My friend, screenwriter Mark McDevitt, comes clean on what it’s like to be a first time father at the age of 45. He talks honestly and humorously about life as a round-the clock shift worker in a baby sweatshop. http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/life/people/2015/10/07/first-time-dad-shares-8-brutal-truths-fatherhood/73406442/
If you follow my blog, FB, Twitter, then you know how heart and mind-opening my experience was performing at the First Johannesburg International Comedy Festival in November. I met talented, beautiful people from all over the world including Nelsy Ncube from Zimbabwe. I am featured this week on Nelsy’s website Girls Killing It! Check it out!
Girls Killing It celebrate women around the world doing amazing things. Girls Killing It creates dialogue where women can talk to women and encourage each other to grow and be great.
I met Kedi Mathope at the Johannesburg Int’l Comedy Festival (#JICF). He was hired to make sure the comics got to their gigs. On this day, we drive alone through Soweto, the township that was home to Nelson Mandela. As we drive, Kedi tells me about the night he was taken from his parent’s home and imprisoned for nearly a year without ever being charged.His spirit is beautiful and I am honored to call him a new friend.
I had the time of my life!
I just returned from five days in South Africa at the Johannesburg International Comedy Festival (#JICF). Never have I experienced more open-hearted, creative people and supportive energy in my 17 years as a standup comic. What’s so funny, so special, and so important about South Africa? All shall be revealed in this series of blogs dedicated to the fine comics and people of Johannesburg.
Let’s start out with the least special part. That would be the 30 hours it took to get to So. Africa. Ten hours to London. Ten hour stop-over. Ten hours to Joburg. When I arrived, this happy, smiling man named Vioux said he was there to take me to my hotel. I told him I didn’t care if he was there to kill me, I was just happy to be off the plane.
I often vent about the horrific hotels in which comics are expected to lay their heads. Not a compliant here as we were holed-up in the 5-star Four Seasons. When I learned that my comedy buddy Orlando Baxter, the only other American at the fest, had left the US a day after me and arrived hours before me, a competition arose that could not be quelled.
When the receptionist handed me the key to Room 205, I asked “Is my room better than Orlando’s?” She sweetly assured me that all the rooms are beautiful. I said, “ I know, but mine has to be more beautiful than Orlando’s.” She looked at me quizzically. I told her I was creating a fake competition. When Orlando saw my room, he said in his understated, thoughtful way, shaking his head slightly, hating to break it to me, “Maureen, my room has a better view.” Damn! Let’s move on….
South Africa has 11 official languages from Afrikaans to Zulu. But which one uses the “clicks?” I wanted to know more about the clicks. So I asked comic Carl Ncube who had just arrived from Zimbabwe. Here is what he told me:
It turns out that Carl speaks Ndebele, a lovely language no doubt but not the one I was looking for. The language I was looking for is called Xhosa (pronounced Kosa, of course). Carl is a fine chap, but he is from Zimbabwe, which is not even in South Africa; it’s in the south of Africa. So close yet so far. My research tells me there are not nearly as many Xhosa speaking people in Zimbabwe as in Johannesburg. It was my error. My asking Carl to explain Xhosa was like asking someone from Canada to explain a New York accent. You live and learn.
Here are the 11 official languages should Alex Trebek every ask: • Afrikaans
• English • Ndebele • Xhosa • Zulu • Sesotho sa Leboa • Sesotho • Setswana • Swati • Tshivenda • Xitsonga • Indigenous creoles and pidgins (unofficial)
More to come about So. Africa, the comedy scene, my tour of Soweto with Kedi, a big-hearted man who was imprisoned during Apartheid, and more.
Nashville. I could have lived my entire life without ever seeing it. But then I wouldn’t have known that on Saturday at one in the afternoon there’s a sea of sizes shuffling down Broadway in fringe and boots and busting onto balconies. There are drunk girls peddling a booze bike down the middle the street while singing “I’m looking at the Man in the Mirror.” The man in the mirror? Get the penis straws out of your mouths, take a look at yourselves and make a change.
What the hell am I doing here! Oh, I’m in town to perform tonight at The Listening Room. Until then, I’d love to buy a book and escape, but I don’t feel like driving five hours.
I head away from the liquored-up ladies and pass a man with a stick and soul playing the crap out of a bucket (see video at end). I like him because he doesn’t look like everyone else in Nashville. He looks like everyone else in New York City. I enjoy his rendition of “I have no song, but I’ve got me a bucket, drop a dollar, won’t you please.” (I have a knack for interpreting music).
Blocks aways I breath without inhaling tequila fumes. A small sign in front of a colonial building tells me I’m at the office where the future president Andrew Jackson practiced law. I pass art galleries, largely empty, on my way to Walgreens to buy cough syrup. Another sign tells me that this drugstore was one of the many where, in 1960, young black students sat at the lunch counter until spat upon or arrested.
