Chinaman mugs with his number-one fan, former Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul, who may be able to open some doors for the comedian.
When Britten’s at home, he cooks and Roberson mows the lawn. The iguana just hangs out.
Left to right, Lindsay, Jeremy, Avery, and Mark — the ‘Asian Brady Bunch.’
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Tarrant County’s hottest funnyman turns race upside down and shakes it for laughs.
By BRIAN ABRAMS
On a recent Friday at Hyena’s Comedy Night Club in Fort Worth, owner Randy Butler made a last-minute adjustment to the evening’s lineup. He cut the first act’s time to accommodate Mark Britten’s 15-minute set as a special guest, chalking up the North Richland Hills comedian’s first home performance since the spring.
Backstage, Britten opened the green-room door just a crack and peeked out as the opener announced the next act. “I always listen when they cheer my name,” he whispered. “I love it, man.” His alias rang through the underground club’s PA system, and the room erupted in applause.
As if he’d been torn directly from the pages of a comic book, the booze-infused, stocky figure rushed out on stage, straddled the microphone, and transformed into his alter ego. The spotlights shone down on his wheat-colored skin and roguish regalia. Everything on him was black: the button-up short-sleeve shirt, the matching pants, the Caesar hairdo, the tattoos branded on his forearms, the frames of his apricot-tinted sunglasses. The only thing missing from the urbanite superhero getup was the cape, although he did sport his signature fake facial hair — a black-beaded Fu Manchu, the final touch that changes Britten into ... Chinaman!
He pulled the mic stand toward his lips and belted a verse from a Soundgarden B-side, “The Day I Tried to Live,” howling just like former lead singer, Chris Cornell. A mélange of rock star karaoke followed, from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” to The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” replacing the original lyrics with puns about senility and homosexuality. The 36-year-old half-Asian (“from the waist up”) then transitioned to material closer to home.
Chinaman reminisced about his alleged family members, like the cousin who couldn’t keep his eyes on his own math exams (“Chi-Ting”) or his Cajun cousin (“Lu-Ting”). The frustrating experiences in the boy band ’N CHINK have never escaped his memory. “You know how difficult it is to get 10,000 people at a club to leave their shoes at the door, man?”
Maybe you had to be there. The punch lines may sound juvenile and derivative on paper; live, however, you’d see Chinaman gyrating like a self-promoting wrestler in the WWF ring. The impressions from those rascally vocal chords rumble through the house system. He’s teeming with energy, no doubt on account of the Jager Bombs he sucked down. “He’s the next guy who’s gonna blow up from this area,” Butler said.
In a matter of minutes the Hyena’s crowd was laughing so hard they were crying — including Vinnie Paul, drummer from the iconic Texas rock bands Pantera and Damageplan. Since Britten’s act fully developed into Chinaman three years ago, the heavy-metal master hasn’t missed a single local show. Neither did his late brother, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, who even used one of the comic’s familiar punch lines on a gag gift for friends and family. Right before his death last year, he had a few thousand guitar picks made up with a self-portrait on one side and “NINJA PLEASE” etched on the other.
With only two doors in this area to knock on for work (Hyena’s, in Fort Worth and Arlington), comics can’t sustain themselves on Tarrant County by itself. In larger cities performers can finagle shows at enough clubs to make a living without leaving the city limits — but not around here. Any full-time comic in town knows that, to pay the bills without having to resort to (gulp!) a real job, his or her butt needs to be on a plane, bus, or train ... and often.
“Basically you bust your chops on the road, and the road will make a comedian out of you,” Butler said. “You have to earn your stage time out there, and you have to be funny. You only get one chance to get on certain stages and probably won’t get that chance again for a couple of years. One mistake comics make is they try to get on those stages too early in their careers, and they don’t get that chance again.”
