There are a number of things a comic can do to find themselves banned from a particular comedy club. Be terrible on stage. Be terrible off stage. Piss off the staff. Start a show in proximity on a competing night. Look at the owner the wrong way. Like a Facebook post. Wait...that last one...huh?
Banned from Crackers. It’s almost like a badge of honor within the Indianapolis comedy community. A purple heart of sorts. Banned from Crackers means you’ve gone to war (almost always unknowingly) against the self-appointed Czar of the comedy world and have come out with one less club to work. This last week saw several casualties added to a long-standing list of comics banned for an array of different reasons. Most bizarre seems to be for liking another comics facebook status.
This got me thinking of my own banning many moons ago. I thought the reason I was banned was absurd but these last bannings are off the chain….In a selfish pursuit of stage time, I broke certain rules and found myself banned and I wanted to reflect on that story.
I started as an emcee at Crackers in the Spring of 2012. Back then, there were two clubs in Indianapolis; Crackers and Morty’s. The rule back then was if you performed at one club, you were not allowed to perform at the other. A rule implemented before I started but seemingly (at least what I thought at the time) because the two managers despised one another. This rule even included open mics. You had to choose a side like it was the goddamn crips and bloods. What gang you reppin? Some real Tupac & Biggie shit. There were Morty’s comics, and there were Crackers comics. No in between.
In comedy, the most precious resource is stage time. The more you get, the better you become. All I wanted to do is get better on stage. So I did what a couple of other comics did. I cheated. I’d go to the Crackers open mic on Tuesdays and then the Morty’s open mic on Wednesdays. I felt like a stealthy burglar, stealing stage time whenever I could. I knew the risk of getting caught and I knew the consequences were real. Any comic reading this is probably thinking to themselves “What in the literal fuck? Why would a rule like that even be in place? That makes no sense”. And to that sentiment, I shrug still not being able to wrap my head around that rule. *Full disclosure: I feel like the managers at Morty’s cared way less about this rule, and I don’t know anyone who was definitively banned from Morty’s because of it.*
After a while, I was emceeing at both clubs (BREAKING THE LAW LIKE A BADASS!) but still staying under the radar. I wouldn’t post on Facebook that I was hosting at either club and I wouldn’t really let comics I wasn’t close with know what I was doing. I remember driving to Muncie with another comic who was bragging about being a “spy” for Crackers. He was saying he would report back to Ruth-Anne (Crackers’ Owner) about comics performing at both clubs. He told me he did this 100% in order to get more emcee weeks by trying to get “competition” banned. He said it like he was re-telling a Game of Thrones episode. I was so infuriated by this. Straight snitching. I knew it was only a matter of time before I got found out as a double agent. I remember telling him that I thought he was trash and not a real comic. Looking back, I should have kicked him out of the car and left him in fucking Anderson, IN. Comics are supposed to have each other’s backs bruh. But that’s the type of atmosphere “the rule” created in the Indianapolis scene. Grimey. Backstabby. Gross.
November 13th, 2012. I’ll never forget that day. A few weeks earlier, I had asked the Morty’s booker if I could host for Neal Brennan. He was doing a run of one nighters and on Tuesday he would be at Morty’s. Neal was the co-creator of Chappelle’s show, of which I could not have been a bigger fan. Morty’s said yes and I was amped. Quitely amped. Still no posting on social media. The day of the show, I picked Neal up at his hotel and drove him to do Bob & Tom. We listened to Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music album because it was 2012 and we all still liked Kanye. Neal was cool enough. After Bob & Tom he joked that it would be funny if Chappelle (he calls him Dave), showed up to the show. I chuckled but thought to myself, “Yeah fucking right. Hope you’ve got better jokes than that tonight dude.” Boom! Roasted Neal Brennan in my mind.
I finished my set and brought up the feature, which also happened to be the owner of Morty’s. Funny how you don’t have to be hungry for stage time if you just own a comedy club....but I digress. I finished my set and brought up the feature. I walked back to the green room, opened the door and there stood FUCKING DAVE CHAPPELLE!
