Road Dog

There’s no business like show business. And if show business doesn’t want you, there’s always comedy. Nothing can truly prepare you for life as a road comic. People see successful comics and naturally assume that it’s awesome. It is. It’s great to have people want to come out to see you do what you chose to do in life. It’s great to get paid well and fly comfortably and stay in nice hotels. But it takes most of us who do this a long, long time to get there. Hundreds and thousands of shows. I mean it. So many countless, awful hours doing so many awful shows. On the way up you suffer in more ways than one, and I wouldn’t change anything about my experience. Here I present to you my top five list of the most glamorous things about being a stand-up comedian.

5. You’ll share a shitty condo with someone you don’t know, and they might not be the best roommate.

Comedy clubs are famously cheap. They sling wings and beers, and they’re not known for paying well. Before you get to the level where you stay in hotels, you stay in what is known as a “comedy condo.” It’s essentially an apartment or condo that the club has purchased. They normally are quite negligent of the property. They don’t really clean it well or maintain it in a way that would make you want to reside there. It is, however, a tax write-off for the scumbag owner of the club who also happens to own that condo. By making the comedians stay there he is writing off the cost of the property as a business expense. These places are impressively shitty. They are dated, with furniture that was clearly bought whenever the property was purchased: ten, fifteen, twenty years before. Carpets with cigarette burns, televisions with no remote, and the worst of all—bedroom windows with no curtains or blinds. This is a particularly egregious crime, as most comedians don’t go to bed until well after midnight when working a club, and without curtains, well, you can imagine. No one wants a well-lit bedroom when they’re trying to sleep the morning away. All the condos I stayed at were garbage with the exception of Wende Curtis’s condo in downtown Denver. She owns the Comedy Works clubs and a host of other businesses, and since she actually values the comedians she puts on her stages, she spent over $1 million purchasing and renovating a condo for the performers to stay in. Again, she is the rare exception.

I once shared a condo with a 600-pound man. That is not an exaggeration. It was an astonishing experience to be that close to someone in that body. Normally you only see it when the good people at the TLC network launch a new show: 1000-Lb. Sisters, My 600 Pound Life, or my favorite of theirs, Fat Black Midgets. This guy was a very troubled, but extremely funny comic. He was a single dad working the road like the rest of us. I shared the condo with him that weekend and I’ll never forget it. He was absolutely enormous. The craziest part—the condo had one bathroom. We both bathed and relieved ourselves in the same space. When he shit, the smell would penetrate the walls. If you think I’m suggesting that a super obese person’s bowels smell worse than the average person’s, you are correct. I’ve never been around anything like it. In the mornings when I wanted to go out for breakfast, I would knock on his door and ask if he wanted to come with me. He said he did and that he just needed a “minute.” It would take him forty-five minutes just to get out of the room. It was sad, of course. One time, we walked into a restaurant and before I sat down, I turned and noticed he was gone. I went outside and he was already getting into the car.

“What are you doing?”

“They only have booths in there. Can’t fit,” and we’d be off to look for a restaurant with tables and chairs.


I’d never thought of that. I thought of myself as fat, but I never had to leave a place because I couldn’t fit. He was clearly used to it, but I was taken aback.

As eye-opening as that weekend was, the one that left me a little terrified was when I was paired up with an older opening act. He was resentful that I was headlining as that had been his job a few years back. It’s something that happens in the world of comedy and entertainment. You rise, plateau, and then decline. I’m hyperaware that it can happen to me, and I’m always extremely polite to upperclassmen in my field. With this guy it became obvious almost immediately that he was a big-time drinker. Some comics will have a drink before going onstage and a whole lot like to drink after the show, but this was different. This guy started at noon and he only drank whiskey. We went to have lunch, as is typical for comics working a weekend together, and he abruptly shifted the conversation from comedy to whether or not I liked my wife.

“I do.”

“Is she smart?”

“She is.”

“Well, mine’s about as dumb as they make ’em.”

I laughed it off as an older guy venting about his longtime marriage. Then that Saturday after the late show we went back to the condo. He was fifteen drinks deep. We were watching COPS and it must have been at least two a.m.

“You ever see the Paris Hilton sex tape?” seemed like an odd segue, but I had no reason to lie to him.

“Uh, yeah. I think we all did.”

“That guy’s got a nice cock on him.”

“Never really thought about it.”

“I mean I’m sure he didn’t mind that getting out there.”


“I mean there’s a lot of chicks to bang out there, but there’s a lot of guys too.”

