Sunday, July 29, 2007

comedy and life and crap and stuff and life and crap

Okay, so life events can change your world in a matter of seconds.
A car crashes and you can lose a car, a leg, and a license. Or, someone dies, and you end up homeless. Or, you get a letter from a college that offers you a free ride, and suddenly you are on your way to being the first graduate in your family. Or, you have a kid, or you poke an eye out with that thing, or you dye your hair blonde, or whatever.

This week, my chinchilla had her kit and I named her Koala, because she looked like the little clip-on things you had on your coats when you were a kid in the 80's. She's fuzzy, sweet, and loves to be held. She's much like her mom that way. I get a kick out of her, because at three inches, she's just the cutest thing I've seen in a long time. In a day we get about 18 degus. This will change our house a bit. We haven't had that many flying squirrel fuzzies ever. I'll change my view of cute. But I love them.

The same day, I found out my Aunt Jeannie has stage 4 cancer in her lungs and lymphoma. She's not just an aunt. She's my dad's aunt. This means she's my dad's mom's sister. She's also about 2-3 years older than my dad. His other aunt, Barbara, died a couple of years ago, and raised him. She was about twenty years older than him. His mom died recently, too. She barely raised him. She was the vain sister. She was not very attached to any of her children. She had them with different men. Dad was the first "bastard".

He never met his father. Only fifteen years ago or so did we learn his name, Morrison. That explained my father's middle name Maurice. He was an East Boston cop. But other than that, we knew nothing of him, but an obituary that rest in a drawer of my grandmother's bureau after her death. Jeannie has always been like a sister to my dad because his brothers and sisters- younger- seem so distant. So much so, that I think I've only met them on one or two occasions, and his youngest sister, is six months older than I am. She and I were in the same school. That was strange. We did know each other a bit, but we were never close.

I grew up knowing Jeannie's kids. They were my cousins. They were my friends. They were the ones I was closest to, as were Barbara's kids. When I think of cousins, they are the ones I think of, and when I think of family, Jeannie and Barbara are always the first faces in my head. Barbara is gone. Jeannie has cancer. Life changed in a moment. Just like that. So what can I do? I'm not a person who just let's things happen. I'm a do-er. I'm a participant in life. I am action verb, not a passive verb.

Passively, I was a comic. An ex comic. A former comedian. But, Jeannie needed to laugh, and the one thing I know of Jeannie is her laughter. I can't think of Jeannie NOT laughing about something. She was a waitress her entire life. She lived with my great grandmother for the later years of Nana B's life. Nana lived to be 101. When she was 100, Jeannie worked to get about 200 family members to Boston for a family reunion. It was pretty surreal. A room was filled with people no taller than 5 foot 8 inches, with the same shaped face, chin, nose-- all resembling this woman- black, asian, white- we're all mixed up. But we all had that face. Just a bunch of goombahs visiting Nana B. It was pretty amazing. Jeannie did that for her. And we all loved her for that.

Carl was Jeannie's husband for long time, but not her first. Paul was her first, but not her best. Carl was her best, but he was a goofball. I was at their wedding. It was a blast. They had fun with each other. He made her laugh. That showed. She loved Elvis, and he did an Elvis impersonation that was just awful, but he made her laugh. I don't know if they split up, or not, but he ended up with her in the end, because he had brain cancer. She took care of him. She nursed him, and stayed with him while he was going through chemo, and stayed with him while he was sick, and when he was nothing but skin and bones. She was with him when he died. She loved him. She still laughs that until the day he died he thought he was a ladies man with a bald head, and boney chemo body!

Four days after she had a biopsy last week, she went to work at Bickfords. She's been waitressing forever. If she didn't work, she'd be bored. She has to work. It's the world. If you don't work, you are on your ass, and homeless. She's about to go through chemo, and radiation. NEVER does she ask for a handout. NEVER does she ask for help. Instead she raised six kids. She cared for her mother until she died. She cared for her husband until he dies. She watched her sisters go, and her brother Georgie die years before. Her ex Paul, is long gone, of a heart attack or something about 20 years ago. It's just my dad, her kids, my sister and me, and her grandkids. We're her family. We have to help, we have to, because she's not asking us to.

