They call it a Punch Wrap. It’s made up of a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza (your choice of meat topping) wrapped in not one, but two Taco Bell Crunch Wraps. I’m about to take my first bite because it’s a Friday night after the Hollywood Hotel open mic (which means it’s Comics Unite Friday), and I have to eat this.
It’s my fault I’m here. I agreed to the Punch Wrap Challenge the week prior, when I was drunk at the House of Pies, eating eggs and calling my comic friend Jeff Sewing a giant baby pussy. He and Andy Sell had already taken the Punch Wrap Challenge, and the results were as follows: Andy finished it and spent the rest of the night in misery – something about being “all stopped up.” Jeff couldn’t finish it and lost his manhood the very moment he admitted defeat.
“Really?” Jeff says. “I’d like to see you eat one.”
“I can do it,” I say. “I can do it without even trying.”
Andy laughs. “I don’t know. You’re a tiny girl.”
“Pffft. Whatever. I can do it and then run a few miles.”
“Fine,” Jeff says. “Next week. You’re doing the Punch Wrap Challenge.”
“Fine,” I say. “Next week, I’ll eat circles around you motherfuckers.”
I’m paraphrasing. What I really said was much, much longer – a rant about how I can out-eat any man that went on for the entirety of our late-night breakfast – but the basic gist of it was this: I’ll eat the fuck out of a Punch Wrap, and I’ll make Jeff and Andy look like goddamn sissies.
Yeah, I’m a trash-talker from way back.
I take the first bite, all tortilla and crust, just an inch of straight bread. I smile. “This is gonna be easy.”
It’s November 2011. I’ve been in L.A. for four months.
I’m in the Hollywood Hotel sitting next to Fernando Sosa, watching him write his set in a tiny flip pad notebook.
“That your set?” I ask.
“Can I see it?”
“Sure.” He hands it to me.
I lick it, one giant wet tongue right down the center of the page, and I hand it back.
“Gross!” he says.
“Yep,” I say. “That just happened.” I’ve been licking set lists of Oklahoma comedians for years now – it’s kind of a thing I do. Fernando is the first L.A. comic to experience it.
He shakes his head, laughing. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
I’m on the phone with my mom on a Saturday afternoon in April. “How’s my dog?” I ask.
“Oh, he’s doing great,” she says. “Really great, actually.”
“That’s nice,” I say.
Davey Dog lived in L.A. with me for the first nine months, but I drove him back to my mom the weekend after Easter. It was selfish of me to bring him to L.A., but I liked hearing him run to the door when I got home. I liked sleeping with him taking up half the bed.
“Really,” my mom goes on. “I’m actually surprised at how happy he is all the time. He’s got a big yard to run around in. He’s got Zowie to play with. I mean, I’m sure he’d be glad to see you if you came here, but I thought he’d miss you more.”
“Jesus, Mom,” I say. Eleven years, and he’s just like, “Peace out”? Then again, my mom gives out dog biscuits all day long. She’s basically a dog biscuit prostitute, my mom.
I half expect her to go into more detail about how much my dog doesn’t miss me: “He doesn’t seem to remember you at all. In fact, I have the phone on speaker right now, and he is actually visibly cringing at the sound of your voice. He learned to draw and then drew a picture of your face with an angry-looking line through it. He taught himself how to bark the words, ‘Who’s Leah?’ He feels freer. He’s writing a novel about getting away from the sad people in life and finding his own happiness in retirement.”
In real life, she says this: “Leah, he’s your dog. Of course he misses you. He’s never going to forget you.”
I sigh. “I know.”
Leaving Davey in Oklahoma, well, I’ve now officially left everything behind. That dog has been by my side for the last 11 years.
When my ex, a human being who I also left in Oklahoma, heard that I left Davey, he texted me: “That’s gotta be really hard, sorry.”
I texted back, “Yeah, well, standup comedy.”
