She’s a squatty, blonde-bobbed woman with pink glasses not unlike Sally Jessy Raphael’s own colored frames. She marches back and forth before a vast whiteboard bearing the day’s date in the top right corner and COMEDY written in bold, black letters behind her. Eyeing a diverse crowd of people fresh from jobs teaching middle school, delivering mail and working in EXCEL, she teases of a different shift, this one entertaining people in the twilight hours.
“How does comedy sound?” she asks.
“It sounds great,” I think to myself. “But how can I make that sound?” I open my notebook and write that down. That might be funny.
“The hardest part of comedy isn’t necessarily finding the material – you’re living the material,” she continues. “The hardest part is courage to get in front of people.”
I write down ‘I already have material’ and ‘courage.’ The words have drastically offset what might possibly be my first joke, but they are the first words in my comedy infancy. Words I’ll need to remember.
The class continues with a series of anecdotes that are, in essence, masturbatory. She’s been doing stand up for ten years. She’s performed all around the country and almost did a tour with the USO. She once opened for Paula Poundstone. Celebrities, that is, people with a blue check next to their social media name, have favorited “quite a few jokes” of hers on Twitter.
Outside during a break, while my new peers gather around the instructor, huddled over a passing torch to light their cigarettes, I descend a staircase to find a vending machine that might ease the evening hunger pangs. I want to buy a Mountain Dew and a Pop Tart, but it won’t take my dollars. What a flawed piece of machinery that it depends on perfect currency to work it. One would think any money would work. My machines wouldn’t be this picky. I wonder if it would be practical to open little shops beside vending machines only selling things cheaper, accepting imperfect money. Then I realize they have these already and that they’re called convenience stores.
As I’m back sitting at my seat wondering what to add to the single joke and two lines of comedic wisdom, the instructor reenters the classroom from break. An entourage of students trail off the fumes of stale menthol and memories. I wonder how I’ll ever survive on stage telling jokes if I can’t make conversation with someone I’m paying to talk to me.
She lectures on craft for a few moments, then dims the lights and pops a VHS tape of George Carlin into a VCR. While Carlin gives his two cents on religious dogma, I realize that very much like the vending machine, the blonde-bobbed woman is passively delivering material; outsourced comedy. Frustrated, under the flickering of a 42-inch box set, I fall into a trance.
I recall reading Albert Einstein’s biography. He had a sister. I imagine her state attending the family reunions, people doting on Al all while she tries to show off the dress she sewed.
“Yes, dear, perfect five-thread overlock hem,” I hear them say. “But have you heard about Albert’s new theory?”
I can’t get my mind off the guy sitting in the row behind me. He’s wearing one of those shirts with the name of a sports team and the year it was founded. Since when has this been a trend, putting dates on clothing? Should I expect a history exam sometime soon?
Nobody in this room will amount to George Carlin status, especially since we’re all assuming we’re going to learn everything in a community college elective that meets the first night of the week. The only people we have in here are people who could give a shit about Monday Night Football.
Who’s the idiot that backed into the parking space beside me? It takes just as much time backing in as it does backing out. I don’t get it. Is this person planning an escape route?
I think of a joke and write it down. I write, ‘Physical comedy – Jokes on you … (switch microphone from right to left hand) … I’m left-handed.’ It’s shit, but I keep it. It could come in handy. ‘Handy.’ Puns are kinda funny. I write that down too.
My thoughts linger.
Is Campho-Phenique applied before oral sex a preventative measure?
When Christmas approaches I’ll put all my medication in an advent calendar to appear festive.
The teacher has turned George Carlin off and is giving us the basic run-down of our “graduation show,” an evening in a rented space of a comedy club where we’ll be asked to bring at least two of our friends who will be asked to drink at least two drinks. Mine will drink five to ease the pain.
“You’ll have five minutes to perform,” she says.
‘That’s what my wife says,” I think.
She goes into her bit, showing us “how easily it can be done.” I want to concentrate but I’m stemming on the chance there’s some sleazy asshole trolling a sex addict’s meeting. Why do I care? Is it the disclosure of anonymity or is it the fact that it’s a brilliant idea?
I understand where a homeless person could find cardboard, but a Sharpie?
I realize I’m at an age that I prefer to sit down to pee. I write ‘tired’ in my notebook and underline it three times. Then I justify my exhaustion by telling myself I’m not only a husband and a father, I’m Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and maybe now a comedian. I’m exhausted. Sitting down to pee is expected. I cross out ‘tired’ in three horizontal swipes of the pen.
The teacher’s set is over and so is class. She asks if we’d like to borrow any of her comedy tapes. I tell her I don’t have a VCR. She says not to worry, that we’ll watch them next week. “Then why would I take one home if the class is going to watch it here,” I ask.
“Don’t be a smartass,” she says.
I wasn’t. And I never tried comedy again.