The Corral Show went great until they physically pulled me off stage.
The house was packed. It was a cool spring evening, and it seemed as if everyone – every man, woman and child in Wyoming – had come to the Civic Center to see this little variety show. Maybe they’d come to see Paul Adam’s magic act, or the senior girls perform the Bunny Hop, or Bob and the band boys perform She’s a Witch! Who knows? But there were hundreds of people there. Standing room only.
I was scheduled to close the first hour, and then come back in the second half with Bucky and the Pistols to do a new bit we’d written for the show How to Write an Opera. I was nervous, but enthusiastic.
For my stand-up, I decided to be “larger than life” and had actually worn a blue suit, imagining the Civic Center my personal Sands Casino. I was the consummate professional, eager to please the crowd. And they were likewise eager to be pleased.
Almost every bit was hit. I did my best stuff – smoke alarm, mom’s cooking and driving, some commercials and dating and New York material, Plrknib, of course – which killed – and started to close on Things I Learned at Camp. I could’ve closed on Plrknib, and often did, especially if it was a tough crowd. But Camp was a reliable closer. And the crowd, with all the kids and families, seemed ripe for it.
And as I started to close with camp jokes, there were arms on me, suddenly, pulling me backwards, offstage into the dark. The stage lights went black. And the crowd murmured, confused. What happened? What’s going on? Was the building on fire?
And I saw them: Sara and a Corral parent.
“What’s going on?!” I asked, fervently.
But they said nothing, and disappeared backstage. A moment later, the stage lights were back on. The next act had started. The audience and Corral had already given up on me and moved on.
I came into the basement dressing room disoriented and furious. Bucky and Ron sat waiting for Opera to start.
“What’s up?” asked Bucky.
“They pulled me offstage!” I said. “You didn’t see it?”
“We’ve been down here,” said Ron.
“They pulled me off!”
“I don’t know why!”
“Did you accidentally say ‘cocksucker’?” asked Ron.
“Did you do the Brad joke?” asked Bucky.
“No! No, I didn’t! I wasn’t even going to! And it’s not the Brad joke!”
“Maybe they thought you were gonna do it?” said Bucky.
And I realized, shit, I never told them I’d cut the joke.
“Jesus – so what?” I raged. “Who the fuck are they to pull me off stage?! They could’ve asked! The could’ve double-checked! Finishing is everything!”
“Bastards,” said Bucky.
“Jerks,” said Ron.
“Y’know what it is?” said Bucky.
“What?” said Ron.
“Prep Revenge for last year’s show.”
Bob, Ron and the band boys opened the second hour with the She’s a Witch scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They aped Monty Python down to the letter, and clearly savored the piece – more, I thought, even than the audience did. But they got laughs and did fine.
Bucky and I performed How to Write an Opera – basically, Opera Writing for Dummies to the tune of Carmen – and it went well. An idiot Corral parent had been assigned to direct us, and thought the bit’s yuk yuk potential would be amped if Bucky and I wore strait jackets and Groucho glasses. A year earlier, I would’ve been deeply offended, but this year I was much more focused on my own act. So I relinquished control of Opera and we wore white shirts backwards with our arms tied. It could have been worse. Another director had tried to put us in tutus, one time.
As we came off the stage from Opera, Sara and the Corral parent were waiting for me, and waving frantically.
“Go back!” they called in whispers. “Go back! Get out there! Go!”
“Your act! Finish your act!”
My act? From 20 minutes ago? And I realized the audience – this crowd of students, teachers, neighbors, community folk, shopkeepers, PTA members, dog walkers, bank tellers, grocery clerks, and family and friends – were all chanting
DC-10, DC-10, DC-10
Or maybe not all of them, but enough that you could hear a thumping throng. They wanted what? Me to finish my act? Confusded, I went back onstage and they cheered. My mind was racing. What did they want me back for?
DC-10, DC-10 –
They wanted me to do the plane joke.
Somehow, they knew about it. Sara had asked me to cut it – but they wanted me to do the bit, to be offensive. Well – alright then.
