Friday, January 15, 2010

Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'

I don’t want to over type here, because I’m tired as crap and ready to hit the sack, but I’ve had a life changing week and want to hit on a couple of things.

First of all, my trip to Italy changed my life forever. It pulled me out of my current circumstances and made me rethink and reevaluate everything. I woke up a billion times in the middle of the night just to write down my thoughts in my journal. Every experience, every smell, every sight was something that resonated deep within me and made me feel fully alive. I want to capitalize on this trip at some point, because it helped lift some pretty intense depression, but for now, I want to reflect upon the past couple of nights, because they too changed my life forever.

I guess I have to say that there were a couple of things that I realized in Italy before I can reflect on the week’s events. First, I discovered that I’m pretty obsessed with making things happen instead of letting things happen, which I typically admire in myself, but this has become my focus and the idol of my time and energy, and I’m tired of it. I also learned that maybe I’m ambitious to prove a point to people who don’t matter, which is dumb, so I’m going to try to take this year to reflect and explore before I really crack down on applying for Ph.D. programs. I learned that you can’t take anything in this life with you, so I need to stop focusing on how much debt I’m in and how poor I am, because none of that crap matters. People matter, and I need to meet more of them. I learned that laughing is the best feeling in the world, and it feels a lot better than getting wasted and waking up with your head feeling like its made of concrete and puking all over your favorite shoes in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard. I learned that I love to write and it’s often more important than sleep. I learned to get busy living or get busy dying.

This concludes our Dr. Phil reflection of the evening. Please drive through.

Let’s take the DeLorean back to summer 2009. I have this comedian friend that I met out of the blue at the Santa Monica Pier over the summer. I was being my regularly scheduled self and making completely vulgar and inappropriate comments (I’m sure) while venting about my horrendous day at work. This comedian thought I was hilarious, which I didn’t think twice about, because I was just going off one of my typical caustic tirades.


This guy decides that I’m going to have a sitcom one day and I’m destined for a future in comedy and decides to coach me. This all sounded quite flattering; however, I am really turned off by “industry” of any form. This is possibly attributed to my first “real” boyfriend who was in a band, and I selflessly supported his deafening shredding in carcinogenic dives while standing sober behind all of the underage groupies who were crocked on Smirnoff Ice and meth. Ugh. Such a horrendous experience. Then I dated that crazy actor, and it seems that at least 75% of my L.A. acquaintances are “industry” folk, and quite honestly, they exhaust the hell out of me, with their theatrics and highly defensive natures. You say one smart-alecky thing and they get all offended and defensive and decide that you’re “judging” them or you’re “not supportive” or what have you. This is why I keep coming back to this beautiful idea about being a hermit curmudgeon. Damn me for being too social to really make that happen.

So, this comedian was really nice and then told our mutual friend that he thought I was really funny and he was serious about this comedy business [oxymoron?] and I just sort of put it on the back burner because I was in the middle of a grad school induced nervous breakdown and battling some intense depression AND doing everything I could from completely losing it while driving into the leathery, sulfurous cave of hell (work) every day. I was far too unstable to think about being funny. Yes, yes, I was.

I’m the person who has to have about 21 activities going on at once to feel productive and busy. I like that feeling. If I don’t have enough crap keeping me occupied, I feel stagnant and stale. Feeling stagnant is the most horrendous feeling ever. I’d rather eat mayonnaise.

So. I get home from Italy after 8 days of reflecting and being rained on and reevaluating and just trying to work out my business, whatever that means, and decide that all I want to do is move to Dallas and marry a good cowboy man and have a house and a dog and four boys who I can drive to junior varsity football in my hummer. I am obsessed with this thought for about a week. Obsessed, I tell you. I called graduate schools in TX and called my cousin and couldn’t stop looking up housing and jobs on Craigslist. I still dabble in this Dallas endeavor, but alas, I digress.

Last week, I decide it’s time to call my pseudo comedy coach and get started with this comedy thing, because I remember my Italy vow to laugh more and to engage in more meaningful relationships (I have essentially none in Los Angeles). I was supposed to meet him on Tuesday night for some coffee so I could pitch him my joke ideas, and then we were going to go to this dive bar and I was to observe him perform and watch his two other comedian buddies to see how it all “works.”

Please hold while we try your extension.
I am going to sleep now.
I am going to finish this in the morning. But I’m not going to post it right now because then you’ll see the good half of the story before this part, and you need the back drop for this to make sense. Goodnight.


Good mornting!

Where was I? Please hold. Quick read-through to remember where I left off.

Ah, okay. So I meet my comedy friend after being stuck in traffic for an hour and I have to immediately hop in his car so we can start our long treck out to THE MIDDLE OF EFFIN NOWHERE. Now, keep in mind that on the way to meeting him, I talked to my dad on the phone, who asked to hear my jokes. I told him two of them, and not only did he not “get” them, but he also said they were stupid. I don’t think that he was intentionally being negative. He was just being honest.

I do not respond well to criticism. I am a perfectionist, so when I do something, I do it perfectly, or I don’t do it at all, which is why I hate bowling (lack of depth perception + bowling = hell on earth). I respond even WORSE when I go out on a limb and share something embarrassing or let myself be vulnerable and someone just takes a dump on it. This is why I have so few meaningful relationships. Hardly anyone knows the “real” me. Being the life of the party is a piece of cake if it means avoiding the alternative.

So I meet my friend and get in his car and I feel completely discouraged and dumb and like a big effing failure and I don’t even want to tell him my jokes because they now seem stupid and I feel like someone just crapped on my whole life. I am dramatic. But not industry. Don’t confuse the two, friend. Don’t confuse the two.

