1,001 Nights of Comedy: Selling Out

People ask me if this 1,000 Days of Comedy was a gimmick. I am flattered that people think that I masterminded this, and would sacrifice so much for a gimmick. As if 3 years ago, my young 26 year old self said, “I know how I’m gonna make it! I’m gonna put together a campaign where I count the consecutive days of stand up I do. I’m going to give up my social life, push my health to the limits, sacrifice a relationship, and near the end have anxiety attacks and mental breakdowns, so that the world can know me as the 1,000 days guy! That’s the perfect gimmick! Either that, or say ‘GIT-R-DONE’ a lot. Hmmm.”

The ‘1,000 Days of Comedy’ project was/is not a gimmick. It simply started as a way to get as good as I could as fast I could, then became a personal goal to target a certain number, 1,000. That said, the sister campaign, ‘1,001 Nights of Comedy’, was indeed a gimmick. I decided to add one more night so that I could have a Middle Eastern themed show, and be able to tell it like a story of 1,001 Arabian nights. Also a good book title. Complete gimmick. But that’s just the one extra day. And let me tell you, it worked.

For those of you who don’t know the story of 1,001 Arabian nights, it’s very simple. A Middle Eastern king (what my grandma calls me), has an unfaithful wife. She cheats on him a bunch, he finds out, and has her executed. He is determined that all women are unfaithful, so he decides that he will keep getting married, but to virgins only, and then have his new wife executed the morning after, just to be safe. Great guy, right? They run out of virgins, so then he has to marry this Persian chick, and she doesn’t want to die, so she tells him a story, but doesn’t finish it, so that he has to wait until the next night to hear the rest, and her life will be spared. She does this for 1,001 nights, and then she’s like ‘sh*t, I’m all out of stories’. But by then the king has fallen in love with her, and they have 3 kids, and he makes her Queen. That’s what it took for him to change, 1,001 nights.

Who am I in the story, the King or the Queen? That’s up to you to decide, but based on my mannerisms, it’s probably more the latter. Plus I had to talk out of my ass to look good and save my career for 1,001 nights, and finally I throw the towel in, and finally I’ve earned the world’s love, and am deemed the Queen of comedy. Sounds about right? No, not really. There really aren’t many strong parallels from this story. It’s just a gimmick, silly.

For my 1,001 night I want to be as sharp as a knife. But I’m running on 5 hours of sleep in 72 hours. I get on my plane from Burbank to San Jose, a little uncertain about how I feel the 1,000th Day went down. I kind of bombed my 1,000th Day show, but people had a good time, and I also did way too much yesterday (and the 1,000 days prior) and am exhausted. I get into town and go have a drink with a friend to loosen up. I pass out for an hour, and feel re-energized. At 6 pm I find out that my final show at the SF Punch Line has sold out. I’ve never sold out the Punch Line before or even gotten close. This is really great news. But now a lot of my friends can’t come any more. I would be more sad if my soul hadn’t sold out years ago.

I head to my first show, which is the anticipated Middle Eastern themed show in Los Altos at a Persian restaurant called Pineapple Grill. The room is packed, 200 or so, with older Middle Eastern people, and some young drunk 20 somethings, who are there to see a friend on the lineup. I order my koubideh and hummus, and write out my set list, wary that my parents and family friends are sitting in the front row. Why does this always happen? I don’t care about my parents, more so their friends. Also, they’ve heard most of my material so what do I do? I put together a careful list of all the jokes they haven’t heard, and arrange it so that it starts strong. The last few nights I’ve been semi bombing because of lack of organization and not being able to do the jokes I dropped on Conan a few nights ago. But I want tonight to be different.

My buddy Aron Kader hosts, and then we have a local comedian and Mo Na from Chicago. They all kill it, and they’re doing a lot of Middle Eastern oriented material, which I don’t have, so I’m concerned that I won’t be relatable to this crowd. And yet they came to see me headline? I go up and acknowledge the room has two very distinct kinds of people and that I have to please them both, so that they understand my plight, and then I go into my stuff, and it starts killing. I’m almost shocked how hot this crowd is. Were my shows at Largo and Cobbs the last two nights just not as hot? This crowd is giving it up to everything. Either that or I’m more sharp, like a knife, tonight. Also if there’s a comic who’s good at playing to completely different cross sections of society, its the 1,001 nights comedian.

