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There was a doo-wop group, a “human statue of liberty,” a boy band, a flamenco dancer, and a piano player from New York who sang in Yiddish. Once ensconced, I studied the pamphlet I’d been given.The audience consisted of 500 extras from the movie “Cocoon,” several of whom according to the showcase coordinator were “survivors.” Bussed in by cruise lines, they were used as a litmus test for picking performers. It was a sort of employees’ guide to the cruise line and it was mind-bogglingly rigid.Apparently there was a ping-pong table set up next to his piano, and he hated when people played during his set.So day after day the passengers would arrive at the table and find the paddles missing.

As the trip continued, I decided to mine the new world around me for material. The ship was absolutely mammoth – it had to be to accommodate the almost-4,000, many borderline-obese passengers, scooters whizzing by each other like pickup trucks – who consumed everything in their paths, edible and alcoholic.t started as it often does in showbiz: I had to make a room full of old Jews laugh. A friend of mine who’d done ten years at Lorton Penitentiary once described the same routine.It was during a showcase of performers trying out for gigs on cruise ships at a theater in Miami. The rest of the time was spent fighting guys who were trying to rape him – with mixed results.While most other cruise lines give the performers cabins among the passengers, Circus cut corners by having the performers bunk below deck with the crew in spartan conditions – and by paying a fraction of the going rate. Once aboard, I was shown around by a veteran cruise-ship comic I’ll call “JR,” a baby-faced fireplug of a man sporting a baseball cap, a reddish tan, and a slight North Carolina drawl soaked in sweet tea. While there are many funny comics working on ships, calling a comic a “boat act” is the ultimate insider insult, implying that they are the worst kind of hack – someone whose jokes are the equivalent of tying verbal balloon animals.“You look like a Spanish Billy Bob Thornton,” JR greeted me. Only way to call out.” “No.” “Tell you about the cash card? But if you are of a certain vintage, and haven’t hit – meaning you aren’t on a show, writing for a show, doing warm-up for a show, and are not a You Tube sensation or whatever else puts asses in seats, then you’ve got to explore options so you don’t end up like a punchy boxer who never saw the expiration date coming.

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