Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

No Pinching Needed

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

No Pinching Needed

Article excerpt

Not to brag, but I received a standing ovation last February. In fact, I can't brag about that. I'm supposed to bring the crowd to its feet. That's what I get paid to do: make people laugh so much they forget about having shelled out their hard-earned money for a ticket and instead feel obliged to thank me. So when the audience stood up and clapped on that cold night at the Strand Theatre in Shelbyville, Ind., after I had slung jokes over a hot mike for an hour, two possibilities arose. Either they really enjoyed my performance or the babysitters who had just texted them were about to go into overtime. No matter. After 35 years in show business, I'm qualified to say that I live my dream by how I earn my keep.

The question fans ask the most when spotting me in their town is, "What are you doing here?" My reply never changes: "My job." But my delivery does: with a smile or a smirk, depending on my mood. People also wonder, "What were you before you became a comedian?" I always answer, "A sophomore." Sometimes I add, "In high school."

It's a lot of fun to amuse folks, to lighten their day. But no dream job is perfect, of course. Delivering punch lines for a living mostly across the country also comes with a lot of responsibility. Some gigs I'm on a door deal, meaning I get paid by the number of butts I put in the seats. Most door deals I do very well on, and at a few I'm lucky enough to walk away with the hinges. Yet once in a while the venue is so empty when I take the stage the staff outnumbers the audience. And to make matters worse, one night the club was short-staffed. Then there are the hecklers. Try as I might, I can't please everyone. Halfway into my act a few years ago, a guy yelled, "When does the show start?" But why don't they realize that I, five decades, have as many comebacks as John Travolta's movie career?

I left my wife recently, as I wrote about here in the spring, and around the corner from the house that I'm still paying the mortgage on is a charter middle school with a colorful mural that urges, "Never give up on dream." That's an important lesson. Across the street, a check-cashing company employs a sign twirler out front to promote the business. He has to stare at that mural all day. Was his dream to dress up like the Statue of Liberty and wave at passing cars? I think about this, quite a bit, actually, but I think even more about how I might not want to find out. …

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