What happens when a comic can’t get a crowd? Al Ernst, 56, of Sarasota, Fla., is a stand-up comedian and a former Carnival Cruise Line entertainer of the year. He lives with his wife, Lorrie, and a puggle named Mia. These days, he’s finding unlikely ways to get by. We first spoke with him in June.
SARASOTA, Fla. — Thirty years ago on Labor Day weekend, I started doing stand-up comedy full time. That meant never having to deliver a pizza, never having to drive an Uber, never having to mow a lawn, never having to take a side job.
Late February, early March, I worked at The Villages retirement community and made 12 grand in two nights. Then I was supposed to go to Tampa for a show on the Carnival Paradise cruise ship. And it all went away. Now you’re looking at the chief of the cart sanitizers at a Publix supermarket.
I want to make my own way, and my entire life I’ve always worked. I don’t think I would have gotten more than the $600 federal unemployment, because I’m a gig worker. But the application was ridiculous. I gave up in June.
You look at your finances and all the little microcharges. Is this really worth $25 a month? Can I cut out my subscription to The New York Times? Cut back on cable, cut your membership to LA Fitness, you add it all up and there’s a $300 savings and you think, am I really getting my $300 worth out of this?
Being a fat guy, I’m not a good warm-weather sleeper, but now we keep the thermostat at 78 degrees. It’s been brutally hot, but you adapt.
I’m about 40 percent into my savings now.
Even with a vaccine, I sense that what we’ll be doing as entertainers is more shows and smaller audiences. It’s hard to do distance comedy because you’re trying to make a connection with an audience member in a golf cart a quarter-mile away. I have to look at their eyes now, because the laughs are muffled and hidden, but if I can see how they’re reacting with their eyes, then I’ll know who to play to.
How are cruise lines going to do it now? For them to make a profit, those ships have to be crowded. Think about those buffet lines. I want to have a career where working the ship is part of it, but not my primary venue. I want to up my variety of venues.
I’ll probably have YouTube figured out when I’m 90, and I’ll have a lot of good old-people videos on there.
October: An unlikely new gig
You are looking at a new Mary Kay cosmetics representative right here. I am selling Mary Kay cosmetics. Publix started reducing hours, and they’re not wiping down their carts for you anymore, so ...
I’m thinking, how weird and far out can you go? Could you legitimately, as a guy who has terrible skin care and doesn’t know one thing about this stuff — could you sell this stuff?
One of my buddies, his wife was angry because her Mary Kay representative just moved, and I said, “Don’t worry, big guy, I’ve got you covered.” And I handed him a couple of samples. She called me up later and placed an order, and I just got my first check for $250.
You have to adapt. I also bought my own radio station on Amazon for $125, so I’ve got a transmitter that hooks to an amplifier and a mic and it sends a signal out for maybe a mile and a half, but it’ll be great for my outdoor shows. I’ll set up signs that say “Tune your radio to 93.3.”
I’ve had to transform my entire life during Covid. But I feel like my mission is to help people laugh, so I’ve had to learn how to Zoom, I’ve had to buy a new camera — another investment that went on the credit card — and I’ve learned where to place it. I’ve learned where to stare, I’ve learned about backdrops. It’s making me better.