The Prop Comic

by Bud E. Ice

comedy-night-maggianos - Edited

Everyday can be a Friday if you treat it as such, but this particular day was actually a Friday. There was an excuse to act savagely. I had the day off from work and woke up around noon. I sat around the house for most of the day. I ate a bowl of some kind of wheat-based cereal without milk, then went out on the front stoop a few times and smoked some cigarettes. The television had nothing else to talk about other than Sunday’s upcoming Super Bowl game, of which I had no real interest. Silence soaked through them afternoon hours while I continued to wait for Something to call, or for something to happen.    

Around four o’clock, the p.m. version, I got a phone call from Lenny. Lenny was a friend. 

“Hey Bud, how’s it hanging?” he asked.

“To my lower thigh today. If it wasn’t so cold out, it could have maybe been down to my knee cap,” I responded. 

“That’s funny,” Lenny replied, however I couldn’t sense any signs of laughter over the phone. I sensed that he appreciated the quick wit, but it apparently didn’t qualify as a knee slapper. 

“What do you have planned for tonight?” asked Lenny.

“Nothing,” I replied, “The calendar is empty for the foreseeable future.”

“I’m not surprised. Well, I won some free tickets for a comedy show tonight. You feel like going?”

“Hmm, I don’t know.”

I have a tendency to make plans with people and then change my tune once the time came to hang out with them. I agree to go places, in attempts at crushing boredom and kicking the shit out of routine, but when the moment comes to take the adventure, suddenly routine doesn’t seem so bad. The safe haven of nothingness is nauseating until the uncertainty of a potential experience is the alternative. 

“You don’t have to go. I’d just figured that I’d ask?” said Lenny, sensing my weariness.

“Nah, I’ll go. I haven’t had any socially awkward encounters in a while,” I replied. 

It was true.  

The idea of missing out on something overrode knowing that I wouldn’t want to go to the comedy club when it was time to leave. By Lenny telling me that I didn’t have to go, in a way, it caused me to want to go. That’s not on him, instead it’s the mental cowardice of myself, and the jealousy of missing out on a mystery.

“Okay cool. I got two tickets. The show doesn’t start until nine o’clock, so we can catch the train down there,” said Lenny.

“Okay man, sounds awful,” I replied. 

“That’s funny,” Lenny responded, once again with absent laughter.

I met up with Lenny at his house around six o’clock. The show was being held at a place called the Chuckle Lounge. I felt as though the club set a low bar for expectations, for laughter is worth far more than a chuckle. But the tickets were free after all, so our expectations weren’t worth anything to begin with.  

  “So how’d you end up winning these tickets?” I asked Lenny.

“I actually won them in some charity raffle at work. For every two dollar raffle, they put your name in this big bucket. First place got a new TV. Second place, I believe, got some sort of video game, electronic type of shit. My name got pulled third, which is, as you know, a fucking comedy show,” replied Lenny. “They should at least pay for my drinks too. That’s a big ass drop off from the first two.”

  “What was the donation going towards?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Some kind of sick kids thing, I guess,” replied Lenny. 

“That’s raw, wow. Don’t get me wrong though, it doesn’t bother me.”

“You know what I mean. Shit, at least I gave them money. That’s more than what most people did,” replied Lenny. “Not many people bought the raffles.”

Helping sick children apparently wasn’t worth the prizes. 

It was time to leave so Lenny and I started putting our coats on so we could head to the station.  We got on the train and headed for the city. The ride went by smoothly with the exception of a switch malfunction, which caused us to stop momentarily in between stops. We got to the city by five after eight and decided to stop at a liquor store before going to the club.

liquor

The two of us entered the liquor store and began looking around. Lenny had his go-to bottle, peach flavored E&J. I was able to drink anything that was put in front of me and affordable. Lenny grabbed the E&J and I settled on a pint of cheap whiskey that fit perfectly into the inside pocket of my jean-jacket. I also had a few extra dollars for some beers at the bar, if necessary. 

“How far is the comedy club from here?” asked I. 

“Just a couple blocks. We got plenty of time,” replied Lenny.

We kept walking and I was able to eventually see electric letters hanging over a building that read _ _UCKLE  L_UN_E. This was a bad sign. There were four letters missing from what was supposed to say Chuckle Lounge. 

“Jesus Christ, look at the sign. I bet these comedians aren’t one bit funny,” I said. 

