“Didn’t end well.”
Punch line. Laughing. I got ’em, no question. I’m off the stage now and left on a high note. It’s not always this good, though. I’m addicted to the people, to the laughs, the spotlight, the stage. I dunno, it’s a natural high. Keeps me off the other shit, I guess.
My first gig? Total bust. Got booed off. Two lemons hit me on the way down. Yep. Then, like a dumbass I thought Man, I gotta do this again some time. I kinda wanted to redeem myself, or I’m a masochist. Take your pick.
I was homeless two years ago today. I started out in a hostel in walking distance from Central Park. I’d saved up over the summer back home in Charlotte. I was out early August before they could think twice. New York ate Carolina cash for breakfast. Sometimes I’d just sit on a bench, watch people. Hippies, yuppies, hipsters, couples, kids, whatever. That’s where I’d get most of my material. I’d usually crash on a bench, maybe sleep under a bridge. Sometimes the subway, especially if it was cold out. In the mornings I’d head out to Slumptown coffee and charge my phone. I’d call the parents sometimes. Tell them I was fine.
“Do you want me to tell your dad to stop by the bank? I’ll call him.” Ever since I left, she’s a saint.
“Nah, I’m good.” I like her better far away.
Every day at Slumptown I’d talk to this girl, Sophie. I’d tell her a few jokes every now and then. Loved when she laughed. She was an actress, or wannabe — you know, the whole Go-To-New-York, Gonna-Be-A-Star. I once spent my last ten on a show she was doing at this off-off-off-off Broadway theatre thing. Well, the show was free. I bought some cheap cologne and some mints. The show was horseshit but she was amazing. Every line, every movement, everything.
“How’d you like it?” she asked me.
“Brilliant. You were great.” I was only half lying.
Before the show she told me I should sit towards the middle. So I sat in between this plastic-looking chick, can’t remember her name, and this girl who talked the entire time about nothing, I think it was Mandy. The plastic one had on this powdery mask thing on her face like she was trying to hide something. They were Sophie’s roommates. I got so much material off of them, so that was nice.
I can’t remember what the play was about, or exactly what her character was. But I remember, at the end of the show, you know when they get introduced and bow and all that–she bowed and when she looked up she stared right at me. She had this bizarre look on her face like she was trying to tell me something. Fuck, if I could read this chick’s mind…
“I’m so glad you decided to come,” she said.
She told her friends she’d stick around for a while. I guess that was my cue.
Me: “So, uhh. Yeah! This was fun. And, uh…”
What a dumbass.
Take two: “You wanna go somewhere?”
We kissed that night and she started laughing.
“What’s funny?” I said.
“Your stubble. It tickles.” I loved her smile.
The first few times I saw her, I’d shack up in the subway afterwards. Made her think I heading home. Every now and then I’d chill with this guy, Vincent, a painter, and according to him, a performance artist.
“So you like this woman? Yes, I used to know a woman like the Sophie. Enigmatic like the ocean in the still of night. Women are fantastic creatures of our world, you know. Goddesses of our sanity, yes?”
Never left a conversation with this guy without feeling like I just took twelve shots’a absinthe, smoked ten joints, then shot up some coke and ate some shrooms. He wasn’t from here. Probably some tiny Eastern European town. Or Mercury. But he wasn’t crazy.
Sophie’s the reason I got my first place. It got weird when she’d hint about going to my place and I’d say:
“Oh, well maybe we could hang out at the park for a while. As long as we avoid the crackheads, it can be pretty nice. “
“I got this gig. Out in Jersey. If I get there early enough I get a complimentary non-douchebag audience. “
“Sophie, I’m homeless. So if you wanna have sex tonight we gotta go to your place. Or, I’m up for doing it over there by the tree. That bench? I slept there last night. I’m up for anywhere. It’s up to you.”
She took it pretty well. I thought she’d drop me. If not for being homeless, then for the whole having sex by the tree thing. No wonder I fell for her.
She hooked me up with a day job at Slumptown. Kinda sucked when I broke up when we quit. Switch that. Dyslexic. I took it out on a heckler that night. Fool called my act dumb, wearing a fucking Darth Vader fanatics shirt.
