DJ Hostettler
Cultural Zero

The Ballad of Johnny D

By - Mar 19th, 2010 10:03 am
Fig.1: Colt Cabana lets loose with jokes about Ric Flair and Batista

Fig.1: Colt Cabana lets loose with jokes about Ric Flair and Batista

When my first original band played its first show, I didn’t want to show my face in the Fox Valley for weeks after. We played a friends’ backyard with a number of other punk bands, and we were completely inept. It was a perfect storm of embarrassment: my parents showed up to watch my dumb 19-year-old ass play uneven beats, dorkily waving at me the whole time. The cute girl whom I met at a campsite that summer and then coincidentally was at the show pointedly avoided me the rest of the day—hell, she may have left early to avoid talking to me. For months after, kids in the Appleton punk scene took delight in telling our singer Chris and me how much we thoroughly sucked.

I credit this early experience, as well as much of my high school career of being taunted by the cool kids, for instilling in me a sense of “fuck you.” Fuck you, I don’t care what you think, I’m going to do whatever I want and I hope it pisses you off to boot. It’s this attitude that has been at the root of my band (of which Chris, aka Yale Delay, is a proud member) for years, and has given us the freedom to do what we want and get us into a number of scrappy adventures. Because oh, you don’t like our band? Well fuck you, because we’re awesome and we believe in ourselves and don’t care what you think.

This is what I thought of Thursday night when I witnessed a man who tried to do something creative, but failed so spectacularly that he somehow perversely succeeded in becoming some sort of local indie wrestling insta-legend. For the wrestling nerds out there, this is the story of the open-mic comedy equivalent of the Shockmaster or Gobbledy-Gooker. This…is the Ballad of Johnny D.

It starts on Tuesday, when my friend Liz texted me to ask, “any interest in seeing an indie wrestler do stand-up comedy on Thursday in ‘Stallis?”

Um, who the hell do you think I am, Liz? YES OF COURSE I HAVE INTEREST. Turns out that local indie sensation (and recent WWE developmental wrestler) Colt Cabana has been doing a “Total Extreme Comedy” tour with former WWE champ and current TNA wrestling star Mick “Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love” Foley (you can read all about it here, along with some choice Mickie James “butt pix,” apparently), and for some reason he was doing a set at Mug Shotz on 68th in Westallica. Immediately and obviously, my reaction was “holy Cultural Zero column, Batman!”

So I went to Mug Shotz last night thinking I was going to write a wacky little column about people who wear different creative hats, like pro wrestler stand-up comics, or drummer/writer/roller derby announcers (seriously, some people are a jack of all trades and master of none. Wtf). What I got instead was an epic tale of an epic failure.

To open the evening, Colt invited some ComedySportz improv pals from Chicago up to Westallica for the night. The second comic of the night, though, was a local boy by the name of Johnny D, a goateed, black-haired, typical West Allis blue-collar bro. Probably loves Drowning Pool and Disturbed. You know. After a warm introduction from our host Colt, Johnny promptly lit a match, set a fuse, and bombed. Hard. One of his sample jokes: “Don’t you hate banks? [had he stopped there the joke would have been Dr.-Pepper-at-the-Yuk-Yuks-in-Toronto-level awesome, but no:] The bank called me the other day to tell me I didn’t have any money. They said, ‘you have insufficient funds,’ I’m like, ‘I know that. My funds are GROSSLY insufficient.’”

THAT was the punchline.

Fig.2: Johnny D (right) tries to keep up with the semi-pros

Fig.2: Johnny D (right) tries to keep up with the semi-pros

From there he went into a joke that started with him having $-10 in his account. I immediately thought of an episode of the criminally underrated (and oh so canceled) HBO sitcom Lucky Louie starring Louis CK, in which Louie tells his wife that because they have $-10, “we have to raise ten dollars to be broke.” And sure enough, Johnny D said that very same line not 30 seconds later. So, I guess, points to Johnny D for having the good taste to have seen Lucky Louie.

Still, this was painful. Entire sentences were met with dead silence, to be followed with “come on, you motherfuckers, you’re supposed to laugh!” The bulk of his material was a string of expletives that George Carlin would have criticized for being a waste of quality swears. At one point, he seemed gleeful that an audience member heckled him because it allowed him to launch into a prepared retort that involved three uses of the c-word. Finally, mercifully, he was cut short by Colt Cabana rushing the stage and yelling “JOHNNY D, EVERYBODY!” which drew bigger laughs than anything in his set.

