[Our friend Leah Kayajanian moved to LA last month to follow her comedy dreams and what have you. These are here first impressions.]
Iâ€™m walking down Hollywood Boulevard. Itâ€™s 82 degrees outside, and Iâ€™m loving it because I know that itâ€™s 110 in Oklahoma. Thereâ€™s a man standing next to me. He seems pretty homeless, but he may just be crazy. He doesnâ€™t have a shirt on, and heâ€™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.
â€œCan someone bring me home and let me sit in your air conditioner? Itâ€™s so hot out here.â€
I turn to him, and we make eye contact. Conversation officially engaged. â€œItâ€™s not that hot, man,â€ I say.
â€œItâ€™s definitely too hot out here.â€
â€œI think youâ€™re being dramatic.â€
â€œOh, really? Is that right, Baby? Listen, why donâ€™t I come over to your house and just sit awhile?â€
â€œMmm, no, not gonna happen.â€
â€œUm, well, because I think youâ€™re crazy, and Iâ€™m thinking I shouldnâ€™t have started this conversation.â€
He laughs. â€œI ainâ€™t crazy, Baby. I know everything thatâ€™s going on. Believe me.â€
I donâ€™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. â€œI ainâ€™t crazy, Baby!â€
â€œYour problem,â€ Doug says, â€œis you feel the need to engage people in conversation. You donâ€™t have to talk to everybody.â€
â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ I say. Thatâ€™s actually good advice. Iâ€™ve been here for three weeks, and Iâ€™ve gotten myself in about seven arguments. Four of them have been with a fellow open mic-er named Lee.
â€œJust ignore him,â€ Doug says. â€œTalk to him the minimal amount.â€
Doug is the best friend I have in L.A. Heâ€™s an uber-healthy, more responsible, more grounded version of me. Iâ€™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 weâ€™re going to tonight at the Bliss CafÃ© 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 cafÃ©, buying a cup of coffee and a banana, and making it back outside before Iâ€™m in the middle of our first argument.
â€œI wasnâ€™t even talking to you,â€ Lee says.
â€œOh, really? You werenâ€™t talking to me when you said, â€˜Leah, why are you looking at me like thatâ€™?â€
â€œFirst of all, I didnâ€™t say your name. I was looking over your shoulder at him. Ahmad, come here! Wasnâ€™t I talking to you a second ago?â€
â€œWhat?â€ Ahmad says.
â€œI donâ€™t believe you,â€ I say.
â€œYou know what your problem is,â€ Lee says. â€œYou have to be the center of attention.â€
â€œOh, I have to be the center of attention,â€ I say. â€œUm, Iâ€™m pretty sure that all of us have to be the center of attention. Weâ€™re fucking comics.â€
I start unpeeling my banana.
â€œOoh, can I watch you eat that?â€ Lee asks.
â€œSure,â€ I say. â€œSure. Howâ€™s this?â€ I pull off a chunk of the banana and smear it on my lips. â€œYou like that?â€
I look over my shoulder at Doug. Heâ€™s standing off to the side and messing with his phone, saying the minimal amount.
Iâ€™m at the Sunset Grill. Weâ€™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. â€œHereâ€™s a new joke Iâ€™m working on,â€ he says. â€œBefore rape was illegal, it was cool.â€
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 itâ€™s my turn to go onstage, he says, â€œThis next comic coming to the stage is very, very funny. Give it up for Leah Kaâ€¦Kayâ€¦Kayahâ€¦Shit, I canâ€™t pronounce this.â€
I take the mic. â€œItâ€™s Kayajanian,â€ I say. â€œAnd I have a question. Are you gonna rape me?â€
â€œNo, seriously, because this is the first open mic Iâ€™ve done here, and you keep telling that one rape joke.â€
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 didnâ€™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. â€œI like your shirt.â€
I really do like it. Itâ€™s a purple shirt with stack of cassette tapes drawn on it in white.
â€œThanks,â€ he says. â€œI like your shirt, too. Itâ€™s very sexy.â€
â€œUh, what? Iâ€™m wearing a t-shirt.â€
â€œWell, thanks. Iâ€™m actually about to go, soâ€”â€
â€œSo have you ever been raped?â€ he asks.