That’s what I like best about being a comic, seeing what makes people who they are – from the drunk to the sobering. You’ve got to be fascinated by a city that holds a pivotal place in the civil rights movement and has a channel devoted to the Fried Food Diet. Best to know how to round out that fried chicken and waffles with the rest of the day’s meals.
This is real life, real people, doing that they love. And apparently smoking is one of those things. Smoking has not yet lost its allure or found its restrictive laws. The bars/restaurants welcome you to enjoy that Pall Mall with your pulled pork and mac and cheese and, please, feel free to blow the exhaust into the face of a visiting comic. She’s on our turf.
That night at The Listening Room, the performances flip between 20-minutes of a country music band and 10-minutes of a comic. I’m the first comic up because I’m lucky. Beneath the low hanging, white, Christmas lights, I see bouncing blonde curls and flannel. There’s so much flannel I feel like I’m at a pajama party. As I take the stage, the on-deck band is setting up. Yes, I’m performing while a band is setting up inches from my mic, moving and tuning and sound-checking, oblivious to my take on the Kardashians. The music men eventually come to a stand still, in position, staring at me to finish my joke show so they can strum about drinking when not thirsty. To my right, a small fella with a big grin sits at an unidentifiable instrument with no keys, no board. I later learn “Darlin’, that’s what we call a steel gee-tar. ” To my left, an upright “gee-tar” rests on the protruding belly of a man named Word. He’s a happy chap, and I encourage him to keep playing so that when he’s famous he’ll get laid all he wants despite the Amish beard. If it can happen for Lyle Lovett, it can happen for Word.
This is not what you’d call an easy gig. But the audience turns out to be shockingly terrific – warm, responsive, applauding. Nashville, I had no idea. Now I feel bad about the book joke.
What is even more surprising is that I find myself listening and enjoying live country music. Not on purpose. It just happened. I hear the angelic voice of 16-year old Kelsie May, who I’m told was on The Voice. Ray Scott is a hulking man in a cowboy hat, the one who sings about drinking even when he’s not thirsty. His voice is deep and sexy. Chasin’ Crazy, has a fun sound, and one guy can FIDDLE! I’m impressed. I thought all country music sounded the same, but not tonight. There was something unique and alluring about each of them. No one is more shocked than myself. I’m not saying I’m putting up a Minnie Pearl poster anytime soon, but I am saying it’s cool to have ones’ eyes opened a bit.
Before I leave the following day, I try the fried chicken and waffles. Holy Moly was that good. Like the country music, I’m not going to make it a habit, but I’m glad I tried it. Now if only we had the Fried Diet Channel on Comcast, I’d know what to have for dinner.
Here’s the music man with a bucket:
Well, it ain’t all glitter and glue guns my friends (I’m not a fan of either). Today I find myself back at a The Shit Motel, literally. Last time I came to this dump they gave me the dark room in the back of the building next to the dumpster. Had I been murdered, it would have made the dumping of my body that much easier. (Yes, there are shady parts of Monterey). Oh, and I was to pay 30 extra bucks because Maxie was with me. I told the hard working owner from India that that would not be happening. We seemed to have reached an understanding and I was moved into one of their “I can get through this for one night” rooms.
So here I am six months later. Melody is back at the desk. Sweet, accommodating, 20-something monotone Melody. She remembers me, and not fondly. With the warmth of an Anchorage winter, she hands me a key to a room and says “It’s not near the dumpster.”
In Room 125, I am greeted with the remains of the prior guest’s personal handiwork lodged in the toilet. After 10 minutes of trying to flush it away, it’s clear the “can” can not do what needs to be done. I call the lovely Melody to tell her the toilet isn’t working. Her response? “How do I know that you are not making this up to get a better room?” Yeah, because that’s what I do. I clog toilets all over America with the feces of strangers for upgrades.
I tell Miss Fuzzy Wuzzy that I am happy to stay in the room if someone would only fix toilet. In fact, I’d like to stay here as I’ve unpacked and I’m tired and I’d like to rest before tonight’s show instead of dealing with someone else’s shit. “No” is the answer.
I’m given key cards for the room next door. The first two don’t work. Neither do the next four. This goes on for half an hour with me, the clown, walking back and forth to Miss Sunshine and her mounting attitude. “Why are you frustrated with me?” I ask. “You’ve got a lot of issues, ” she says. “I’ve got a lot of issues? I’ve got the issues? There is a locked door that won’t unlock, there is shit in the toilet, and I’ve got issues?”
I don’t want to hurt people physically because I’m better now, but that feeling of wanting to grab the frayed ends of her bleached hair and watch her imagined Mountain Dew-infested teeth fall out sooner than their already shorten life span is there. Oh it’s there big time. But because I’m evolved (tired), I say, “Do you realize we both work for a living? Do you realize I come here every six months and I greet you with a smile (and all my teeth). Do you realize it’s your motel that has a stranger’s shit in the toilet and instead of being apologetic you are treating me as if I am the cause of this?”
