Welcome to the first installment of Where’s That Jamie?!
I am in the midst of the national tour for my one-man show, The Devil on the Wall or, That Time I Got Kidnapped and am traveling throughout the United States. I’m performing, teaching workshops, and getting to meet amazing people and experience communities all over, so I thought I would document it all. Thanks for reading!
A little backstory - I am a stand-up comedian, improviser, writer, and actor who debuted a one-man show that details my tumultuous childhood and the greatest adventure of my life at last year’s Kansas City Fringe Festival. The show was a hit, beyond my wildest imagination, and now I am telling my story to anyone who will listen, at any venue that will let me put on the show.
So, to answer the question on everyone’s minds - WHERE’S THAT JAMIE? The answer is: San Antonio, Texas!
Thursday 3.1.18 - I woke up while it was still dark outside to board a dank Greyhound bus. I’ve ridden a lot of Greyhounds in my day, and they are never fun. Nobody rides a Greyhound who can afford alternate means of transportation. They are dirty, jam-packed, slow moving vehicles that can turn your trip into a grueling ride from hell. I’m a veteran of the Greyhound, though. I have spent well over a thousand hours touring to different shows on buses and have developed a system to make my ride go smoother.
Here are my rules to making your Greyhound bus ride as comfortable as possible:
Pack snacks. The only places your bus will stop on the route are gas stations where your options are junk food, and intermittent bus stations that will either have a vending machine and an overpriced, low-quality snack bar. All that junk food will make you feel like crap, and your body is already battling the uncomfortable seats in close quarters. Plan ahead and have enough food to last the entire trip. Your body will thank you. Luckily, I have an amazing girlfriend who spend the night before helping me pack a day’s worth of food and was nice enough to wake up at 4 in the morning to get me to the bus on time.
Arrive tired. The bus trip is long. It is boring. If you arrive exhausted, then your body will sleep. Sleep makes the ride go faster, and the more you sleep, the easier the trip will go.
Put things to do in your carry-on, but don’t overpack it, because you may end up spending hours with the bag in your lap. Bring your smart phone, charger, back-up charger, a book, and whatever you will need to be entertained in close-quarters. DO NOT pack things you won’t need on the bus in your carry-on. Put those in your checked bag, because if the bus is packed, and your bag won’t fit under the seat, you may wind up having to hold all your crap for hours at a time.
This - and I cannot stress this enough - is the most important rule of all. Try to get two seats to yourself. That’s the equivalent of first-class in a Greyhound. Most Greyhound passengers are gross strangers that come with a variety of smells and personal-space issues. If you can avoid it, you want to occupy two seats. Try to be early in the line to board the bus. Then, pick the seat that’s available closest to the front of the vehicle. Most people in the back of the line will travel all the way to the rear of the bus in search of a pair of empty seats. If they get to the back and don’t find one, they aren’t going all the way to the front of the bus to sit in a shared spot, so the closer to the front you are, the better your odds. Once you get to your seat, put your carry-on bag in the seat next to you. Then, get your headphones out and put them in. Your next job is to seem like someone that is difficult to disturb, who is a little gross so that people won’t want to ask you for the seat next to you. Spread your legs wide. Lay back and close your eyes, and pretend to sleep. Bonus points if you can manage to have a little drool coming out of your mouth. If you’ve planned ahead, your clothes are dirty and you look like a real slob who smells bad. You don’t actually have to smell terrible - just look like you do. Once you close your eyes, under no circumstances are you to open them until the bus has pulled out of the station. If you open them, you are liable to immediately make eye contact with a person who is waiting for you to wake up so they can ask you for their seat. No matter how much you think you are in the clear - don’t risk it. Keep those eyes closed. If you do this right, it will work a good amount of the time. That being said - sometimes a Greyhound bus is so packed that every seat is taken. In that instance, or in the event that your efforts don’t work and someone asks you for the seat next to you, be cool, move your bag, and scoot over. This person bought a ticket, too, and they’re probably not thrilled to sit next to you, either. You lost the game. Be polite and share the space.
So, I boarded the Greyhound and we departed Kansas City just after 5am, and 19 hours later, I arrived in San Antonio. The bus ride was actually fairly painless. I managed to score two seats together the entire trip, and the food I packed helped me avoid all of the junk food I would have otherwise devoured.
