Tuesday, March 2, 2010

No way out...

It’s Friday night on January 5th. Icy rain is sandblasting my windshield and my gas guzzling SUV is losing a pitched battle with the wind. I can’t see a damn thing due to night blindness, one of the many reminders of growing older. My eyesight has sucked since the fifth grade, but now it has reached a new level of inconvenience. I can’t even see the damn street signs because some brilliant bureaucracy out here in the boondocks of Suffolk County thought it a good idea to build a winding road with no street lights. It was the perfect storm for a nervous 47 year old man with night blindness.

My knuckles have turned an invisible shade of white from gripping the steering wheel. Wait a second. Is this the place? Valencia Restaurant? Yep! Okay, now where the hell is the parking? Bang! “Oh shit!” I exclaim, as a pot hole smashes the bottom of my car. Can this get any more annoying? Okay, I’m finally here. What time is it? I have 40 minutes before the show. Now what? It’s probably time to go in to let them know I am here.
Where is here? Well, I am at a gig. I am an accountant, white male, married, and living in suburbia. I am also a stand-up comedian at night. My wife calls this my mid-life crisis and she hoped it would have gone away five years ago, but obviously, it hasn’t. I hate the term mid-life crisis. A “crisis” is when you leave your wife and kids, buy a red Corvette and date a 21 year old blonde. But that’s ridiculous. Where am I going to find a 21 year old blonde?
I open the back door of the Van/SUV crossover piece of crap to take out my equipment. This is a gig I got on my own. I waited a month and a half for it to get here. I wasn’t planning on the weather, but 25 inches of snow wouldn’t have prevented me from getting here. Well, I would have at least tried. I found my passion and am following a dream. So what if it happened late in life? Does it really have to be a mid life crisis? I’d prefer to call it my mid life awakening.

My heart is pounding as I remove the Fender sound system from the car. Let’s see, I have the bag full of wires, the microphones, and the stand. I am ready. The ice stings as it hits my face while I walk towards the door. Plop! Shit! Damn it!, I just stepped into a pot hole filled with icy water. The same damned pothole that just destroyed my car’s suspension got me twice Son of a bitch! I have some time for it to dry. Holding the equipment, the bag and the mic stand all in one hand, I reach for the door handle and manage to step inside without dropping anything. I made it. I’m here.

It’s a nice place. As I move to the front area, a pretty young girl with blonde hair approaches me. “Can I help you?” “Yes” I say, “I am looking for the IMG Network party?” “Oh, they are upstairs”, she replied. “Okay, thanks”, as I make my way upstairs to a room filled with a noisy crowd of about 23 people. From what I can see, it’s mostly men in their 40’s wearing neckties and drinking. The waitress is bringing them huge plates of spaghetti and chicken parmagiana and perhaps some eggplant. I look around for a familiar face and discovered Larry. Larry hired me for this gig. He had seen me perform at a fundraiser a few months back and took my card. Out of nowhere he calls and asks if I would like to perform at their Christmas party on January 5th. My first thought was to wonder what kind of idiot has a Christmas party on January 5th? Of course I took the gig. It was $200 bucks for just me and my sound equipment for a 30 minute performance and was fairly close to home.

Larry sees me and comes over. “Hey Stevie, good to see you. Want something to eat?” I never eat right before a show. My stomach is too worked up to think about eating. “No, thanks, I’m good”, I answered. Larry blurts back, “Are you sure? Plenty of food here”. “No”, I said, “Just water would be fine, lots of water” The one thing that happens to me on a consistent basis is I become extremely thirsty before I go up. I read somewhere that this is a form of stage fright. But, I never feel fear before I go up. People always ask if I am nervous. I wouldn’t call it nervous. Perhaps excited, euphoric, energized, and very thirsty, but never nervous. Larry points me to the waitress. She comes over She asks, “Can I get you something?” My response?, “Water”.

My equipment is set up and ready to go and I still have about 30 minutes. The food is just being served. One lesson in comedy is to always wait until they are done eating. Stand-up doesn’t go well with chewing jaws and clanking silverware, not to mention the sensory pleasure derived from mounds of spaghetti. For comedy to work requires the complete undivided attention of the audience. Musicians have it easy. Nobody has to listen to them at a performance. They just play to the background. But the comedian must command attention. Sometimes, this is a bad thing. Little did I know, this was going to be one of those”sometimes”.

