[Our friend Leah Kayajanian moved to LA last month to follow her comedy dreams and what have you. These are here first impressions.]
I’m walking down Hollywood Boulevard. It’s 82 degrees outside, and I’m loving it because I know that it’s 110 in Oklahoma. There’s a man standing next to me. He seems pretty homeless, but he may just be crazy. He doesn’t have a shirt on, and he’s wearing jean shorts with no underwear, apparently, because I can see at least 3/8ths of his ass. He wipes his forearm across his sweaty brow before yelling at the crowds of tourists walking by.
“Can someone bring me home and let me sit in your air conditioner? It’s so hot out here.”
I turn to him, and we make eye contact. Conversation officially engaged. “It’s not that hot, man,” I say.
“It’s definitely too hot out here.”
“I think you’re being dramatic.”
“Oh, really? Is that right, Baby? Listen, why don’t I come over to your house and just sit awhile?”
“Mmm, no, not gonna happen.”
“Um, well, because I think you’re crazy, and I’m thinking I shouldn’t have started this conversation.”
He laughs. “I ain’t crazy, Baby. I know everything that’s going on. Believe me.”
I don’t know where to go from here, but the walk sign tells me I can cross the street, and I scurry off into the distance, the guy behind me still yelling. “I ain’t crazy, Baby!”
“Your problem,” Doug says, “is you feel the need to engage people in conversation. You don’t have to talk to everybody.”
“You’re right,” I say. That’s actually good advice. I’ve been here for three weeks, and I’ve gotten myself in about seven arguments. Four of them have been with a fellow open mic-er named Lee.
“Just ignore him,” Doug says. “Talk to him the minimal amount.”
Doug is the best friend I have in L.A. He’s an uber-healthy, more responsible, more grounded version of me. I’ve known him since college, he lives in my building, and he does stand-up, so we hit up a lot of open mics together. The one we’re going to tonight at the Bliss Café is a five-minute walk from our apartment building.
Sure enough, we get there, and Lee sits outside by the door. He stares me down, his usual greeting.
I ignore my impulse to stop and talk to him. I succeed in going in the café, buying a cup of coffee and a banana, and making it back outside before I’m in the middle of our first argument.
“I wasn’t even talking to you,” Lee says.
“Oh, really? You weren’t talking to me when you said, ‘Leah, why are you looking at me like that’?”
“First of all, I didn’t say your name. I was looking over your shoulder at him. Ahmad, come here! Wasn’t I talking to you a second ago?”
“What?” Ahmad says.
“I don’t believe you,” I say.
“You know what your problem is,” Lee says. “You have to be the center of attention.”
“Oh, I have to be the center of attention,” I say. “Um, I’m pretty sure that all of us have to be the center of attention. We’re fucking comics.”
I start unpeeling my banana.
“Ooh, can I watch you eat that?” Lee asks.
“Sure,” I say. “Sure. How’s this?” I pull off a chunk of the banana and smear it on my lips. “You like that?”
I look over my shoulder at Doug. He’s standing off to the side and messing with his phone, saying the minimal amount.
I’m at the Sunset Grill. We’re in a small room upstairs that holds a microphone and three rows of chairs. The host of this mic, Jamar Neighbors, sees me walk in and nods at the list on a stool next to me.
I sign my name on the list for my first open mic in L.A., and then I survey the room. There are about ten other comics scattered about, all guys, some on the patio outside of the room, some in chairs. I walk to a chair front and center to the comics performing, and I sit and watch the show.
Jamar gets onstage. “Here’s a new joke I’m working on,” he says. “Before rape was illegal, it was cool.”
He goes into the rest of his joke, which is funny in a shock-funny way, and then introduces the next comic. As the list goes on, he tells the same rape joke between comics four more times, and I squirm a little in my seat.
When it’s my turn to go onstage, he says, “This next comic coming to the stage is very, very funny. Give it up for Leah Ka…Kay…Kayah…Shit, I can’t pronounce this.”
I take the mic. “It’s Kayajanian,” I say. “And I have a question. Are you gonna rape me?”
“No, seriously, because this is the first open mic I’ve done here, and you keep telling that one rape joke.”
A guy in the back laughs.
I segue into my rape joke, get a few laughs, and step offstage, proud of myself for doing this. I forgot how lonely it is to start doing stand-up. Tonight reminds me of the first time I got onstage five years ago at the Loony Bin in Oklahoma City when I didn’t know anybody, and all I had was a few minutes of time to make people like me.
I feel brave again.
After my set, another comic smiles at me. Desperate to make friends, I point at him. “I like your shirt.”
I really do like it. It’s a purple shirt with stack of cassette tapes drawn on it in white.
