Comedy Night

On Christmas day my girlfriend’s daughter surprises us with a night on the town. Dinner at a nice restaurant. But that’s not all. After that, a night of mirth and merriment that is comedy. So right away I think of stand-up. Who wouldn’t? So I check the date and go online to all the comedy clubs in the area to see who’s in town that night.

Huh, funny. There doesn’t seem to be any shows on this particular night. So I start listening to the itinerary. That sounds nice but did you say the comedy club was right around the corner from that restaurant? Now I know all comedy clubs in a fifty mile radius and the only one remotely close to that is. . .aww, damn!

Improv.

Aww, damn.

If you put all genres of comedy in a room and had them fight it out I’d wish improv comedy the most painful death. I know its my fault. These are earnest people attempting an impossible feat but there’s not enough funny in there to tempt me. Plus, when I go to an improv show, I find myself sitting there thinking of lines they should have said to get to the punchline. But that’s not improv. Improv is a genre where the actors are there to help one another. Nurture. What kind of comedy is that? Years ago I asked an old comedian from the 1950’s what the secret of comedy was. He said, “Make the fucking audience suffer.”

Now that’s how comedy is born.

My fears of a headache producing night aside I strap on my comedy mask and trundle off to see improv comedy for the first time in about a decade. A headache free decade, I might add.

We get there shortly before showtime. Everyone is milling in the lobby waiting for the doors to open. The group I’m with heads closer to the door. They all stand in front of me as I’m checking out the crowd. They look like nice people. Hygiene is very good. Then there’s movement at the door. People stir.

And someone to my left or to my right or behind me, it enveloped me so I can’t be sure, farts. I’m smelling this spawn of satan’s dead mother’s asshole and say,

“Well, that doesn’t bode well for my evening.”

We sit in the front row. Most people don’t like sitting in the front row because they think they’re going to be picked on. Even though that’s not true in improv. They want you to help make the show better. They’re going to act as your friend. The show starts and two animated guys come out. They explain what they’re going to do, some sketches, some improv so let’s get started.

And a guy made a beeline to me.

“Hi,” he says pretending to be my friend. “What’s your name?”

“Chris.” Now I want to point out here that I fully and truthfully answered the question asked. From here it gets murky.

“Do you have a last name?” Is this a fucking police line-up. You got a name, go forth and improv. But he stands there. What? I’m not in this fucking show. Thirty bucks was shelled out for these tickets. If I’m at a concert and Mick Fucking Jagger came up to me and said,

“Hey Chris, why not have a rip at a little Jumpin’ Jack Flash, wha’bouit?” I’d say,

“Give me thirty fucking dollars or fuck off you troll looking bastard. Now back to the forest or sing your damn song.” But this guy continues.

“Do you have a last name?” So I broke the first rule of improv which is to never say no.

“No.” People laugh.

Now, in my defense, what if Gno was my last name for the evening? People sign into hotels under assumed names. Maybe I go to improv shows like that. He was just being racist is what I’m thinking.

“You don’t have a last name?”

“No.” Or, correctly, Gno. “When I was a child we were poor and you had to play for each letter on the birth certificate so they decided I wouldn’t have a last name.” More, bigger laughs.

Now the kid is flustered. What he didn’t know was the bit he just fell into is one I’ve used, successfully, for years. But he continues.

“If you did have a last name what would it be?”

Here’s where I have to hand it to these improv guys. I would have fucked off to someone else to get my desired result. But not improv people. Never give up.

“I’d like something exotic,” he seems to brighten. Silly improv person. “Like Smith.” More laughs.

“Okay. Great. Are you here with anyone?”

Now I’m just going to be mean but, metaphysically, is anyone truly anywhere with anyone? He also made a mistake by asking a non-specific question.

“No.” But how does he not know I’m talking about the lovely Mrs. Gno sitting right beside me? But I can see him plead a little so I smile.

“Who are you here with?” See? Specific.

I point to my girlfriend. More laughs.

“I should have known,” he says walking away. He might not be happy but, once again, in my defense, he didn’t ask me her name so pointing was a valid option.

