Lately I have been addicted to comedy shows. I like to catch my dinner over a stand-up. I do not enjoy the experienced comedians that perform at high profiled places like the comedy cellar, where John Stewart and Chris Rock performed not long ago. I mostly enjoy little joints that are advertised for by flyers on the street. Some of these aspiring entertainers are not so bad. Others though, are really not funny at all. I sit in the front chair hoping to be picked on and I plan on ways to deflect the flow of the joke. I never get picked though. I guess I look and act too plain as opposed to unmatched couples and obvious ethnic faces that provoke the politically incorrect jokes New York comedians feed on. I sit quietly and enjoy the misery of a comedian that is not clicking with the audience. It is such torture for the rest of the crowd to be watching a man stripped from his confidence on stage but I silently enjoy it. I look around and I see uncomfortable faces shying away and seeking distraction in their plates and their neighbors. I look the comedian straight in the eye and give him the deadest stare I can paste on. Every now and then I would blast into laughter and when I get his attention, I would look away. By then he’s completely unfocused and shook to the core in his performance. While he works the room building them up to get to the punch line, I call the waitress or tap on my glass with my nails. All while thinking how hard it must be. I know the feeling when you don’t get the favorable reaction from an audience. I could imagine how devastatingly tough it is to make people laugh. Standing there while getting blank looks could destroy a person, for the night at least.
I enjoyed it till I met him. He was very bad in his performance as well but he had a very gentle soul. As opposed to the ones that preceded him, he was very dignified and he handled the failure without any bitterness or apparent disappointment. He was frowning the entire time he was up there. And although this was meant to make you laugh, the words he said ceased to exist or make any purpose coming out of his melancholic appearance. I wondered why he went into this business in the first place. He does not look like a comedian; he looks like a worrier, a poet, a philosopher. I also wondered if people saw what I saw in him. I would expect not, they probably are not crazy. I kept trying to get his attention. I am staring at him, but that is expected, he is on the stage. Then I thought of those Geishas who are supposed to “stop a man in his track with one look”. I cannot get a man’s attention with 20 looks. Hell I bet he wouldn’t stop talking even if I flashed him now. He just kept going and kept talking in his monotonous sad voice. People were paying the bill by then and did not have the time to look at him. It still did not stop him. It was as if he talked to someone who wasn’t in the room. Now I was sad for him. I didn’t want him discouraged or destroyed. He is so noble and so sensitive. I looked around the room giving people dirty looks, trying to reprimand the behavior of the whole crowd. He ended his performance with a commercial joke that also landed flat. I came up to him and told him not to feel bad. I said it was a certain table or a part of the room that was too loud or too quiet and that it is not his fault. Then he asked “so you thought I was funny?” I was thinking “no, not particularly, not at all actually”. I said “yes, you were, they just killed your flow and your energy up there”. Then he said “so you want to make out baby?” I go “what? No!”
When will I stop building people up like that?
(painting: Dimitry Kedrin)