â€œWhat? Why are you asking me that?â€
â€œBecause you were talking about rape.â€
â€œYeah,â€ I say. â€œBut I was talking about rape because itâ€™s part of my joke. Thatâ€™s kind of a weird question to ask.â€
â€œIs it? Why?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. I guess because you went from â€˜I like your shirtâ€™ to â€˜rape,â€™ and that just seemed like a jump to me.â€™â€
We end up talking it out, and the guy gives me his business card. Itâ€™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. â€œHey,â€ he says. â€œCan I get your phone number?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ I say.
â€œWell, to be honest, youâ€™re kind of creeping me out right now.â€
â€œOh,â€ he says. â€œOkay. Bye.â€ He walks away.
Iâ€™m at the Hollywood Hotel on a Friday night. Thereâ€™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 weâ€™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. â€œAre you ladies here to watch the show tonight?â€
â€œYes.â€ Adair points at me. â€œSheâ€™s in it.â€
He nods. â€œOh, youâ€™re in it? Well, are you gonna be funny?â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™m gonna be funny.â€
â€œIâ€™ll tell you right now, youâ€™re gonna have to work really hard to make me laugh because I usually donâ€™t think women comics are funny.â€
I roll my eyes. â€œWell, I think youâ€™re wrong.â€
He shrugs. â€œIâ€™m just saying.â€
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 arenâ€™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. â€œYou better be funny.â€
â€œHey,â€ I say. â€œWas that you heckling the comics?â€
â€œYes it was!â€ Heâ€™s obviously proud.
â€œWell, then youâ€™re a douchebag, and thatâ€™s a dickhead thing to do.â€
I see Adairâ€™s eyes get wide, her lips twitching into a smile.
â€œI was telling those guys how itâ€™s done.â€
â€œYou know, it doesnâ€™t make you awesome to yell at people onstage. It makes you a dick. And youâ€™re only doing it because youâ€™re too much of a pussy to get onstage yourself.â€
He doesnâ€™t respond, just stands in front of me, a wounded look on his face. Finally, he points at me. â€œYou better be funny.â€
â€œOh, I fuckinâ€™ will be,â€ I say.
He walks off, and Adair starts laughing. â€œWell,â€ she says, â€œthat was interesting to watch.â€
Iâ€™m in the hallway waiting to go on. Iâ€™m standing next to Ryan Pfeiffer, tonightâ€™s host of the show. I like Ryan, heâ€™s funny, but heâ€™s pretty much always some kind of fucked up. He turns to me. â€œSo can you tell me how to say your last name again?â€
â€œKay-uh-jane-ee-un,â€ I say. â€œJust like itâ€™s spelled.â€
He looks at his list. â€œIâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™m just so stoned right now.â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s cool, man. Itâ€™s a daunting last name.â€
â€œYeah.â€ 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. Heâ€™s not having a great set, but heâ€™s getting a few scattered laughs by miming jerking off.
Ryan turns to me again. â€œWait, how do you say your name?â€
I laugh. â€œKayajanian.â€
â€œYes. Look, itâ€™s not a big deal if you mess it up. Just try.â€
â€œNo, I think I got it. Kayajanian. Kayajanian. Kayajanian.â€
I smile. â€œGood. Yeah. Thatâ€™s it.â€
He fades out again before turning back to me and blurting out, â€œSo, uh, and youâ€™re name isâ€¦Laura?â€
â€œJesus, Ryan.â€ I grab his shoulders. â€œMy first name is Leah. Iâ€™ve met you like five times. At least get my first name right. Leah. Leeee-uhhh.â€
â€œLeah,â€ he says. â€œI knew that. Iâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™m just really stoned right now.â€
Drunk L.I.T. man makes a sudden appearance in the hallway. Heâ€™s not looking so hot. Heâ€™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.
â€œMotherfucker!â€ I spin around, but the drunk has somehow fleet-footed his way out of sight. â€œThat guy just grabbed my tit!â€
â€œOh my God!â€ Ryan says. â€œI saw! I thought he was your boyfriend.â€
I scoff. â€œWhat?â€
â€œI thought maybe he was your boyfriend.â€
I put my hand on my hip. â€œSo you think Iâ€™d be dating the drunk man who was heckling the comics? You think Iâ€™d date a guy with his shirt buttoned all the way up to the very top button? How can you even breathe like that?â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, do you want me to say something to him?â€ Ryan asks.
â€œYou think Iâ€™d date the bald dude-bro thatâ€™s dressed like a cholo?â€
â€œIâ€™m so sorry. Iâ€™m just really stoned right now.â€
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 theyâ€™ve been there a long time, and theyâ€™re just about through with watching comedy. And Iâ€™m next.