The other guy looks at me and says, “Chris may not even be his real first name.”

I smile and nod, “Good chance of that.”

You may be wondering why he wanted my name. Its for later in the show when they use it as a punchline. So much of improv is a skit with some, usually useless, suggestions from the audience dropped in. Its what the audience likes most, participation, and what I like least.

My punchline came when three of the fine female actors were doing a bit talking about how great their lives are. As they speak it turns out their great lives are a Bukowski binge from being homeless. The first one gets into her bit, grabs a bottle of wine and fills her glass to the brim. She sits down and the second one tells her story then fills her glass until it overflows a little. The third one tells her tale and fills her glass until it covers the floor. It breaks up the cast a little, the audience enjoys the same joke for the third time, then they all mention how they all have the greatest boyfriend in what is their knockdown lives.

And at three they’re all going to say the name at the same time which is, predictably,

“Chris Smith.”

People laughed. So, in those terms, it was a success.

As the evening wore on some of the bits were inventive. I chuckled. But there is also something in improv that irks me. The sense of being too clever instead of going for the joke. I’ve been told some things I’ve written have been clever and that’s good. But I’ve also worked hard to make sure there’s funny in there.

The bottom line is, just like every time I’ve been to an improv show, I leave with a headache.

Comedy is subjective and this is one man’s opinion and story. So next time you’re thinking of inviting old Mr. Smith to an improv show, please, be a little more subjective with the company you keep.

Cookies

I’m dealing with a person and they say to me,

“You’re a sharp cookie.” I looked at him and said,

“That’s not nice. You know everyone hates sharp cookies. They cut the roof of your mouth.”

Tobacco Tooth

When I was a kid everyone smoked. The most money spent on furniture was on ash trays. Small ones, big one, one that came on stands. Fat ones, thin ones, ones that got thrown around a lot. I was in school and the teachers smoked. I was in the hospital and the doctors smoked. My memory might be a little hazy but I tend to remember priests smoking. While doing his sermon. In Latin. In double time so he could get to his seat at the stadium before kickoff.

Personally, I was never a fan of it. I’d been burned as a kid so the thought of a burning ember that close to my face just wasn’t appealing. I used to look around trying to find one person who didn’t smoke. Impossible. I once saw a guy wheeling an oxygen tank down the street smoking. I crossed the street. I went to my first major league baseball game. For the first time in my life I saw that baseball was in color. And quite larger than it looked on my tiny black and white TV. During the game I couldn’t take my eyes off my hero. Our teams star left fielder. I couldn’t believe he was live in front of me. A big thrill even from the cheap seats.

As the game progressed I never stopped watching my hero. He made some catches but, as baseball tends to, the game dragged on a bit. Especially when you’re watching one player for half the game and looking around at all the other sights and sounds for the rest. It was during this downtime in a game that was already decided that I saw something. At least I think I did. But it couldn’t be. I trained my eyes on my hero until I saw it again.

“That fucker is smoking.” I said in my disbelieving head.

But it was true. I even saw him stomp it out at the end of the inning. Well, that was the end of it for me. I stopped looking for anyone not smoking and, after a time, even stopped thinking about it. It was like humidity or the tar stench from the train station around the corner. It was all around me.

One midsummer day my mother, once again, had me run down to the store to buy her a pack of cigarettes. It wasn’t like the suburban city we moved to in a few years, I didn’t need no note. Hell, the guy behind the counter would often toss the pack at me when I opened the door. I’d toss the quarter at him and turn on my heels and would be out of the store before the door swung fully open.

I put that pack on the table and went about my day. A day that consisted mainly of rough and tumble kid stuff. There probably wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t bleed. When the world under your feet is concrete and you run and play sports and fight like we did, blood will be spilled.

Later that day while eating dinner my mother was getting ready for work. She was doing dishes, chiding my to finish so she could get the dishes done and, of course, smoking. Then I heard a dish rattle in the sink. I look over to catch a glimpse of what’s going on. It was my mother putting out her cigarette. Not an unusual thing. As the strewn ash trays would attest. But this time she’s looking at it. Pawing it. Tearing it apart.

