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Copyright Ian Coburn 2008

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No Trip to Wrigleyville for Me

Billy Jaye is a popular comedian in the industry. He’s been around for a long time. He has a classic style; he typically just sits on a stool drinking a beer and delivers his material, engaging the crowd at will, then jumping right back into his act. He’s not Jim Carrey, jumping wildly around stage making faces and contorting his body, or Dane Cook, telling long stories while interrupting himself. He has no hook. He just does what he does, calmly and effectively. His material and delivery make the show. Billy’s been around much longer than most acts, even the big name celebrity ones, and he’ll be along when most of their stars have faded, such as Arsenio Hall’s. Off stage, Billy is just like he is on stage; he sits, drinking a beer, and makes witty observations as jokes during conversations. When he sees a moment to amuse himself, he takes it. Working with me and another act who annoyed him, gave him one such moment.

I was nineteen, going to school at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, about an hour west of Chicago. It was a Monday. I got a phone call from an agent telling me she needed an emcee for a Wednesday through Sunday gig at a new comedy club in Kankakee, Illinois, about an hour south of Chicago. I had two tests and a paper due (which I hadn’t started) between Wednesday and Friday. There is no way I could afford to miss any classes that week. So, I took the gig.

I don’t remember the name of the club or the feature act (the feature act performs between the emcee and the headliner), but I do remember Billy. I met him just before I went up to open the show. He was short, stocky, in his forties, hid his large bald spot with a cap, very friendly, and laid back. Being pretty new to standup, I was still nervous before going on stage. I’ve never worked with anyone who put me at ease as much as Billy. He asked me if I was nervous, I told him the truth, and he made a few comments that totally relaxed me. I had the most easy, relaxing set to date at the time, and that set the tone for all of my future sets. When I got off, he finished the job by telling me I was very funny and a very talented writer.

The week went great. Billy took me to dinner a few times, told me some good road stories, and we shot pool a few times. All three acts stayed at the Days Inn across the street from the club and a sports bar, so we all knew in which rooms the other two acts stayed. I was learning a lot from Billy and soaked up as much as I could remember. He even managed to make me forget about the two tests and paper on which I was taking zeros.

As much as Billy liked me, he equally disliked the feature act. The guy—we’ll call him Chuck—was a hack; he told old stock jokes, jokes he stole from other acts who turned out to be friends of Billy, and performed material that had been done to death, like jokes about killing Gilligan in order to get off the Island. To make matters worse, Chuck was in his thirties and had just returned to comedy after taking a seven year hiatus. Hardworking, sustaining acts such as Billy like to see young kids—like I was then— working hard to get mic time, honing their skills, and sticking with it. “You could be at school drinking beer and chasing girls, but instead you’re out here building character and securing a career for when you graduate. You’ll learn a lot more on stage and on the road then you will in any college.” At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how true Billy’s statement was, but I did just a few years later.

Hardworking, sustaining acts such as Billy detest acts that quit; who give up when the going gets tough, then return later, when they’ve saved up some money or the business has gotten better, made that way by the acts who ride the bumps. Chuck had zero points with Billy. He didn’t get too many with me, either. One night after the show, we all went out with the club staff to a bar down the road. There I was able to engage in some conversation with a very pretty waitress named Sally. She was an undergrad, too, and quite smart, studying pre-med. She was tall with a lean, killer bod, nice full red lips, long eyelashes, short black hair, and deep blue eyes. If you read God is a Woman, you know just how pathetic and awkward I was around women at nineteen. It took every ounce of thought and courage I had to strike up a conversation with her. Said conversation was far from smooth; it was awkward and littered with moments of silence that seemingly lasted for hours.

It didn’t help matters that Chuck was also interested in Sally. There were plenty of women his own age at the bar, but no, he chose to chase down one who was nineteen. He looked foolish. Looking back at it a few years later, I realized that Chuck was just as awkward with women as me; he just disguised it better and waited for either me or Billy to break the ice with a woman before he talked to her. Both of us annoyed by him, Sally and I relocated a few times but he followed us. Billy saw what was going on and stepped in, pulling Chuck aside to bullshit with him. When Chuck returned a few minutes later, Sally commented that she was tired and needed to get going. I summed up the strength of my courage and invited her to lunch the next day at the sports bar, where we would also shoot some pool. She accepted and we set the time. I was pleased that I had not only managed to ask her out and secure a date, but that I had done it in front of another guy. (Standup comedy is the only gig in the world in which lunch qualifies as a date, because of having to work date nights.)