It’s Friday, and there’s a party at my house. Nine other comics and I are gathered in my tiny bedroom with the doors closed. A couple of us came in here to smoke a joint, but the rest just wandered in a few at a time. That’s the thing about comics – in any given social situation, they gravitate toward each other. At the end of the night, you can usually find them sectioned off somewhere, talking about standup because that’s their life, and that’s all they want to talk about.
Tonight’s no different. I’m laying on my bed wedged between Jonathan Rowell, Doug Dixon and Solomon Georgio, not contributing much to the conversation, but listening to Andy and Rick Wood try to story one-up each other.
My bedroom is right next to the bathroom, so every now and then our conversation is interrupted by the sound of someone using the, uh, shitter. Because we’re a room full of comics, none of us can let these instances go without commenting on them.
“That’s a little loud,” we say. “I don’t think that’s healthy.” Or, “Ooh, that sounds painful.” Or, “We’re trying to have a conversation in here!”
“This is awesome,” Andy says. “We need to keep doing this every Friday night, for sure. Comics Unite Fridays!”
“Yeah,” we agree. And then we gather in a circle and put our hands in a pile in the middle: “One, two, three, Comics Unite!”
It’s truly the queerest thing ever. It might not have even happened. I mean, I’m pretty high, and I’m listening to strangers fart two feet away from where I sleep. It’s possible that the writer in my mind did that thing where it romanticizes the moment.
But whether the after school special hands-in moment happened or not, every Friday night, comics unite indeed.
I’m standing outside the Bliss café on a Tuesday. Stan, a young comic with messy hair and a propensity for forcing high fives and hugs on people, walks up to me, his high five hand outstretched.
I jump up to slap his hand. “What’s up, Stan?”
It’s precisely at that moment that a man wearing tiny running shorts and a tank top walks down the sidewalk with a shopping cart full of things that are only valuable to him. I notice right away that he has The Crazy Eyes.
Stan is in the guy’s path, but doesn’t notice. “Stan,” I say. “You’re in that guy’s way.”
“Oh, sorry,” Stan says. He steps back.
“You think you can do more pushups than me, Big Man?” Crazy asks.
“What?” Stan says.
“Right now, you and me. Let’s see who can do the most pushups in one minute.”
Stan looks at me, and I shrug. “Do it.”
So with a lit cigarette in his mouth, Stan gets down on the sidewalk in position next to the crazy man.
“Okay, go!” Crazy says, and he starts doing the fastest, most impressive set of pushups I’ve ever seen. He does that thing where he claps between pushups. He uses one hand for a little while. And he never, ever stops talking shit. Not for one second. As I watch him, I wonder what path his life took to end up on that particular strand of crazy.
Meanwhile, poor Stan is laboring. I cheer him on, but it’s obvious that’s he’s gonna lose this one. To a crazy homeless man pushing a shopping cart down Vine while wearing tiny running shorts.
That’s the thing about L.A. Moments like this happen here, and they happen so often that people who’ve lived here for a long time don’t seem to notice them.
This is how I’m getting used to L.A., through what happens around comedy. L.A. is comedy to me, but the place itself always manages to seep into the background. Like a helicopter flying overhead in the middle of your conversation, or smoking pot on the street corner in broad daylight, or getting three parking tickets because you can’t decipher the 18 different restriction signs. Or like the gang of stray dogs that I literally used to fend off every other night while walking Davey, who I swear taunted them by prancing around like a privileged house dog asshole.
It’s a Thursday night in November, I’ve just finished my second mic of the night at the Bliss, and a vampire is walking me to my car. He’s not really a vampire, but that’s only because vampires don’t exist. Otherwise, he’s totally a vampire. Clues to back up my theory: he’s from Transylvania, he has a widow’s peak, sharp incisors, and a thick Romanian accent.
We’re talking about comedy or something. I’m not making great conversation, mainly because I’m high, and, as many people will attest to, I’m no fun to talk to in that state. Honestly, I’m just trying not to make any more vampire references. I feel like he gets that a lot, and I’ve reached my quota for the night at 1,057.
