I was suffering from a really bad cold- which was turning into a bronchial infection when the phone rang, “Kim, are you available to headline in San Angelo this Friday- the pay is good; in cash and we can put you up for the night?” I cleared my throat and with the best non-nasal voice I could cough up, I replied, “Yes!”
Stan (not his real name) was known for NOT paying his gigs. He was notorious for stiffing comics out of their pay and everyone knew that if you accepted a deal with him, you might see your money, and you might not. I couldn’t really worry about that as I was newly fired from KZEP (the real call letters) and desperately needed the cash. My youngest daughter was graduating from high school the following week. The money again fell from heaven, or should I say… from Stan’s cold, dead hands!
Driving to San Angelo was fun because I got to give Stan a ride. He is a family man, with a wife and two children. He attended church. Then why, I asked him, was his reputation so bad when it came to paying comics for their shows? Why did he owe just about everyone I knew at the time? He told me two hours of stories about shows, money and misunderstandings. All I could hope and pray, is that I got my money and not a chapter in his bookers chronicles. I told him how much I needed the money, daughter graduating and all- he seemed receptive and understanding; he was a church attending man!
I felt my throat tighten and burn. I became more raspy the closer we got to San Angelo. We stopped for lozenges and at dinner I ate nothing, but drank about five glasses of tea, honey and lemon. The show was in an hour and I was loosing my voice. Since I decided to stay quiet hoping it would help; no one knew- until we were at the show and I was unable to utter a sound. Headlining was impossible, but I thought I could at least do 15 minutes. Stan was NOT happy, and he was already discussing taking me off the show and not paying me. He even offered to split my money with the remaining players.
“No way man, Kim is here, put her on,” was the battle cry! My fellow comics all stood up for me. Stan moved me to another slot, I was still going to get a portion of the money promised… maybe.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, coming to the stage all the way from San Antonio….Kim Kerley!”
Holding the microphone to my mouth I looked out at the crowd. Over 500 people were there that night, and they were ready to laugh. I noticed a young man right in front jumping up and down, clapping; others were whistling. They were an awesome crowd. When I tried to say “hello‘ it came out as “agghh.” “Thank you for coming tonight” sounded like “aaaaggggnnnhhhh.” The whistles turned to boos and the guy in the front started heckling me, “Get off the stage, lady, you can’t even talk!”
All I could think of was Shannon, she needed a dress for graduation; okay and we needed groceries, but we always lacked in that department when I was in-between KZEP jobs.
I motioned to the heckler for him to come on stage. I glanced over at Stan; he was in a huddle with the rest of the comics- I had an idea, my heart was racing, and I was hoping it would work.
Whispering to Heckler-boy, “I can’t talk but I can whisper to you my jokes. Will you help me out? I will give you the jokes one line at a time.” For lack of breath and voice I added, “Want to?”
He took the mic and told the audience what was happening and the crowd went crazy! They began chanting his name and beating the floor, just making a ton of noise. It became quiet while I whispered the line. Heckler-boy acted it out as he was the PERFECT ham! After every punch the crowd responded like we were Areosmith, yes the whole band. For 15 minutes the crowd would hush as if they wanted to hear what I was whispering to their home-boy, then explode with cacophonis reception.
Stan and the boys quit the pow-wow and were now paying attention. The comic who followed me said he knew it was going to be hard because the crowd was totally into the scene on stage. Heckler-boy even did a pretty good Katherine Hepburn. Stan had already told the others he was not going to pay me, but 10 minutes into my show, with major help from the perfect audience member, he had to pay me. My spot was a highlight of the night. Stan did cut my pay since I didn’t headline, but Shannon got her new dress.
This night became legendary. It was the night Stan COULDN’T withhold money from someone. No one would let him- though I think that extra money he was suppose to give me ended up in his pocket. That was his way. But lucky for me, in the front row that night sat a young man whose dream was to be a comic. Whose daily life included being the life of the moment. He had his day, but I kept the pay!