To polish up their material before hitting up the club owners, novice comics attend open-mic nights, barroom schooling sessions that teach the do’s and don’t’s of the comedians’ arena. At various dives — they’re always changing — from Jersey’s Bar & Grill in Everman to Black Dog Tavern’s downtown location, amateurs bring their notes, veterans like Gary Hood bring their critical eyes, and so long as the amplifier isn’t blown out from the week before, the newbies each get a smidgen of stage time.
The catch? Comics at such venues receive no pay — and in some cases actually have to pay a class fee for the privilege. One after another, they crash and burn on the stage and into an audience consisting of under a dozen barflies, most of whom are only there to catch the weeknight drink specials.
The entire time, you can bet, the rookies are thinking, “Eventually, this kamikaze mission will lead to a $100 opening gig downtown, and I can build from there.” Then, a rookie might just catch a break. After building enough rapport with club owners and peddling plenty of silk-screened t-shirts and hats, he or she might be able to quit the day job and rely solely on the comedy business to make ends meet.
Vets have referred to the open mic as “Hellgate,” and even those who have survived the dreaded experience of being booed by folks who didn’t even pay to see the act remember (and respect) those days. Like starting from the ground level in any trade, it’s a brutal process.
“It’s frustrating, because there’re only so many spots to get in as an opener,” explained Grand Prairie’s Ken Mathias, who’s been doing this for about three years. “At Hyena’s there’re maybe five or six spots [in the monthly rotation], and 30 or 40 guys are chomping at the bit for them. Then once you get in [there], you try to get into a new club. It’s difficult to get your foot in the door, and it’s rough to say, ‘Well, I’ll jump in my car and drive 400 miles and get on stage for five minutes and hope I do well enough to where they hire me back.’”
Mathias, whose “Tie Dye Guy” shtick attracted attention in 2003 during Comedy Central’s Last Comic Standing (in the “Best of the Worst” category), has gotten past the open-mic torment. These days he books himself into clubs across the Midwest as a feature act. Whenever he needs to try out a new bit, all he has to do is pick up the phone and let Butler know he’d like to fill in a guest spot.
Currently Tie Dye Guy’s focus is garnering paydays starting at $250 per show and going up to about $1,500 for four nights — and building up the exposure that could lead to headliner bookings in bigger and better venues. Until then, the 50-year-old Chicago native handles a wide range of gigs. Butler has him in the rotation as a middle act — better than the opening acts but still not the headliner — downtown. He rattles off punch lines at Tarrant County swingers’ clubs and Dallas gay bars. For a cool $200 per hour, he recently dressed up as Benjamin Franklin for a kid’s birthday party. (The birthday boy loves to read about the colonial-era inventor before bedtime. Don’t ask.)
In Britten’s case, he didn’t stay in Hellgate very long, nor did he suck up to the corporate comedy chain venues (i.e. The Funny Bone, Improv). And look at him now: He’s spent the last two months on the road packing ’em in at clubs in towns like Sioux Falls, Pittsburgh, and Grand Rapids, among others. (He wouldn’t disclose his current fee for clubs but said his annual income is close to six figures.) His web site receives a fair share of hits, according to his webmaster, Lindsay Roberson, who’s also his girlfriend of six years. In August he released his debut DVD, That Ninja’s Crazy, a recently recorded performance at Bart Reed’s Comic Strip in El Paso. Sales are brisk.
Larry Lee, owner of Loonee’s Comedy Corner in Colorado Springs, said Chinaman is one of his most popular acts. “You can tell after the show when people line up for the c.d.’s and t-shirts,” he said. “We’re not a club that books the names on sitcoms. Our motto is, ‘See today the stars of tomorrow.’ Chinaman has more people lined up for his [merchandise] than just about any other that comes in here.”
But Chinaman’s quasi-celeb status in the indie comedy circuit wasn’t achieved overnight. He’s actually a comeback kid. From the psychedelic party days in Los Angeles to the corporate slavery in Salt Lake City, Britten didn’t make it by way of the fast track. It was more like an 18-year hike.
