An Amazing Way to Start the Year: With Lesbians
So while I was home in California, I got booked for my first show of 2009, Rivers of Honey. I had no idea what to expect of this “cabaret featuring women and trans artists of color” with the theme “Manifest Your Dream”, but it turned out to be one of THE best experiences I’ve ever had performing – ever (Top 3, at least). Most of the time when you hear the words “cabaret” or “variety” you should probably run for the hills (with the exceptions of my favorites, Ukulele Cabaret and Wham Slam Bam Variety). Now let’s throw in the fact that this show was all female, there were maaaybe three white people there and I was probably the only straight person there. This was the COMPLETE the polar opposite of most of the comedy shows that I do: overwhelmingly male, white and hetero.
How I Got Involved with the Show
Producer and comedian Micia Mosely had booked me for a fundraiser in the fall after she found me through my MySpace. WOW Cafe Theatre is a great little space in the East Village (though the elevator is dodgy), but the fundraiser just couldn’t compete with the vice presidential elections that were happening that same night, so it was a pretty “small” show. However, coming back this time was a WHOLE other experience.
What the Show Was Like
First of all, they had a great group of friends and volunteers who were helping to put everything together and everyone was so welcoming. Before soundcheck we all stood onstage and introduced ourselves and shared some hopes for 2009. Usually I will make fun of some kumbaya stuff, but this was so genuine and you could feel every person in the room so present within that circle. The energy was awesome!
This continued as the audience came in. It was PACKED. Sold out. Beyond capacity. People were siting on the floor and along the walls of the stage area. They collected names for a few people to participate in the open mic, and there were a couple of singers, poets and spoken word artists. Now usually in a comedy open mic, the “audience” (aka other comics) are staring at you like they are trying to shoot lasers from their eyes and/or dying of boredom because of how terrible and untalented everyone else is. This crowd was SO supportive, and gave back the greatest energy. Most audiences would have been tired out from just the open mic portion, but you could tell that this crowd was there to have fun. People here WANTED to have a great time – so they just…did. Compared to most shows, where the comic comes out like a gladiator to face audiences that expect/challenge/dare you to make them have a great time – or else. I mean, this was some fuzzy wuzzy stuff.
Host Kibibi Dillon had the crowd going with her hilarious material, and somehow along the way, three audience sing-alongs happened between the end of the open mic and the beginning of the actual show. Yeah, this was intense. There were harmonies going on. Like actual harmonies. Fourths and fifths and stuff. Counterpoint. It was like lesbian church.
The first performer of the night was Paradahx The Ghetto Griot, who did an intense piece on Barack Obama that had everyone mesmerized – and again, this involved some singing along. I was like, “Wow, this is like the summer camp I never got to go to as a kid – awesome!” Keep in mind this entire time I’m backstage and kind of listening to everything that’s going on, with absolutely no clue as to the stage picture. The energy of the performers and the crowd reached me all the way back there. It was sick, ridiculous, infectious!
I was performing second, and let me tell you: I had been quite a wreck leading up to this show because:
a) It was the first show of the year, so of course I put pressure on myself!
b) I had been working on a new song, but I had to cut it at the last minute because I knew it wasn’t ready.
c) Now I had a few minutes to fill but I didn’t want to do any old material, so I basically wrote the non-singing portion of my set on the train – all new stuff except for an Obama joke.
I’ve basically been trolloping around the city with the same set for about a year now (not that uncommon, but also not that admirable), extremely scared to write new stuff and occassionally delivering some stinkers that get quickly rotated out. This night, the energy of the crowd was such that I was completely unafraid. There was not a trace of the fear that has gripped me during every performance prior and I felt totally connected with the room. WHAT?! I know…miracle. Maybe it was my frame of mind. Maybe it was the new year. Maybe it was the extremely friendly lesbians.
And I did something that I’ve been trying to do since I started being a comedian: I was a comedian. I just WAS. I wasn’t trying to be. I wasn’t afraid and hiding and self-sabotagingly bombing so I could use it as ammunition to try and convince myself to give up on this career and go back to a 9-to-5. I wasn’t struggling to remember punchlines. I wasn’t beating myself up during every moment of silence. I wasn’t even fazed by some blank stares or whispers in the crowd.