We got to the front of the club and there was a short, round man with an out-of-date mustache working the door. Before the man could ask for our ID’s, I was able to come up with a smart ass question. 

“Hey man, can you tell me where the Chuckle Lounge is at?” 

“This is the Chuckle Lounge,” he replied.

I took a sarcastic step back and looked up at the sign above. 

“Are you sure? It says the ‘Uckle Lune’,” I replied. 

He ignored me. In retrospect, he probably heard that joke at least a dozen times a night. I felt foolish, and privately hoped that the comedians on the bill would be funnier and more original than I was. 

“Can I see your ID’s?” the round, mustached man asked.

Lenny and I took our ID’s out and handed them to him. He looked over the cards as if he saw something wrong, like something wasn’t adding up or they were fake. I knew this was only an attempt at scaring off potential underage kids from sneaking in. However, we were of age and firmly stood our ground. He seemed hesitant, but he had no choice but to let us in. 

We walked through the doors and into the lobby of the club. The club was draped in mediocre nostalgia. Black and white autographed pictures hung in rusted frames, and they were autographed by people who I’d never seen, or even heard of. It was like a second-class attempt at Hollywood.  

“This place might have been alright, back in the Sixties,” I mentioned to Lenny.

“Yeah, but you think they would have cleaned it since then,” he replied.

“You want to get a drink at the bar first, or should we just go find some seats?”

“We already brought drinks, remember?”

I reached in my pocket and felt the shape of the cheap whiskey bottle. I had forgotten we’d already bought the liquor. 

“True, I forgot. I’m going to get a beer anyway. Plus I want to a glass to pour my whiskey into, so I’m not drinking it right out of the bottle,” I replied. 

“You know what, I might do the same,” replied Lenny. 

I started a trend for once. 

Lenny and I got our beers. The beers didn’t stand a chance. By the time we walked from the bar to the ticket collector, our glasses were almost empty. The stage and seats were located in a different room than the bar. The bar seemed to be a better area to be in, but we had tickets. The show was the whole reason we were there, so we figured we might as well go. 

“Do you gentlemen have tickets?” asked the collector.

“Do I look gentle?” I asked.

“Shut up. Don’t mind him. Here you go,” said Lenny.

I was oh for two on jokes. 

Lenny and I scanned the club for decent seats, but there weren’t any. The club was only half filled, and there were plenty of seats to choose from, but none of them were decent. 

“Let’s look for chairs that we won’t stick too,” I said to Lenny.

“Agreed. I’ve seen cleaner seats in strip clubs.”

“Better crowd there too.” 

“If that ain’t the truth.”

Lenny and I walked around, our beer glasses were empty by now, and we finally found two seats that didn’t seem as dirty as the rest. We sat down, but were hardly comfortable. I took the whisky out of my jacket and stealthily poured it into my beer glass. No one noticed and I began to sip, sip, sip. I looked over at Lenny and he was doing the same with his peach E&J. 

“How many comedians are supposed to perform?” I asked Lenny.

“I’m not positive, but from what they told me at work, I think it’s three.”

“That’s not bad. Any of them famous?”

“I doubt it. I think my boss said one of them is a prop comic.”

“A prop comic! Shit, man, they’re the worst. They’re so hacky,” I disgustedly replied. “I can’t believe you dragged me all the way here to see a goddamn prop comic.”

“I told your ass you didn’t have to come, if you didn’t want.”

“Whatever man. But if Carrot Top comes the fuck out here, I’m leaving.”

The light in the club dimmed a bit and was replaced by a spotlight pointed in the direction of the microphone on the stage. 

The host of the show entered the stage and jumped in front of the spotlight. His toupee was slightly askew and he wore a blood red bow tie around his neck. His tux was wrinkled, and sprinkled with small specks of glitter that made it shimmer in the light when he moved, but he hardly shined, or was a star. 

“Good evening ladies annnnnnnnnnnd gentlemen!” the host rejoiced.

It was soaked with false interest and you could tell that he was being paid to act as if he cared. Deep down this guy knew that the show was sorry and meaningless and full of a variety of wannabes, including himself. How could he be excited? The crowd wasn’t even excited. The fact that they were really trying to pull off a Vegas-like atmosphere, and were getting nowhere close, gave me second hand embarrassment. 

The host continued to stand on stage and talk. 

