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Thirty-Eight Minutes | 2018 | Of Chocolate Marmosets


The first mistake of art is to assume that it's serious.  

-Lester Bangs

Of Befriending a Comedian

The blessing and curse of befriending a comedian is that you will, eventually, go to a show. I have watched several of David's shows online, so I know the cadence of his comedy and, thankfully, laugh. If I didn't find him funny, I do believe it would curtail any burgeoning friendship. However, comedy is a subjective art form and, unfortunately, some comedians are about as funny as crib death (but, you know, the sad kind).

We arrive to the Corner Bar in Kingston fifteen minutes ahead of Susan and David, half an hour before the show is meant to begin. The first, glaring fact is that this is a small bar that could comfortably accommodate twenty. The second is that there are at least double that. The next is that there are maybe ten chairs, all occupied by people eating food who refuse to even acknowledge that they are finished.

Though I spent my childhood watching comedians every day before school - I was a peculiar child and standup seemed better than cartoons - I have attended few actual shows. When I was small, my parents brought me to see Gallagher on a school night, but my only memory of that night is fearing the watermelon, getting a signed mini-mallet, and going to the diner for milkshakes and fries. I couldn't tell you what Gallagher said. I've seen a couple other comedians, mostly reciting entries from humor websites as though these constituted original comedy, but I have not bothered with anyone above a certain paygrade. I aspire to be in the audience for Eddie Izzards or Cameron Espositoes, but these hopes come to no fruition.

None of the comedians are getting paid. I cannot cast aspersions because I have done my panels for free, whether or not this was my intention. (There is a certain massive otaku-related convention that will remain nameless, for which I filled an auditorium past capacity, only for them to stiff me the agreed upon fee.) Still, it does seem janky to fight for performance space on the floor of a bar, no stage in sight. The bar is packed, but I do not have the wherewithal to notice if we are all freeloaders or if nights like this in any way increase their profits.

Susan and David introduce us to their friends, first Brian and Mo - a couple in their forties, the former with a leather jacket and the latter in retro, rimmed glasses - then two women named Brigid and Robin. In moments, all but Robin have begun pushing through the crowd to get drinks. In the sense that she isn't letting her gaze more than flicker over anyone or anything, she looks around, a state I well recognize as social anxiety.

"So you are a librarian?" I ask, coming close to her ear so as to be heard over the din of an impatient crowd. Her lipstick is wine colored against her light skin, underlining her wry, awkward smile. I have been left alone after introductions and have nearly fidgeted myself into the floor. I will help my sister in unease.

Redirected and less alone, she talks about her school, where she tends to elementary kids. I could imagine her being a high point of my day when I was that age. She, in turn, asks what sort of a degree one needs to be the English teacher to adjudicated minors and how I ended up doing this. Pedagogy is a safe ground, since I know nothing else about her beyond her name and her keen fashion sense of knit hats. Later, I find out that she lives in this town and walks everywhere, but recently got lost trying to get back to her house, which I find a better topic that shoptalk. I am not then in a position to get clarification from a fellow peripatetic.

Brigid arrives then with a plate of deep fried eggplant fingers and a beer for Robin. Since there is nowhere to sit and not table space on which she can place these, Robin holds the plate to her stomach with one arm and picks up her bounty in the other, the beer held carefully so that the two do not meet but in her stomach.

The MC is a goofy, frat type who makes fun of his penis, a joke other comedians reference in their sets to try to exploit the laughs he got from it. As the night progresses, the comedians seem largely to have enjoyed the use of their drink tokens. David does not, drinking a glass of water and trying to give away his free drinks, a fact I appreciate even if I believe it only because I didn't pay better attention. I don't think my panels would be improved with any inebriation beyond my adrenaline. Comedy, even goofy and seeming improvised, needs a strong foundation not to barrel off the tracks.

One comedian's set seems to bomb. Whether it be from the tenor of her jokes - angry and disjoined - or her delivery, a wave of conversation washes from back to front, which she responds to by snarling at them for being rude to her. They aren't heckling. They simply don't care what she is saying and would rather have then own conversations until she finishes. People leave the bar and she yells at their retreating backs, not jokes but surliness.

This might be different had we been asked to pay even a little to invest in this show. As it stands, there is a chance that the audience was here having dinner and drinks, then a comedy show broke out around them. They do not feel they owe the comedians their attention since they are not here explicitly for that.

(Most of the other comedians do not have this issue, though there is one man to my right who begins proto-heckling as he gets drunker. He is involved in what they are saying, he is just getting obnoxious enough to believe he might be able to do it better.)

The audience is not sure how to regard David at first, since he opens with a contrived posh accent about the death of a surrealist painter decades ago. It is a mental shift from the observational dick jokes of his predecessor and the audience squirms until he finally drops the voice and asks someone near the bar how long they bought it. "One minute? Two? The whole time? Wow, I want you at more of my shows."

The show ends strong with a comedian who makes me wobble with laughter -- or it could be that I have been on my feet for two hours. Is this an intentional choice? Did the host arrange the sets to cushion damage from weaker acts?

The bar begins to empty, but the night is too young to end. Susan asks if there is anywhere we can go. Having a basic awareness of Kingston's geography, I suggest the diner. Brigid and Robin say they will be along once they finish their drinks.

Sitting at this diner results in a curious paradigm. The television behind our booth, inexplicably playing bad CGI cartoons about pugs, distracts David and skews our conversation to its strangeness. Brigid and Robin appear after we are seated, but begin talking about their adorable tykes in a way that is conversationally impenetrable, not that I fault them. At one point, I begin digressing into mentioning that a cam girl I follow on Twitter -- because I liked an article she wrote, not because I've seen her act -- did a Lazy Town parody with the ventriloquist dummy she bangs, then add under my breath, "Oh, now these new people know that I'm gross."

Thankfully, they seem not to have caught onto enough of the subjects of my statement and so have no reason to judge me. I am too used to just saying things before realizing they are perhaps not for polite conversation. Sarah T. has advised me that I ought to just get it all out immediately. Those who are worth of my peculiarity will stick around.

Soon in Xenology: Meaning. Zoo chocolate.

last watched: Fullmetal Alchemist
reading: View from the Cheap Seats
listening: Yann Tiersen

Thirty-Eight Minutes | 2018 | Of Chocolate Marmosets

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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