Walking out on Women

 

img_20180620_184310_628

When I did comedy before, it probably took me a year or more before I called out The Baker’s Dozen for walking out of my set and the sets of other women comics. I remember calling them out from the stage at that weird Italian place connected to the Cubby Bear – I don’t remember what I said or how they reacted in the moment, just that they stopped walking out of my set.

Last night after Open Mic #5, the two hosts said hello at the crosswalk and one asked me if I had come to support another comic. “No, I performed tonight, but you walked out and missed my set.”

To be fair, he had a reasonable excuse for taking a phone call during the show he runs, but I also have fewer fucks to give. I told him he got to use that excuse once and that he’d used it up.

Then we chatted a bit about coming back to comedy and when I said that I’d performed with the trio of dudes in Hollywood that I used to perform with, he said, “Oh, so you saw how famous they got and…”

No.

I think that that #MeToo movement was making comedy a safer experience for women. I think that at 41, I have more to say than I did at 26. I think there are more paths to being successful in comedy in 2018 than in 2002. I think we live in a hellscape and making jokes might be my way to survive this administration.

I think Tig Notaro is showing me that a premise can last 10-20 minutes. I thinkHannah Gadsby is showing me comedy doesn’t have to be self-deprecating to be funny and the tension can last longer than 3 seconds. I think Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin are giving me an education on what hasn’t changed for women in comedy since I quit. I think Nicole Byer is showing me that I can take up space and date. I think June Diane Raphael is showing me that audiences in Chicago will cheer when politics interrupt comedy.

So, no. I’m not back on stage just to drop the names of the three dudes I knew in comedy once upon a time. It’s just easier to talk about them in casual conversation than to bring up the serious side of comedy.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Like Riding a Bike

I went up again tonight – this time in a well lit Second City classroom. Things started at 9 and I expected to go up at 10:30, but didn’t go until 11:15 or so. Then I stayed to the bitter end (just another 30 minutes) to make sure the last five comics had someone to perform to.

As much as I keep hoping for a Mrs. Maisel beginners luck set that kills, I’m learning that returning to stand-up after 14 years is like riding a bike… That was sitting on the back porch for all those years without any maintenance.

I honestly don’t remember how to get better in 4-minute increments other than to keep showing up.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Uphill Both Ways In the Snow

I’ve only been to one open mic, but I’m signed up for one on Saturday night to try again. I had a long call with a friend who did comedy with me back in the day and regaled him with all of the things that are different after 14 years away.

Screenshot 2018-06-08 12.52.16

I don’t want to spend any of my limited minutes on stage talking about how I used to walk to school, uphill, both ways in the snow about doing comedy in 02/04… so here are a few things that have (and haven’t) changed in the last 14 years.

  1. There are so many rooms. I wonder if I have a copy of The Reader from a typical week in 2003 to see how many open mics we used to have. I don’t remember there being more than two a night and most people only went to one. Now there are upwards of 10 every night of the week – even on weekends?!?!?
  2. YouTube didn’t exist when I did stand-up comedy. Or Twitter. Or Facebook. We had Friendster, Hotmail and plenty of us went to Kinko’s to write and print in the middle of the night.
  3. There might have been one comic who took their notes up on stage on a Palm Pilot in the early aughts, but rooms were all about paper notes. Last night about half of the comics took their notes up on their phone, which means they are spending time waking their phones up between jokes.
  4. Dudes in their 20s still tell rape jokes. Find a different starting point, gents.
  5. The room was a lot more diverse. There were only two women, but there were 5-6 Asian comics. In 02/04 a room was diverse if 3 of the 50 comics were black and 4 were women. In a list of only 15 comics, to have 1/3 be people of color – that was remarkable!
  6. Drink specials and kind bartenders (at least at Spyner’s) are still part of the scene. There were $2.50 beers last night.
  7. People have a lot to learn (and I have a lot to remember) about using mics – that’s the same as it always was. But as Jerry Seinfeld taught us in 2002, all you’ve got to do is get the mic out clean.

I’m going up again tomorrow night. I’m going to keep working this jokes and trying different rooms. We’ll see what happens.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Let the record show

I went to Spyners on Western tonight and did four minutes at an open mic. It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever done, but it was far from the best.

But I dug up a tiny notebook, jotted down a few headlines and got on stage.

Huge thanks to Dee from the HDTGM fan group I’m in for joining me at the open mic to offer her support while I try to do this stand-up comedy thing again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thinking Seriously about Comedy

This weekend I watched six hours of live comedy, something I haven’t done since I quit doing stand-up comedy sometime in 2004/05. All six hours were live shows for the podcast How Did This Get Made as part of the Onion Comedy Festival in Chicago – Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas (let’s be honest, swoon) turning fun-bad movies into comedy gold.

