“So the Death Star is the woman?” Sam asked.
“Yes!Finally!Someone else finally gets it.I’ve been trying to say that for half an hour,” the stripper said.She had to be a stripper.I had been passively sitting at a table in the back room of the Laff Stop, sipping on a Jameson and watching this nuclear winter of a conversation for the past twenty minutes.
The Laff Stop was legendary.Mitch Hedberg, Joe Rogan, Ron White, Louis CK, and Doug Stanhope all recorded classic albums there.Sam Kinison’s piano sat behind a curtain in that room, unplayed for years by anyone other than his ghost.Bill Hicks worked out the ideas on that stage that would ultimately make him famous.
Open Mic Night happened in the front lobby of the club on Mondays while the comedians cliqued up in the main showroom, waiting for their turn on a five hour night. It wasn’t just the pros; Monday nights attracted an entire circus wagon full of freaks, all determined to take their shot under the spotlight and loft their strangeness into a sea of unfamiliar faces.It was one of those nights that found me interjecting myself into a conversation I shouldn’t have been paying attention to in the first place.
The stripper was dressed to kill – and by kill, I mean if you looked at her too long you would probably catch some disease capable of ending your life.She fell out of her clothes haphazardly, her untoned rolls of flesh crawling out of a ripped pair of jeans designed for a much younger, much thinner girl.Her makeup had been applied with a paintball gun.
She had wandered in like she was looking for crack and had somehow signed up to tell jokes.In an effort to alleviate her fears, someone had told her that I was a first-timer too, but was in fact too scared to actually go up.Instead of bolstering her confidence however, she used that nugget of misinformation as a weapon.The only thing more amusing to a table full of comedians than watching a hopeful comedian attack a veteran is watching a hopeful comedian attack a veteran and then prattle on about their own brilliant comedic theories, ideas, and jokes.
And that she did.In between firing shots at me, she would explain to anyone that would listen how she had put order to completely unrelated event, the most current of which was her mission to explain the sexual intent of George Lucas in the Star Wars trilogy.It was definitely the meth talking.She was a drunken plane crash, and I was unable to look away as her engine sputtered and failed and a plume of smoke shot out of the back end of her descending aircraft.
“You’re an idiot,” I finally said.
“You’re not even supposed to be back here.This is for comics!” she yelled.“Go back out front with the rest of the audience.”
“And please stop showing everyone your underwear,” I added, ignoring her comment.“It’s not attractive.At all.To anyone.Really.”
“You’re a dick,” she said.“You’re more than a dick – you’re a fucking asshole.”
“Dude, that’s the longest a girl has had a conversation with you before she called you an asshole,” Sam interjected.
“Shut it,” I said.“Her vagina’s still hanging out.”I was talking indirectly about her, which I knew was only making her angrier.
“Fuck him.Seriously, why is he still back here?”
“Because I want to learn to be funny like you,” I said.
“You don’t have what it takes,” she shot back.
“You mean a prison tattoo on my stretch-marked hip that looks like it was drawn on a Magna-Doodle?Then yes, you’re right.”
Sam interjected again, “I think what he was trying to say is that the whole idea just isn’t funny.It needs punchlines.”
“Whatever.He doesn’t know anything about comedy.”
“You’re right.I don’t know anyth- Jesus Christ! What happened to your feet!?”Whatever point I had been trying to make was forgotten.Her feet looked like they had been bound and beaten.Red marks wrapped around the sides and her toes were crunched into a twisted point.It was confusing.
“I had to wear six inch heels for a movie shoot today,” she said.
“No.For your information it was about this party where the women are topless and -”
“Seriously.What do -”
“Seriously, what did happen to your feet?Your toes look like a T-Rex eating a pack of wieners.”
While normally content letting me pick my own fights, Sam could no longer keep himself quiet.“What’s worse than the Holocaust?” he asked.“Her feet.”
“For real.You look like you’ve been playing hackey sack with a bag of gravel.Is that frostbite?”
“Oh my god,” she said, staring at me with one of her crossed eyes.
“Here.Just take my shoes.You need them worse than me,” I said.I started to unlace them as she changed the subject.
“What were we talking about?”
“Star Wars,” Sam said.
