Carl Arnheiter on Performing at Sing Sing | Conversations on the Train

Carl Arnheiter
Carl Arnheiter


I’m with a comedian who talks a lot. So I’ve divided his Conversation in two. This is the second part. We’re headed to Heathrow on the Piccadilly line, from where Carl will fly home to the States. He’s been in the UK doing a series of comedy tours of museums entitled Fancy Meeting You Here, with his partner Dave Hill.

“You went to Dave’s gig last night?” I ask.

“Yeah I did. What was great was I paid £7 to hear Dave tell the story of the show we did in prison.”

“A show you did in prison?”

“Yeah, we did Sing Sing Penitentiary last year,” he says.

Sing Sing is a maximum security prison just north of NYC.

“300 inmates,” he continues.

“That’s a lot,” I say.

“Yeah, and intimidating.

“How did it go?”

“They started letting the inmates in just before the set. These three guys who looked like they were from the Sopranos come in. They came right over to us and this guy just says,

‘you better be ‘f*****g funny,’

And I say, ‘that’s the plan.’

And the guy says, ‘nah we’re kiddin,’ we’re here to have fun! We’re here to laugh, this is gonna be great!’”

“Then what?” I ask.

“So Dave starts the show off, and just nails it – he wins the audience over in a second. Then, because I have long hair, I get auctioned off for a pack of cigarettes. Dave and I both have what I consider our best sets that day. Dave kills the opening and I have the confidence.”

“One to remember,” I say.

“They filmed the show for security purposes but we weren’t allowed to…”

“Have the tape?”

“Or take pictures,” he pauses, “so there’s no record of what we did really.”

As he tells me more about this undocumented brilliance, I sort of think it’s nice they don’t have it on record.

“I never wanna be there,” he says, “For a lot of these guys it comes down to one really bad decision. They were all maximum security, so they’d done despicable things, but we got the sense they were all making changes and working really hard at it… All they wanted to talk about was the Masters in Divinity they got, or the degree in Sociology.”


“Did you find out what they were in for?”

“We weren’t allowed to ask them what they did to get in there, but we could ask them how long they had till they got out. They all knew it to the day. It would be like, ‘I’ve got five years, two months, three weeks and eight days.’ Every single one of them. It was incredible.”

“Did you change the show for them?”

“Yeah. Anything you could say to make it specific to the inmates or the prison, they loved. I won’t go into the horrible graphic sexual slang we had to learn that we filtered through our set. You pepper that in and you win them over pretty quickly.”

“Any conversations you had that particularly stood out?”

“Dave and I said to one of the inmates, ‘so seriously, what are our chances here?’

And he replied, ‘you would last a week.’

And I said, ‘ would it happen in the shower?’

And he said, ‘yeah probably.’

And I said, ‘oh, it really happens?’

And he said, ‘yeah, it happens,’

And I said, ‘would it hurt?’

And he was like, ‘yeah…’

I dunno, that statement alone is what keeps me out of prison.”

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