"So, is the dummy in the suitcase or behind the microphone?"
Really, Tucker thought? The frat boys filling the front rows were drunker than they were at most of the college venues that he had been playing lately. And louder. And less likely to graduate.
As the Greek-lettered inebriate had observed, the "Tucker Elliot Show" had not yet segued into the ventriloquism portion - which left him on his own to handle the heckler. When he had the puppets out he could really let fly in a projected voice. Eddie the Purple Monkey was wicked sharp with the retorts and could flay any hapless heckler into either silence or into an ally. But, Tucker had lingered in the observational humor, with dating stories to entertain the sorority girls that were starting to realize that their dates could be less than couth in a social setting. Eddie had yet to make his first appearance and was, in fact, still in the suitcase.
"Shouldn't you be in class?", Tucker shot out with a stage smile that poorly hid his irritation at the interruption.
"We don't have class at night, you idiot."
"...or sucking on a keg with some guy smacking you on the butt with a paddle with letters on it? Please sir, may I have another!"
Tucker had been a dorm rat in college and wasn't a big fan of the fraternity system. If he let this guy go on very long, his animosity to the Greek system would surface and this would turn nasty.
"Dude, you wish you were a Beta Sigma. You wish."
"Dude", Tucker smiled - walking over to the other side of the stage to change the flow of the show and get this guy of off his back with minimal damage - "I'm alpha. I'm the alpha male with the microphone that these other folks paid to see tonight. What say we move on?"
With an election coming up in November, Tucker thought some political humor might change topics and do the trick. College kids were notorious apathetic voters, but thought themselves politically aware.
“So, you guys ready for the election around here? Let’s take your political temperature. How about this one: An illegal immigrant, a Muslim, and a Socialist walk into a bar. The bartender says: Good evening, Mr. President.”
The crowd collectively groaned, as he knew a skulls-full-of-mush college audience would – especially in Illinois, in Obama country. Tucker smiled through a round of hearty boos.
“No?” More boos. “How about this one: Back in 2007 someone asked President George W. Bush if he had a ‘Plan B’ for Baghdad. He said no, because that involved two things he had a problem with: Iraq, and the alphabet.”
The audience roared it’s approval.
“Well, alright then! Now I know where we’re headed.”
Eddie the Purple Monkey was calling to Tucker from the suitcase. He was itching to get out and jump into the sorry state of the drunken fratboy's love life and mix it up a bit. If it was a small club gig, Tucker would have given in to that urge and run with it for a while. He needed to have some entertainment too some nights. But, these college lecture hall gigs had a different ambience and he was choosing to stay with the lighthearted funny.
"Bring out the next act already. You're boring, grandpa." Beta Sigma would not let up!
Boring? Sure, he was the only comic of the four on the "Comedy Professors" campus tour who didn't work blue, and this particular crowd would get rolling later on when the four letter words started flying from Courtney, Roberto, and Venkat. That's why he was the opening act. But that didn't mean you couldn't be funny with wholesome observational humor and well-crafted bits. You could especially be funny at a heckler's expense, and that opportunity was cueing up nicely here. It was on.
Tucker made the split-second decision to switch up his planned bits, and began projecting.
"I vote with Beta there", came a new voice from the suitcase. "This guy's boring. Who votes with us?"
Tucker got a pained look on his face, and asked the crowd "Ah geesh. Who wants to meet Senator FlushPockets?"
The crowd roared. Tucker bent and unfolded the Senator puppet from his suitcase as he mentally geared up to take on that arrogant and snaky political personality and the glib voice that went with it. This was a new character that he was aching to try out before the tour ended and see how it played to a college crowd. Tonight's show was the wind-down to a fairly successful B-circuit tour of college campuses and small town civic center theaters. Tucker was a local at this campus, and had arranged this low-key show in a large physics lecture hall where the ampitheater seating gave them a close-up club feel and immediacy of feedback. Ticket sales had been mostly through the Greek system - one of the largest in the country. Normally college kids were politically apathetic, self-absorbed as they were in their pursuit of a degree, but the election was coming up in November, and the get-out-the-vote drives had been active in stirring their attention to the various races.
"Well Senator, welcome to University of Illinois". The crowd roared again at the mention of their school. "I-L-L...", Tucker started.
"I-N-I" the Senator replied, and the crowd cheered again. "Go Illini!"
"Hello Senator. Welcome to the group."
"Is this a fundraiser?", the Senator asked - looking around the room. "Doesn't seem like anyone here has any money. How much have we made?"
"Senator, it's not all about money. This is your chance to meet your voters."
"I have to meet them? That seems a little uncalled for. I'm a Senator."
Tucker was scanning the crowd as he got the banter going with Senator FlushPockets. It took a moment to get the rythym of the back and forth with the projected voice. Though he had walked across the lecture platform with his wireless mike, he had not lost sight of, or focus on, his heckler target. He was also mentally cataloguing the rest of the room in the uncomfortable lecture hall seats. Fraternity guys in groups, paired up with their sister sororities. Immaculately dressed cute co-eds looking semi-comfortable with the various states of inebriation of their dates for the evening. They were half paying attention to Tucker, half checking their texts on their smartphones. Some were there as couples, some part of a wide circle of group dates which had become the norm in their generation. Behind them a few rows were the dorm guys and girls in jeans and t-shirts or grunge or emo attire, looking like laundry day was still a few days away. Teaching assistants, a few full professors, and some athletes filled out the room.