I spend the next 29 minutes outside of the room, pacing, walking downstairs, and looking out the window at the weather. I assure various waitresses, hostesses and bus boys that I don’t need anything. The moments before showtime for a performer goes slowly. It creeps along and, as much as I love this, I can’t wait for it to be over. I try to go through my routine in my head, but everything that could possibly distract me comes to mind. I can’t concentrate at times like this. All I can do is wait, look at my watch every thirty seconds and pace. The sound system is set up and ready to go. It has been for the past ten minutes, yet I continue to check it. I look again in the room to find them talking, laughing and eating. Still eating. Why are they so slow? When is the best time to start? Okay, I’ll give it another five minutes. Pace, look at the watch, drink water, pee, pace, look at the watch, water, one more peek at the watch. Okay. It’s time. I call out softly, “Larry?,Larry?, five minutes, okay?” As Larry approaches me he responds,” You got it Stevie”. I remind him, “Okay, Larry, now you need to introduce me, here is my intro”. I always prepare a brief bio of my recent accomplishments and try to exaggerate my sky rocketing career. It’s all in the presentation. People buy into presentations. At least, I think they do.

Larry approaches the mic like a true amateur. Shouting and spitting into he says “Okay, listen up people”. The crowd snickers and yells out, “Tell us a joke Larry”, “You’re not the comedian”, “Sit down fat ass”. I get a sense this could be a rough crowd. I don’t see much alcohol but they sound a little on the rowdy side. Little did I know.

“Okay, here is a guy who is very funny. He was on Comedy Central, David Letterman, and performed with Wayne Newton in Vegas”. Wait, what? What the hell is Larry saying? I didn’t tell him to…. “He makes Andrew Dice Clay look like an altar boy”. What? no I don’t, why is he doing this? “The Funniest comedian on the planet, Stevie GeeBee”. Now, I never told Larry, that fat assed idiot, to say comedian. I have actually been using a moniker of “World’s Funniest Accountant” because I am an accountant and it seemed funny to people that an accountant would do stand up comedy. Larry just over sold me. Now the presentation was much bigger than the show I planned. How do I live up to this? At this point, I have no choice. I’m up.

Now I know what a Christian felt like at the Coliseum in ancient Rome. What ensued was the closest I have ever been to a slaughter. I have never been so heckled, so berated, so humiliated in my life and that includes my wedding day. After about a minute and a half I knew I was in trouble and I had 28 and a half minutes to go. They stepped on every punch line. They yelled back and forth to each other. Called me Pee Wee Herman, Harry Potter’s retarded brother, and geek boy. My entire school boy childhood flashed before my eyes. I was in the sandbox being hit on the head with a shovel by Georgie Ryan. I was being towel whipped in the gym locker room by Richie Cherubini. I was taking a math test in my underwear. I was in hell. Hell that went on for about twelve more excruciating minutes. Finally, I bailed. I broke down. I couldn’t go on. I stopped. Put the mic back in the stand, said good night and turned to pack up my equipment. I was done with these assholes. So what if I never get paid, I just wanted out of there. My heart was pounding inside my chest. Sweating and shaking, I thought for sure this could be it. I was going to die on stage, and then die for real. Die with a bunch of assholes laughing at me as I fall to the ground. Hey, at least they would be laughing.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see fat ass Larry coming towards me, laughing and saying, “Stevie, Stevie, great job man, great job”. I was confused, to say the least. “Great job? What the hell”. “Yea man”, he says with little bubbles of spit coming out of his blubbery mouth. He screamed, “We decided to hire a comedian and bust his balls. You took it well. Great job”. Then he gave me 300 bucks. I said, “Thought it was only 200”. He said, “No man, you earned it, good job”. Then he asked, “Can you come back next year?” I took his money, slipped it into my pocket and felt the urge to tell him to go fuck himself. But all that came out of my mouth was “Sure, give me a call”.

That was when I realized, I can never stop doing this.

No comments: