Two weeks before the Noche show, Horner is in the lineup for his friend Chan-try’s winkingly titled “One Man Show” at the Shubin Theater, a 40-seater in Queen Village that’s filled mostly with other comics. By day, the 33-year-old Chantry teaches fourth grade at a suburban school. Unlike the stereotype of the angry, self-loathing stand-up, he’s upbeat and sociable. Gerben, on the other hand, is every bit the angst-ridden comic. It doesn’t take him long, onstage or off, to work himself into an incredulous lather. At the “One Man Show,” Gerben kills with a riff about male relatives mocking him for not liking sports. “They say, ‘Why don’t you go watch Lifetime with the women?’ It’s the same thing! It’s bitches getting emotional about something that doesn’t matter! I love it when Eagles fans say they hate Giants fans. Why? That’s just you if you were born in a different city!”
“I used to do a lot of really weird shows,” Horner says. “Like at hoagie shops. I had this office hire me to do stand-up at their holiday party. It was an engineering firm in Jersey somewhere. Half of them were Greek, and the other half were Swiss. They set up a stage and a mic, and they had glitter streamers hanging down. They loved sexual harassment jokes. Everybody looked over at this one lady, and she was hot. You could tell she probably got sexually harassed every day by the Greeks. Then I went back to my old material, and they didn’t laugh.”
THE LAST PLACE you’d expect to see Horner would be on “America’s Got Talent,” sort of a “Star Search” meets “American Idol,” with a judging panel of cranky Brit Piers Morgan, bitchy Brit Sharon Osbourne, and Canadian germophobe Howie Mandel. Comics on the show often get booed off the stage. Horner had never seen AGT, but last winter, Helium told their top guys they could get an audition without waiting in line. It was another opportunity Horner didn’t seek out but was smart enough to not pass up.
After making it through three auditions, an hour-long interview and a background check, Horner made it onto the show where he ended up in the worst possible position — the last act of the night. What happened next became a piece of reality TV history. Dressed in a gray suit and black tie, Horner took the long walk to the mic and opened with his line about optimists. No laughs. He plowed ahead.
“I don’t trust pregnant people,” he said. “I feel like they’re hiding something.”
The boos began raining down in waves, like arrows from medieval archers storming a castle. Morgan buzzed him, the AGT equivalent of getting gonged. Horner had to shout to be heard over the jeers.
“My friend asked me, ‘If you could be any animal, what animal would you choose to be,’ and I said, ‘An eagle.’ He said, ‘So you could fly?’ I said, ‘No, so I could finally have sex with eagles.’”
Mandel loved that one, but the crowd of 3,000 was on its feet, waving downturned thumbs, pinching their noses and screaming, “Buzz him!” It was as if all the abuse he endured in school had come boomeranging back, only amplified, for a national television audience. Horner ditched his material and let his smart mouth take over.