Ruining What’s Magical

I have shelves. A handyman put them up, all over the place. Finally, all my shit is up, on these little cantilevers. I moved to Burbank in April, to a house. Fifteen minutes from the studio, with a backyard for KilBaby. He’s four, by the way. Says cute stuff all the time, with a face full of dimples.

It took awhile to figure out my routine at work, to find a rhythm. I started at the day job in September and I couldn’t imagine writing more than three jokes in a day. I was used ambling up to jokes, on my own time. Writing, re-writing, ordering another coffee, reading a few links on HuffPo, then re-writing again. That’s about an hour per joke.

Now here’s what I do. Get in at 8:30/9. Write premises, which I used to call setups. Here’s a premise, “At a press conference yesterday, President Obama said that House Speaker John Boehner walked out on talks about raising the debt celiing.” It’s an awful premise, because it features three horrible things: President Obama (boring), John Boehner (should be known as craven, but is only known as emotional and orange) and the debt ceiling (complex). Premises are always true, and the punchlines are lies.

Writing premises gets my head pointed in the right direction. Maybe til 9 or 9:15. The other writers do them too, and then we share and start hacking away at them. It’s nice when you’ve all read the same story but come up with different angles. The monologue joke is a such a tight structure. Two sentences. Premise is true, punchline is not. As short as possible, but that doesn’t mean chop out every word. Sometimes a little verbage will help in a misdirect. And they’re written to be spoken, not read, so they need to be somewhat conversational.

Poring over word choice the past ten months makes me realize how sloppy I am in my standup. I never thought about word choice on purpose, I just knew when a joke felt finished. If I said the right word onstage, I’d scribble it in my notebook, but I never thought of why it was the right word, why once word was better than another. I didn’t like dissecting my act- it ruined whatever was magical about comedy. In hindsight, that was probably not the right attitude.

Oh well.

I perform about twice a week now. I squeeze in as much new stuff as I can, but it takes a long time to find a solid bit and expand on it. Standup was so easy when it was my only job and I had no loved ones. It got a little harder when I started writing too, and now it’s actually hard. I don’t like being away from Kilbaby at night, too. I’ve grown a heart and I miss him.

An R.I.P.

I have tried to write about Greg Giraldo since his passing, but it always comes out awful. Who the fuck am I to mourn or feel anything worth putting on paper. I am just another friend who misses him terribly.  During Tough Crowd’s run, I saw at least once a week. After it ended, I saw him less frequently, but I was always so happy to see him.

Pretty much every decent comic I know who auditioned for Last Comic this year cited Greg as the reason. If he was involved, the show had to have some legitimacy. He was cynical in a way that always resonated with me, felt true. Even if I didn’t agree with a premise, I loved his follow through, he would murder a subject, precisely and definitively. I saw every Tough Crowd performance from the wings- Greg was the model panelist. He was who I patterned myself after, weakly. If you were appearing on the show, the day before, you were sent a list of topics. The build up to the invasion of Iraq, Japanese porn, obesity rates in Mississippi. You really needed to be a jack of all Huffington Post portals, and Greg was. His stuff always incorporated a fact, which he would  twist into a great joke. And he could respond to the other comedians with a devastating efficiency. He made it look easy. Be smart, do your homework, memorize your shit and be willing to abandon it all to hack on Patrice.

I never saw him not sober, to my knowledge. One moment that has stayed with me for almost a decade occurred when we were performing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Myself, Greg, Colin Quinn, Jim Gaffigan, Nick diPaolo, Modi and Greg Rogell did a Comedy Central for the USO. I forget why exactly we had to stay in Cuba for five days- probably something about flight restrictions, and available planes. I can’t remember when exactly in the trip this happened, but we were all on a bus together. Greg had opened his wallet and was gazing at a picture of his first son- his only son, at that point- I think. “My little monkey,” he said, smiling. I wasn’t a parent then, and the look of contentment on his face was foreign to me. But it always stuck with me.

The night that Felipe won Last Comic Standing, the producers threw a wrap party on top of a hotel. Greg was there, I hung out in his corner for awhile. Bear hugs, posed for pictures. By that time, I was over the humiliation of being cut five weeks earlier, and I was quite aware of how lucky I was. He was charming and funny and warm. A few months earlier, while I prepared my short sets, I would drive up to the Bay Area and do lots of short spots. Greg was headlining Cobb’s the weekend before I would do the shitty set that got me sent home. He let me do guest sets on all four of his shows, which is sickeningly generous.

