The End of Small Talk

We’re in.

It’s a small house, it’s a cute house. I painted the rooms various shades of yellow because I am a grim lady in need of assistance.

So that’s it for my small talk. I’m having a difficult time figuring out what to talk about onstage. From July to October, I wrote about 35 minutes of new material, building on the 8 I already had, for my Dead Dad special. I went out every night, (and work 45ish hours a week at the day job). I wouldn’t let myself waste any time writing a joke that wasn’t about that topic, even when I was sick of death and funerals and cancer and all of it. It was exhausting and exhilarating. I was so glad when it was done.

And now… here I sit. The special is edited, in my dropbox. I still have to watch it, and of course, sell it. But that’s right brain shit. To the left half of my brain, I say… what now? Dating. Being a mother. Having a mother. Owning a house. Growing old. Fuck, I guess those are the ingredients in my pantry.

Guys, if this is me in a yellow room, I’m so glad I didn’t go with blue.

Happy New Year.

Moving Day

I’m moving.

Leaving a house I rented in a hurry, running from an eviction notice. It’s a pretty house. It costs too much and I picked it mostly so my Dad could visit and enjoy the little pond and fountain out back.

That was a year ago when he was alive and the chemo had worked, kind of, and we were hoping he was one of those 5% who beat lung cancer. Maybe it was 1%. All I know is the odds were low and he didn’t beat them.

I’m leaving a house I got for for my dad, and going to a house I got for my kid. No pond, no Japanese landscaping. We have a kid’s backyard. A California backyard. A pool with bleachy, chlorinated water and unforgiving old concrete. Its our first place that my Dad will never see. I won’t look at a corner and remember him sitting there.

In Seattle with 45 Jokes

I have five columns for the Dead Dad jokes:


Finished Shaky But Promising Shaky Not Promising Brand New I Can’t Look At This Anymore


My task for the next six and a half weeks is to fill the Finished column and empty the others. I’ve never worked backwards before. Usually when a comic says, for example, “I’m going to be on Conan,” it’s because the comic just taped Conan, the set was good and she wants you to see it. Additionally, the set was good because she or he worked on the material for x amount of months prior.

That is the natural order of things, that is how I’ve always done it.

Except now. This time, I’ve announced the date 8 weeks in advance. Before I’ve taped the set and, even worse, before I’ve written it.

Oh, I have a few minutes in the “Finished” pile- like 5. Maybe 6 if the crowd is great. When I squint, I see 8 in “Shaky But Promising.” There’s more than I can count in “Shaky Not Promising.” And after this weekend in Seattle, “I Can’t Look at this Anymore” has a new member. RIP, that bit.

It’s unfair that after 27 years of doing comedy, I can’t tell if a joke is funny until I say it onstage. You’d think I’d have some instincts, but no. I had two dark bits to work in Seattle. I was CONVINCED they would both kill. So cocky was I that I pasted them in the “Finished” column before they’d even been tried on an audience. And one worked in front of the worst possible crowd, a casino. But the other? Tanked everywhere, including what I consider the most dark joke friendly room on Earth- a Thai restaurant in Capitol Hill. Do you know how unsalvageable a joke has to be to tank at a packed house in a Thai restaurant in the hip part of Seattle?


Jokes that work are the result of skill, surprise and a little bit of alchemy. I have a ton of stuff that, on paper, resemble jokes. They’re well written (if I do say so myself) and they surprise. However beyond that, they lack that little bit of fairy dust that makes an audience laugh.

That’s always been the case, but right now, the topics (Dad, death, cancer, hospice) make each set a Class 5 white water trip. The only thing that keeps an audience in my raft is jokes that work. If ONE joke lays there, people jump. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing! We’re gonna drown!” they say.

Friday night was a regular headlining set at the Snoqualmie Casino. I snuck a few “45 Jokes,” and returned to normal material when they pulled away. But Saturday was my 45 Jokes night. I had 3 sets planned- the bookers all knew what I was up to, I was free to not kill. My 2nd set, at Jai Thai, was so fun. No one bailed. My 3rd set, on the 10:30 show at the Seattle Underground was also fun. A few people clutched their lifejackets but all in all, fine. Late show audiences like the weird shit. But the 1st set, on the 8:30 at Underground?

Guys, I lost a passenger.

It was a full house. I did some legit “Finished” jokes, they worked. I was on solid ground, for the most part, the audience trusted me. Then I tried the 2nd new dark bit, the one I have since moved to the “I Can’t Look At This Anymore” pile. It laid there. And in the silence, a woman said, “My Dad just died and I don’t have to listen to this shit.” She said it loudly, and loudly was also how she walked, out of the room.

I don’t mind telling you, it was awkward.

I told the crowd, “Mine did too, and I wrote some jokes because… that’s what I do. Are you guys cool?” And enough of them were so that I could finish. The closing joke is really strong, and it ended well. Afterwards, the woman’s son came up to me and apologized for his mom. He said, “I lost someone too, my grandfather, and I thought you were funny.” (Luckily, he said it when I was standing next to the booker.)

This week, I have a few booked shows in LA. On the other nights, I’ll do open mics. Then on Friday-Sunday, I’m headlining a GREAT room in Tucson, AZ, called Laffs. My plan there is to drop the strongest of the 45 Jokes into my regular 45 minute set, and practice performing the shit out of them.

I’ll let you know how it worked next week. Hope to see you at the taping Oct 17-18th in LA at the Lyric on La Brea.

45 Jokes About My Dead Dad

Hey Guys
This October 17th and 18th, I’m taping a comedy special at the Lyric Theater in Los Angeles. It’s a one-topic special, and I don’t know how long it will be.

You are all invited.

The show is called “45 Jokes About My Dead Dad.” When I came up with the idea last month, I had about 4 decent minutes about the March 2 passing of my father. I thought it might be fun- or at least interesting- to release a 5 minute special that was shot the way most comics shoot their hour. Theater, three cameras, the works. I booked a venue, hired a producer and director.

“45 Jokes About My Dead Dad,” will probably be longer than 15 minutes, but no more than 25. This is not a one-person show. I don’t do that. In my heart of hearts, I’m a nightclub comic. No tears. No message. Some dick jokes.

I’m doing every spot possible here in LA. On upcoming weekends, I’ll be working out at venues in Portland, Dallas, San Francisco and hopefully New York on a hiatus week. If you have a venue in LA, all you have to do is ask. If you have a venue outside of LA, all you have to do is ask. (I can only do Saturdays if it’s out of state.)

I’m not fucking around here. This is costing me a ton of money (actually, it’s costing my son a ton of college tuition) and I want it to be great and funny. Hope to see you at the Lyric on Oct 17th and/or 18th.


Ten Weeks In

When the end began, the grandchildren were there, the son-in-law too. One by one they left until it was just us four. The original four. The mother, the daughters. The father. One of us was dying and the other three were helping.

I recorded almost all our conversations after he got sick, Dad pops up frequently on my iTunes, talking about Korea, his father’s store in Kansas, the dogs, the grandkids. Rarely death, never the funeral. After attending Mass every Sunday, every saint’s day, after all the devotion, he left the details of his funeral Mass to us, who hadn’t seen the inside of a church in years.

Dad has been saved as mp3s, a jpgs and mov files. He exists in ashes, stored in the heart of the Claddagh ring I wear on my thumb. I have even more proof of life in letters, a cable, airmail, birthday cards, emails and IMs. I can marinate in our memories, any time.

I’m glad I had him as long as I did, I wish I had him more. Now there’s three of us. One of us grieving terribly and the other two trying to help. The grandchildren are back, the son-in-law too. Reconfiguring without him.

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.”


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).


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.”


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.