“Well I don’t believe it.” She said shaking her disbelieving head.

She turns to me and is holding something up. At first, because she was back lit, I couldn’t make it out. It wasn’t until she was about three feet from me that I recognized what she was holding.

A tooth. The tooth of a kid younger than me if the size was any indication. I stared at it stunned for some time. At first I couldn’t process how a kid, little more than a tyke, tooth could get into a cigarette rolled by a huge machine in a giant tobacco company yonder down south. Certainly they wouldn’t let a mere child near a certain death machine like that.

Then slowly it dawned on me. And a holy shit moment overcame me. But that couldn’t be it. Things like that are outlawed, right? My mother lit another cigarette and said when she got home after work she’d write a letter to the company asking them to explain the errant tooth in her cigarette.

I remember looking at the tooth every time I went into the kitchen. And I’d think about that kid. I was eight or nine. That tooth was definitely a couple years younger. What was life like for him? My life was no picnic but my lost teeth usually didn’t leave the apartment. That is, until the Tooth Fairy traded it for a quarter. Funny how closely the Tooth Fairy smelled like my mother’s cigarettes when she made the swap. But that’s how tricky they are! Masking their scent to make it fit your surroundings! Brilliant!

Some time passed until one day my mother got a package from the cigarette company. You could tell the package was a carton of cigarettes. There was also a letter from the company thanking her for returning the wayward tooth and hoping she’d accept the carton of her favorite cigarettes as further reward for her kindness. They went on to explain that one of their field hands must have had their child’s tooth with them while working.

Even back then my rapidly growing, yet still in the pupa stage, cynicism thought,

“Yeah, sure, that could happen.”

It’s weird because I’ve often thought of that kid over the years. More than many people I actually knew from back then. I hope he’s had a good life. I’ve wished he’s had many laughs. I want him to be happy.

And I sure as well hoped he never let his father take another tooth to work. That shit’s unsanitary.

Tomorrow Morning

I have to get up, get cat poop, put it in a test tube and bring it to the vet.

Do you think if I put it in my pocket until I get there to warm it up then hand it to the vet tech they’ll freak out?

“This is very warm?”

“I know. I stuck the tube up his ass so I could get it fresh.”

On second thought they’d probably kick me out and I’d never know why I’m carrying cat shit around with me.

The Flirt

I’m in a TV studio preparing to shoot a show. There’s a lot of last minute checking and futzing that goes into the start of a production. There can also be some downtime when you’re waiting for someone else to complete their checking and futzing before you can get to yours.

It’s during one of those times when I’m not necessary (some would say that’s a constant) so I wander off. I go to the water cooler to get a drink and try not to think about everything that can go wrong in the next half hour. Trust me, that’s a long damn list.

When a woman sneaks up on me. Now, in reality, she probably didn’t sneak up on me but, when I’m in the studio waiting to shoot, I’m barely aware of anything not related to the shoot. So I’m already a little perturbed about the interruption.

“Hi,” she says. I nod with a mouthful of water. “I’ve heard so much about you.” Because of things I know people say about me I’m never sure if that’s a good thing or not.

She starts talking (I remember none of what she said) and flirting. Normally, when people flirt, the desire is simple. But when I’m in a studio and I don’t know this person, but they are obviously a producer of some type, I don’t take it as a sexual come on. I’m more apt to think of it as a production come on. Irk number two.

I sort of tune in to this lady. Her hair tossing; her open mouth laugh; her overt touching, all the signs are there. And it’s annoying me because I can’t be distracted from the show. I can already tell I don’t care what her show is about, I won’t do it. She’ll be the type of producer who wants a bastard like me until she gets a bastard like me.

She’s flirting away. I can’t tell if she can see that I’ve not even checked in. I look at a clock. It’s time for me to get back to the studio for some more futzing. So I look into her eyes and smile. She’s connected, she’s right there figuring her approach was going to win. She starts to go to her final approach when I hold a finger up to her lips and say,

“Shhhhh.” She stops talking for the first time. I make sure never to break eye contact. My finger is still aloft. She’s lost control and doesn’t like it. “I’m sure we can do something better with that mouth.” Her eyes widen. “Like shut it.”

