I performed in a comedy show at a Riker's Island Womens Facility yesterday. If I could only use one word to describe the show, it would have to be the word, "UNBELIEVABLY FUCKING AWESOME."
The line-up was a strange mish mash of comedians. Susie Felber, Clayton Fletcher, Paul Sullivan, Eddie Peppitone, Ray Rivera, some guy named Tim from Philly who I'd never seen before, a few other comics who I didn't know, and myself. Jessica Delfino. The Emcee, Peter Haywood, was a guy I had met in a Video Improv class taught by Victor Varnado.
When Peter first asked me about doing the show, I was thinking to myself, "No way, are you nuts? Me, in a room with a bunch of scary criminals, trying to make them laugh? I can barely make nice people at comedy clubs who are not scary laugh. Then I'm going to have to not only ward off hecklers verbally, but possibly also have to physically protect myself? Thanks, but I don't stinkin' think so. I need to do a show like that like I need to stick my finger up my own butt." He was like, "OK." Then, I told a comedian friend of mine, Roger Hailes, about it and he was like, "You should do it. It'd probably be the best show ever." I was like, "What?" He was like, "Yeah." So I thought about it and decided, hey. Let's give it a try.
I woke up at 9 am on Wednesday cursing Peter Haywood. I saw it was POURING, not raining, and my second thought after, "This is fucking bullshit" was, I do not want to do this show. I want to go back to sleep. I'm a comic for fuck's sake. I'm a vampire. I do comedy all night and sleep all day. That's my thing. But I got up, I pulled myself together somehow, and got over to Peter's in time for our 10 am round up. Peter had rented a van and was going to have us all caravanned over to Riker's together. Cool. The van showed up and we all piled in, like a bunch of retarded kids going on a field trip. I sat front and center, with Eddie to my left and Ray to my right. We all sort of bullshitted about comedy and stuff and got used to eachother's faces, then began talking about the show. "What kind of material should I do?" I considered not doing any rape jokes, and it was a scary prospect, because my act is made up of about 75% of them. Ray tried out a line, "So I was walking down the road as a free man," and we all laughed. That Ray friggin' Rivera.
By the time we pulled into the security check point before the Riker's bridge, we were all sharing a salad of fear and excitement with a light dressing of perspiration. It was just gushing rain out and the wind seemed really pissed off about something. We were instructed to pull into the security parking lot and give all our ID's to the officers so they could run warrant checks on them and issue us official prison ID visitor's badges. We sat there for about an hour and a half and considered just going home when finally they let us in. I was starting to really get scared. I prayed to god to make everything be okay, and if everything could not be okay, to let me be one of the ones who made it out alive.
We had to go into the prison and get another badge, and an infrared stamp, and a little speech from the warden who told us not to swear 'too much', not to talk shit about Bloomberg and not to say anything derrogatory about the facility or the guards. I was getting very nervous as we got led down a big long hallway to a small kind of auditorium. The audience was made of people who had been arrested for reasons I was unsure of. All female. Girls don't generally like me, anyway. And any one of these women had a reason to hate me. I'm free. I just look like I should have my ass kicked, two times in a row, for sport. They weren't going to be handcuffed, they weren't going to be muzzled, they weren't even going to be behind a rope. They were going to be TEN FEET AWAY. And they had been sitting, waiting for over an hour for us to arrive. As the first of the comedians walked in, the crowd of inmates just started screaming. It literally sounded like there was a riot going on. I got scared. Then, I realized, they were screaming for US. Like we were Hall and Oates. They were cheering and clapping, and they all rose up to their feet and were just going wild. I was absolutely blown away.
Peter went on and immediately brought up Ray, then Susie, then someone else, then me, then Clayton, then Tim, then the other girl, then Paul, then Eddie. And they were the best audience I've ever seen in my life, anywhere. They really laughed. They were so happy to be entertained, it was like we could do no wrong. They laughed at the set-ups. They laughed just for the sake of laughing. And there were 150 of them, so when they laughed, you really heard it. They LOVED Eddie, encoring him with the chant, "Sexy Eddie." At the end of the show, the inmates walked by and shook our hands, thanking us and giving us compliments. I think I speak for everyone when I say, we walked out of the auditorium elated.
Back in the van we unloaded our energy on eachother, spilling little tidbits of emotion into eachother's lap, speaking in front of the video camera one comedian had brought along. I felt good, like I'd done community service. But these were people who had been arrested for breaking the law for something more offensive than just a misdemeanor. Still, there was something good that happened there, that came out of that. I'm not sure, but I think it was something that stems from the idea of us all being one, all being connected. Or maybe they were just some people, down on their luck, in need of a good laugh. Either way, it was really, really cool.