I am a few months older than he was. I loved him as a person, and also as a comic from my generation. I need to hear from a fellow traveler, a 1965-er. I’m raising a son, he was raising three. My relationship ended, so did his marriage. I wanted to watch Greg approach middle age. I miss that wonderful guy, who was so warm and smart and charismatic and I miss that comic, who solved Rubik’s cubes onstage every night. I looked forward to Greg’s act walking me through gray pubic hairs, my son’s first unintended pregnancy and President Palin.

Jim Gaffigan put it perfectly on of all things, Twitter, “Dear Addiction, fuck you. Goodbye Greg.”

Surviving Brainerd

Two Thursday afternoons ago, I was walking down Brainerd Road in Chattanooga,  looking for the Food Lion so I could buy groceries for KilBaby and me. We’d just flown in from Los Angeles, I was working at the Comedy Catch. KilBaby and I were hungry for, respectively, cawwots and an Amy’s Pot Pie. The Food Lion was a short walk in a walking town, but Chattanooga is not a walking town. The sidewalk  on Brainerd Road stopped abruptly and we were on gravel. I held KilBaby’s hand and took the side nearest to the road so if a texting driver drifted over, she would run over me, not my son. That’s what mothers do. In fact, if you are not prepared to get hit by an unregistered red Nova in Southeastern Tennessee, perhaps you shouldn’t have children.

I was in a dream state, hardly able to believe that yesterday had happened.

About a month ago, I’d done a packet for a late night comedy show. This was the fourth packet I’d done for these guys since 2005. A packet is a writing sample, usually a collection of jokes and desk/sketch ideas. My agent let me know they were taking packets again and I cooked one up, quick.

I’ve mentioned before that reading message boards during my brief run on Last Comic Standing made me despondent. People thought I sucked, that I talked about my kid too much, that my outfits were awful. Someone on Hulu hated the shape of my face, which is a problem that has no solution. To regain my sanity, I guess, I began to write monologue jokes and post them on Facebook. The instant feedback made me feel funny again. I kept it up after LCS ended. When it was time to put the packet together, I was able to sift through a sizeable collection of monologue jokes, and the final 25 were pretty good.

On Tuesday, I got an email asking if I was available for a meeting. I said yes. I was going to Chattanooga on Thursday, and would be back the following Monday. The meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, at 1:30. Tomorrow. I plowed through the tops in my closet. Nothing was right. Too feminine, too tight, too comedy-clubby, too mom-ish. I needed something dykey yet professional. Lumberjack with a pedicure. At Target on Wednesday morning, I found a tailored shirt with sleeves designed to roll up. Hello, I am ready to write some motherfucking jokes. Let’s do this. I also bought an iron. It’s time I owned one of those things. And if I didn’t get the job, I could return it.

The meeting was surreal. For comedy writers, this show is the Holy Grail. I chatted with the head writer like my life wasn’t on the line and after about 15 minutes, the iconic host popped in. The next 30 minutes are ones I have replayed in my head a hundred times since. Comedy, jokes, my background, people I knew who worked on the show, hometowns. Despite that I said at least five dumb things, I was made to feel completely at ease. At the end of the meeting, hands were shook and “see you laters” exchanged.

I drove home thinking if that was as far as I got, I would be ok. “Later” could mean fifty years from now, not next week. Don’t read into anything. I didn’t want to want anything more than what I already had.

Around 6:30 PM, my cell rang. I didn’t recognize the number. The caller asked for Laurie Kilmartin. I said I was speaking. The caller wondered if I would be interested in coming aboard. I screamed or something, I may have replied in French, which I do not speak. Yes, yes indeed. I can come back tonight if you guys want! I threw KilBaby under the bus, also my gig in Chattanooga and Christmas Day. Yes, yes, yes. I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, except that KilBaby loudly demanded eggs in the middle of it.

That happened in a 23 hour period. Eleven hours later, my kid and I were on a plane to Tennessee.

A pickup truck sped down Brainerd. I scooted us in even further, I didn’t want to die in Chattanooga, “Truck Hits Road Comic.” No. The soonest I can die is Monday, Sept 20th, after 6 PM, so the the headline can read “Truck Hits Conan Writer.”