“Man, you look like a fucking prepubescent Ewok. Ah! Bet this dude’s got a fuckin’ boner watchin’ Darth Vader sacrifice himself to save Luke in episode VI. Oh Darth! Ugh. Surprised I know that shit, right? Shut the fuck up, man.” He asked for it, though. I got some nice laughs on that one.
Don’t get me wrong. Calling me dumb’s not the issue. I get that a lot. But don’t fuck with my comedy. If there was a class for humor, I’d ace it. Fact. Ask my favorite comic. Louie C.K., hands down. Charlie Chaplin’s first big role? Making a Living. 1914. I’m just not good at anything but making people laugh. So that’s what I do. I find a joke, push it till it dies, then try to bring it back .Revive that shit. Over and over, again and again. Ever since I was a little kid, got to the point people just invited me to things cause I made them laugh.
My parents were what you call high-functioning alcoholics. This basically means they developed this outstanding ability to be complete jackasses for 85% of their lives, and somehow get away with it without having to go to rehab. My mom had this habit of calling me stupid. Probably accurate. My dad had this thing where he’d knock me around a bit when I’d do something stupid. Which of course happened a lot cause I’m stupid. He was always drunk, so I’d get a punch or two in, like a punk. He’d forget it later, so it didn’t matter. Forgetting was their thing, too. So I’d try to do the same.
My brother isn’t like me, though. He’d get all worked up and go on these rants like the token queer in a 90s drama. Ben’s a good guy. Better than good. I swear he was born to be the first out soap star. I’ll say that.
“Jesus, Mom, with the wine glass! It’s not even past noon, for Christ’s sake,” he’d say.
Straight-faced as a nun, my mom: “Don’t say his name in vain, Ben.” She’s a class act, that one.
Get a lotta my chops from the mom. Get a lotta the reason Sophie dumped me from my dad. Me and Sophie had this fight once a few weeks after I moved in cause her roommates said I was “inconsiderately messy.” I don’t think she liked how I cursed the shit out the both of them, one at a time. Or how I threw that vase she got from Spain one time. I guess all it takes is once, though. Moments like that I feel like I might end up just like him. Sophie was the only one who really got how much I don’t want that.
Back to the spotlight. I’m out of it now, but it’s nearby. My high’s fading. I’m by the bar and this girl comes up to me. I know what she wants. Unlike, Sophie she’s no enigma. I see her type a lot more now, ever since I started booking sets for pay. I’m usually game for a groupie. But tonight all I can think about is Sophie. I ran into her this morning. She’s got a lead in this indie thing that’s supposed to be really good. She looks great. She’s dating some Z-list celebrity asshole. He’s got a bite-sized role in some show like Gossip Girl. Or something. She looked happy, though, I guess.
I double-booked tonight. I wanna back out. I’m not feeling it. It’s a big gig though, so I go. My buddy Mike, that works the bar there, told the owner about me. Come to think of it, every good gig I’ve gotten so far is from somebody helping me out. I don’t thank ’em enough.
“Hey, man! You’re gonna kill tonight, I feel it!” I don’t know where the guy gets his energy.
I’m not superstitious, but I’ve got this thing where if I kill on my first gig, I count on the next one to be mediocre at best. I know I’ve got some fans in the crowd, cause they clap for me before I even touch the mic. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s good tonight.
Here goes. “Thanks. Thank you. How ya doing? “
I invited Sophie. I can’t see past my marker. She probably won’t come anyway.
First bit: “So I was dating this girl…”
It’s probably for the best.
I can’t focus. Our last conversation keeps playing in my head:
“You changed your hair.” Lucky guess.
“Yeah! I needed something different…” She touches her hair like it’s made of pure silk.
It’s like she was talking about me. Like yeah, I needed a change from you so I started dating this dickhead. Oh, and I changed my hair.
The crowd’s in my pocket right now:
“…And being the fine citizen I am, I thought I’d help this kid out, right? So I go over and I tell the kid he’s fucked.”
I break for some laughs. Start back:
“It’s true, though, man! If you’re a loser with girls as a kid, the likelihood of this as an adult is pretty damn high. Look at this guy, he’s like fuck, I wish I had a cooler childhood. Sorry, man. ”
I try to think straight. They’re laughing and I don’t even know why at this point. Why’d I even do this gig? Oh, right, cause I lost my brain and balls back at the last thing.
