I was booked in Huntington Beach, and it was my first time performing thirty minutes in almost a year. It’s weird how it can go away so fast. Talking in front of a large audience, remembering jokes, even grabbing the mic out of the stand can be awkward. I used to do long sets when I first started and traveled more. I hated stand-up because I didn’t know what I was doing. Yet, had a compelling need to understand how to make a roomful of strangers laugh. That was survival. This was about me re-discovering who I am.
Sixty people, a trashy bar crowd, were jammed in a small room to the back window. I try not to judge but can’t help it. I remember these crowds from the late night Times Squares shows I did in my twenties.
“LOUDER!” Someone screams from the back.
Comedians pick up many bad habits in L.A. Hollywood audiences are OK with silence, and it can be “cool” when you act like you don’t care. However, the intoxicated burly mass mounted on a barstool, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, and camouflage hat, Larry the Cable Guy’s long-lost twin, isn't having any of it. He demands the full value of his five dollar ticket.
A table of overweight housewives yell from a front row table.
“IT’S HER BIRTHDAY! WE’RE FROM UTAH!”
I feel bad for the poor husband who is tortured by her grating voice in perpetuity.
I plow forward. My act used to flow seamlessly. Now I have a cognitive disorder, and I can't remember what's next; it's a discursive jumble of non-sequiturs. I catch myself talking faster. Slow down. These people have no idea who I am - everything is in my head. The light flashes in the back. I stumble off stage and Larry the Cable Guy tries to reconcile for yelling and shakes my hand.
“All good.” I reply. “Add me on Facebook. A-Z-I-Z. Ansari.com.”
I meet the booker in the back of the room. He shakes my hand and slips me thirty dollars, which will cover tonight’s gas money.
“Rough crowd tonight. I owe you one. Wanna do San Clemente next week?”
“I’m in Florida next week. Week after?”
I put the date in my phone and grab my dinner that I asked the waitress to package in a styrofoam box and quietly slip out the door.
I'm excited for my free hamburger. That’s the best part.