I leave the stage having one of the best sets I’ve had in a while, and yet I thought I was going to bomb. People are coming up getting cards, taking photos, and buying me drinks, but I have to jet to SF. I tell my parents goodbye, and get on the 101. I get to the Punch Line right at 1130, and see the line…curling around the whole building, waiting to see my show. I’ve seen the line at the Punch Line for big headliners, and have always been so impressed that people will wait in the cold city fog to see someone like that. And now it’s me. I walk up to the building and the whole line cheers. It’s really nice. I’m finally home.

I go through the line and say hi to everyone one by one, and it’s so crazy how many people came to see me from, old elementary school friends, to college buddies, to cousins, and even comics, who bought tickets just to be there. Truly heartwarming. The line pours in, and people seem so stoked to be there. And note, it’s past midnight. I usually can’t even pull 50 people for an 8 pm show.

My comedy friend Brendan Lynch is my opener for the night, and it was a great choice. He riffs with the audience, talking about me and the crappy shows I’ve done, and everyone applauds. The crowd is now hot, and I go on stage…still with no plan, like last night, but feeling more confident. I love the Punch Line stage, because its so compact and intimate, with the right amount of elevation so that they know who’s in charge. Small subtleties and facial expressions get away strong here, which is why I’m good for this room. And plus, SF is just really smart, so I don’t have to curtail my logic and language for their benefit.

And something really special happened tonight, on my final show. The last months to year I’ve been extremely disillusioned, almost hating comedy. Sure, I pushed it to an extreme, but it’s been nearly impossible to write a new bit, or find a topic that I’m excited about, or just enjoy the idea of being a comedian who can do something in this world. I hate all of my jokes. And at the root of it all, it’s because I don’t know who I really am. Both on stage, and as a person. People always tell me, since the beginning of the streak and before, they just see jokes, not a person. And I recently realized it’s because I’m a machine…I process and compute, and operate on logic. But surely I am a person, and have a point of view. The things is, I realized, I have such a large circle of friends, all so unique and different, that I absorb their different qualities when I am around them. Maybe it’s an Aquarian thing, or the fact that I don’t like making enemies..but I like to blend in with different groups. Some would call it pandering, but really I think it’s a genuine wanting to understand people. And this makes me a machine because, when taken out of a specific context, who am I? But there is only one me, and it is the average of the different me’s around these different social groups. So how do we find that average?

On stage tonight at the Punch Line, I’m in front of all the different circles of my friends…from the guys I smoked pot and dropped e with in high school, to the kids in my honors math classes. to my college fraternity (professional fraternity) brothers, to girls I used to date and their new husbands, to the comedians who look up to me as an inspiration (their words not mine). I’m standing on stage, thinking…who do I please? These groups are all so different. But they are all united by one thing…and that’s me. That is who I am…the synthesis of all my loved ones surrounding me right now. This whole 1,001 nights I’ve been searching to find myself within and without, and there was nothing to find, but everyone around me looking back at me…the reflection of me in their eyes…that’s me. Too cheesy? But that’s how it felt!

All of these people know that I’m the quiet, adaptable, go with the flow person that they befriended. And they are here to see me, the person, Sammy Obeid. And then suddenly, all the jokes weren’t jokes anymore. I found them coming out of my mouth in a different way. I was saying them as a person. My true opinion on mullets, my real thoughts on sexuality. I wasn’t sticking to the words on paper. I was just conveying the ideas, from my real voice. The voice you would get if I was talking to a friend, or a group of friends (I prefer groups, more efficient). And the whole set went like this, just me, talking about stuff. I opened to Q&A, and got a lot embarrassing heckles from my best friend Javier, who I had to threaten with having him removed. Lots of people were smashed and delirious as it was now nearing 2 a.m. I did about one hour 20 minutes, closed with my best d*ck joke, and called it a night. Or better yet, 1,001 nights.

Were there nights during the streak that I found myself on stage? Yes. But this one was truly on another level. Because of the time it came, and because of who I was performing for. All these nights I’ve done shows even headlined, and it was for a crowd of fresh eyes, unless it was an open mic, where I just bullsh*t anyways. But tonight I headlined a show for all people who know me, and I sold it out. It took me 1,001 nights, trial, error, failure, pain, loss, insanity, depression, hopelessness, and resignation to finally fill a room with (almost) all the people who shaped me in my life, to see how eager and proud they were, and to remind me why I did this. To remind me who I am. That I am a person. I’m Sammy Obeid. The product of my environment, with a natural affinity towards mathematical reasoning, word play, and eating healthy. And I did 1,001 nights of comedy in a row to truly find myself… through selling out my first show with a gimmick. And, well, if it takes a gimmick to find out who you truly are as a person, then I say GIT-R-DONE!