The Little Black Books
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“It’s for twenty thousand dollars,” the announcer told me, “sponsored by Vivian’s grocery store.”
Of course, I already knew that as I signed up to take part in part two of the competition. I had made it past round one, just barely, in my opinion.
The club was dark, but the stage was lit, and the bar had a red glow to its countertop. I scanned the room for familiar faces before finding one in Jason.
Jason closed up a back room, “What’ll it be Grace?”
“Yes, please” I chirp, “one with an onion”.
Jason rolled his eyes at me, “One martini with an onion coming up.”
“Hey, Jason, I noticed the sign up saying that this place would be closing soon,”
“Yeah, the owners own other businesses and this one was hit pretty bad by the economy, it just doesn’t pay to do comedy.”
I nodded; it was a familiar story. It was an open secret this business was losing money. The owners were too busy with their other businesses to put the time needed into this one. I knew it was a hullabaloo trying to rent the space when I tried to throw a party. The owners would not get back to me, frustrating me and the manager.
Pretty soon, my reverie was broken. Someone walked up beside me, I recognized the face but could not place the name. This happened all the time to me while doing standup. The familiar face gave me a grin.
“You know, you can tell who the real comedians are.”
“Yeah? How?” I ask dryly.
Jason comes over with my martini, just in time. I want something to move with my hands or stuff in my face if what this guy has to say is dumb.
“The little black books and I ain’t talking about getting girls phone numbers.”
“I see you don’t have one sweetie, so it doesn’t look like you’ll be competition for me tonight,” he chuckles assuredly to himself.
I throw a look at Jason, but he just shrugs back at me.
“So, you don’t think I am competition?” I ask.
“No, the audience is usually guys and a woman’s humor doesn’t usually go over too well.”
“So, what you’re telling me is women aren’t funny? Is that it?”
“You said it not me,” with an annoying gleam in his eye. I feel the fire coming to my face and I put it out with alcohol.
Taking a deep breath, I pull out a small moleskin, “the book of choice by comedians everywhere,” I say trying to make my words drip with the hurt of a bee sting, “can’t wait until you lose….to a girl.”
His eyes now gleam with some vehemence behind them.
I chuckle, “boy, let me buy you a drink.”
A gift that he graciously accepts. Then it hits me, he is the heckler. Most comedians hate hecklers. I admit I have had my fair share of annoying ones. This guy was the worst. He would not stop talking and was drunk. But he sharpened my performance and I shut him down, doing what none of the comedians could do that night.
The comedians in the club literally cheered me. Which is hard to do for such a sour bunch.
If you didn’t know, comedians consist of a pessimistic bunch. It does not always show up in their comedy and this is not the rule, of course, but there is usually something off with comedians. Who subjects themselves to the torture of a crowd hating you? First-timers usually have their friends come and cheer them. That makes them think they are good, so they continue. Then they do not get any laughs when their friends do not show up and die on stage. Any comedian will tell you; you will die on stage. Many newbies leave soon after bombing. But the greatest comedians of all time had material fall flat. Sometimes the material you used will work on a different night. Maybe you tweak it just slightly and it gets a laugh.
I think to myself, “for twenty thousand dollars, this just has to be funny.”
I hope the crowd gets my humor. Funny is funny. Sometimes comedians get frustrated at the audience for not laughing. I think that’s a mistake, they are not laughing, Sometimes, your material is not funny and that is on you for not making it better. I have seen plenty of male comics think that dick jokes will carry them everywhere. It usually only gets a laugh among their fellow comedians. But “blue” humor as it’s called, is not funny to everyone. Sometimes it’s just crude and shock value, with the audience seeing through it.
But mostly, I notice that men who bring their girlfriends to comedy shows, do not want to laugh at some of the insulting humor comedians make about women. The women in the crowd usually do not want to encourage their husband or date’s brash sense of humor that she probably has heard too much of at home.
I watch the boys fall flat. And for 20,000, I hope they fall flat tonight. Women often come up to me after open mics to tell me they love my humor. I only wished they laughed harder. But I get it, I usually have to say an opening line about how the rest of the show was filled with dicks. I try not to, it sucks to waste an opening line; sometimes the blue humor is so prevalent, with no one laughing, it just feels right to convey to an audience I will not be talking about a dick or a vagina.
I glance at the little black book. All my jokes are written down there. I scan through it. I know what I am going to do, but I like to see if there is an old bit I can try to resurrect. Sometimes, it just sharpens my mind before going on stage. The nerves are a bit rattling; I have never performed for this much money on the line before. This competition will have me well known throughout the Midwest, maybe launch my career.
“Grace Burns,” the announcer roars, “you’re on deck,” meaning, I am next.
The announced continues, “Please welcome to the stage, Joe Daniels.”
Joe Daniels, the man who I offered a drink, stumbles to the stage.
I shudder, “great, never should have offered him a drink,” I mutter to myself. But he would’ve ordered one without me and made a fool of himself anyway.
Daniels rattles on and the audience starts to boo him. At least I don’t have to follow a fantastic act, it’s hard to follow someone who just killed it. He was killing the mood, but I would have more of a chance to bring it up.
5 minutes later, Daniels’ time was up but he would not leave the stage. He kept chanting the name of his website. I knew how to shut it down.
I took the microphone, but he was now yelling his website, “Joe Daniels dot com”
I yelled back, “No, Grace Burns dot com. “
The audience cheered as Joe Daniels finally sat down.
“But seriously folks, do go to Grace Burns dot com, that is my professional website”
I then launched into my routine. I got this weird feeling. It felt like a rhythm. It felt like bliss and heaven. I never would want to do something different. I gave the audience looks like Jack Benny.
Then I got offstage. The feeling was euphoric. The audience had laughed harder than I have experienced during my standup before. Even if I lost, I won.
The audience would be voting in a few moments on who won the open mic competition. It was not up to me anymore. I ordered another martini from Jason.
A hush fell over the room, the panel was about to announce who won the competition.
“Third place, Coco Martin”. I took a deep breath in.
The announcer continues, “Second place, Jimmy Johnson”, my heart dropped. I didn’t win. There was no way.
“First place—GRACIEEE BURRNS”
I stood there dumbstruck. Someone had to push me to go onstage.
Someone asked, “So Grace, what are you going to do with all that money.”
The money! I had not even thought about it, it seemed like such a longshot to win.
But my mouth was running faster than my mind could think, “I’m going to donate five thousand to providing mental health help to the community.”
Then I paused. “What am I doing with this money?”
“I am going to buy this bar, these people, my friends, need a place to do standup. It’s therapy”
A reporter came up to me, “Therapy? But don’t you guys journal for that? I’ve seen little black notebooks everywhere.”