Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"A Mistaken Dream"

I once dreamed of being a comedian.  I was wrong about that, but who says a dream has to make sense?  A dream that makes sense forfeits the essential “dream” opportunity.  You can dream anything you want.  Including terrible career choices. 

My older brother wanted to be a comedian.  (Maybe that’s why I wanted to.)
Our mother loved comedians.  (Maybe that’s why we both wanted to.)   She had, however, a less enthusiastic position on having a comedian in the family. 

Our mother was averse to her Sonny Boys’ “sticking their faces out there”, thinking it unseemly for us to “show off”, but also, I imagine, fearing the monumental risk of failure in that line of endeavor, portending an eradicable stain on our family’s reputation, and a defeated “Comedy Wars Casualty” holing up in his bedroom till he’s a hundred.

Want to hear one of my most gratifying moments of all time?  When my brother announced, “I want to be a comedian”, our mother immediately shot back, “Who do you think you are, Jerry Lewis?”  Years later, when I said I wanted to be a comedian, she replied, “Who do you think you are, Jack Benny?”

I cannot tell you how wonderful I felt.  Although apparently negative, my mother had determined that I wasn’t a better comedian than my brother wasn’t!

(Jack Benny being a genius of subtlety and characterization, while Jerry Lewis was an undisciplined chalaria, which loosely translated means “Wild Man.”  I could not have felt more vindicated.)

Upon further consideration – along with an excursion to New York in my mid- twenties where I tried to be a comedian and ignominiously faltered – although there was one night when I “killed” – I realized I in fact did not want to be a comedian. 

Still, a couple of Saturdays ago, reacting to an impending Jerry Seinfeld concert our family had tickets to, I felt myself experiencing – and I feel it again as I write this – the identifying exhilaration of going onstage and being hilarious before a convulsed assemblage of paying customers.

The feeling?  Mexican jumping beans frolicking in my abdomen.

The whole day, it was, you know… I am taking a shower prior to dressing for the concert – “I wonder what Jerry Seinfeld’s feeling right now?”  Putting on my socks – “I wonder if Jerry has a pair of ‘Lucky Socks” he puts on for every concert?” 

I eat dinner, thinking,  “I wonder if Jerry eats before a show, and if he does, is there an obligatory menu, and if he doesn’t, is it because he is too excited to eat or because he does not want recently digested food substances interfering with his performance?

I am a seventy-year old man, my dream of being a comedian, wrongheaded as it was, shrouded in the obscuring mists of time.  And yet, as I am fidgeting in my seat before “Show Time”, a recorded Frank Sinatra blaring his signature “New York, New York” over the Pantages Theater’s sound system,

“Start spreadin' the news…”

I can see myself backstage, fueled by that energizing anthem, bouncing on the balls of my feet and  throwing crisp combinations into the air, a peaking prizefighter, hungry to get out there and knock them spectacularly on their ass.

You experience feelings like those and you know at least a part of you

Still wants to be a comedian.

And then I remembered.  Or, more accurately, I was reminded.

There was a warm-up comedian before Seinfeld came on.  (Though clearly “Second Banana-ish”, this is a coveted assignment.  Big audience.  Generous payday.)

His name is Larry Miller.  A thoughtful selection, Miller was smoothly professional and originally funny. 

Although no threat to the headliner. 

Miller did one bit I found particularly humorous.  It was about going to his son’s Little League game, having a nearby parent asking, “Do you have a kid out there?” and thinking what a bizarre question this was because “Wouldn’t it be creepy if I didn’t?” 

“I just like watching them run.”

Larry Miller is about two-thirds of the way through his act, doing commendably with the audience.    

And then it happened.

From the cavernous confines of the Pantages Theater, a voice calls out from the darkness,

“Where’s Jerry?”

Larry Miller is momentarily stunned.  The audience immediately leaps to his side, booing the heartless heckler and cheering enthusiastically when Miller finally unleashes his (well-practiced) “comeback”. 

The crisis is over.  But something has definitely changed.

It was like now, although Larry Miller’s exterior remained onstage, his “Inner Being” had, like in some fifties invaders-from-outer-space movie, been vaporized.  A shell was continuing gamely to the finish.  But the person “inside” had been totally obliterated. 

There are many reasons one might not want to be a comedian – the debilitating lifestyle, performing the same material night after night, the remote prospects for ultimate success.  But for me at least, the visceral dread of the stand-up comedian can be summarized in three soul-crushing syllables:

“Where’s Jerry?”

You hear that, and your only hope

Is a brilliant psychiatrist.

On immediate “Speed Dial.”
Bonus Offering:  My brother recently did a podcast in Canada, talking about his career and comedy in general.  I believe it's worth listening to.  Some of it sounds like me.  Some of it doesn't.  Proving we are actually two different people.  If you have a moment, or thirty, give it a listen.  It's at


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