“Right. So R2-D2 penetrates the Death Star with his metal ‘arm’ and then-”
“You guys really aren’t setting me up?” I finally asked, glancing around the table full of comics.“She’s real?”
“I know,” Sam replied.“I thought you were being Punk’d but you’re not famous enough.”
The stripper couldn’t handle the lack of attention.Positive attention anyway.“I’m STILL trying to make a point here!”
“Your feet STILL look like moldy ladyfingers.”
“Can we leave my feet alone?”
“Look, you wore the sandals,” Sam said.“You look like you were drunk and barefoot trying to outrun a weed eater.”The stripper laughed at his reply, exhibiting no anger at all.I was surprised.
“Really?” I asked.“Why doesn’t Sam get to be an asshole too?”
“Because he gets what I’m trying to say.”
“Uh huh.What exactly are you looking at anyway?”
“Your eye.Looking all this way and that.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my eyes!”
“Just one of them actually.It looks like it just kind of gave up.It has a look of complete resignation.”
“Good one.You come up with that all on your own?”As I asked, another one of the pros came into the back room, excited.
“Hey guys!” Ed said.He was clearly suppressing a smirk.“I just killed with this new bit about Darth Vader being a big penis and how the Dark Side represents the feminine spirit!”
“Oh my god!” the stripper said.“That’s brilliant!We were just talking about that!”
“Shut up!” said Ed.“Seriously?”I kicked him under the table.
“Yes.See?” she said, turning to me.”You’re the only one that doesn’t get it, you dick.I could have you thrown out if I wanted to.Maybe you should go back up front until you have the balls to go on stage.”
“And you should get a pedicure.And an eye patch,” I said back.
“Actually, I think you’re up next bro,” Ed told me.
“Enjoy your first time on stage,” Sam added.
“Yeah.Good luck, asshole,” said the stripper.“Now.Where were we?”It didn’t matter.The comics were already up and headed back into the lobby, leaving the frustrated stripper sitting at the table by herself.
* * *
The problem with comedy is that it is impossible to ever really understand it.All the science in all the books in the entire world means nothing when it comes to what truly makes another human being laugh.Videos of people getting hit in the testicles by baseballs or small children is always hilarious, but why?We have no idea.A good joke is misdirection; a good comedian can take you by the hand and lead you down a road, and then suddenly change course on you to elicit a laugh. But again, why?
I have bits that I think are incredible but I can’t figure out how to get them across in a way that works.On the other hand, I have lines in my own set that consistently do get laughs but I’m still not sure exactly why.How does it all work?
It’s sorcery, if you ask me.
My goal that evening, as a supposed first-timer, was to bomb.There are nights when even the best comic can’t manage to make it work with his absolute A-game, so eating it in front of people on purpose should have been simple.In the few minutes before I went up I tried to think like a rookie.Just do set ups with no punchlines, I told myself.Leave lots of silence.Die, on purpose.
“So wow.Black people and white people are really different,” I said, and then moved on, giving no evidence in joke form.“So, uh, what else is going on?”
Every intentional nose dive brought more chuckles from comedians that knew me, contradicting my attempt to flat line.The laughs grew exponentially.Damn, this wasn’t the plan.I fought to keep a straight face as I stared out at the crowd.“Blank CDs suck,” I pretended to stammer.“Especially on road trips.”It was abysmal, yet somehow hilarious.I stared blankly ahead as more laughs came.
The stripper had migrated back into the room and I could see her glare from the stage.She was furious.I was a bit mad myself, that I hadn’t been able to pull off the ruse.My fellow comics had failed to play along.I was killing with non-jokes.Every misdelivered bit elicited an even bigger response.I was crushing.I couldn’t have done that well if I’d actually tried.
I finished the set to applause and wandered off to the back room again, followed by a few comedians and the stripper. “There’s no way that was your first time!” she said.
“You really don’t get it,” I replied.
“Seriously, how’d you do that?”
“I wouldn’t tell you, even if I knew.”And the truth was, I didn’t know.Even after a decade, comedy still confuses me.It works when it shouldn’t and doesn’t sometimes when I need it to most.
“You’re such an asshole,” she said.
As I walked away I could hear her voice trail off in the distance, still searching for an audience.“So has anybody else here seen Star Wars?” she muttered as the showroom door closed behind me.