Comedy Tonight

So I’m getting ready to go on, and the club owner runs backstage and tells me, “Look, dont get weirded out, but there’s a Big Time Agent in the audience tonight. She’s out scouting.” Now, I can handle stress with the best of them. An agent? Yeah, like that’s going to go anywhere at all, right? I’ve seen more agents, both in person and hiding behind a veil of beer-soaked haze, than I care to admit. So one more isnt enough to weird me out, not by a long shot.
So they call my name and I go out onstage to some better-than-perfunctory applause… and within fifteen seconds I can tell the audience just aint there. Same material that got howls and applause last week is just dying: the laughs are minimal and polite at best. I know that I’m probably looking at a couple of hecklers before too much longer.
Then I see her. The Agent. Doesnt take much to figure out: she’s got her little note pad and she’s writing stuff down while watching me, which means either she’s looking to rip off my routine or she’s making notes. Considering the routine is dead in the water, that leaves Option B. So I start playing right to her, like no one else is in the room. The set-ups, the punch lines, the transitions, all of it… aimed right in her face.
Audiences, even drunk ones, arent stupid: after a while, someone looked at me and then at her and then before long the whole house is wondering who this woman is that’s cornered my attention. I guess it is a little surreal — normally, you’d play the entire room, looking at everyone as much as you can. But all I do is look at her and rattle the jokes off: me just standing there, having a one-sided, private conversation out in public and on a mike. I abandon the set routine and go freestyle, total stream of consciousness, a scenic trip and a half for anyone who wants to know what I find funny. Now she’s obviously getting embarrassed, and the whole place thinks this is hysterical. All of a sudden, I cant get the punch lines out fast enough; people are laughing during delivery just because they want to see what her reaction will be… and if she doesnt do anything except maybe smile, they laugh even harder. I’m not trying to embarrass her, mind you. Or maybe I am. Maybe this is karma kicking in for every comedian she discarded and every act she dismissed. Maybe this is me getting back at every agent and every producer and every club owner who told me I wasnt good enough. But whatever it is, I am on fire. The audience is so with me, it’s not funny. I see the club owner outa the corner of my eye, laughing his head off and giving me the signal that I got ten more minutes if I want it. And I grab those ten minutes and run hog wild with them, the jokes getting more and more elaborate, more and more absurdist, finally building to a killer one-hundred-and-twenty-second monologue that ends with the biggest shaggy dog line in stand up history.
The audience went nuts. I’ve never had applause like that, never. And I soaked it like a heat-treated sponge. Feeling magnanimous, I gestured to the Agent, and they went even more whacked, giving her a standing ovation for doing nothing more than just sitting there and getting embarrassed at being the one in the spotlight for a change.
Afterwards, she came backstage and, all smiles, introduced herself… but before she could ask the question, I cut her off. I couldnt work with her, I said. Not now.
I think she understood.

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