A Shared Experience

by Matt Brousseau

(February 2013)

I had been performing stand-up comedy on and off for almost three years at this point. I am by no means an expert on the subject, but had my first extended interaction with an audience member.
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     A couple weeks ago, after an open-mic, I ambled over to the bar for another of many post-set drinks. If I can’t get laughs the least I can do is get drunk. As I sat there, clearly in deep thought (“Is that smell from my pants or my shoes?”), a new comedian walked to the bar with an audience member. They sat beside me.

The audience member, let’s call him Steve. I can’t remember his real name (see above: drinking). Steve complains to the New Comedian (NC). He doesn't like some of the jokes he heard, especially jokes regarding race, homosexuality, and gender. “They’re easy jokes,” NC responds. Steve, who sat through my set with the expression of someone trying to remember their grocery list, asks me to explain why comedians feel “the need” to joke about these subjects.

The bar must be empty if I am assumed to be an authority on anything other than my mental state. Even then, I’m only ever half-right about my mental state. “Let me call Chris Rock,” is what I should have said. I could have pretended to make the call then walked outside, bummed a cigarette, and left. Instead, I attempt to explain that not only are these subjects common to many people, but it is an Open-Mic. A comedy Open-Mic. The one with the joke attempts, not the music butchery. To which NC again says they’re, “... easy jokes. What’s the point?” My brain, against the wishes of my liver, demands I imbibe to wash away this foolishness. I finish my beer.

Steve, sensing this argument is stalling in my half-blitzed brain, tells me we all have a “shared set of experiences,” therefore those issues (race, homosexuality, and gender) need not be discussed. This confuses me. And when I see Steve has a Navy tattoo I try to remember when I was in the Navy. Even though I was never there I still have no memories of it. This confuses me too. I swore we had these shared experiences. I mean, I know the chorus of “In The Navy,” by the Village People. And I, admittedly, have seen Down Periscope, but still nothing comes to mind other than the drowning deaths of manly stereotypes and Kelsey Grammer. My brain begins to work overtime, but the Zamboni crashes into the boards and catches fire. The game is abandoned.

When I return from this mental blackout, NC is gone. I missed my opportunity to explore his comprehension of “easy” jokes. Considering NC has seen me perform, I’m unsure what about it looks easy. Unless he’s commenting on my professional-level ability to silence a crowd. Now that’s easy. I’m guessing wristwatch business is booming as people realize they need something to look at when I’m on stage (you’re welcome AWCI). Audience members have offered to hire my services for their kid’s birthday party. Not for the entertainment, of course, but to tell some jokes when they want their guests to leave. “Who here knows about AIDS? No one? I’ll give you kids a minute to ask your parents or check Wikipedia. This next joke is a doozy... Please stop crying. Please wait until the punchline.”

Steve again returns to the subject of “shared experiences.” I’m having none of it, mainly because I’m drunkenly ogling the wait-staff. Though, I could be mistaken in that detail. I suppose drunk ogling is pretty similar to sober ogling, except I’m mouth-breathing. Steve continues on nonetheless, spouting something about togetherness. I do a shot of Jack. I am together with Mr. Daniels. My brain powers down to shift more energy to my liver.

The idea of “a shared set of experiences” begins to stick in my head. Does it mean what I think it means? The New America. Any homosexual or non-white person who has been called a slur, I now feel your pain. Our shared experience. Apparently, I feel it. I feel drunk on it. Does this mean racists and homophobes are just masochists, like log-cabin Republicans? And women clearly don’t make 75 cents for every dollar a man makes because of gender inequality. It’s because men have shared in their female experience and concluded that women are approximately 75% as good at the same job. It’s all becoming clear. And it’s great sharing the experience of having and feeling breasts without getting the back pain or the ogling. It’s a whole new world (like two caucasians sharing in the experience of being Middle Eastern royalty. I wonder if that was the pitch: “It’s about two rich whites.” - “It’s been done.” - “But they’re kind of tan.” - “Hell, why didn't you say so? We've never hit the tan demographic!”).

As Steve begins to start a new topic of discussion I look at my watch. Realizing I’m not wearing a watch I roll my wrist, pretending to examine it. “Where did I put that Navy tattoo?” Quickly, I reach into my pocket and take out my cell phone. “Oh, Chris Rock is calling,” I say aloud. I ask Steve to come by the open-mic next week and try his luck. He says he will think about it.

Weeks later, Steve still hasn't shown up. I wonder why he hasn't. It’s obvious he’s not staying home to fuck his wife. I would have shared that experience by now.