I was third, as usual, and pumped. Jack, of course, wasn’t there. And I tried not to feel guilty about getting the opening spot at his expense. Would Roger really have put me up in another month? Was he just throwing me a bone for all of my begging? It didn’t matter. The fact was if he didn’t think I was ready he wouldn’t have given me the spot.
My ten minutes that night went fine. Three-and-a-half stars, maybe three-and-three-quarters, even. I was excited for Saturday, and playing to Roger as much as anyone else. My bits were tight and I was full of energy. He wanted my A-game, and here was ten pure minutes of it. And, of course, all of the New York bits were in there: CETA, DC-10, Make Me a Sandwich, and Plrknib. Now, I needed to be as tight and strong as possible. Ethical or not, it was no time to back off of bits that worked.
“My entire act is stolen.”
“Please?” Dr. Weiss sat up.
“Okay, not the entire act – but the best bits. They’re stolen.”
“From comics I saw in New York – at the Improv and Catch a Rising Star.”
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.
I was playing Scrabble the other day with my identical twin sister. Boy, is she ugly –
I didn’t think about it. Or I did. Thought about it enough to rehearse it, to practice, to nail it. Thought about it a lot. Constantly, even. But I didn’t think about the moral or ethical ramifications. Or I did. But I didn’t care. Or I did care – but it seemed justifiable – rational? Do-able. It seemed – it felt –like I could get away with it. Like the repercussions, if any, would be minimal.
I rationalized: this is a joke by a not-famous comedian hundreds of miles away, on the other side of the world, on an alien planet. If he lived here, in Cinti, then no, forget it. If it seemed like he might ever even come to town – then no. If it could affect him, negatively, in any way – if it could somehow hurt him, hurt his career, impact him at all – in the slightest – then no, no, no. But it wouldn’t. He would never know. He was not a name – not a headliner. He was a young, unknown New York comic. A foreigner, for all intents and purposes, to Cincinnati, to the Midwest. No one here would have heard of him, heard this bit before. And certainly no one there knew me. We were on two different planets completely. Two obscure, young comics on two different worlds, hundreds of miles away from each other.
Telling the same joke.
Of course, no one would know.
You can yell at your mom and throw your dad against a tree, but there are certain things y’just can’t say to your grandparents. “Hey Gramma – pound salt up your ass!” Y’can’t say that.
One time, my father, thinking that my grandmother Alice should’ve minded her business about something, said:
Oh, just tell her to pound salt up her ass