Oh Well, Fuck That

As a young comic, I periodically worked as the opening act for a very funny headliner who happened to be out of her mind.

It was 1992, and at the age of twenty-six, I’d been on the road for about four years. Just your typical painfully shy, nice girl from a small town, trying to find her comedy voice while hoping that no one was looking.

Wasn’t much of a drinker, had never done drugs, and really didn’t think other people did either. Because surely everyone had seen Scared Straight, the anti-drug movie, in junior high school like I did, right?

Yeah, I was that guy.

She was a few years older, had a Marlboro Red voice, and a shock of curly blonde hair that she’d cut with nail scissors when it made her mad. And, also, was one of the funniest comics that I’ve ever had the displeasure of working with.

Please don’t get me wrong, when I say displeasure I simply mean that it was not a pleasure.

We were friends but hated each other and she was addicted to pharmaceuticals. Which wasn’t the cause of her crazy, it was merely an added bonus.

Sometimes she would try to get me to pimp drugs for her from stage. Before the show, she’d say, “Ask if anyone has Percodan or Tylenol 3 with Codeine. Just tell them I hurt my back.”

I never would, so at some point during my set, I’d hear her scream from the rear of the showroom, “Ask them!”

Then I would say,” Oh yeah, that’s the headliner. I’m supposed to pretend she hurt her back so that someone will give her drugs.” The audience would laugh and then afterward somebody always would.

So, as it turns out, I pimped drugs for her.

Percodan and having a conversation with me during my show were two of her favorite things. If she didn’t think I was doing well I’d hear a gravelly, “Wrap it up. I’ll take it from here.” Or, if she just wanted me to tell a certain story, “Fuck that. Tell them about us staying in that haunted hotel in Santa Fe.”

A whole lot of time was spent fighting with each other while I was trying to work. But the crowds loved it as if it were some sort of a special Punch and Judy bonus show.

Punch and Judy are puppets that were on Saturday morning television in the 1970s. Mr. Punch would beat the crap out of his wife, Judy, and other random puppets, including a baby puppet.

Somehow that show does not seem nearly as light-hearted now that I’ve described it.

By the way, If you’ve never had the pleasure of spending any quality face time with addiction, let me tell you, it is the opposite of lovely. It’s sort of like hateful, self-loathing, and mean, all rolled up in a big old sweaty ball.

I said sweaty ball. Hehe.

To be fair, she wasn’t the only one dealing with demons back then, I had plenty myself. Most comics do, it’s just that mine were more genteel, preferring the sweet solitude of my cranium so as not to disturb anyone but me. Because that would be rude and my demons are nothing if not ladylike.

So, she was addicted to painkillers while I was addicted to men who didn’t find me funny or talented and just really seemed to enjoy saying so at the drop of a hat. (Who doesn’t love a good daddy issue, right?)

That said, allow me to tell you about the time we stayed at a haunted hotel in Santa Fe.

It was after a gig in Albuquerque and the man I was seeing at the time (we’ll call him, Mr. You’re not funny, Becky) had flown in for the week. The three of us decided that when the shows were finished we’d drive to Santa Fe and spend the night in a haunted hotel.

You know, as you do.

The hotel’s centerpiece was a Victorian mansion called The Staab House. It was built in 1882 by an old Santa Fe Trail merchant named Abraham Staab.

Now, I’m not sure how you amassed your fortune but Abraham amassed his as a major supply contractor for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. He then built the beautiful three-story brick mansion for his wife, Julia.

How do I know all of this? Because I researched it and then copied and pasted.

Mr. and Mrs. Staab were the parents of seven children and incredibly wealthy. The ballroom in their home (because they had a ballroom in their home) was one of the social entertainment centers of Santa Fe society.

You are correct, they do indeed sound like douche bags.

But, never fear, the fairy tale lifestyle eventually came to a screeching halt after their youngest child passed away. Julia then became very depressed, took to her room, eventually went mad, and now haunts the place.

My goodness, I do love the idea of taking to your room and going mad. Although it doesn’t really work in this day and age. Trust me, people just assume you’re hungover.

Touché, assholes.

Imagine how dreadful it must have been for Abraham trying to comfort his wife after the loss of a child. “We shall be fine, my dear. There’s still six left. Six is a lot. Believe me, I pay to feed them, it’s a lot.”