“Thanks,” he says. “I like your shirt, too. It’s very sexy.”
“Uh, what? I’m wearing a t-shirt.”
“Well, thanks. I’m actually about to go, so—”
“So have you ever been raped?” he asks.
“What? Why are you asking me that?”
“Because you were talking about rape.”
“Yeah,” I say. “But I was talking about rape because it’s part of my joke. That’s kind of a weird question to ask.”
“Is it? Why?”
“I don’t know. I guess because you went from ‘I like your shirt’ to ‘rape,’ and that just seemed like a jump to me.’”
We end up talking it out, and the guy gives me his business card. It’s the first of my growing L.A.-open-mic-comic-business-card collection.
I walk down Sunset toward my car, and I stop at a crosswalk to wait for the light to change. Business Card runs to catch up with me. “Hey,” he says. “Can I get your phone number?”
“I don’t think so,” I say.
“Well, to be honest, you’re kind of creeping me out right now.”
“Oh,” he says. “Okay. Bye.” He walks away.
I’m at the Hollywood Hotel on a Friday night. There’s a booked show tonight, and I got myself on the bill. My friend Adair Fincher, photographer, law student, and candy enthusiast, is visiting for the weekend, and we’re sitting at the bar.
A man walks over to the bar and orders an L.I.T. Adair, having the same problem that I do, which forces her to interact with strangers, makes eye contact and smiles at the guy.
He slides over to us. “Are you ladies here to watch the show tonight?”
“Yes.” Adair points at me. “She’s in it.”
He nods. “Oh, you’re in it? Well, are you gonna be funny?”
“Yeah, I’m gonna be funny.”
“I’ll tell you right now, you’re gonna have to work really hard to make me laugh because I usually don’t think women comics are funny.”
I roll my eyes. “Well, I think you’re wrong.”
He shrugs. “I’m just saying.”
As the night rolls on, Mr. L.I.T. man gets wasted and starts heckling the comedians. He keeps interrupting jokes to scream out that the comics onstage aren’t funny, that he could do a better job. He does this at a constant rate until one of the comics gets sick of it and exposes him for the douchebag that he is.
Shortly after this public shaming, Mr. L.I.T. staggers back to the bar and points at me. “You better be funny.”
“Hey,” I say. “Was that you heckling the comics?”
“Yes it was!” He’s obviously proud.
“Well, then you’re a douchebag, and that’s a dickhead thing to do.”
I see Adair’s eyes get wide, her lips twitching into a smile.
“I was telling those guys how it’s done.”
“You know, it doesn’t make you awesome to yell at people onstage. It makes you a dick. And you’re only doing it because you’re too much of a pussy to get onstage yourself.”
He doesn’t respond, just stands in front of me, a wounded look on his face. Finally, he points at me. “You better be funny.”
“Oh, I fuckin’ will be,” I say.
He walks off, and Adair starts laughing. “Well,” she says, “that was interesting to watch.”
I’m in the hallway waiting to go on. I’m standing next to Ryan Pfeiffer, tonight’s host of the show. I like Ryan, he’s funny, but he’s pretty much always some kind of fucked up. He turns to me. “So can you tell me how to say your last name again?”
“Kay-uh-jane-ee-un,” I say. “Just like it’s spelled.”
He looks at his list. “I’m sorry, I’m just so stoned right now.”
“No, it’s cool, man. It’s a daunting last name.”
“Yeah.” He seems to fade out of a reality for a minute or so, his eyes half-closed, a huge smile on his face. We watch the comic onstage. He’s not having a great set, but he’s getting a few scattered laughs by miming jerking off.
Ryan turns to me again. “Wait, how do you say your name?”
I laugh. “Kayajanian.”
“Yes. Look, it’s not a big deal if you mess it up. Just try.”
“No, I think I got it. Kayajanian. Kayajanian. Kayajanian.”
I smile. “Good. Yeah. That’s it.”
He fades out again before turning back to me and blurting out, “So, uh, and you’re name is…Laura?”
“Jesus, Ryan.” I grab his shoulders. “My first name is Leah. I’ve met you like five times. At least get my first name right. Leah. Leeee-uhhh.”
“Leah,” he says. “I knew that. I’m sorry, I’m just really stoned right now.”
Drunk L.I.T. man makes a sudden appearance in the hallway. He’s not looking so hot. He’s bent over completely, swaying forward in slow motion, but never actually hitting the ground. After about 30 seconds, he stands up straight, walks around the spot where Ryan and I are standing, and reaches in to casually cup my right tit.
“Motherfucker!” I spin around, but the drunk has somehow fleet-footed his way out of sight. “That guy just grabbed my tit!”