I’m on my third bit. Just one more. I open my mouth to continue but then —
“Sing us a show tune, fag!”
Yeah, I hear this guy. You can see on my face. I try to keep my flow but I feel myself shaking. I look into the crowd, feel ’em looking up at me. It’s black. He’s invisible. They’re expecting something. I’d tell ’em to stop staring but that kinda defeats the purpose of the whole stand-up deal. Ok, so he’s a heckler. I get those all the time, so why am I sweating this guy? I clear my throat. One more bit. Just one more. Fuck, if Sophie’s here.
I’m too much in my head right now. My brother came out last year. I knew years earlier because the guy’s not slick. Caught him over winter break at a grad party. Even if I hadn’t caught him, though, I knew. I mean, the kid had posters of Ricky Martin in his room since middle school.
“You can’t deny Livin’ la Vida Loca will be a classic one day. I’m just ahead of the curve, that’s all,” he’d say.
I’d say “If Livin’ la Vida Loca’s a classic, Dancing Queen’s the fucking national anthem.”
Okay, sure I’d fuck with him sometimes. But as soon as I found out, I became my brother’s unofficial body guard. Pretty funny sight, cause I’m no body builder or anything, but I did what I ccould. I got suspended one time for punching a guy in the nuts. Told you, I did what I can. That night, my parents were pissed.
“What possessed you to do something like that?”
“The devil made me do it.”
We got closer after that. Me and Ben. Tonight was no different. Just cause Ben wasn’t here didn’t mean I didn’t still have his back. He’d gotten black eyes and felt like an outcast off that word. Had no friends in high school ’cause of that word. I’ll never forget the demented stuff kids would do just cause my brother liked dicks and not girls.
“Go suck your own dick in an alley, fucking fag!”
I feel my mouth moving. “Shut the fuck up, jackass! You’re fucking ignorant, you know that?”
The crowd’s dead silent. Funny’s left the building. I drop the mic like a sucker MC. I take a mammoth-sized jump off the stage. I’m pacing over by the bar. Fists clenched. Mike’s saying some shit I’m not listening to.
“Dude! Dude. For real…Crazy!”
The host comes up, pantomimes taking a stab at me. The crowd laughs.
Mike again, “You look like you’re ’bout to bust, bro!”
I think about what my dad would do if he were me right now. He’d kill the guy, probably. Yeah, bash him in the head one good time .My brother, on the other hand. He’d ignore it. This guy’s got half a fucking millisecond before I —
I head outside.
Fuck, it’s cold. You can shoot me now, it’s cool.
“How long you been here?” Sweat’s freezing over and my hands shake.
“Long enough.” She flashes that smile that got me the first time around. How could I not love this girl.
“Sorry about the. Over there.”
“Don’t worry about it. If I were you I’d take a slug at the ole Mr…”
It’s a joke. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. Sophie broke up with me over a year ago. It’s crazy how fast the year went by.
“The whole bit about you. And the tree. And your hair caught on the thing? I was just…Spot on. Although, I don’t remember it lasting that long.” She scrunches up her nose. So, she’s got jokes.
Shove my hands in my pockets. Yeah, I’m cold but that’s not it. She gets to me. I don’t deserve a girl like this. I screw up shit on the daily. No wonder she dumped me. But she gets me. She sees right through me, you know?
She was meeting up with the guy later. The dickhead celebrity. I had to get away from that bar, so I said bye to Mike, and me and Sophie walked to a lounge-type place next door. She told me about her life. The annoying chick, Mandy, moved to Vegas. The other one was engaged. My first laugh of the night. I knew I could count on her for that one. I told her I’m doing all right. I really am. I moved out of my shithole to this okay apartment in Brooklyn. I got offered my first writing gig for a sketch comedy web show thing, too. I thanked her. For everything. She knew what I meant. I could have told her that I still love her.
“I miss you,” I said instead.
“I’ve missed you, too.”
She’s looking at me the way she does. Damn, if I could read this girl’s mind.