While checking in, we asked the man working at the front desk to tell us some of the ghost stories. They were typical; glasses flying off shelves in the bar, people seeing or hearing Julia in her suite, and sometimes, if guests left clothes lying around their room, they would come back to find them neatly folded, and at the foot of the bed.

The last one really didn’t sound too scary, especially not to my boyfriend, pretty sure he thought that’s how it worked anyway. Yep, every night a spirit would cross over and pick his shit up off the floor, or fold his laundry and put it in a mystical little thing called a dresser drawer.

Oh, and isn’t it interesting that broken glasses always seem to get blamed on ghosts and never the bartender who’s been shooting Jägermeister since noon? (Which, by the way, tastes like an old lady’s house smells.)

Before going to dinner that evening we decided to leave some shirts on the floor, just in case. When we returned, ta-da! They were folded and at the foot of the bed. Well, of course, we all freaked out and ran to ask the guy at the desk if the staff had done it. He assured us they had not.

Then my boyfriend made the two of us swear that we didn’t do it.

“We swear!”

Which made him super excited because of his love of ghosts and Bigfoot and all things ridiculous.

We stayed awake through night in hopes of witnessing something supernatural. Which did not happen because the next day my friend admitted that she’d paid to have it done after we’d gone out.

Our little excursion then ended, the way they usually did when the three of us traveled together, with him driving and screaming, her in the back seat crying and chain-smoking, and me on the passenger side, gently cradling my ulcer.

Up from San Antone

From the time I was old enough to sneak into bars, all I’ve ever wanted to do was be a stand-up comic.

Life changed during the summer of my nineteenth year on this planet when the comedy boom of the 1980s hit and Jolly’s Comedy Club opened in my hometown of Amarillo, Texas.

That’s right, the Amarillo.

The one from Route 66 and Amarillo By Morning. It’s actually mentioned in a lot of country songs because it just sounds like the name of a town that you’d hear in a country song. A dusty, little cow town on the plains of Texas. I-40 runs right through the middle of it, leading anywhere but there…which is exactly where I wanted to be.

I hated small-town life. Dreaded the thought of getting stuck there, marrying a feedlot cowboy, and then dying. And not necessarily in that order.

My first time on stage during that open mic, Tuesday, June 22, 1987, 8:15 p.m. central time, (every comic can tell you their comedy anniversary) I knew things would be okay. It didn’t matter that there weren’t a whole lot of laughs, cause I was saved. No cowboy husband or a job slinging hash for me.

Onward and upward!

I performed secretly for months before telling my ridiculously overprotective, single mother and older brother that I wanted to drop out of Jr college and go on the road telling jokes. They took it surprisingly well. Probably because I prefaced it by saying, “I have something to tell you. I’m a lesbian.”
After a really long and incredibly awkward pause when it seemed like they both might burst into tears, I said, “I’m kidding, I’m going to be a professional comedian.”

“Thank you, Jesus,” was their heartfelt response.

That was when my brother revealed he’d been worried that I might not be straight because my roommate and best friend at the time was a hefty girl who played catcher on our church softball team.

If he’d ever paid attention to the way I played right field, his worries would have been laid to rest much earlier in the season.

As it turns out, my friend wasn’t gay either. She was just chubby.

And, by the way, my family doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with being homosexual. It’s fine. Just as long as it’s not one of us for cryin’ out loud.

Anyhoo, after religiously doing open mics and not getting laughs for another year or so, it seemed like the perfect time to hit the road. So, I then quit my high-powered waitress job at the Red Lobster, even though I’d just gotten my year pin with the diamond chip in it. (See how serious I was?)

By the way, when I say there weren’t any laughs when I first started I’m being only slightly self-deprecating. There were some but just not very many. As is the case with most new comics. Usually the audience members were people I knew. Some of them I’d grown up with, gone to school with, and worked with. Most of them just sat and stared.

Thanks, guys.

It isn’t easy trying to chase a dream when it feels like nobody’s rooting for you. It hurt my feelings at the time, but I’ve come to understand this; it isn’t that people don’t want you to reach for the stars because they don’t like you. Nope, that’s not it at all. Sometimes they don’t want you to do it because it means that they too will have to try.