In 1989 at the University of Texas at Austin, the future Chinaman was a 19-year-old undergrad still going by the name he’d been born with — Mark Allbritten. The baby-faced entrepreneur was working both sides of the t-shirt racket at football games: One week he’d be peddling shirts to Longhorns, with slogans that heckled that week’s visiting team. The next week, he’d set up shop on an opponent’s campus — say, at Norman, Okla., collecting Sooner money for tees that mocked UT.
Allbritten also spent nights and weekends bent over the open mic at the Austin club called The Laff Stop. The punch lines he scribbled in his dorm room evidently tickled a few funny bones, because the radio-television-film major couldn’t sit still in the classroom any longer. (He’d always been the class clown.) He called his parents at their Arlington home and told them he wanted to withdraw from college to pursue a career in standup.
“I was like, ‘What is all this behind-the-scenes bullshit?’” he said. “‘Why am I learning how to edit?’ I was already doing standup. I wanted to be in front of the camera.”
One month later, he scored his first gig — in San Antonio at The Funny Bone, seven 15-minute shows a week (plus free drinks) for $250. But before he could even pack his bags, he got a call from a Mid-Cities club to do seven minutes following a seasoned comic, Gene McGuire.
“The guy before me blew the roof off the house for half an hour, and, when I got up there, it was like crickets,” he said — as in, so quiet you could have heard the insects chirping. Worse yet, his parents attended the show. “What do you say to your son after a set like that, after he tells you this is what he wants to do for a career?”
They told him to follow his dream — and that it was OK if he wanted to drop the first three letters of his last name. (He thought the shorter, the sweeter.) From then on the comic known as Mark Britten promoted himself via snail mail. He sent videotapes of his act to clubs all over the Southwest and was subsequently booked at $250 a night in Wichita, Albuquerque, El Paso, and Tucson (where, coincidentally, Hood was the club’s booking manager). He got a small taste of success, and, before you could say “UT-dropout-wants-his-own-sitcom,” Britten was bound for Los Angeles.
His plan was to build a hybrid career as an actor-comedian. But between 1993 and 1995, Britten got only one callback for a tv audition — and for that one he showed up while tripping on LSD. His voice impressions scored big that day with the people at Fox, almost as big as his pupils. The casting director “was so impressed her head was about to explode,” Britten said. “When I went back for the callback, I was sober, and she was like, ‘Where was the guy with the crazy eyes?’”
Britten abandoned all acting efforts and instead plugged himself into the L.A. comedy circuit. He became roommates in Redondo Beach with fellow impersonator Pablo Francisco. Aside from partaking daily in a heavy drug regimen, the duo also worked for a few weeks on the Brea Improv’s sketch comedy show, Absolut Madness, hosted by Todd Glass (featured in the documentary, The Aristocrats ).
The walking, talking soundboards parodied myriad celebrities, including a Steven Seagal action sequence: Mark provided the whispery vocals of the pony-tailed alpha male, and Pablo accompanied with sound effects like karate chops and rapid fire from AK-47s.
“We’d all just be silly and stupid, walking on stage during other people’s acts and fucking around,” said Glass, currently on tour with SNL alum David Spade. “If you’re lucky enough to make a living doing this, you should probably be in a pretty good mood. Some comedians treat it like it’s a job, like [being] a mechanic. Others think it’s fun. Mark was playful. He had fun doing comedy.”
Though Britten made decent pocket change at the Brea, he seldom found work in L.A. He hit up others’ agents for work (including Francisco’s Robert Hartmann who co-founded the Improv franchise), but nothing came his way. That is, until he began touring the college circuit. In one month, October 1995, Britten was booked at 36 universities through the National Association of Campus Activities.
On an average day the 25-year-old would do three NACA shows in three different towns at $1,000 apiece. It was an exceptional amount that he “whored for,” he said, considering his material was banal, naive, or as Britten described it, “bubblegum bullshit.” Still, it paid the bills and allowed him to ditch the L.A. scene altogether.