So, I'm a comedian. I write. Alot. I write to a fault. I signed my contract to my publisher this week. Life changing. I contacted the Dana Farber institute where they are treating Jeanne, and asked them, "What do I need to do to get your backing for a benefit for my aunt?" And then I put it into motion. I put the message out to my past, and to Boston area comics, and I got positive responses from some wonderfully talented human beings.

Some of my favorite comedians on the planet are helping out. This October, Ian Harvie- one of the funniest human beings on earth is helping out. Chance Langton- The guy who is probably the first headline comedian I had ever seen on a Boston stage is going to help out. Jim Lauletta- a wild man, funnier than hell...is going to help out. Shane Mauss- the guy whose delivery is masterful is helping out. Jon Lincoln is helping. Courtney Cronin helped out. Rick Jenkins from the Comedy Studio helped out. Dennis Blair helped out. More people are offering, and it's astounding. And, I'll be emceeing. Yes, I'm dusting off the comedy chops. The new monologues are written. (egads, I've been writing stand-up again!)

There are others who are offering assistance. The MySpace page is DieLaughingBenefit. The Email address is JimmyFund@cathejones.com

I'll post the dates as I have them. More info will post on the Benefit MySpace page. Thanks so much.... Hopefully Jeannie will have some cash for the treatments and then we'll have her around for years to come, so then every year this benefit will take place in her HONOR, and not in her memory. The Jimmy Fund programs will support families going through cancer, issues facing cancer treatments, and cancer related care. The Dana Farber Institute is world renown for their work in this area.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Diary posting: I did Good Tonight: Open Mike 1979

The first time I was on stage was in 1979. I was 15 years and 8 months old. I know this because I have my diary. I have my diary because I kept every piece of writing like some day, somehow someone would find these words worthy. I still hope to find the thirty or forty manila sheets, folded, and stapled, crayoned and then made into "books" that were put together by the author before she was a computer geek. That habit started in kindergarten, thanks to a swingline given to me by an uncle. Piercing was a big habit, too, waaaay before the goth kids made it theirs. And, I had safety pins in my pierced ears long before Johnny Rotten, only because I was trying to keep the ear holes opened, while they were healing. Okay, that's enough of that reminiscing and tangent leaping. The following comes from that diary entry. Keep in mind, no one knew who Denis Leary was, and this is Boston, before anyone had a clue what comedy clubs were about to do to America.


I have almost no homework tonight, but I can't do any because I want to float for another two hours, then sleep. I'll read some shakespeare, for Bari Hari's class, and write a poem. Wow that's hard. Seven to twenty lines? I can do that WHILE I sleep. Maybe I'll try that, and get another A? I guess it's meter but it's no matter to me, yuk yuk.

But I'm really funny and I know I am now. That Dennis O'Leary guy from the Comedy Connection finally said I could go up on the stage on the new comedians night. They let people perform auditions for a few minutes, then they flash a light at them when they should stop, and then if the audience laughs at them, they ask them to come back and do it again. If they don't laugh, they can come back during the "Open Calls" and try again.

Larry keeps telling me, "Not now, because you're too young to come in the bar, but if you wait at least until you're 17, then I'll let you try." Mark keeps saying, "She's jailbait, but she's allright" so Mark acts like he's my big brother tonight and pretends that I'm with him. Larry wasn't even there. Dennis said, he bet Mark that I could make more people laugh than Mark could. Mark said no way. Then Dennis said, "I'll bet you, she'll make them laugh." Mark kept saying, "I'll have them laughing, every minute I'm on stage."

I felt like a pig on auction. Dennis is always laughing at stuff I'm saying. He says I'm a natural smart ass. I just imitate Dad sometimes. Mark is making everyone laugh all the time, though. He works the bar, and can make a guy dying laugh about the blood pouring out of his head. Dennis has all these people always laughing, though, and nobody is funnier than Dennis. I think he had someone laugh so hard one night, they had an ambulance come in and give them oxygen. The guy was really big and just couldn't catch his breath, was really red, and just huge, and I wanted to see it, but I heard about it from Mark and Larry and everyone.

