Outside of the words I had prepared, I remember very little of what I said on stage at York Street Cafe in Newport last month. I do remember, after realizing I was totally screwed, saying “I’m totally screwed,” but that’s about it.
I thought I more or less knew what I was getting into that night. I thought I was prepared. I can be pretty stupid at times.
A few weeks before the show, local comedian Mike Cody sent me an e-mail about “The Big Reveal,” a storytelling show that would feature comedians, authors and regular folks telling stories that have shaped their lives. Jake Speed was going to be the musical guest. It all sounded interesting to me. I agreed to take part.
The show started at 8 p.m., and Mike said to get there an hour before it started — why, I don’t know. When I arrived, there wasn’t anything to do except stand around and wait for the second floor bar to open. I had to wait for about 10 minutes.
As I ordered my vodka and tonic, I noticed the ashtray on the bar but still asked the bartender if it was OK to smoke. She said “yes.” I soon found out the answer was really “no.”
After I lit up, the woman handling the cashbox for the show approached the bartender and made sure that I heard this was a non-smoking venue. I was allowed to finish my cigarette. The evening went downhill from there.
People started to arrive, including my daughter and her boyfriend and my friends Doug and Ann. As I made small talk with them, I kept looking up at the stage. There was a microphone with a stand but there was no lighting to speak of. I started to worry.
I remembered an e-mail Mike had sent me a few days before the show asking what I would be doing. I said I would be reading something from a book I had published last spring. Reading. I remember saying I would be reading.
As the show started, we moved down to the audience area: daughter and boyfriend, Doug and Ann.
The show started with a standup comic.
And then another standup comic, and then another. I was beginning to realize that except for Jake Speed, I was a writer in a show full of standup comedians.
Feeling panicked, I reached in my pocket for a cigarette and then realized the lady with the cashbox wouldn’t approve. I went down that flight of stairs and went outside. I sucked down two cigarettes.
When I came back, the standup people were still doing their standup. Don’t ask me if they were funny or not. My mind wasn’t on them. My mind was on how the hell I was going to get through my bit.
More sooner than later, right before Jack Speed was to wrap up the show, Mike Cody introduced me and I went up on stage.
I made some small talk (I said something), put on my reading glasses (hoping for the best), opened up the book to where I was going to be reading (I think my hands were shaking a little) and couldn’t see any of the words.
Yep, totally screwed.
What happened after that is a blur. My friend Ann came on stage, found a flashlight or some other kind of light and stood over me trying to shine the light on my book.
Sometimes the light would shine in my face to where I was almost blinded, but most of the time Ann kept the light on the book. There was some banter between the two of us that got some laughs, but what that banter was I don’t remember.
What I remember doing is praying. I’m not a religious person, but that night I prayed to God to just get me through those 10 minutes.
Thanks to God — but probably more to Ann — I survived the reading. I even got a few laughs, probably for all the wrong reasons. I think Jake Speed had an easy act to follow, and I felt totally embarrassed that my daughter and her boyfriend were in the audience.
Weeks have passed since this “event,” and I’m not as upset or as bitter as I was. I want to try and blame this on someone — maybe the lady with the cashbox who doesn’t like smokers — but that’s silly. Really, I need to learn from the experience.
I don’t think Mike Cody is a bad guy at all. Actually, he’s nice and pretty funny and maybe it’s me who got the signals crossed. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is I’m not a good mix with standup comedy.
From this point on, I’m going to stick with what I know. I can do book signings, readings, what have you, but I won’t get involved with venues where I have to guess what’s going to happen. I want to have complete control.
Since the York Street show, Mike has sent me an e-mail saying he owes me money for it and will give it to me next time he sees me.
Chances are I won’t be seeing Mike Cody anytime soon. While I don’t think appearing at York Street Cafe was really a nightmare, I don’t want to relive it in any way.
I think I’m going to e-mail Mike back and just tell him to put that check in the mail.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org