Pat House Talks About Meeting Greg for the First Time
I can say with certainty that the first time I met Greg Giraldo was the greatest night I’ve ever had in comedy. It was like that movie Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston, only instead of joining the band full-time, I joined the band for the night. I’ve worked with most of my favorite comedians and I’ve even remained buddies with some of them. The night I first met Greg took place fourteen years ago, and even though my “career” blossomed after his passing, nothing will top what the universe threw my way that night.
My friend Dave and I had tickets to see Comedy Central LIVE! featuring Mike Birbiglia, Bill Burr and Greg Giraldo at a concert venue in Philadelphia called The Electric Factory. We bought tickets as comedy fans and we were excited about the show for weeks.
The show was only a few blocks from my apartment and since it was a nice spring night, Dave and I decided to walk to The Factory. A few blocks into the walk, my cell phone rings. It’s an unfamiliar number, so I don’t answer. Like everyone else, I think, If it’s important, they’ll leave a message — and a minute later, my phone beeped and the little voicemail icon appeared, so I flipped that bad boy open to see what this is about.
The unknown caller was Mike Berkowitz, Birbiglia’s and Burr’s agent, who later went on to produce a million stand-up specials for comics, including Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari and John Mullaney.
“Hey, Pat. This is Mike Berkowitz, I’m running the Comedy Central show tonight, and we’re looking for a host. We called Helium (Comedy Club, in Philadelphia) and the manager (Ben Maher) told me you were going to be at the show. If you have any interest in hosting, let me know as soon as you can. Just call this number back. Thanks!”
I stood there on the street corner, completely stunned and frozen. Wait. What? Huh? Is this real? Is this dude fucking with me? What?? Whaaaaaat?? Dave (probably confused my sudden confusion) asked me who called and I blurted out something along the lines of “I uh … I think I’m hosting the show tonight.”
I immediately call Mike back and say that yes – yes, I’m in! (Who the fuck would say no to this??) He sounds relieved to hear that I accepted his offer. He tells me which door to meet them at outside the Electric Factory, and it’s a location I’m very familiar with because it’s where I spent my teens stalking my favorite bands after concerts. I’m meeting up with them in the exact spot where I met the Foo Fighters, Green Day, Goldfinger and God knows how many other bands.
Dave and I arrive at the venue and wait by the side entrance door that leads to the backstage area. I’m told the comics will be there soon and I pace that small part of the parking lot, trying to get my thoughts together. Realistically, I probably only have about 20 minutes of material and even more realistically, only half of that 20 is solid — so I’m pacing, trying to get my setlist together.
After a short wait, a van pulls up right next to us. Berkowitz, Burr and the man himself, Greg Giraldo, step out. Greg is the first one to introduce himself to me. He held out his hand, asked “You Pat?” I said yup, shook his hand, and said how much I was looking forward to tonight. Greg says “Yeah, man. It’s gonna be fun.” Then Burr and Berkowitz introduce themselves and they thank me (repeat: they thank me) for jumping in to host tonight.
Birbiglia hasn’t arrived yet, but I take on the traditional hosting duties. I ask how much time they want me to do, find out how much time they’re all doing, and I ask Greg and Bill for their intros, what they want me to say right before I bring them to the stage. Burr told me to mention his HBO One Night Stand, The Chappelle Show and that he’s a regular on Opie and Anthony. Greg had me say Stand-Up Nation, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, the Comedy Central roasts and over a dozen appearances on Conan O’Brien.
I always feel like I’m in the way, so I try to keep my distance. Even though I’m on the show, I still feel like I should be in the hallway or at least be out of everyone’s sight. We have a large backstage area with a pool table, foosball, TVs, but Dave and I just take a seat on the couches. It wasn’t long before I ask someone at the venue if I could check out the stage and showroom. I’ve seen a million concerts at the Electric Factory, but I’d never been on the stage. A show-runner leads us down some hallways, through a giant set of double-doors, up a large loading dock/ramp, and BAM — I’m standing on the side of the stage of the venue where I’ve seen my favorite bands. My heroes have all stood right here.
I walk to the microphone, look out at a sea of empty seats and take it all in. Holy shit. Again, I ask myself, Is this really happening? At the time, the biggest show I had done was probably a five-minute guest set for 250 people and now I’m an hour and a half away from doing fifteen minutes in front of 1,000 people. The next hour leading up to the show is blur. I’m sure I paced the hallways and went over my setlist a million times in my head.
