|I made them laugh in Pittsburgh.
I made them laugh in Jacksonville.
It's possible that I made them laugh in Savannah, but I was too drunk to remember that. It's possible to make them laugh everywhere you go, but for that you need a series of universal jokes. Dog and cat jokes, for example. Tonight I'm going to start with one that goes like this:
I read a study that if you die alone in your house and no one finds you for some time, how long it takes for your starving pets to eat you depends on what sort of starving pet you have in the first place. A dog will wait for days before it gnaws on the arms and legs of its deceased owner. A cat will wait eight to twelve hours. Now don't get me wrong...
"Now don't get me wrong" is an important phrase to the comedian. It means that he's on his way to a misdirection--some kind of a punchline will follow this phrase.
Now don't get me wrong--I love my cat. I named him Trotsky and I feed him expensive cat food. I love my cat. But I do not nap around him.
It's not a bad joke. Maybe an audience will giggle at the cat's name, but the main payoff is in that final phrase. Hit the word "nap" harder than the other words. Wait half a beat after the second "I love my cat". Get the physics and mathematics of comedy just right, and maybe you'll get a laugh. The audience has been drinking, though. So hopefully you'll hit that perfect point when they're just drunk enough, but not so hammered that they start to get mean or, worse, start to think that one of them is funnier than you.
This happens more often than you'd think. The worst hecklers are just people who want some of your attention. With a little practice, a comedian can turn the audience against these people in no time.
Helpful Hint: Pretend the heckler is someone you know! Personal favorite: If the heckler's words are a bit garbled, simply respond with "Mom, you're drunk". Zing!
So, anyway, I did make them laugh in Savannah, but I also got what I deserved there, so I don't think it should count. I was onstage in Club One, opening for the lip-syncing drag queens that the place has become famous for. The audience is laughing, but I'm on my sixth beer with ten minutes to go, so it's not turning out to be a great show. Normally I drink two beers to calm my nerves before I get onstage, then drink a beer onstage during my set--two beers if it goes longer than twenty minutes (it never does). Any less and I'm self-conscious. I stutter and lose my train of thought. Any more and I'm sloppy: the timing and mechanics of the joke are all gone, and it just doesn't work.
I blame the six beers for what happened next. My next joke is a comment about my nose, and how people say it makes me look like John Stewart. This is leading into a few Jew jokes, which have somehow become fashionable these past years, but I get cut off. It's a higher voice--tinny and strained--and it floats to the stage on a belched cloud of beer gas.
"Ya can't be John Stewart!" the voice wooshes. "John Stewart's funny!"
I don't recall pulling the man up on stage with me, but I have. He's standing here. Middle aged and ugly from too much everything. I ask him his name and he says it's Donovan. And I say
"Donovan--these people clearly paid good money to hear me tell jokes, but to hell with it. You've got the stuff, Donovan. Have at it."
And Donovan raises his fists in the air and the crowd loses their freaking minds. And he's leaning on the mic stand for support and he's clearly had more than six beers. But the audience loves him, and I swear I can see in his eyes the moment when all the pieces click into place and he decides I am going to do this.
And I saunter offstage and to the bar. The audience has laughed at Donovan's first knock knock joke. The comedy organizer sitting down, drinking water. He crooks his eyebrow at me and I scowl, nursing my beer. Donovan's jokes are starting to cool on the audience, and he looks frightened.
"Whatever, Tom--just give me my damn cut."
He hands me a few twenties, and I sit at the back of the audience, who has turned on poor Donovan in a matter of minutes. To be fair, Donovan has resorted to dancing with his pants around his ankles and singing. You rarely hear an audience boo anymore. Mostly they just stare in blank silence. Whenever I've been booed, I took it as a good thing--that if they don't think I'm funny, at least I'm getting a reaction. In those times, I allow the jeering to wash over me in a huge wave.
This is not one of those times.
Donovan is red-faced and wild-looking. He mutters screw you into the microphone and wanders backstage, instead of hopping off the stage like I expected him to. He's in the dressing rooms when I find him: he clearly has no idea how to get out of here. What's more, he's still holding the microphone. I grin at him. I tell him not bad--that maybe he ought to open for me in the future. I'm being a dick, but I'm on my seventh beer and I don't care. I hand him one of the twenties. It's only fair--he did half of my set for me. Donovan stares down at the twenty, and then glares at me.
The microphone hits me full in the mouth, and I can feel one of my I-teeth chipping and breaking away. And then Donovan's standing above me, and tears are rolling down his cragged face and he's barking at me and spit is whirlwinded into my face. He's brandishing the microphone like a club, and I can see blood on it. And he's shouting
Screw you! You think you're funny? You're not funny! You're not freaking funny!
And then Donovan is gone, and a drag queen named Lotta Ginger pulls my head into her lap and strokes my hair.
"Don't worry, sweetie," the man-lady is saying. "Don't worry. I'm not funny either."