On Stage: A Lesson in Failure
I was living near Amarillo, Texas in a small town named Canyon in a dry county. And I mean dry. Like a sizzling breeze that blasts your skin with sand and strips the moisture from your membranes. (Maybe that was too much information.) My point is, dry in every sense of the word. No alcohol, no night life, no fun. So dry, that when I heard a comedy club called Jollys held an open mic every Monday night, I was shocked.
Comedy? In the panhandle? Mind-boggling.
Five minutes is all you’d need and five minutes was all you’d get. So I wrote a monologue, memorized it word-for-word and recited it verbatim on stage as a roomful of patrons wished they’d had a few more beers before I started.
The crowd was nice enough. No one heckled. No one even made a peep. As I stared out over smiling faces desperate for words to trigger laughter, I turned the room into a mortuary. Fortunately, a veteran came on stage when I hit my last period, administered oxygen and gave folks a reason to order another round. Meanwhile a comic called Batman greeted me in the green room.
I was laughing at my inadequacies and stated the obvious, something like, “Wow, I sucked!”
Batman was kind. He was the actual act of the night. He was like a can of Glade in a public restroom. “It wasn’t that bad," he said. “They laughed—once.” On a scale of one to stink, maybe that was common for stage virgins.
From that moment on, a routine was born. Batman invited me into the writing group of 4-5 local comics, showed me the ropes and gave me more than a few killer punch lines. Eventually, I became a pretty good, poorly paid opener. That meant I had 15-20 minutes of average material that could warm up a crowd but not show up the subsequent acts. In the latter respect, I was very good at my job.
Fast forward 20 years. Somehow I found Batman on Facebook and since he was the only one from that now defunct Jollys crowd to heartily reciprocate my greeting, we played catch up. He no longer worked as a comic but you couldn’t tell by his posts. Still hilarious, I reached out to him to do for my newly written screenplay what he’d done for my fledgling stage act: provide the punch lines. He delivered, we formed a partnership on a hand-shake, and then he and I dangled the script in the big Hollywood pond, waiting for a bite.
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