Road Dogs - Dan Cummins Goes From Greyhound To Leno
Welcome to Road Dogs, our series where we ask touring comedians to tell us a story from their life on tour. This week, comedian Dan Cummins tells us his tale of life on the road.
Last week, I killed on The Tonight Show. Ten applause breaks people (that’s right, I counted!) Jay invited me over to sit on the couch, and then he invited me back as soon as the show ended. I hopped in a town car, got dropped off at a swanky bar around the corner from NBC studios with my incredible manager, my beautiful girlfriend, a bunch of friends, and we celebrated with expensive drinks I don’t usually order. It was an incredible, magical night, and one I never thought I’d have a decade ago, less than two years into comedy, sitting alone in a dirty hotel room in Grand Forks, North Dakota, aka The Land of Snow and Stupid, choking on sugar beet processing plant fumes, wearing the same stinky, sweat-stained thrift store clothes for the third straight day, nursing a sick belly full of Chinese buffet little smokies that were exiting my colon at the same alarming rate that hope was exiting my soul.
Have you ever taken a long ride on a Greyhound bus? If you haven’t, you really, really should. Just once. Odds are, it’ll really make you feel better about your life. If it doesn’t, you really need to improve your life, because you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, my friend. Ever wonder how homeless drug addicts get from one city to the next? They hop trains or hitchhike. But what about the ones athletically unable to hop a train who also lack the proper social skills to hitchhike? Those dirty motherfuckers take the bus.
Did you know that when inmates are released from prison they are given a six-week old Cocker Spaniel, a Toyota Prius, and a hardbound copy of Eat, Pray, Love? No? That’s because it’s not true. They’re given a Greyhound bus ticket. That part is true. Sometimes, minimum security inmates even get to transport themselves, unguarded, from one prison to the next on the Greyhound. I learned about this practice from a girl I once talked to on the Greyhound, when I was heading from Spokane, Washington to Albuquerque, New Mexico on a 24 plus hour trip. She said she met one of these fine gentlemen on a previous Greyhound trip through Montana, and, about five minutes into their conversation, he asked her if she wanted to go into the bus bathroom where he would enjoy fucking her in the ass. She politely declined his offer, and, a short time later, he was thrown off the bus for drinking. Apparently that bus driver doesn’t know how to party!! I’m guessing it was all a big misunderstanding, and he probably stumbled into the nearest university, where he was immediately given a job in the feminism and/or criminal justice department, most likely as a tenured professor. And in fairness to his request, it can’t be easy to make the transition to the dating world from prison, where you’d be flattered to get such a romantic offer.
The point is, the Greyhound is a terrifying way to travel, and I took it from Spokane to Albuquerque (long before it was all Breaking Bad cool, by the way), Albuquerque to Tucson, Tucson to Grand Forks, North Dakota (an almost 48 hour trip), and then from Grand Forks back to Spokane, all in a three week time period. All that traveling so I could emcee a club in New Mexico for five nights for $250 and a couch to sleep on, emcee another club in Tucson for the exact same deal, and then be the middle act in North Dakota for $400 and a nasty motel room. In the Winter. Even better, I performed so poorly at all three places that none of them invited me back. See why I started this story on such a positive note? I knew we’d be on the sadness train for too long to not kick it off with some happiness. And this all happened not two years after being the first person in my family to graduate college. I would of been better off if I would’ve just kept working at the grocery store I worked at in high school. Especially if would’ve continued to live almost entirely on food I stole from that grocery store. Nothing tastes better than fresh sliced stolen turkey when you’re seventeen.
Think you might reconsider your career options after a run like that? I sure as Hell did.
In New Mexico, for the first leg of the trip I got to work for a psychotic club owner who paid you at the end of the week while sitting next to a picture of himself holding a gun. Hilarous! I guess that’s better than NOT getting paid by someone who sits next to a picture of himself holding a gun, right? If he would’ve had any decency, which he didn’t, he would’ve paid me a bonus for the pain and suffering I endured that week having to wait for the alcoholic middle act to get off my couch/bed each night and decide to pass out after talking for hours about how he wanted to get back to being a fundamentalist, Christian minister. Incidentally, I have since heard he quit comedy (aka stopped getting booked to perform), and, if his ministry was as bad as his horrible impressions and song parodies were, God probably wants to see him become a minister again about as much as I want to see him become a comedian again. (Tom Jones singing about how big his wiener is !?! What??? Were you built in a comedy genius factory???)
Week two was actually pretty uneventful. Sorry. The two guys I worked with were nice, funny (on and off stage - which is rare), and, neither were chatty, drunken fundamental Christians. Even more importantly, neither of them did impressions or song parodies. One of them even crashed at my house a few years ago where, unlike me, he didn’t have to sleep on the couch. I started to think maybe things were looking up, and, that maybe my third week, which would be the first time I got to be a real middle act in a real comedy club, maybe it would be reinvigorating, and a shot of confidence for my young comedy career.
More like a shot of despair. Or of sadness. Or of an Elliott Smith song in some kind of liquid form. That next week was the closest I have ever come to quitting comedy.