“My name is Sammy Show, and I’ll be your host for this evening,” said Sammy Show. “Are you guys ready to laugh your ASSES off?!”

“Oh man. He said ‘asses.’ Very edgy,” I muttered to Lenny.

“This guy is corny.”

Lenny and I both pulled out our liquor bottles and sneakily poured our glasses again. No one saw us, or bitched, or complained. Sammy Show began introducing the first comedian and Lenny and I took sips from our smuggled-in alcohol. 

“Our first comedian tonight is a local guy from Frawdcroft, Pennsylvania! Let’s give a hardy hand for Brad Newman!” said Sammy Show. 

“Wow, this is brutal so far,” I said to Lenny.

“My bad Bud. I’ll take the L for this one.”

“Fuck it, we’re here. Let’s just get drunk and laugh at how bad it’ll be.”

Brad Newman walked out on stage without any charisma. He looked like somebody who got lost while looking for the bathroom, and accidentally found the stage. But no, this wasn’t the case. He was indeed a comedian, or at least was going to make an attempt to be.  

Brad looked like a regular guy, an average Joe named Brad. Although he was wearing a Geoff cap, you could still tell that he had lost the majority of his hair, particularly on the top. He tried to make up for the lack of hair on his head by growing it on his face, attempting to master the five o’clock shadow. He wore thick-rimmed glasses over his eyes to hide his fear and to fix assumed bad eyesight. He was probably really clever and humorous around his friends, but would that translate into a solid stand-up act? We’ll see. 

“Hey everybody, how’s everyone feeling tonight?” Brad Newman asked the crowd.

There wasn’t much of a response, which included silence from Lenny and myself. 

“That’s nice,” Brad Newman sarcastically responded. At least he was self-aware.

“You know, I noticed on my way over here. People really seem to hate using turning signals. Like, don’t get me wrong, I get it, you don’t want your destination to lose its mystique. If you don’t use your turning signals, it adds some mystery to where you’re headed. But in the name of standard public safety, I think it’s kind of a selfish move. I mean really, c’mon guys. . . .”

There were no laughs. I’m assuming he was expecting laughter, I just wasn’t sure where he was expecting it to come from.  

“Looks like we got a generic observational comic on our hands. He’s way too ugly to not be able to notice things. What is it, still the Eighties?” I asked Lenny.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t born until ’91.”

“Same here.”

Newman’s act continued but it didn’t get any better. The only funny part of his act was watching him try and preserve through the rough crowd‘s lack of reaction to his material. You could tell that he had practiced his act in solitude and tried to script where the crowd’s laughter would come in. But it never did, instead, there was silence that made each punchline painfully quiet and far more noticeable. 

Luckily, Brad Newman only had a fifteen minute set. It felt like an hour, but he’d really only been up there for fifteen minutes. Newman swiftly left the stage after saying, “Goodnight guys, and thanks.” The “thanks” didn’t have sarcasm as back-up, he just sounded dejected. I would have been, had I delivered such a publicly poor performance.  

Sammy Show came back out onto the stage and my drunk-ass was almost happy to see him. I was about half way done my bottle of whiskey at this point. 

“Man, wasn’t that Brad Newman, something? I’m predicting big things for him in the future,” exclaimed Sammy Show.

“Only thing that’ll be big for him would be a potential wife,” I muttered to Lenny.

“Huh?” 

“His wife,” I reiterated.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” 

“Sammy Show. He said he was predicting ‘big things’ for the last comic. So I said, ‘His wife,’ as in she’ll be fat, but you didn’t get it.”

“My bad man, I didn’t even hear him say that. I get it though, that’s funny,” Lenny said, although he didn’t laugh. 

“No it’s not.” 

Sammy Show did a few jokes and attempted to create some kind of energy within the crowd, but he failed. No one was buying it. He tried a few more lines and then just relegated himself to introducing the next comedian.

“Okay ladies and gentlemen, now we’re going to bring out our next comedian of the evening. And I’ll be the first to tell you, he’s a feisty one,” Sammy said, bracing us for supposed comedy. “Let’s give a real warm welcome for Bobby Chappelle! C’mon folks, he’s come here all the way from San Francisco!” said the informative Sammy Show. 

Sammy Show was really trying to sell it. 