I read the other day that the DC-10 plane crash was the worst plane crash in history. I wonder what the best plane crash in history was? I can see these guys flying into a mountain:
‘We’re number one! We’re number one!’
Wild cheers, applause. Maybe a scattered boo from an actual, offended audience member. But the meter was definitely tipping towards positive.
“That’s for Brad,” I said. “Good night.”
Dressing room. After the show.
“You were wonderful!” my mother gushed. “And you got up in front of all those assholes and – God! You’re too good for that school!”
Ken Miller came over.
“Very impressive,” he said. “You know, he’s in the WHY program!”
“Good to see what you do with your time, Alex.”
Ken headed off. My mother fumed.
“You see that?! It’s like he’s taking credit for your work!”
Mr. Haas wandered over.
“Funny,” he said, sincerely.
“I’m still available for Tipplers,” I said.
“And Kiwanis!” he said.
“You bet!” I said.
“Bernstein,” said Mickey Blakee. “Fuckin’ funny!”
“He was fuckin’ funny, wasn’t he?” agreed my mother. “Very fuckin’ funny!”
And Mickey and my mom went through the backstage crowd congratulating the other Pistols and performers and telling everyone how wonderful they were.
And my father came over and lingered.
“So?” I asked.
“I thought it was good.”
“I thought it was very good.”
“Thanks. Did any of the bits seem…familiar to you?”
He stared at me, confused.
“DC-10?” I said. “The Scrabble joke?”
He shrugged. “Are those – ”
“From New York.”
“The clubs we went to?”
“We heard those there?”
“Yes. Okay. Yes. Yeah. I do remember now.”
“Well. They’re pretty good jokes.
“I know. I didn’t write them.”
“Okay. Was everything from New York? The one about the smoke alarm – I remember that time we came home and – ”
“That’s right. That was mine. Most of the bits. Just not the best ones.”
“They were all good.”
“Yeah. But – you understand what I’m saying?”
“I – ”
“You did some bits we saw in New York?”
“Yeah. Yes. That’s right. And I – I do them – not just here. I do them at the eye. I mean – this was my act.”
“Except for the suit?”
“Yes – plus I curse a lot more. At the club I say shit a lot. Saying shit is fairly de rigueur at the eye.”
“Well. Sounds like you’ve got a great act.”
“I know. But – ”
“I – those bits – I stole those bits. I stole them, Dad. I’m doing stolen material – ”
And I realized I was practically yelling. And Bucky, Mickey, Bob and other folks began shying away from us.
“I see,” said Dad.
Springfield Pike. Late. Mom took the car and Dad and I walked home. The weather was cool and the streets were dimly lit with traffic headlights flickering up and down the street.
“How many were stolen?”
“Tonight? Just – two – DC-10 and Plrknib.”
“Out of how many?”
“Ten or twelve bits.”
“So, at least 80% was yours?”
“So, you got an 80% success rate with your own material?”
“I guess so. Yes.”
A police car sped by, lights flashing, siren blaring.
“Frankly,” he said, “I spent the whole time, thinking – Jesus – how’d he learn to do all that? To get up there and – ”
“Anybody could do it. All you have to do is get on stage and talk.”
He stopped and looked at me.
“No, they couldn’t.”
“Dad – ”
“Don’t – don’t minimalize it. Not anyone can do this. It takes guts to get up there like that. You have a fine act. You should be very proud of your act. I am.”
And people drove by, staring at us. Was something wrong? Should they stop? Why were these two men standing by the side of the road, so late at night, so serious? What could possibly be that important?
We kept walking.
“These jokes – these New York jokes – it really bothers you?”
“Then, cut ‘em out. Get rid of ‘em.”
“I know – I just – ”
“You don’t need them. You just said – 80% of your act is solid.”
“I know. But – ”
“No buts. Just get rid of them. You think your act will fall apart?”
“I – ”
“It won’t. Trust me.”
DC-10 joke © Fred Stoller