Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Happy International Women's Day

I am a bad girl. Why? Well aside from having a resume of the worst boyfriends ever and sometimes having a puppet partner who can’t hold her tongue I forgot yesterday was World Women’s Day. I guess my whole thing is that it is a day that unfortunately as a woman I could take and leave. I know, bad girl. Get in the kitchen and make me some coffee. Your feet as small so you can work at the stove, and if you have two black eyes it means I had to tell you twice. What can I say? I am such a bad woman that I laugh at sexist jokes where I get beaten and berated at the punchline.
Well jokes aside I do have a lot of women I can look up to in my family. There is my own mother who was Captain of her Division I swim team in college and won both the Most Valuable Woman Athlete and Spirit Award her junior and senior years. In addition she also protested and had a sit in with her teammates because unlike their male counterparts they were denied letter jackets simply for being female. Of course there is my mom’s mom who went back to school later in life to achieve a bachelors, traveled the world, and then voted for Obama. There is my Godmama who is a dentist. And then there are my cousins who are both involved in dance as dancers, teachers, and choreographers.
On my dad’s side of course there is his mom who raised seven kids for the most part on her own after my grandfather passed away. After that is an aunt of mine who is extremely active in local politics and is very vocal when prodded. Then there are several aunts of mine who work in pharmacy, as well as my dad’s baby sister who went back to school after years in pharmacy to become a dentist. As a matter of fact she was in my Godmother’s class.
My own sister is in medical school while my sister in law is a doctor. This is a door Elizabeth Blackwell opened a little over one hundred thirty years ago. Both were pursued heavily by women in science gatherings and what not because apparently women in science, although more plentiful these days, still seem to be as rare as a new moon. Both however are very dedicated to their pursuits. My sister educates the oldsters at the nursing home with the help of Dr. Know It All, a ventriloquist puppet she has been practicing with in front of the mirror. As for my sister in law, she treats children with blood diseases and often watches the latest flicks in order to cater to her young clientele. I believe my brother is soon to take her to see Rango but I digress.
I myself considered myself a highly driven young woman growing up. I wrote, published, acted, performed ventriloquism in nursing homes and hosted as well as produced a public access television show. When time to interview for colleges came I wore my pearls to both Smith and Mount Holyoke. One was the land of Sylvia Plath, the other the land of Emily Dickinson. I knew both their work by wrote and heart growing up. Sylvia was brilliant and cheated out of her brilliance by a womanizing husband, while Emily simply was scared to show her talent to a world that didn’t welcome her and coped by wearing black and being a hermit. I ultimately decided on NYU because it was the degree program I wanted in the city I dreamed of. Still, I always wonder what if I followed my pearls and went to the land that made Madeline Albright and all the other women like her? Would I be writing the next paragraph.
I went to college at NYU and for my first two years was very sure of myself. Or so I thought. I was the girl down the hall with the puppets and would whip them out at every opportune moment. Visitors from other colleges would be taken to my room to see my stuffed and unstrung friends. I performed in dorm talent shows making it to the finals and always being a favorite. My sophomore year I brought my act to the clubs and went to school by day as I busted my ass either killing or tanking it out by night on the stage. I took one class that year that totally amazed me and that was Feminism in Theatre. My professor, Carol Martin, was the wife of Experimental Theatre great Richard Schecter. When she found out I did comedy Carol gave me an article that was pretty deep from an academic journal. It basically said that when a women can make others laugh she is on the same par as a man. I thought this was awesome. Not to mention she thought the puppets were neat. I devoured all the female playwrights in that class and their work like a feast. The writing about what a woman was expected to be and do was brilliant, and not to mention the brutality of a male society that sort of punished women whenever they didn’t “fulfill the expectations.” I know, I sounded confident and good, right? Well there was one thing missing, a boyfriend.
It seemed everyone had one and I didn’t. Desperate, I fell for a guy with a nice apartment who wanted nothing to do with me. Despite my broken heart I told myself I would go on. Then I met Sean. He was much older than I was and was willing to commit right away. As a matter of fact he proposed on the third date. Never having had a guy look at me sideways let alone want to talk to me I said yes. I had never really dated and my folks were committed right away and are still married some odd years later so I thought he was the one. Young, book smart, talented, unique, and somewhat funny young woman along with dignity and self respect out the door. A man was in town.
