Mom: Got my tax refund so if you need more help let me know
Me: No, I actually think Iâ€™m gonna be ok.Â Save some to come visit me please!
Mom: Do not worry white man, I will have money now
As soon as I walk into CafÃ© Gratitude, I know Iâ€™m too sarcastic for this place. Iâ€™m only here because itâ€™s across the street from the Melrose Gallery, where I work, and my boss sent me to pick up lunch.Â I peruse the vegan menu, knowing that it doesnâ€™t matter what I order.Â Itâ€™s not going to be what I really want â€“ a hot pile of meat. [Insert generic dick joke here.]
On the CafÃ© Gratitude menu, all the food items are listed as self-affirming sentences.Â Some of the choices are a breakfast dish called â€œI am greatâ€, a porridge called â€œI am bright-eyed,â€ and a dessert called â€œI am mystical.â€Â I canâ€™t decide whatâ€™s more annoying â€“ the affirmations themselves, or the fact that theyâ€™re not grammatically consistent.Â Some end in adjectives (â€œI am extraordinaryâ€), some end in nouns (â€œI am joyâ€), and some end in verbs (â€œI am honoringâ€).
What kind of asshole needs this type of validation when ordering lunch?
I look around to make sure Iâ€™m in a real place, and I didnâ€™t wander into some sort of sketch comedy set background.Â Iâ€™m having one of those crisis moments when I feel like reality is a parody of itself, and everyone around me is an actor.
â€œCan I help you?â€ the cashier asks.
â€œSure,â€ I say.Â â€œIâ€™ll have the â€˜I am dazzling.â€™â€Â I giggle.Â â€œAnd the â€˜I am magical,â€™ please.â€Â Then I crack up laughing, and the girl just stares at me, obviously unaware of how hilarious her life is.
Facebook message sent from Amanda Webb:
Between approximately 4am and 5:30am CST lots of love and positivity went your wayâ€¦I just figure you’ve got stuff too, and you don’t even know when people are saying good things about you, or thinking them, or when something you wrote or said one time makes me feel better about myself, or the world. I wanted you to know, in case you needed to know.
Back in August, just a month after moving to Los Angeles, I lived in the same apartment building as my friend Doug.Â He did stand-up for a bit after he arrived in L.A. in 2005, but he had stopped for some years before starting up again when I moved into town.Â One Saturday morning, he dropped by to check in on me.
â€œHow was the hotel last night?â€ he asked, meaning the open mic at the Hollywood Hotel.
â€œIt was dead,â€ I said.Â â€œI always feel like itâ€™s dead in the late show.Â I guess I did okay.Â There were a couple people yelling shit at me.â€
â€œYeah,â€ he said.Â â€œBut good comics know how to adjust to the atmosphere.â€
â€œTrue.Â Sometimes the crowdâ€™s just dead, though.Â I mean, Iâ€™ve seen some really good comics have bad sets.â€
â€œI guess,â€ he said.Â â€œBut weâ€™d be able to handle if we had more experience.â€
Experience? Whoâ€™s this fool talking to?
He pointed at me, then at himself.Â â€œWeâ€™re not good yet.â€
I take a slow breath.Â â€œI donâ€™t like that you said that.â€
â€œWell, itâ€™s true,â€ he laughed.Â â€œWeâ€™re not good.Â Iâ€™m just being humble.â€
After he left, I sat and mulled over the conversation, letting it fester and run through me like a cancer.Â About an hour later, I stomped upstairs and pounded on his door.
â€œOh, hey,â€ he said when he opened the door.
â€œI got something to say to you.â€Â I stepped into his apartment.Â â€œIâ€™m a good fuckinâ€™ comic.Â And youâ€™re not allowed to tell me that Iâ€™m not.Â Iâ€™m not saying Iâ€™m the best, and Iâ€™m not saying I canâ€™t get better, but Iâ€™m good at what I do.â€
â€œGeez, calm down,â€ he said.Â â€œI was talking about myself, too.â€
â€œYou can think whatever you want about your act,â€ I said.Â â€œBut donâ€™t bring me into your negative bullshit.Â I really donâ€™t need that right now.â€
â€œOkay, God.Â I was just kidding.Â Sorry.â€
â€œYeah, well, try to remember, I left my whole life to move here and do this.â€
Comment left on my blog post by Erin Baird:
I believe in you, and I will never forget where youâ€™re from, where Iâ€™m from. It never leaves you. It resonates. You may find yourself waitressing at a shitty Mexican food restaurant, wondering if you have the strength to muddle through another day in hopes that someone will take you and your talents seriously (this is currently my life to a T by the way), but I believe that someday it will all be worth it, because we are strong, talented women who DONâ€™T TAKE SHIT FROM NOBODY.
