I am in Florida. I flew here, against my better judgement, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
I haven't seen my family in over a year. There's a (hundred) good reason(s) for that. But that's a whole other universe of blogs.
I get in on Tuesday night and of course, the first thing I do is try to get a spot somewhere on stage. Even before hug my mother. The next thing I do is realize it isn't easy to find stage time in Tampa, Florida. I went to the Tampa Improv on Wednesday night where the Homegrown Comedy Show is going on. I introduced myself to the manager and gave the show's emcee a tape. This show is noteworthy for the following reasons:
1) Homegrown is a lesser used word for 'sucky'
2) In the hour that the show takes place, I hear no less than 13 jokes I've heard on tv or read in joke books being told by comedians who didn't write them or purchase them
3) They won't let me do any time on the show because it's an evening of professionals, a special event
The five comedians on the show are mediocre at best, except one guy, Johnny B who is pretty decent and by far, the best one. He is endearing the audience to him, he is friendly, sweet, loveable, the funny fat guy. The hostess Renee is interesting. She insists on coming out barefoot, she looks like a man I used to be afraid of when I lived in Maine, she drinks and smokes on stage (in one hand) holds the mic with the other. She abuses the men in the audience and comes onto them in an evil and uncomfortable way. They can't help but resist her. She's polished in a way that says she has been doing stand up for a very, very, VERY long time.
The other comedians, and I use the term comedians loosely are just painful to watch. One of them 'shows his ass' as is put by a local, which in Florida means to act like a real idiot, but I know it as pulling down your pants at a person or group of people with the intention of getting a laugh from your buddies who are egging you on (also known as mooning someone), so I am confused until she explains it to me. One guy tells Stu Kamens old set verbatim. Stu is an NYC comedian who got out of the business about ten years ago. I think he's fucking prostitutes in Amsterdam on a bed stuffed with marijuana right now. Still another guy gives the audience the finger, talks shit about a previous comedian's set, gets into an awkward verbal altercation with a woman, bails his twenty minute set at 4 minutes, 13 seconds, and makes a beeline from the stage with his fist for a wall. Wow.
I go to speak to the bartender. I tell him I gave the emcee my tape. He warns me not to trust the emcee and recommends I get my tape back and give it to the manager. I do, and then quickly leave, but not before I see a separate comedian punch a wall inches from my face.
Over the course of the evening, I hear the phrase, "My husband was just released from jail" way too many times.
The next day is Thanksgiving and I eat my face off.
Friday, Gary calls me from the Tampa Improv and invites me to do a guest spot on George Wallace's show. I am totally thrilled and immediately commit.
10:30 PM, the Improv is packed. There've got to be 500 people there. Gary is the house MC and he tells me he is going to bring me up first. I am confident. I am certain this is gonna be awesome. I can just imagine the back pats and high fives I'm gonna receive when all this is over. I do notice the audience is mostly older black folks and white grandparents with their grandkids, but I'm ready for them. First, I'll do my pedophile joke, that one always gets a laugh. Then it's on to bulemia and then hating animals. This shit is gonna be fucking great.
I bomb at hello. I don't know what happened. The best part of my set is when some greasy Tampa cowboy tries to heckle me and I embarrass him and his two blonde bims. I take the winning heckle ticket as my big closer and get off the stage. 3 minutes, 28 seconds. I make a beeline with my fist for the door. I'm especially glad to know my sweet little sister cancelled her evening of hanging out with her boyfriend and had to see her big sister tank.
Gary greets me on my way out. He says, "Good jokes, wrong crowd." I feel like maybe he's right, but a good comedian can make any crowd laugh, right? "Don't feel bad," he says. "These people don't like New Yorkers. Marc Maron bombs every time he comes here, too." Strangely, it doesn't make me feel better. It makes me feel like serving my own bowels to myself, fresh from my guts. Somehow I muster a smile and a thank you, and slither out with my sister, embarrased, following behind me.
