By Bob Andelman
(Photograph by Bill Braunstein)
(Originally published in Gainesville Magazine, either 1979 or 1980.)
This was not going to be easy.
These people just lost a football game to Alabama 40-zip, were drinking heavily, and wanted to laugh to forget.
Me? I was just going out there to promote my ego. I’m the guy who makes the wisecracks at funerals, the guy who made puberty funny.
The site was the Orange and Brew, campus pub to the University of Florida, itself perhaps an inspired laugh. The idea was to gather would-be campus cut-ups under the banner of an amateur comedy night and test their mettle before a vicious group of opportunist hecklers.
I was there because no one would know me, and if I was bad I’d have little to lose. There were about ten others with me, plus hosts Mike Steinberg (a UF law student doing cute briefs on piano) and the comedy team “Organized Chaos.”
After a volleyball major made enough ethnic and racial slurs to alienate every member of the audience, I was called out.
Was I nervous?
Was I sweating?
Are you kidding?
Steinberg introduced me as a kid who was very shy and nervous about coming onstage. It was my first time, he said, asking for a big round of applause. I hugged a speaker for security. When the slight applause turned to rhythmic chanting and clapping, I made some sexual overtones to the speaker. Slowly, I walked onstage, and a quiet descended upon the crowd.
“Close,” I said, “but no orgasm.”
Good laugh, I estimated. I jumped onto a large screen TV projector and launched into my “Crusade to Personalize Shit.” I hesitated. “Is anyone here offended by the word ‘shit’?” I had assumed everyone had left some home before coming to the O&B.
The heckling began. I sweated a bit, then continued. I think I got the upper hand. Was I any good? My subject matter was somewhat different from the other guys. I did just one “druggie” joke, and a few cheap sex shots. My ending, I thought, was unique. I quoted a misnomer from Casey Kasem: ”Put your hands in your pockets and keep reaching for the stars.”
The rest of the program comprised of some very good, and some very bad humor. Drugs were the most popular subject, sex a queasy laugh, and stolen material easily detected.
After everyone had performed, the contestants were called back on stage for an audience tally. I knew I was in trouble here. Not only did I know no one in the audience, but one of the emcees leaned over and asked me my name in the middle of things.
Ira Cohen, a fraternity pledge who halted his act in mid-stream to run to the men’s room, and Mike Brennan, a one-time WGVL talent show winner who was amusing but came close to making the medium tedium, were finalists in the audience applause-off. The rest of us left the stage, and Brennan proceeded to beat Cohen in a boisterous re-clap.
The evening wasn’t a total loss, despite my loss. I was fairly satisfied with my performance, and when it was over, Steinberg was threatening to take a few of us on the road with him, doing one-night comedy stands here, there, and at your place.
Will stand-up comedy hear the likes of me again?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Copyright 2015 Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman