In 1968, I confidently leapt upon the small wooden stage, approached the lone microphone stand on the empty, nearly naked, barren platform with a swagger. It was "Open Mic Night" at the Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, California, and, I was about to make a life changing decision.
It was Tuesday, at 8:00 PM, and, I could smell the odor in the club. I can still smell it to this day. It was the scent of false courage deep dipped in raw, jiggling fear. I knew that smell all too well. It has lingered with me for a life time and I have never been able to shake it. Was it simply "stage jitters", as my decades old therapist claimed, or, the half eaten pastrami sandwich that I had stashed in my pant pocket from a hurried lunch, decomposing under the lights, as I decomposed in front of them? I had planned to eat it later as I celebrate my successful debut as a solo stand up performing artist, while buxom babes tore at my clothes writhing in pangs of ecstasy.
I was cocky, young, 26 year old and full of myself, like only a young, inexperienced man can be; eager to burst onto the national stage; ready to kick off a meteoric comedic career that would instantly reward me with unbelievable riches for working no more than 20 minutes per night. It was a left leaning liberals dream - little work, lots of money, and, plenty of beautiful, big busted, barely clothed women throwing themselves at me, instead of the standard: uncontrollable screaming, then, watching them bolt off in the opposite direction, that I had grown so used to as a teenager and, now, as a horny young man with raging hormones. "Finally," I said to myself, "I am going to get laid, tonight. Tonight is the night!", I said hopefully.
The small, long narrow bar was full, noisy and I was juiced up ready to be crowned the new prince or "princess" of comedy, depending on one's persuasion. I wasn't prejudiced; I was adaptable "back in the day", as old geezer say. It was paramount to be adaptable, "back in the day"; "compliant" was the buzz word then. "Bend over - grab your knees", was a common phrase in Hollywood. Whatever it took, I was ready for it; ready for the "Big Time".
Full of bravado, I hit the first joke, held for the laugh (- wait for it -) but, it was met unexpectedly with a wall of stony stares, deafening silence, and, a surreal feeling that I had died and wasn't going to heaven.
I was having an "out of body" experience. I could see myself looking down on my still standing upright, non-stop yakking body - lips moving a mile a minute, but, I was no longer there.
"No problem", I thought, "no problem for a pro like me", after all, I had performed at Six Flags over Texas doing five (5) shows per day, (count 'em), six days a week for three months. I was a "seasoned" performer, college trained "thespian"; veteran of community theater, Army veteran, ready and willing to do anything for my country, and, even more willing to do anything necessary to secure my much desired though little desired break into the "Big Time".
At Six Flags, I had performed with my comedy quartet, Three Minus One. I was the Minus One. Our comedy team had a degree of modest success and I wishfully deduced, that "Hell, this is easier than working for a living. And, a damn lot more fun." Besides girls, and, sometimes their unattractive mothers, were throwing themselves at us, (well, not at me, they were throwing other thing at me and shouting threats, "Stay the f&^% away from my daughter or I"ll kick your ass, Winthrop, you fag!", or, words to that effect.
"Christians parents", I observed, "are so sensitive when one as inexperienced as I, awkwardly and inexpertly, struggles to deflower their college age virgins." But, at least I was getting some action, Jackson. I wasn't completely ignored stuck in the corner sucking my thumb.
My comedy group's brief notoriety made it difficult for me to keep up with the demands of the legion of screaming fans, but, I was determined to do what I could to accommodate our growing fan base, even if it meant bending my low morale standards even further or sleeping with everyone that didn't run away, especially, those unfortunate souls that were passed out and lying about our trailer. I was committed to sharing myself with as many of our "fans" as possible for the good of the "team".
And, in truth, this gig, the comedy quartet, was great. I was never one that was fond of labor; working seemed so pointless to me. I preferred the quieter things in life: Sleeping, sex, more sex; then, more sleep. I was just a typical "red bloodied nose American" from a blue state trying to get some "snatch" in a right wing, red meat state. (Texas).
My comedy team was well known for
stealing, purloining, liberating jokes; we would re-enacted sight gags from the 30's and 40's Vaudeville days passing them off as our own. After, a few performances we forgot where we sold them and convinced ourselves that we wrote all the material and that it was original and "marvelous". We easily convinced ourselves that we were comedic geniuses, especially, me, because I was the head thief.