The story of how I fanboyed out and almost cried is for a different time. Let’s stay on track here. I met a hero of mine, got a picture of him and I and…*sighs deeply*...posted it to Facebook. The headline reads: Double Agent Simmons EXPOSED.
I had heard of people getting banned from Crackers. My good friend Cam had gotten banned from Crackers for running a show on Sundays (Crackers was closed on Sundays). In 2013 I got to open for Kyle Kinane at Cam’s show. Kyle is the coolest guy. But when bringing up Ruth-Anne, his disdain was palpable. And public. This is true for a number of comics throughout the country. The way this club treats comics has a reputation that precedes itself.
The weekend after meeting Dave (I call him Dave now), I was called into the Crackers office. The GM Chris told me they had seen the picture of me and Chappelle. “Here we go,” I thought. He told me “It’s not appreciated to work the other club. If I wanted to keep working there, I wouldn’t be able to work the other club any longer”. I thought I was always mentally prepared for a talk like this but I felt myself being angry. My inner monologue was just like “I just met Dave Chappelle. I didn’t know that was going to happen. I wanted to host for someone cool. MORTY’S DOESN’T EVEN PAY THEIR EMCEES! I didn’t even get paid. No one is coming to see me. I didn’t take anything away from you and I just had one of the greatest experiences of my life. What. The. Fuck!?”
Over the next few months, my frustration grew into straight up flaunting. I’d post every show I was doing locally, especially at Morty’s. I let everyone know I went back in forth between clubs until ultimately, I got banned. I was told that I was unloyal and ungrateful. I could see this coming and knew that it was ridiculous. I refused to pay my undying loyalty to one club and it cost me. Admittedly, I was breaking the rules. I was breaking the rule of trying to become a better comic, and it got me banned. I’m okay with that.
To the newer comics that were recently banned from Crackers:
Being banned for something silly doesn’t make or break your career. If you’re banned because you’re a dick or a terrible human being, that’s one thing. If you are banned because you liked a FaceBook post, ask yourself, “Is this a place I want to work anyway?” Do you want to walk on pins and needles in a place that’s supposed to help you grow creatively?
I have a lot of friends that work Crackers and I hope they continue to do so. MAKE THAT MONEY BAYBEE! But if you’ve never worked there, focus on getting better as a comic. Find environments and communities that help you foster that goal.
It’s not all bad. Chalk this up as a grudge you can hold onto for motivation. Comedy can be rough and unfair so count it as a due that’s paid. And let’s be clear. These bannings have never been comedy related. They’ve been a reaction to those who will no longer bow down and pledge their undying loyalty to a regime on it’s way out.
Indianapolis has a wonderfully young and talented scene with people doing great work. Weekly and independent shows in this city are something that I couldn’t have imagined when I first started here. In the past year, I’ve gone to and performed on fucking quality, packed shows outside of comedy clubs. Shoutout to all the producers holding down Indy right now:
Sunday Show at Open Society
Monday Show at Shoefly Public House
Special Flat12 Shows
Go Yuck Yourself at State Street
Special headliner shows at the White Rabbit
YOU THE REAL MVP
Comedy in a Basement
Puts up local and regional talent in their goddamn home.
Ice Cream Social - Has become the weekly talk of the town!
Monthly show that always seemed packed at the Cat Cafe.
Monthly Show at Longshot Theater
Man. I went to a Planned Parenthood benefit called Nasty Women 3 at the White Rabbit that was sold the fuck out. Standing room only. I was in the back on my tippy toes and shit. Put on by locals Gwen Sunkel and Erin Carr. It. Was. Lit!
Indianapolis Monthly put out an article last month titled, “Is The Indy's Comedy Scene Dead?”. I found this title so offensive. The article interviews the two club owners and neglects the great independent shows (aside from casting blame that these shows are the reasons that the clubs aren’t performing as well). This scene is definitely not dead. Not even close. While it’s true that clubs are necessary for a thriving scene, it is also true that clubs need to be able to foster and allow local talent to grow as comics. This makes the scene stronger as a whole. You don’t get there by petty club squabbles or banning people for liking a facebook status.
All in all, we will all be OKAY! Let’s agree to focus on being good comics, being good people and doing good work. Whatever the ramifications may be out of those things, we’ll just have to live with.