Dr. Weiss’ office.
“So, what’s the plan?” he asked.
“Perform like my life depended on it.”
“Do you have enough material to – ”
“I think so. I dunno. Maybe – ”
“Maybe you could tell the guy that for this one last show – ”
“No. I can’t do that. He was very clear.”
“Hmm. Well – y’know what? I think you’re gonna do just fine.”
“Really? You believe that?”
“I do. I believe it. Or – ”
“Or…well…hmm… Honestly? You might be screwed.”
Home. For the first time in years, I skipped Clifton, skipped the comics and the arcade. I went straight home and spent the day chugging two-liter bottles of Pepsi and poring through everything – every bit I’d ever written, for stand-up, for the Six Pistols, for English classes at school. I probably had over an hour or two of raw material, but of all the bits I’d performed on stage, at least half never worked. Maybe they were interesting or vaguely amusing on some level. But they weren’t ha ha funny. And ha ha funny was exactly what I needed tonight.
By late afternoon, I had assembled my 30 minutes.
By eight p.m., I was nervously waiting in the back of the eye as the crowd ushered in and began pickling themselves.
Rock muzak – Eagles, Allman Brothers – blared from the house speakers and were drowned out by people talking, bustling, ordering food. It seemed like a more upscale crowd than usual: Men in suits, women in dresses. Were they on their way to more formal events? Or had they specifically dressed for us? Had the eye on Saturday become an evening’s entertainment – an actual destination – instead of the drop-in joint it had once been on Thursdays and Fridays? Were men actually bringing dates here to impress them, paying $15 a person plus a two drink minimum? Could a good show by me and my magician actually help lubricate a guy’s date for the evening?
The pressure was on.
Open, close, open, close. That was my mantra. If I had a solid open and close I could pace things out – interweave reliable bits – parents, commercials, camp – with lesser bits – Farrell’s, Pound Salt. If the crowd was with me – the weaker stuff might go over just as well. Cutting Plrknib was not a big deal. It only took up what – ? A minute? Forty seconds? Okay, an important forty seconds, but still it shouldn’t make or break the act. I shouldn’t have to completely reinvent myself. I was delirious, shuffling bits based on nothing, on what people were wearing, how close a certain couple was to the stage. But the resistant counter-thought emerged: no, no, stick to the plan, stick to the plan.
My magician was at the bar, relaxed, wearing a nerdy tuxedo with black bow tie. He schmoozed up the waitresses that I could never get anywhere with. He looked comfortable, as if any bar on any given night was home for him.
And I was disappointed to see no big turnout of comics. No Drew, no Rico, no Bill Hollifield. Even Mike was absent. No one had come to see my gala opening. It felt like the eye was short-staffed, like only the emergency weather team had shown up.
But Roger was there at the bar, laid-back, having a beer, playing the cheerful host and maintaining his composure. One of his boys was opening and he was pulling for me.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
“They’re still filing in. Let’s give ‘em a few more minutes.”
He gave me a warm smile.
“Knock ‘em dead,” he said, sincerely.