September 25, 2014
OPEN MICHELLE is a monthly open mic at Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s run by an acquaintance of mine, and is a mic devoted to women. Andrea suggested I check it out because she felt the environment would be more supportive. I decided to sit in, to see what it was all about, to see what I was getting myself into.
I’d never been to a comedy show. Lots of improve and sketch, sure, but never live stand-up. I imagine that most people might wonder how someone could consider a career in an area where they had no experience or knowledge. How could I commit a considerable amount of time to if I’d never investigated it enough to understand what it was? But that’s just the way I work. An inkling of a thought gets me a long way.
Let me talk about audience etiquette.
Ok, so I didn’t know that as an audience member, you’re not really supposed to speak out unless you’re directly addressed by the comic. I didn’t realize their questions were mostly rhetorical, that you were supposed to keep quiet in the same way you would with a priest delivering a homily, asking “Who amongst you is without sin?”
Most importantly, you’re not supposed to yell out anything that could be misconstrued as derogative.
I didn’t intend to be hurtful.
The first couple of comics received only “Yeah’s,” and the occasional “Uh huh!” from me. Looking back, I realize that I was only getting primed for my eventual transgression.
The sixth comic to get up there told jokes about working as a Mac Genius at Apple’s Genius Bar in SOHO. I’d heard a lot of these jokes before, and felt more than a little bit cocky because I was able to easily anticipate the punchlines of her jokes way before she delivered them. Then she told a joke I really loved. I first heard it in the play Donkeypunch, written by my friend Micheline Auger. The joke is the last line of Micheline’s play, a sort of fun banter between two female friends, breaking the tension between them (and the audience). I’d seen her play twice, and had a feeling of intimacy and happiness around the dialogue. So when this comic launched into her next joke, “How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” I was thrilled! I knew the answer! Yes! I AM a part of this! She called it out twice, “How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” Then I did it. Yes, I enthusiastically called out, “THAT’S NOT FUNNY!”
A hush came over the room. Unbeknownst to me, I’d just heckled this poor woman in the worst possible way. It took a couple of seconds to hit me, and then the shame fell when she looked at me with disbelief and disgust. It was easy to spot me because I was sitting in the second row, right behind the host of the show, sitting in the front because I wanted to be noticed as someone who really wanted to be a part of this new community.
She stared, her mouth agape. “It’s a joke,” she said indignantly.
“I know,” I said, trying to redeem myself. “That’s the punch line.” It was the punch line in Micheline’s play. It didn’t occur to me that this was, in fact, a timeless joke; that there could be endless possibilities and permutations for innumerable punch lines.
I tried to approach her after the mic to apologize, but there were a line of people waiting to talk to her.