(I've been sitting on this for a week. Wasn't sure if I should post it, but it's real and honest, and this is my blog, after all. It also will help explain why my Carl Labove review will sound deliriously, ridiculously giddy and giggly.)
When I was young, I adored this thing called comedy.
Childhood was full of so many reasons to feel like an outsider who was never quite enough: not pretty enough for the boys I liked, not normal enough for the girls I wanted to hang out with, not rich enough to matter, not tough enough to handle all that life had given me to deal with. I am the biological child of a prostitute mother who had 12 children and put 9 of us up for adoption. According to the story told to me by her sister, she got arrested for drugs, thought she might get probation instead of jail time if she were pregnant, and took a gamble by conceiving me. She lost. I spent my developing months in a women’s correctional facility, became a ward of the state at birth, and was placed with the couple who would become my family at the age of three weeks.
I know, where’s the funny part, right?
It’s not exactly a tragedy. My parents loved me very much, even if they didn’t understand me. I had friends and boyfriends and moments of triumph and hideous hurts, like you, like everyone. Around third grade, however, I realized I felt just half a step out of synch with the rest of the world. Slightly askew. I was an introverted extrovert, or maybe I was an extroverted introvert. I could speak in front of crowds, read well beyond my years, imagine and act out entire worlds when I played, and still enjoyed being by myself. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be included or left alone, noticed or not seen.
Due to varying influences explained in “One Girl’s Giggle,” comedy and I were pals.
And one day about 19 years ago, I met this amazing man. He was physically large and imposing, spiritually warm and protecting. He called everyone friend, even if he’d never met them before. He told stories that made the most innocent child and jaded adult laugh together. To me, he was the living embodiment of a gentle giant. And he was magic: he was a comedian. I met him when he was just starting out. It would be another four or five years until we became true friends and, by then, he was a stand up.
I found myself seeking reasons to hire him. He did teambuilding exercises with my camp staff, he did conflict resolution workshops with my Girl Scouts, and he never failed to put a smile on my face. He joint-taught improv and stand up classes with me. The more we worked together, the more we shared the ways we experienced humor, the moments that left us dizzy from laughing too hard. He brought me this thing I adored, this thing called comedy, and placed it in my hands. He encouraged me to write, he tried to convince me to get on stage again and do it myself. We would talk for hours about all aspects of comedy, who we liked, what we didn’t, gender and cultural differences, smart business models. He was a great friend. And then he died, way too soon.
But another funny man stepped into the gap. This one was leaving the stage for awhile, wanted to focus on writing. We would camp out and hand laptops back and forth, sharing lines we were proud of, asking for suggestions on the ones that were still a little off. He never hesitated to laugh at something I wrote or said if it was truly funny; he would also be the first one to tell me when something wasn’t. He, too, was temporary. He moved on with his life and, though we still talk, that connection has naturally weakened with distance.
The thing about my two friends, my two comics, is that they never challenged my passion, they never said “hey, this place isn’t for you.” Without them, sometimes, I feel like I’m walking around this familiar but foreign landscape to which they gave me access, only my passport is gone. Where once I had some diplomatic immunity, I am now regarded with suspicion.
I am writing this because the past few weeks have been painful, have been draining. This thing I love, this place that for so long has been my refuge, is beginning to feel forced and cruel and no longer funny. I am becoming someone I don’t recognize, saying things that I don’t mean, feeling burdened by too many vows of secrecy. The behavior I’m witnessing, both my own and that of others, is not anything of which I am proud. I am trying to be compassionate, kind and loving toward the maximum number of people possible, even people who are cruel to me. I’ve dealt with cruelty before. I’ve been cruel myself. I struggle with my role in this world I want so much to continue to be a part of, but realize my allies are gone. My comics are gone.
I began this project as “Thursdays at the Club” because, for a long time, I used to come to Thursday night shows and always try to bring a friend or two. It was the hardest night for the comic. Who wants to show up at a gig and play to a sparsely-seated room the first night? I still recall seeing Mark Price once with 15 people, including the wait staff. I hated being put at the front table – I NEVER want to be part of the show. I come to watch. But I sat there when asked because, at the bottom of all this, I have a lot of respect for anyone who steps into the light. It doesn’t mean I’ll like your humor, but it means I’ll listen and applaud and not be a jackass while you’re on stage. I have offered Saturday lunch to a number of comics over the years because it sucks to be stuck in the Super 8 with no car, no company and limited food options in walking distance. Sometimes, people say yes. We have a meal and talk about whatever comes up. For me, it’s a little like a fanboy moment, like having an all-access pass at Comic-Con. Still, the things I’ve heard said about those lunches? Ridiculous.
I know how some of you see me. I’ve heard it all: she’s a wanna-be, she’s a hanger-on, she just wants to fuck one of you. Some of that is guy talk, I get it. It’s not anything personal and I don’t take offense. But I’ve heard it has been said by a friend, seriously, that I’m trying to fuck him, fuck you, fuck the headliners. Let’s be clear: While I have never hidden my attraction for smart, witty, funny guys, I’m not a chuckle fucker. I don’t want someone JUST BECAUSE he’s a comedian. And I can broker my own sex. If I want you, the first person who will tell you is me. There is nothing demure about me. If you feel you need further clarification, see “Funny Fuckers” or simply ask me.
Sometimes I just want to come to your house and kick your dog, even though he’s never so much as barked in my direction. I want to lash out and prove my inner bitch knows how to hurt with striking precision, I want to tell you that I know what a cunt I can be because I’ve tried very hard not to be a cunt. And then I want to remind you that, like me or not, you want me around. If you didn’t care about an audience, you would keep your funny on paper, like I do. But you do not. You stand in front of a room of people, with a live mic in your hand, sharing your thoughts and looking for feedback. You get a kick out of hanging with your fellow comics and trying to make each other laugh, sure. But you tweet, facebook, email and poster, you travel miles for little or no money, you work your best seven minutes in a side room off a sports bar for an audience. You want to be seen. You want to be heard. I would venture to say some of you NEED it. For you, I’m a gift. I’m a real comedy fan, a lover of the art.
So, let’s get this thing back on track.
I am going to start branching out, coming to coffee houses and pizza joints, attending improv shows and jokes on boats (again). I am going to catch up on the several reviews that I have not finished in the past few weeks. And then I am going to find my comedy bliss (again). This is going to be fun, or it is going to be over. Live comedy and I will break up; we’ll promise we’ll stay friends, but it won’t work. We’ll feel awkward when we meet unexpectedly, won’t know what to say when others enquire about our status. I can always write about my long-distance flings, like my obsession with British comedian-based pseudo game shows (Ah, QI. Mock the Week. Dilemma. How you comfort me.). Of course, it won’t be the same.
I went to Riverside Cemetery Sunday and had a long chat with my friend. I gave him a copy of the DVD from the show we put on in his memory. I apologized for not dropping by sooner. And then I spoke all of these thoughts to him, asked for a little help. No, I didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t get one. But I had a peaceful place to recall what we had shared over the years, and I could clearly see myself giggling like a child.
A month from now, if I haven’t found my laughing place again, then I’ll move on. There will always be other reasons to put words on paper; I’m going to build a website to connect the different ways and whys I write in one easy-to-find location. And this blog will be just a place where I used to share some thoughts about comedy.
It’s only ever been one girl’s giggle. I never promised more or less than that.