It was amateur night at L's Jokeshop. A time when aspiring comedians take a chance to display their material to a discerning audience on Saturday nights from 6 to 10. It may not have been a huge venue, but a rookie taking the stage for the first time could be the first step to a lucrative career in the business. They could show up to a few of these amateur nights, maybe get noticed and start getting invited to bigger venues. From there, they might get to start playing big theaters and arenas. Hell, maybe an HBO special could be somewhere down the road. All of that could spring from just one little performance.
Or at least that's what Rene was hoping for.
She had been grappling with the decision of whether or not to show up to amateur night for a few weeks. On the one hand, she felt that her material was ready. She had been studiously writing jokes and testing them on her friends, and she was pretty sure that she had the best set she could bring. She knew, one hundred percent, that she had jokes.
However, it wasn't her material that she was worried about. Rather, she was worried about herself. She had never been on stage like this before. She had performed at a school talent show once, but that was for an audience of parents and classmates who were practically required to respond to every act with polite applause. This time there was no such restriction. If she bombed, then she was sure the crowd would let her know it.
Thanks to her being relatively late to sign up, she had the last spot of the evening before the club's regulars took the stage as usual. So on top of all of the other anxiety she was feeling, she had to be the closer. Not only that, but she had to watch every other act go on before her. Some of them received a pretty good response, while others received almost no laughs at all. Rene couldn't tell which responses made her more nervous. Would it be better to take the stage after someone who did well and be forced to have to live up to the bar they set, or follow someone who bombed and be stuck with the task of reinvigorating an unhappy audience? Both options sounded pretty rough.
Without a doubt, Rene's favorite part of waiting was watching Heavy L come out and introduce each comic before they took the stage. Heavy L was the owner of the establishment, and Rene had a ton of respect for him. He didn't have a huge career, but he'd done pretty well for himself. At the very least, he had enough name recognition to run a fairly successful comedy club in a place like Kingman. As his name suggested, he was a particularly large man, and not in a muscular sense. Despite that, he always managed to put on great shows with an energetic delivery. It showed through in his role as MC that night, where he successfully hyped up the crowd for each performer, no matter how poorly the previous one's act had gone down.
Rene passed the time by either reciting her set in her head or occasionally grabbing a snack from the refreshment table that had been set out for the night's performers. She was feeling thirstier than normal, although she chalked that up to nerves. She tried not to spend too much time eating since she didn't want to come off as greedy, and making a bad impression to the folks backstage was the absolute last thing she wanted to do.
As the night wound down, Rene eventually found herself on deck as her performance drew ever closer. She honestly felt like she was about to collapse out of panic at any moment. The guy going on before her wasn't exactly doing her any favors, either. None of his punchlines hit the mark, and she found herself mentally critiquing everything he was doing wrong on stage, from his delivery to the way he presented himself onstage. She felt embarassed just watching it. The crowd seemed to be rather polite about it, though. She assumed that they were just going easy on him because he was an obvious rookie, though.
Rene needed to look away. She couldn't bear to watch the painful display anymore. She took a few steps away and headed for the refreshment table. She needed an onion ring to calm her nerves. As she washed down the delicious fried treat with some water, she moved back to her spot next to the stage, only to see something there that hadn't been there a minute ago.
Heavy L was standing right there, watching the trainwreck of a performance she had just been cringing through. He wasn't dressed too fancy, just a blue shirt, gray jacket, and black pants. He turned his head as she approached and responded with a nod and a smile. "Hey. First-timer, right?"
Rene stopped where she stood. "Um... yes?" She didn't really know how to respond. The only thing that came to mind was "How could you tell?" which escaped out of her mouth without her really thinking about it.
Heavy L chuckled. "I've been running these amateur nights for five years. There's some tells you pick up on. For one thing, your hands are doing the Harlem Shake right now."
Rene looked at her hands. Sure enough, they were shaking way more than she had thought. With a stifled "Shit!" she shoved them in her pockets and tried to divert her gaze elsewhere.
Heavy L held out his hands. "Hey now, don't freak. Just chill out. First time's always the hardest, just like with anything else." He pointed a finger at the aspiring comedienne. "Now you know your set, right?"
"Yeah, I've got it memorized." Rene said back, perhaps a little too quickly. In response, Heavy L just shrugged.
"Then there ain't much more I can tell you. If you know your set, and you know you know your set, then there ain't really anything stopping you, right?"
Rene didn't have an answer for that. Granted, she hadn't had a real answer for anything else he'd said either, but this time she couldn't even come up with a reflexive response. As Rene stood by, the guy onstage was just finishing up his act while the audience gave him polite applause. Oh shit, maybe it was like the talent show after all.
As the last guy set the mic back on the stand, Heavy L prepared to take the stage. He looked over to Rene and gave her one last bit of encouragement.
"You're up next. Good luck."
He patted the departing comic on the back and stepped to the center of the stage. "All right y'all, give it up one more time for Wally Weems!" He announced to the crowd, receiving a much more generous applause than anything Weems had said during his entire act. "All right, we've got a first-timer taking the stage next, so I want y'all to make some noise for Rene Wolfe!"
Heavy L waved his arm in a wide arc towards the side of the stage to introduce Rene. She walked onstage to the continued applause as the veteran comic returned to the backstage area. Now she standing at center stage, with the staring eyes of an audience of strangers focused on her and her alone. It was definitely nothing like the talent show.
She took a breath and focused on the matter at hand. She had come there to prove her worth as a comic, and she'd be damned if she was going to sabotage herself now. She pushed the fear out of her mind and replaced it with the smirk that she had practiced in the mirror. She looked out at the crowd, head slightly cocked and microphone held firmly in her hand.
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