A lot of water has passed under the bridge since we filmed Amish: out of Order. It has been two years since I left my job at the dealership for one month in order to travel across five states and visit a handful of Amish communities while filming the show.
Today I thought I would re-live some of the memories of that month in Sept 2011. Instead of sharing the ‘behind the scenes’ stories of events you saw on The National Geographic Channel, I decided I would touch upon some of the behind the scene moments that never made it onto the big screen. There are many scenes we filmed that didn’t make it, but for now, I will stick with this one.
Deja Vu is a Comedy Club in Columbia, Mo. It has been open for almost half a century. They bring in comedians from all over the country, and I have been there half a dozen times over the years.
As I was sitting beside the stage with a handful of fellow employees and we were waiting for the opening act, when I recalled a moment in September 2011 in a small town out in the middle of nowhere Pa.
I was finally ready to acknowledge a story that had been my little dark secret for two years. For the first time, I was able to talk about it without cringing. As a matter of fact, as I told the story, I realized just how funny it now was.
After being in Pa for over a week, and after having visited the Lapp Brothers, Kitchen Kettle Village, The Family Counseling Center in Gap, Ira Wagler (Author of Growing up Amish) and several others, we decided to shift gears.
By doing a little research, we stumbled across a dude by the name of Raymond the Amish Comedian. Raymond is doing comedy in and around Pa and has a pretty decent fanbase. He dresses like an Amish person and wears a long black beard, but besides that, there aren’t that many similarities.
Raymond’s language during his shows is a little more uncensored than the average Amish person’s language, and if you met him backstage before a show, you may catch the occasional whiff of liquor as he gets wound up for his show.
To get me involved in his show, Raymond and I decided to have him start his show routinely, with me sitting among the audience. At some point, by some queue we had determined beforehand, he would ask me to join him on the stage. It was supposed to appear random.
It all sounded good at the time, and I was psyched. In real life, aside from the film world, I am actually sort of a funny dude. What better way to get my foot into the world of comedy than by having my debut on Amish: out of Order on the National Geographic Channel?
I have no idea how I determined that making jokes about the Amish, with their slow buggies and lack of technology was going to fit into the direction of how the show was currently going. But like I said before, at the time it sounded like a good idea.
In a fire station in the middle of the boondocks, there were over four hundred people seated to watch the show. With my camera dude filming from some dark corner, I watched Raymond dancing around on stage, keeping an audience bent over with his rib-tickling humor, which he had perfected over the last twenty years.
I watched him thinking it looks simple, but having no idea what we, and I use the term we loosely, would do as a skit once I joined him on stage. My heart pounded at the thought of standing in front of four hundred people. I had to nail it if I were ever to have the confidence to try again.
My queue came and I ran up on the stage, ready to do my part in our, and I use the term our loosely, part in the comedy. There is one glitch in this strategy, and I would much prefer to end my story here, thereby allowing the reader to visualize an end to this story in a manner that suits their imagination.
What happened next left me writhing with nightmares for years to come, and as I mentioned earlier, it took me two years to finally tell anyone, and I mean anyone.
The moment I stepped on stage Raymond innocently handed me the microphone and I watched in a panic as he walked into the audience and took a seat, joining eight hundred other eyes who peered expectantly up at me from the shadows.
In that awful moment when it went from a comedy skit that we were going to do together, to me, myself, and I, all alone, with no Raymond to lead the way, I discovered that not only was I not ever going to be a comedian, but that I also never again wished to be one.
In my life I have developed a technique where in an awkward situation, if I can get the crowd to laugh at me, it immediately loosens me up and I’ll probably do okay. However, how do I make a crowd of four hundred locals laugh at me after getting up on stage behind Raymond.
ANSWER: I pulled the only Amish joke out of my back pocket that I could remember at the time.
“What goes clip clop bang, Clip clop bang?”
My question is followed by a long, awkward silence.
“An Amish drive by shooting,” I explained.
Two people way in the back of the crowd chuckled in undertones, but the rest of the room remained deathly quiet.
And just like that I was out of stuff to say. Sweat dripping from my face, I apologized to the crowd, informed them in a very somber, unfunny voice that I had never tried anything even remotely like this, and that I had nothing… I mean nothing more at all to say or do. Somewhere a drunk must have felt a pang of sympathy because he yelled “sing something.”
Decision time. I can bolt out the door and down the road with hair and shirt tails flying, leaving the poor camera dude to pick up everything by himself, amidst a booing crowd, or I can attempt to sing.
With a lump in my throat and a tremble in my voice, I chose option B.
I shoulda chosen A. But, I reasoned with myself, (and I insist I hadn’t been drinking) that by singing a song, I might salvage a small morsel of my self-image and sanity, thereby giving myself a shot at being able to live with myself in the future.
Boy was I wrong again. With the most embarrassing moment of the evening rapidly approaching, let me paint a scene for you. A crowd of four hundred drunk people sitting in silent anticipation, waiting for me to warm up and become funny any moment now. A Camera guy who is trying to hide behind a camera 6″ wide, because after only ten seconds it was apparent that this was going to be a complete disaster, a professional comedian sitting in the audience, almost certainly grasping frantically in his pockets for a half-empty bottle of whiskey to make the nightmare on the stage disappear.
Through my hazy mind, and on the brink of dying of embarrassment, if only such a mercy exists, I chose a song. I decided to sing in German, (my native tongue) and I sung it to the tune of Amazing Grace.
I honestly don’t remember how I did. I just remember that a handful of people seemed to feel sorry for me, so they hummed along because they knew the tune, but not the words.
I sang most of one verse, then heard the beginning stages of the booing , and immediately bolted off the stage.
Thankfully I knew where Raymond was sitting, so I charged in his direction, tossed the microphone into his lap, and crawled into a pin-sized hole in the floor. (Again, if only such mercies were afforded us)
A group after the show. Where was I?
Raymond, The Amish Comedian, give him some credit, picked up right where he had left off, thereby salvaging the evening. Needless to say, Mose was nowhere to be found for the rest of the evening, and we got not a single second of usable footage for the show.
My camera guy, bless his heart, insists that the footage was ruined by bad lighting, by the floor shaking by too many stomping feet for my standing ovation… and on and on the lies went.
I however, know the truth, and quite frankly am very glad that none of the footage was ever televised…
Since I uncovered this little secret and started telling this story, I have almost perfected the telling of it. I can usually get a crowd pretty worked up laughing over it. And that my friends, is all the recognition I will ever need as a comedian.
If there are any people out there that sat in the audience that night in Sept of 2011, and had to sit through that excruciating experience, I would like to sincerely extend my apologies. That being said, I would love to hear your version of that evening, and I would love to know if you have regained your sanity, or if you will be scarred for life.
The moral of this story: Sometimes we aren’t as funny as we think.