God Knows It’s Not Safe With Anybody Else

I want it to be over too, but it isn't. I want a lot of things. I want to get laid. I want to drink a Coca-Cola while sitting at the Old Room counter of Musso and Frank. I want to stop sweating when I sleep. I want to smoke in the cheap seats of the Hollywood Bowl until an usher tells me to stop. I want to — I can't believe I'm saying this — perform live comedy. But I can't. So I don't.

Like most comedians I know, I hate comedy. I’ve been doing it, to little fanfare, for over a decade. The closer you are to something, the more you come to resent it. While distance makes the heart grow fonder, familiarity breeds contempt. Before sitting in a dark, crowded room of strangers could actually kill you, I oftentimes prayed for death while leaning against the wall of the bar in which I hosted a weekly show, a task I perceived as thankless for which I was paid with drink tickets my recovering alcoholism rendered me unable to redeem. That was how I entered 2020. That was not how I exited it. Now, I would pay for the opportunity to look into the eyes of people who came out for a good time but instead found themselves sitting in front of a frantic woman who informed them that all pleasures came with a price. I would value it. I would cherish it. But I can’t. So I don’t. 

Side Note: Online comedy shows, while a perfectly acceptable way in which to yell directly into the void, are cold comfort for me, someone who requires the presence of warm bodies in my periphery to perform at the peak of my power. I wasn’t always like this. When I started doing standup, I was so nervous and unconfident I would often sit behind the curtain and read my jokes to an audience I couldn’t face. When I started doing standup, I was a broken person — bereft of friends, bereft of purpose, beaten by a guy I had convinced myself was in the right because I deserved it. I truly believed I had no worth. Performing standup, and receiving a modicum of validation from it, made me realize I had something to offer the world — that I wasn’t just a lonesome punching bag who would never connect with my fellow man. The more people who appreciated what I had to say, the more people who appreciated me, the more I realized existence wasn’t a meaningless trial. Live comedy, quite literally, saved my life. Emphasis on live.

In the world in which you and I currently inhabit, live comedy is presently a memory. In person performance is a risk not worth taking; threat of catching and spreading a communicable virus (well, other than HPV) isn’t part of the comedian job description. You can, of course, die in the pursuit of it, as you can die in the pursuit of any hubris-propelled endeavor. I’ve seen a comic get electrocuted on stage. (We were performing on a backyard show in the rain in front of a chain link fence; amplified mic in hand, he touched the fence and immediately collapsed.) I have felt the cold hand of the reaper on my back as I sped through a visibility-decimating blizzard struggling to make it on time to a show in Denver wherein I would be performing in front of a mural of two deer fucking. This is a choice I willing made because I desired connection. Had I died, no one else would have suffered. But had I died, I wouldn’t have been paid. Out of town gigs pay.

If you perform comedy in Los Angeles, you oftentimes are operating at both a psychic and financial loss. Payment is, nine times out of ten, zero; gas costs something. The comedians with which I cut my teeth would hustle for nothing, for each other, driving from unpaid set to unpaid set for little more than the attempt to please their peers. I remember once hearing a bitter elder derisively refer to my generation of LA-based comics as the “Get-Along Gang,” the implication being that our love and respect for one another rendered us ripe for ridicule. The amount of money I have received by doing comedy is minuscule, yes, but the friends I’ve made are, quite literally, priceless. I’ve always considered comedy a hobby, an unpaid way in which to feel as though I’ve done something other than watch television until I died. I need it, yes, but for non-financial reasons. Never for money. Always for love.

When citizens (read: non-clowners) learn that there is generally no payment in performing comedy in Los Angeles, a city in which free entertainment flows like water through a concrete river, most are aghast. Even the shittiest band gets to split $20 four ways at the end of the night. The only way to make any lucre in this game is to road dog; to ply your wares in a flyover market desperate for entertainment and willing to pay for your trickle. While the coastal cities are currently on lockdown, some comedians are still game to travel in order to exchange their views on dating for filthy lucre. I see photos of them speaking into the same mic someone else just sullied; I look at audience photos of people sitting dangerously close to one another. It makes my stomach turn. 

Comedy is rarely a job; really, it’s a pastime that can, depending on how the fates capriciously decree, become one. Now is not the time to monetize it. Even if you were able to make a modicum of a living from it before leaving your house could kill you, why tempt fate? Why not do, well, anything else in the interim?

I want nothing more than to hit my grandma raw with a hug — no gloves, no mask, her mauve lipstick smeared on my cheek. But I can’t. So I don’t. Why should a room full of people in Toledo potentially kill their own grandmothers because you were too narcissistic to develop any other marketable skills before the pandemic hit?

Not only is this year a wash, it’s made me value the decade plus that preceded it. It’s made me realize I do need comedy, but that I don’t need it now. Now, I need to exist. We all do. When we are free, we will feel joy. Until then, we are in stasis.

Comedy saved my life. To me, it’s never been a money making enterprise, it’s always been a way to feel less alone in a world that wants people like me dead. Something that can not only save your life, but make you so comfortable you forget it has done precisely that, is worth the wait. So why the fuck can’t we wait? Let it save a life, not take one.

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