It’s one in the morning on the weekend, and I’m walking my dog. I live in a residential area right smack dab in the middle of Hollywood, a block south of Sunset Boulevard. I’ll be honest – it’s a pretty sucky place to live. In a couple months, I’ll move to a perfect little house next to downtown that reminds me of my college house, but for now, I live in Doucheville, where my phone doesn’t get reception, and for some reason there are more black transvestites per capita than anywhere on the planet.
As I turn the corner to my apartment building, I hear a very tortured, drunk screeching. I see the source, a woman down the street wearing a tiny dress and heels. She’s sprawled out on the hood of a random car, screaming obscenities into her cell phone.
It sounds like this: “Fucking motherfuckin’ cock motherfuckin’ you motherfuckin’ fucker asscock fucker.”
As she ambles closer to my apartment, I go inside the front door and watch her from the window because it’s funny, but also because I want to make sure she makes it home okay. Once I’m inside, she starts sprinting toward my building door, and I just stand there, frozen in terror, convinced that she’s one of those fast zombies like on 28 Days Later. Before I can react, she bounds up the front steps and slams her face right up against the window inches in front of me. We lock eyes, the pane of glass between us.
I see gigantic tears black tears falling from her heavily made-up lashes. She screams, “Are you gonna let me in, Bitch?”
I suddenly realize that it’s my neighbor, the girl with the Chihuahua who lives right across the hall. No, we don’t have the type of relationship where we can call each other “bitch,” but I perceive that she’s in the midst of a blackout and let it slide. I open the door, and she brushes past me, stumbling up the stairwell. As Davey Dog and I follow her upstairs, I notice that she has her dress pulled up to her waist, no underwear on, and her glorious Brazilian-waxed pussy out in the open, enjoying the cool night breeze.
“Uh…” I say, but I’m not really sure where to go beyond that. If she were a guy, I could just say, “Your pussy’s showing,” but you can’t talk to women like that. I stand outside my apartment while I watch her fumble with her key.
“Do you need help?” She shakes her head, repeatedly missing the doorknob.
“So, uh, listen, uh, you might want to pull your dress down.”
She pounds on the door for a few seconds, then slides down the front of it until she’s ass-up on the carpet. I’m about to try a different approach, but I hear footsteps coming to her door.
I step inside my apartment and listen. I hear her boyfriend’s voice mumbling, her screeching, and a door slam.
Jesus, I think. I don’t get women.
I’m driving from an open mic back to The Comedy Store with Amy Cheapho and feeling very self-conscious about the trash on my passenger’s side floor. There are about 12 water bottles there, and every time someone rides with me, I have to hear the crunch of plastic under their feet.
“Sorry about the mess,” I say.
“I don’t care,” Amy says.
“That guy in there really annoyed me,” I say. “Why can’t I tell a joke about a blowjob without getting that kind of reaction? Guys say that shit all the time. It just drives me crazy.”
“No, I get it,” she says. “You know what else drives me crazy? The way the men are all over women comics. I never thought I was really hot, but now that I do stand-up, I feel like men hit on me all the time.”
“Me too!” I say. “It’s so weird!”
Amy’s a comic from Orange County, and I see her almost every night on the open mic circuit. It’s taken us the better part of three months to actually start talking to each other. It’s not because we don’t like each other. We just have very little in common. I mean, I just listened to her have a conversation with another comic about Kim Kardashian’s divorce and France in the fall, which makes me think she’d get along famously with my gay best friend, but I kind of feel like a common street rat when I’m around her. She’s always so well put-together, and she gives off an aura of money.
And truly, I’m the one being super weird about everything because talking to women scares the shit out of me.
I know that makes no sense, but here’s my working theory about why I feel anxious around the fairer gender: I’m around men all the time. And not regular men, either, male comedians, who are hands-down the most awkward, neurotic, socially retarded group of people on the planet. Because I’m around them, I’ve adopted their neuroses, their self-consciousness, and right along with that, their inability to talk to women.
I’ve never had trouble getting along with women, but I do rarely know what to say to them, and I constantly feel bad about it. I hate that I feel disconnected from the people I should identify with. It’s alienating to walk into a room full of people and naturally gravitate toward the people with penises because you just don’t know what to say to the people with the pussies.
