When I tell
someone I have a hard time in social situations, they’re surprised. Usually because it’s a person with whom I’ve
learned to have a conversation; once I reach that point, I don’t have any
problems being open with them. Or, I
could say a problem is that I’m sometimes too open. I say I view social situations like taking a kayak
out onto the ocean- it’s easy once I’m out on the open water, but getting from
the beach past those waves is a real bitch.

No one
would ever describe me as a mingler. If
there’s a way to manage it sober I’d love to learn it. “Alcohol is crutch!” some might say. Yeah, well, a guy with a broken leg needs
crutches. In my case, the crutch is
several strong cocktails and then I’m everybody’s friend.

I did a
corporate gig in Oslo recently thanks to my friend Roberto, who arranged and
hosted the event. It was at the house of
a guy who was part of a Men’s Club that met a few times a year and he wanted us
to be there all day. Food and drinks
were free, they were competing in lawn games all afternoon and thought it was
fun to have comics mingling with the guests before performing in the evening.

Roberto is
a very social guy and had no problem bouncing about and starting
conversations. For me, understanding
Norwegian is tough enough as it is, so I spent most of the afternoon standing
quietly alone, watching everything, wondering what the hell I was going to joke about
with twenty blue-collar men doing men things, and working on getting enough
beer into me that I could be social without being a slurry mess when it came
time to perform.

When the
time came, most of the guys were surprised to find out that I didn’t even speak
Norwegian, since they hadn’t heard me say a word all day. It ended up being one of the most fun gigs I’ve
ever done and my ego feasted on the feedback the guys gave me afterwards. I was referred to as “the king” several
times. Hey, their words, not mine.

the comments that really stick with me came from Roberto, “You were way funnier
than when I saw you last!” – thanks,
dick – and from one of the partygoers: “You
were so quiet all day, I thought you were Roberto’s retard Rain Man brother,
but now I see you were just observing everything so you’d give us a great
show!” Well, that was honestly part of
what I did that day, but mostly I just didn’t know how to talk to them.

I once
admitted to a comic that I was afraid to talk directly with anyone in the
audience at a show, which I hadn’t done at all by the point, since “I don’t
know how to talk to people in real life, let alone from stage.” He pointed out that when you have a
microphone in your hand, you’re never talking with anyone, you’re talking at
them. You have the mic, you have
control. It was a great point and now
when I see a comic that seems so natural doing crowd work, I can also see the
strings- it’s sometimes irrelevant what the person in the crowd has to say
because the comic is steering everything into a prepared joke.

That’s how
the bit I call Personal Question was born.
I ask a woman in the audience a few yes/no questions, which limits her
answers, and I have responses planned for any outcome. I steer the conversation into asking her how
she likes to receive oral sex, which embarrasses her and the crowd on her
behalf. When she and everyone else is
very quiet at the end, I say, “Can I ask you a personal question?” Punchline.
See, because I already asked her a bunch of personal questions. Yes, it’s a bit mean to put someone on the
spot, and it has caused a problem a few times, but much more often than not,
once she and everyone else sees what I was doing, the tension is gone along
with any bad feelings.

The best
part is that I’ve made great friends with a few of these women as a result of
me embarrassing them in front of total strangers. One of them has brought dozens of people-
literally dozens- to my shows the past few years. Another- who flirted back during questioning
so fast and so well she embarrassed me- has a boyfriend in video
production. His company produced my
first special and she and her sister appeared in a sketch in it.

Of course,
when I first came up with the bit and enjoyed it very much, I did it way, way
too often, so now I try to save it for special occasions. Once, after I got about halfway into it, she
said, “You asked me these questions last time I was here.” I’m so bad with faces and names and life in