In Pursuit of Standup

Photo courtesy of the author

I did standup comedy twice this past week in New York City, at Stand Up NY and West Side Comedy Club.

The first set I didn’t feel landed with the audience. I got one laugh and one “Woo!” As I drove home feeling dejected, I ate three vegan double chocolate chip cookies to soothe myself.

At my second set, with all new material, I got the multiple laughs I was looking for. As I drove home feeling elated, I ate three vegan double chocolate chip cookies to celebrate.

I get the impression that the rest of the world is preoccupied with the thought, “When’s the soonest I can get laid?”

For me, it’s, “When’s the soonest I can get my hands on some cookies?”

Other people are using apps to locate the closest available sexual partner.

Meanwhile, I’m Googling, “Cookies near me.”

This massive difference in interests is apparent when I hear other comics taking the stage to talk about raunchy sex, drinking, doing cocaine. Adult topics. I’m like, “I’m not old enough to hear this! Where my nerds at?” I need to find my target audience so that I can share the kinds of dorky thoughts I have, such as:

Why does Dr. Jekyll lose his doctorate when he becomes his alter ego Mr. Hyde? It’s like those seven years of medical school never happened. Your alter ego should be better than what you actually are, not worse. How sad is this guy that he transitions and is like, “I have no credentials.”

And this:

When I was a kid, my mom accidentally sat on my hamster. I worried that he would get amnesia after having his head compressed. When I put him back in his cage, he got right up on his wheel, and I felt so relieved. “Thank God – my little guy is fine! He’s back to his regular routine!” What I didn’t know was that in his tiny hamster mind he was thinking, “Where does this road go? I don’t even know where I’m off to in such a hurry!”

Likewise, I don’t know where I’m going with this new standup obsession. It’s something I’d always wanted to try. I’ll settle for it being my latest hobby. I’m under no illusion that this will become a career. So far it has cost me to get onstage (a two-drink minimum per person for a non-drinker means I’m having an $18 cup of Coke).

Here’s my imagined interview for this job:

Interviewer: “So, why do you want to be a comedian?”

Me: “The hours really appeal to me. Getting to sleep all day, just working from like 9:00 to 10:00 PM. I’m already a night owl so it just makes sense, you know?”

Interviewer: “What about your material? Shouldn’t you be working on that during the day?”

Me: “Oh…that’ll just come to me. Yeah! That’ll just come to me.”

Interviewer: “What do you enjoy doing the least in a job?”

Me: “That’d be public speaking, for sure. Getting up on stage in front of a bunch of strangers and giving a presentation?” (Shudder).

Seriously, I have terrible stage fright. Once, Jerry Seinfeld said that fear of public speaking ranks higher than that of death for some people. I was like, “Sounds right to me!”

There’s only one person up there to judge me. Meanwhile, there’s fifty down here!

I wish I could impart some wisdom as to how I overcame this fear. Or explain why on earth I decided to do something in the first place that is the hardest type of public speaking there is. All I know is, I can’t deny the urge to do standup. I just forced myself to get on up there and let the overly bright stage lights blind me into pretending there was nobody out there. If I hear a laugh, great! But if I don’t, it’s just because I’m talking to an empty room.

Social Justice Warrior

The perils of seventh grade

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Seventh grade in public school was like a dystopian future where lawlessness was the only constant. Good thing I’ve been a social justice warrior since long before Instagram gave people a reason to do so.

Math class was much worse than just the problem of math problems. There were two events we could count on occurring every day of the week.

First, our Latino teacher pronounced the word subtract as “substract,” and all the awful boys in class would mock him for it.

Second, a boy named Boris would sexually harass a girl named Jujuby with the exact same line: “What size bra do you wear, Jujuby?”

Squirming in her seat, she would otherwise pretend that no one was addressing her. In fact, everyone in the class acted like it wasn’t happening.

I would cringe and think are there no authority figures at this school that can keep these horrible, horrible children in line?

Every day, day after day, this idiot boy would say, “What size bra do you wear, Jujuby?” I think it was his immature way of flirting with her. However, this sexual harassment impacted everyone in the entire class who had to listen to it.

One day, I decided I’d had enough. “What size underwear do you wear, Boris?!” I heard myself say.

Now it was Boris’s turn to act like no one was addressing him. The whole class sat facing forward in their seats pretending that they hadn’t heard anything. I thought what I said was brilliant; a hilarious burn worthy of a round of applause. The dead silence after I spoke felt awkward, but I’d prefer crickets to Boris’s stupid insults any day.

I thought Jujuby might thank me later for standing up for her in my own weird way, but she never mentioned it.

It’s so weird to think that Boris is perhaps a CPA now, or a police officer, or is in any way employed at all. I think behavior like that should stay on a person’s permanent record. He should be a pariah. I can’t find him on LinkedIn, so perhaps he is in fact living in a cave somewhere with no one to love him. I hope wherever he is, he’s got his big boy underwear on.

Birthday Shmirthday

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I turned 45 this month. Neither of my parents wished me happy birthday. Their silence carries its own message: “We don’t celebrate your life.”

Now, if I were, say, Hitler, I would totally understand. I’d be like, “No offense taken.”

I suppose I can’t really blame them. I’m very judgmental of their parenting. They, likewise, reserve the right to be disappointed in me as their child.

But here’s the thing: I don’t lie, cheat, or steal. I earn a paycheck and am a contributing member of society. I’m not a burden on anyone else.

My primary fault? I speak my truth. I’m over the hill – I can’t live to please others anymore. I’m living my truth.

My midlife crisis is less of a crisis and more a series of dares, borne of an inspirational quote that I really took to heart: “Do something every day that scares you.” Hence the leap of faith in changing jobs, trying standup, driving in NYC (something I had always refused to do), taking solo mini vacations in Providence, central NH, and Long Island. I’m not letting fear hold me back anymore.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” So said the novelist, George Eliot. That’s the commitment I’m upholding to myself at this stage of my life. I’m finding out who I might have been.

Eating in bed and bombing onstage

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I just fulfilled my biggest bucket list item by trying standup comedy tonight at a club in NYC. I was second to last of approximately 25 comics. TJ Miller and Ronny Chieng were special guests. How do you follow them?

Several comics didn’t get laughs, so I guess I shouldn’t take it so hard that I didn’t either. I think my set on Y2K, eating in bed, and being over the hill were far too nerdy for the audience. Most comics talked about dating (complete with raunchy bedroom details), drugs, and drinking, so it’s no wonder I didn’t connect with the audience.

I got one solid laugh and one “Woo!” But mostly it was just crickets. Not sure exactly what I’ll change next time…except for all my material. The thing is, I’ve been married for 23 years and am not on social media, so I get the feeling I have very little in common with most people.

Here’s an excerpt from my set:

“My husband has a strict no food policy in the bedroom. I’m always so excited when he goes out of town on business. I feel like I’m cheating on him with snacks.

The second he’s gone, I’m in the kitchen putting together a smorgasbord. Then I’m under the covers in bed with my stack of waffles, topped with melted butter and syrup, and a mug of coffee in my other hand. I’m watching Netflix and spillin.’

I try to be sneaky about it, but I dropped the plastic cookie tray from a Tate’s bag between the mattress and headboard. (As an aside, Tate’s has finally got a vegan chocolate chip cookie and it is amazing!) Now I’ve got cookie crumbs scattered throughout my sheets, and worse, hard evidence that my husband will eventually find.

My favorite song is “Let’s all go to the lobby,” sung to you in movie theaters across America in the 1950’s by the snacks themselves. Who can deny singing, dancing snacks their simple request to go to the lobby? I’m the easily suggestible type – that jingle works on me every time.

To say I’m a “foodie” is understated. I’m ecstatic just thinking about what I’m going to eat for breakfast tomorrow. I wish every meal was breakfast. I want waffles, and bagels, and coffee all day long.

I was once talking to this woman who had a pet Griffin – it’s this little brown dog with a beard. Looks kind of like an Ewok. When the woman put doggie biscuits in front of her dog, he took a disinterested sniff, then turned his nose up in the air. She told me that he wasn’t “food motivated.” I was like, “That dog thinks he’s better than me!” And then, since he wasn’t gonna, I ate his biscuits.”

I only got halfway through this bit onstage, though, because I could tell it wasn’t landing. I’ll have to settle for being a comedian just for my own benefit, since I’m pretty good at making myself laugh. I guess that’s better than nothing.

Directionally Challenged

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The first man in history to get lost and refuse to stop for directions was Christopher Columbus. Headed for India, he stumbled across America and wrongly pronounced its occupants ‘Indians.’

All because of his mistake, indigenous people are still referred to as Indians, or, for slightly more PC folk, American Indians.

That would be like if you were on the way to visit relatives and get lost on the back roads of Bumpkinville. You pull up a driveway and are like, “I’m sure this is the place!” You get out of the car and burst through the front door booming, “Hello, family!”

Strangers stare back at you. “We don’t know you,” they say. “Get out of our house!”

But you’re insistent. “No, no – this is where my GPS brought me, ergo you are all Williamses. Happy Thanksgiving, Williamses!”

