Heckler (part two)
You’re guessing I didn’t like the sound of this? No shit, but…working for Delaney is this way. You do good, he gives you more jobs. You say no to a job, maybe he’ll call you. To hand out coupons on the street, dressed like a Thanksgiving turkey.
“Help me clear off the floor. You’re gonna shove me… Like just a shoulder palm. I stagger a little, I shove you back, you fall. You can’t look like you’re faking it…I think you won’t, though… See, you fall, you’re in a rage, you spring up right away. How I picture the chorey. You lunge for me and I fall.”
He was backing away from me, with come-on hand motions, so I gave him the shoulder palm. I didn’t feel like we had the floor space for the whole act, and Chez, going into his stagger, tripped on a shoe. “Again!”
I crumpled, with plenty of care, and tried to spring. He batted my hand away and swore at me. “A crippled homeless guy’s got better moves! Cost me five bucks. Get some energy going, if I’m paying Delaney’s fee.”
“Is that how your act goes? Not PC.”
“Come on.” I saw him shoot a nervous look behind, like the world, outside his back wall, sat judging. “I didn’t really say crippled.”
“No, not where I could hear.”
We worked the act for an hour or so, and Chez grunted some other instructions in and around the falling down and shoving.
The headliners came on latest. For names, Two Left Feet had nobody I’d heard of.
Gigs started at eight, Chez didn’t know when he’d get sent out. I had to hope (not much), that I didn’t miss him. I was about fifteen minutes after we’d agreed…it crossed my mind I ought to put my phone on vibrate…
But I was busy looking around.
The setup was a sort of three-wall deck with banquettes, a few rows of metal folding chairs in front of the stage, bar in another room. A big screen that showed the comics real-time, the stage camera installed on the ceiling.
(Chez wanted me to check his Facebook page, where he posted all his sets, so like I do when people ask me to sign up for things, I said, “Yeah, maybe.”)
Someone else was on, the crowd thin, most sprawled on the leatherette, yakking and munching. Comings and goings from the bar, customers plunking on the folding chairs for a minute or two. Sad for Chez. Sad for the woman on stage just then. On the other hand, I meet a lot of performers. I was told when I started, look on it as battle scars…
Fine, not my battle. Nobody emceeing. Music when it was time, club-style, a beat and someone rapping, “Go!’
Go, thunka-thunka, go…
Rude. Chez came on. On the chairs exactly three other people. Well, I was there to heckle, so I satisfied my curiosity out loud. “Are you all talent scouts?”
They guffawed, out of sync with Chez’s patter.
“Just here to lift a few jokes?”
More guffaws, and guilty head-ducks, like I’d hit on it.
“Shut your bitch face,” Chez said.
“Sorry, go ahead about your girlfriend. If you forget where you were, just make something up.”
Now for me, my seatmates were being an easy audience. I got another laugh. Chez allowed a grim silence. I don’t know comedy, but I know he should have let it slide. That’s instinct, a thing I can figure out…a heckler should not cost you a beat. But he gave one, and after that it was as well no one was listening to his act.
I left when he went off, but my phone dingled before I’d got out of the room.
Next night, I tried to be in favor-doing mode, getting there at just about nearly eight. Chez, going to three a.m., had sent me fourteen texts—we were communicating by text for the rest of the operation—with his thoughts on what I didn’t understand, and what I didn’t get, and what seemed over my head, and what he couldn’t fucking see why I couldn’t be told something and just fucking do it when I was being paid…
He ran out of minutes. His last text read: MFA
I answered nothing…perfectly good insult back that doesn’t cost a cent.
I got a text right then, so he must have peeped the audience rows. It was a smiley and a thumb’s up.
He walked on with a swagger, picked the mic off the stand and let it swing, arm loose. He took the sunglasses off, grinning. The crowd was a little better. A Wednesday.
“So, any of you guys students?”
Cheers from the banquettes.
“Yeah, I went to college. I dropped out. Like, after a while you start to see where all this is going…like, if I can fake out a C in one class, why not just cut to the chase? Get a job in Washington. You’re rich, you can buy, you’re poor, you oughta be allowed to lie. Levels the field.” He pointed to himself. “Sure, Princeton. Astrophysics. Anyway, college…like, you go to classes, they make you read some shit book… The Rainbow…”
He inflected a lot on the title, drawing it out. Also with his hand a little arc in the air. “The Rainbow, D. H. Lawrence. I had to look up D. H. Lawrence. Tell ya, it was a huge disappointment. I was like, if this is a dirty book, get it on, people!”
I thought this was funny. My laugh caught a frown from Chez, but only sweeping past, cooler tonight.
(2021, Stephanie Foster)