I wrote a column in today’s Press & Dakotan about comedian David Koechner’s show in Yankton last weekend. I present it here for your thoughts, dear readers.
When I emerged from comedian David Koechner’s show in Yankton last Friday, I felt like I had witnessed a very bad joke — but it didn’t come from the stage.
It involved all those stereotypes about rural Midwesterners that basically boils down to the idea that they are simple-minded drunks.
The sad thing was, that was exactly the kind of behavior I had seen unfold before my eyes during the previous two hours.
I had gone in expecting to emerge from the show with a smile on my face.
Instead, I came out angry, embarrassed and asking myself, “Does Yankton deserve grade-A entertainment? Is it anywhere mature enough to handle it?”
What exactly happened?
Let me explain.
First of all, many of you know David Koechner, whether you realize it or not. He is Champ Kind from “Anchorman” (and the upcoming “Anchorman 2”). He is Todd Packer from “The Office.” Koechner has also had roles in many other films and television shows.
When he took the stage at Yankton’s Minervas Grill and Bar Friday, Koechner did not ignore the material that had made him famous. He recited some of his best-known lines and took requests. The crowd clearly enjoyed hearing the material recited by Koechner in the flesh, and many joined him in singing a portion of “Afternoon Delight” from “Anchorman.”
That free-flowing approach early on would eventually come back to haunt Koechner. Elements of the crowd were well aware that it was past 10 on a Friday night, and they had imbibed enough liquids to get their spirits plenty high for the occasion.
These lively audience members took full advantage of expressing themselves during Koechner’s interactive portion of the show. But when it came time to quiet down during his character pieces (which happened to involve fake hair pieces, by the way), those individuals weren’t ready to sit respectfully and laugh at the appropriate moments.
One woman insisted on making random “Whoots!” and people were carrying on full conversations at their tables.
The underlying hum of human voices was distracting to audience members who came to listen and to Koechner himself. He made repeated, good-natured attempts to quiet the crowd.
“I love you,” he told them. “But if you want to talk to your friend, please go to the pool (across the hall).”
The disrespect being shown to this guest, who people had paid good money to watch, made those at my table and myself increasingly uncomfortable.
And then a new low was reached: Koechner made a reference to the bad economy and a heckler responded, “That’s why you’re here!”
The crowd called on that individual to be booted but Koechner was gracious, saying he could stay.
It wasn’t long after that when “Whoot! girl” needed attention again, and Koechner broke out of his sketch to call on her to be quiet. This time, her male companion “valiantly” defended her inexcusable behavior and began to chastise Koechner. It was a variation of, “I’m surprised you made it in showbiz. You suck. You can’t finish a bit. How do you act when there is talking on the set?”
Koechner deftly responded that there is no talking on the set, and then agreed with the crowd to have the two ejected. Applause followed.
Even after all of that, a low-level hum of conversation could still be registered.
Soon, however, Koechner had some musicians on stage and if there was still talking, the music overpowered it.
Several times as all of the above played out, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Koechner had walked off stage and ended the show prematurely. I certainly would have forgiven him.
But he was a total professional and soldiered on through the adversity.
The show didn’t have to play out the way it did.
Speaking with Minervas’ staff, the early show had gone really well and the audience loved it. With a bigger crowd expected for the late show, they were very excited to see the response Koechner would receive.
As a small portion of the audience began to poison the energy of the room, the staff joined me in becoming sad and embarrassed.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to apologize to Koechner about the crowd after the show, but his response was, “Don’t worry about it. This is every late Friday night show across the country.”
I’ve been to my share of late Friday night comedy, music and other entertainment shows, and I don’t recall ever seeing anything like I saw in Yankton.
I hardly ever feel like I’m the adult in the room, but this time I think I’m up for the role.
Here goes: “Yankton, grow up.”