My friend coaxes me into telling him one joke. He liked it. He gave me good feedback. He didn’t laugh his butt off or anything, but he told me how to tighten it up and make it funnier. After that, I didn’t tell him any more of my jokes. We got caught up in talking about me and moving to Texas and being sick of L.A. and the pretense and the lack of normalcy and meaning and depth; and we talked about divorce and unhappiness and feeling lost in your 20’s when you have no partner and you have no plan.

I lost track of time. I was completely wrapped up in our pseudo counseling session on the freeway… until we arrived at Reuben’s.

Palmdale is like Arkansas. You think there’s no place more backwoods and slummier on your way there until you’re actually there, and then you realize it’s way worse than your wildest nightmares.

We get to this total dive and we see the headliner, who has a good reputation in L.A. and gets a lot of good gigs, and apparently likes to keep in touch with the grass roots crowds, so performs at establishments like Reuben’s because this guy was BORN to be a comedian and he loves to be funny, no matter who his crowd is, no matter where his stage is.

I meet the headliner guy who makes some lewd comments about how girls from the south like to “drink, fight, and f*ck,” and I just go with it and thought, “Man, if this guy really knew me, he’d be bored out of his mind.” Though he’s right. I like to fight.

We walk in the door into a cloud of smoke. I felt like I just got sucked into West Memphis. In California, nobody is allowed to smoke indoors. It’s like this creepy alternative universe where everyone works out and is tan and healthy and everyone’s a triathlete and the government has so much control that you can’t drink on your own property and you can’t smoke in public. L.A. is like The Truman Show. Now, I don’t smoke, and I don’t like smoke, so it serves me well that smoking isn’t OK in L.A., but man, the laws out here. Unbelievable.

There was a certain charming appeal regarding Reuben’s. Nobody gave a CRAP about the law. Everybody was smoking like trains and cursing and being crass and vulgar, and I sort of felt like I was back home in Denham Springs, Louisiana, having a beer with distant cousins.

There were only about 8 patrons at Reuben’s that night- the local alcoholics in their trucker hats and 4 inch goatees; toothless wonders stopping in for a night cap before cranking up their 18 wheelers again to head back to Oklahoma or wherever they’re from. I felt a lot like I’d stepped onto the set of “Deliverance.”

Please keep in mind that EVERY ONE of these guys is a regular, and every one of them is a heckler. The opening comedian was doing his set, and you couldn’t even HEAR him because these Sea-Bass look alikes were all heckling the hell out of him. After about a half hour, my comedian friend went up. Maybe he was up there for 15 minutes, and he probably only got three jokes out because the heckling was so bad. The “come s*ck my (fill in the blank)” type of commentary and the raspy laughing of emphazema and stench of Budweiser were overwhelming.

After my friend did his set, the headliner went on, and he was up there about a half hour or so. He was able to interact with the locals, which was good, and he was well received.

I was enjoying myself this whole time. Making some small talk with the other comedians and watching the interplay between the comedian and the audience. I was observing.

At the end of the headliner’s set, this lady walked in for whom the headliner was doing a favor. This headline guy gets a lot of people started because he’s been doing comedy for like 30 years. So this lady walks in and starts setting up her camera and taking out her note cards. She steps up to the mic for about FIVE SECONDS and completely cracks. She can’t handle it. She can’t handle the hillbilly truckers and she can’t perform anywhere but a clean, NO FUMAR establishment where there is a cover charge and assigned seating, apparently.

She slammed together her notebook ‘o’ jokes and left. Just like that. Slammed down the mic and left.

The comedians start to talk in a hushed panic.

“What are we going to do? Trisha left! She just cracked!”

I start to feel sick.

My comedian buddy says, “HEY! Rachel’s funny! Let’s give her some time!”

Puke. Puke. Feelings of upcoming pukage in 5….4…..3…..2……

Headliner: “Yeah! Let’s see what you can do, blondie. Get up there.”

Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.

I don’t know what happened. I had an out of body experience. I had no note cards, no prepared jokes, no tight set, no nothing.

I walked up to the “stage,” which wasn’t a stage at all, because it was just a microphone in front of the bar. I picked up the mic.

It was dead silent.

There was no heckling. There was no laughing. There was silence.

I’d type out what I actually said to greet everyone, but I’ll be honest, I used some brutal profanity, and IT. WAS. HILARIOUS.

I know that I need to clean up my mouth. I have a raunchy trash mouth. But for this crowd, it worked.

I started telling a few jokes and I told a few stories. They ate it up. The hillbillies loved it. I talked about Memphis and the hood and the south and cultural differences in layman’s terms. And it was awesome. They were laughing their asses off.

I wound up performing for 6 minutes. Most comics start out at 2 or 3. I went on for 6 minutes. And I felt like an effin champ.

I got off the stage and everyone in the bar hi-5’ed me. The headliner asked how long I’d been doing comedy. I said, “I just started tonight.” He couldn’t believe that was my first “performance.” He said he wanted to get me some legit gigs.

That scene from “Walk the Line” kept running through my mind, and I kept imagining Johnny Cash running into the house, soaking wet.

“We made a record, Viv. I mean, a real, real record. We did it like, like six times. I had to sing the song over and over again….. But I mean, we made a real record. Of my song. Of MY song.”

That movie is close to my heart because I was in it.

Anyway. My buddy told me how proud he was of me and said,

“There’s no turning back now. Now you’re a comedian. You just did a 6 minute set. AFTER the headliner.”

I’d never felt so good. I never felt so good to be so ill prepared and to make people laugh.

On the way home, my buddy said to me,

“Rachel, life has no finish line. It’s a journey. And two years from now, we’ll be on the road, performing in Oklahoma and Texas and Arizona, and we’ll be thinking about this night, when it all got started.”

It made me think. Maybe we will. And even if we didn’t, I still did it. I got busy living.