Right away people warned me the relationship was too serious too fast. My girlfriends expressed concern that Sean was clingy and possessive so quickly. In turn Sean said my girlfriends were sluts who got around and demanded I stop talking to them. Next my clothes made me look easy. After that his friends thought I was weird and “came on too strong” so I wasn’t to speak to them when they were around. Of course then there was the biggie. I was to stop the ventriloquism. Sean thought it was weird I did it, according to him no one thought I was funny, and lastly his friends made fun of him for it. Sean told me it was him or the puppets. I thought Sean was the one and perhaps this dream of being a ventriloquist and comic was a fantasy only a select few could dream of. My real job would be to graduate, marry him, and then we could settle down. I wanted to kill myself without my puppets, but Sean told me that if he left me no guy would ever want me.
I tried to leave but Sean attempted suicide twice in front of me in order to guilt me into staying. Not to mention he kept swearing it would be different the next time. People warned me that I was in something that had all the hallmarks of being an abusive relationship. I would laugh them off and tell them that they had to be kidding or that they were just jealous. Life became very hard. I became so depressed I stopped eating let alone bathing. When the friends I had left would confront me and ask what happened to the confident girl from Feminism and Theatre they met only a year before I would laugh them off. She was dead along with her dreams in a way it seemed. When I tried to leave a third time Sean proposed we go to City Hall to obtain a marriage license and break the news to my folks when the time was right in case they tried to break us up.
Finally when he wanted me to leave my family because in the eyes of Sean they had “poisoned me” I refused. That’s when Sean vowed to smother his mother with a pillow in her sleep in order to get the insurance money to be with me. I saw the relationship getting worse and knew I couldn’t stay or else I would become a Lifetime Movie. I had gone to college and had never lived in a trailer park, yet somehow I was tumbling into a bad episode of Cops. How had this happened to me? So I ended it.
At first Sean wanted to be friends and I agreed. He was my first love. However when I decided to see other men it was too much for him and he started stalking me. He sent his friends to keep tabs on me and had his ex girlfriends send me as many as ten nasty messages a day online. In addition he called me harassing me and would call the numbers of some of the guys I was seeing in order to harass them. Sean would tell me how all of this was my fault because apparently I couldn’t let go. When I wouldn’t apologize Sean took a picture of me and wrote, “SLUT” on it. In addition he formed an I Hate April Group on facebook and even went so far as to draw pictures of women that looked eerily similar to me being mutilated and decapitated while partially nude. Then there was the suicide attempt that was apparently all my fault.
At first my mother wanted me to send the belongings of his I still had. When I told her the complete story she insisted that I get a separate mailing address and give her his complete name and other information in case I was to disappear. I started wearing running shoes in case I would have to sprint for safety. Why didn’t I get the police involved? Anti-stalking laws are not and have never been on the side of the victim. I was not about to have a male defense lawyer drag me through the mud because I looked a certain way. However, looking back at it I should have probably gone legal.
I coped with this barrage of unwanted, negative attention by partying hard. I drank too much all too often in order to not feel the pain of wanting to vomit everytime I turned my computer on. For the most part eating became optional and I dropped even more weight. I had my puppets again, but somehow I had lost my mojo with them and the magic seemed gone. I performed but for the most part my favorite portion of the evening seemed to be getting trashed and acquiring strange men who said they thought ventriloquism was sexy as a way to get to talk to me. My girlfriends, who had never known anyone to go through this in our group, for the most part were now completely sick of my crap and abandoned me. I told myself I didn’t need them anyway. They were harpies who judged.
My choices in men became worse and worse. Of course I blamed the whole male race, not the men I dragged in from the nearest pile of dogshit. Apparently, in my depressed state I thought all men were in this killer conspiracy against me. Any guy who tried to be kind to me was met with hell or I would just cheat on him with ten others. What had happened to the driven NYU co-ed who devoured female playwrights like a feast? Apparently she had left the building. Either way, I was becoming something I hated. Not only was I a stupid woman who drunkenly oogled men for liquor but I was pretty profane most of the time. If you dropped me off at the nearest truck stop I would have fit in just fine.