As we approach my car, I catch a glimpse of a white envelope tucked underneath my wiper blade. “Goddamn it!” I yell.
“What happened?” he asks.
“Motherfucking fuck!” I point to my car. “I got another goddamn parking ticket!”
“Oh, that sucks,” he says.
“Fuck! Fuck! I just got one last week. Fuck!”
I snatch the ticket from the windshield. But when I open the envelope, there’s no ticket. Just a lined piece of paper from a tiny notepad. It says this:
“Don’t ever lick my notepad again. -Fernando”
I crack up laughing, and the vampire just watches me, confused.
It’s Easter Sunday, and today is a good day. Not just for the whole Jesus resurrecting thing, but for many other reasons. For one thing, Andy hosts the Sunday night open mic at the Silverlake Lounge, and today he gets to drink again after giving up alcohol for Lent. He’s not in the bar more than ten minutes before taking a shot, drinking a beer, and spilling one of those things on the front of his t-shirt.
For another thing, it’s beautiful outside, like I imagined Southern California was before I moved here. (Since then, about once a week, I angrily ask anyone who will listen, “Why the fuck is it cold right now?”) Fernando and I had spent the afternoon on the patio of Umami Burger (or, as he likes to call it “Uma Thurman Burger”) talking about comedy because that’s what we do.
Now we’re in the dark pit of the Silverlake Lounge drinking beers and waiting to go on, watching Andy get gradually drunker between introducing comics. As the mic progresses, each introduction gets more elaborate and heartfelt.
“This next guy,” he says. “Oh, man, I hope you’re all ready for this next guy. He is hilarious, and I love him, and you’re all gonna love him. Love. Lovey love love. I’m a beacon of love. Give it up for the very funny Pat Regan!”
Pat’s one of my favorites. He’s a young kid (I think about 22), he’s a weirdo with a guitar, and he’s great because you really never know what he’s going to do onstage. On top of all of that, he’s hilarious. He’s one of those people that you feel lucky because you get to see him now, and there’s something special about him. I don’t know, he gets “The Glow” around him.
Pat plugs in an electric guitar, sits on a stool center stage and adjusts the mic. “You’ve all heard this before,” he says. “But I wanted to try it electric tonight. I’ve never done it that way, so bare with me.”
He strums a familiar chord and starts singing a song that we all do indeed know. “San Francisco take me back,” he sings. “I promise not to leave you no more. San Francisco take me back…”
He sings the first verse, and when he hits the chorus again, something awesome happens: all the comics in the audience start singing with him.
“San Francisco take me back,” we sing. “I promise not to leave you no more…”
Of all the L.A. moments I’ve had in the past nine months, this is my very favorite. Because right now I feel an amazing amount of affection for everyone in the room with me, all these people that I see working out their jokes every night after their day jobs, these people who came here from another place and left girlfriends and fiancés and dogs and families and financial stability behind. Even though we’re all lonely open mic comics in an isolated city full of delusional people, today we’re here together in this bar singing “San Francisco take me Back” with Pat, and there’s just something extraordinary about that.
“I can’t believe you guys thought that was hard!” I say to Andy and Jeff while we walk down the sidewalk on Comics Unite Friday. We’re going to a karaoke bar. “That was so fucking easy to eat! I didn’t even feel weird after I ate it. Woke up the next day, and I was perfectly fine.”
I’ve been talking mad shit all week. Why? Because I finished the Punch Wrap Challenge in less than 10 minutes. That’s right, Folks. I ate a Pizza Hut pizza wrapped in two Crunch Wraps from Taco Bell, and Jeff is officially a pussy. (Did you get that, Jeff? I’m calling you a pussy on a public forum. Your move.)
“Hey, you should write about the Punch Wrap Challenge in your blog,” Jeff says.
“Yeah,” Andy says. “When are you gonna write about us?”
Actually, that’s a good question.