And then there it is, the root of her anger — “The booker only pays for the back room and I upgraded you.” I get it. There are classification of rooms and I am getting over. She has upgraded me from Dumpster/Death Room to Shit Room to Can’t Get into the Room. She’s resentful that I am getting more than I deserve. “I’ll tell you what,” I say “How about I pay the difference so we can stop this. Can we make that happen?” She stares at me like I’m abstract art, “That’s the last room we’ve got.”
I don’t want to hate her. She is making me hate her. I walk out of the front office and as I pass the open side window I shout “I’m calling you when I can’t get into my room at midnight. Good bye person who thinks I purposely put the shit of a stranger into my toilet.”
I fume for hours. How many shitty people has she been around in her life that she thinks this way? What experiences have made her believe that I, or anyone, would create a story about a stranger’s shit in a toilet for a room upgrade?
It’s after midnight. My gig is over and I’m in front of Room 126 inserting the key card over and over and over again. Melody has gone home. I have to wake up Mr. India to get a master key and let me in. He is sweet, apologetic. He says that Melody has personal issues and he’s asked her not bring them to work. His kindness softens me. Hours earlier I wanted to hurl Melody into a stack of Cremora and Mini Moo’s. Now I feel bad for her. Because tomorrow I’ll be out of here, but she won’t. She’ll still be that girl who believes people make up stories about a stranger’s shit in their toilets for upgrades. Sad.
There are gigs, not enough, to which I am jetted to a beautiful city (Montreux) or put up at a beach-front hotel (Ft. Lauderdale), or play to smart crowds (Throckmorton). And then there are the rest, like the one where I was paid in pie. $60 bucks and pie. The pie was a surprise. A modern day twist on Oliver and Antoinette
The gig was at a Marie Callenders in Los Angeles. $60 bucks to feature. The headlining spot goes to big names like Larry Miller and other— talented, established guys who are there to work out new material. They get $100 and pie.
The emcee welcomes me. He’s running the show tonight. Proud and in-charge, he tells me I can have something to eat. On the house. Oh, and do I mind if his friend does a guest spot? For those of you not versed in the comedy vernacular, that means his friend would like to perform for an unpaid 10-minutes before I go on-stage. That’s right, he is purer than me because he’s not even working for pie. He’s doing it for the love of the game.
I go with a mini chicken pot pie and salad. I do my set, watch the headliner, and make my way to the emcee for my cash. As I’m talking with Mr. Emcee, the waiter interrupts, handing me a box. “Maureen, here’s your pie. It’s a chocolate silk pie, but you can have any pie you’d like.”
“A whole pie?” says I. “I thought it would be a slice, a wedge, a piece.”
“Nope,” says he, “You get a whole pie.”
“That’s very nice. Thank you.”
Mr. Emcee eyes my pie “You got a pie?”
“But you had dinner,” he reminds me.
“I did,” I say.
“It’s supposed to be dinner OR a pie, not dinner AND a pie,” he scolds.
“I can assure you I’m not scamming anyone,” I say. “The waiter gave it to me. I didn’t ask for it. ”
“Does he know you had dinner?”
“I assume so since he served me, I say. “Do you want me to give it back? I wouldn’t want this pie to affect future bookings.”
“No, it’s just that we didn’t get one,” he says motioning to Guest Spot Guy. “No, we didn’t get one, the purist confers. “I don’t think they normally give whole pies. This must be something new.”
Is this really happening? “I tell you what. Take my pie.” I say as I lunge it into their hungry hands. “Just take the damn pie.”
“The whole pie?” they say in unison.
“All of it. Share it. Equally, not equally. Eat some of it now, or none of it ever. Take it home. Binge. Purge, whatever arrangement works for you.”
“Wow” they say grabbing a couple of forks, “You want to have some with us?”
“Oh no. It’s all yours. Enjoy”
And enjoy they did. As I look through the window from the parking lot, I see Mr. Emcee and Guest Spot Guy circling the pie, forking the silk of chocolate into their no longer deprived pie holes and looking content, at least until the next gig that gives them an injustice they just can’t quite right in their minds.
That’s comedy. It’s a biz that too often elicits pathetic pangs of coveting from financially and creatively underpaid comics. We’re all that comic. Some days I get the pie, most times I don’t. Some, a selective number of comics, get all the pies they want whenever they want. That’s the rub. There is no rhyme or reason for what happens in comedy. We call it a business, but it’s not one that makes sense. We move ahead despite that, in the hopes of getting bigger pieces of life’s collective pie. Pies that go by the names of: Better Gigs, TV Exposure, Creative Fulfillment, Accolades and Banking Accounts.
Wondering when that will happen can make many a comic a crazy person. Truth is it won’t happen for most of us. On this night, I’m not the coveter but rather the covetee (not always an easy feat). On this night, I am able to focus on what I have rather than what I don’t : 4-thousand fewer calories and 50 extra bucks.** (and two pretty happy dudes).
Next gig I may likely be the comic saying “They gave your a burger? How did you get a burger?” It’s supposed to be a drink or a burger. You got both? How did you get both!
**(You thought it was $60, right? C’mon, I had to tip the waiter for all that pie.)