Then I did something REALLY crazy (for me). All on my own, with no pre-meditated idea I would do it, I performed a stand-up set comfortably without relying on my uke. I have a few staples in my comedy routine: “Funny Fat Girl” and “Homie” that book end the act. But in between those songs, I just hide behind my strumming and tell jokes that probably make me seem like an American Idol-quality imitation of Demetri Martin or Mike Birbiglia or Rob Paravonian or every other guitar comedian out there (except with a ukulele). So there I was, just…talking to the audience – which was laughing. And most of all, I wasn’t scared out of my mind. WHOAH!
More About My Fellow Performers
Next up was Holiday Simmons, who skilfully mixes spoken word, dance and drag. She did a beautiful spoken word piece and then came back on later for some funky disco drag. After was Kierstin Gray, who has an India.Arie vibe – though she is absolutely an original and crosses several genres beautifully. Host Kibibi was absolutely hilarious, and I was really impressed that this was her first time doing a stand-up-ish hosting thing despite a background in acting and sketch. She’s REALLY good, and I basically accosted her to pursue stand-up – or else. The evening wrapped up with a beautiful, emotional – and SEXY AS HELL – dance from Dawn Robinson and Maija Garcia. Seriously, the audience was crying and cumming left and right.
I got to meet amazing artists and some super amazing audience members, and it’s a show I’ll never forget! I was so grateful for all the connections I made and thank you to Micia and Shalonda Ingram for putting this great event on. What a great way to start off the new year!!!
Crazy Cab Ride Home
There was a damper on my night when I had to deal with one of my biggest fears since moving to Brooklyn: that I’d get a cab driver who had NOOOO idea how to get around Brooklyn and would get us lost. I jumped out of WOW Cafe Theater onto the corner of East 4th street and Bowery, where I thought, “Just my luck! I’ll get into this cab that is just dropping someone off.” I told the guy I was going to Brooklyn and he started going towards the bridge. I was still on a high from the evening/not very good at directions anyway/the map on the TV in the back is permanently stuck on Herald Square.
By the time I realized he was getting on the Brooklyn Bridge instead of Williamsburg Bridge, I was like, “Fuck!” When he was driving 30mph on the bridge like a granny, I finally realized, “This guy reaaally doesn’t know how to drive. This is like day one on the job. Fuuuuuck.” He gets off the bridge and all he sees is BQE West, which I tell him is wrong. At this point I could have gotten out, but I thought, “Quiet-ass downtown Brooklyn by myself at 12 in the morning. No thanks.” He rolls down his window and asks some girl in a red sports car how to get to the BQE East. She scoffs – appropriately, “You’re asking me?!” and drives off. I have no idea how to get to the freeway from where we are, and he then approaches two girls walking along Cadman Plaza. They, thankfully, live in the area and know exactly which direction to point us. They look at me in the backseat with pity as they walk away in their Urban Outfitters dresses. They’re definitely going to tell this story first thing at whatever party they are walking to.
This whole time I’m thinking I just can’t yell at this guy and make him more nervous than he already is because he might crash the car or kick me out of it. I could see the tension and nervousness in his eyes in the rearview mirror, and in his hunched shoulders. I had, in fact, lots of sympathy for him.
I remember the first job I got assigned when I was an auditor. I had just gotten my driver’s license (at age 21, I know!) because it was a job requirement. Hoping for a client in the city, they put me on a client in New Jersey. I had only driven with my mom in the suburbs as practice to get my license, and had driven maybe two or three exits on the freeway with my dad a few times. Suddenly I had to drive from Bayside, Queens to Carteret, NJ during rush hour by myself. I got in the car for my first day of work, and it was my first time I was ever in a car alone with no one there – much less on the freeway, over bridges and through tolls in New York rush hour traffic for several hours. But somehow I got over it. I made it through that first day (though I accidentally left the car battery on while I was in the office) and the second day (when I got a ticket). Before I knew it, six months had passed and I was driving through sleet and snow, making it home in 45 minutes without traffic.