I, likewise, have no sense of direction whatsoever. I wouldn’t be able to find my way out of a closed cardboard box. But, unlike Christopher Columbus, I don’t make my mistakes someone else’s problem.

I don’t like taking the train around Manhattan. More than just the heat and stink of those stations deep in the bowels of the earth, I have an issue that concerns only the directionally challenged: when you step off the train you must instantly decide which, of all the myriad exits, is the one you need to take. You can’t pause to consider whether you want NE, NW, SE, or SW because you’ve got a sea of commuters pushing up from behind who — because they are busy New Yorkers — will let you know how much you are inconveniencing them by being alive.

There’s so much pressure to choose correctly. If I don’t, I may find myself at 1st & Multiverse, 42nd & Quantum, or 5th Ave & 5th Dimension.

New Yorkers are quick to point out that because the city is on a grid, you can’t possibly get lost. Challenge accepted!

Training For the Alcoholic Olympics

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I tried to become an alcoholic in my early twenties, as I’m assuming most people did. I don’t mean to brag, but I was really good at it. I was the Michael Phelps of drinking, and like him, I wasn’t going for just one medal. I was going for all of them!

You’d be surprised how unsupportive friends and family were.

Here’s what made me a champion drinker: I wasn’t a mean drunk, I didn’t drive while inebriated, I didn’t black out, pass out, or puke, and I never once had a hangover. I was invincible! And my drinking didn’t interfere with my daily responsibilities. In other words, I was a high-functioning alcoholic. Which, if you think about it, is basically the same thing as being a non-drinker.

Once I was in a dive bar with my husband, knocking back cocktail after cocktail. I got up to go to the bathroom and told him that if the waitress came by while I was gone, to please order me another drink. When I came back, he told me that the waitress asked him if I was on a mission.

I was pissed. How dare she judge me? I wanted to get up in her face and tell her off. “Take a look around, lady! We’re in a shitty bar in the suburbs. Nobody is here to pray, or exercise, or read a book. Every loser here is on a mission!”

Sure, I left that place on spaghetti legs, but that was the worst of it. No harm done.

Alas, friends and family kept telling me that what I was doing wasn’t cool. I had no other choice than to give up drinking, which I did, over twenty years ago.

My husband now tells me he wishes I could have one beer with him when we’re at a restaurant, so he doesn’t have to drink alone. (Ahem, I did some of my best drinking alone, back in the day, just me and a six-pack of Corona). What the hell am I going to do with ONE beer?! It’s not like I drank because I enjoyed the taste of hops and yeast – I only drank to get messed up. And I’m not going to even get a buzz off one beer.

Nah, man – I’ve retired. I hung up those medals long ago.


A trip down memory lane

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I grew up in Podunk, NH, a town so small it was named for the first family to settle there, the Podunks. Some of their descendants were still residents. They didn’t put on any airs, though. After all, this town isn’t known for anything, and it certainly isn’t a tourist destination. You only know this place exists because you live here, used to live here, or regret that you know someone living here.

As you approach the town’s exit on the highway, you see a blue sign optimistically labeled: Attractions. Below the title it’s just blank. When the sign was erected, the town board must have been like, “Come back in 20 years and we’ll have an Applebee’s. Just you wait and see!”

You have to haul your own garbage to the dump in this town. Our next-door neighbor, before he retired, was in charge of the dump. Rusty was America’s first hoarder. He brought his work home with him, and so, his property also looked like a dump.

I guess he wanted to gaze at a parking lot out his kitchen window instead of nature. Row after row of broken-down cars filled his back yard.

Attached just off to the side of the front door was a “Beware of Dog” sign. Now, I don’t know if there really was a dog, or if Rusty had just found the sign at the dump and thought it’d be a good addition to his weathered siding, but that sign was wholly unnecessary.

There were a hundred deterrents to would-be trespassers in that yard, long before reaching the door. If you scraped your arm on anything littering the property, your next stop was the hospital to get a tetanus shot.

In fact, if there had ever been a dog on that property, it surely died of tetanus.

That being said, my brother and I used to sneak all over that property when we were kids. It was the closest thing to an amusement park in our region. We’d go exploring while making sure to keep our heads low, in case Rusty had a shotgun.

We could always tell when Rusty was about because he smoked sweet tobacco out of a pipe. You’d smell the smoke long before you saw his yellowed silver hair. Then you knew you needed to run.

Thirty-three years later, Rusty’s property has been handed down to his heirs. What a terrible inheritance. Someone was going to have a lot of work on their hands to make that place livable.

But as I recently drove past, I saw that not a thing has changed! The house still looks dilapidated, no renovations there. And the yard is still a dump. What a strange legacy for that family.