I watch Ryan from the side door. â€œPlease welcome to the stage,â€ he says, â€œa very funny comedian, Leah Kay-uhâ€¦uhâ€¦uhâ€¦ Iâ€™m sorry, I fucked it up.â€
He looks at me and bows his head, defeated. I step onstage, shake his hand, and grab the microphone. â€œMy name is Leah Kayajanian,â€ I say. And then I get the crowd back, and then I fuckinâ€™ make them laugh because thatâ€™s what I came here to do.
Iâ€™m at the Comedy Store waiting to see if Iâ€™ve made the list. Iâ€™m standing by myself and staring at all the other comics because thereâ€™s nothing else to do.
Mr. Business Card pops up next to me. Heâ€™s wearing the same t-shirt as he was the last time I saw him. â€œHey.â€
â€œOh, hey, man,â€ I say. â€œHowâ€™s it going?â€
â€œGood,â€ he says. â€œSo you still think Iâ€™m creepy?â€
â€œOh, I donâ€™t know. I mean, the whole rape thing. I was feeling a little weird about being the only girl. But weâ€™re cool.â€
He points behind me to Jamar Neighbors, the host from the Sunset Grill open mic. â€œYou donâ€™t think heâ€™s creepy, do you?â€
â€œNo,â€ I say. I nod at Jamar, and he nods back. â€œI think heâ€™s probably cool.â€
â€œYeah, heâ€™s a really nice guy,â€ Business Card says.
And then, I swear to God, Jamar, who has no idea what weâ€™re talking about, walks by, leans in next to me and says, â€œIâ€™m gonna rape â€˜ya!â€
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 â€œthe inside of a limo in the 1970s,â€ and I think thatâ€™s the most apt description.
Lee is onstage yelling things at people. Iâ€™ve seen him go up around four times, and I donâ€™t think heâ€™s ever told a joke. During his set, I get an idea for a bit, and I start typing it out in my phoneâ€™s â€œnoteâ€ application.
â€œYou messing with your phone?â€ Lee asks from the stage.
I look up. â€œOh, yeah, sorry man. I was just trying to remember something.â€
â€œLeah, why are you always so mean to me?â€
â€œIâ€™m not. Just go on with your set.â€
â€œItâ€™s too bad that youâ€™re a comic, because I would definitely have sex with you.â€
I shake my head, annoyed. â€œWho says I would fuck you?â€
Gene Steichen, the host of the show and the actor who plays the fig leaf in the Fruit of the Loom commercials, senses that Leeâ€™s set is de-railing and hops up onstage, making an effort to grab at the microphone. â€œOkay,â€ he says. â€œAll right.â€
â€œWell,â€ Lee says, â€œThen I might end up doing something that could get me eight years in prison.â€
â€œAre you implying that youâ€™re gonna rape me?â€ I ask.
â€œWhat? I didnâ€™t say that.â€
â€œFuckinâ€™ try it. Iâ€™m not afraid of you.â€
Gene pulls the microphone. â€œOhhh-kay, this has been nice.â€
Before stepping offstage, Lee leans into the microphone to do his big closer: â€œRemember me when Iâ€™m famous! Iâ€™ve been Lee. Peeaaaaaace [held out for a dramatically long time]â€¦and carrots!â€
Iâ€™m sitting by myself at the Improv open mic drinking a Jack and Coke and watching Marcella Arguello. Sheâ€™s cracking me up. Actually, sheâ€™s cracking everyone up. She pretty much turned the gloomy feeling of this mic around. Sheâ€™s naturally funny, a good performer, and to top it off, sheâ€™s six-foot-two and gorgeous. This is the first time Iâ€™ve seen her perform, but Iâ€™ve seen her around. Earlier today, she friend requested me on Facebook.
After her set, I walk up to her. â€œHey Marcella. Youâ€™re really funny.â€
â€œThanks,â€ she says.
â€œIâ€™m Leah,â€ I say. â€œWeâ€™re friends on Facebook now.â€
â€œOh yeah!â€ She reaches out and shakes my hand. â€œI saw you at the Comedy Store. Us women gotta stick together.â€
I look around the room at all the open mic-ers, mostly men. It occurs to me that Iâ€™m so used to being around large groups of men in L.A., I donâ€™t remember what itâ€™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. â€œI agree with you one hundred percent.â€
I stand next to her, waiting until itâ€™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 wouldnâ€™t want to fuck me if I were the last woman on the planet.