First Day

Posted: February 12, 2015 in Lit Gems


I sat in the back. It was dark and I was one of ten people in the empty comedy club. Next to me was my friend, Mike. He had accompanied me on my mission. I was shaking as I watched the Open Mic performer struggle. The tall, fat pale comic stumbled over his words as the microphone quaked. Awkward smiles shot across his face as his jokes were not hitting their marks. It was getting quieter. I could hear him sweat. Nervousness took over as I turned to my friend and said,

“I can’t do this man. Let’s go home”.

His face dropped, showing his disappointment… but wait let me start from the beginning.

I had taken an acting class in my first year at Gloucester County College. My teacher was Ms. Gerbar, a short, flabby Jewish woman who reminded me of Woody Allen. Her oversized thick-rimmed glasses sat on her face, weighing down her nose, as her large teeth shot suggestions and comments loudly across the auditorium.

I loved her class. It allowed me to make people laugh; something that brought me joy, and some peace of mind during a hard childhood. The class was large and the course mostly dealt with Improv. She taught us all the rules and we constantly practiced and drilled. I was a natural. I had always been a class clown, all the way back from my performing days at St. Matthew’s Elementary-Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here for eight years.

I wrote funny tales, and included my classmates in the stories. Some teachers would let me read them out loud in front of the class, but many of the less patient ones escorted me out of class to the nether regions known as the hallway; usually it was a punishment for an ill-timed one-liner during an arduous math problem. From then on, I would perform my window in the door comedy, doing impressions and making funny sounds. The roar of a captivated class was intoxicating, until I was caught by the quick eyes of the teacher.

I had always been a funny kid. I used humor to escape fights when confronted by my black peers. When I left the Rivertown, I learned the brothers fight differently here. If I wanted to survive, I had to avoid getting into fights with them. When playing basketball in the park, I made the older men laugh, and in return they protected me from thugs. I also learned an important life lesson; no one wants to kill the Joker. He can say anything and still get close enough to murder the king. I found out early in life that humor is a weapon.

Along with everyone else in my age demographic, I would listen to my parents’ Bill Cosby and George Carlin albums; I played them in the family’s huge record player and listened as I giggled along with old Bill. I laughed away the caustic realities of life. It was an escape from the madness that caught me later on in life; when the jovial innocence of a childhood gave way to the harsh realities of the world. That was the way it is and to try and change it would wreck my mind.

One day, Ms. Gerbar informed the class that we had to perform an individual talent for a grade. I had been writing jokes in a small notebook, but never showed anyone, except my friend, Mike. He had taken me in after I had been thrown out of my house and was couch surfing from one friend to another.

Mike and I had been classmates at college and played basketball together. He was now a night security guard there. I would try out jokes on him and he would give me his brutally honest opinion; what was funny, what was corny, what needed help. I thought I was ready but still wanted to be sure. The acting class was my launch pad. I was so brash after my puberty years,

I was ready to fly.

The day my assignment was due, it was time to see if I was ready to take that step into the icy pool of comedy. I took the stage with the strut of a seasoned vet. It was just another acting assignment. I was playing the part of a comedian. No pressure. No microphone. No lights. Fifteen members of my class took up two whole rows in the hundred-seat theater. I don’t remember the exact routine but I recall owning it. For about twenty minutes, I stole their hearts and souls. I was a madman on stage; A kamikaze of Comedy.

I stepped off stage to a standing ovation. Ms. Gerber came up to me, eyes humbly surprised. She said I was good and she enjoyed my act. It meant so much coming from her, since she was the connoisseur of comedy. She inspired me to hit the main stage and later told me the class would come and support me if I did. Support? I didn’t need support,

like some sort of AA meeting! I would go alone! I was a wolf.

I went back to Mike’s sofa more inspired than ever. I had done my research and sought out comedy clubs in the city of Brotherly Love; the Comedy Cabernet had an Open Mic night on Wednesdays. I wanted to scout it out before I hopped on stage.

I took a bus to get to the High-Speed line. I leaned up against the window and watched the South Jersey landscape in its nighttime slumber. The train hit all the Jersey stops, went underground in Camden and rose above the Delaware River. Looking out the window, it was as if the metal dragon was flying over the dark, dank body of water to the city of lights and liberty on the other side. It was a feeling of emancipation.

The train returned underground and I exited at 6th street. I pushed through the turnstile, and the native smell of Philly invaded my nose from. I climbed the cement spiral staircase two steps at a time, reached the street and was hit by the noise and bustle right away. Movements were everywhere, and everything was fast, faster than the Jersey Burbs.

I found the Comedy Club easily, it was above a Middle Eastern eatery. At the bottom of the stairs I could hear the roar of laughter inside. I met a black medium-height comedian who called himself Gumby. He was friendly and greeted me with a wide, ivory toothed smile. I asked him if tonight was the Open Mic night and he assured me it was. There were comics of all shapes and sizes milling around the small lobby, nervously engaging in shoptalk.

“You going on stage?” he asked me.

“No, this is my first time.”

He shook his head as if it was the cutest thing he’s ever heard. If I were a puppy he would have patted me on the head. “You found the right place!”

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  1. johncoyote says:

    Reblogged this on johncoyote and commented:
    A amazing story by a master storyteller. Please read and enjoy his work.

  2. johncoyote says:

    A amazing tale my friend.

  3. ksbeth says:

    always so nice when you find ‘your place.’ thanks for reading and following and i look forward to doing the same – best, beth

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