“All right, are you guys ready for your next comedian?” the host asks. He looks down at the list in his hand. “Well, your next comedian is our first female comedian of the night – Leah Kayajanian!”
I step onstage at the Comedy Store, shake the host’s hand, and grab the mic. Like every other time I get on at the Store open mic, I feel a tiny bit off. Maybe that means I should tell my best jokes and stick to the script I planned, but like an asshole, I ignore that impulse and dive into something awkward instead.
“I love being introduced here,” I say. “Give it up for your next female comedian, everybody! It’s a female! Did I mention it’s a woman? If you listen close, you can hear the whistling of her vagina as she walks up to the stage. You can hear her labia slapping against her thigh!”
When I was in middle school, living in small town Blackwell, Oklahoma, I played in the boy’s baseball league. I was the only girl. I wanted to play in the major leagues when I grew up, so it made sense to me to start playing as soon as possible. It was a simple split-second decision that I said out loud to my mom, and before I knew it, she signed me up for the league and sent me heading right down a path of unintentional feminism.
I didn’t do it to make a statement of any kind about gender equality. I didn’t think about the debates that went on in the pre-league meetings, I didn’t think about getting picked last to be on Kay Electric (the team that would most definitely be the underdog team in the kid’s movie about working together), and I didn’t think about the boys calling me a dyke before I even knew what the word meant. I just wanted to play baseball.
One of Kay Electric’s very first games was against a team from the closest town. My first at-bat, I stared down a couple of balls from pitcher Josh Day, and then took a swing at a fastball at least three seconds after it hit the catcher’s mitt. The next pitch came right at me, and without thinking, I casually let go of the bat, reached up, and knocked the ball down with my bare hand. During my trot to first base, I noticed that the other team was cracking up laughing.
Even my first-base coach laughed. “Good job,” he said through chuckles.
I realized then that everyone was laughing at Josh because I knocked down the ball he threw at me. Not only did it loosen up the tension that I accidentally created by being a girl, but it earned me a lot of respect that I never felt like I deserved. I mean, sure, I knocked down a ball with my bare hand. But that was just a natural reaction, a human instinct to survive. What was I supposed to do? Let the ball whack me in the titty?
It’s a strange feeling when people look at you like you’re an anomaly when you’re just doing something that comes naturally to you.
I’m at a Jack in the Box with a comic friend of mine, and he’s talking to me about his long-distance relationship because it’s on his mind a lot. “I just don’t see what men get out of marriage,” he says. “You know? What would I get out of it?”
I sigh. “I don’t know. Someone to hang out with when you’re old.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s it,” he says. “But it just seems so unnatural.” While we eat our food, he continues. “I’m just not in a place where I want to have any children, you know? I’m focused on what I want to do with my life. All of my friends are having kids.”
I dip a curly fry in ketchup. “I might want to have kids some day,” I say.
“Really?” he asks. “You?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, not now. Not anytime in the near future, obviously. But I don’t want to rule it out completely.”
On one hand, I feel for him. He’s really struggling to keep his relationship together because he loves his girlfriend, so everyday is painful for him. I’ve been there, right on the fence deciding between getting married and moving on to a completely different life.
On the other hand, I’m kind of annoyed at his assumption that because I’m here, I must’ve already decided against having a family forever instead of just right now.
I walk into the Hollywood Hotel bar on a Friday night, and there’s a woman comic onstage. This is not noteworthy. What is noteworthy, however, is that she’s holding a two-year-old toddler on her hip while delivering a few jokes to the sparse crowd.
Something inside of me feels weird about this.
Okay, I think. I’m not gonna judge. Sure, she has a two-year-old in a bar past 10 p.m. Sure, she’s telling jokes about how she wishes she never had kids while holding her child in her arms. But I don’t know her life.
She gets offstage and spends the next hour in the hallway outside the bar, following her toddler as he runs back and forth from one end of the hall to another. I’m standing by the wall, watching the little boy run, and I look up at his mother’s face: tired, annoyed, hopeless.
“Hey,” I say. “You were funny.”