Here’s where shit got real.

During the next comic, Johnny D wouldn’t stop loudly, drunkenly bitching about how he got yanked early. “Oh, I’m the shitty comic tonight, huh?” (Answer: yes.) So the next guy in line, a delightful, “I-listen-to-Animal-Collective-unironically” disheveled hipster nerd type, opened his set by saying, “I’m going to mix things up a bit and do some slam poetry. I call this ‘Angry Comic.’”

“…Fucking shit. Banks. I have negative ten dollars. Tell me MY funds are insufficient? SHIT. FUCK.”

The crowd is dying, laughing harder than they have all night. And just as the gag begins to lose steam, the greatest unintended punchline in Milwaukee metro history happens: Johnny D lets out a defiant, booming “FUCK YOU!” that quite literally sends me out of my chair, a quivering mess of abdominal strain and short breath. I haven’t seen that many people doubled over since the last episode of Ow! My Balls. Johnny D doesn’t realize it, but in his refusal to take his roasting silently, he has discovered a sense of timing that many struggling young comics never realize.

During the intermission before Colt’s set, Johnny D is the talk of the room. Slowly, a picture is painted of our goateed trainwreck’s origins:

-He apparently answered a Craigslist ad placed by the bar looking for a comedian to fill the last slot. Yes—he was found on Craigslist of all places.
-It is rumored that the old woman who was trying to defend him to a few of the bar patrons was his mother, who came out to support her son and left sometime after he started interrupting the other comics’ sets. This adds a thin, honey-glazed, Barbara Walters soft-focus veneer of sad to the proceedings that actually made me question whether or not I should write this, for fear that Johnny D would awake in the a.m., google his own name and promptly shoot himself in the head. (Johnny, if you’re out there, please do not shoot yourself in the head.)

After Colt’s set, which redefines the term “niche marketing” (you a wrestling fan? You’ll find Colt’s material hilarious. Have no idea who Batista or Chris Jericho are? Over your head, sorry), shit begins to go seriously downhill for the illustrious Johnny D. Once again he grabs the mic and starts yelling at everyone, and the sound guy is too amused to cut him off. So the other comics decide to have fun with him:

Johnny, for some reason, produces a set of loose papers with his notes for the night. He had written his entire set, word for word, before he arrived (that’s right, he actually sat down and WROTE the “grossly insufficient” joke). The other comics begin to pass his notes around, doing dramatic readings of them while Johnny D sits up front and takes his dressing-down like the runt in third grade who lets the cool kids play jokes on him because then they’ll let him hang around.

Fig.3: a dramatic reading of Johnny D’s “I Lived in a Trailer” bit

Fig.4: Johnny D flips me off, which is awesome. Just awesome.

Fig.4: Johnny D flips me off, which is awesome. Just awesome.

It was all at once painful, awkward, excruciating, hilarious, mesmerizing and transcendent. No one wanted to leave while this guy refused to walk away from the microphones.

He realized that, for better or worse, this was his moment and dammit, he was going to have that moment. Milan Kundera once wrote an entire book about how true immortality is achieved in the memories of others. I guarantee you Johnny D has never read Kundera, but somehow, last night, he became immortal in the minds of everyone who witnessed his descent into shame. “I will remember this for the rest of my life,” I overheard one of the comics say.

But still, I kept thinking back to that first punk show I played when I was 19, and how strongly I believed in what my band was doing, even back then, when we were awful enough to empower an entire scene to talk shit right to our faces. And I remembered how Yale and I collectively flipped them all the bird and kept our noses to the grindstone, and how it got us to where we are today (which is, ya know, not famous or anything, but we did once get an email from a dude in Greece calling us “the most important noise-rock band of our time,” so that was pretty cool).

And I felt a kinship with poor, wasted, not-quite-good-natured, amazing Johnny D, because I was in his shoes once upon a time. And when one of the other comics finally acknowledged Johnny’s titanium balls by saying “I have never seen a man fail so thoroughly and just keep taking this kind of abuse,” I shared in his begrudging, surreal respect for this guy and his uncanny aura of fuck you all. Who knows—maybe he’ll actually learn from this and develop into an amazing comic whose mom won’t have to slink away in shame while her son slides down an alcoholic abyss in front of a bar full of strangers. Maybe this was what will turn him into the next Louis CK.

