I recently tried to perform an open microphone comedy act at a local club.
This was not the realization of any lifelong dream, nor was it a wrestling match with the coming shadow of middle age.
This was just a small man, with small aspirations, hoping to light a wee fire of gladness in this often gloomy world.
And how wee my fire was.
For one thing, the second you find out that you, along with twenty other people, have been chosen to stand on a stage in a glorified basement, and be hilarious for five whole minutes, you run directly to the classroom toilet and vomit. This a fantastic omen.
For second thing, I have no business speaking to the public.
There was the unplanned, out of control sobbing during an attempt to improvise the Best Man Speech at the Leedy wedding of aught five, and then the painfully brief, superficial performance at the Distel nuptials the following year.
Why did people keep tapping me to be a best man?
I threw the worst bachelor parties as well-four guys on a porch eating Doritos and drinking green tea.
I tried to get crazy by bringing Cool Ranch and Twinkies to the next one, but everyone just stared sadly into the distance.
Someone wondered aloud if we should watch a video of a stripper on Youtube, and I slunk off into the shadows to sing "It's My Party" with whispered grief.
But I like to make people laugh!
I must be some kind of comedian in some way, to somebody.
I agonized over five pages of material, mostly snippets boiled down from old blog posts, and then practiced over and over again for a week.
My wife was my victim soul/test audience.
This caused a small bit of trouble: while she seemed to find her own joke ideas to be quite hilarious, when it came to my material, her smile became very tight, almost like rictus. If I went really off the rails, she covered her face with a pillow.
"I'm sorry," she said, her voice muffled. "It's just not funny. You're funny, my special attractive sensitive man, I love you so much....but these things you tell...in the form of jokes....these things are not too good."
In the end, her editorial presence was quite helpful.
The next day, as I threw everything out and started from scratch, I imagined her face floating in a little bubble over my head, politely smiling when I was on the right track, and slowly bringing a pillow up when the material ran out of gas.
At last the big night arrived.
I was about fourth in line to perform, which gave me plenty of time to pee freely in my pants.
One guy on before me was a friendly middle-aged white dude with a ponytail.
He slapped a large stack of notepaper covered in diagrams onto the little black stool provided for performers.
"I want to have a little fun up here tonight. But I want us to work together to wrap our minds around some of the concepts I'll be talking about."
Things became very silent.
He proceeded to lay out a theory about how Freud's reduction of personhood to the sexual drive did not go far enough, how sexual selection is driven by intermittent reinforcement and addictive behaviors. I am not really sure what he was saying, exactly. It was like a college psychology lecture delivered by someone on LSD; someone who was just barely, by the thinnest of hairs, keeping his shit together.
He muttered; he spaced out. At one point, he was overcome with emotion and had to step away from the microphone.
After his five minutes were up, he wouldn't stop talking. They flashed the red light over and over again, then the manager started clacking something loudly, and as several waiters began to converge on the stage, he finally relented.
His strange, unfunny filibuster left the five or so audience members in an awkward daze.
A young beardy guy got up next, and all of his jokes were about abortion machines and his love of child rape. I am not exaggerating.
He bombed terribly.
It had now been agonizingly quiet in the comedy club for over ten minutes.
"Up next-Gweenbrick!" A single clap from a distant corner, and I was on my way to the gallows.
I like to think, in my prouder moments, that I've managed to be funny on this blog at least a few times over the years. A couple things have worked pretty good, I feel.
But in retrospect, that was no reason to think, at all, that I would have a knack for stand-up comedy.
I remember the lights clearly, because that was all I could bring myself to look at. They were blinding and my face got all squinty and smooshed.
My voice did that shaky thing voices do, when the throat is strangled by terror, and your natural pitch rises in octaves until it's nothing but a feeble squeak.
If I had any jokes to tell at all, they came out in the form of frightened questions.
I didn't smile; I didn't come across as a fun guy. A guy you bring in to get the good times rolling.
One person tittered. One titter.
It was when I described my younger self as "a kind of soiled looking kid, with a greasy black bowl cut, weird sweater vest with tassels, provocatively short shorts with brown socks up to the knees..."
She was right in front of me, one of the two people still sitting there, and when she tittered, I wanted to kneel down, gently take her hand in mine, and tell her, in the microphone, that we were now best friends forever, but the red light flashed and I had to get off.