“Really?” She walks right up to me and gives me a huge hug. “Thank you so much.”
She picks her son up and holds him on her hip while she talks to me about how he had too much sugar earlier in the day, so now she’s just hoping he’ll work off that excess energy. While she speaks, her son punches her in the head and pulls her hair. Before she leaves for good, she shakes my hand, looks right into my eyes, and says, “Don’t have kids.”
I was engaged back in 2010. For about two good weeks. After that amount of time, I began to panic, I mulled over it for a month, and then I broke it off like an adult.
During the short engagement, I worked a week at a comedy club out of town with a headliner who honed right in on my ring. “Are you getting married?” he asked, incredulous.
“Yeah,” I said. “You ever been married?”
He shook his head. “I would never marry someone unless I wanted to be with her all the time. I’m talking like if I was going somewhere, I’d beg her to go with me, like ‘Please come with me. Come with me.’”
Like most road comics, he was talking out of his ass. But it stuck. For the next few weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and it played over and over in the back of my mind.
Before that, I had thought of my marriage as a good practical decision. The man I was marrying would help support me while I tried to work on the road. He’d watch my dog when I left for weeks at a time. He’d take care of the house while I went off to new cities, having adventures without him.
I was going to marry him because I knew I’d be just fine leaving him behind.
My mom and dad got divorced when I was four. I don’t know the exact details about the demise of my parents’ relationship, but I do know that my mom fell in love with another man, my step-dad, who she married for twenty years and also recently divorced. They live together now, divorced, retired, and happy.
For the few weeks when I was engaged, I thought about my mom a lot. I thought about how healthy she is in comparison to my dad, who has pretty severe Parkinson’s disease, about how she always asks me about him because I know that even after all this time, she feels guilty about leaving him. But looking at the two of them now, I can’t imagine them together.
My mom likes to move around and watch sports and play games and talk (Oh God, does she talk). My dad likes to watch TV in his underwear. He always had a steady job, he always supported his family, but when he came home, he’d take off his pants and plop down on the couch. So who can blame my mom for falling in love with an alcoholic with big dreams and a charismatic sense of adventure?
I broke off my engagement because I didn’t want to marry a man who was safe, who would always come home from work, help me make dinner, and then sit on the couch and watch TV. I want to marry a man that I don’t know actually exists, one who might have issues and crazy ideas and a collection of terrible vices, one who might get on my nerves so much that I divorce him, but one that I still always want around me, all the time, forever.
There’s a point to all of this.
When I broke off my engagement and moved to L.A., people assumed that I did it because I had to choose between my comedy career and a family. I let them believe it because it was easier, I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and it made me seem way more awesome than I actually am. In reality, I chose not to get married because I knew it wasn’t right. If it had been right, I would’ve made it work. I would’ve stayed in Oklahoma and gone on the road and figured out how to be a comedian and somebody’s wife at the same time.
I’m not a martyr for single women. I get very lonely very easily. I like being around people, and I do want to get married some day. Some women comics don’t ever want that life. Some do. Just like the men, it depends on the person, and I don’t speak for the women comedy community.
I spend a lot of time wishing I knew how to converse better with women comics, but even though I don’t know what to say, I feel just as close to them as I do to the men I hang out with. Because like all of them, I am a comic, and nothing will ever change that. It’s an inextricable part of me. It’s what I do best. But it has absolutely zero to do with being a woman.
I don’t know right now whether or not I would choose my career over being married to the right man, but I do know that I should never have to. None of us should ever have to. The issue is not whether I chose being a comic over being a wife and mother – the issue is the misconception that I had to choose.
It’s the difference between right now and forever.
It’s late Friday, and I’m at the midnight open mic at the Hollywood Hotel. There are a few people there, littered around the room, looking through notes, paying very little attention to the stage and the people on it.
The host is drunk, as usual. He brings a comic offstage and nods at me. I’m next.
“Our next comic coming to the stage,” he says, “is a female comedian, and she’s definitely very cute and very sexy. Please give it up for Leah!”
I walk onstage and grab the mic.
“Wow, sexy. Thanks.” I shake my head and look out at the crowd, and the host. “That’s nice, I guess. But you should know, I’d rather be funny up here.”