And Iâ€™m done with my feminist Oklahoma rant. Itâ€™s just that all day Iâ€™ve been thinking â€œI just feel like no one understands.â€ And then I read this, and it made my day. Cheers, Leah, I want nothing but the best for you.
Iâ€™m running errands on a Saturday morning when my phone rings.Â Itâ€™s one of my best friends, Angie.Â She and a bunch of our crew are in Memphis this weekend to celebrate her 30th birthday, but I couldnâ€™t make it due to lack of funds, or, in layman terms, Iâ€™m a broke-ass motherfucker.Â â€œHey Lady!â€ I say when I answer.Â â€œHappy birthday!â€
â€œThanks!â€ Angie yells.Â Sheâ€™s on the phone with me for all of two seconds before another friend of ours, Amber, snatches the phone away from her.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you tell me you got a job?â€ Amber asks.Â â€œI gotta read about you getting a job on Facebook?â€
â€œAre you being serious right now?â€
â€œYeah,â€ she says.Â â€œYouâ€™re supposed to be one of my best friends.â€
I roll my eyes the way you do when youâ€™re arguing with a nagging aunt that didnâ€™t get your thank you card in the mail.Â â€œI didnâ€™t tell anybody,â€ I say.Â â€œI mean, I called my mom, and I texted Rockey.Â Thatâ€™s it.â€
â€œExactly! I donâ€™t even get a text?Â You canâ€™t add my name to the send line?Â How hard is it to add a few more people?â€
â€œHonestly, I canâ€™t tell if youâ€™re fucking with me or really mad at me right now.â€
â€œUh, Iâ€™m being serious,â€ she says.
â€œWell, then Iâ€™m sorry,â€ I say.Â â€œI didnâ€™t think it would bother you.Â And I really, really wish I could be there with you guys right now.â€
â€œMe too,â€ Amber says.Â â€œHave you noticed Iâ€™ve been checking you in with us on Facebook?â€
I laugh.Â Right now, according to Facebook, Iâ€™m at on Beale Street in Memphis.Â â€œI wish.Â So howâ€™s the weekend?â€
While she talks, I park my car by the curb and grab a few shopping bags from the back seat.Â My eye catches an orange object nestled by my back tire.
Itâ€™s a bouncy ball.
I reach down to grab it and less than a second after I scoop it up, a stream of gutter water runs down the curb.Â A moment later, and it wouldâ€™ve been gone.
This is no accident.
Text from Oklahoma Comic BradChad Porter:
At Bison Witches with Lizardman and Amanda Webb.Â We all agree youâ€™re an idiot.Â I love you.Â I miss you right now.
â€œI found a bouncy ball today,â€ I say after I jump into the passengerâ€™s seat of Fernando Sosaâ€™s car.Â Weâ€™re carpooling to an open mic in Pasadena.
He shrugs.Â â€œIs that a thing?â€
â€œYeah, itâ€™s a really big deal.Â I never told you about the bouncy balls?â€
â€œWell, I know you write your initials on them and leave them places.Â Wait, did you find one with your initials on it?â€
â€œNo,â€ I say.Â â€œBut that would be so cool.â€
He nods.Â â€œThat would be amazing.â€
â€œWell, it was cool to find this one, too.Â I find them all the time, but this is the first one Iâ€™ve found in L.A.Â It means Iâ€™m supposed to be here.â€
He gives me a skeptical look.