Once I arrived at around midnight, I was met at the bus station by my friend Dan Grimm. Dan is one of the owners of the venue I am touring to, Bexar Stage. He drove me to see famous Alamo, known to the non history-savvy as the building with no basement that Pee Wee Herman visited on a quest for his stolen bike, or the monument Ozzy Osbourne was banned from after publicly urinating there.
Dan drove me to his place. I am crashing there while in town. He lives with his business partner and co-owner of the theatre, Tina Jackson, and her husband, Andrew. Tina and I were friends from years ago when I first started comedy in Chicago and we’ve known each other for a long time. She, Dan, and I stayed up until after 3am just catching up and talking about their new theater and the city’s comedy community before I fell asleep on their couch.
Friday 3.2.18 - Got to experience a little Texas barbecue, as Tina and Dan brought me to Augie’s Alamo City Barbecue. Now, I live in Kansas City, where the barbecue is world-class, so I wasn’t expecting much, but Augie’s was great! I had to forego the sauce, because I am on the Keto Diet, but it was great even without it!
That evening, I did stand-up as part of a variety show called Cheap Date, that also featured a couple of local improv groups, 4Play and Grumpy Old Men. This was my first taste of audiences at Bexar Stage. Now, this was just a short stand-up set and not the show that I was here to tour, but I immediately knew that if the audience tomorrow was anywhere near this receptive, it was going to be a great week!
Saturday 3.3.18 - This was the day I came here for - the official first performance of my national tour. I haven’t been this nervous on a show day in awhile. The last time I performed The Devil on the Wall or, That Time I Got Kidnapped was last August. There has been a lot of hype about the show, and I just didn’t want it to be a let-down.
In the afternoon, I taught a group of local improvisers in my Trial By Failure workshop. The class focuses on failing hard when you get a suggestion or skill thrust upon you that you aren’t confident in. People aren’t buying a ticket to watch you sing great or do a phenomenal Russian accent. They are paying to have a good time and laugh, and nothing is funnier than watching someone go all-in on something they’re not good at. After the workshop was finished, I changed into show clothes and prepared for that night’s show, hoping I would do a good job.
It turned out great - maybe even better than the shows at the KC Fringe Festival last summer. There’s something special about this story, and if I just take my time and tell it, the events in it get the job done. My friend, Jenny, came into town from Austin to see the show and I was thrilled to see her! We have been friends since college, but I only get to see her once every few years. The show was an emotional rollercoaster, but I took my time, and as it came to the end, the audience rose to their feet giving the first show of the tour a standing ovation!
Afterwards, I told Jenny goodbye, and that I would see her soon in Austin, where I’ll be heading after San Antonio. Then, a group of people from the theater took me to a fancy, underground bar called 1919. I am usually in a little bit of a daze after this show. It was nice to just sit back and listen to other people talk. I met a really awesome couple named David and Laurissa and they told me the story of how they met and got married. I like hearing other people’s stories. It was a great night!
Sunday 3.4.18 - I had the entire day to just relax. I slept in, sent some emails, and hung out with my friend, Netflix. Then, that evening, I was invited by local improviser Michelle Benton to go to a weekly dinner that she and some friends host. This town was really making me feel welcome.
I had no idea what to expect when I went to The Dude Ranch, which is the name that the residents of the place I was going had given their home. It was one of the most wonderful, weird, and joyful times I have ever had. The residents of The Dude Ranch are all guys who are sober, most of whom are in AA, and they have created a family-atmosphere of artists. Imagine if Mr. Rogers and Steve from Blue’s Clues were amazing musicians who also did improv and did some selective swearing, and you’re in the ballpark of these guys, but my words can’t do justice to the home they have created. I LOVED IT!
When I arrived, Michelle introduced me to the residents of the house. There was Will who tours the U.S. performing music for children, Sam who is a professional balloon twister, Jeremy who has a one man show debuting in town soon, and Olivia who is a great musician and awesome person. I don’t believe Olivia lives in the house, but she is dating Sam. They are all members of an improv group called When Can Do that does a musical improv show where all of the improvisers ALSO play instruments. I’ve never heard of anyone doing this, and think that format sounds pretty dope. Michelle mentioned I had a wheat allergy, and they made a stir-fry meal that avoided all meat. I stuck to green vegetables and the sausage so that I wouldn’t blow my keto diet. It was delicious.