By then the Redondo Beach rug rats had split up. Francisco joined the cast of Fox’s Mad TV. Britten met his future ex-wife, Lara, while visiting friends and family in Arlington at a buddy’s barbecue. (Again, Britten was on acid at the time.) The newlywed continued to perform in college cafeterias coast to coast, where more than once students told him to keep it down while they were doing homework. He told unfunny jokes and cashed monster checks.
The couple moved to Lara’s Texas hometown, Bonham, since Mark was constantly traveling. Eventually the college well dried up, so, fresh off the squeaky-clean college circuit, Britten returned to the adult mic. It didn’t go over well. It took an entire week in the comedy circuit to make the money he pulled in on one NACA afternoon. What’s more, nightclub audiences didn’t find his bubblegum bits very amusing.
When baby Avery was born, Lara wanted a stay-at-home dad. The domesticated comic picked up odd-job work with a vending machine company and fixing computers and watched his funnyman career dissipate. He couldn’t bear it, so he scrounged for stage time on weekends in bars, out of state, anywhere he could find. The gigs would sometimes keep him from home for up to 10 days and were ultimately the cause for their divorce.
“She ended up finding a boyfriend,” Britten said. “I look back at it, and at the time it ruined me. I didn’t get any custody of my son. The judge’s ruling was basically, ‘What kind of person could take care of a kid while on the road?’”
Shaozhong Zhang is not a fan of Chinaman.
After seeing Britten’s stage name posted outside Loonee’s Comedy Corner in September, the Colorado Springs resident revolted — in cyberspace. The owner, Larry Lee, received a barrage of e-mails from Zhang and other members of the local Chinese community, condemning the club for advocating bigotry. Lee responded by removing Britten’s stage name from his marquee, but Chinaman continued his seven-night gig.
The main beef, according to Lee, was that Zhang’s kids saw the marquee and “ended up traumatized.” Zhang and his supporters never attended any of the shows at Loonee’s, but they downloaded some of Chinaman’s bits off the internet and continued an e-mail fight directly with Britten. It got nasty on both sides, with Britten at times antagonizing his critics. (But what do you expect from a grown man whose home number registers on caller ID as “Doe, Dill”?) Zhang declined to comment for this story for fear that the comedian could “use this to draw attention to himself for more success.”
As if it makes any P.C. difference, Britten will lecture for 20 minutes on the correct enunciation of his stage name and how the last syllable should be pronounced clearly, like “Super-man” or “handy-man,” as opposed to “Chinamin.” Meanwhile his web site, www.mesofunny.com, is filled with puns about Asian-Americans: The hyperlink to his tour dates listings is titled “GIGWOK.” You can join the “Fan Crub” at no extra charge. To listen to sound bites, one must first “Rogg In.”
Even his body is inked in “racy” humor. He has “Kidwok” tattooed on his right forearm. The majority of Chinaman’s audience is Caucasian, which frames him even more as an Uncle Tom, exploiting his heritage for white-bread Middle Americans. He’s not alone. Tennessee’s token Korean, Henry Cho, and the foul-mouthed feminist, Margaret Cho (unrelated), both lampoon their ethnicities. But they’re all just telling truths from an alternate perspective — about their race, about their family, about themselves.
“The other day I was [at home] walking my uncle to his car,” said Britten, carrying on in anecdotal form. “A lady’s walking her yapping dog, and he’s all, ‘Be careful, I eat dog.’ She freaked out. My family’s funny like that. It doesn’t matter to them. Who you are is who you are. We’re all just people, and I think if more people viewed it that way, we’d be better off. The more pride you have in your race, the more you split a wedge between you and everybody else. So my eyes slant — what am I going to do about it?”