â€œWhat?â€ I ask.Â â€œOkay, itâ€™s weird, I know.Â But itâ€™s not an accident.Â I was talking on the phone, and I grabbed it right before a bunch of water washed it away.â€
â€œWho were you talking to on the phone when you found it?â€
â€œMy friends.Â Theyâ€™re all in Memphis, and they called to say they miss me.â€
â€œOkay, youâ€™re right.Â Thatâ€™s pretty cool,â€ Fernando says.Â â€œMan, you have really good friends.â€
â€œI know,â€ I say.Â â€œIâ€™m really lucky.â€
Facebook comment from my best friend, Rockey, after I told him to stop â€œlikingâ€ all my status updates:
You donâ€™t own me or my FB account! Also, stop writing things that I like. Btw, I like your shit b/c I feel bad for you. It’s usually pics of you doing stand up to an empty room. I sometimes think that you built a stage in your own garage, and you have your roommates take pics of you to make you seem like you’re cool.
Itâ€™s Thursday, two days after Valentineâ€™s Day, and Iâ€™m driving nine hours to Winnemucca, Nevada to do 30 minutes in Winners Casino.Â I get a speeding ticket near Hawthorne, putting my net profit from the gig at negative 50 bucks.Â I got this booking because a friend of mine is headlining the show, so he hooked me up with a sort of â€œauditionâ€ for the booker.Â Itâ€™s not a practical move, but I know this going in.
To be honest, Iâ€™ll drive for three days if it means there are people ready to laugh on the other end.
The crowdâ€™s relatively small, but they want to laugh, so they laugh easy.Â Iâ€™m doing a solid job.Â A little tough at first, but I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s entirely my fault.Â The host brings me up after giving announcements, which he does by asking the crowd, â€œYou guys have anything you think I should announce?â€Â He apparently forgot the first and only rule of announcements: know what the announcements are.
Twenty minutes into my 30-minute set, I decide to play around with some new material.Â I tell a joke Iâ€™ve been working on in L.A.Â I canâ€™t get it to hit in front of the crowds of L.A. comics, probably because itâ€™s a simple set-up, a silly punchline, but here in Winnemucca, Nevada, my instincts kick in and say, â€œTell it.â€
And those instincts were right, because the joke kills.Â Itâ€™s moments like these that I think of when someone tries to make me feel like I donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m doing.
After my set, I head over to the casino cafÃ© to cash in my free meal voucher.Â While I sip on some tea and wait for my burger, Brian, the cashier, chats with me.
â€œI saw a little bit of the show,â€ Brian says.Â â€œI was in the back.Â I only got to see you for a minute, but from what I saw, youâ€™re funny.â€
â€œHey, thanks, man,â€ I say.Â â€œThat really means a lot.â€
â€œYeah, I had to come back here to work, though.Â You didnâ€™t make fun of me after I left, did you?â€
â€œWhat?Â No.Â Why would I make fun of you?â€
He shrugs.Â â€œThatâ€™s what the comedians normally do.Â I mean, look at me.Â Iâ€™m a walking joke.â€
I look in his eyes.Â â€œNo, youâ€™re not,â€ I say.Â â€œDonâ€™t say that about yourself.â€
Facebook message from Colin Newman, my editor, after I sent in one of my posts:
Fucking awesome and heartbreaking…I’ve had one of those “hopelessly declaring your love to someone” kind of moments…well, I’ve probably had a couple, but I’ve only had one where I really really meant it. Her response: “You don’t mean that, you’re just a romantic. Ease up on the vodka.” I did mean it. I wasn’t drunk. Fuuuuuuccckkkk…still breaks my heart just thinking about it.
Thanks for that â€“ and for the record, I have no doubt that in 10 years you’ll be driving around in your imported luxury conversion van with a vanity plate that says “DUES_PD”.
When I first started doing stand-up, all my friends came to watch me at an open mic, and they laughed at unfunny things because they just couldnâ€™t let me die up there.Â Iâ€™m hard enough on myself and smart enough to know that I didnâ€™t earn their laughter.
The last time my friends all came to see me was over Christmas, when I went home to visit.Â They sat front and center in the middle of a room full of people, and I made them laugh for real.Â Iâ€™ve been doing this long enough to know the difference.
Stand-up isnâ€™t an easy thing to learn.Â Thereâ€™s no road map of lesson plans, no syllabus, no one guiding you, save a few old headliners who give you snippets of advice if they like you.Â The only way to get better at it is to do it, and you have to learn as you go.Â And you have to learn to be your own teacher.
