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A comedian named Larry got into comedy as a fluke. Larry was a very mousy, insecure, 30 year old postal worker who lived with his mother in the white-bread Marina district. A very funny comic, Billy Jaye, was dating his niece. He recognized that Larry was funny and told him, "Write some material and go down to perform at the Holy City Zoo."
Tangent: Billy Jaye was Irish and all of about, oh, 4'9" tall, and a New Yorker. A very, very typical New Yorker. A dwarf with an attitude. I'm going to close this with one of his jokes, which I think is one of the best jokes of all the thousands I heard while working in comedy clubs.
So Billy Jaye brought Larry to an open mike and said, "He's never done comedy, can you do me a favor and give him a good spot?" I liked Billy Jaye a lot, as he had saved my ass a few times by doing extended sets when I didn't have anybody else to hold the house, so I said, "Sure."
I think I put Larry up in the second set following a strong comedian to warm up the house. Larry's act (in the beginning) was about what a loser he was. Which he was. And he was so nervous and shaking, it matched his material perfectly. He's one of the few first-time performers I've seen who killed. The audience loved him. They didn't know he wasn't being a brilliant actor portraying a loser; he was just a loser being himself.
Well, after a while of turning from being a loser to having a roomful of people laughing at you, Larry became... a comedian. Which, in the non-performing world is pretty much the same as becoming a vampire. Which is an unfair comparison. I'd prefer dealing with vampires than with comedians.
So one night Danny and I went down to perform at Cobb's, when it was in the Marina and Cantu was running the show. At the time, I lived around the corner from the Holy City Zoo. Danny lived in the Outer Mission (well, I guess technically the Excelsior District) and it was when I was still driving, so I said, "Hey Danny, let me give you a ride home" because it would have taken him a long, long time to get there through public transit.
Larry had popped in, as he lived nearby, and asked me, "Are you driving home?" I said, "Eventually, yes, but I have to drop Danny off." He said, "Can I come with you because I want to perform at the Zoo." I said, "Sure. But I have to drop Danny off first. Then I'm going home."
The drive from the Marina to the Outer Mission is... a long one. Larry was sitting in the back seat and after a while he said, "Jesus, Dan, where do you live," and Danny told him, "the Outer Mission." Larry, being a new-found smug comedian, started performing for us. He told Danny, "How could you live in the Mission, what with all those Mexicans, wetbacks and illegal aliens?" And he added more. I can't remember it, because I tend to remember only good material.
Larry had made a very egregious error. Danny's father was a Czech, so because of his last name, there was no way of knowing that his mother was Mexican. And you just don't mess with Danny. I love him dearly and consider him one of my closest friends, but he is the one person I'm afraid of (in terms of debate - he'll beat me every time).
So Larry kept carrying on about how worthless Mexicans were, and in one sense, he was just being a comic, capping on stereotypes; that's what comics do. As I've mentioned, Danny is the most understated, sardonic person I've ever met. He lit a cigarette and said in his slow, measured way of talking, especially when he's annoyed, "You know, Larry, Mexicans aren't that bad.
You'll see." I pulled up alongside Danny's apartment building and he said, "Park the car." I said, "What?" He gave me the Danny look and said, "I said, park the car. We're getting out." I don't fight with Danny. I don't fight losing battles.
Larry asked, "What's going on?" Danny answered, "Oh, nothing, Larry, I just want to show you that Mexicans are okay." He took us into an absolutely dive Latino bar which, when we walked in, everybody turned to stare at Larry and me - we were the only Anglos in the club.
Danny told us, "Sit down at the bar" and ordered three beers. This place was scary. The whole neighborhood is scary, and this place epitomized it, because I could tell we were intruders.
But Larry was so absolutely frightened, and Danny's planning was so good, I thought, "This is pretty cool." Danny said to Larry, "C'mon, drink up." Larry said, "I don't drink beer." Danny said, "Larry... Larry... Larry... I'm not going to waste my money buying a beer someone won't drink. We don't leave here until you finish that beer." So Larry forced himself to drink the beer and we left. Danny then said, "I want to stop into the Pastimes."
We sat at a table with Frank and Scuzzy John, whom Larry didn't know. He was so much more relaxed with a psychopath and a scuzziest- because, after all, they were white people and not those Mexicans. So while Larry was basking in his relief, all I could think of was, "Don't talk. Don't do anything to get Scuzzy John to pull out his gun, or Frank to pull out his knife." I pulled it off. I didn't get killed. That's how I was able to write this up.
Oh, the Billy Jaye line: "My grandmother... she's so morbid. Every morning, she gets the newspaper, turns to the obituary column... and then gets the phone book, and crosses out the names."
"best jokes" Cantu note: Billy Jaye wrote another line that is on my list of all time best lines. It is the world's best saver when a joke bombs: "That was a joke folks. (THREE BEAT PAUSE WHILE LOOKING RIGHT AT AUDIENCE) Just like the funny kind (PAUSE ONE BEAT) only different."
"The audience loved him" Cantu note:Moral: If you want to do a favor for a friend and help him/her get on or get a better slot, do it like Billy Jaye did with Larry. Do it because he/she IS FUNNY- - - and not like too many comics do - just because he/she is giving you a ride, drugs, sex, or all three.
One of Larry's jokes is also in my top ten list. "I went to buy a condom. The pharmacist took one look at me and said, "Buy a lottery ticket. You got better odds."
"comedians" Cantu note: This has nothing much to do with Stevens essay, but the teacher in me can't resist. Larry made the classic mistake of starting to perform for the kudos of other comics. While it may be gratifying to your ego, remember comics laugh at inside-inside jokes that escape the general audience member completely. By and large, it is the kiss of death, when you find yourself playing to get laughs from other comics.
And you want some a bit of free advice from someone who gets $100 an hour coaching ? Never listen to a damned thing a comedian says about your act. Yes, there are rare exceptions, but for the most part a comic's advice is most often simply how THEY would do your material or what would make it funny to THEM. It is a very, very rare comic who can tell you the best way for YOU to do your material and make if funny for the audience.
"Danny" Cantu note: Stevens simply mentions Danny by his first name. Let me repeat a couple of items from the Why Are YOU Sabotaging My Career. Don wrote: 'As I've said, you'd have to know Danny, and know his voice, and see in the look in his eyes. Edwards could have beat the hell out of him - Edwards was an athlete - but he would have been totally intimidated. Danny does that to people.'
And I, (Cantu) wrote: 'Not only could Danny be intimidating simply with one firmly delivered sentence, if a friend was really being hassled, Danny had acquaintances who could eliminate the hassle - by simply eliminating the hassler - if you get my drift. Danny knew his way around these 'mean streets'. You will meet Danny again in future essays.' Okay back to this month's essay.
"Holy City Zoo" Cantu note: The Holy City was on Clement Street between 5th& 6th Avenue in the Richmond District
"psychopath and a scuzziest-" Cantu note: Uhhh, listen, gentle reader, Stevens is a comedy writer. Sometimes he exaggerates for effect - BUT - Uhhh, in this paragraph, he is not exaggerating about Frank and Scuzzy John. Believe me - you never want to meet them.