To point and laugh at oneself has forever been a cornerstone of comedy. Rodney Dangerfield introduced self-deprecation to generations of jesters who today carry the torch in many forms. The biracial writing staff of cable television’s recently cancelled Chappelle’s Show took shots at white supremacy and African-American stereotypes with the southern-fried character Clayton Bigsby, a blind and black Ku Klux Klansman. The two-year-old absurdist magazine Heeb, at its mildest, provides illustrated pornographic interpretations of the Old Testament.
Their brands of humor may not make the profound statements like the material from renowned Christ-figure comics Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce, but once you get past Chappelle’s and Heeb’s shock value — even the mostly physical comedy of Chinaman’s — there is more to them than a kick in the pants.
“We consider ourselves less exploiting artists than exploring artists,” said Heeb publisher Josh Neuman. “We play with stereotypes and cultural taboos only to create a candid conversation about what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. This may sound like bullshit, but once in a while [we get] the sense that we’ve made being Jewish a bit more meaningful.”
Neuman’s defense of his New York publication applies just as easily to the Chinaman show, Britten’s looking glass into his own cultural identity. He can’t speak a lick of Chinese, nor could he tell you the difference between Times Square and Tiananmen, and his immigrant mother wanted it that way.
Rlinda grew up in the Philippines during and after World War II, and her family saw all the horrors that ensued. Japanese invaders executed men, raped women, and bayoneted infants. When the infantry raided her village, Rlinda’s parents feared for her life, but a Japanese soldier spared her and handed the small child back to her father.
Rlinda survived the war and eventually went off to college on her native soil. That’s where she met Robert Allbritten, a U. S. Marine on a tour of duty. They fell in love, married, and settled in the States to start their family.
A devoted Christian conservative, Rlinda promoted Americanism under her Texas roof. She did not expose her children to Chinese languages or customs. Histories on the People’s Republic never touched her bookshelves. Hot dog fried rice was the closest to an Eastern dish that ever entered her kids’ mouths. The end product, according to Britten, was “the whitest dude you’ll ever meet.”
“I watched my mom eat fish heads and fish eyes with her bare hands when I was little, but she would never feed us any of that,” he said. “I didn’t know hot dog fried rice wasn’t Chinese until I was 17. She didn’t want us to have anything to do with being Asian. She wanted to marry an American man and lead an American life. Basically I am my mom’s dream.”
Growing up in the suburban melting pot of Arlington, Britten went to the sheltered Metroplex Christian Ministries for middle school and then the more ethnically diverse Sam Houston High School. His friends in college were all white. His inspiration for comedy was derived from the works of Eddie Murphy and Rich Little. Nothing about his upbringing resembles Asian culture — except for America’s assimilated version — hence the title of Britten’s c.d., Dis-Oriented, released in 1999.
Now he’s helping raise two part-Asian kids — Avery, 9, and Lindsay’s 10-year old son, Jeremy — and the kids are growing up just as mainstream-American as he did, with as little recognition of their heritage as he had. When Britten mimics the voices on television in the living room, the kids tell him to zip it. To them, his routine isn’t an offensive line of work — it’s just what puts the hot dog fried rice on the table.
Britten hasn’t heard from Zhang since the week following his show in Colorado Springs, the same week he returned to the local tattoo studio to have “Chinaman” branded on the underside of his left arm.
On the road, comics in passing keep the conversation light because no one wants their spaces invaded. Egos are too great for humble or platonic sit-downs. Besides, there are too many groupies to chase after the show. Everybody thinks about getting back home to sleep under their own sheets. In many cases, comics are so inebriated from alcohol and narcotics that maintaining a meaningful conversation, let alone a straight face, is out of the question.
In 1998 Britten was funny enough to get some gigs with his voice impressions and nasty knock-knock jokes, but his act wasn’t very distinct from the next. At 30, he was living with the parents, finalizing his divorce, and had only weekend visiting privileges with Avery. The majority of his time was spent out of town in comedy clubs and motels.