I stopped with the booze and all the other crap. I joined a gym and for the most part still felt alone. People told me I needed female friends. I was friends with a great many gay men which meant I was nearly there, right? For the most part I viewed women with distain after Sean had become a stalker. To me they were stupid, shallow creatures that were easily manipulated. I had no time for the bitches.
I started dating a guy named Half Wit. The relationship was  a shitshow of a different color. Half-Wit was a pathological liar on a slew of various psych meds that made him black out. While he was no prince in comparison to Sean and ever a fruit from the fuck up tree, even Hitler is a relief when you have had Satan. Half-Wit’s parents were very involved in twelve step recovery and his mother sent me a disturbing set of letters informing me God told her to write to me and to stay with her son. In any event Half-Wit informed me one day when I was bragging about my crapactular choices in men, some of whom were married, that it was fear based. He also informed me that was why I spoke so despairingly of other females we crossed paths with. He told me his mother had been the same way until her forties when she discovered that she acted this way because she was afraid of other women. When she realized this she made herself swear that she would stop fearing other women and stop being jealous. Apparently Half-Wit’s other, who was always speaking to God, found increased serenity at this proposition. Unfortunately, God didn’t speak to her about not polluting the genetic pool with the miscreant of a son she had but I digress. And yes, that relationship ended badly, ironically from a third party lady friend of his who tried to kill her already crippled dog in order to get me to leave. Sometimes in the season of our lives enough is enough.
After Half-Wit’s exit I found the recession disabled me to keep my Hell’s Kitchen apartment alone. So I got a female roommate named Nellie. Instantly, I liked Nellie and soon I couldn’t imagine life without her. Nellie became like a sister to me, more often than not putting a stop to my hairbrained schemes and stopping me from dating the latest release from Riker’s Island. She would chuckle when I told her about my street performing with the puppets and how homeless people would speak to us, and would of course express concern during one incident in Williamsburg when a homeless man tried to stab May when she refused his advances.
Then after Nellie I made a slew of even more female friends. I became friends with several female comedians whom I either thought saw me as a lesser being or that I just met and liked. It wasn’t a catty thing either, we were friends, that’s it. Then I also became friends with several women in the neighborhood. These women included authors, medical editors for major magazines, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, dentists, actresses, musicians, and the whole nine yards. We would chit chat about life every Saturday at the coffee pot. Sometimes I had a puppet on my arm, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I had makeup on and my hair done, and sometimes I didn’t. Either way, I just had to be April and for once there was no pressure to be anything else and that was enough.
As I started to calm down I found I had less and less trouble making female friends. In a way, we all sort of bonded over the dirt bag guys we dated. I found as I befriended and spoke to other women that I was not the only one with a Sean and that in my case I was lucky I didn’t marry him. These ladies also had a Half Wit and we would chuckle as he was mentioned. A lot of girls date losers it seems, but it is learning and being able to laugh about it later with each other. Needless to say not only did I learn, but it became a hell of a lot easier to say no to those sleazy guys and it was easier to tell those married men to take a hike.
About two years into our roommateship Nellie decided to move back home. I was crushed because this was the first true female friend I had in some time. I had not fought with her over a guy and she had never seen me in my trainwreck phase. If anything, she had known me at a time in my life when April had re-entered the building. It was the first time April had re-entered the building in sometime. This was the first time I had felt like myself in forever. Unfortunately, it was also the first time that I got to see how truly damaging my time with Sean was to my psyche.  It was one of the first times in my life that I had to accept that not only had I fallen victim to dating violence, but that I had played a part in making shit decision after shit decision, and now I was deciding enough was enough.
