It was several months after my nineteenth birthday when I fell in love with stand-up. It truly felt like being in love, complete with the giddiness and euphoria you feel at the beginning of a relationship right before the other person rips your heart out and then kicks it in the nut sack.
Six nights a week were spent at the comedy club (much to the chagrin of my sweet mother who would’ve preferred nursing school) just hanging out in the back of the room, watching the same show night after night and studying the professional comics – what they said, how they said it, and the order they said it in.
Sometimes they’d let me do a guest set, which means five minutes on a real show. Plus, they would talk about the road and how it worked. It was all terribly exciting to this small-town kid.
Although the club owner was nice and let me hang out, he didn’t take me seriously.
After a couple of years of open mics and a few paid gigs, it seemed time to make the move to a bigger city, quit my day job, and hit the road full time. The decision was life-altering. Not only for me but, I felt certain, for everyone in my world.
C’mon, how could it not be?
Also, I was going to be the first local comic to do it. Alright, there was only one other comic, but still.
The date was set and everyone was informed of the plan. It’s all I could talk about for six months. It was then discovered (as will happen, and usually in the most delightful of ways) that nobody else really gave a shit. Or, two, for that matter.
My last night in town I stopped by the club to say goodbye and bask in the words of encouragement from my home club family.
Your home club is really important. It’s where it all starts. You get to be bad there and learn to be good. The staff has seen you from the beginning and it feels safe and like they’re your biggest cheerleaders. These people become a family to you.
I arrived feeling very excited and nervous and knowing they would be too. “I’m going on the road! Sound the horn!”
Nobody mentioned it.
Well, maybe that was because there was a surprise going-away party later? Nope.
Surprise, no party!
In spite of all that, before leaving at the end of the night, I walked into the club owner’s office and dramatically delivered my heartfelt goodbye speech, “Thank you so much for everything. This would not be happening without you. You have no idea what it means to have your support on this journey I’m about to embark upon.”
Oh, dear, journey and embark came out of my face. There may also have even been a bow afterward, I don’t remember, but there was definitely one taken in my mind.
He just stared at me blankly. No clue what I was talking about. His expression seemed to say that not only was this was the first he’d ever heard of it, but it did not at all seem like a good idea. And then, we hugged awkwardly.
I left the club and walked into the starlit Texas night ready to start my big adventure feeling weird and strangely alone. Feelings that I would soon learn go hand in hand with being a comic.
One year later, the other comic in my hometown decided it was time to hit the road too and I happened to be in town that week visiting my mom. (Or, maybe didn’t have work and needed a place to sleep and eat for free, either way, I was there.)
He was working at the club so I went to hang out. After the show, we were having a drink and catching up, when in walked the club owner and the entire staff carrying a cake and balloons. It was a “you’re going on the road!” party for him.
Then the owner got on stage and gave a glorious speech about how this guy was the first local to go pro and how so very proud they all were of him.
Clapping. Cheering. Also a Hurrah.
I sat very still.
Could they not see me? Had they forgotten that I was the first? That it was me who for the past year had been driving all over God’s green earth from gig to gig in my shitty canary yellow 1974 Ford Pinto, surviving only on peanut butter and no jelly sandwiches.
Were they all just a bunch of thoughtless pricks, or was it possible that I had somehow been transported to an alternative universe?
A world where I had never done stand-up but instead had decided to stick it out with Red Lobster and work my way up the corporate ladder hopefully making GM someday. (Which I most definitely was capable of doing, thank you very much.)
And then, there was a t-shirt.
The words Road Comic emblazoned on the chest. The “other comic” arose slowly and stood, regally perched on his cloven hooves. Proudly and humbly he clippity-clopped towards the stage, embracing cocktail waitress after cocktail waitress along the way to accept said shirt as if he’d just won an Academy Award in The Best Dick Joke Category.
Cut to: Me sneaking out the back door, walking into the starlit Texas night, etc., etc.
Yep, a motherfuckin t-shirt.