Bobby Chappelle waltzed out onto the stage, with a big ass smile on his face. He didn’t have a bag or anything with him and he walked towards the microphone. He looked as if he thought he was too important to be a prop comic. Entitlement is such an ugly trait, now it’s a way of existing. 

“I guess he’s not the prop comic either,” Lenny said.

“Are they really going to have a prop comic be the headliner? This just keeps getting tackier and tackier,” I replied. 

Bobby Chappelle started his routine and we could all tell right away that he was a homosexual and quite liberal, almost to the point of naivety. He was more of a storyteller comic, if he was a comic at all. The majority of his material revolved around a sassy take on the social injustices of the world. I was way too drunk, stoned, and preoccupied with pussy to really care about what he was saying, and what he thought he stood for. It seemed like such a Styrofoam outlet for such serious topics. I couldn’t take it that seriously. I’m not the enemy of man (or woman), and that’s enough for me to wash my hands of their problems. I’m far too indifferent to ever be guilty of anything.  

The first story that Bobby Chappelle told was about his experience coming out of the closet to his macho, sports-loving father, Frank. I could not relate to Bobby’s struggle. My father hated me for other reasons. Being a homosexual on top of it would have killed him earlier than I did. That’s not a slam, that’s just the facts of it. 

After trying to be the Social Justice Warrior of comedy, Bobby Chappelle left the stage, he too would exit void of receiving any laughter. The people in the crowd were easier on him than they were Brad Newman however; I guess they feared the PC police. A few people clapped for him, but laughter didn’t come. It almost felt as if they were pulling for a handicapped person, who just made it through some sort of basic struggle. They clapped because they felt he was less than what they were, but they admired his determination because it was hip and popular, and expected in the modern times, to do so.

  Getting charity makes me feel worse than if a stranger just looks the other way. If I can struggle in private, at least it won’t be rock bottom, there would still be some extra room to fall. Struggle is murderous, but necessary. And it can kill you. But a little bit of struggle can allow one to trick themselves into thinking that they stand for something, or have a purpose; victims of their own false meaning. 

Bobby Chappelle, gay or straight, was not funny. It had nothing to do with who he fucked or got fucked by, but was due to his lack of ability. If he wanted equal rights, then he would have to receive my harsh criticism. If he wanted special treatment, I’d have to lie and tell him he was great. But its equal rights that are fought for, not privilege, so there you have it. 

Sammy Show reappeared. He was more like a magician than he was a host. As much as I hated him when he first came out, I appreciated him a little bit more each time he came back on stage. He became a familiar face. 

“Our final comedian for the night is a guy who’s . . . kinda out there. He’s asked to go last tonight, and it’s his first time doing stand-up. So don’t be too harsh. Here’s John Dowe! Let’s let him hear it, you guys!” 

“Prop comic. And a rookie. And his name is the same as the standard, generic nobody. How do they let a first-time comedian close the show? That’s like allowing him to commit suicide,” I said to Lenny, as if I was some kind of expert.  

“Are you surprised? This show has been half-assed all fucking night. This is the worst attempt at entertainment I’ve ever sat through,” he replied.

“Shit, and you’re the optimistic one.”

“Yeah, but I don’t let that shit get in the way of me being real.”

 “That’s admirable.”

John Dowe walked out onto the stage with the spotlight on him. He was white and frail. He looked as though he could have been queer too, but he wasn’t nearly as flamboyant as Bobby Chappelle. His pale skin spoke volumes, and leaving the confines of his own home was probably an adventure. He was carrying a supermarket sized, brown paper bag under his arm and placed it on the ground. He looked intimidated, but eerily self-aware and confident about it. 

0929190807

“His whole act resides in that paper bag.”

Lenny answered me, but to be honest, I couldn’t hear what he said back. I just replied, “Yeah,” and acted as if we were on the same page. I’ll die without knowing his response, but what’s it really matter anyway? Not everything matters. 

John Dowe, the long awaited prop comic, slowly paced the stage. He walked back and forth twice before getting down on one knee and opening up his brown paper-bag. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes, Newport 100’s. He opened the pack without packing it, and placed one of the cigarettes in his mouth. All this time, he never uttered a word.

“Wait. We’re allowed to smoke in here?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t see anyone else smoking. Maybe they let the comedians slide.” 

“What a prima donna,” I replied in jealousy. 

The prop comic continued to pace the stage, taking five or six drags from his cigarette. He finally stopped and walked up to the microphone. Then he spoke.