So, on that memorable, dreadful night; the night that fate has never let me forget; the night that has haunted me every damn night of my sleepless life; on that night - the one forever seared into my now brittle, shrinking mind, I simply sped up to the second joke, where I anticipated a "killer laugh"; or a vociferous, "Boy that kids is great - I wonder if he is gay?", kind of comment from at least one of the cute TV executives in the audience.
The "joint" was packed on "new meat" night and many in attendance were actually looking for "new talent," but, most were there primarily interested in picking up "new meat", hooking up a "one night stand" with the endless stream of "naive, easily impressed, starving, aspiring performer artists". And, admittedly, we would do anything to get ahead. And, usually, we did. . . do anything. But, I, at last, did not. I was frequently, oh, too frequently, ignored in the corner sucking my thumb as usual - practicing for the big break.
Yes, Brothers and Sisters of the Corn Hole generation, I was all of that back then in the day; trembling jello on the inside while sweating on the outside like a wet horse rode hard and put away to dry, still foaming, slobbering in anticipation. Eager was I. In a word, I was fearful - fearful of success; fearful of failure; fearful of misplacing my delicious pastrami sandwich, and, terrorized of returning empty handed to Ohio and to my mamma's switch, "Where you been, boy?" (Whack, whack, whack!)
Wouldn't you, be afraid, too?
Undaunted, I sped up a little more, and, a little more each time I encounter an icy, cold, wall of silence. Even though my nimble frozen mind was experiencing an "out of body episode," I bravely met the audience's aloofness with professionalism: I speed up even faster and faster to get to "the really good material" that I knew would have them falling out of their seats. Then I heard it: The Sound of One Hand Clapping - the place was crawling with deaf WWI amputees, which explained the silence.
In shock, I threw my monologue into full throttle, speed to the finale where I anticipated peals of laughter, guffaws, and, TV executives rushing toward me from their bar stools with huge multi-year contracts in hand, elbowing one an other to get to me first. The "Flop Sweat" poured down my forehead splashed onto the floor with a loud swoosh. The sweat bounced off the dark walls and roared like a huge tsunami towards the front door beckoning me to follow. I was soaked from foot to head in perspiration/desperation sweat, so, damp that the microphone started shorting out; for a moment I feared that I may have "pissed my pants", then, I realized that it was just an inebriated wino who had wandered into the bar thinking that he was in a public restroom; he innocently sat about "relieving" himself at my expense. I was so relieved that I haven't "pissed my own pants", that, I thanked him and gave him a quarter.
When he finished, I leaped off the stage, ran down the long, narrow gauntlet of silent TV executives, still waving their one arms in the air, tore open the now darkened front door of that cursed club and bolted down Sunset Boulevard. I continued to run, not stopping until I got all the way back to Ohio, where I planted my still steaming ass in a hog trough and cried like a baby. The only bright spot on my Marathon sprint was when I passed Richard Pryor, (who I had written a monologue for); he was, also, on fire from "free basting" and running in the opposite direction toward Hollywood.
"Hey, you Black bastard," I shouted, "you still owe me $500 for that monologue."
Well, Boys and Girls of the Corn Hole generation, Thursday, October 25th, at 8:00 PM, I will take the much feared plunge, finally facing down my nightmare when I completely loose my mind and perform "Live" on stage at True West Coffee, located "right smack in the middle of "Crying Johnnie Boehner's 8th Congressional District where there are no jobs because 'The Weeper of the House' and his dim witted Conservative Tea Republicans sent them all over seas to China - which is OK with us 'cause we are just a bunch of Left Leaning Liberals Too Lazy To Work!"
Perhaps, now, friends, and, that one consenting lover I had once, I will finally put to rest that awful reoccurring nightmare; the one that has reduced me to a sniffling "wanna be comic" hiding in the closet for four and a half decades.
Wish me well, it's part of my "Bucket List", and, if things go well, I might even get laid that night.
This is Winthrope Merridethe, The III, and I resemble these remarks!