I was at an open mike a few weeks ago. A pretty abysmal event. Open mikes are the homeless shelter of creative people, and easily derail into a group therapy dynamic. However, my friend hosts this particular venue and since we are two women forging our way through an environment generally hostile to women, I had been going to support her and vice versa.
However, everyone present was in agreement that that this was a particularly sucky night. Comics generally don’t give other comics the utmost attention, but this night everyone was talking or completely ignoring the comic on “stage”(it’s not really a stage). Part of the reason I put up with it is because there is a School of Thought that believes that developing resiliency to things like distraction, hecklers and even dead silence, is the best training for a performer to learn to stand there and deliver material like a pro. However, I too am guilty of practicing Active Ignoring. Especially, when it’s vitriol towards women. One comic talked about how he didn’t like “old pussy,” (which was, actually, pretty tame).
However, I did pay attention to the set of one young man. I noticed him, as I’m sure many did, because of an apparent birth deformity that resulted in him having large, overgrown hands. Other than his hands, he was exceptionally handsome, like a Jesus Christ Rocker, with curly hair. He also seemed genuinely sweet and soulful, and had clean and non-woman-hating material.
After his set, the Young Comic sat down at the table next to me and asked me for a piece of a paper. I ripped one out of my Moleskin and went about my business of ignoring the comic on stage who talked about blow jobs or abortions or God knows what (and then they ask the audience why women don’t want to sleep with them…Yes, AGAIN, I do ask myself, “WHY THE HELL AM I HERE AND NOT ON A DATE WITH A FINANCIALLY VIABLE PROSPECT?!” (That’s another blog).
So, I’m sitting at this God Forsaken Open Mike out of codependent guilt about leaving my friend alone. It’s almost over, I thought. Just one more comic. That’s when the Young Comic got up to leave, but not before placing a note on my table. He then walked out the door with Comic Who Doesn’t Like Old Pussy. Through the glass window Young Comic pointed to the note and said Good-bye.
Oh, boy, I thought. Weirdness approaching. Young male comics are lost puppies when it comes to women. I’m nobodies mama. But since I’m female and relatively codependent, I’m a potential mama.
I opened the note with dread, but actually read a very sweet, and poetic letter. It started off by saying, “You’re much prettier than you give yourself credit for…” and ended with ruminations on love. He also wrote his number. I put the note in my Moleskin and reflected on the last time I’d received a hand written note from a guy (not counting mailed letters). I think it was 8th grade. I felt genuinely flattered. But I think he just really appreciated my having listened to his set.
Ok, now comes the sad part. (I gave you fair warning).
That was a Tuesday night. Three days later, on Friday, I go to work, turn on my computer and immediately get on Facebook (yes, I have this problem). The first status read, “RIP, Will Ard.” Comedy is a small world and I immediately wondered if I knew the person so I searched for the name.
It was the Young Comic who had written me the note. He had died two days later.
Needless to say, feelings of shock, guilt, and even fear overtook me. I really didn’t know this young man. But I can only imagine that he lived with some degree of emotional (if not physical) pain being both a comic (who are generally speaking people who have experienced trauma and loss), and a person with a disability in a culture obsessed with physical perfection.
To say that I experienced a paradigm shift in regards to the fragility of life is an understatement. Everyone I talk to about it has their own interpretation….I like to think that we made a connection, however, brief. If I had called the number would it had made a difference? Probably not. If I could go back, would I call the number? Absolutely.
I want to be more open to people now. You never know where somebody is in their life.
I’m just really glad I listened to his set.
RIP, Will Ard.
Just for today, I feel humbled.