People Tell Me Things

It’s a weird part of my life. People tell me things. Not friends or family members, they probably know enough not to say anything important or private to me. I’m talking random people I encounter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been standing there saying to myself, “I can think of no good reason I should know this about that person.” But, sadly, it’s more often, “Whoa! I should not know that.”

I have to assume they’re willing to spew this to anyone and it’s just my turn. It can’t be because I’m so friendly and outgoing. If I’m giving the choice between a stimulating conversation with you or being left alone, unless you’re paying me, I’m going to choose left alone.

It can’t be because I offer an air of inclusiveness. I have friends who think twice before starting conversations with me. I like to assume its out of respect for my privacy. But, most likely, they’re afraid I’m going to say something to ruin their day or psyche.

So what chance does a stranger have of feeling the love from me? Especially after, from the moment I’ve turned my head to them, I’ve been looking at them like a turd on a cats ass. Sure, I know I’m going to have to take care of it, but I’m not happy about it so it’s probably going to be painful for one of us.

That’s why I assume it’s just my turn (or bad luck to be in this general area) when someone starts giving me their life story. Or at least the disgusting part they want to unleash at this time. This guy’s story was not very different from any hard luck story you hear.

Waa waa waa. My family turned on me (because I fucked them all over).

Waa waa waa. My friends don’t stand by me (because I’ve stolen from all of them).

Waa3. I can’t find a good job (because I’m so pilled up I can never remember the address).

So, yeah, the world has it out for him. Don’t get me wrong, I can and have had sympathy. I haven’t had the easiest life but each time I’ve been knocked on my ass I get up and figure out another way to get through. It’s taught me empathy. But when the story is so generic I can recite the ending a few minutes into the spiel, I get a little antsy.

And antsy ain’t a good thing for me.

My mind starts to wander. First to homicide. I begin to think of all the ways I can kill the person in front of me. Quiet ways, noisy ways, stealthy ways, broad ways. But that’s only fun for a while. I mean, how many times can you imagine jamming a heat gun into someone’s mouth to melt their tongue to their teeth before it gets boring?

Then I start to think of answers to their tale of woe. I’m in no way saying these are good or useful answers but they keep me from going to the truck for the heat gun.

After what seemed a semi-lifetime (but was probably five minutes. I find that to be my limit before I say something to bring the conversation to a crescendo) of listening to him whine about wanting to give up, throw in the towel, cash in his chips I’m done.

I find the more metaphors a person uses during a tale of woe the less like he is to go with his final solution. Most times they’re probably rehearsing to make sure the story is perfect for the pill mill doctor or parole officer.

“But, yeah, it’s been a tough road,” he says thinking I’m listening. “I’m thinking about giving up, throwing in the towel, cashing in my chips.” He looks at me for a reaction. He finds none. I know I’m staring blankly because I’m thinking about pizza. I haven’t had one for awhile. Maybe I should see if my girlfriend wants one. But before I can ask her he interrupts me with, “Yeah, well, I’ve been thinking lately about killing myself.”

No time like the present, I always say.

But I can’t say that. I mean, I can, but it’s not what people generally consider polite. I know I’m supposed to say, “Stop with the crazy talk! You’re just having a bad time! Brighter days are near!” Then hum a depression era feel good song. But that’s not what came out. In my pizza addled mind I said,

“Oh, don’t talk like that! You don’t want to give up! Did Kurt Cobain give up? Did Robin Williams give. . .ooops, bad examples.”

I don’t understand why so many people storm away from me angry.

“Whatcha doin’?”

Is the innocent question someone asks me while I’m in the middle of an hour which consisted of dealing with a torrent of increasing stupidity someone I know sidles up to me and queries about my recent activities.

“What have I been doing?” I respond while dumping what can only be described as the remnants of a wildebeests feast into a proper receptacle. “Dealing with an ever growing legion of psychopathic plebes who are spiraling into the abyss of stupidity at such a breakneck pace my hearing is going from the constant shattering of the sound barrier.”