Next, I drove past the real dump, just to complete my trip down memory lane. It was closed, so I paused at the gate. I noticed a sign nailed to a tree: Shoes required. If you need to be told to wear shoes at the dump, well, let’s just say you don’t have much of a future to look forward to.

That’s the town I come from.

Motorcycle Week

Because a day just isn’t enough

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I grew up in rural NH which plays host each summer to a weeklong event known as Motorcycle Week. Thousands of rotund bikers with their particular lady partners descend upon the region like a swarm of locusts. Instances of sexual harassment per-square-mile immediately quadruple while the ear-splitting muffler farts are a constant disturbance.

All the men wear the same uniform: jeans, black motorcycle boots, and t-shirts. Some dress it up with a leather vest.

I was a senior in high school the last time I was subjected to this Hellish display. A passenger in a car with three friends, we passed by a house on the event route where two rotund Neanderthals were sitting on their porch. They had a large cardboard sign propped up that read: “Show us your melons.”

I said to my friends, “Let’s go to the store and buy a bunch of melons. As we drive back by this house, we’ll launch the fruit into the air and shout, ‘You wanna see our melons?!’”

My friends were game, but with the caveat that we buy a melon tray. Whole melons, they reasoned, would be too cumbersome. So, we purchased a tray of neatly arranged slices of cantaloupe and honeydew.

As planned, three of us launched melon slices while shouting, “You wanna see our melons?!”

The Neanderthals didn’t react. I’m sure it took them several minutes to realize their lawn was littered with melon slices and connect it to what we yelled out the window. Nevertheless, it was a proud moment for me, standing up to sexual harassment.

But it would have felt better to see those men blush and look away. To take down their sign, realizing how disrespectful it was to women. To get back on their overly loud motorcycles and leave town in shame.

Auf Der Autobahn

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know how fast I was actually going on the Autobahn, because I don’t speak KPH. All I know is that as I kept pace with other cars in the left lane, it felt like I was piloting a rocket.

My husband meanwhile snoozed in the passenger seat of our rented BMW, blissfully unaware that our lives could have ended in a split second. A couple of Schrodinger’s cats we were, both alive and dead. Each time I switched lanes our bodies lurched to the side. I marveled at my husband’s ability to sleep through such a wild experience.

I’d get into the left lane to pass slower vehicles, then immediately move right again to let even more reckless drivers pass me. The freedom to go as fast as I wanted was exhilarating – and terrifying. I hadn’t anticipated ever getting to have this experience. It’s strange to think how what was novel for me is just everyday life for Germans.

As humans have started to return to normal life following the pandemic, I expected we would be a little kinder to each other. With everyone having been isolated and lonely for so long, we have an unprecedented second chance to be the best versions of ourselves. Unfortunately, as soon as we resumed commuting, we all turned back into jerks, me included.

I shout and curse at the slow-moving vehicles that refuse to take a hint and move right on the highway. At the vehicles that make a turn at only two miles an hour, clogging up the roadway. At the timid, brake-tapping drivers. At the drivers with dazed expressions and slack mouths who appear to not even be aware they are in a car or have any idea where they are going.

It’s cathartic, really, to shout at strangers from the safety of your own car. I don’t hurl insults out an open window or give the finger; my rage is kept contained within the privacy of my vehicle. I shout all the way to work. Then, having gotten that out of my system, I stroll into the office in my business casual wear like a normal, well-adjusted member of society.

What Pandemic?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Remember that time we had a global pandemic and then as soon as the mask mandate lifted, one country invaded another? WUT?!

I naively thought that once this isolation was over, we’d all stumble out of our homes blinking in the light and going, “Wow – other humans! People I’m not related to!” We’d open our arms to the nearest stranger and give them a bear hug. Nope. No such thing.

While some of us were trying our hand at baking sourdough bread, learning a new language, or just trying to stay sane throughout the monotony of staring at the same four walls for two years, others were busy plotting world domination.

Here’s another horrifyingly naive thought I’d had perhaps just six months ago. I was pondering the history of the world and how so many regions were shaped by ongoing invasions. I told myself, “Thank goodness that doesn’t happen anymore. In a social media-connected world where everyone exists under a microscope and everything bad makes the news, no way could a marauder get away with that behavior anymore.”

Between the plague and invasions, the years 2020-2022 are shaping up to be like the Middle Ages all over again, just with smart phones, selfies, and duck lips tossed into the mix.

How about sitting around a campfire and singing “Kumbaya” together? No? Then at the very least, let’s enforce isolation again until we’re all ready to be civil.