The New York Comedy Club was funky at the outset. A sign explained how they prided themselves on being a bit seedy. We followed a long, narrow pathway to the comedy zone with a theatrical feel and black brick walls. Here I was, plucky New Hampshire mom ready to roll with my story about the female condom. I didn’t feel nervous about it because I knew the material and felt it was a supportive crowd.
Kristi Graham (director/agent/idea machine around this whole one-woman show) brought two cousins, brother and sister-in-law and one of her kids. My nephew Stoddart brought about ten friends to see his aunt prattle on about her vagina. Some people asked if a nephew could possibly endure this. I assured them all that not only had Stodd seen one of our birth videos at age eighteen, but his own mother was one of my main trainers in the areas of vaginal pride and finding comedy in even the most heinously embarrassing experiences. I am forever grateful to Lynn, and this wouldn’t even register on Stodd’s radar as that outlandish compared to what he has heard around the fireplace when all the aunties start with the personal stories.
The show got rolling with a comedian MC from the Conan show. There were fourteen male comics and me. I went thirteenth. These men ranged in ages from 18-60, with varied religious backgrounds, gay and straight, African American, African! as well as Caucasian. It was a relief to hear them all be graphic and hardcore because then I was even more sure of myself getting down and dirty. There were several excellent comics, many decent comics and three halfway decent comics. Most of their humor was about sexual frustration, the pope, fast food, drugs and alcohol. The sexual frustration jokes were not for the timid. They covered everything from “fucking squirrels,” jacking off to porn and ruining the keyboard, fists up the backside, pedophilia and other sketchy tangents. The manager of the place even jumped in the soup even though he had not done stand-up in a year. When his jokes didn’t register with the crowd, he would say, “OK, fuck that joke!” That kept us laughing. Then he finished with a shocker whose punch line was: “Where is gay?” “Open your mouth, close your eyes and I will take you there.” The three or four really funny guys had us busting a gut with fresh and funny stuff, especially the one who said his own testicles could do a better job running this country than G.W. even without the rest of him there. I will keep my eyes out for those guys. The rest of the humor of the night wasn’t all that surprising or shocking, but it made us cringe and feel sad for a couple of these fellas. Then they got to feel a bit sad for me…
I got up there and just jumped in with my tale about birth control leading up to the female condom. Soon into it, I noticed the crowd almost pulling back and perhaps freaked out by the reality of my material — the female experience of contraception. It was then that I was nervous for the first time in any of my public storytelling so far, and my heart started racing. I failed to realize that I needed to follow the stand-up comic rule of winning the crowd over first before I blast them with my graphic contraception tour. When I felt them separate, I did a quick pulse lowering then pulled back into my material, put the pedal to the metal and roared through it without taking on the crowd energy along with excluding them. There was one good moment when I guy had an audible gag when I was onto some specific diaphragm detail, and I broke away and reminded him he was getting a little lesson and should appreciate it. The crowd was with me for a brief second before I cranked up the pace and jammed on through it. I didn’t bomb or get derailed, but it wasn’t great. As with all challenging moments, I was loaded with lessons and gifts.
Kristi and I did a quick debrief in the narrow entryway with angry women bartenders squawking at anyone going by about paying their bill. Kristi coached me on opening up the fourth wall and had ideas on how to let the crowd in by making reference to all their sexual frustration. Stodd had some suggestions on how I could blast all the sexually frustrated inexperienced fellas in the crowd by calling them out.
Bruce and I grabbed a taxi back to Queens, where some good friends were caring for our kids. Mike and Jamie kindly hosted our whole gang for two nights and took on babysitting while we went off to Manhattan. We got right to sleep to ready ourselves for the ongoing family tourist adventure in NYC. The next morning, I did a little mental composting of the night before and came up with some ideas on how to work the crowd. We had made a decision for me to try another bit called “The Pitching Clitoris,” which ends with an interpretive dance comparing the male and female orgasm. I was entertained by the fact that by day we were visiting The Statue of Liberty, Central Park and The Natural History Museum with my pages of vaginal stories tucked away deep in my backpack below sippy cups, snacks and fuzzy pullovers.
At the end of a long day, we rallied the whole family down to Erik and Cathy Graham’s (Kristi’s brother and sister-in-law) apartment in The Village. Kristi’s son Iver was going to be our champ babysitter while the adult gang would go off at the Comedy Cellar. While Iver and the kids were at the park, this comical foursome of adults helped me spin together a way to rally the audience onto my boat before I ventured into my theories on sex drive and the clitoris. I gained so much in that last twenty minutes before we went over to the Comedy Cellar that I knew I would pull off a much better five minute bit than the night before.
This time the comics were banished to a corner while our friends sat among the crowd. It was an interesting mix of presenters, mostly men and mostly nervous because it was a competition. I interacted with a few newbies to the scene while the others went in the zone. I wasn’t really that fazed by the competition feature because I was just there to get experience putting my comic ass on the line to see if I could float outside my element.
This group of comics was less edgy and a tad more sexually fulfilled than the group from the night before. I felt at ease and had some great laughs watching the others. I went up ninth. I started out introducing myself as the New Hampshire innkeeper/mother of three who tells stories about her vagina on the side to keep the roof from leaking. They were with me immediately. Once I was launched, my story flowed and grooved. I was more engaged with the audience and the material was resonating. In the end, I won the competition and was invited back on May 6th for the finals. Even though we have a house full of guests that weekend, Bruce and I agree that I might as well follow the experience to keep sharp and challenged.
I got lots of positive feedback from the other comics. One guy from the audience has a comedy show on the cable network and handed me his card to get in touch. One of the female competitors took my information because she produces one-person shows and has a venue if I ever want to get on that in NYC. I was pumped, flattered, and surprised. There is work to be done, but I am feeling ready for the next round. It will be nice to be familiar with the venue before I put it out there again.
Our kids understand that Mommy tells stories about growing up and being a woman. They also know that the audience is always full of adults with the exception of very special, mature teenagers. At some point, this will get dicier for us to explain, but so far they aren’t onto any details. The goal is to keep our worlds from merging. Zander can read a fair amount, so my filing system is improving as well as our boundaries around my desk. Our last morning in a Manhattan diner, Colter busted out with an out of context very loud vagina comment that echoed around the place. He might be picking up more than we think. Perhaps that was a needed red flag to help us keep these two worlds even more separated. Onward we go with all this leading up to Finding the Doorbell on May 21st at the Lebanon Opera House. Everything has been falling into place nicely and personal growth is charging hard.