Craigslisting

Bit by bit, I am furnishing my apartment with other people’s stuff and I love it. The couches were from a Latino filmmaker who was leaving Los Angeles for Austin. He made several straight to DVD movies, which he financed with other people’s money. Other people rock. I bought the blood-red shag rug from a woman who was selling it for her friend. It sheds, there are clouds of red fluff all over my white tile floors but c’mon, it only cost $135.00. And it’s soft and the yarn is thick and luscious. How can you say no? The dining table plus four chairs came from a young couple who were leaving LA- they didn’t tell me where. He jammed their shit into my car and she smashed the fifty dollars into her front pocket. I got the “good riddance” vibe from them. Like that table saw some fights.

It’s seen a few here, too.

My bedframe came from a guy who supplies furniture to Pottery Barn. PB discontinued my bed, I don’t know why, it’s amazing. Country, shabby chic. White wood. It’s cozy and feminine. So is my apartment. Now I don’t have to keep a man in mind when I’m decorating. Red, white, pink. It’s light and dangerous in here. You can take your dark, masculine brown woods and shove them up your funholes.

The trunk was my Grandmother’s- it looks like it came over on the Titanic, the paint is original and chipping all over the red rug. The desk was hers too, in fact my Dad said she would sit down at her desk at Berkner’s in Topeka, where my Grandpa managed the store and write up bills of sale for her customers. I put a TV on it. The bookstand, to hold my New York Times Guide To Essential Knowledge (for which I paid full price, but it was an independent bookstore so I don’t feel ripped off), that is also old and chippy. The owner said he’d leave it out on his front porch because he wasn’t home during the day. If I liked it, I could slide an amount of money I considered fair under his front door. I gave him $25.00. I try to read one page of essential knowledge every day, in no particular order. Today was math equations. Area, circumferences, diameters. Heron’s Formula. Which I already forgot.

The butcher’s block kitchen cart was $40.00, a woman had it stashed in her garage and it’s a perfect companion for the $10.00 microwave oven that I got at a place home to at least five unrelated occupants, near the Upright Citizens Brigade.

One nightstand came from a woman headed back to Connecticut, another came from a woman who renovates and flips wood pieces on Craigslist like they’re houses in the early aughts. She tried to sell me a newly stained hutch too, but I said no, I’m not a hutch kind of gal. One bookshelf came from Korean nationals about to leave the country, and a guy in a truck brought over some tall, utilitarian (ugly) bookshelves for the garage.

Oh yes, I have a garage.

The dresser was $275, but it’s a Stanley, with dovetail construction. I bought it from a well-to-do Russian family that had about 80 items for sale, in the hills above Burbank. They have a huge house, and a guest house in the back yard. Every item in the small house was for sale. She was an interior decorator and… then the story got complicated and I stopped listening. Her husband delivered for an extra $25.00 the next day. The mirror was $35 at the Jewish thrift store on Washington Blvd. The crystal butter keeper was $5, the white porcelain lamps were two for $65.

KilBaby is asleep in my discontinued bed, arms around a large Eeyore ($1 at a garage sale) and a plastic T-Rex (.25).

Ugh

Here I sit
All brokenhearted
Came to win
Left before I started

I had a bad feeling. At the Alex Theater on Sunday, I was directed on how to respond if I were kicked off. “Craig will call your name, and then you’ll stand here for your memorial package and then you’ll exit left.”

“What if I’m not kicked off?” I asked. Other comedians were rehearsing that outcome. Of course, the choice of which comics rehearsed what outcome was random. But something still felt wrong. I heard a banshee cry. In Glendale. What the fuck?

During the show, four of us stood in a line, three of us would perform. Tommy, Rachel, Felipe and me. I think. I haven’t watched the episode, I’m writing this from memory. My friends Lisa and Leif waved from the audience. I hadn’t seen Lisa in about 20 years- we reconnected on Facebook. Lisa and her brother Leif were great swimmers. As kids, she and I served together in the KISS Army, helping pop culture defeat The Bay City Rollers. Cara, a comic from San Francisco, sat with the L’s, along with Lisa’s husband Grant. Did these people really come all this way to see me ejected? Did I? I made a throat slitting gesture across my neck, hoping to jinx a bad outcome. The music began, it was comically right out of a reality show music library. Kind: Suspense.

“The next comic leaving Last Comic Standing IS…” boomed Craig.

Me. I can tell when someone’s about to say my name because the muscles used to say “Laurie” force the preceding word to land in a specific way. As Craig finished “IS”, he pulled his tongue in and down, half-bowed, ready to enunciate an L word.

“Laurie Kilmartin.”

Fuck.