Things really started to go wrong on the way to Grand Forks, in Omaha, halfway into my two day ride. I had to switch buses, which made me worried that they would lose my luggage. It turns I was right to be worried, because they lost my luggage. I was also worried that something bad would happen to the random, unsupervised two year old who was walking around the downtown Omaha bus station at 3AM, but, I didn’t involve myself, partly because I was so tired from my trip I thought I might have been hallucinating, and mostly because that baby wasn’t booking any comedy clubs, and could do nothing for my career. Don’t feel sad, I’m sure that baby made it through the night just fine. He’s probably growing up to a be a minister or impressionist somewhere. Yay!
Anyways, after leaving Tucson, where it was 90 degrees, and sweating it out in the same pair of underwear, shirt, and pants for two days, I arrived in Grand Forks, where there was a snowstorm, and where they didn’t have my luggage. And where they didn’t have culture, or, much book learnin’, or joy. Then, I was taken to my accommodations, which were a loose interpretation of the word “accommodations”. I felt anything but accommodated. I felt more like I had committed some crime, and I was now being punished by being forced to stay at a fleabag, nearly deserted motel that had just recently suffered massive flood damage. The motel restaurant was closed, and so were almost all the rooms due to concerns about mold. I was also concerned about mold. The only person who wasn’t concerned about mold was the club manager who dropped me off at that motel, mostly because he wasn’t staying anywhere near the mold.
I had two dining choices near my motel - McDonalds, and, an all you can eat Chinese buffet. I chose the buffet, and guess what? Food poisoning!! Fuck yeah!! Are you still following me? I am stuck at a hotel with no coat or change of clothes in the middle of the North Dakota winter, very little money, diarrhea, and now McDonalds as my sole source of nourishment. Oh, and, the motel was right next to a sugar beet processing facility constantly pumping out fumes that made you think they had to be lying about the sugar beets. That plant was clearly processing some mixture of dead hobos, burnt tires, skunk buttholes, and old Michael Bolton cassettes. AND… I still have a show to do!
The club owner picks me up hours later, and we arrive at the club, where, due to the storm, there is no audience. So, I get to go up, tell jokes I had been thinking about for days on the bus, bomb in front of the few people who have showed up, and then return to my motel room to savagely bomb my toilet, as if it was responsible for this entire road trip, and I was giving it what it deserved.
The next day, things get worse. I walk about a mile through the snow down to the the Greyhound station, because they now have my luggage. I would’ve gotten a ride from the club owner, but, in simple terms, he didn’t like me. I would’ve also gotten ride from a friend, but, at that moment, no one else in Grand Forks liked me either. So I make it to the bus station, and then start dragging my luggage back to my room, when, lo and behold, some driver, some angel of mercy, takes pity on me and gives me a ride back to the hotel in his truck! And just when I feel a tiny bit better about my life, he asks for money. Are you fucking kidding me!?! He ASKS ME FOR MONEY FOR THE RIDE! This guy sees some poor schmuck, i.e. ME, dragging my suitcase through the snow along the highway, drives me less than a mile, and then expects some cash. And I give it to him, because unlike him, I am a decent person. And I hope he used the five bucks I handed him to buy a shotgun shell that he went home and ate. Because that was the straw that damn near broke this camel’s back. Luckily, I didn’t have enough money to buy a shotgun of my own at the time, because I might have dined with him. But I didn’t. I went to my room, and really considered quitting comedy forever. How many more signs did I need from the universe to get me to quit? Was I being tough-minded and persevering, or just foolish and deluded?
But I didn’t quit. What I did do was cry for a little while as a grown man in a motel room by himself. And then, I got my notebook out, and I start writing new material. And I started editing old material. And I decided I was not going to let all of this break me. And by that weekend, I was having great shows! After one of them, some people (fans!) took me out for drinks, and one of them said they had seen Mitch Hedberg years before and thought he would be huge, and now he was, and they said they thought the same thing about me. And ten years later, while I’m nowhere near as big as Hedberg was at that time, I am doing alright. I’m writing this story for Comedy Central, who I’ve done both a half-hour, and an hour special with. I just released my third record for Warner Brothers. I’ve been paid to perform all over North America, Europe, and even Africa. Hell, just while writing this story, I found out that the first television pilot I wrote for will air in two weeks on the History Channel (“American Wiseass” starring Michael Loftus) And, I just got asked to do The Tonight Show - again!
So, go to my website, www.dancummins.tv, find out where I’ll be performing and come check out a show. Decide for yourself if my continued journey into comedy was worth it, or if I should’ve packed it up ten years ago. And, if you do decide to take me up on my request for you to take a bus trip of your own, and you happen to see me on that bus, know that it won’t be because I’m on my way to some crappy gig in Albuquerque, Tucson, or Grand Forks. It’ll be because I’ve just been released from prison. And why did I go to prison? Because if after The Tonight Show my career sinks back down to the point where I have to take the bus to sleep on a couch and open up for a Tom Jones’ impressionist, I’m gonna try to fucking kill someone.