But I don't even know what to talk about, so I ask Charles, what the hell do I talk about? And Charles said to talk about the Red Sox. I always make him laugh when I talk about sports because I mess it all up. I know the stuff, but I still mess it up. Everyone only has three or five minutes or something so I figure, no big deal I can talk about the Red Sox. But Dennis goes and says, "Hey kid, I'll give you a buck for every minute you get people laughing up there." And I think he did that to piss off Mark because no one gets paid on Open Call except for Dennis and the bar staff. So Mark says, "Yeah, and I'll pay you $100 if you leave the stage in tears!" but Dennis tells him to screw himself. And he says, "Don't go over ten minutes because I hate greedy SOB's, got it?" and I say yah. But then he makes like he was going to make me go up, and he has Mark go up next. And he calls him up, and he says, "Mark, if you cry, then I'll pay you $100!" so he tries to get people to heckle Mark.

Nobody wanted to do it, so he was just heckling him alone. About ten people there were just people who were there to see new guys who never were on a platform except to ride the T. Mark was there for about 4 minutes and just gave up, but I was laughing. I like Mark, and I think he's great! Dennis didn't give him air for breathing. I thought he was going to kill me. He just looked at him and said "thanks shithead" and got back behind the bar. Dennis was going to get me in so much trouble and I'd never be let back in there again, now. But now, he called one more guy up, so the room got back to normal. The guy was from Vermont and pretty funny, and got invited to another week, David something. I only remember because he just LOOKED like a David.

So Dennis called me up and said, "We have to get her on stage before her bed time" then he mangled my name, "Bud-row" but it's okay because everyone does it. I had fun because I was in a room that was my home. Everything there was so familiar. I talked to my pal Mark, and the goofy guy Dennis, and Charles was there. I just talked about the day at Fenway Paaaaaahhk, and riding the T to Kenmooowah. Drinking my first beeeeyyyaah, and scarfing and rowlfing my first fenwaaaay fraank. That was the great American past time. Next thing I know, Dennis is giving me a round of applause and started handing me a ten dollar bill, and said, "Folks, that was her first time, her first time, and 3o men were there! And it was on stage. And I tipped her. So we all win."

I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life. I may never do comedy again, but I know I'll have the best memory of the one night I tried it. It's so wicked to be up there, though, so I hope I get the chance.


And that's the end of the entry. Two weeks later I went up again, and it wasn't as good. I didn't make that many people laugh, and I had a little ego thing. So I had humility lesson. BUT, I started to write, and learn. I began doing more open mikes, and I began writing more and more, and watching more comedy every week. In fact, I watched every night for nearly three years, and when I wasn't watching, I was on stage performing. I worked with other people who wrote. I played in clubs at colleges, and in coffee shops, and I studied other comics and learned about "getting a voice". I became known for being very physical and talking about sports, current events, and the entertainment industry. Later I was known for talking about Cancer, and Ehlers-Danlos, and doing more bizarre character work. ALWAYS writing, and always learning, I still write and I still enjoy watching others to see how well and how wonderful others observe.

CJ

Monday, July 23, 2007

What it's Like to BOMB!

Your best friend calls and tells you that you've been given a slot for a very prestigious open mike, that's by appointment only, in exactly seven weeks. So you spend about four weeks writing. Then you go back, and write another four weeks worth. Then you decide that it's probably better to just scrap this and start all over again.

What happens next is the frantic panic of "I got to remember every word of this." "I got to remember every word of this." "I got to remember every word of this." "I got to remember every word of this." That's the mantra you devour every breath, every microsecond of your day, every ounce of your life's blood. You can't sleep without reminding yourself, "I got to remember every word of this." And when you wake up, "I got to remember every word of this." Never once do you think, "The first word is...." which is the smarter way to go.

You should be doing things like paying bills, walking your dog, feeding the fish, or bathing. Maybe lance the boil that's seeping and crusting. Or, call your boss and say why you're not coming in and hope that being frantically posessed by a monologue is a valid excuse. Then, call your co-workers, and invite them to the show, because you're expected to have at least ten people on your guest list, or you won't be invited back to the club even if you make the owner laugh so hard he wets himself. And, that is, what you want to happen.

This is, after all .the wittiest monologue ever written by a human being since the dawn of mankind. No other comedienne alive today, or ever born has ever come up with such concepts, or such observations, nor likely will ever do so, and therefore this will be a historical moment in the club, if not the history of time. And are aware that no other comedian, living, dead, televised, or radio broadcast, could possibly be thinking of such things. Until someone brings you your birthday gift, of a 1965 recording of Lenny Bruce talking about the hacks of the 1950's who used to perform acts about the exact monologue that you just decided was the best thing ever written.