What the fuck. I froze as my new reality hit me. This guy wants to fuck me and he’s hammered. I felt like reacting would be a bad move, so I sat still and just stared at the TV. I told myself that any sudden movement would escalate the situation, so I decided at the commercial break I would go to my room. A few minutes passed and, thankfully, a commercial came on and I did just that. Nothing was said. Once I was inside the room my fear kicked in again. This guy weighed 100 pounds less than me, but I still was in a state of panic. I pushed the dresser in front of my bedroom door, then the nightstand, then a chair. I needed fair warning if this maniac tried to come in. Was this drunk creeper going to try something? Not a chance I’d be falling asleep anytime soon. I lay in bed wide-eyed. Hours later I passed out.

The next morning, I got up and he was gone.

4. You might not get paid.

This might shock you when you read the Forbes list of the top-earning comics in the world, but if that list went on it would show a severe drop. Most comedians barely make a living. Barely. A large number of them have part-time jobs while they try to make it as a comic. I was one of those guys for a while. I worked in restaurants, on set for TV/film productions doing various menial jobs, and at a spa. If you’re not clear why a working comedian who just performed in front of a packed house needs another job, let me break it down for you. Most comedy clubs across the United States operate the same way. There’s an MC who opens the show, greets the audience, and returns to the stage to introduce each comic and make club announcements. This comedian is usually paid fifty dollars per show. That’s the same rate they were paid in 1990. The feature or “middle” act usually does twenty minutes of stand-up. This comedian is usually paid a hundred per show. And then the headliner, the person whose name is on the marquee and presumably who all the people are there to see, well, that has a sliding scale. On the low end it might be $1,000 for six shows. Keep in mind you don’t work every weekend, so if you headline two weekends at that rate you’re essentially making $500 a week, and you need another job.

One comedy club manager gave me shit for not going long enough in the middle spot. I did twenty-two instead of twenty-five minutes. She insulted me all weekend long. “I thought you were supposed to be funny.” And after all her bullshit, I get back to LA and the check bounces. Nothing makes you feel quite as empty as not getting paid after a bad week. I worked at a pizza place in the San Fernando Valley to make ends meet. I dug a ditch once. I’m not saying I was a ditch digger, but I did dig the one. It was for a super-rich guy in Bel-Air. A friend had referred me over for some construction work since I had done some one summer during college. When I got to this massive house, I thought I’d be laying tile or passing cinder blocks up a line. Nope.

“Dig a ditch there.”


“Right there.” I looked up and saw the order wasn’t coming from a contractor. This was the owner. Had to be. He was wearing slacks, a button-down shirt with the top two buttons open, and he was holding a little white Maltese. We had one when I was a kid. I complimented his dog and then asked for some clarity.

“Sir, you want a ditch right here next to the house.”

“I’ve got some big plans for it.”

For the ditch? Okay.

He left, and the contractor showed up about fifteen minutes later. All the other guys were doing labor in the house, but I had a shovel and was doing what I was told.

“The fuck are you doing?”

“Digging a ditch.”

“Mind telling me why?”

“The owner told me he wanted it here, so I just started digging.”


“Yup. Came right up to me with his dog and said to dig right here.”

“The owner of this house is a woman. Fill that fuckin’ hole up.”


3. Oh, the places you’ll go.

I’ve had countless conversations with strangers about the fact that I’m a stand-up comic. Almost every one of those conversations leads to the stranger saying something to the effect of, “It must be so great to travel and see the world!” I can tell their own fantasies of globetrotting are playing in their heads, not realizing that we are business travelers, going anywhere and everywhere. Winnipeg in the winter, Phoenix in the summer. I’ve performed at music festivals, dive bars, parking lots, and minor league baseball games. I’ve done long weeks in some real shitholes, and I’ve even gone as far as doing stand-up comedy in Guantanamo Bay. Yup, Gitmo.

You probably heard about it on the news. After 9/11 the United States began scooping up and shipping out a lot of bad guys and some guys they weren’t so sure about to this naval base in Cuba. Within the base there’s a prison. That’s all I knew about it: that terrorists like Khalid Sheik Mohammed were there and that it has to be awful. So when I got the call saying, “Do you want to do some shows in Guantanamo?” I thought, Are they really trying to entertain a prison camp?

Then they told me something that for some reason I couldn’t picture: Gitmo is a base, and the prison is a very small part of it. So, we’re not entertaining the prisoners? No.

I flew to Fort Lauderdale and then jumped on a US Navy plane with a few other comics, and we landed at the base with some serious anxiety. What the hell did we just agree to do?