IMG_20180604_000402821-ANIMATION

The next day, I let my mind wander without a podcast in my ears or a screen in my face and tried to figure out – what is it about this trio that has me so excited about comedy again? Why have I spent so much time and money to be in the same room with these lovable goofballs, when they come to my phone for free every week? Why do I seek out podcasts where they are each featured guests?

And why do I want to get back on stage after quitting comedy over 10 years ago?

***

I moved to Chicago to try my hand at being a stand-up comic based on winning the Snowdown Joke Down in Durango, Colorado in January 2002. In a town of 14,000 people where I managed the local rape crisis hotline, I put my future in the hands of three judges during the “locals only” winter festival. snowdownparade

Snowdown is basically if the fine folks of Stars Hollow let the fraternity brothers from Neighbors plan a winter festival. Lots of drinking, lots of costumes and full buy-in from all locals.

When I lived in Durango, I realized that I could really get my friends laughing at poker night and made the immediate leap in my brain that jokes at a dinner table could turn into a stand-up comedy routine that would have me traveling the country within two years.

I won the stand-up portion of the Joke Down, planned my move to Chicago and hosted a going away party in the Ska Brewing warehouse that doubled as a fundraiser for the Rape Intervention Team. When I was on the local radio station doing a promo for the event, the DJ self-disclosed that he was a survivor of childhood sexual assault. Two weeks later we shared a stage and made a friendly room roar with laughter. Then I packed up my truck and moved to Chicago.

***

Sunday – Tequila Roadhouse (RIP). Monday – Lyon’s Den (RIP). Tuesday – Cubby Bear. Wednesday – Frankie J’s (RIP). Thursday – Second City Conservatory shows.

Practically every night of the week I was at an open mic learning to be a stand-up comic or at Second City cheering on my friends in their conservatory shows. I went up in rooms where the list was 50 comics long and regularly shared the stage with people who now have movies (Kumail Nanjiani), TV shows (Pete Holmes) and multiple specials and albums (Kyle Kinane).

When I tell the story of why I quit comedy, I always say, “and then I auditioned for the first season of Last Comic Standing. I stood in an alley for 6 hours in January with my peers and realized, in the light of day, that these weren’t my people.”

The line included a guy who told the same child-rape joke every week. The guy who offered women rides home from open mics, but then solicited blow jobs for stage time. The group of men I privately called The Bakers Dozen, because about 12-13 would always walk out of my set (or that of another woman) to smoke up in the alley.

When I fact-checked myself, the audition for Last Comic Standing was in my first 6 months in Chicago, but I did comedy for 2 years before I quit and switched to writing, blogging, occasional storytelling, converting to Judaism and ultimately climbing the corporate ladder.

But my overwhelming memory of quitting comedy was that I didn’t find my tribe in the rooms I visited every night.  I didn’t do drugs,  I didn’t date in comedy circles and I didn’t work blue. I didn’t fit in, so I eventually called it quits.

***

I spent the last 12 years aggressively climbing the corporate ladder in public relations. Two agencies, five or six promotions, countless new business meetings, and a Master’s from Northwestern.

My brief (and now distant) stint in stand-up comedy served me well. No CEO is scarier than a drunk crowd at the Cubby Bear. No reporter is going to dismiss me as harshly as an audience member who once said to me, “Lady, we’re trying to have fun here, can you just put down the microphone?” I was pretty much bullet-proof in a board room thanks to those open mics, but I never stopped being a stick in the mud.

***

In 2012, I finally watched The West Wing and fell in love with it. A few years later, the podcast The West Wing Weekly launched and I finally got into podcasts. Then the Gilmore Girls Reboot was announced, so I caught up on Gilmore Girls and added the podcast Gilmore Guys to my list.

pete holmes jason

Then there was this guest who really caught my ear. He was talking about rape culture and taking feminism very seriously. Huh… who was that? Jason Mantzoukas. Shrug. I had no idea who he was at the time, but he plugged his podcast called How Did This Get Made and I added it to my queue. I had some good laughs over bad movies and dug up all sorts of older interviews of Jason on other podcasts.

Eventually I found Jason on Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird. Pete is one of the guys I have fond memories of from The Lyon’s Den, even though I am jealous of his success in a way that is not attractive… in a regret-laden-road-not-traveled way. Then I listened to other interviews Pete did with people I knew back in the day.

