Just discovered four brand new linen napkins in a kitchen drawer. They must have been purchased during a time in my life when I felt I was too good to wipe my hands on my jeans.
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.
Remember when we were kids and thought that pistachio nuts were red? Then we found out it was because they were being doused in the cancerously delicious dye Red 40.
That was sure fun.
On lazy summer evenings, during that magical time when moon and sun simultaneously rise and set and your soul whispers that anything is possible, we’d hop on our bikes, with little red-stained fingers, and happily cruise along in the mist coming from the truck spraying for mosquitos.
So many fond memories and upper respiratory infections.
Twas a simpler time when it was safe to be outside from dawn to dusk. Just hanging out on the curb, waiting for your dad because he promised you could spend the weekend with him. And you could just wait and wait and wait until the night was as black as pitch and your mom would finally make you come inside because he didn’t show.
Ah, the carefree days of childhood.
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.
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.
If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s this; sometimes you just have to say to yourself, “Well, I guess this is what my neck looks like now.”
Today I was smiling because I wanted to, and not because a stranger said I’d probably be really pretty if I did.
I’m terribly fond of our mailman. He always has a smile, asks about your day, and addresses everyone in the complex by their given name. It feels very small town and comfortable in this sometimes-lonely big city.
We all adore Jamie.
Occasionally, on my afternoon walk, I’ll see him on a different block in the neighborhood. He’ll give a wave and yell, “Hello, Miss Rebecca!” or if a parcel gets delivered while I’m out, “I left you a present.”
If three days pass and Jamies not around, it does not go unnoticed. A low-grade panic sets in and my 70-year old neighbor, Jackie, and I will start trading texts and worrying that he may have gotten a new route and what if the little dude with the enormous straw lifeguard hat takes his place. The one who never makes eye contact and just carelessly lobs packages at your door without thought or backward glance.
Then the next day, like magic, he’ll reappear. “Well, look what the cat dragged in.” I’ll say casually like we barely even noticed he was gone.
That’ll teach him.
Recently one of my neighbors started giving him a bottle of Gatorade a few times a week. So yesterday I gave him a banana.
“I’ll see your high fructose corn syrup, Nancy, and raise you potassium.”
I’m not romantically interested or jealous, I just don’t want him to like her better than me.
For several weeks now I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with the same bad song on rotation in my brain.
Not sure what time it happens because I refuse to check. That’ll just lead to a headcount of the hours already slept and then how many are left until I have to get up, and all the while Look Away by Chicago will be the dreadful soundtrack.
Around week two and a half, worry began to set in. Why was this happening? I’d lie in the dark wondering if perhaps it was some sort of a psychotic break, but then comfort myself by saying if it was I probably wouldn’t realize it because pretty sure if you’ve gone mad you don’t know you’re mad, you just are.
The next morning I googled psychotic break. I’m fine.
Since the song is about some heartbroken dude who can’t stop crying and doesn’t want his ex to know, but yet all he talks about is the goddamned crying, I thought maybe it might have something to do with a past relationship.
Unfinished business mayhap?
Maybe I’d hurt someone terribly and this is my “Tell-Tale Heart” karma where, instead of the beating of a murdered man’s heart coming from beneath my floorboard, I’m being tortured by a power ballad.
Probably not. Although that would be cool.
Intellectually I realize that on a subconscious level the repetition of the song most likely represents the repetition of my days being quarantined. And, the fact that the song is shitty means I’m finally ready to rejoin society.
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.
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.
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.