Four Jokes and A Funeral

by marinashifrin

My least favorite time was when two men were performing sexual favors on each other. What they were doing didn’t bother me as much as the fact that they weren’t listening to me. They were in a dark corner at the back of the room, making sure third base was thoroughly satisfied before they’d leave the bar to hit that home run we all so desperately crave.

To say this was the strangest thing that has happened during my time as a comedian in New York City would be lie.

One time, after a dog urinated on the microphone, I contemplated quitting all together. The mic was in the basement that night because the upstairs of the bar was reserved for a Polish mobster’s funeral wake.

The dog’s owner, another comic, was able to sneak her in because the bar staff was either too busy or too Brooklyn to care. One upside to the situation was we were able to walk through the festivities on our way downstairs. Heart break and alcohol? A comedian’s dream. The amount of empty shot glasses was both impressive and appalling. If I ever have a funeral, I am going to make sure it’s a Polish one.

It wasn’t the dog that made me question my aspirations, although she didn’t help the situation. It was Madonna (yes, that’s two Madonna references in a row). When her songs began blaring over the loud speakers one of the comics went to close the door to the basement – making it sound less like we were at a Madonna concert, and more like we were under one.

“I DIDN’T KNOW IF I SHOULD BRING MY SAND PAIL OR MY BACK-HAND!” I screamed over the booming lyrics of ‘Express Yourself’. Nobody heard my punchline. It didn’t matter either, the room was full of comedians who heard the same jokes at the open mic directly before this one.

I got through nearly four jokes before I gave up. I walked to the edge of the stage and sat on a speaker. I looked at the room full of comics, most of them had their heads down, jotting down jokes about Madonna.

“What are we doing, guys?” All of the attention was directed back to me. Comedians can tell when another comic is about to lose it on stage.

“Seriously, what are we doing?” I repeated. I bowed my head, while expertly keeping the microphone near my mouth. “Stay in Chicago, Marina, my parents said. We’ll help you get on your feet, Marina. But nooooo. I just had move to New York to follow my dreams. Who knew being a comedian meant getting peed on in basements.” A small chuckle. “Do you ever look at your life and think, How did I get here?” Silence. I looked around and shrugged before getting off the stage. As far as breakdowns go, mine was pretty mild, it didn’t even get an applause break.

I began my ascent up the stairs, not realizing I was about to see something that would stick with me forever. There, at the top of the stairs was a room full of overweight, tear stricken Polish men. They had their arms draped over each other’s shoulders and were slowly swaying to Material Girl.

Outside the bar I searched through my purse for my iPod – God forbid, I’d walk to the subway with only my thoughts filling my head. The other comics slowly started congregating near the B62 stop. The moments after an open mic are my favorite ones. It’s when the pressure to perform is over. The quiet comics go back to being shy, the loud ones tell more jokes to drown out the silence and the smart ones go home before they do something stupid. Sometimes people argue over punch lines but most of the time we all commiserate over our goals and dreams. We disagree about deliveries and agree that we’re lonely. Comedy – in her sly style – always keeps a hold on our social lives, love lives and professional lives.

Even if I quit comedy today, I know that tomorrow/next week/next month I’ll go to the bar to see my peers get up on stage and unapologetically talk about their lives. I’ll smile until my cheeks hurt and laugh until I clutch my stomach. I’ll forget about the things I worried about in the first place. I’ll let the endorphins fool me into thinking this is “it”. I’ll take out my notebook and write down new jokes and then make my way to the stage.

I walk away from the Polish funeral and toward the subway, thinking about how a famous singer once said, “You deserve the best in life. So if the time isn’t right then move on. Second best is never enough. You’ll do much better baby on your own…Express yourself.”