Tucker completed his rapid scan of the room by noting the two well-dressed twenty-somethings in button-down shirts and ties in the top row by the exit looking out-of-place and pre-occupied as they worked their Blackberries and laptops. If you're going to rely on observational humor, you have to observe. And quickly process those observations. And react, turning it quickly to humor. Scan done in an eye-blink, back to the humor.
"So, Senator. Do you really think you're going to get re-elected this year? They say there's an electoral tsunami brewing with the voters this year?"
Tucker moved his fingers inside the puppet to give Senator FlushPockets an imperious look.
"Frankly, there is no question about my re-election. I am, after all, a servant of the people and am grateful to have served this great nation of ours and this wonderful state for the last five decades."
"Five decades?" Tucker asked.
"Dude, get a real job!" Ah, the heckler hadn't passed out yet and was an equal opportunity insulter. Tucker had worked his way back across the platform and was lined up in close proximity to the young man, his now-horrified date on one side, and a distracted-looking guy on the other side with a Greek-lettered sweatshirt that Tucker recognized as high-grade-average engineering frat that he had been asked to join a long long time ago.
"Son, please tell me that you don't vote", Tucker said pointedly.
"Wait just a minute there, Tucker!”, said the puppet voice. “Let's not be discouraging the voters now. I need them all tomorrow."
"Yeah! I vote."
"Seriously, son" said the Senator, arching his pinewood eyebrows skeptically at Beta. "You don't really vote do you?"
"I vote. Probably. I'm voting your ass out. Probably." Beta wasn't sounding so sure now.
"Hmm. Donate first. They'll be passing a bucket in a minute now."
"Senator" Tucker said, pointing the Senator's head back to look at him. "Is it always about money with you guys?"
"Well, of course it is. I don't get elected through the good will of the voters."
"Of course not"
"And you certainly don't have any money I'm guessing, since you're playing a B-circuit gig at a university on a Monday night".
"Well..." But he had lost the attention of the Senator, who had swiveled back to look at Beta's sorority-girl date.
"And what about you, darling", Tucker said for the Senator - turning on his famous Senatorial charm. "You look like your daddy's got money? How about a generous donation to my meager little effort to represent this fine state in Washington D.C.? $20,000 will get you into the Liberty Club and get you a private dinner with yours truly where we can discuss matters of state and whatnot..."
"Senator!", Tucker exclaimed - leaving the Senator's head leering at Miss Kappa. "Behave".
"Don't bother me young man. I'm having a perfectly appropriate conversation with this lovely young lady about relieving her of the burden of her father's ill-gotten gains for a noble purpose. My re-election."
It was Tucker's turn to address Miss Kappa. "Please tell me that you are going to vote, and that you're going to cancel Beta here out tomorrow." Beta looked sharply at his date and started in on her and how she would not dare to vote differently than him like it was suddenly an important thing to him. She was demurring. She didn't come to a comedy show to debate voting with her boyfriend.
Satisfied that he had begun the process of splitting up Beta and his no-longer-laughing date, Tucker moved to amplify the pain to his new rival by addressing the guy on the other side of him. It bothered Tucker that he wasn't paying attention to the show.
The Senator was already ahead of him. Looking at Tucker, the Senator said "How about brain-boy there. You think he knows Beta?"
No reaction. Beta's antics had broken through his distraction, and he hadn't heard the Senator either.
Tucker leaned down into the young man's sight line. "Hey buddy. What's your name?"
"Steve", he said looking up. Charles Steven, actually. But he went by Steve.
"What's the deal? You here with Beta?"
"Yeah. We used to be roommates in the dorms."
"Really? Beta, what do you study?", Tucker asked.
"Football! Well, I play football. I’m majoring in communications."
"And you have a gift for it, we've seen", said Senator Flushpockets. "Would you ask people to vote for me tomorrow?"
"Alright, Senator. We get it. You need votes." Tucker ping-ponged back to the ex-roomie, to see if he could break through the distraction.
"How about you roomie. What do you study?"
Steve answered, but wasn't into it. "Computer Engineering. Cryptography minor."
"Code-breaking? Do you think you can crack the mystery of Beta here?" Tucker got a fair laugh from the crowd on that one, but he could tell he needed to move on and get back to his bits. It was time for the second act to come out.
"Say goodnight to these fine folks, Senator".
The Senator took his cue to depart back into the suitcase, but with one last pitch.
"Goodnight you fine people of Illinois. Don't forget to study. Most importantly, don't forget to donate to my campaign. And, oh yeah, don't forget to vote in November." With a diminshing voice as he was going back into suitcase "...except for you there, Beta."
Tucker finished his set with a flair, working his way quickly to his most popular puppet in these campus shows - Roscoe the Stoner. Pot jokes worked easily with this crowd, and with a referendum on the ballot this year to legalize small quantities he had a twofer with an election tie-in. Perfect for a news junkie like Tucker. He was pulling laughs easily with bong jokes - just that word was funny - and jokes about getting the munchies. Many in crowd could relate this time of night. Some in the back row were even partaking as the show went along. He could smell it.
"All right Roscoe, we've got to call it a night my friend. Say good night to the folks."
"Later dudes. Peace and love and stuff. Go roll some big fatties. Hey Tucker?"
"Please tell me that Beta is not going to vote." The crowd roared.
"Goodnight everyone. Give it up for the queen of Birmingham Alabama - Miss Courtney Rae Montgomery."
And Tucker was off to the wings to the sound of his second-to-last ovation for this tour season.