I also came to see that Half Wit’s mother, for as nutty as she was, had a point. Long before Sean even came along I had been this frigid, book smart girl who simply thought that would get me through life. I would just have my puppets and that was it. I could call myself a strong woman simply because I had a good education. But the entire time I felt other girls were always smarter, funnier, prettier, and somehow I just never measured up in any category and being able Brucker would never be enough. Much like her, although God has yet to give me direct orders, at least sober, I felt an increase in serenity.
With this increased serenity I found myself again. And when I got the privilege of being on TLC to tell my story about the role my bizarre obsession with my puppet children played in my life, the subject of my ex fiancé came up. Yes, he made me give up the puppets but he also stripped me of my dignity and identity in general. The message of my story was never change yourself for anyone. Since my story has been shown I have gotten fan mail from adoring fans, all of which is very sweet and some even bring tears to my eyes.
 I also get a lot of letters from young women trapped with guys like Sean who are controlling them and are verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive. Letters like these not only trouble me because I have been there, but also because some of the people writing feel they deserve the abuse and think they will never get the strength to leave. The truth is, if I can contribute one thing to women’s day it’s that no one deserves a relationship where they are treated like a dog in a third world country on a leash. And ladies, if a guy wants you to change for him he is not worth changing for. It means nothing is wrong with you but rather he is someone who wants to control everything and you are just another victim in the path of this bully. Also, if a guy berates you physically or emotionally he is not a man but a coward looking for a weaker target, and he would probably lose in any bar fight.
These days I am single but the choice is mine. I am focusing on my career. In closing (I know, finally, this was a doozy) I just want to tell anyone reading trapped in such a relationship that not only is life outside that person possible, but it is fuller than you ever imagined.
 Also, don’t punish yourself to cope with the crap that person did to you, no loser jerkoff deserves that much power.
Lastly, life is okay if you laugh, live and love yourself. No one has the right to take that away from you or you away from you. Happy International Women’s Day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

RIP Mikey D.

This past week the comedy community lost a true hero, Mr. Mike Destefano aka Mikey D. Who was Mikey D exactly? Well he was one hell of a funny comedian. He talked about what was real and close to his heart. So many comedians in this day and age care too much about making it and being liked. Okay, I am guilty but ninety eight percent of us are. Somehow, Mikey D was one of the few who wasn’t. Unlike most of the finalists on Last Comic Standing who have an act that please the housewives and their boring husbands, Mikey D didn’t have that. He talked frankly about being a heroin addict and being from the street as well as the things that pissed him off. If someone didn’t like it, oh well. He didn’t get his panties twisted about losing bookings and people he might offend. That’s what made him true and beautiful, and that’s why do many people loved him.
I myself only met Mikey D a few times and only spoke here and there because well, that's just the way it turned out. But he always holds a special place in my heart because he was in the first standup comedy show I ever saw in NYC. I remember it was a rainy night and I was considering leaving NYC. I hated school, my teachers, my classmates and of course it just wasn’t getting better. On a night that I forgot my umbrella and someone fliered me into a free comedy show for students at the Boston Comedy Club. I thought, “why not, I could dry off.” Well needless to say I saw some comedy. The host of the show was unremarkable. I kept telling myself I could do that. The first guy was okay. And then came Mikey D. He just took the stage with such energy and fearlessness. I remember suddenly it didn’t matter that I was cold and wet because I was laughing my ass off. Actually, this was harder than I had laughed in some time in my pathetic life. After he got off stage the next few guys were half decent, but not as good as he was. Something about the energy and spirit of that evening changed me, and that’s when I decided I was doing two things: staying in NYC and doing comedy.
However the thing that was truly captivating about Mike Destefano was his backstory. He was raised in a tough neighborhood in the South Bronx and had a less than spectacular home life. Not to mention he started drinking at thirteen and soon after met cocaine and heroin. He overdosed nearly dying at eighteen and finally got clean at twenty two after being diagnosed with HIV, something that was then only new to the straight world. Being an ex junkie and HIV positive he found himself isolated from his tough guy friends and the world itself. Of course in there he had his friends die from drugs and others from AIDS, including his beloved wife Franny whom he talked about from time to time during storytelling events. Then after her death he relapsed one more time before deciding enough was enough, did an open mic night, and did standup comedy and chased that like he used to chase his spike and junk.
