December 15, 2018
It’s Saturday, just a few days before we can officially call it winter, and we blaze down route 50 with fragrant vape smoke pouring from the car windows. Stefan Subotich, co-founder of Big Timing Comedy, and I, their plucky intern, are in hot pursuit of Stefan’s business partner Eric Jolicoeur and a truckload of Baltimore comedians. It’s a big night for Stefan and Eric, as for the first time ever Big Timing Comedy will produce two separate shows simultaneously in both Salisbury and Crisfield Maryland. The group would meet in Salisbury to set up the equipment, and then Eric would take a group to Crisfield for a show at the Crisfield Country club. They’d return to Roadies just in time to close the show. The very air is moist with anticipation, and also sheets of rain.
We lose sight of our companion’s vehicle often as we weave about through the weekend traffic. We don’t even have the address of the rendezvous point - a remote hunting lodge in the farmlands of Cambridge - but there’s no worrying in Stefan’s car. Stefan’s like your old schoolmate whose always wild and joking, getting held after class for pulling pranks. He’s fearless, and seemingly invincible. And he never misses the present moment, despite the far-off look in his eyes that seems to stretch beyond it.
“Have you heard my Serbian character?” He asks, glancing over from the driver’s seat, one mischievous eye popped, chameleon-like, from its socket.
He then transforms into a no-nonsense chicken farmer who, he explains, would appear onstage first to fool the audience, a la Andy Kaufman’s Latka. It’s one of many characters and voices buried in Stefan’s brain, itching to get out and take the wheel. The drive is rife with antics and conversations about music and pop culture, and all the while I film B-roll for video clips. In my head I rehearse the show introduction I’ve prepared, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, I would not deliver.
I am shooting the grey Chesapeake and waterfront homesteads, I am spotting American Bald Eagles, and I realize I have no idea where we are or how far we’ve come.
When we do catch up to Eric, he pulls off the highway into the country. We drive for a mile perhaps, up to his brother-in-law Corey’s hunting lodge, where we’ll visit and touch base before the final stretch to Salisbury. It’s muddy; my shoes squish the earth on my exit.
I meet the other comedians as they pour out of the truck: Tommy Sinbazo, a bearded party animal in a World of Warcraft hoodie with a warm and enormous personality; Abby Mello, a Towson psychology professor whose actually quite mellow (which I’m certain she’s never heard before), and Beth Hayden, who has a great laugh and who’s face I recognize instantly from the Event Flyer. I immediately crush on all of them, but not, like, in a creepy way.
Corey greets us with a golden retriever named Body, pronounced like ‘roadie’ whose all smiles and wagging tails, and welcomes us into his man cave. Ive never been in a hunting lodge before, but I would wager that, as hunting lodges go, it’s the stuff of legends. It’s like walking into a Bass Pro Shop.
The frozen stares of stuffed wild animals line the walls of the lodge. We marvel at a large beaver, who seems to have been taken out just as he was gnawing upon a tree stump. There’s a duck with a mohawk, an owl, a ram, and countless wide eyed deer.
A warm welcoming fireplace and cold Coronas are offered, and we are grateful of the gifts. There’s a pool table, a colossal flat screen television, and a fully furnished living room. The bathroom, whose door is labeled ‘Outhouse’, is lavish and cozy.
It’s here that I learn Tommy has brought his Nintendo Switch, and wishes to play the brand new Smash Brothers game with any interested parties. I wouldn’t have guessed it then, but by the end of the night, we’d all be piled into our hotel room and mashing buttons as classic Nintendo characters, in various states of intoxication.
Our stay at Corey’s lodge is brief. It’s not long before we’re off again, towards Roadie Joes.
Eric, Stefan, and Beth have gone on to Crisfield, and I have stayed behind to help our lineup deliver the show in Salisbury. I love being in the company of standup comedians. I am laughing after every throwaway observation uttered by my entourage, I am hearing stories of their adventures like a stowaway aboard a pirate ship, and I am nervously preparing my introduction speech.
