A tribute to my late friend Michelle Dobrawsky xoxo
It was the winter of 2005. Somehow I was fumbling around the comedy scene in NYC with my puppets. I was twenty years old, and everything seemed so daunting. The guys all wanted to sleep with me because they smelled blood in the water. The women all hated me because the guys wanted to sleep with me and I wore too much makeup. I was sort of a punchline when it came to the more clean cut comedians who made Montreal with no problem. To people like them who’s act has come and gone, easily forgotten, I was an abomination that seemingly had no business being onstage. But what TV shows have they been on again?
Trying to find my place I joined the Improv Resource Center. I had done some improv but was leaning more towards standup. Still, I was booked in shows that did both. Anyway, like everywhere else I went it seemed I was an unwelcome guest with no friends simply lost. Within my first week there I got into three fights. One was with an idiot who sent me a nasty letter and got a nasty reply back that he forwarded to the head of the site threatening him. The second was from some fluffy, ugly woman who just wanted to start crap because I posted something unknowingly in the wrong forum. The head of the site sent me a nasty note telling me I was on thin ice. Then there was Gold Dust Woman.
She was a moderator who basically came on the post where the nasty canker sore started things with me. Smoothing things out, she informed the internet Gestapo that I was new, didn’t know any better, and that they had to simmer down. Then she sent me a private message telling me to be nice because I might need the support of these people someday, and that sometimes the best way to deal with them was not to feed into them. She also mentioned that they could be a little intense sometimes and not to take it personally. In a bizarre maze where I felt like Alice lost in Wonderland, it seemed I had made a friend.
Gold Dust Woman proved helpful on several occasions. Whether it was a venue for a one woman show, possible summer improv classes, or shows that welcomed weird women with puppets she was supportive. It seemed everyone on the IRC liked her. She was sort of the queen of the place, and whatever she said went. But she was a benevolent ruler of sorts. One thing was for sure, those bullies backed off. I started to feel more welcome there because I didn’t take them so personally. Gold Dust Woman was the best.
That spring I would get to meet my internet friend. I was at the Village Lantern getting ready to kill or tank, it was either one or the other in those days, sometimes both in the same night. That’s when I was approached by a woman who said, “Hi, you’re April.” I nodded. How did she know me?
She said, “I’m Michelle. But you know me as Gold Dust Woman on the IRC.” My jaw dropped. There she was. She was a bigger woman, but was attractive and had a good energy about her, almost a light. Michelle had a huge smile on her face. One that could light up a room. I remember instantly being drawn to her. It was hard not to be. She was the same person in real time as she was on the internet.
I told her it was nice meeting her and that I appreciated her coming to my aid because it seemed like everyone was ganging up on me. Michelle let out a laugh, “They can be crazy sometimes. When I got divorced all I wanted was just to have fun and I went out with this guy who was a good time. And they all went crazy and said, ‘Don’t go out with him. He’s going to break your heart.’ I was like guys, I just got divorced. I don’t want love. I want a fling. I mean, I love them, I really do. But it’s the internet and people go crazy.”
At that moment I let out a huge laugh. It was nice to know Michelle had a sense of humor about the kingdom she reigned over. I knew I had a true friend in real time and on the internet. At that time in my life, that said a lot.
I got to know Michelle pretty well during that first year. She was a force of nature. Michelle had been sort of a Renaissance Woman. Originally, she had gone to Johns Hopkins to be a doctor, but changed her mind and went to law school. She worked as a lawyer, and found her way into standup and improv as her marriage was ending. Onstage she was funny as hell, always talking about her life with well timed punchlines at the end. Offstage, she was a friend and great support to people just getting started and finding their footing in the vast world of standup comedy and improv.
She was also an independent woman and was very much her own person. Once, I had ended things with a guy and was having a meltdown. Michelle gave me a hug and assured me there was life before he came and then there would be life afterwards, for as hard as it was to believe. Being pathetic and twenty, it was hard to even fathom that. But somehow, she made it okay. She was a good friend not just to me but everyone she crossed paths with.
I didn’t just love her, everyone did. Michelle was supportive of those around her. She was a member of the comedy community, and one we all adored. It was easy to like her, it was work not to get along with her. That’s rare in the world of comedy.
I hadn’t seen Michelle in years because well sometimes that is the way it goes. But I got wind that she was sick a while back. Yesterday, when I was on the train and using the facebook app on my iphone I found out about her passing. It made me sad because she was a good person who was loved by so many people. I just wish I could see her one more time just to tell her about my book that is coming out tomorrow. She could tease me for self-promoting but would buy a copy and tell me how proud she was that I wrote it. I would tell her about how crazy my life was and about all the things I was doing. She would be proud of me but tease me for having the ego that I do.
I know cancer got her. She went too young and she will be missed by a great many. On the other hand, I know I was lucky to have known her and we were all as lucky to have her as long as we did. It is a gentle reminder that we are all visitors here and can be called home at any time. Michelle was called home where she doesn’t have to suffer with cancer anymore.
I guess if it’s one thing I could say to cancer it would be this, “You may have taken her. But here’s the thing, you can’t erase the memory in my mind of perhaps one of the few people who was kind to me when I was very new and very off in New York City Comedy. So seriously cancer, go get fucked with a big old, wooden, splintery, black dildo.”