Then you go online and realize that nearly 345,568,321 monologues exist regarding your very topic, and in this year alone 2 million were posted on YouTube. You have three days until your big night, and you have to write something. You have to memorize something. You have to make it come from your voice. You have three days.

Since you have such little time, you think of the stand by stand up motto- "write what you know" and you begin to look around. You see a very hungry dog that hasn't eaten nor been walked in weeks. You see an answering machine with 32 messages from your boss, wondering if you'll ever make it in to work and if your monologue has been cured. You look up at the window, at the reflection of the massive boil, peering out from under your hair, and realize, YOU are a monologue, and begin to write long into the night, until your five minutes of material is complete.
Then you begin the three hour mantra of: "I got to remember every word of this." But, with time no longer a luxury, you must test this material out at an open mike at the nearby Bar & Grill. There is no way around this. No comedian can simply write and perform and expect the material to be perfect, unless s/he as skilled an improv artist as some get... Some are better at improv than writing. But newbies sometimes think they are, and just don't get it. They don't read the crowds, and come across as pompous, and lose the crowds. Or they come across as too stupid and lose the crowds by talking down to the them. You can be as hateful and awful as you want and still be one of them. It's just a matter of showing the crowds that you're part of their fun, not part of their anxiety..they spend their life in anxiety, they don't need it in their entertainment... but I digress.

You show up at the pub, and there are 11 guys playing darts, a woman with a note book sitting at the bar, smoking an entire pack of Camels, and drinking a Cosmo, while reciting three words she's been reading from the front of the notebook. She's there for the open mike. Another boy, about four, is grabbing her leg, asking her to buy a french fry, but she hasn't seen him in six weeks so she won't see him now. There is another pair of girls over by the pool table comparing breast reduction scars. By the microphone is a large Mexican man fiddling with a battery, attempting to turn on the microphone, not realizing he hasn't plugged it into the amplifier, still parked by the juke box. He's new. The man with the clip board is talking to the white boy with the guitar, who is just not pleased that there isn't a pickup amp. However, no one has ever used a guitar at this open mic before, so this is the way things are done. It's 9pm, and there isn't a single person sitting at the tables in front of the stage.

Clipboard boy mutters a bit, grabs the microphone from his brut-like friend, plugs it in, and turns it on. After the squeal stops, people realize, it's comedy time, and the dart game ends. The bartender turns off the Jukebox, and the breasty-girls get up and leave. You get pointed to, and are told, "You go first".

No emcee, no intro, just grunted, and that's it. You forgot your first sentence. Why? You're still thinking of booby girls and french fry boy. Then you remember you have a starving dog and you pick it back up. But it's too late. You have no rhythm. You need the rhythm to make the joke funny. Cadence is part of the funny. You can talk about anything you want if you say it right, and it will be funny. A single word is hilarious. Kumquat. Hilarious. It goes down hill. Not even the bartender, who usually laughs at anything said by anyone is just staring at you like you're bleeding from the eyes. then you wonder, maybe that the boil is just too big, so you reach for it. You've made the mistake, again. You grab a body part that you don't want noticed, and now, something no one ever knew about is what EVERYONE sees.

Two more minutes left. Are they kidding? Is this torture? He gave you an extra two minutes to try to turn it around because he saw you there before. Do something you've done before. Do an older routine and get ONE laugh. You have done this, this is not your first time on the stage. If you blow this, it will be worse tomorrow. You have one last sentence in the routine, and you can save this. Nothing. Not a single response. Except. One.

The kid. "Mom, is he done yet? Can you go up so we can eat now?"

Uhm. I guess cutting your hair was a bad idea.

--
CJ

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Original Comedy Connection Person, 1979

"When Stand-up Stood Out" is running right now on Show time. or some station I have no reason to promote for they don't pay my bills. I did stand up in Boston from 1980 until 1982. I was technically doing it in 1979, as I was an open-miker, thanks to Denis Leary. I knew Lenny Clarke, and I knew Steve Sweeney. I knew them because I was the one who used to run downstairs and hand Larry the checks from Frank Shugrue's office. Who is Frank? Frank is the one who owned the Charles Playhouse. I was the "the office assistant" who helped Patty Ritz, who was there as a leftover from the Boston Youth Theater, who never left because I wanted to be a stand-up.