We were greeted by uniformed personnel and told that our group would have to split up. Two of us would go to the regular housing and two of us would have to go “elsewhere.” I was put in the “elsewhere” group, which turned out to be housing for Naval officers, CIA, and other US intelligence officers who were temporarily on-site. It was, as I later found out, much more desirable housing. It had wifi and decent bedding and… CIA officers! I felt like I was on an official, top-secret mission. After a short period of settling in, I was told to meet a guide in the lobby of the building. I took the elevator and shared it with a man about twenty years older than me. He had a slight build, a serious look on his face, and a mustache. He was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers and was clearly going out for exercise. I tried to talk him up. “How’s it going?”

His eyes barely looked at me.

“I’m here doing shows.” The elevator hit the lobby and he exited. I can’t ever remember being dissed so quietly and efficiently in my life. And I wasn’t the least bit insulted. I thought, That’s how CIA guys must be. Awesome.

Once in the van with our guide, we were given a tour of the base. We had all braced ourselves for some seriously depressing, “You ain’t in Kansas anymore” shit, but what we discovered was… KFC. They had the colonel’s chicken, a Subway, post office, parks, a high school, and, oh yeah, kids. A bunch of kids whose parents live and work on base. The shows ended up being incredible. Everyone was so appreciative and enthusiastic. It really made me feel like we were doing something of substance just by going there and entertaining these dedicated sailors, soldiers, and marines. A few days later we flew out and went back to our homes. A month later I was in Atlanta playing a club, and in the lobby of my hotel I saw a face that I recognized.

Now, I travel a lot, so I do see and meet a ton of people, but this face was bugging me. It was like I was certain I had seen this man, but I couldn’t quite place where I knew him from. I was staring, wondering, and then it hit me: Gitmo. This was the guy who I rode the elevator with. The one who didn’t even acknowledge me when I tried speaking to him. So what did I do? I walked over to him.

“Hey, I recognize you.”

He just stared at me, stone-faced.

“I was at Gitmo last month in the officers’ building. We rode the elevator together.”

Before I had finished my sentence, he had turned his back to me and walked away. Now I really felt fear for the first time. What the fuck is wrong with me? Of all the people I could tap on the shoulder and say “hey” to, I pick a guy who maybe sets up black op sites and possibly teaches people how to waterboard.

That was my first and last trip to Gitmo and the last time I ever acknowledged a stranger.

2. Some people will hate you (and that’s a good thing).

When you start doing stand-up the only feedback you get is usually positive. I mean, you’re terrible, but people can tell that you’re not experienced, so they take it easy on you. It’s friends and supportive types who go to these “bringer” shows (shows where you, the performer, are supposed to literally “bring” people to watch it). They tend to be like parents at a kindergarten talent show: “Hey, way to go! I can’t believe you even have the balls to get up there.” As you progress into more professional shows with real audiences, you certainly have a sense about when you did well and when you didn’t. Some comics remain delusional, but even they know the truth. No matter what happens at live shows, nothing can quite prepare you for what the digital age has brought into our everyday life—the comments. When your comedy is posted online, you want everyone to see it. When people start seeing it, they start leaving comments, and ohhhh, boy, you are not ready.

“You suck.”

“Don’t quit your day job.”

“I’ve been to funerals that were funnier.”

Your heart drops, you sink. Why are people being mean to me? By now you know that the internet is a vast wasteland, and if you’re looking for care and comfort you might want to reconsider looking for it online. As your profile grows as a comedian, you will gain more fans and people who aren’t into you, and some of those people feel the need to tell you.

Posting a video on YouTube is one thing, but having a worldwide release on Netflix is another. You are literally at 140 million subscribers’ mercy. And when you lean aggressively into a joke or just joke about something, anything that someone takes personally, you will be hearing from some of them. Seems easy to say, “Well, just ignore them.” It’s true and it’s good advice, but it’s much easier said than done. Comedians are comedians for a reason. We didn’t get the approval we were seeking as children. We want validation—every day. Every show is not just a show and a place for us to try jokes. It’s a place to get the affirmation we’re on an endless journey to obtain. When you first read the hate, don’t let anyone fool you, it sucks and it hurts. You eventually get used to it. One of my friends likes to say, “It’s snake venom. You take a little bit and build up a tolerance to it, and then one day it doesn’t affect you.”