During a one-week headlining show at Bart Reed’s Comic Strip in El Paso, Britten and Rick Gutierrez, the San Antonio comic who was opening for him, pulled an all-nighter in their comp’ed condominium. They shared a plethora of comic philosophies (and nostril-burning contraband) that lasted until sunup. That’s when Chinaman was born and Britten’s career revived.
“At that time Mark had been beaten down by the business,” Gutierrez said. “He’d gone through Hollywood and everything else, and he was still searching. We came to a lot of epiphanies that night and really woke him up to things he should have been doing. After that, he started developing that personality: the Chinaman, the rock ’n’ roll comic, the guy he is today — a hell of a performer.”
Britten started to hang around Randy Butler’s pre-Hyena downtown Fort Worth comedy/dance club, Swank. That’s where he met Lindsay Roberson, on her first night waiting tables. They hit it off, and with help from his red-headed valentine, Britten cleaned up his act off-stage.
“I was on the road doing some coke, and I remember calling her up and telling her that I felt like I was going to die,” Britten said. “My heart was racing. I was puking my brains out,” and others in the room were trying to sell their jewelry in exchange for his ration of white lines. But as he talked to Roberson, he said, he realized, “Dude, what am I doing?”
Britten cut back on the drugs and drinking, and instead it was his on-stage act that started getting a buzz. Gary Hood, now living in Fort Worth as Butler’s right-hand man, tipped off Britten to voiceover auditions held in Euless for an animated series picked up by Cartoon Network called Dragonball Z. After Britten scored the gig with Dragonball’s local production company, FUNimation, to provide voices for seven characters on the show, he moved into a Mid-Cities one-bedroom apartment with nothing but an office chair and a closet full of clothes.
The cartoon didn’t pay much, and he still needed to catch up on credit card bills from producing Dis-Oriented. He became a DJ at the Fort Worth cabaret Baby Dolls and was well-qualified: Britten knew how to press the pause button on a c.d. player, plus he had plenty of experience behind a microphone.
Baby Dolls became his own private Hellgate. The college circuit and family life had severed him from pop culture, but thanks to the topless club, Britten got hip to all the musical luminaries. While a dancer would wrap around the pole to “Enter Sandman,” he would do a caricature of Metallica’s James Hetfield through the loudspeakers with over-the-top caveman growls. When the chorus to a Matchbox Twenty track played, Britten would bah like a sheep, overwhelming lead singer Rob Thomas’ rickety vocals. Management never noticed that his five shifts a week were all about tweaking new material.
Britten’s relationship with Roberson was strengthening along with his career. A true advocate of the age-old cliché “time apart makes the heart grow fonder,” Roberson doesn’t mind her man going on the road with the rowdy crowds. They’ve made a home together in North Richland Hills, where he cooks, she mows the lawn, and the kids beat the old man at Xbox.
Roberson began managing the merchandise inventory and helping with club bookings so Britten could concentrate on his performance. In 2001 Britten’s ex-wife got into trouble with the law, and his income and home life became stable enough that the court granted him full custody of Avery. Clear Channel’s KURR/99.5-FM in Salt Lake City caught wind of his act and offered a one-year $60,000 contract for him to co-host their drive-time morning radio show. He signed the deal with the stipulation that he could travel the comedy circuit one week per month.
The Asian Brady Bunch settled comfortably but briefly in Utah. Between the comedy clubs and the crack-of-dawn air time, the Britten-Roberson tribe had enough dough to go around. Lindsay took care of Avery and Jeremy. Britten was inspired by New Age self-help literature — the kind he said teaches you to “mold the clay and not let the clay mold you” — which made even more sense when the honeymoon with the radio waves ended.
“It just wore on me,” said Britten, referring to the early Monday mornings following his return home Sunday nights from the road. “I woke up at 3 a.m. My girlfriend is out there shoveling the snow behind my car. I’m driving to work 30 minutes away, and it felt like the clay was molding me.”