I get home and my mother tries to make me feel better. She says, "Aw, honey. Maybe you should think about your jokes. Maybe try to lighten up a little. These people are scared of jokes about gay people. They think bulimia is sad. How about if you tell them about how I made you take tap class in clogs? That's funny. Maybe you can tell them about the time dad cut his thumb off with the ax, or your first pap smear."
I fall asleep in front of the fire, thinking about how to change my act by 6:00 tomorrow evening when I am scheduled to perform at my Uncle's auction.
Thanksgiving day, my Uncle calls. He says, come perform at my show! I'll pay you! I want you to do comedy! It'll be fun! He puts my picture up on his website! Jessica Delfino! it says. Writes for MTV! She's been on Good Morning America! it says. My big fat face, smiling! Headshot! $150 from amybphotography.com! "Sure" I say. "No problem! Sounds like fun."
I arrive on Saturday at the auction, 5 pm. The crowd looks identical to the Improv crowd, but with even less brains than teeth, and lots of information for eachother about rims and predictions on the football game.
My Uncle comes over to me. He says, "Jess. I'm really glad you're here. Here' s the rules."
1 - No swearing.
2 - No dirty stuff.
3 - No sudden movements or breakdancing or anything like that
4 - These people are old, don't do anything to offend them. Stand stiff if you can. Don't move your arms.
5 - I can't pay you in money. I'm going to pay you in collector's item Dairy Queen glasses and a box of paperback books.
My grandparents have come out to see me. They have completely opposite ways of teaching me, showing me they love me. My grandfather all my life has verbally noted what a great ass I have and tells me the same dirty jokes over and over again; my grandmother speaks completely in parables and hugs me a lot. My twelve year old cousin is there, too. He's wearing his favorite Korn tee shirt. He give me a lot of harsh criticism and pulls my hair. I think that means he likes me. I wonder if I should be flattered that I totally have a chance with my cousin?
My Uncle gives me a grand introduction. These people are old, scary, and they all drive trucks. They are not going to like my jokes. They are not going to like me. I don't know what to do. I tell a few jokes about growing up in Maine. I stall. I talk to the guy in the front row. I get heckled by a guy wearing a plaid shirt eating a hotdog. My grandparents laugh at everything I say. My Uncle paces nervously. My cousin raises his hand and asks when I'm getting off stage. People are bidding on my failure. Then, somehow, miraculously, I start to get them. The minute my defeat settles in. I get them. They start laughing. I'm confused. Maybe my mom is right. Maybe I should pander. Maybe I should die. Maybe I should get back into graphic design. I have a degree. I know Photoshop. I know all about typesetting. Florida isn't so bad. Maybe I could move here and work for my mom's paper. Maybe I could just sublet my new apartment and find a rich guy down here and marry him, squeeze out a few fat babies, get old, get sick, get menopaused, get on social security, get whatever.
It seems like as soon as I feel like things couldn't get any worse, they break. I guess the moral of this story is, "every cloud has a valuable pewter lining" or "don't judge a box of paperback books by their cover" or "timing plus tragedy at the auction equals comedy".
On the ride home, I say to my grandparents, "I just don't know what to do. I don't know what I'm doing wrong." My grandmother says, "Oh, honey. Seek, and ye shall receive." Then, she kisses me and pats my shoulder. My grandfather says, "Did you ever hear the joke about the .50 cent prostitute?" I realize, right then and there, that all along, there has actually been deepness and meaning to his dirty jokes. Look what you're doing, he's saying. Doing this dirty business with dirty fornicators for going on two years. Up there, spread eagle. Telling filthy jokes, selling sex, selling your history and your future. Giving it away, practically for free. To anyone and everyone.
My grandfather is trying to tell me. I am the fifty cent prostitute.
I consider this for thirty five of the fourty minute ride home. Finally, I answer.
"Yeah, I've heard it, grandpa. But tell it again."