It’s 3:15 a.m. on a Tuesday, and I’m trying to make a believable-looking fake butter churn in my living room using household items and craft supplies purchased at Pat Catan’s. I’ve already had four Dortmunders, and I’m not sure whether that is helping or hurting my cause. The churn is for my sketch comedy group’s performance the following night, in which two Amish men compete for the love of an Amish woman, who is churning seductively. It’s set to the Lionel Ritchie song “Hello” (but you had probably guessed that).
At this moment, I have a realization: I’m 31, and at this point in my father’s life, he had a wife, three children, his own house and a business. I have this churn.
And with my subpar crafting, it doesn’t even really look like much. Though it looks most like an umbrella stand, people will probably get the idea when it’s surrounded by Amish. I mean, why would an Amish lady churn butter in an umbrella stand? That wouldn’t make any sense. But this is of little comfort given the larger problem of my recent epiphany.
I’m a struggling Cleveland-based comedian. And I’m not unhappy with my life, but I’m certainly not without my moments of self-doubt and harsh reflection.
By now, most of my friends are married and fully employed in stable jobs, more concerned with their IRAs and not at all concerned with finding a decent-looking false beard in time for tomorrow’s “Norton Furniture Commercial Guy” sketch. But this is the path I have chosen.
Robert Frost called it the path “less traveled by,” which sounds pretty romantic until you realize that there is very little chance of health insurance being anywhere down my path.
I do sketch comedy and stand-up, and I make Web videos. I made one this spring called “The Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video.” It consisted of dreary shots of Cleveland accompanied by a cheesy song in which I spout derogatory and often nonsensical things about our town. Soon after, I made a second one that was equally silly.
The videos got passed around by everyone and their uncle. I’m still not sure why they hit a nerve. People have made fun of Cleveland before. But I guess people see all of these negative things every day, and to have it expressed on their behalf in a convenient, amusing and brief way must have been somehow cathartic.
I’ve had Internet videos that went viral before, but in this case, due to the subject matter, it seemed like everyone around me had seen it. Bored disc jockeys talked about it on their radio shows, my dentist mentioned it to his hygienist while he filled my molar. (I didn’t claim my association with it in case he wasn’t a fan.) I heard three drunk guys at the Winking Lizard mangling the lyrics of the song, unaware of my presence. It was surreal.
The highlight was probably hearing from a friend that Eminem mentioned it on his Sirius radio show, furious that I had dissed Detroit in the second version. Pissing off Slim Shady has always been on my bucket list.
There was, of course, negative feedback. Some people took it personally and said I was destroying the image of the city. I was just making jokes. I love Cleveland. If I didn’t, I’d leave. I was just saying things that I thought people might find funny.
I honestly did receive some death threats. But luckily, in typical Clevelander fashion, my would-be assassins didn’t commit and never followed through.
There's always next year.
Check out Mike Polk at the Cleveland Comedy Festival Nov. 4-8. Visit clecomedyfestival.com for more information.