“Oh my God!” Ryan says. “I saw! I thought he was your boyfriend.”
I scoff. “What?”
“I thought maybe he was your boyfriend.”
I put my hand on my hip. “So you think I’d be dating the drunk man who was heckling the comics? You think I’d date a guy with his shirt buttoned all the way up to the very top button? How can you even breathe like that?”
“I’m sorry, do you want me to say something to him?” Ryan asks.
“You think I’d date the bald dude-bro that’s dressed like a cholo?”
“I’m so sorry. I’m just really stoned right now.”
The jerkoff mime does his closing bit, and Ryan gets up onstage to a bored crowd. He tries to pump some energy into the room, but they’ve been there a long time, and they’re just about through with watching comedy. And I’m next.
I watch Ryan from the side door. “Please welcome to the stage,” he says, “a very funny comedian, Leah Kay-uh…uh…uh… I’m sorry, I fucked it up.”
He looks at me and bows his head, defeated. I step onstage, shake his hand, and grab the microphone. “My name is Leah Kayajanian,” I say. And then I get the crowd back, and then I fuckin’ make them laugh because that’s what I came here to do.
I’m at the Comedy Store waiting to see if I’ve made the list. I’m standing by myself and staring at all the other comics because there’s nothing else to do.
Mr. Business Card pops up next to me. He’s wearing the same t-shirt as he was the last time I saw him. “Hey.”
“Oh, hey, man,” I say. “How’s it going?”
“Good,” he says. “So you still think I’m creepy?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I mean, the whole rape thing. I was feeling a little weird about being the only girl. But we’re cool.”
He points behind me to Jamar Neighbors, the host from the Sunset Grill open mic. “You don’t think he’s creepy, do you?”
“No,” I say. I nod at Jamar, and he nods back. “I think he’s probably cool.”
“Yeah, he’s a really nice guy,” Business Card says.
And then, I swear to God, Jamar, who has no idea what we’re talking about, walks by, leans in next to me and says, “I’m gonna rape ‘ya!”
He walks away without another word, and I crack up laughing.
At the Hollywood Hotel. Again. Starting to wonder why I keep coming back here. Another comic described the atmosphere of the place as “the inside of a limo in the 1970s,” and I think that’s the most apt description.
Lee is onstage yelling things at people. I’ve seen him go up around four times, and I don’t think he’s ever told a joke. During his set, I get an idea for a bit, and I start typing it out in my phone’s “note” application.
“You messing with your phone?” Lee asks from the stage.
I look up. “Oh, yeah, sorry man. I was just trying to remember something.”
“Leah, why are you always so mean to me?”
“I’m not. Just go on with your set.”
“It’s too bad that you’re a comic, because I would definitely have sex with you.”
I shake my head, annoyed. “Who says I would fuck you?”
Gene Steichen, the host of the show and the actor who plays the fig leaf in the Fruit of the Loom commercials, senses that Lee’s set is de-railing and hops up onstage, making an effort to grab at the microphone. “Okay,” he says. “All right.”
“Well,” Lee says, “Then I might end up doing something that could get me eight years in prison.”
“Are you implying that you’re gonna rape me?” I ask.
“What? I didn’t say that.”
“Fuckin’ try it. I’m not afraid of you.”
Gene pulls the microphone. “Ohhh-kay, this has been nice.”
Before stepping offstage, Lee leans into the microphone to do his big closer: “Remember me when I’m famous! I’ve been Lee. Peeaaaaaace [held out for a dramatically long time]…and carrots!”
I’m sitting by myself at the Improv open mic drinking a Jack and Coke and watching Marcella Arguello. She’s cracking me up. Actually, she’s cracking everyone up. She pretty much turned the gloomy feeling of this mic around. She’s naturally funny, a good performer, and to top it off, she’s six-foot-two and gorgeous. This is the first time I’ve seen her perform, but I’ve seen her around. Earlier today, she friend requested me on Facebook.
After her set, I walk up to her. “Hey Marcella. You’re really funny.”
“Thanks,” she says.
“I’m Leah,” I say. “We’re friends on Facebook now.”
“Oh yeah!” She reaches out and shakes my hand. “I saw you at the Comedy Store. Us women gotta stick together.”
I look around the room at all the open mic-ers, mostly men. It occurs to me that I’m so used to being around large groups of men in L.A., I don’t remember what it’s like to talk to someone and not self-consciously feel the need to pull my sweater tighter around my chest.
I turn to Marcella. “I agree with you one hundred percent.”
I stand next to her, waiting until it’s my turn to go onstage, and I miss my Oklahoma comedian friends, the ones who know how to pronounce my last name and who wouldn’t want to fuck me if I were the last woman on the planet.