By Jonathan McNamara
Halfway through "Comedy Draft" on Sunday, MC Bryan Ricci got up on the small stage in the cabaret lounge at Tempe Improv and said something I wasn't expecting.
The audience had already been assaulted by a few local comics including Steve "The Short Bus" Krause, who made light of his disability by pointing out that he risked his life getting his wheelchair onstage.
"If there's a fire, I'm fucked," he said. "You people aren't going to save me."
There was also Stevie Ray Fromstein, who ended his set with this zinger:
"Have you ever started dating someone, you think they're normal, and then they freak out on you?"
A murmur of agreement floated up from the audience.
"Next thing you know, they're all, 'Untie me! Untie me!'"
It was at that moment, as Fromstein left the stage, that Ricci made his announcement: Norm McDonald was headed for the stage.
That's right. The very same Norm McDonald from Dirty Work, "Weekend Update" on SNL, and his own short-lived sitcom walked on stage holding a massive Coke.
The comic veteran riffed about how he asked for a Coke and got a gigantic bottle of it before demonstrating his ventriloquism prowess. He didn't have a dummy (he hasn't bought it yet, 'cause he doesn't know how this is going to work out), so he asked the audience to pretend a dummy named Walter was sitting in a bag on stage. McDonald got Walter "out" and started a conversation with the dummy that no one could see and said both his and the dummy's lines in his trademark monotone voice.
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It was unexpected, but then that's how the Comedy Draft goes. Ten or 12 comics get onstage throughout the night. Some are veterans. Some are rookies. Most tried out new material.
For example, James Henry Heard had never used his bit on the difference between dating cougars and 20-year-olds before. A 20-year-old won't tell you when you're doing something wrong, he said. She'll just say, "Harder." A cougar, on the other hand, will tell you, "Harder . . . to the left . . . no, MY left . . . right there! Don't move! Don't move!"
As for McDonald, he received the most laughter of the night when he ended his set by saying he had a really great joke he wanted to tell us before he got offstage. One very awkward moment later, he said, "Nah. I can't remember it," and started to climb offstage. Then he stopped and looked back at the crowd. "It was really good though."