All I thought of was the money I spent. Probably ten thousand dollars, total. I’ll add it up one day, probably April 14th of 2011. Cabs, babysitters, two months of rent in Manhattan (on top of my rent in LA). A NY gym, a personal trainer (hated that), plane tickets for me and my son. I turned down a 2-3 month writing job in LA, which could have meant health insurance for me and KilBaby next year. I did over 200 spots in about 65 days, creating two brand new three minutes chunks from the ground up (primetime clean and politically correct), and retooling some existing material for the third set. All for nothing.

I’m still in post-op. I went to the hospital to get some work done on my career. The doctor just gave me a mirror and the swelling is horrific. My last set on LCS sucked and the only way I can erase it is to tour for the REST OF MY LIFE until I die alone,  eating hard boiled eggs during the closing minutes of a complimentary hotel breakfast bar. Anonymous commentors on various message boards have been ripping me to shreds. I either have to develop a stronger stomach or stop reading.

Ugh.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback

I have not watched last night’s episode. I have spent too much time wondering what people think, how they vote and how they respond to things. I need to detach from comments, facebook messages, message board threads and reviews. Here’s my experience and impression of the last two episodes.

The semi-finals aired on July 7th. On that show, the judges were picking 10 comics from 43 semi-finalists. I did a set for the judges. I picked material that I thought Greg, Andy and Natasha would respect. I opened with an abortion joke that usually starts with a gasp and ends with a laugh, then I did a few “being a mom is killing me” jokes, and ended with the Russian jokes, which are old but clean and smart. I got picked to move on. Great. My strategy worked.

The next set, the set that aired last night, was taped two weeks after the semi-final, on April 28. Immediately after the judges picked me, I went into a panic. This next set would be the first “America votes,” and I had just done abortion jokes. If I was going to move on, I needed to get back some of the people I may have lost. I decided that this second set needed to be straight down the middle. Also informing my writing was that I was still knee-deep in fury over the ex’s affair. I wanted to stab them both in the eyes, from the stage with my jokes. And yes, in her emails to him, she constantly misspelled “tomorrow,” and other common words that ought to be in any English-speaking person’s wheelhouse. If you watched last night, I guess you know I got that bitch real good, huh?

Ugh. Who cares. Now it’s almost three months later, that raw rage is gone and that situation is an event from my past. I’m a comic again.

If you saw the semis, you may be wondering, “what abortion joke?” They were edited out. That set ended up being mom and Russian boyfriend jokes… straight up the middle. It turns out that I didn’t need to get back the people I may have lost to an abortion joke because they never saw it.

Next Monday night’s show will be taped on Monday afternoon. I have all weekend to decide which jokes I’m going to do (if I move on), and I am frankly tired of predicting which material will help me move on to the next round. I’ve got my notebook of eligible material and almost every joke I like is a bad idea if South Dakota is voting. Or if comics are voting. Or moms. And men. Women without children. People who only like one female comic and it’s Sarah Silverman. Or Lisa Lampanelli. Or that other girl from the semis who isn’t me, how the single mom got picked over FILL IN NAME is beyond me, I stopped watching! Or None of the Above because women aren’t funny and the blonde and that other girl with the legs are fucking tokens anyway. Every demographic can find something to loathe about me. Too cynical, too bland, too many mom jokes, too dismissive of her child. Contradictory and relentless.

Standup is me, prowling onstage, snarling, “here’s what I THINK is funny. Sit down, shut the fuck up and listen.” Standup is not me, wondering offstage, “I wonder what THEY THINK is funny. Please pick me to be a finalist, please vote for me ten times, please put me in the top five, please make me win!”

I’m prepping for Monday. I believe three comics will be eliminated at the top of the show. If I’m not one of them, then I’m having a set for me. And you all can sit down, shut the fuck up and listen.

Holy Freaking Shit

A real person recognized me at a coffeehouse today! Even though I wore my glasses and no makeup except for eyebrows. NBC aired my episode of Last Comic Standing three times in eight days, all during primetime. I don’t know how far I will go in this competition, but I am preparing for the best (which is very un-Irish of me). If I make it into the finals, then it’s possible that I’ll could perform my act every Monday night on NBC from July 12th through August 9th. Holy fucking shit. Oops, I gotta be clean now. Holy freaking shit.