Then Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon released their movie – The Big Sick. Screenshot 2018-06-05 14.58.28A Romantic Comedy set in Chicago’s comedy scene. Kumail telling jokes that I’d heard him tell at open mics. A movie that plunged me deep into nostalgia for the Lyon’s Den and doing stand-up comedy.

I saw The Big Sick three times in the theater. I posted about it so much that Kumail  asked me how crowds were reacting. My friends went at my urging and also loved it.

A RomCom that centers on a group of comics who have each other’s backs. A small tribe of supportive friends. A RomCom that took place in the fictionalized bar I went to every week for two years.

***

Then #MeToo happened.

I start thinking about my clients from the Rape Intervention Team. I do the math and add the 16 years since I left the job to the 13-year-old age of my last client. She’s almost 30 if she’s still alive. Was she able to heal and become a survivor?

I start thinking about the rape jokes and sexual harassment in the comedy scene when I was in it. I talk to some of those guys I knew from open mics who are trying to support #metoo now, but didn’t do anything to help the women they came up with.

***

And then this weekend, I went to see six hours of live comedy. Before every show, Paul Scheer tells the audience that during the Q&A it is unacceptable to make racist, sexist or homophobic jokes.

In the middle of the show about Striptease, June Diane Raphael gave an extemporaneous talk about the dangers of the movie. About workers rights, women’s rights, legalization of sex work and ending the mother/whore dichotomy.

And what did her two male cohosts do? They listened.

And what did the rowdy crowd do? A crowd there to laugh about a greased up Burt Reynolds and a woman who dances with a python named Monty?

They listened and cheered. An audience at a comedy show in Chicago, cheering during and after a speech about women’s and worker’s rights – things have changed.

***

Through How Did This Get Made, I found three comics and countless guests who I think  would be my tribe if I’d stayed in comedy. It didn’t happen overnight, but it seems to be that comedy is now a place where women can be political and funny and safe. Where men (not all men, unfortunately) are trying to be funny without being misogynist. Where even Jason Mantzoukas, who is known for playing outrageous, sex-obsessed maniacs, is someone I count on in interviews to be thoughtful about sexism and rape culture.

***

This winter, I MCed a talent show at a Jewish retreat and a friend who has known me in Jewish conference circles for a decade said, “Leah, why didn’t I know that you’re funny? You’re really funny. You aren’t funny online, but I laughed so much tonight.”

I told him that it’s not my role in Jewish conferences. We usually have real stand-up comics in the mix – like Benji Lovitt or Michelle Collins. No need for a failed stand-up comic to be funny when there are professionals in the room.

But maybe it’s time.

I’m no longer aggressively climbing the corporate ladder. I started my own business to plan retreats and facilitate meetings, but I have more time to think and more flexibility for open mics. (And more mornings when I can sleep off open mics)

But maybe it’s time.

There are open mics that are women-only spaces now. There are social clubs for women in comedy. There are role models other than Ellen and Roseanne Barr.

Maybe it’s time.

***

Thank you to Paul, June Diane and Jason for showing me that my people are in the comedy world today. I think it’s time to try again.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Eulogy for my Aunt Barb

I missed the boat on delivering a proper eulogy for my Aunt Barb at her funeral on Sunday, so here’s what I would’ve said if I’d realized the floor was open.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Leah Jones – Larry and Linda’s daughter. Aunt Barb was my great aunt – Uncle Jimmy is my late grandma’s little brother. I didn’t realize until today that Jimmy and Barbara were the cool, young aunt and uncle to my parents, because to me they were always the grown ups.

When we got here today, we heard that Aunt Barb’s visitation yesterday is one of the biggest that Brazil has ever seen. Was it 184 cars of people that came through?

Instead of focusing on her biography – the over 50 years of membership to her church, over 50 years of service to the Reelsville Volunteer Fire Department or 62 years of marriage to Uncle Jimmy – I want to share one lesson that we can all take with us when we leave the firehouse today. Something that Aunt Barb taught me and probably all of us.

The lesson is simple.

Show up.

Just… show up.

I can’t think of a single family celebration – holiday, wedding, funeral, graduation or birthday – when Jimmy and Barb didn’t show up. If two things were scheduled on the same day and hours apart, like my sister and my high school graduations, Jimmy and Barb would split the duties and show up.

Eavesdropping today, I realize she didn’t just show up for the Proctor, Cohn and Jones families. She showed up for all of you. She went to countless football games, pancake breakfasts, bible studies, recitals, weddings, graduations and funerals.

You knew she would be there. Didn’t it feel good to know she would be there? When you saw their minivan pull into the driveway or heard Jim and Barb call hello from the door?

More than that.

