Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Torturous Life of a Successful Comic Genius

The last thing in the world Joey Migliori wanted to be was a damn stand-up comedian. He hated stand-up comedy. But he was good at it. The owner of one the clubs where Joey headlined and entertained standing-room-only crowds took the young very reluctant, but brilliantly funny comic aside one night after a show and poured him a drink. What Joey needed, Marv thought, was the "raisin extra," a reason for being, realistic thinking, meaning, purpose, none of which Joey very surprisingly seemed to have or want, though he was enormously popular and seemed all but headed for the big time. Marv started out the conversation trying to use some reverse psychology.

"You're not happy, Joey, I can tell," Marv said. "But hey, you know, let's face it ... even though your material is good, hey, so what, if that's all you have? You can't make it in this business with just a bunch of good material. You don't have what it takes."

Joey looked up from the Scotch and soda he was nursing. "Hey, you really think so?"

Marv slapped the table and laughed. "Of course, hey you can't ride forever on the great material train. Even if you're pumping out great stuff for the rest of your life ... it's only be a matter of time, you know, because, in truth, and don't take this the wrong way, but you're not a good fit. You're too funny. You don't have what it takes to be in this business."

"But people seem to like it," Joey said. "I mean, I'm makin' 'em laugh, even all the people who have to stand up in the back."

"Hey, what do they know? They don't even know how to be somewhere on time to get a table. I get people like that all the time ... and they slip me a hundred bucks or so to get in. Fuckin' assholes ... I hate doin' business with people like that."

"Yeah, a hundred bucks is a lot of money," Joey agreed.

"A hundred miserable headaches," Marv said. "Joey, do what you love doing. Do what you do best. Do what makes you a miserable, low-life piece of shit."

"I can't do anything but this," Joey said, with exasperation, bordering on panic. "People are paying their money to come and see me, you know? And you offered me a raise, if I would do two more shows a week. ... God, it's killing me. I hate this point in my life ... starting out happy and beloved. It sucks."

"Tell me about it," Marv said. "And what's money? So I'll take some away. What's money? You spend it ... it's gone. And the whaddya got?"

"A lot of nothin' ... well, maybe a car?"

"Death traps," Marv said, standing up and patting Joey on the shoulder. "With the price of gasoline, and, as fat as people are gettin' because they don't walk anymore ... whaddya need all that for? You're dead before you know it with a lot of money. You think about it, kid. But ... being dead does have a certain appeal to it."

"Okay." Joey looked hopeful, but his expression soured as soon as Marv walked away whistling. "Yeah it does."

A man in a dark pin-striped suit sitting in the next booth, spun around and introduced himself once Marv was out of earshot.

"Hey, Joey, how ya doin'," the man said, getting up on his knees and twisting awkwardly to extend his hand to Joey. "Man, I'm one of your biggest fans."

"Look, mister," Joey said, an irritated tone in his voice, "I'm having a bad day, okay? So if you'll just, you know, make like a speedster on third base and go home, I'd appreciate it."

The man in the pin-striped suit jumped out of the booth laughing, which caused Joey to look up in disgust. "Really," Joey said, "don't make me call Marv ... or the cops."

"What's the matter, Pal?" the man in the suit said. "You look like your world is coming to an end."

"Thanks," Joey said. "This is the best I've felt all week."

The man in the suit was perplexed, but after eavesdropping on the previous conversation, he was beginning, he thought, to understand what was going on here. "Hey, kid, you don't suffer from stage fright, do you?"

"What do you care?" Joey said caustically. "The only thing I'm afraid of is true happiness. I promised my dying father on his death bed that I would do my best, try to do everything I could not to be happy."

The man in the suit reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. "What did you old man do, Joey?" The man in the suit tried to twist his face into a grim and foreboding mask of despair.

"Mr. Paradox," Joey said. "He was a Vaudeville entertainer, an insult comic, and he used to take me on the road. I sit back stage and listen to all the other performers, you know, practicing their acts. A lot of 'em were comedians, and my father hated them. He said people who did comedy, straight, legitimate comedy, ought to be the most hated people in the world." Joey began to tear up. "I feel like a whore everytime I got out there ... and get people rolling in the aisles."

The man in the suit rubbed his chin. "Yeah, that's a pretty low and slutty, pardon my French, thing to do. Have you given any thought to what you might like to do with your life?"

"Either a mortician ... or a sparring partner."

"What else?"

"Well, since I come from an entertainment background," Joey said, "as much as I detest it ... I thought I might get all the necessary surgery so I could apply for a job as a freak at a carnival. Those people always look so sad, miserable really. The bastards."

"Tell you what," the man in the suit said, "you come to my club and put yourself through the agony of doing stand-up comedy for me ... hey, everybody has to take the bad with the good ... and I'll pay for that operation. Whatever you want? You want your arms goin' around here, and your legs goin' up like this here ... you name it."

"I've really been giving a lot of thought to something like Turtle Boy, you know," Joey said finishing his drink. "I'll think about it."

"Well, don't think too long," the man in the suit said, handing Joey his business card, "I got people lined up at my place to become as deformed as the best of them."

"Yeah, well," Joey replied. "It would be just my luck. I probably end up making people laugh and making a lot of money ... and you'll have just fucked me up the ass. Again with the old shafteroonie."

"Nah," the man in the suit said, "I want fuck your ass ... I'll fuck up your whole life."

Joey looked like he was about to cry. "Man, mister, that would be great."

what has good material done for anybody in this business? So, you know, move onto something else. Go flip hamburgers, for Pete's sake. It'll be a big cut in pay, but you'll be doing what you want

You're not comedy material. You're not cut out for ityou don't really have want it takes really you make everyone happy around you. Hey, that's not the greatest thing in the world, though. You could have people trying to kick your ass ... instead of laughing at you."

Joey nodded. "So you understand? Maybe you don't feel the same way, but happy people give me the creeps. But I gotta eat."

Marv grabbed a bottle of whisky on a nearby table and two glasses at the bar. "No, I understand. A clown's life is a tortured life. Comedy comes out of pain. So, in a way you're in the pain business. The people who come in are in pain, you're in pain. I'm in pain, because you're in pain. And my wife ... is a pain in the ass."

Joey was suddenly thoughtful. "Did you ever wonder where that expression came from, Marv? Pain in the ass? Were they thinking about Thomas Paine poking people with his cane ... or that someone had a window installed in their butt?"

Marv exploded in laughter, unintentionally spewing whisky from his mouth all over the people seated at the next table. "God, kid, you're killin' me. You're a riot. You can't help it if you're funny. It's a gift. It comes naturally ... and you got it, baby."

Joey looked over at the people at the next table, expecting them to be angry enough to fight, but they were all laughing, too. In another moment, they were getting Joey's audience, and one beautiful female lingered, and asked if she could by Joey a drink.

"Hey, I got a bottle right here, on the house. You don't have to buy me a drink, I'll give you a free one."

The beautiful woman erupted in hysterical laughter and leaned back in her chair. She was laughing so hard, as was everyone else within twenty feet, that she fell over backwards, hitting her head on the bar, which knocked her out cold.

"Now I'm killing people," he said deeply concerned for the injured woman. "I'm killin' 'em, Marv." Marv was laughing so hard, as were nearly all of the people in the club, that no one paid any attention to the woman, which deeply upset Joey.

"That's the idea, my friend," Marv said trying to catch his breath, holding his side. "You kill 'em every night."

"Well, I don't want to kill 'em, kill 'em," Joey said, with the entire club hanging on every word, poised to scream with hystical laughter as soon as he completed his thought. "I don't even want to kill 'em."

The place was bedlam. People were having so much fun at Joey's expense, that they began clapping in unison for him to take the stage and do some more comedy. "Take the stage! Take the stage! Take the stage!" about 200 people were shouting as one.

Everything I say just turns out funny. I can't have a conversation without cracking up the person I'm talking to.