Showtime. The Voice of God brings me out, and here I go! I get my first few jokes out, and this crowd is great. My jokes are hitting (sidenote: if I were to hear any of the jokes I did that night now, I would probably cringe.), I feel good, and I can see Mike, Bill and Greg in the wings of the stage, next to the curtain. Jesus Christ, they’re watching me.
About three or four minutes into my set, I look over and Greg gives me a thumbs up. He knew I was new to comedy; he knew I was doing my best material. We made quick eye contact, and with that thumbs-up I immediately felt more at ease. I felt like I was a part of the team. I was the newest, least experienced person on the show, but that gesture made me feel like I belonged there. That thumbs-up made me feel like a real comic, an equal.
Birbiglia is up first. I introduce him, we shake hands at the mic and I walk off the stage heading directly for Burr and Girlado. Greg says, “You crushed it!” Burr says, “That closer was great!” (Is this real life??)
I ran out to the crowd to watch Birbiglia from the audience for a minute. I needed to see what the stage looked like from the crowd’s perspective. The stage — the lights, the curtains, the whole set-up looks gorgeous, and I cannot believe I just did my dumb bullshit up there.
I can’t stay in the crowd too long because I have to bring Burr up next. I get backstage, and as Birbiglia is wrapping up, Burr says to me, “He’s killing! It’s effortless for him! He doesn’t even try!” Birbiglia says goodnight, I head out to the mic, then immediately bring Bill out, and I watch him from the side of the stage, with Mike on my left and Greg on my right.
Right before Burr finishes his closer, Greg asks me to do a quick minute or two in between. FUCK. ME. I already did my best material! I did my closer. I did my second- and third-best jokes! Shit shit shit. I couldn’t even tell you what joke or two I did to fill that time, but I did it, and I bring Greg to the stage. I run out to the crowd again to watch him from the audience and my mind was blown because I never heard laughs like this before. I never heard a crowd react this way to a comic before. His energy and his command over that crowd had me in awe. More than watching Greg, I was watching the crowd react to Greg.
My favorite thing about hosting shows is that moment you have with the other comic as you bring them to the stage and then bring them off stage. I’ve always enjoyed that moment because it’s a quick two seconds where … you share a moment. And that moment can say a lot. Eye contact, an eyebrow raise or a head shake can indicate to each other that the crowd is great or the crowd sucks. I idolized these guys and I vividly remember bringing each comic on and off stage that night. HOLY SHIT, I’m bringing Greg Giraldo to the mic … I get to go back out there and shake Greg’s hand in front of all these people and bring him off stage while I say “Good night!” to the crowd.
After the show, there was an unofficial meet and greet. Most people had left, but a good amount still hung around and we made our way to the lobby area of the venue. People were getting autographs from Greg, Bill and Mike, and just like backstage, I just kind of stayed on the sidelines. Smartphones weren’t around yet, so only those with an actual camera (me!) were able to get pictures.
We return backstage and we all grab a beer. Birbiglia and Burr play foosball and Greg and I are sitting on the couch. He picks up Birbiglia’s guitar and starts strumming. I tell him I play as well and we talk about how neither of us have had time to play guitar lately. It’s just us, and I thank him again for the night. He tells me I killed and told me to hit him up if I ever get up to New York City. I told him I’m a huge fan and it was great to work with him. He says “Tonight was fun, even though I felt rusty. I haven’t done stand-up in forever.” I asked, “Forever?? How long is forever??” He says. “Three weeks.” I assure him he crushed and told him again that this whole experience had been unreal.
Reality sets in, and that is the fact that I have work in about six hours. As unreal as this is, I need to leave. Our departure worked out perfectly because they all have to get back to NYC. Dave takes our picture — all four of us, and we all head our separate ways.
I didn’t sleep a single minute that night. I kept asking myself over and over again, Was that really? Did tonight really happen? That energy. That rush. That euphoria kept me awake all night and pushed me through bartending a double the next day. I brought my camera to work and told my co-workers what had happened the night before, telling the story twenty times that day. I crashed hard that night. No sleep the night before, then fifteen hours on my feet bartending took it all out of me. I woke up late Sunday morning, still riding that high and still asking myself, Holy shit … did that really happen?? Yes. Yes it did.
Pat House is a standup comedian based in Philadelphia.