Let me explain. The Boston Youth Theater was run by Elaine Khoury, and they auditioned high school students, who would work in plays at the Charles Playhouse during the off season. Well, if you asked, the office there, they needed volunteers. Patty Ritz, the office manager, needed help running the office for Frank Shugrue. Charles Cohen was the Publicity guy. Dick Concannon and Smokie Bacon his wife, (no lie), were the Beacon Hill patrons who did everything in the world to ensure that a new show, Shear Madness, would get an audience in the cabaret theater just above the cellar bar. The bar was turned into a comedy club owned by a sort-of-comic and a bartender/business guy. Ned Farrington was the fix-it guy. Chip, nephew or son of Smokie and Dick, was the Boston surfer boy blonde fella who used to hit on me alot, but he was the gopher. And, then there was me. I would get everyone lunches, do mail runs, do anything and everything that was asked as long as I could stay and watch the comedy club, or at least get to see some of the shows.

And I did. I saw everything, and was aware of all of the aspects of that club. I learned about the business. I knew what the bouncers did. I knew what the "comedy sluts" wanted. These women would hang at the doors all hours of the night just to see which comedian they could go home with that night. It was amazing. I would watch the bartenders on the nights when they were funnier than the guys on stage. I listened to Denis Leary, and how he just made the crowd pay attention to every word out of his mouth. Denis was the star of the Comedy Connection.

Shear Madness was the improvisation show, but it was also the local's show..even though it was out of Philly, originally. It had Ted Reinstein, a very hot local actor, whom everyone expected to be a Hollywood superstar. Then Three Penny Opera came to the Playhouse, with Geraldine Fitzgerald directing, and Andrea McArdle was supposed to star! But she got into a "rehab" situation, pre -rehab years. So she was replaced by local favorite Maryanne Plunkett, an actress now known for a Tony Award and Law & Order appearances. Every year, local boy Gene Rayburn directed and starred in The Christmas Carole. This was my Charles Playhouse. I was as a part of it as the black walls, and the red chairs and the little eaved rooms above the stages in Something Brewing in Gainesville during Harry Chapin's run there. I was there for that, and even dated Jim Lauderdale, (as did three other women in the club).

But, I watched Fran Solomita's film about my club, and watched Janeane Garofalo talk about my room, and I don't remember her there. She may have come after my years. I guess it had to have been. She could have been in the audience, but there were very few women in my club. My club had lots of men in it. There were very few women because it wasn't a place women went to hang out yet.. comedy was new. It wasn't a date place. It was where Belzer was still being a wise ass, and it was where people like me were allowed to talk about things like "fear of blowjobs", which was my first set, thanks to Denis Leary who said, "I'll give you a buck for every minute you stay up there, but stop at ten, because I hate greedy people.".

I got $10 my first night. I bombed my second night. But I learned. I learned I was too young to play at comedy clubs, and I got shit for it. I was told I wasn't allowed to be where they served alcohol, so people like Cohen and Patty would bring me in with them, and they'd bring me on during open mics at weird hours. I'd tell my dad I was at a friend's house, and my friend's mom would drive us to Sam's or Nicks, or I'd just take the T, and crash at my friend Karen's house afterwards, so my dad would see my bike at her porch. I was 16. I was in college. So it was okay, but it was that I was 16.

But, I had to change jobs, because I had to pay for school. Then I had to figure out what else to do. I had been asked to sing in a band, so I was doing that at TT Bears. I would sing in the band, then go across the street, and do a set, and then come back and do a set at TT's. Then, I'd go to work at the Hebrew Rehab Center. I did that for about six months before it was too much.

Then it was a real bad day when my dad said, "We're moving to the cape". I was already out of school because I was too broke. I decided to go into the Navy just to afford school later on, but I was doing comedy and music, and that was my world at the moment. Dad had no idea, just thought I was working a lot of hours. I was, but that wasn't all. I was doing comedy and music, which is all I wanted to do. I couldn't figure out how the hell I could do a club on the cape. Where? How? I was so screwed. I moved my start date up by a full year. I had enough. He was married, they had her kids, my sister, and I was on a couch, stuck, working a full time job, no car, no license to drive yet! All I wanted was to be creative, and I was just stuck.