And who wants to do that? I don’t blame them. Trying is hard.

Don’t let anyone kid you. It’s nothing like not trying.

And, so began the journey. July 3, 1988, I quit my day job and hit the road in my 1974 canary-yellow Ford Pinto. I was twenty-two years old, had zero money in my pocket, and even less of a clue about how the world worked. I know: awesome game plan.

It’s always felt like I was raised twice in my life. First, in a small town by a nice family who didn’t drink or smoke and a grandfather who was a Methodist minister. Then again in green rooms, showrooms, and comedy condos across the country by comics who drank, swore, did drugs, and fornicated with cocktail waitresses in the bedroom next to mine.

I must tell you, it’s made for an interestingly boring life.

SASSY WAITRESS

Chapter One
It was day two of a two week run in Indiana and I was standing in the back of the room waiting to go up. The night before, while on stage, I’d gotten into it with an open mic guy who was sitting in the front row taking notes during my set. Which means he was stealing my jokes.

Yep, front row. At least sit in the back where I can’t see your dumb ass.

Also, I had to break up a fight between audience members because no one who worked at the club seemed at all interested in doing it. So, I said, to two big-ole hammered farm boys, “You, aren’t going anywhere. And, you, are not kicking anybody’s ass. Both of you sit down right now.”

And you know what they said? Nothing. They just sat down.

I have found that if you speak to an intoxicated man the way his mother would, he will immediately behave. I don’t recommend this if it’s someone you feel romantic about because it kinda sets a disturbing tone. However, if that’s your thing, then have at it.

So, as I stood watching the opening act being verbally pummeled by the audience, I decided that my life as a full-time road comic was finally approaching its end.

Never saw that coming.

But, after way too many years of slugging it out on the road, I was over it. Not stand-up, but definitely the lifestyle.

I’d grown weary of living out of a suitcase, driving all night to get to the next gig, sleeping in my car or some disgusting comedy condo and staying in shitty, scary motels. I no longer wanted to deal with drunks, rowdy audiences or idiots who only wanted to hear dick jokes and thought it perfectly civilized to yell, “Show us your tits!”

Who raised these people?

I was physically and emotionally worn out but didn’t realize, or maybe just didn’t want to acknowledge, how much until that very moment.

Plus, I was always broke.

Always.

Fuck!

I was so sick and tired of never having any money, fighting with my boyfriend because of it and worrying about how to pay my bills. And also, getting to choose between eating or putting gas in my car.

In case you were wondering, the whole “starving artist” thing is way more romantic when you’re talking about it over a big, fat, juicy steak as opposed to a pack of stale peanut butter crackers. Hence the F-word, followed by an exclamation point a few sentences ago. For the record, I don’t exclamation point lightly. But then again what lady does really?

The older I got, louder became the siren’s call of having a pot to piss in or two nickels to rub together.

Perhaps someday I’d even own my very own Frigidaire. “What must that be like?” I’d ponder yet dare not say aloud.

At twenty-two, I gave up any chance of normal by pledging my undying love for stand-up. I made my mom cry, burned the boats, plus all the other stuff you do to prove you ain’t fuckin around, and then headed off in my Canary yellow 1974 Ford Pinto to make the world laugh one comedy club, hotel lounge, and one-niter hell gig at a time.

Oh, and also to assuage some unspoken ache.

I am too good enough, you’ll see!

They never see.

In a nutshell: After several years of roaming around the country and not living anywhere, I moved to Los Angeles in my late twenty’s. Met my ex-boyfriend. We lived (out of wedlock, much to my mother’s chagrin) in a great apartment at the beach for about a year. He got a job offer in San Francisco. I dramatically refused to go.

I went.

We moved into an apartment in Tiburon. That’s in Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had an amazing view of the city and Alcatraz. Alcatraz sits in the middle of the Bay. There’s a light on top of the prison that goes around every six seconds warning ships that it’s there and so please don’t smash into it.

My boyfriend would sit on the couch and time the light as it went around. He’d say, visibly agitated, “It goes every 6 seconds. It’s making me crazy.”  I would respond, “Let’s not blame the light, shall we? How about you just go sit in that chair instead?” His job ended five years later and we returned to Southern California. Eight years later our relationship would follow suit.

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