Making my high school peers laugh was one thing, but stepping in front of a live audience of strangers; potential hecklers with access to fat martini olives and soiled napkins? Quite another. For this I blame Eddie Brill, the audience warm-up comedian for Late Show with David Letterman
, with whom I had become friends a few months earlier, after we met at a Florida health spa. When I told the warmhearted Brill that stand-up was on my bucket list, he encouraged me to give it a shot, and I soon discovered I wasn’t alone. New York is an incubator for aspiring comedians who take classes and then test their chops during “bringer shows” — for which you have to bring a certain amount of people in exchange for stage time — and open-mic nights, a misnomer if ever there was one. Most places charge a few bucks for five minutes at the mic as well as advanced online registration.
Yet here I was. A middle-aged mother of two who teaches at a college, writes on the side and, up until now, has confined her jokes to posts on Facebook.
The Comedy Crew, along with Jim Mendrinos and Lori Sommer, will perform in a reunion show at Gotham Comedy Club in New York at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 4. Visitwww.gothamcomedyclub.com
for more details.
On the first day of class, we meet our instructors. Jim looks like a baby-faced lumberjack in a red flannel shirt, and Lori is as lithe as a yoga teacher, her curly, dark hair pulled tight into a ponytail. Jim talks a lot about how comedy is the most beautiful art form: “It’s delicate, like an ecosystem,” with color and layers made manifest by passion and truth. But it doesn’t flourish in safety and convention. “No great art is ever accomplished in your comfort zone,” he says as we nod our heads, absorbing the profundity of his words like comedic disciples. “You have to get your fingers dirty.”
When he’s finished lecturing, he calls us one by one to the stage to perform the two minutes of material we were asked to prepare in advance. Michelle Conrad, a 26-year-old single mother of two who is waitressing at a Waffle House, starts with a story about how she lives in her parents’ attic while her sister is studying neuroscience in college. “Clearly I’m the golden child,” she deadpans.
“Good,” Jim says. “But your jokes aren’t written on the tops of your shoe. Look at the audience.”
When it’s my turn, the only thing that gets dirty is my mouth. Most of my jokes run south of the gutter, and no one is more shocked than I am by my penchant for potty humor. Where did this come from? By all appearances, I’m the bastion of respectability; I shop at Talbots, listen to NPR and drive a minivan.
My only clean bit is about entering a beauty pageant for married women. “I placed third,” I say, pausing for applause before dropping the punch line. “There were only seven of us, and one didn’t show up.”