I booked myself into a pair of weekend rooms in my two favorite cities, Seattle and Austin. If I am lucky enough to keep advancing, then I’ll be able to really have fun shows on the Friday/Saturdays preceding the final two Monday night rounds. If I am eliminated, I will have really fun shows on the Friday/Saturdays preceding the Monday nights where I get drunk and yell at the TV. Either way, after a few years of feeling burned out, I am really loving standup comedy again.

KilBaby and I are in our second NYC sublet, until July 15th. My mom is flying out tonight to provide free babysitting for the rest our stay. First she made me check to see if the apartment had Animal Planet and Bravo. She needs her Real Housewives and her starved, wet horses.

Do come see me August 5-7 at Seattle’s Comedy Underground. Or July 30-31 at the Velveeta Room in Austin, TX.

Three R’s

Swimming analogies work for me. This time in New York City, working out new stuff, feels like the technique part of the swim season. One lap takes forever to complete because your legs or arms bound, or you’re using just one arm, or wearing a drag suit. Whatever the hindrance, swimming in practice feels very little like a swimming in a race. The adrenaline, the starter’s instructions, the racing suit. All the painstaking pulling drills and boardless kicking drills are behind you. You’re shaved and tapered.

We flew to LA for a few days so KilBaby could see his dad. I have a couple spots lined up, but this is basically a five days to reflect, refocus and rewrite.

Man, this hurts

Man, this hurts.

This is how I normally work out a new joke: I bookend it with A jokes, so if it bombs, the audience won’t see me with my pants down for more than a minute. Later, I try to figure out what went wrong. And repeat, until the joke works. Or I give up. But either way, it’s fairly painless. Worst case scenario, you lose a little bit of audience good will, which can be recovered immediately with a dick joke.

I’m doing it different this time. Now I go onstage with 5 new chunks, each one comprised of 2-4 jokes. Perhaps I open my set with an old joke to get the audience on my side, but often I have less than ten minutes and I don’t want to waste a second of it on material that already works. So I go right into Chunk 1: Joke 1. The wording is very important and if I mess it up, then it gets less of or no laugh. No surprise, I messed up the wording. Fuck. I needed to nail this one and move on. Oh well. Up next, Chunk 1: Joke 2. Since I messed up Joke 1, Joke 2 starts with no momentum. Even less than no momentum, actually, because the audience just saw Joke 1 tremble and shake like a newborn calf and now they’re uncomfortable. Now me, as I’m saying Joke 2, I’m re-running Joke 1 in my head, figuring what what went wrong. Except that Joke 2 is also a newborn and needs 100% of my attention. I can’t be distracted by the fumble in Joke 1 as I’m saying Joke 2 because- FUCK, I did it again. Stumbled on a word. Damn. All right, keep going. Chunk 1: Joke 3. Here goes. No, wait. What am I saying? That’s Chunk 2: Joke 4. Fuck! I can’t go backwards. Is that the light?

I’m trying to create a waterfall, but right now I’m pushing a glacier. Every few nights, there’s a set where it all comes together (Thank you Sage Standup) and I see that for all the steps back, overall, I’m more than a few steps ahead.

But man, this hurts.

Tick, tick, tick

I’m at the Roasting Plant on 12th St. If I still did my coffeehouse reviews (link courtesy web.archive.org) , this place would get an A+. At 8:15, I had a guest set at New York Comedy Club- got one new tag out of it. I put in avails for about five other clubs tonight and got nothing. At 11:45, I’m re-auditioning for a club where I was a regular before KilBaby was born. I remember the night I decided to stop calling in for spots, in Sept of ’06. I was eight and a half months pregnant and I had a 1:20 AM spot on a Tuesday. The show was running about 30 minutes late. A few years earlier, I’d been consistently getting up before midnight. After Tough Crowd got canceled, my spot times began to inch past the witching hour. I don’t know why, was it me, or my lack of heat? I just recall being onstage that Wednesday morning, thinking, man, if I can’t move out of the 1 AM block when my water’s about to break, this is where I’m doomed to live forever.

So long ago.

For this time, I can swallow my pride. Re-introduce, re-audition. Go up late, or last. It’s ok, I got jokes to work out and a babysitter who’s willing to stay late.

I hope I look back and see this as a happy, creative time. I’m doing lots of open mics and under the radar shows, polishing new material. Bombing, actually. I feel like a special op who has a limited amount of time to disable a multiple nukes. When a joke becomes consistent, I can cross it off my list of premises and move onto the next one.

Update, 1:31 AM. Passed! And another wave of resentment falls from my shoulders.