Bombs Away: Confessions of an Open-Mic Comedian
The past two years have been daunting for comedians, whose contentment, if not livelihood, demands public speaking in small indoor venues, the fastest recipe for the spread of Covid this side of the kissing booth . As other comedians surely insist on their own pre-pandemic progress, I felt like I was up to it when bars suddenly closed in 2020, and the time since has been as much of a streak crises and departures than the opening decade. microphones that preceded it. I’ve bided my time playing the role of serious writer, like a character in a Robert Bresson film, a man in a bedroom with a notepad and a glass of whiskey. But unlike, say, the journals of the country priest of Bresson, my notebook is devoid of any meaningful reflection or spiritual meditation; rather, its pages are filled with scribbled non-sequences, hints at half-remembered jokes, and the rare full sentence that usually reads “Do fat gays jerk each other off?”
The French poet Anatole France wrote: “All the authors of confessions, since Augustine, have always remained a little in love with their sins. This is also the case with comedians. Columnist commits the sin of self-indulgence but at least has the dignity to leave it on the page, whereas stand-up requires a captive audience without any shame or self-awareness. I say this not as a condemnation, but as an endorsement of self-indulgence and shamelessness, of treating one’s thoughts and ideas, however fleeting, silly or offensive, as if they were important and worthy of attention. an audience, even when they are clearly not.
This approval is in direct contradiction to my Catholic upbringing, in which indulgence and shame are inextricably linked. (To borrow from St. Augustine, I am “ashamed of not being brazen.”) Although I have abandoned all pretense of being a serious chronicler, and at the risk of committing an even deeper sin than self-indulgence (by example, not being funny), I offer you these last, my confessions.
I’m going to see my buddy Ivan Martin at Motor House. I go to Motor House long before it was Motor House. For a while it was called Load of Fun I think, but before that it was just a warehouse where sometimes people put on shows. I saw Jonathan Coward (aka Shams) set fire to a dead bird in one of the Whitscapes. It’s now a well-polished bar and artists’ space with a separate showroom, away from the charred animal carcasses on an old brick floor.
That’s where the mic is, and that’s where I met Ivan a few years ago. It was at another Wednesday night mic, one of the first I attended there. I was sitting in the back waiting to continue, and there was a drunk guy in the front making a scene. He was what I call a wake, someone who heckles comedians with a self-righteous bent. “Do you support the patriarchy? he shouted at one of the comedians, an odd question in almost any setting, but especially during a comedy open mic. I first thought of him as a guy who had just started dating a feminist and was talking a bit too much about all the cool new things he was learning, but when Ivan and the other comedians tried to kick him out, he became physically hostile in a way that required more people to get involved. Chairs and tables overturned, the wokeler found himself physically locked in the arms of a very tall comedian who did not seem quite humorous at this precise moment. He somehow broke free, still screaming and refusing to leave.
I got up and walked over, gently asking him to leave the showroom so we could continue the mic. I believe his response was something like “Who the hell are you?” I noticed he looked familiar, like someone I had seen at some point, but I couldn’t place him. After my set, the wokeler was long gone. I walked out and Ivan thanked me for helping. We started talking about the guy, and apparently it wasn’t the first time he’d woken up at Motor House. He had appeared at an open mic before that, seated in the front row with a woman who had a black eye. The sight inspired a few impromptu jokes that I’m sure were very tasteful, and thus, a wokeler was born.
I thought about it more, and later that night it clicked: I had seen his picture while browsing the local sex offender registry. I went to the registry and here he is, the wokeler, convicted of possession of child pornography and crossing state lines for sex with a minor. The next morning, I befriended Ivan on Instagram and sent him a screenshot, captioned: “I knew I knew this guy from somewhere!” I have no problem with men who identify as feminists or any other type of ally, but interestingly the men who are most outspoken on these issues tend to have the most skeletons ugly in their closets. To paraphrase a certain worker comedian, if you talk about patriarchy but have a girlfriend with a black eye, you might be a sex offender!
Tonight, the laughs just don’t come. I could blame the paltry audience (I count about 10 people in total, mostly other comics), or some deficiency on their part to appreciate the nuances of my article about people reading child porn “for the articles” , but I bombed enough to realize it’s usually me and not them. I take my licks and then I go for a walk on North Ave. with Ivan and the other comedians.
I continue to Charles St., all alone now, as I often do after the Motor House bombing. I meet the sex workers, who no longer scream Hi baby! like they did when I was 25 and had a head full of hair. A guy asks me for money, and I tell him I don’t have any on me. I pass the large temple-like church at 29e and Charles Sts., St. Philip and James Catholic Church. I don’t know why they have to share a church. The doors are closed, but sometimes when they are open I like to stop and breathe in the smell of this old church.
When I get home, Caitlin asks how it went. I smile and give my usual response: “Demoralizing.”