Itâ€™s a system of checks and balances, a delicate back and forth between one person and an audience, and the way you interpret that interaction dictates your next one.Â It means that I fail sometimes, and I succeed sometimes, but either way, I am the only one responsible.Â Thereâ€™s no one else to blame.Â Thereâ€™s no one else to credit.
Iâ€™m not an old comic, by any means, and Iâ€™m still not quite a professional, but Iâ€™m not a rookie, either. Â Iâ€™m learning my own hard-earned lessons, one at a time, and Iâ€™ve racked up more than five years of them.Â Whether or not you think Iâ€™m funny, my experience means something.
And Iâ€™ve done the road enough to know that this is how comedy works: if youâ€™ve been doing it for less time than I have, I demand exactly five years worth of your respect.
Itâ€™s rough starting stand-up in L.A.Â I get that.Â If I had moved to L.A. alone years ago with no experience, my entire self worth might have hinged on whether or not a bunch of other comics at any given open mic deemed my jokes funny enough to laugh at.
But I didnâ€™t, so it doesnâ€™t.
Iâ€™ve had an unbreakable support system behind me from the very beginning, but I no longer need other people to remind me that Iâ€™m funny when I have a bad set.Â I gauge my own laughs.Â I fix my own fuck-ups.Â I trust my own instincts.
I validate myself.
Facebook message from Mindie Dieu:
Saw your post on passing up a job you needed bc it interferes with comedy.
Something will come up. It will. You can do this. I really admire you for pursuing this dream. And I’m proud of you for sticking to it.
As I wait for CafÃ© Gratitude to prepare whatever the fuck I just ordered, I realize I forgot to order my bossâ€™s iced coffee.Â I step back in line behind two men who are looking over the menu.Â One of them turns to me.Â â€œIf you know what you want, go ahead,â€ he says.Â â€œWeâ€™re still deciding.â€
Itâ€™s Jason Schwartzman.Â Iâ€™m pretty sure he knows the exact moment that I realize itâ€™s him because itâ€™s the moment I stop acting like a normal person and just stare into his eyes.
Now, I like Jason Schwartzman, and if I werenâ€™t the type of person who goes completely retarded upon meeting famous people, I probably wouldâ€™ve been able to tell him that.Â But because Iâ€™m me, I just stare at him for way too long, walk past him, and then creepily whisper, â€œThank you, Jason Schwartzman.â€
Itâ€™s weird, though â€“ during the moment we spent staring at each other, I swear it seemed like he was searching for something, waiting for some kind of recognition.
Huh, I think.Â Maybe even Jason Schwartzman needs to feel validated every now and then.
Itâ€™s at that moment that Jason Schwartzman leans in behind me, places the menu back on the counter, and walks out without ordering a goddamn thing.
I smile.Â Maybe not.
My old friend, Generic Vegan Hipster Cashier, stares at me from behind the cash register.
â€œCan I get an iced coffee with cream and sugar?â€ I ask.
She nods.Â â€œAbsolutely.Â We have a goatâ€™s milk or an almond milk â€“ which would you like?â€
â€œUh, I guess almond?Â Whatever.â€
â€œOkay, and for sweetener, we have an agave guava, a honey infusedâ€”â€
â€œYou know what?Â Just give me whatever most equals sugar,â€ I say.
She traipses off to make the coffee, and I look back over the menu while I wait.Â I notice that, of all the self-affirming menu items, there isnâ€™t a food item called, â€œI am funny.â€Â I guess even the people at CafÃ© Gratitude know that the only judge of funny is the laugh.
When my order is ready, I canâ€™t get out of there fast enough.Â For one thing, the internetâ€™s not working on my phone, and I need to tweet about seeing Jason Schwartzman.Â On top of that, though, this place just feels icky.Â I donâ€™t need a cafÃ© menu to tell me why my life is interesting and magical, and I definitely donâ€™t need a pretentious vegan cafÃ© to remind me what Iâ€™m grateful for.
Thank you, Friends, for the good thoughts, prayers, chants, karma, sacrifices to Satan, meditations, Facebook messages, blog comments, random texts, and the stories.Â Thank you for the money, Mom.Â Thank you for checking me in, Amber.Â Thank you for all the rides, Sosa.Â Thank you for the bouncy ball, Universe.
Thank you for reading this. Thank you for believing that I know what Iâ€™m doing.
Thank you for everything.