Clear Channel offered a $75,000 salary for his second year. Britten strung the station along until his first contract was up, meanwhile scoring as many gigs possible, and then gave his two weeks notice. He and his family moved back home to help his mother while she beat ovarian cancer.
Vinnie Paul’s Halloween blowout put half of Arlington under ice packs the following morning. That included Randy Butler, Britten, even a slurring Damageplan sycophant dressed to a tee like Chinaman. But the advantages of having a world-famous rock star for your number-one fan only begins with costume parties.
Paul, because of his prior successes in the heavy metal industry, has quite the phonebook for the nation’s entertainment booking moguls. He wants to see his main ninja under brighter lights. The two make a good team: Britten has his sights set on an extravagant comic oasis, and Paul has the names and numbers that might help him get there.
Beacher’s Madhouse inside Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino sells out months in advance and has received nods from People magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and Time. The Saturday night variety show spotlights hot-list comics such as Artie Lang, Donnell Rawlings (a.k.a. Ashy Larry), and Lisa Lampanelli. With Paul’s endorsement to the right people and a little luck, Chinaman could be added to that rotation.
Once the hangovers were cured, Britten and Paul flew to Las Vegas to rub some elbows. “I got into the comedy scene about two years ago and discovered lots of comics from Dallas-Fort Worth who travel all the time and put on a great show,” Paul said. “Once we can get him a few minutes on stage, it’s no problem with his personality ... Chinaman isn’t just a comic. He’s an entertainer.”
Until Britten’s ship from Sin City comes in, he maintains his headliner gigs and keeps a few other irons in the fire. His bits have been featured on XM Satellite Radio’s The Bob and Tom Show. He recorded voices for Hyena’s online comedy defensive driving course, to be released in the future. He and Roberson continue to push the t-shirts, c.d.’s, and DVDs at shows and online. The sales, Britten said, equal about what he pulls in from his gigs. (Those merchandising days back in college apparently paid off.) As for the gigs themselves, he still works the circuit without having to hand over 10 or 20 percent of his take-home to an agent. He decides when and where to go without neglecting time with family.
“Mark’s clearly good at getting his foot in the door in different clubs. He’s really good at the promotion thing,” said comic Ken Mathias. “He hammers his web site ... and when he’s in the area, I get an e-mail two weeks beforehand that says ‘Chinaman’s coming.’ That’s really good because the club managers and owners see that, so they know people will come out.
“When you sign up with [an agent], it’s like 50 weeks of work for the year. They don’t have a concern for where — both coasts at the same time, — clubs way, way out there. It turns into a job,” Mathias said.
It’s not about the cash for Britten anymore. He spends most weekends on the road, leaving Monday through Friday for housekeeping, lovemaking, and video games. (He and Avery are memorizing Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” to perform for the next school year.) Recently he turned down an offer for $1,200 for seven nights from a club in Arizona. Back in the NACA days, that would have been a jaw-dropping figure for Britten, but now an entire week away from home is more valuable than that.
The Vegas moguls told Britten that they want to see more than just his current act. That’s why he wants to book Cowtown’s alt-music mecca, the Ridglea Theater, for a bigger event that he hopes will be a warm-up for Vegas. “The vision is not for me to be some hokey comic. The vision is a rock ’n’ roll vibe,” he said. “I’m putting this show together, and I want to test-run it in a bigger environment where you have costume changes and all that other shit.”
In the meantime, the occasional guest spots downtown are his prime platform for experimenting with new material. On that recent Friday night, Chinaman continued to riff on his version of East meets West. He compared Asian tourists returning home wearing American novelty t- shirts to Zen-poser liberals flaunting tattoos inked in Mandarin — with neither having a clue as to what they say. By the time he closed the set with his bit on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s would-be titular role in The Passion of the Christ, the 15 minutes that Butler allotted him had ballooned to 30.
He blew the roof off the house, and this time there weren’t any crickets.
Freelance writer Brian Abrams can be reached at email@example.com.
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