It took me years and years to get there, and now I can say with full confidence that I accept it as part of the job. You’re never going to win everyone over. Not everyone is going to think you’re funny or like you. And just like not every movie is for everyone, neither is every comic. I do think it makes sense for people not to agree on who is funny or what is funny. It’s completely subjective, and we all have different experiences to inform our opinions. Hate mail also means that more people are learning who you are; you’re becoming more famous. Really famous people get tons of hate thrown their way. Think about it. Taylor Swift, Brad Pitt, and Scarlett Johansson are wildly famous and without question receive tons of adulation and also more hate mail than you or I. That being said, you’re still a complete asshole and total psycho if you go to any artist’s social media or website and send them messages about how you don’t like their song or movie or joke. I’m trying to imagine doing that. I can’t even imagine being friends with someone who would openly admit that they do that.

After years and years of growing accustomed to it, I learned to at least have a little fun with it. When my Netflix special Disgraceful debuted, I was bombarded with hate mail on every platform: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and my website. Every hour I could go to any of those and there would be a hundred new messages in each, thousands per day! Day after day the number was growing. A huge portion of them were coming from Louisiana. I had joked in the special that I met a man from Lafayette, which I did. We had a difficult-to-understand conversation because his accent was ridiculous. The bit then shifts to me railing against Cajun people and stating that I don’t understand why they have rights. Then I state that we should build a wall in this country, but we should build it around their state. You get it. It was harsh, but you know, comedy.

So many people were enraged and contacting me about my Louisiana jokes that I decided the best thing to do was keep them writing, so I pretended to be Blake, Tom Segura’s “assistant” in charge of running his social media. I mean my social media. The following is a real exchange via the Messenger app on Facebook. A lady messaged me:

Just had to let you know that not everyone from Louisiana is moronic. We do not all speak as though we are holding marbles in our mouths! You are a douchebag for that “joke.” People in Louisiana liked you. Fuck you, sir! Go chew an aspirin.

And “Blake” replied:

Heather! My goodness. I’m Blake. I work for Tom and monitor his social media. What’s this aspirin thing about?

She replied:

Aspirin tastes bad… like Tom’s dumb jokes. Let him read the message. Hell, read it to his ancient ass. Sorry to hear you have to monitor his social media. I work for an asshole also.


You have no idea. Tom is the worst. One time I brought him an iced coffee with too little ice. Turns out he likes extra ice. You know what he did? He made me stay awake for 3 days! Ugh. I was so angry. It made me sick. I had to see a psychiatrist. He said it was punishment for bringing the wrong kind of caffeine and since I wasn’t helping him stay awake he was going to force me to stay awake. He made me stay at his house and he’d play loud music and turn all these lights on. And then he had his friend Capital J basically torture me. He’s such a jerk!


OMG! I’m so sorry, you seem cool. And I love your name.


Thanks! I like your name too. I want to quit this job but it’s hard with bills and all. I just have to read all this stuff and reply and only pass on certain ones to him. Sometimes if I pass on the wrong message, I get punished for that too. One time he poured hot wax from a candle in my ears. He thought ear wax, candle wax—what’s the difference? But the candle wax was so hot it damaged my ear canal and ear drum. At least he bought me some nice hearing aids tho. But I have permanent hearing loss thanks to him.


Man, he’s more of an asshole than I thought! So sorry. You should send me a friend request. We can be friends if you like.


Oh yeah he’s a much bigger asshole off stage. Thanks for letting me vent. I’ll never forgive him for what he did to my brother. He promised to make him s’mores on Halloween and my brother who is 7 was so excited but Tom thought it’d be hilarious to make them with hallucinogens. Now my brother only speaks using numbers. It’s out of this world. Instead of saying “I’m hungry” he’ll say “268 493 1171.” It took forever for us to understand what the hell it means. He goes to a therapist 5 days a week to learn words again. Tom pays for it but still, my parents are so upset.


That’s evil! wow, I’m so sorry! Your poor baby bro! That’s heartbreaking. Well, I have no problem at all with you venting! I vented to you didn’t I? How old are you?


I’m 27. He’s terrifying. Thanks for listening.


OK. Don’t let him walk over you.


Yeah I’ll try. He made me wear this protective suit so he could try out some martial arts stuff he’s learning, but I’m much smaller than him. He separated my right shoulder. Since I had to wear a sling he told me to pretend to be a 3-legged dog. Had to eat out of a bowl and sit in a cage like a dog. He’s nuts! But he pays well.


Oh my God! Wow, Blake… You’re a stronger person than me! I thought my boss was an asshole! Now I feel blessed. Look, if you ever want someone to talk to, I’m here. You seem like a cool person. You don’t deserve that crap!


Thanks! He keeps stockpiling guns and playing with bullets in front of the staff here. Makes me anxious. He shot at a Fed Ex guy and somehow got out of it. Pretty crazy. And the cops love him. They let him put police lights and a siren on his car cause he donated so much.


