TERRE HAUTE — Auggie Smith rants for a living.
These days, he realizes the people watching his act have done some real-life ranting at the gas pumps, supermarket checkout lines and FEMA meetings. Comedy, in the summer of 2008, is serious business.
Folks on the brink of tears each time they open their wallet need to laugh, and want to laugh, especially when they pay for that chance.
Comedians don’t take an oath of office, but if they did, Auggie Smith would have his right hand up, promising to do his best when he and the “Bob and Tom Comedy All-Stars Tour” visits the Indiana Theatre on Aug. 23. All but 500 of the 1,500 tickets — at $31.50 apiece — have been sold.
“People’s incomes aren’t going up right now in America, so I understand it’s a huge deal for you to come out and see the show,” Smith said by telephone Tuesday. “It’s people getting a babysitter and going out and paying money and sitting down. And I just want people to know that I take that responsibility very, very seriously.”
Of course, the Montana-born comic is not vowing you’ll find him funny, only that he’ll leave it all on the stage, trying.
“People don’t always like everything you say or do,” he said. “I mean, that’s the way comedy is. Comedy has targets, and it has to have targets to be funny. And with some of those targets, you’re going to hear something that’s very personal to you. But the one thing I can promise you is, you’re going to get the best show I’ve got.”
Listeners of “The Bob and Tom Show,” heard locally on WWVR-FM 105.5, must like Smith. He makes frequent appearances on that nationally syndicated radio program, co-hosted by Bob Kevoian and Tom Griswold from Indianapolis. Rather than a master of one-liners, Smith dissects quirks and issues in extended rants, rapid-fire style. Speaking of rapid fire, weaponry provided Smith fodder for his first rant on “Bob and Tom.”
After preparing, as requested, to respond to “lead-ins” to his own jokes, Smith instead got “completely blindsided” by Griswold, asking about his home state of Montana and whether he rode horses.
Smith, a bit nervous, decided to go off on Griswold, tongue in cheek, with a totally improvised tirade. That outburst made Smith famous among “Bob and Tom” fans.
It was “me going into attack mode, telling him that, ‘Yeah, I’m a gunfighter,’ and going into this long rant about that,” Smith recalled. It wasn’t a joke or anything that I had planned, but that’s the thing that everybody remembers.”
Though doing “Bob and Tom” has given Smith his greatest notoriety in a career that he started 14 years ago, he realizes he’s not a household name. But that is the beauty of “Bob and Tom.”
“There’s all the top-flight people everybody knows — Seinfeld and Brian Regan and those types of folks,” Smith said. “What ‘Bob and Tom’ realized is there’s a corps of us out there in the country that most people have never heard of, but we’re really good at making a living and playing clubs and colleges across the country. And they started showcasing that, which nobody was really doing.”
The Aug. 23 lineup at the Indiana also features guests of the show Tim Cavanagh, Tim Bedore, Scott Dunn, Roy Wood Jr., Tommy Johnagin and Donnie Baker. Kristi Lee, the night’s emcee, thinks that collection of comics can give Hauteans longing to chuckle exactly what they’re craving.
“People want to laugh even more now,” said Lee, the “Bob and Tom” news director, “and I think we’re giving you a bigger bang for your buck.”
Not everyone can swing $31.50 for tickets, a sitter and gas, of course. That reality is one reason Terre Haute venues are struggling to attract national acts.
“Everybody says that there’s no concerts here, and the big reason why is dollars,” said Roger Aleshire, co-owner of the Indiana Theatre.
Nonetheless, the “Bob and Tom Comedy All-Stars” drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Indiana in April 2007, and tickets for next week’s show “are selling pretty briskly,” Aleshire said. Another sellout would help Terre Haute’s track record.
“It’ll be another major step into the comic community and send a message that, hey, you can get a good crowd in Terre Haute,” Aleshire said.
Ironically, while the “Comedy All-Stars Tour” stop approaches, a performance by Regan — the top-flighter Smith mentioned — in Indiana State University’s Tilson Auditorium on Sept. 7 has been canceled. However, a scheduling conflict for Regan, and not ticket sales, led to the cancellation, said Jennifer Cook, assistant director of business and marketing for Hulman Center and Tilson.
“[Regan’s people] want to reschedule it, but I do not have a new date on the books yet,” Cook said, “but they say they are bringing him back.”
Regan regularly appears on Comedy Central, “The Late Show with David Letterman” and the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Smith is glad to have “The Bob and Tom Show” as the high plateau on his resume. The radio show is more intimate. People tune in on the way to work, bond with the voices and, yes, laugh when they might not feel ready to laugh.
“I would rather have a good ‘Bob and Tom’ than I would a good ‘Tonight Show,’” Smith said, honestly, “because you build a fan base more from it. The people on the radio show, they get more involved with you. You’re on there for a few hours, they learn about your life, they know who you are. It isn’t like when you see somebody on the ‘Tonight Show’ for four minutes.”
Smith is willing to invest his time in fans, especially when they’re investing money to see him.
Mark Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (812) 231-4377.
Bob and Tom Comedy All-Stars tour
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23.
Where: Indiana Theatre, 683 Ohio St., Terre Haute.
Lineup: Tim Cavanagh, Auggie Smith, Tim Bedore, Scott Dunn, Roy Wood Jr., Tommy Johnagin, Donnie Baker and emcee Kristi Lee.
Tickets: $31.50 each. They’re available at the Indiana Theatre box office, which is open Friday through Sunday, from 30 minutes before the first show time until 2 hours after the last show starts; and also through TicketMaster.com.