The show, of course, was a complete disaster. Worse than anything I could have imagined. And not just because – with one exception – every joke I told died; every word that issued from my mouth bleated like some garbled alien language that no one could comprehend.
And not just because I was mentally and physically exhausted, and experiencing the cataclysmic self-doubt of a death row prisoner who’s chance for a reprieve had long since slipped irrefutably away.
It wasn’t simply a disaster because of the shame – the palpable shame – one feels as they watch themselves fumbling the game-winning touchdown right at the buzzer; the shame that I was to the audience, the club, the other comics, Don, my family, Cincinnati, God, myself, and, most of all, Roger. How much damage was I doing to him? Screwing up one of his vaunted Saturday nights and all the Cincinnati-Magazine-driven goodwill? Would he ever let me perform again?
For all those reasons, it was a miserable show. But it was an unimpeachable disaster because it was slow. Continue reading
I had finished my act and was in the back playing Missile Command. (I couldn’t touch Mike’s high score – but could beat just about anyone else’s.) Roger had introduced Jack as the weekend’s opener. But now the room was quiet – like when Durst had the audience entranced – but different. I could hear murmurs, an angry shout followed by broken, awkward laughs. Drew, near the bar, waved me over. Jack, on stage, was shouting at the audience.
What were we talking about? Shit – I forgot the – forgot the punchline – oh yeah – C’mon, everybody! C’mon – heard the fucker so many times – you could do the joke better’n me! C’mon! What do y’want? New shit? New shit? Buy me a fuckin’ jokebook, motherfucker. Was that rude? Fuck. Excuse me.
The comics looked on, eyes wide. Jack was loaded, as drunk as I’d ever seen him.
By late April, 1981, I had performed 40 times.
After the Corral Show I tried to drop Plrknib and DC-10 and Make me a sandwich and toss in newer bits – a VD joke, a Neediest Kids of All joke, more commercials. But if a show was going south I found myself jumping back into Plrknib, automatically.
I was playing Scrabble with my identical twin sister
It was still a life raft. The laughs were too big.
And meanwhile, Drew had gotten a Saturday opening spot. And now, on Wednesday night, Roger announced that Jack Previty had gotten one, too.
Thursday night. The eye
In a dark, back corner of the bar, Roger, pissed, reprimanded Jack. Jack grinned, embarrassed, a schoolboy talking to the principal. He hid a bottle of Corona behind his back and nodded sheepishly at everything Roger said.
Mike and I watched from a table.
“What’s he saying?” I asked.
“He’s telling Jack he’s getting too sloppy on stage. He’s gotta cut back.”
Plrknib wasn’t the only joke I’d kidnapped from New York. If I was going to risk doing one, well what the hell – why not a few? After picking through my notes, I pulled other bits that seemed like they’d fit in my act: another Mittleman bit about dating, Mark Schiff’s Make me a sandwich, a joke about the DC-10 plane crash, and a one-liner that I used just once to open my act:
I got this job through the CETA program.
The line worked, but honestly, I didn’t really know what CETA was. I had thought it was like RIF (“Reading Is Fundamental!”) – but getting a stand-up job through RIF didn’t make even slight comedic sense to me. So, when I discovered CETA was a minority jobs assistance program, I thought – hmm – maybe I shouldn’t be doing this bit in my act. And that was it for that one.
Jack, on why the incredibly hot eye waitresses kept ignoring me:
“Yer jailbait, Jailbait.”
“C’mon! I’m just another guy – !”
“Get some perspective, kid! Yer a pizza-face 16-year old that tells jokes! Y’aint Denny Terrio!”
Friday, November 21.
My fifth performance and it was crap, my worst ever up to that point. It had been a month since I’d first performed and nothing had been as good as that first, fiery performance. In fact, Roger had rested me the previous week. This week I was on the verge of the flu, but I had promised myself that, if offered, I would never not take a slot – not after barely surviving that first show. So, I went to the eye with a sore throat and lousy material. It was the fifth time in a month I had tried to write an entirely new act and the effort was exhausting. The other comics were repeating. They couldn’t have cared less about new material and returning patrons.
And everyone else killed that night, so I assumed I would too. But I crapped out so miserably, I wanted to die.