 goes over and says something. If the behavior continues, it’s Usher #2’s turn. If that doesn’t work, the showroom manager asks one more time—very politely—for the customers to settle down, sometimes handing them a business-card-sized note explaining the club’s No Talking / No Heckling policy. If that doesn’t work, the showroom manager radios for backup in the form of an off-duty uniformed policeman, who then escorts the guests out of the showroom. The guests then have their choice to continue their conversation out in the martini bar or upstairs in the restaurant. If, however, they give the cop a hard time, they can continue their conversation in the back of a squad car.

In the Punchliner, on the cruise ship I’ve called home for the past five years, it’s just me. What the showroom manager, doorman, ushers and off-duty police officers at Hilarities do in unison, I do all by myself.

The only thing I don’t do is put talkers into the back of a squad car.

Instead, I just throw them overboard.

Getting thrown overboard for talking during a comedy show? I bet you never heard of that before.