“PROP! COMIC!” screamed John Dowe, before punching his lit cigarette into the flesh on his forearm. He showed no noticeable facial reactions to the singeing, and he just kept twisting the cigarette butt in between his thumb and index finger, digging it deeper into his skin before flicking it into the direction of the audience.

“Damn. What the fuck?” I said to Lenny. I was more astounded than I was looking for answers. 

“Did that motherfucker just put a cig out on his wrist?” Lenny replied, also, I’m assuming, not looking for any answers. The questions were more like reactionary statements. 

John Dowe showed no visible signs of putting the Newport out on his arm. He took it in the arm like a true champ, like heroin. He went back to pacing the stage back and forth. He eventually made his way over to the brown paper-bag again and pulled out a bottle of clear liquor. The label was ripped off of the bottle, so he was clearly opposed to advertisements. He reached in the bag again, this time pulling out a shot glass. It wasn’t a real shot though, it looked like a double, if not triple.

He poured the shot and took it down. He filled it up again and took another. Lenny and I looked at each other and took a sip from our glasses as well, we wanted to be part of the show! John Dowe poured a third shot, and on this one he walked up to the mic.

“PROP! COMIC!”

John Dowe smashed the filled shot against his forehead and it broke into pieces, all of which flew in different directions. Some of the glass was embedded in the area between his hairline and his eyebrows. Other pieces fell to the floor and took center stage. With the remaining pieces of glass that were left in Dowe’s hands, he placed them in his mouth and began chewing, almost as if he asked a friend for a handful of Skittles. Trickles of blood began to run down from his bottom lip.  

The crowd reacted for the first time in the evening. They were too caught off guard by the cigarette joke, but were on high alert while witnessing the shot glass joke. Cries from women and moans from squeamish men crooned through the soundwaves. This guy wasn’t a comedian, he was a deranged exhibitionist. The majority of the crowd was horrified. Lenny was taking it nonchalantly, and I had a controlled reaction, but found the whole thing bizarre. 

“This is almost a little too weird for me,” Lenny finally said. 

“I actually think I might know where he’s going with this,” I replied.

“What’s he going to do, kill himself on stage?”

“Nah man, I think pain is the prop. That’s the only thing I can think of.”

“Oh shit. You might be right. But still, that don’t make it funny though.”

“You’re right. It might be a clever premise, but he’s the only one getting hit on the punchline.” 

Blood continued to leak from John Dowe’s mouth. He lit another cigarette and began puffing. He walked over to his brown paper-bag once more, blood dripped from his lip and onto the paper-bag. He reached in and pulled out a meat cleaver. The spotlight reflected off of the cleaver and shined in my eyes, causing me to be blind for a brief moment. 

cleaver

The Prop Comic walked over to the sand colored, wooden stool that stood behind the microphone. He placed his arm, opposite of the one that he burned with the cigarette, and extended it on the surface of the stool. He held the meat cleaver in his other hand and he raised it up to the air.

I made it a point to speak loudly, thinking I had a golden joke.

“GET HIM OFF THE STAGE! HE’S A HACK!”

No one said anything. 

“PROP! COMIC!” screamed the prop comic. 

A synchronized GASP could be heard from the crowd once his arm reached its peak. 

Just as John Dowe began to lower the cleaver towards his wrist, security ran out onto the stage and dove on top of him. Security looked like homeless people jumping on a stray dollar bill that was floating down the street. John Dowe got tackled and slid about a yard across the stage. The entire crowd rose to its feet, giving the show its first standing ovation of the evening. But it wasn’t an ovation, instead, it was a crowd that had been entertained by bloodshed. They witnessed a man mutilating himself for their benefit and were briefly captivated. That’s what it took to get their attention. They, and to some extent myself, all wanted to watch the shit show. We were all somewhat glad it wasn’t us. He was the one killing himself to live. And we were the ones who came to be entertained, the ones who bought the tickets. Except for me and Lenny. We got our tickets for free, thanks to sick children.
*******   

Bud E. Ice is a functioning alcoholic and part-time lowlife located right outside the ratchet grounds of Southwest Philadelphia. His work typically involves a comedic take on social etiquette, race, class, morality, battles within the self, family issues, death, vulnerability, and whatever other realities seem relevant at the time of the writing. Follow him on Twitter: @BudEIce or email him at bude.ice1991@gmail.com.

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