So bootcamp and the Navy, and then the strangest thing happened. I got married and divorced within 18 months. Yeah, I know. I was nuts. I think I just had to have a world of my own for a bit, and to break away from my father's life, and my birth mother's world, and just all the life that was in Boston. My step-mothers', (yes plural), were both head-tripping me pretty good, and one of my dad's girlfriends was mailing me pretty regularly about their break up, and that was rough. OH and when I was going through all that.. I hid behind bible thumpers just to really screw my head up. So I had about two years of a complete mental break down. But when I snapped out of it, I fell in love with a guy who was a poet, and into the best music ever.

His name was Erich. The problem was, everyone was in love with Erich. I was just an item on a conveyor belt to him, but he was the first major monster love of my life and he completely destroyed me when it was through. But when I was with him and regrouping, and de-churching again, and getting my life back into the creative, I did stand-up again. I met Henry-the-Bull-Del-Toro, who got me back on stage. I got involved in improv classes, and learned about Second City. I hadn't heard about Spolin games or all that, so I learned and got into that. I NEVER wanted to be an actor, because I figured it was hard enough being me, never mind someone else. I did acting, but it was always just to get used to being on stage. I learned about real music, like blues and folk, punk, and this John Mayall guy. We went to concerts, and he was just a great man to be involved with for so many reasons. But when I left the Navy, and I left Virginia, he was already involved with someone else. Literally, as he packed me up and moved me out of his house, he was moving someone else in to the place where I had slept the night before. I think I wrote my first monologue the next night, driving my parrot home to Boston.

I worked clubs, and I worked clubs, but it wasn't the same three and a half years later. I couldn't find an improv group that wasn't part of a college. I went back to MassArt, but there wasn't a group there. I was lost. But I did play Nick's, and I was back at the Connection, but Denis wasn't there as much, he moved over to Nicks full time, and Sweeney was the Connection. My regular people weren't around anymore. There was a bunch of LA people playing every week, and they didn't know me there anymore. Paul Reiser, Elayne Boosler, and even one of my heroes, Belzer started playing MY club. MY Connection was becoming a NEW YORK club. It pissed me off. It really did.

So, I started going to the clubs that weren't getting the big names. I started playing places that still had local guys who weren't getting attacked by drunk idiots who came in from the bus from Framingham State, or Fitchburg, to see if they could heckle the LA guys. I worked church basements, like Trinity, or Copley Square. There was a bunch of us over at Brattle Station when that was a new stop on the T. We would hand out flyers and do shows by TT Bears, or other spots at Central Square. There was a place by the Science Museum..I can't remember the name of it...someone reading this please tell me..it's probably a Staaahabux now. It was a little bistro thingy. Like Bobby's Bistro? Near the jail? Storrow Bistro? Something like that.. we'd go there, and there was this one guy from the Law School who would do these literary puns...oh man, he was just uhm... different. Witty, but weird. Was it Barry Wilson? Someone help me? He did the SAME puns every night and maybe a twitter of laughter, but he was sticking with it dammnit.

I stayed with it until school got too busy, or work got too busy. I had to pay for school, so it was imperative that I pay the bills. Then I started dating a guy whose brother's favorite thing to do was ...go to Nick's and heckle the comics. His favorite was a new guy named John Pinnette. Well, John's still doing much of the same material he was doing back in 84. Still great.

When I got the opportunity to test for Calarts...it meant, LA, Second City, and a chance for the Comedy Store. It also meant, I had to graduate a year early. No sweat, as I had done that for high school. So I completed two semesters in one, and a semester during a summer session and graduated early. Then in 1988, I started Second City, and the Comedy Store.

I haven't played the Comedy Connection since 1986. I haven't played Boston since 1988. I watched Fran's movie this week, and it all came back to me. .All of it, except I don't remember ever seeing Miss G. Maybe she was in the audience during one of my open mic's. Maybe I was in the audience during hers. Either way, it was a wild ride. I hope Patty remembers me. If she reads this, EMAIL !!!!

CJ