Before dinner started, they had everyone go around the table to say what they are grateful for. It felt a little weird at first, because that’s not something I’m used to, but I played along, and it actually made me feel pretty good. It felt a little like I was a guest star on a sitcom, but maybe that’s because I am often surrounded by so much negativity that being in the midst of so much joy seems foreign. At dinner, I told them a little about my tour and my show, then I watched them play Battlechores!
Battlechores is a game that the members of the house invented that I cannot possibly explain. It’s sort of a board game where each player amasses an army that grows throughout the week with each chore they do, and then they play a game with those armies where the winner is crowned “King of the House,” and has less chores and gets some other household perks. I don’t remember the details, but they got so into the game that it was fascinating to watch, especially as everyone rolled their dice and chanted “Battlechores!” in unison.
After dinner, they traditionally have a musical jam. They are all musicians and I was the rare guest to their Sunday dinner that doesn’t play a musical instrument. I like freestyle rapping, though, and thought it might be fun to watch them play and jump in when I felt like adding some rhymes to the mix. It turned into an all-out jam that I did not see coming. They are all great musicians & singers, and I was intimidated at first, but it didn’t take long until they welcomed me in. I joined in on a couple pieces, and mostly sat in awe of how great they were. Next, a few people played some written songs that blew my mind. Then, Michelle came out of the kitchen with a Sharkhead mask. It was just sort of a fun little mask that you might wear in a show if you were playing a shark character. I grabbed the mask and was playing with it like it was a puppet, then, Will asked me “what does that shark sound like?” and I ended up rapping as a shark in a song that had everyone jumping in. It was ridiculous and wonderful.
We ended the evening with something called a hum hug. It’s as weird as it sounds. I stood in the middle of a circle as all of these strangers I just met hugged me and each other in a clump and hummed for about a minute. If it was by itself, in a typical evening, it would have been out of place. For the evening I had just had, I could think of no better way to end the night.
Oh - and it turns out they record the audio of all of their Sunday night james and release them on BandCamp, so you can listen to all of that here:
Monday 3.5.18 - David, the guy who I spent Saturday evening with at Bar 1919, picked me up in the afternoon and was my tour guide for the day. He’s a great dude who took the time to spend
the day with a stranger, showing him around San Antonio. He took me on a tour of all of the area’s famous missions. I got some great pictures and learned a ton about the history of San Antonio. Then, he took me out for some authentic Tex Mex at Taco Haven, and we ended the day at The Alamo. I love history and David knows so much about this city. He was a great tour guide. I can’t believe how great people in this city are to a dude they just met.
Tuesday 3.6.18 - Spent the day doing work from Tina & Dan’s place. Didn’t leave their place all day.
Part of the work I was doing had me emailing Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall. I have been messaging him for something I can't announce now, In his email, he said he's going to leave a special message for me in the theater in Houston (he's there this weekend and I'm there later this month) and my job is to find it. I grew up constantly watching this guy, and now we're playing this fun game. My life's weird, and I love it.
I spent the evening shooting a short film that I wrote, called Hotline. In the film, I play a character named Michael who calls a suicide hotline. The entire film is just shots of Michael on the phone in his apartment interspersed with shots of a character named Denise at the call center. We had already filmed my shots, but they needed me to be there to deliver my lines to Jackie Cain, the wonderful actor who is playing Denise. So, for the shoot, which was happening in Kansas City, our director, Erin Brown, called me and I delivered all of my lines to Jackie over the phone. Look for that film to hit festivals later this year.
Wednesday 3.7.18 - So, at last Saturday’s show, local improviser Steve Circeo, who is also a filmmaker, recorded my set with multiple cameras. He did it as test footage to shoot the entire show this next Saturday. It turned out great. I didn’t ask him to do this - he just did it - which I am so grateful for. Here is a clip from the first performance of the tour:
Steve has offered to help me with some promotional videos for the show and workshops on the tour, so I met him at the theater today and we shot some interview footage. Then, Dan took me to Freebirds Burritos and we grabbed some dinner. That was pretty much my day. Dan spotted me for the food, because my bank account was down to $1.57. I’m not complaining though. It’s been a great week in spite of being broke.
Thursday 3.8.18 - Got some work done in the morning. A direct deposit came through, and I was able to pay my phone bill and buy myself some lunch. Then, I spent the afternoon at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Laurissa (David the tour guide’s wife) was awesome enough to arrange for a couple of free passes, and David met me and we went through and saw some incredible art.
