People often ask how I started doing stand-up comedy. I went one night to a bar in the Tenderloin of San Francisco. It was dimly lit with a small stage near the bathrooms. I sat by the door and ordered a whiskey sour. A red curtain cast a red light throughout the room.
We had broken up the night before. Screw his name. He’s gone, a thing of the past. One thing I’ll always remember, though, was that morning in his room. I sat on his blue comforter. The room was lighting up with the day, but not too bright, a mist seeped through the window. He sat at his desk and pulled up three short, humorous videos about nothing. We both laughed, and I noticed his teeth were kind of yellow, probably from drinking so much, I thought. But the yellow didn’t retract from the charm of his smile, which always inched up more on the right, and those dark eyes that looked at you like you meant something. And now he was looking at me like it was the end. Six months too long of once a weekend blackouts together doesn’t lead to a relationship, apparently.
It’s always most painful right at the end, the smack of it mixed with knowing all the feelings will soon dissolve. You never want them to; you wish you could put them in a small box and touch them whenever they start crossing over to the past. But there we were, laughing one more time. My chest wasn’t weighing me down, there wasn’t that excruciating ache of weight yet that comes with every f***ing departure.
I took the bus home. I looked out the windows at green grass turning brown from the drought, dogs humping, couples, old people with shopping bags. Everyone living, no pause for grief over a lost lover. It was my stop, finally. The doors swung open and I jumped to the concrete. I felt like I was walking through a haze of smoke; maybe it was the guy smoking weed in front of me. Everything slowed down, my pace, the buildings I passed. I was so close to home. I didn’t want to get there. I couldn’t bare the thought of being trapped inside the old Victorian walls with only white paint to talk to.
As I walked on, I wondered if anyone around me — the man with a tattoo and sunglasses, the girl with the cherry dress — could feel the tears forming at the tip of my thoughts. Tree branches swayed down on me, dancing with the breezes. I remember it was nice out, somehow making everything greyer.
I’d been here before, and before that, before that too. But unlike those times, I didn’t want to bathe in it, to lay down and shut the blinds and deal with it. No.
I went home and searched for funny videos on the Internet, like the ones I watched with him earlier. Instead Jerry Seinfeld appeared. A 20-minute clip of laughter. I watched another clip of Chelsea Handler, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, every famous comedian I could find. I needed to see all of them. Finally I shut my computer and searched for something live.
And there I found myself in the dim Tenderloin bar, watching five guys talk about shitty jobs and being single. I raised my hand when they asked if anyone had recently been dumped. I laughed when I wasn’t supposed to — when I was supposed to be in bed thinking about how life would never go on.
As they spoke, their words flew out across the candlelit tables, their fingers grasping the mic, their legs grazing the stool, the glowing curtain behind them glorifying their mediocre punch lines.
I could do this, I thought. The idea grew louder with each sip, as each new comedian took the stage.
After the show I went across the street to a small fast food place, the awning missing letters from the name. When I walked in, the florescent lighting and oozing grease smell hit me like a splash of water, adding to the fuel of my drinks.
I ordered and looked out the storefront. Two comedians from the show were huddled toward each other right by the door. I swung it open.
“Hey,” I yelled to them, “you’re the comedians I just saw, right? Come get a sandwich in here!” The chubbier
of the two looked me up and down, then made eye contact with the other guy. The other guy wore a red cap over his black hair, was well dressed and tall. He looked back at his friend, then at me, and then back at his friend. They both shrugged and walked in. A minute later we were told the place was closing, and we all had to leave.
So we stood on the street, my teeth shivering as I held a small container of fries. A homeless lady rolled by in a wheel chair, asking for change before continuing down the street.
“I’m Claire,” I finally said. “I’m a comedian too. Do you ever put girls in your shows? I noticed it was an all guy lineup tonight.”
The guy with the red cap studied me, perhaps trying to recognize my face. Finally he said, “Oh yeah, for sure, I’m Tristan by the way. You can meet us at the bar Maggies next weekend. Come with five minutes.”
“Perfect,” I replied, the knot in my stomach taking over my body, my words, with energy you could call passion or crazy. I smiled at Tristan and reached around for a cigarette in my back pocket, graveling with the idea that I somehow needed to write comedy and perform it in one week to a bunch of strangers. I flipped my hair slightly, hoping to appear confident. Then I looked up at the dark sky and headed home.
Susannah Chovnick: Originally from Brooklyn, Susannah traveled upstate for college, where she earned a Journalism degree at Ithaca. After graduation, she spent several months in Tel-Aviv writing about Israeli musicians. She then moved to San Francisco, where she still resides. In her free time, she enjoys writing and eating nachos under palm trees. She recently has had work featured in Sweatpants & Coffee.