We never worried about how she would show up. To my knowledge, nobody ever worried about Barb bringing an argument to the holiday table – nothing beyond whether you should put noodles on your mashed potatoes or gravy.

Obviously gravy goes on the mashed potatoes. Noodles are their own dish.

Even in a world where religion can be contentious and I converted to Judaism, she made sure I knew that I should still show up and that she would still show up for me.

So I want to thank you. Everyone in this room. You have all taken this lesson to heart without realizing it.

You showed up today.

I’ve never been to a funeral where the staff had to keep opening the walls and adding more chairs like this.

It means so much to her family that you are here and that you’ll continue to be here to support Uncle Jimmy, her mom Grace, Tracy, Connie and all the grand kids, great grands and her kids.

Thank you.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

In Between Lines

Today was Rabbi Herman Schaalman’s (z”l) funeral.

When he gave his last Yom Kippur sermon in 2016, he recounted that he’d been giving High Holy Day sermons for 80 of his then 98 years. It was enough.

His story is well-documented and fairly easy to find on the internet. Google has not and will not forget him. He was born in Munich during the first World War and came to the USA to attend Hebrew Union College (a Jewish seminary) just before the start of World War II. At 19 he arrived with nothing and nobody and in the 81 years that followed, he reached thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish people through teaching, preaching and camping.

I have been a member of his synagogue since I started going to services in late 2004. While he wasn’t MY rabbi, he was my rabbi’s rabbi. Every year at Yom Kippur, a portion of his sermon was dedicated to telling us to get married already. To have children, already.

There are stories that I’d heard second hand and stories I learned today. About how his first fiance died tragically, but then he met Lotte to whom he was married 75 years and 8 months. I knew that he had escaped Nazi Germany, but this week I learned that he once snuck out of a cafe when Hitler came in. He taught his regular Torah class the day after his wife died, but today we learned that in after his wife’s death (only 18 days before his own) he officiated his grandson’s wedding in his living room.

There were eight eulogies today.

A priest who recalled Rabbi Schaalman’s remarkable friendship with Cardinal Berdanin and how that friendship began to mend centuries of bad blood between Catholics and Jews. He shared a stanza from a poem by Australian writer Adam Lindsey Gordon.

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
KINDNESS in another’s trouble,
COURAGE in your own.

Then there were eulogies from five rabbis, though there were probably 100 more wishing to share their memories and lessons learned. His three grand-children and his two children each took the bimah to remember the man they loved so much.

I went today hoping to be filled up with stories to power me as we build a resistance. Eulogies and officiating from ten members of the clergy who understand the separation of church and state (and tax exemption laws), meant I had to read between the lines to find the fire in the room.

Here’s what I got.

The funeral began and ended with melodies that Elie Wiesel taught Rabbi Schaalman when they were on a retreat together.

We were reminded that Rabbi Schaalman’s final torah portion was that of the burning bush. A fire that burns and does not consume.

His son told us the story of his father receiving a telegram at a wedding that said “Your father’s in Dachau. Save him. Mom” and how he was able to make arrangements for his parents to escape Nazi Germany.

We were told that Rabbi Schaalman had no time for nostalgia or the ‘good ol’ days.’ He was grounded in Torah and driven by and to change. He helped pave the way for women to become rabbis. He helped redefine “who is a Jew” in the Reform movement to include people raised Jewishly with one Jewish parent. At the end of his life, he openly questions God’s existence, but never questioned that the Torah was worth studying.

As a survivor of the Holocaust without an extended family, it wasn’t until he officiated his grandson’s marriage two weeks ago that he felt he had finally established roots.

He drove to any college that would have him teach, because he believed that interfaith dialogue and relationships is the only way to stop the next Holocaust.

When he first arrived in NYC from Germany, before the five scholarship students went to Ohio, he was taken to Coney Island. There he saw a group of teens in Nazi regalia who were being beaten by Jewish teens. It was not the salami effect he saw in Germany – go along to get along, how much worse can it get. Instead the Jews he saw in America were standing up for themselves. (In short, it’s okay to punch a Nazi).

He was a patriot, “because this country saved his life. America was a lifeboat out of Nazi Germany.”

His son talked about how serious his dad was. “He was serious, because the world deserved to be taken seriously.”

Oh, how we need to get back to taking the world seriously.

While there wasn’t an unabashed call to fight fascism, I heard it said between anecdotes and stories. The unabashed calls were to have personal relationships, to strive for a long marriage, and to break bread with people of other faith traditions.

So I’ll do that.

And in doing so, I will also fight the rise of fascism at home and abroad.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments