In September 2011, 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 Amish: Out of Order. In this blog I will re-live some of the memories of that trip. Today, I will touch upon some of the ‘behind the scenes’ moments that never made it onto the big screen. There are many, many people and 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, Missouri. It has been open for almost half a century, and the club brings in comedians from all over the country. As I was sitting beside the stage with a few fellow employees, waiting for the opening act, my mind traveled back to another place and time… in a small town out in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. Here, in a dimly-lit comedy club, I was finally ready to confront, and acknowledge, a story that had been my little dark secret for over two years. For the first time, I was able to tell my buddies about it without cringing. In fact, as I recounted the story, I realized just how funny it actually was.
We had been in Pennsylvania for a little over a week, had met the Lapp Brothers and Ira Wagler, (Author of Growing up Amish) and we had visited the Kitchen Kettle Village and The Family Counseling Center in Gap. So, we decided to shift gears. Searching the internet brought us across a dude by the name of Raymond, the Amish Comedian. Raymond does comedy in and around Pennsylvania 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—his language during his shows is a little more uncensored than the average Amish person's, and if you met him backstage before a show, you may catch whiffs of liquor as he gets wound up for his show.
Raymond and I met before the show, trying to figure out how to get me involved in his skit that night. Raymond decided that he would start his show routinely, with me sitting among the audience, then, 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 to have a go at being funny. In real life, aside from the film world, I am actually sort of a funny dude. In fact, in school, and then later in the Singens, I was viewed as the clown, always telling off-colored jokes and funny stories. Now, 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? How I, or the other producers, figured that a night of poking fun of the Amish would fit into an otherwise solemn television show, I will never know. I think mainly we needed footage, and Amish are very hesitant to allow themselves to be filmed. Nevertheless, at the time it sounded like a good idea.
In a fire station in the middle of the boondocks, with over four hundred non-Amish people seated in the stands, I made my comedy debut. With my camera dude filming from some dark corner, I watched Raymond dancing around on stage, doing a fantastic job of doubling the audience over with laughter—a feat he had perfected with over twenty years of experience. From where I sat, it all looked so simple. We, and I use the term we loosely, would make a perfect team once I joined him on stage. I admit, I was a little nervous, but what could possibly go wrong, right?
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. Now that I’ve reached this crucial part of the narrative, I would much prefer to end it here, thereby allowing the reader to visualize my attempt at comedy in a manner that best suits their imagination. But since I am on a confession of sorts, allow me to continue. What happened next left me writhing with nightmares, and as I mentioned earlier, it took me over two years to finally tell anyone, and I mean anyone.
From the moment I stepped onto the stage and Raymond innocently handed me the microphone, expecting some sort of magic to appear from who knows where, but probably from me, I panicked. To make matters impossibly worse, Raymond calmly stepped off the stage, walked over to the audience, and sat down, apparently having a lot more faith in my abilities to entertain than I had.
In that awful moment when the evening went from a comedy skit that Raymond and I were going to do together, to one of me winging it all alone, me, myself, and I, I discovered that not only was I not ever going to be a comedian, but that I also never desired to be one. Ever again.
Based on previous years of awkward encounters not unlike the one I now faced, I had developed a technique where, if I got the crowd to laugh, even once, it immediately made me feel more comfortable. In short, make them laugh, and there was hope, albeit little. PROBLEM… how do I make a crowd of four hundred laugh at me, following Raymond’s act? ANSWER… I pulled out the only Amish joke that came to me at the time. (In my defense, I have hundreds, they simply weren’t readily available at that moment).
“What goes clip clop bang, clip clop bang?”
A long, uncomfortable silence.
“An Amish drive-by shooting,” I explained.
More of the uncomfortable silence, then, way in the back of the audience, two people seemed to get it. At least I think what I heard was muffled chuckles. The other 400, counting Raymond and my camera dude, 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 like this before, 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 through 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… sing. With a lump in my throat and a tremble in my voice, I chose option B.
I should’ve 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-dignity, thereby not entirely dooming my future career in comedy. 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—they had, after all, paid for ‘funny’—a camera dude who is now trying to disappear behind a 6 inch square camera lens, because after only ten seconds it was apparent that the evening 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 vanish.
I vaguely remember, on the brink of death by embarrassment, (if only such a mercy exists) the song I chose to sing. I decided to sing in German, why, I will never know. Only that again, it sounded like a good idea at the time. The song I chose was 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 the first verse, then heard the beginning stages of the booing, and bolted. In my defense, my direction of choice was toward Raymond, where I tossed the microphone into his lap as I passed, then I crawled into a pin-sized hole in the floor, right next to my camera dude. (Again, if only such mercies were afforded).
A group after the show. Where was I?
Raymond, The Amish Comedian, give credit where credit is due, picked up right where he had left off, thereby salvaging the act. Needless to say, Mose was nowhere to be found for the rest of the evening, and the camera dude got not a single second of usable footage for the show. He insists, bless his poor, lying, heart, that the footage was ruined by bad lighting, by the floor shaking from all the stomping feet during my standing ovation, and on and on the excuses went. I, however, know the truth, and quite frankly am very glad that none of the footage was ever televised...
Since revealing this little secret to my fellow employees at the comedy club in Columbia, Missouri, 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.
In closing, if there are any people out there who were in attendance that night in September of 2011, 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 forever scarred.
Mose’s quote of the day
"Sometimes we aren't as funny as we think."