Mike Destefano could have kept these things a secret but instead he chose to be open about being both a former addict and someone living with HIV as a comedian, activist, and educator. By no means am I putting a man on a soapbox but this was important. Why? Because when someone is trying to get clean from drugs and alcohol, they feel like the world is ending. Most of the time their life is a wreck. Each day is a challenge because in between wanting to crawl out of ones skin and explode it seems like just twenty four hours without it is an eternity. Even though people tell you getting clean and sober can be done it feels like it is an impossible task. Hercules moving the boulder would have been easier, or better yet cleaning out the stables , lets take that one. However, when someone in early recovery sees someone like a Mike Destefano doing well with their lives, making a career out of something they love, and being able to laugh, a light bulb goes off. “This recovery thing might be hard right now but it is possible. It can be done.”
Although I didn’t know Mikey D well in real time, I got to know him through his writing. I too have been involved in some grassroots HIV activism because I have had a few friends who were positive in my lifetime. Although HIV is not the killer it once was, the stigma still is alive and well. Mikey D made himself visible as someone living with the virus and used to write for Poz Magazine, a publication for HIV positive individuals. Through his writings he was funny, reflective, introspective and most importantly real. He talked about being an LTNP (Long Term Non-Progressor), someone living with the HIV virus who has not developed full blown AIDS let alone taken meds and talked about how lucky he was. He also spoke about coming to terms with his positive status, losing his wife, and getting himself on track. In addition he was also open about his love of motorcycles, something he never made a secret of.
When I heard about his death I thought the HIV took him after all this time. Then I thought it was an overdose. I have heard stories of people with extended recovery relapsing and dying. Or was it a bike accident? Then I heard it was a heart attack. He died in his sleep. Mikey D had just started taking off. The whole thing was very sad.
However, as the comedy community mourns his loss we must also remember to celebrate his life. When he was on Last Comic Standing, he was the a-typical contestant. Mikey D was fearless, but somehow we all loved him, and he got many people who would have not ordinarily cared about the show to watch. Not to mention he was on Conan, White Boyz in the Hood and Howard Stern and was a hit on each. His Comedy Central Special was awesome. The tragedy here is that the wheels were only getting started on the road to superstardom and this man had so much more to say.
On the other hand, he inspired a great many comedians to be themselves onstage without apologizing, whoever that person may be. In addition, he served as a positive power of example to many people in recovery from addiction and that were living with HIV. Mikey D showed many a recovering addict that not only was recovery possible, but there could also be fun and laughter after drugs and alcohol. He also touched the lives of many people who were HIV positive by being vocal and helping to remove the stigma the virus brings to the minds of people who are not educated about it. Since he died, the internet has been buzzing. Ordinarily I would be pissed because when someone dies so many people make it about themselves. However, Mikey D touched a lot of people’s lives. Punchline Magazine,, TMZ and many others have made mention of his passing. In addition, In the Rooms, a site for recovering addicts that offers online meetings, made the mention.
While the NYC comedy community and recovering addicts of the world feel his loss from an unexpected heart attack, his spirit still lives on. When we think of Mikey D we will think of a guy from the South Bronx who had fallen into heroin and all the evils it brought but turned it around to be one of the greatest voices ever to come out of the New York Standup Comedy Scene. Thank you Mikey D. Thank you for showing us how it is done.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Gossip is something we can’t resist. In the world of standup comedians it fills hours of endless driving on those road gigs. What comic bombed so terribly he made Nagasaki look like a mild dust storm. Or what booker is hard to deal with. Then there is what female comedian is blowing bookers and club owners for spots. Of course there are the classics. There is the story of the female comedian who instead of working on her act did things like go to church with the booker of the Comic Strip Live and she was Jewish! I don’t know how much of it was true or how much of it was idle jealous chatter. Of course then there is the litany of trashing the folks who are making it that “don’t deserve it.” Either way, when we pull into the venue I know more than I care to know about other comics. In the past I was guilty of joining in. Now my question is, what do I care?