The Roadies stage is decorated with reindeer and lights, and the joint fills with excited patrons. Big Timing Comedy’s lineup pregames in a large booth, behind the view of the stage. By the time we arrive, Jim Bryan is there, along with his photographer Patrick. I’d met Jim Bryan weeks earlier during his guest appearance on the podcast. He’s a sweet, stoic man; a father of 5 kids and a business owner himself. Tommy Sinbazo previously admitted that Jim’s kingly, well-groomed beard is intimidating to other bearded folk. But there’s a quiet humility to Jim, an immediate likability that I imagine helps when connecting with audiences.
Also joining is Philly comedian John Deary , who will do a five minute set before the advertised lineup begins. He sits down and introduces himself. I can tell he’s no stranger to this world, and fits into the group with social grace.
The last to join is the host of the evening, the dashing John Dayton, Big Timing Comedy’s official representative on the Eastern Shore. John runs his own shows in the area, and has been given hosting duties in Stefan’s absence. He rolls by the booth, still nervously prepping his jokes, and chats with the collection of comics. We dine on Roadies burgers and I down 2 shots of tequila. I prepare for my intro, and inform the others that I too am nervous.
Regrettably, I don’t get a chance to tell John that the plan was for me to introduce him to the audience after plugging the BTC promotional group. We seem to both head towards the stage at the same time, but John is faster, and reaches the stage with a feverish pace to open the show. I stand awkwardly wondering what’s happening as he launches into his opening set. I return to my seat, somewhat deflated, and the script I’d been rehearsing will never get to see life.
I’m both relieved and disappointed, which is a strange feeling. However, this miscommunication worked out for the best.
Dayton kills it; and in fact, suggests we stagger the plugs throughout the show. The audience is spared a top-heavy intro, and instead gets comedy right off the bat from their engaging host. Additionally, John interacts with the audience on a much more personal level than I am able to. He lives in Salisbury, he knows many of the guests, and warmly sells them on the Big Timing Comedy brand.
The show is a slam dunk. The audience is thrilled by the lineup, and Tommy absolutely ‘slays’ (Since being in this business, I have begun to use these somewhat violent terms when something good happens). The audience is fabulous, and we sell merchandise to boot.
Once we pack up our gear, Roadies begins its transformation from restaurant to nightclub. There’s a stagnant moment where patrons decide if they’re staying or going, some trickling away and others coming in. Soon a strobe light dances about the stage area. Feeling buzzed, I wind up joining the group on the patio outside as they contemplate where the night will take them.
When the rain spoils any kind of bar-hopping activity, Tommy, Abby, Beth and I decide the bar hotel would be the perfect spot.
“We have a great idea!” Tommy tells Eric excitedly.
“Tell me it’s not going back to the hotel bar…” replies Eric.
Tommy says, “We have a great idea you’re not going to like!”
We call Ubers (probably more Ubers than we needed, as we had believed our party was much larger), and before long we are shooting pool and drinking cocktails back at La Quinta Inn.
Back in our hotel room, the Smash Bros. tournament begins. I take a small video clip of the room with my camera - people in various intoxicated states lying about on the beds. Eric sprawled out on Tommy’s bed, mashing buttons on his controller, is unaware that the higher your character’s percentage, the more damage you are taking, and thinks he is winning as he racks up 130%. Stefan is attempting to use old moves from other games in hopes that he’ll get some wins.
And I’m thinking about how glad I am to be there, and how lucky, and I hope for more nights like this one.
Soon it’s Sunday morning and my head aches. I drink water and coffee as we blaze down Route 50, back to Baltimore. Another show in the bag, and a successful operation. Eric expresses that in order for their business to expand and be fruitful, they’ll need to run more shows simultaneously. Eric says soon I’ll be running shows on my own more if we can start booking more often. Big Timing Comedy, LLC will soon be well oiled, staffed with charismatic leaders, defined by excellent coordination.
I am not worried. After all, Eric says, sometimes - like a good joke - success is all about that big timing.