This was about the 4th or 5th time I was ever onstage, and it was in one of those dank basements that smelled of mildew, and the nights I spent there and in other establishments like it probably made me immune to coronavirus. There was a young woman crouched in the dark corner of the back of the room where the comics hung out. The show had not started yet, and I had met everyone else but her.
She had brown hair that was so greasy it could have been dipped in a vat of olive oil, and was twisted in an uneven something or other that made it look like she went to the Helen Keller salon. Her face had minimal makeup, and while the lip gloss was okay coverup would have helped hide the patch of stress acne. While of average build, she wore a potato sack that masqueraded as a dress, an outfit that would have flattered no body shape. The expression on her face was one of a person tricked into swallowing an entire patch of Sour Patch kids. Despite the fact she looked crazy and my gut told me to run like I saw Godzilla, I went over and said hello. I said, “Hi, I’m April.”
At first what seemed like a minute passed, I didn’t know if she heard me or was ignoring me. When she finally did look up she rolled her eyes as if she merely tolerating my presence, “Where did you go to college?”
At first this didn’t strike me as an odd question, as maybe she was in Cinema Studies or some other department I didn’t interact with as much. Or maybe she had been a graduate teaching assistant in one of the lecture classes I attended, and this was her big trip out of the library, “NYU. Do I know you?”
“No. I went to Barnard. But I suppose NYU is almost good enough.”
This person with substandard hygiene who looked like she stole her outfit from an Idaho potato field was letting me know I was almost good enough. So I just said, “And your name is?”
“Cara Seymour. I am an expert on complicated things someone like you would have to Google.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said before just walking away. Shaking my head I felt angry. Sure, I was educated but I would never dream of talking to someone the way she did to me. I also wanted to tell Cara Seymour that while Barnard was a wonderful school and while it was across the street from Columbia, they were not Columbia, her shit still stank. The rest of the lineup seemed tethered to the Earth in a meaningful way, so at least that was a relief.
The show began, and the kid emceeing was a dorky would be Seinfeld who’s claim to fame was being passed for late night at The Comic Strip. The next was a angry white kid who ranted about his ex girlfriend who nearly made me pee my pants. After him was a really funny black woman. Then after her was a middle aged white divorcee dude talking about dating again, and he too was funny. Then came Cara. The host introduced her as having been on MTV and Comedy Central, so while she was a complete canker sore my hopes were high. She began, “Hi, I just want everyone here to know I graduated from Barnard and I am smarter than every other comic you have seen tonight and am probably smarter than you. If you don’t know my references, Google it.”
The crowd gave her that light laugh, a mix between nervous and pity. I hoped what we were seeing was Andy Kaufman inspired performance, and this was all just an eccentric overcommitted to her craft. Cara then began to talk about War and Peace. The pity laughs quickly vanished and turned into uncomfortable silence. This had turned into a pathetic PhD thesis defense, and the free comedy show these people were lured into had morphed into a priceless shit show. Five people, unable to stomach the comparison to the Cherry Orchard, left.
The comics in the back were biting their tongues as not to laugh at this car wreck for all the wrong reasons. The emcee said, “Wow, what the fuck is that?”
The angry white dude said, “I don’t know, but shoot her and put her out of her misery.”
The black woman said, “I was a literature professor. I taught War and Peace and the Cherry Orchard. She’s not even close. Let her live. It’s a bigger punishment to have someone wander this world an idiot.”
The divorced dude said, “She reminds me of my ex wife that tried to stab me.”
Finally, the emcee decided to take action and after five grueling minutes ended the bloody torture that was happening in front of us. From there it was the Herculean task of trying to revive a room that had the energy sucked out of it. Then my name was called. The rest of the comedians gave me a look of sympathy for having to follow that.
Going up with May Wilson, my longtime ventriloquist companion on my arm I began, “We’re a ventriloquist act.”
May said, “If you don’t know what that is, Google it.” The crowd let out a huge laugh, and the comics in the back nearly fell over. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t that funny but there was so much bizarre tension in the room everyone needed relief. While the whole room laughed for what felt like an entire minute, the one who found no humor in this was Cara, who scowled and stormed out of the room, loudly slamming the door. From there, the rest of my set was a rung above horrible as I was still very green, but May Wilson will tell you how amazing she was.
As everyone left for the night Cara stood outside pouting, saving the biggest snarl of the evening for me as I passed. It wasn’t just a snarl, it was something akin to Cerberus but alas, even Cerberus was more likeable than she was.
As I was thinking of this story, I decided to look Cara up on facebook. Apparently she is no longer doing comedy, which is an act of God. Instead, she is now a counselor for troubled youth and is actually quite successful. I can only imagine her approach. Her teen clients walk in and see her with her unwashed hair and potato sack dress and she starts to talk about War and Peace and they run out screaming, “Yes! Not only am I cured of my Daddy issues, but you have showed me life can truly be worse!”