What a shithead! That’s not cool! I’m kinda glad his joke pissed me off now. He’s so uncool anyway. You seem to be though. I wonder how you put up with it!


I just need the job. It’s a job and sometimes he can be cool—pays for dinner and stuff but then he’ll make me give him pedicures and I have to wash his underwear by hand. One time he locked me in an outhouse at his uncle’s place in Idaho. The smell was unbearable. Plus, I’m diabetic so I had some real trouble stabilizing without food for that long. That was another hospital stay because of him. But he got me this cool Harry Potter collection which I love so I forgave him.

End of convo.

1. You might die.

The road can kill you. You’re not in your home city and you have everything at your disposal: food, booze, drugs, sex, and crowds that want to give you all those things. You can go down a dark path if you choose to. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true. I know people who have eaten, drank, and drugged themselves to death. While a lot of people see “doing comedy” as fun, the road can be a very lonely place. You need to work at not falling apart, and the older you get, the harder you have to work at it. In 2006 I quit my last full-time job working as a post-production coordinator on reality TV shows. That job entails a lot of organizing and scheduling the “post” needs for the shows. I quit the day I signed with my manager. I shouldn’t have quit so abruptly, but I was excited and told myself that I was now doing this for real. I would now be full-time as a comedian. No longer would this be something I dabbled in at night or on the weekends with the security of a real, full-time job to back me up.

I went on the road almost every week. I took everything that was offered to me. Most of it was “feature” work, $100 a show (still the same rate today), usually six shows a week with no airfare included. That means a lot of times I was netting maybe $200 a week, maybe less. I had to accrue debt. As the year went on, I told myself that there was no turning back. I would not stop trying to make it as a comic now, but the reality of my situation was stressful. You can’t force more work or a raise at this point in your career. You just have to go along with it and build your proficiency as it comes. It’s probably the hardest part of the whole journey: accepting that you’re doing all you can and that it’s barely enough.

By the end of 2006, I had gained thirty pounds. The next year I put on twenty more. The weight maintenance battle is one that I’ve always fought and I was losing it, badly. I was eating like shit, going to bed at 3:00 a.m. and getting up at noon and never, ever exercising.

In 2009, I played a pickup game of basketball. I used to play pickup games at the YMCA in Hollywood all the time when I first arrived. Some ballers and really scrappy dudes would play. We would play for hours. This 2009 game was seven years later. It was unexpected and a real wake-up call. If you know me, you’re probably thinking of another basketball event and wondering if this encounter tops “that one.” No, we will get to the special one later.

In 2009, I was hanging with comics on the road, and there happened to be a court next to our hotel. I had really devolved into a slow, fat, sloppy bag of dog shit.

That 2009 game started as a shoot-around. Everyone was just loosely having fun, but the familiar feeling of playing ball woke up the athletic dude buried deep beneath my many layers of fat. Instead of playing HORSE I insisted that we play 21. Three of us would battle for every shot, every point. There was the typical running, jumping, pivoting, and shoving that goes on in any basketball game, but it was all happening to a body that hadn’t moved in half a decade. A body that was decidedly slower, weaker, and totally unprepared to take on this task.

I played terribly that day. I was glad we did it because it felt good to sweat, play a game, and just compete. What I was not prepared for was what my body would do in response. The next morning, I woke up in pain. Real pain. There’s “I banged my knee” on the cabinet and then there’s “Something is wrong. I can’t move” pain. This was the latter. The pain in my back was so severe that I had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t walk, sit, or stand. It was all encompassing. I held on to the wall, telling the other guys that I didn’t think I could perform that night. They asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I considered it, but decided that I needed to rest. One of the guys tried to crack my back—it didn’t help. They kept trying to figure out what exactly was hurt. Was it nerve damage, skeletal?

I had gotten so out of shape that merely playing a casual game of basketball made my back hurt like I had fought someone in the ring. It took me days to get back to normal, and I knew that I had let myself go. It woke me up to get back to working out and eating better, and 2010 was somewhat of a turnaround for me. I lost some weight and then shot my Comedy Central half-hour special.

It wouldn’t be the end of reminding myself to stay healthy, though. That’s a constant. It took the birth of my first son to remind me, “Don’t get reckless and die.” This time I lost fifty pounds and have kept most of it off. I have two kids now, and so the reminder is daily. That and the comics who are no longer with us: Greg Giraldo, Ralphie May, Mitch Hedberg, Chris Farley, Patrice O’Neal, Brody Stevens, and so many more. I hear a voice sometimes telling me, “Take care of yourself. Don’t be reckless and die.”

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