I mean, I really doubt it, but wouldn’t it be cool?

Categories: Cultural Zero

0 thoughts on “Cultural Zero: The Ballad of Johnny D”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It would be pretty frakking awesome. Two thumbs up.

  2. Anonymous says:

    For what it’s worth, the CSz guys that were there were Peter Kremidas (Slam Poetry), Ryan Williams and Nick Hausman. Also for what it’s worth, I’m Nick and this is EPICALLY correct and awesome. So glad this was written about and now this story lives in infamy.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Nick! I should have clarified your names at the bar last night, but i failed. You guys were great and it was a pleasure to meet you all! Come back soon.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yes. I am Peter, the one who did the slam poetry version of Johnny D’s set. This story is completely accurate and hilariously and wonderfully written. One thing that is left out is how after he was roasted, he kept bum rushing the stage to grab the mic in an attempt to win back his honor or something. He literally took the mic from my hands and started shouting at me and the crowd about god knows what (I honestly do not remember) after I did the slam poetry bit. Then he did it to Colt right before the intermission. Then he tried to do it to Colt AGAIN during his set, which Colt was very gracious about by calling a truce and saying positive things about Mr. D so things could move on.

    After Colt’s set, when he jumped back on stage and started ranting over the music, it evolved (devolved?) into me, Nick and Ryan doing almost two hours of improv and bits with him, which hit hard the entire time. We would set him up to tell a joke, and he would show us failure every. single. time. Amazing.

    Johnny D, you fucking suck.

  5. Anonymous says:

    For some reason it won’t let me post normally, so I have to reply to someone.

    You know what would be awesome, if Johnny D was some performance artist and just totally Kaufmaning it up.

  6. Anonymous says:

    That would indeed be genius. I hinted at that potential a small bit with the Patton Oswalt “Dr. Pepper” reference.

  7. Anonymous says:

    So, not only did this guy bomb his set. He also ripped off what appears to be 2 Louis CK jokes. He did deserve that impromptu roast, good show man good show.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Oh man! I finally watched the video. I…I don’t know what to say. I hope someone held onto those notes.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Oh shoot! The “insufficient funds” thing was probably from that same episode, huh? Man.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I came into this gig knowing that I wouldn’t get much of a response, since it was my 3rd overall stand-up gig. Knowing that I suck and have come to terms with it, I’d highly suggest you do the same.

    I just wish I hadn’t been so fucked up.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Johnny D, you are a class act. Keep at it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I think the comedy thing is still too far away for me to grasp, but at least I still have my music to fall back on, I’m playing a show at the Monkey Bar in Milwaukee on April 3rd, check it out, I’m running the show so I might let you in free. In the meantime, check out my tunes here:

    On as CreeperJones:

  13. Anonymous says:

    I think the comedy thing is still way too far for me to grasp, but at least I have my music to fall back on. I’m playing/running a show on April 3rd at the Monkey Bar in Milw. if you wanna come check it out, I’m performing as Lethal Sound Dischord.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Johnny D, you need a fan page on facebook. I want to “become a fan of Johnny D”. Try it as an experiment. Have fun with it.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Johnny he wasn’t blowing smoke about our first show, it really was as bad as he said it was, but it gave us alot of drive, and a total burn the place down and FUCK YOU attitude at the time it hurt, but down the road it did a ton of good. If standup is something you really want to do, keep at it and you will get good.

    Sadly I won’t make the show (I am up in GB that weekend) but Demix is awesome and I love hearing him.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Im glad people had fun. Next show is Thursday April 15th 8pm at Mugshotz. $5 cover.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m guessing he’s too defensive (even sober) to learn from this. It’s really too bad.

    Those spectacular bombs (including dressing-down from your peers) provide motivation.
    Add ability (and, from what you’ve noted, I think Johnny B probably has quite a bit of ability)
    And add opportunity…

    and this experience could be the inflection point for his comedy.

  18. Anonymous says:

    There’s definitely something to be said for not caring what other people think, and additionally I think success early on softens people. Very well written, hilarious article (I came over from ginandtacos) so thanks!

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