Seriously. Some of the gossip is just plain hate induced. The comic that bombed horrifically was probably someone the gossiper had a vendetta against and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Or the booker who is hard to deal with just doesn’t like jerkoff entitled comedians, end of story. I don’t like jerkoff entitled comedians. Who the hell does? As for the slamming of the female comedians getting ahead, when a woman gets ahead in a man’s world anywhere everyone looks to knock her down. If she were a man none of this would be an issue. Then the folks making it who “don’t deserve it” maybe they are the ethnic flavor of the month or have a desired look for a project but most of the time they busted their asses getting out there. Then the long of the short of it all is the next sentence is, “If it’s true.”
One thing I notice about gossipers is that in their own lives they barely have it together therefore they have to focus on other people’s lives and their misery and pain is a bonus for these bottom feeders. I can name all the notorious gossips I know. One is a comedian who is always less than professional who runs hot and cold onstage. He is always the first to dish the latest dirt on the latest you know who. Nevermind his calendar dries up do his own shiteous behavior. Then when he tanks it’s never the fact he doesn’t write new jokes or focus on his act. Rather it is that the “audience wasn’t on his side.” Then he says certain people hate him. Well pal it’s because you have a big mouth.
Then there is a low class low rent booker who is always the first to diss on the comedians he hates. While some of what he says might be true he bitches about why he is no where with his own life or career. Focus on yourself much pal and the crappola storm you call your life? Not to mention he seems to be the hardest on anyone who is making it. He tells me how much they suck and how they always sucked since he has known them, yet when telling people how great his showcases are he claims these people who so called “suck” saying that they did his shows. It’s disgusting. I guess I want to say jealous much? Pal, you are so famous I don’t even know your name.
After that comes a woman I know from my hometown. All she does is freaking gossip. My mom saw her once in the supermarket and I was with her. This woman had a daughter who was absolutely gorgeous and was a dancer. Of course, this girl had a rival. Well anyway, both my mom and I knew the rival girl and didn’t care for her. Well she sees me and my mom and tells us her daughter’s rival got pregnant therefore wasn’t going to be pursuing a college dance scholarship. While I didn’t like the girl I didn’t rejoice in her pain. But this woman was always like this. Meanwhile she was overweight, wore bad makeup, and drove a beatup car. Not to mention she would turn on you and quote the Bible. I believe the Bible does in fact address gossipers and says, “You judge lest you be judged.”
Last on the list is actually a buddy of mine whom I hold near and dear. He is funny, engaging, and we are so close we have slept in the same bed without anything happening whatsoever. (In case you are wondering he is gay). However, he also likes to gossip. My buddy loves to dish the dirt on everyone and everything and will pump people in our inner-circle for info concerning this one or that one or what people think of him or who said this or that or whatnot. You can’t tell him anything and hope for it to be a secret, and if he worked for the CIA this whole country would be screwed, especially if he met a hot Russian spy. Well the thing with my buddy unfortunately is that he has battled addiction long and hard and is still struggling to stay clean, especially with his most recent relapse. Unfortunately, the gossipy is more than just a gay stereotype gone terribly awry, this is someone who’s insides are too painful for him to look at therefore he needs to focus on everyone else’s outsides. The gossiping he did used to plain piss me off, now I feel bad for him. Because he is using this little past time of his as an excuse not to clean up his life.
I have been guilty of gossip. Sometimes I gossip more than others. Truth be told, the times that I gossip in my life are the times I covet and want what other people have or do not feel confident in myself. When I don’t think someone deserves something it is usually me feeling jealous that it’s not me. However not every break is meant for every performer or artist, and everyone’s path is different. In the words of Josh Homer, “Enjoy the journey.” Of course the people who are making it, well if you can’t beat them join them. There is an old saying, “Stick with the winners.” It seems too many comedians are all too allergic to ambition and achievement and are reticent to do so.
Although I have been guilty of gossip, it is an ugly past time. Most of the time, when I meet a target of this aggressive covert faceless bullying, I find nine times out of ten they are hardworking, going places, and are the good person. The gossips on the other hand, not so much.
I cannot tell you how many good friends I made as a result of bad press. Love April