I Was a Comedy Groupie
Last week, I went to see some live comedy with Viv and Adam. It was the first night of the Comedy Box at Weston’s Blakehay Theatre. (The Comedy Box sign at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol always makes Adam giggle and sometimes almost veer into oncoming traffic.)
It marked the first time I’d gone to, a comedy show since 2004, I think. (The last time being a comedy night at a bar in Dublin that I went to with Mary. I don’t remember what bar, or who the comedians were, but I remember it being upstairs. There was an improv section that we mocked with both our Americanness and love of wacky sitcom scenarios. The comedians weren’t impressed. Neither were we.)
So anyway, I went to a comedy show last week and it was weird. It was all theatre-y, which was weird in itself. But it was weird to just go and watch the show and be sat in the audience and laugh and then go home. It was weird to be a normal comedy patron. But a nice weird.
Here’s where we get to the title of this post. I’m Jen and, as a teenager, I was a comedy groupie. I don’t entirely remember how it happened, either. At some point in my first few months at NYU, we must have looked at the Village Voice and decided to go to a comedy show.
Thinking about it, the first one must have been Stella at Fez. (This was all in the days before everything was on the internet, but I’m sure we had read or heard or imagined some rumour of slightly more famous comedians showing up there.) We continued to go there, necking kamikaze shots and reaching some level that was probably only slightly better than heckler. Mary did get on stage at one point and tell a story we had developed about her Uncle Harvy, who had celery legs that he would eat in a bathtub of ranch dressing.
From there, I know there was a weird night somewhere in Chelsea (I think) where some comedians were trying out some new material. It was another rumoured hangout of people at various levels of Comedy Central fame. There we came across one of the musical comedian guys. I can’t remember who we met first, though. It was either Rob Paravonian or Jason Nash. I’m pretty sure it was Rob, though.
We expanded our comedy going to the Lower East Side, giving different names each week. (I still have moments where I see some of those comedians on TV and struggle to figure out what I know them from, only to eventually settle on that BYO Sunday night open mike hosted by that little bald guy, something Boy (Face Boy, maybe?), who I once saw locked in a hardcore make out session in Washington Square Park, which was also where we got into our vaguely abusive relationship with Christian Finnegan.)
The central location, though, was always Catch a Rising Star. This was one of those famous New York comedy clubs. You know in Seinfeld, when he’s doing a set somewhere in the city? Almost always at Catch. It was that sort of place. It was a place where comedians were made stars, and I know that sounds like it should be said in some cigarette-ravaged agent voice. (You did have to walk down a street full of fur offcuts, though. It was at the edge of the fashion district.)
Catch became our home away from home, or home away from our home away from home, as by then we’d been moved into a hotel by NYU (long story). Our lives revolved more around the comedy scene than they did around our coursework. We created elaborate stories about small pet abuse in Brooklyn, one of which eventually led to tattoos. Other stories about inappropriate use of buttons came out of the free-form tale spinning sessions that would occur late at night.
The list of comedians we knew was always growing. Rob and Jason had a bet with Stephen Lynch that ended up with him in our hotel room with his cassette recorder running. There were as many bad stories as good. Most of my memories of that era are of the nights that ended in tears. They’re the ones that defined the era.
There are good stories, of course. There were brilliant comedians who never made it big. There were shit comedians who did better than they deserved.
So last week, going to a comedy show again, it was strange. I’ll be overstating it if I go on about it being a grown-up relationship with live comedy. But it’s sorta that anyway. The comedians were good, though some better than others, and we had a good night out.
My relationship with all those comedians from back in the day is weird. I’m happy for their successes, but whenever I see them pop up on TV, or whenever somebody shares something they’ve put on Facebook (they generally seem to not understand Twitter), it’s weird. For everyone else, they’re maybe a vaguely obscure name, but for me it’s part of my childhood popping up with some comedic authority. It’s difficult to explain.
That said, if anyone knows what became of Cary J. Prusa, I’d love to know. He was always a nice guy, and deserved to be more than the emcee of a comedy night.