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

2 comments:

spirit said...

What was it like to date Jim Lauderdale?

Author, Atheist, USN Veteran said...

er.. brief.. he wasn't well known then, and he very much played on his pretty boy looks, and charm. He was dating me, the sound girl, and one of the lighting crew, mostly because he could. And we just adored him, too. Who wouldn't?