I looked at this cab driver and I remembered my first time doing stand-up. How much I had no fucking idea what I was doing and I was so afraid I’d be found out – but I did it anyway. How it made me want to quit – and then I did quit, for over a year. Everyone has a rough time in the beginning of anything. Everyone deserves compassion.
Finally, we get on BQE East and he’s exiting into Greenpoint. We’re driving down McGuinness and we are both finally breathing again. I ask him calmly, “So, how long have you been driving?” (even though I already knew the answer). This guy was completely embarrassed. He very sheepishly responded, “Not…very long….” with a nervous laugh (aka “I just got my license at Christmas and have never been on a bridge, highway, or to Brooklyn”). I thought, hey, this guy is just like Armin Mueller-Stahl in Night on Earth.
The tense and stomach-cramping ride finally ended when we made it to my house. The ride took over half an hour and cost $30.90 – when it should have been less than 15 minutes and bucks at most.
I took out all the cash I had on me – $20 that I had gotten paid at the show (which I probably wouldn’t have taken if the producers hadn’t put it in a nice card and envelope).
The cab driver stared incredulously at the $20 and said, “What’s this?!”
I looked at this guy who was new to cab driving and probably new to America, and I knew I could win. He probably had kids. He probably wasn’t a douchebag. He probably felt at least a little guilty about getting us lost.
I said, “I’m sorry, that’s all I can give you. You didn’t know where you were going half the time and this should have been less than $15. That’s all the cash I have on me.”
He tried to argue once more and I said, “Listen, I’m a nice person. I’m not yelling. Someone else might have given you nothing, so take the $20 and happy new year.
His eyes softened and I knew I had won.
I got out of the car as he defeatedly said, “OK.”
I opened my door and the entire time walking up the stairs I am thinking, “Was that stupid to argue and underpay him? Is he going to remember my address now and throw a rock through my window or vandalize my apartment or leave a flaming bag of poop at the door step? Is he going to break in right now? Is he going to run up and ring my doorbell incessantly until I bring him $10 more? Or was I stupid to give him any money at all? I should have remembered his name and registration number in case he does come back and tries to mess with me. He might not come back tonight, but maybe tomorrow. With a buddy. But nah, this guy won’t remember how the hell to drive here. Or maybe he’s just a decent person who wouldn’t think to do something messed up like that.”
As I closed the door, I heard a short honk of the horn, which I don’t know was him trying to make me come back outside, him letting out frustration (which would have been funny because it was a really cute and impotent “beep!”), or him trying to get another car’s attention to get directions the hell out of Brooklyn.
Should I have known better how to get to my house? Yes, I should have known better. It’s for this reason I’ve taken the G train home latelatelate at night many times – because I was more afraid of getting in a cab with little money and a cab driver who had nooo idea where to go. Tom has rightfully begged/lectured me since we moved to Greenpoint in October not to take the train late at night for my own safety. I finally resolved not to do it anymore when he sent me an article about some kid getting attacked while exiting the G train at 2am. The three times that I had taken cabs home before, the drivers were all surprisingly familiar with Greenpoint, so I was lucky.
From now on I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting home, but I still don’t know if what I did was “right” or the “best” thing. Was there a logical thing I should have done? Was I very smart or very foolish to leave the cab the way I did?
I had asked one of my best friends in the world, Beatrice, if she wanted to come with me to Rivers of Honey – although I never actually mentioned the name of the show to her. She already had plans to go to Connecticut for the day, and I thought of her during the whole show because I knew that this scene and these people would definitely be her thing. Later on, she Google chatted to ask me if the show I invited her to was at Rivers of Honey. Apparently, she has become good friends with the producer, Shalonda and has also met several of the performers (including Micia, Dawn and Maija). It’s an incredibly small world - one that comes together like this sometimes.
The cab ride had me kind of rattled, but B and I talked on the phone for half an hour at 2am and I finally felt like me again. I just hope I don’t find a flaming bag of poop on my doorstep tomorrow morning.