We've been in B'ham, fixing up Laurie's house there. We attended a Monday night open-mike standup comedy session at an establishment which I shall refer to as The Losers' Lounge. We arrived late, and as we approached the patio we heard a snippet of a monologue in progress. A guy in his late twenties or so was explaining the following facts:
1. He was recently divorced.
2. He was having a hard time adjusting.
3. And the recurring punchline, he was spending a lot of time in a Lonely Person Activity.
4. He was hurt by the lack of Big Laffs Item 3 received from the mostly young, mostly unhappy-looking audience.
5. He was friends with the other comics, all of whom were sitting at a table up front. He would banter with them whenever he got too flustered.
That was it. No twists, no insights, no unexpected juxtapositions of two distinct frames of reference, just a repetition of those five points, over and over again. At the time I wondered if the whipped puppy attitude he was giving off was the cause or the effect of the divorce. It later occurred to me that he might have been trying to coax a punishing response from the audience. Perhaps he was trying to have his ambiguous feelings of inadequacy replaced with unambiguous, explicit awareness of inadequacy; always a minor relief for the emotionally seasick, and easier to achieve than a bolstered sense of self-worth. Sadly for him, this Southern audience was too well behaved for open heckling.
His protests at our lack of laughter grew terser as he continued; they started out like "C'mon, people, this is comedy! You're supposed to laugh!" and devolved to "Terrible!" Whether "Terrible!" was addressed to the audience, himself, or God On High, I dunno.
A somewhat milder form of masochism shaped the other performances. Primal Whimper Therapy was still in evidence, but it was from younger guys who were mystified by their inability to get with a woman in the first place, rather than reeling from a divorce, so their pain was that of heartache rather than heartbreak. They also had a somewhat better grasp on the whole "Make 'Em Laugh" thing. Still, it felt more like being collared by a succession of mournful, lonely drunks than like being entertained.
There was one young woman in the audience, all alone; a cute girl with arty garb. She smiled glowingly all through the show, and it occurred to me that I had seen her at open-mike comedy acts years before. I felt for her, or for the her I imagined her to be. Having done some tepid open-mike, I'd been approached by somber-faced women who told me "You were really funny." Meaning, "I am really lonely." I thought of them when I saw this woman. Whenever one of the performers bemoaned his inability to find a woman, I imagined her thinking "I'm right here; look at me." But that was my inference; who knows why she was really there. Maybe she thought they were funny.
The host of the show angrily shouted down a young chattering ectomorph in the audience ("Am I interrupting anything?" that kind of bit) but went way overboard; it was obvious the host wanted to do the old devastate-the-heckler routine, but lacking an actual heckler he had to settle for a nonthreatening chatterbox. The Host was mean, not witty, not funny. The young ectomorph, who looked like a sheepish bespectacled bird, sat there and looked blank during the tirade. He was with a group of college kid types, with one older heavyset woman at the head of the group. The host evidently knew her, as he flirtatiously chided her for bringing the ectomorph. The woman had that flash-of-panic-beneath-the-cool-facade look so familiar to anyone who's ever been a twentysomething. Rather than defend Mr. Ectomorph she said "I know, I know" and tried to look archly disaffected. She grabbed her purse and FLED as soon as the focus was off her again. I later overheard the ectomorph speak witheringly of her; he expected more gumption from a Queen Bee than that.
The final comic was a cute little stoner whose dipsy-doodle style charmed Laurie and myself regardless of his (mildly amusing) gags. As Woody Allen observed, personality is more important than material for a standup comic.
If you're in B'ham and this kind of sideshow sounds more to your tastes than it is to mine, here's a hint: the establishment's name is actually a reference to An Animal Sound.