“OK–ahem–so this guy walks into a bar–no, no, sorry. He doesn’t walk into the bar, he walks under it. You, know it’s, it’s and iron bar, like at the kiddy playground? So he walks UNDER the bar, right? He walks under the bar…”
Forty pairs of eyes. Really? Looks like a million. Geez, why are they all glowering at me? Am I really that bad? Get it together man, people are starting to look away. OK, so what’s the next line? Holy horse scat, I’ve forgotten it! What do I do now? I didn’t bank on forgetting my own stupid joke.
Gosh, those are beautiful eyes, there in the back. So full of emotion. I think she feels sorry for me. I have to make a note to talk to her before I-
“What happens next, dude?”
“What happens next? He walks under the bar, then what? What’s the punchline?”
“Uh, right…the, the uh, the punchline. Right.”
Oh my goodness, this is so embarrassing. I’m never going to remember the line now. I think I’m going to pee my pants.
I will never forget that moment. That was the first time I ever tried stand up, ever. I had written and memorized the material earlier that week. I was really confident about everything. I had reckoned on the place roaring with laughter after the first half of the first joke. I remember looking around and seeing exactly twenty seven faces wearing surly expressions. They had looked as if they wanted to eat me alive. The girl in the back turned out to be a total jerk. When I asked her for her number, she stuck a half eaten french fry up my left nostril and doused me with the the contents of the glass she had been holding. That felt worse than the time I vomited on stage during the second grade spelling bee after I had been asked to spell the word “cucumber.” I blame my mother. I had performed the material for her the day before and she had laughed at every joke. She told me I was going to be a big hit. ‘You’re a regular comedian’ were her exact words. I guess I learned relatively late in life that nothing my mother tells me about myself is ever true, unless it’s a criticism.
Anyway, since then I have been suffering severely from writer’s block. Every time I get a funny idea those forty pairs of eyes rush back into my head tormenting me, judging my intellect. They prevent me from writing anything; and if I do manage to write something down, I immediately hate it, because I know they would have.
So I decided to stop writing for a while and focus more on becoming funnier. I tried everything. I joined the local comedy club and started watching comedy films and TV shows incessantly, studying the material of all of the greats since Chaplin. I even read Stand Up Comedy for Idiots.
After two months of intense comedic consumption I decided it was time to take up the pen again. I sat down at my writing table, and something miraculous happened. The comedy began flowing from me effortlessly; my writing hand couldn’t keep up with the flow. I wrote feverishly for ten straight hours, and then collapsed with fatigue. There is no way of knowing how long I lay there unconscious, my head buried in my notebook. But when at last I awoke, my head was throbbing with pain.
“So these two old women are in a restaurant eating together, and one of them says, ‘My God the food here is terrible.’ To which the other woman replies, ‘I know, and such small portions!’ Risible, right?”
“Haw haw, that’s such a good one. Woody Allen is one of the best.”
“Yeah–wait, Woody Allen? What are you talking about?”
“It’s his joke! Didn’t you know?”
“That’s my joke!”
“It’s not your joke–here read me another one. I’ll bet you plagiarized them all.”
“I swear, I didn’t plagiarize anything….OK, here, this is a good one. Ahem, so two guys are sitting next to each other at a bus stop, and one of them suggests playing I Spy to pass the time. So they begin:
A: ‘I spy with my little eye, something red.’
B: ‘The hydrant?’
B: ‘Oh, the purse. It’s the woman’s purse.’
A: ‘Yes. Your turn.’
B: ‘Um, I spy with my little eye, something green.’
A: ‘Is it the signpost?’
A: ‘Back to me. I spy with my little eye, Dr. Allen Frances.’
B: ‘You see Dr. Allen Frances?’
B: ‘The street is empty. There’s no one around. I can’t see him.’
A: ‘You can if you have an appointment.’
“Aha! That’s an old joke, I’ve heard it before!”
“You have not, I made that u–”
This can’t be happening to me. I can’t believe this, he’s right, this material isn’t original. I can’t use any of it. What am I going to do now?
Yet another embarrassing moment in my life. But at least I hadn’t been on stage. My friend had saved me from even more humiliation. I had to find a way to wipe my memory. Frontal lobotomy? Giving my ex-girlfriend a polo mallet? (I had been unfaithful) I finally decided on taking two more months off. But this time I would steer clear of comedy of any kind. It worked. After two months, I couldn’t remember a single joke I had heard before. But there was one problem: When I sat down to write, I discovered that, while I was writing my own material, my jokes were less amusing than they had ever been.
Folks, I am no longer a comedian.