“So like, my cost per credit hour was two-hundred something, toss in fees, round it up, say the minimum wage goes to fifteen…say I work a shift and a half at Starbucks, pays for one credit hour at state… Or maybe not, I’m an English Lit dropout, not a math major.”
I could see standup was a lot about acting, Chez’s stuff kind of funny, but add mugging and take the right pauses, he was pulling some steady chuckles.
“So I don’t use my higher education at my day job, and I don’t use it at my night job…”
“Yeah you do,” I said. “What was that joke about the whozit? By the way, what is your night job?”
He didn’t let me get him this time, though freezing a teench at the double-whammy. He got as far as, “Listen, if you all help out and make me famous…”
“You could sponsor a scholarship. Or, faster, hire a joke writer.”
He scanned the seats like he couldn’t see who spoke. He looked down and gave a flinch. “Oh, man!” He squatted at the edge of the stage. “What’s your name…Thunder Crunch?” He shrugged and made a face for the audience. “Listen, I’m working. I’m like everyone else…I get by, I earn a buck here and there. Like Mel…” Nod to a sofa behind the stage. A bald-headed girl with Goth eyes waved a doobie. “She’s my good friend. She’s on next, and I don’t want you bothering her. Or is it just me you’re stalking?”
I felt a little blindsided. Pathos, Jesus. I mean, I at least ad-libbed. I could tell he’d been saving this up, after he hired me to stalk him! Also the teeshirt was one I got free, black so I grabbed it, wrestling or roller derby, I’d’ve had to read it off myself to remember.
The pathos continued. Chez didn’t swear-text me. This time it came deep from the passive-aggressive bunker. I guess you don’t know enough about comedy, to know you never step on a punchline. Maybe you’ll find work again, and today’s lesson will be useful to you.
That out of his system, he came back with: Can you get drunk?
Before I could thumb in What’s your point? he shot me: I don’t like your looks.
And before I could thumb in You’re not alone, but what’s your point?, he was on the hobbyhorse again. What do you drink? If…
If? K getcha Don’t worry legal AF Vodka and lime
(Vomit emoji) Eurotrash
I don’t think so
Don’t you drink beer?
I don’t like beer
K yself POS forget drunk
Well, I didn’t think it would help. Definitely, I was anxious about the third night. Chez’s script—which, he should’ve written dialogue if he was picky about dialogue—called for me to show up mad, obsessed with getting even, my reason for rushing him onstage. And truth to tell, I’m a lifelong get-outer, when anyone asks me to get out. My confidence wasn’t high I could pull this off.
I took a seat back two rows. The comedian ahead of Chez, or the first one I stopped biting my hangnails and listened to, said, “Hey, you! You wanted by the FBI?”
“You want me to buy you a drink?”
“Not happening. Cheer up or get the hell out, anyway.”
I gave him the finger. It did cheer me up. Chez came on. “Oh, look who’s here! My old pal Thunder. Get out, jeez.”
So, the moment. Delaney gave me my pay that morning, too bad, I couldn’t take Chez at his word. I threaded my way down the rows. Flinging onto the stage, it turned out, wasn’t possible—it had an overhang for some stupid pink lights. I got partway up, tugged myself by an electric cord…taped, but a little feedback playing off an amplifier…
Chez, keeping to his bit, shut his mouth finally, and sighed like a martyr. Tapped his foot. “Godfuckingalmighty. Take a swing at me if you want to.”
Too much sarcasm in the delivery, here. But I could get it, the customers probably not.
I stood, and gave him the shoulder palm.
He headbutted me right in the gut. I might have actually said, “oof” when I landed.
“You okay?” He made grabs at my arms, while I twisted and elbow-fenced him off.
I got to my feet again. “I don’t know. Let me check if your hair oil messed up my shirt.”
Teehees from the seats. A look from Chez, his eyes telling me things, and when he said, “You got your act together?”, I knew what he meant. My turn…and I had zero momentum left. I noticed the mic stand; I picked it up and feinted it at him. I thought we could improvise, thought he’d understand.
He pulled a knife.
You’ve seen those documentaries, cop shows and crap, where it’s like: The Quest for Justice. This is a little poignant for me…I mean, imagine having a family who’d never give up searching for your killer…
Supposing you had to be killed. Mine, if I made it to the emergency room, would only race against the clock so I didn’t die not knowing it was my own fault.
(“You can afford clubs when you have to borrow for groceries? Did I tell you to get your priorities straight?”)
I got myself sideways, giving the crowd a view of my vital organs. “You see that lunatic drew on me? All of you see that?”
They laughed. Someone clapped a few times.
The bouncer showed up then and did his thing. He said: “Hey. You guys good with each other?”
In the time it took me to bug my eyes at him, Chez made the blade disappear. I made a general announcement. “I’m gone.”
Times were fallow with Delaney. I was at a neighbor’s rent party watching the table, shooing off kids and freeloaders, when a text a came through.
A link to a webpage for a podcast…local comedy scene, news from. Chez, vid top of list, getting interviewed.
“I feel bad. I’m not proud of myself, but sorry to say, I don’t have a name. Maybe someone’ll see the shirt. Thunder Crunch.” He broke, even for being sorry and not proud, to giggle. “Of course, I’d like to apologize in person if I could.”
“So it’s been three years, you said?”
He crossed his fingers, both hands, for the camera. “This April. I’m learning to deal with stress. Recovery is a process.”
My takeaway…another publicity stunt, lying to cover his ass. But, salutes. Chez could knife anyone, get a career boost from the apology tour. Think about it, you put out you stopped using three years ago, where’s the proof it happened or it didn’t?
“Who’s that idiot?” someone said over my shoulder. (Unless it was: Who’s that, idiot?”)
I hit pause, and held up the phone. “Check that face. Punch it if you see it.”
(2021, Stephanie Foster)