I get a call this week from a friend of mine who runs a “challenger brand”, asking if I’ll head up a comedy tour for them. A challenger brand is a brand that may be popular in its native market but needs help competing with the big boys. I say yes, of course. I’m already well into my “20 Years to Kill” tour, which started this past November and runs through my retirement from standup on November 15, 2035. So, technically, the tour is in progress as we speak.
I tell that to my friend, who says, “Hersh, I love you. But this isn’t the fame bug calling.” Ouch. With that statement, he’s explaining that by “head up” he means “put together” and he’s telling me that I’m not headlining this tour. Meaning, he’s not calling to make me the next Kevin Hart. “Look, brother,” I tell him, “I’m almost 49. I’m the same age as Will Fucking Ferrell (that said, I’m a year younger than Chris Rock, the elder statesman of standup…and a dozen years younger than Grandpa Jerry). If I’m not Kevin Hart Famous by now, I’m not gonna worry about it. The fame bug is not an issue. And anyway,” I continue, “I’m not seeking fame. I’m a craftsman. I’m a comic’s comic.”
A beat, during which I can kind of hear my friend take some air in. Phone etiquette demands that I give him a few seconds to let it out. Which he does. Slowly, and with the hint of a groan. “Really?” he asks. “Which comic?”
Now, I have a lot of clever friends. In fact, I don’t think I’m friends with anyone who isn’t at least a little clever. But when you call to ask me to put a fucking tour together for you, watch yourself, is all I’m saying. And my buddy is not a professional comedian, nor does he spend his nights in comedy clubs and at bar shows from Universal City to Cedar Fucking Rapids, so he doesn’t have the first clue who or what a comic’s comic is.
“Doug Stanhope is a comic’s comic,” he says. “Are you on that level?”
Changing the subject, I ask my dear friend how he envisions this tour working. Because I know his brand and they are lucky if they can afford Amy Schumer’s stand-in or the warmup act from “Grandfathered” (that’s a compliment, I’d kill for that gig and if it’s your gig, please call me when you’re ready to pass the baton). Mr. Challenger Brand explains his idea: a consortium of complementary brands sponsoring a ten-city tour that includes a running web series chronicling the comedians’ adventures on the road as they travel from town to town. “Cross-promotion,” he calls it. “Splitting-the-cost-promotion,” I quip, being cute. “It’s a great idea,” I offer, after the silence. “You have branded content on the web that makes audiences feel close to and crave the live element, and you’ve got a viable comedy tour that gets people off their asses and out in the world. I wish I’d thought of it.”
Though my brother for life says nothing, I did think of it. I sounded the idea out to him a year ago, about the same time I told him Stanhope was a comic’s comic. “We can’t all be innovators,” he says, “the world needs ditch-diggers, too.”
Ok. I’m about to hang up. You’re gonna take my idea, sell it back to me without me as the headliner, and quote fucking Caddyshack as though nostalgia is the new black and you’re Johnny Cash? “Hey, good luck with this thing,” I gurgle, swallowing the words as quickly as I expelled them.
“Now, now, don’t cry, you’re a bigger girl than that,” my mere acquaintance consoles before sighing deeply as though he’s handing me a lint-laden penny bearing traces of gummy chicle. “I want you to emcee.”
Now, it’s my turn to say nothing. This isn’t because I’m letting him twist in the wind, fretting about my reaction. This is because, confronted with the opportunity, I probably don’t deserve to emcee this tour. Because it’s gonna be a great tour with known comics or comic’s comics, and let’s face it, man. I’m a comic who knows some comic’s comics. Not that I won’t be great, I’ve always been a great emcee, and in fact if Ricky Gervais ever really stops hosting the Golden Globes, I –
“You gotta promise me, Hersh,” my platonic bro-lover implores, “we’re not even gonna have to talk about the fame bug.” I laugh out loud. It’s something comics are allowed to do once a day, though usually onstage, at one’s own comments, and not in polite conversation with civilians. “I don’t know when it happened,” I assure my benefactor. “But somewhere, somehow, the road dog ate the fame bug.”
“Kudos,” he responds enthusiastically. “That may be the best line you’ve ever written. Alright, then. Deal. You get to work, and I’ll start trying to find the other two brands so we can actually do this thing. We’re the little guy, remember, we can’t front this shit alone.”
“Of course,” I concur, preparing to close the books on a 2015 outing, and mustering enthusiasm for what may turn into a Quarter 2 game changer. “We’ll talk soon.” And we will. Because this will happen. And after I emcee this first tour, I will feature in the next one. And then…well, let’s just say that by the time I turn 50 – I’ll be the next Kevin Hart.