By Alex Lewis
You’ve been working on the new /material for a while. Tired of being stale. Tired of telling the same series of words, being the same series of lines and physical actions. Dead tired of it. When you open your notebook, you light up. Ideas are exciting. Some days you sit by yourself for hours, working over a single sentence, a single thought. You imagine yourself on stage, speaking these thoughts. You’re never sure if you hear laughter. So you keep writing.
You try it on friends. Not on family, never on family, but certainly with friends, with your coworkers. Everyone tells you it’s good, and that just makes you nervous-angry.
People react in such frustrating ways. There are the jealous guys; they are the guys who convene loudest, laughing because they want you to like them, respect them, as if that word meant anything. Then there are the women who want to sleep with you. Not every woman wants to sleep with you, but there are some, and they laugh and toss their hair and are generally useless. Finally, there’s that one guy, that fucker, who smiles and nods and you think it’s a real smile, but the asshole doesn’t laugh and if he isn’t laughing, what’s the point? You hate that bastard. The tells you it’s funny. If it’s so funny, then why aren’t you fucking laughing?
The list goes on: The sycophant; the thief; The boy who always drank, the girl who’s always stoned. It gets to you. These are your friends? What the hell do they know? What are they telling me? Are they even speaking words?
In the end, it doesn’t matter what they say, because each of them mouth the same words: “That’s funny, man. I really liked it.” You bet that they did. You just fucking bet.
Other comedians get it, or at least, they get it a little more than the citizens do. The professionals, anyway. Among them, there are those guys who enter with a dream and then get drummed out like a weak-kneed school teacher; stinky with fear, a stink worse than ten days without a shower. Hard to talk to. Of course, they want to hear the bit. And they laugh. It’s a nervous laugh. They’re trying to convince themselves that they can do better. If that’s funny, they say, then I’m funny. They aren’t funny, but you play the same polite game and tell them to go out and get it. They won’t get it, but what’s the point of crushing them at the starting block? That’s stupid. People do that.
You know lots of people who do that. Family time turns into a parade of that shit. The kids think that daddy is funny, but the rest of them, even your loving wife, keep finding ways to show that you’re not funny. Or that you’re not funny enough. Or that the stranger on TV, oh, he isn’t like you, is he, honey? Even though he is. He goes through the shame shit every day. But he’s on television and you’re not, so you’re a schmuck who is wasting his time. The wife doesn’t say this, but her mother thinks it. And fuck her parents for even being part of the conversation. They aren’t worth thinking about.
You show the wife your notebook sometimes. You always regret it.
But there are the other comics. The real ones, not the washouts and not the halftime MCs and certainly not the limp dick proprietor who thinks he knows a thing or to, giving you advice backstage, front stage, at the door and everywhere else he can lord over the fact that he’s giving you money and free drinks. Not the peripheral figures and you know just how many of them there. No, the comics. The ones who didn’t break after a year, or even the ones who did and then came back. There’s that connection of knowing what it’s like out there and on a level you want to hear their reaction to the pitch of this new material, and in the back of your mind you think they’ll help.
You try it every time, every time your notebook yields a half-way worth saying. And they do laugh. This time it’s a genuine laugh, the kind of laugh where a person gives way and stops thinking about themselves or their blackberry or whatever else can distract a person. They do that. That’s what they live for, and they spring to hear the bit and you, for them, with no light, camera, or action, pull it off like you’d been doing it for a thousand sets. This happens in backstages, on busses, and in living rooms after a few too many cocktails. But it happens. And they join in on the riff and it becomes this free flowing thing that seems wonderful for a while until everyone dies down and is asked to leave or departs with their girl friend and you’re left alone with your notebook and your own obligations (is the wife with the kids?). That reality thing. You put your note book in your pocket and keep a hand tight around it. Leather bound. Something about leather bound books, even if they’re littered with your thoughts, are comforting. You comfort yourself back home to domestic life.
Inevitably the road comes up. You’ve talked and ranted and danced at a few of the local establishments, but they’re dry right now what with sports or spoken word folks rolling in. The road beckons. It isn’t so nice, exactly, to get away, but it is deliciously sweet. You’re being allowed yourself. The wife won’t call; the kids don’t know how to do it. Between your friends in the business, you find a way to circle every part of your home and sleep at the economy level in two man rooms filled with six. There’s a lot of complaining. You enjoy the complaining. You can stick it to them and, when you’re turned away, add those words to your notebook.
The tour takes you to one or two classy joints, three middling establishments, and then an assortment of shitholes. You get money at the door for all of this, but it’s barely enough to cut the costs of hunger, gas, and inebriation (you write that down; it sounds pretty good). In terms of money, you’ll break even. That’s a justification to bring home to the in-laws. Keep ‘em quiet. But that’s nothing compared to the freedom.
The freedom to drive along beautiful scenery and look at it, or not, depending on your mood. The freedom to take notes while some lesser comic prattles on about his own failures. ‘Failures,’ you write.