Mike Buzzelli

Column Mike Buzzelli

Mike Buzzelli is a stand up comedian and published author. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant, Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine, and an active board member of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, the Carnegie Arts Initiative and the Carnegie Screenwriters. His book, "Below Average Genius" is a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column here in the Observer-Reporter.

I don’t make balloon animals

May 18, 2013

Two weeks ago, I wrote about performing comedy at a funeral. A lot of people have come up to me and said, “Surely, that had to be the worst experience you’ve ever had on stage.” I would love to have told them that it was indeed the toughest audience I had ever played, but it wasn’t.

Last week, I had the dubious distinction of performing for a group of middle school kids. I helped Bethel Park Public Library host the Children’s Choice Awards. Several middle-grade books were up for the title of best book of 2013.

Funerals and kids shows. If I had an agent, I’d fire him.

Several great books were up for the award. Of course, there was a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” volume, a Lemony Snicket and a bunch of others, eight in all.

I assumed the audience would be made up of children and parents, but most of the adults dropped their kids off and went about their evening. I had an audience of mostly children. Yikes, sweetie, yikes.

I opened with this zinger, “This is the youngest audience I’ve ever played. Is there a two milk minimum?”


The library staff was serving punch, so I said, “Punch? That sounds like such a violent beverage. I hope no one was harmed in the making of this delicious drink.”


I had another seven minutes of material labeled, “The Kid Set.”

I put my notes in my pocket. I wanted to crush my papers into little balls and throw them at the boys and girls. That probably would have gotten a laugh.

I don’t do magic, and I don’t make balloon animals. I was not right for this crowd.

I decided I would interview the kids. I got a boy from the back of the room to tell me why he liked “Fake Moustache” by Tom Angleberger. Another kid came up and offered a rebuttal. “That ‘Fake Moustache’ is stupid. No one had an I.Q. over 48 in that book.”

It was a spirited debate. And funnier than anything I wrote down. These particular boys and girls were passionate about their books, and it showed. I loved learning about them and the books they were reading. Their favorite book was about a homeschooled boy with a facial deformity who started attending public school, “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio. Deep.

At the end of the evening, children’s librarian Elaine Volpe revealed the winner of the Children’s Choice Award. The children held their breath as Volpe teased out the answer (just like they do on the “American Idol” results show). It was, indeed, “Wonder” by Palacio. The children cheered.

The takeaway I have from the show: This event was about them, not me. I should have made it about them from the beginning.

Also, I was inspired by their passion. It’s been a long time since I cared about a good book. I am perusing bookstores and libraries looking for a fun, summer read. Thanks, guys, for reminding me of the joy of reading.

Note: I will tread on more odd comedy territory. I will be doing the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Chartiers-Houston tomorrow. Meet me at 9 a.m. at Allison Elementary, 803 McGovern Road, Houston, PA 15342. Comedy on a Sunday morning (after a show on Saturday night). Come out and say hello, and bring massive amounts of coffee.



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