Then, I spent the evening as a guest performer in a show called Key Party. It’s a longform improv show where an audience member is randomly selected and interviewed about their life at various points throughout the show, and that interview inspires the scenes. I am always excited to play with new people, and the improvisers at The Bexar Stage were a delight to play with. The lady who was interviewed had a friend with her who kept chiming in when she was talking, so Dan just told him to hop on stage, and we did the show with two people being interviewed. The ensemble supported my silly, dumb choices and I’d be happy to join them onstage again anytime.
Friday 3.9.18 - Tina took me to lunch at a great Mexican restaurant that I forget the name of. I have spent most of my meals this week dining on Mexican or Tex Mex food and have zero complaints about that. That evening, the theater hosted an improv jam and I got to do a couple of really fun scenes with students. In one scene, I played a man who’s therapist had him play Twister to get over his intimacy problems, and in another, I played a sad woman at an Irish wake, mourning the deceased fiance whom she had met at a Puddle of Mudd concert. After the jam, Tina drove me to the Blind Tiger Comedy Club where they had managed to book me a spot on the lineup of a show called Off the Cuff. It’s an improvised stand-up show where you get assigned a random topic every minute and just riff on it. I ranted about McDonald’s and Who Let the Dogs Out because I have strong opinions on both of those things.
Saturday 3.10.18 - This was a busy day, full of the very things I am doing this tour for in the first place. In the afternoon, I taught the first session of the Take the Power Back workshop. It’s a workshop that I created designed to allow people to tell stories of those times that shaped or changed their lives, many times in a traumatic way, with distance and humor. This was the first session I have ever done of the workshop, and I knew I was asking a lot of these students. Many of them did not have public storytelling experience, and I was not only asking them to learn to tell a story, but was asking them to open up and tell something personal. They were up to the task, and I was really impressed. Some of these stories got pretty emotional. They cried. I cried. We also laughed a lot. It’s important to me that students feel safe in this environment. The last day of the class includes a student performance where they share their tales with a live audience. I told them that they could back out at any time if they don’t feel ready to share, but had high hopes that they would be up for the performance, because other people need to hear what they have to say.
That evening was the 2nd performance of my solo show. The thing about this show is that it’s different for every audience. Sometimes, they laugh hard at the parts that are supposed to be funny. Other times, they lock into the serious moments and the tone of the room is somber and the laughter, while still there, happens less. I’ve learned that if I try to force the laughs, then it doesn’t work. Tonight, I dug in, embraced what was a more somber room than the week before, and did the show. Afterwards, I hung out in the lobby and talked with some of the students who came to watch. Some of the people in my workshop were there, and it was nice to be able to share my story with them, since I’m asking them to share so much with me in class.
My new friend Steve recorded the entire show with multiple cameras, and Andrew (Tina’s husband) took some photos of the performance. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some of those with you soon!
Sunday 3.11.18 - This was the last day in what has been an incredible couple of weekends. We wrapped up the workshop, did the student performance, and I thanked everyone at Bexar Stage for welcoming me in like family.
The workshop was great. We worked through everyone’s story and gave feedback. Everyone had a unique and great story to tell, and they were ALL up for telling their stories in the show. I know that it wasn’t easy for some of them, and I’m really proud of them. Steve told a story about driving a car through his family’s home as a teenager. David told us about the art teacher that changed his life AND even invited her to the show to hear the story. Phil told us about his experience being homeless. Morgan shared about the relationship she wished she had with her father.. Crystal bravely told us about a suicide attempt. I’m so glad she’s still here. Tim told us how an abandoned marriage led him to getting a college degree, and Laurissa told us how she refused to give her heart to an abusive grandfather. It was a beautiful night. I recorded the audio of these stories, and, with their permission am going to start sharing them on a new podcast that will be coming soon.
After class, David and Laurissa took Dan and I out to dinner at Mi Tierra. It was a packed restaurant with great food, mariachi singers, and a perfect ending to my time in San Antonio.
Big thanks to Tina, Dan, and all of my new friends at Bexar Stage, and everyone who listened to my story or shared their own. I already miss this place and can't wait to come back.
See you next time, when the answer to “Where’s that Jamie?” will be Austin, Texas where I'll be bringing my show to the Coldtowne Theater on Sunday, March 18th! !