The next day, at the date, who should show up? Yup; fucking Chuck. He wouldn’t leave us alone and ended up instructing her in pool. He kept telling her how pretty she was and asked if she liked older men. I didn’t know how to deal with cockblockers back then, let alone cockblockers who were my seniors in the biz. It was Sally who suggested another place. Chuck actually remarked, “That’s a good idea. Where should we go?”

I looked at him. “I think we’re just gonna go somewhere,” then to Sally, “What’s around here?”

She shrugged, “There’s really not much time to do anything because I have to get ready to be at the club in a few hours.”

“We could just go back to my room and watch a movie or some TV.”

“That sounds good.”

We left Chuck, or at least thought we did; he followed us out, back to the hotel, trying to interject in our conversation from behind as we walked. We reached my room and I told him, “I’ll see you at the show tonight,” before closing the door.

This is where I demonstrate just how stupid and naïve I was with women back in college. There I was, back in my hotel room with a beautiful coed, both of us sitting on my bed with two hours to kill. What do I do? Turn on the TV. What does she say? “I don’t really want to watch TV.”

“Oh, okay; I’ll see about a movie.”

“I don’t really want to watch a movie, either; let’s just talk.”

“Okay, that’s cool.”

Of course, she didn’t really want to just talk. So what did I do? Started babbling like brook with nowhere to go; I went on pointlessly. I don’t remember how it happened, but after a few moments, I was sifting through her purse while she watched over my shoulder. Lo and behold, I came across two condoms. She took them out of the purse, “I don’t know why I even have these; just to have them, I guess. I never use them.”

This is why it is very important to heed actions over words and to pay attention. I heard, “I don’t want to have sex;” however, she’s in my hotel room, right next to me on the bed, with two fucking condoms in her purse, which, I might add, were brand spanking new. There wasn’t as much as a crease in their wrappers, which meant she had only recently placed them into her purse, not carried the around, as she had claimed. At the time, I hadn’t realized that women need an excuse to have sex outside of a meaningful, lengthy relationship. So, instead of making the move for which she was waiting, I sifted through the rest of her purse. She put the condoms back in the purse and closed it.

We sat in dead silence for a few minutes. She checked her watch. “Well, I should get going.”

“Oh, okay.”

I walked her out. Outside, I decided I needed to make a move. I leaned in to kiss her and she responded with a quick peck. We smiled at each other and I leaned in again. We kissed for a few seconds, then she left. I went back to my room while she drove home, no doubt wondering why she really had bothered to bring condoms. I checked the clock by the bed. So much for having two hours to kill; it was only fifteen minutes after Sally and I had first entered the room. She realized I was clueless and got bored. Way to go Ian; good job.

That night, I didn’t speak to Sally until after the show. I invited her out but she declined, which bummed me out because it was the last show of the week and I would be heading back to DeKalb early the next morning, to take a test I really couldn’t miss. Instead, I hit the sports bar with Billy, Chuck, and the rest of the staff. While I was there, a guy challenged me to a game of pool. He was scruffy looking, around forty. He had some weird facial hair going on; it looked like a squirrel or something had died on his face and he just maneuvered it around some to make space for his mouth and nose, so he could eat and breathe. His name was Dave.

“So, you’re one of the comedians at the club this week?”

“Yeah.”

“Where you from?”

“Chicago.”

“Ever been to Wrigleyville?”

The way he asked set off an alarm inside me. Wrigleyville is known for being a popular gay area in Chicago. This guy was gay and he was interested.

“No, never; I’ve never even been to a Cubs game.”

“Oh.”

He then offered me some blow. I declined. He offered me weed. I declined. This went on for a while, him offering me all kinds of things I had never heard of while we shot pool, when he really just wanted to offer me himself. He kept buying me beers (don’t worry, I realized he was trying to get me drunk). Finally, he broke down. “I don’t know if you figured this out yet or not but I’m gay and I’m interested in you.”

“I know. Sorry, but I’m not gay.”

“Oh. Do you want to stop shooting, then?”

“No, we can keep playing pool; just realize that I’m not gay, so nothing is going to happen.”

“Oh. That’s good of you and quite understanding. I appreciate it.”

I always figured it’s hard enough to be gay, let alone tell when someone else is and make a move. I wasn’t going to hold that against him. Suddenly, I heard Billy yelling. I turned around to see him chewing out Chuck for being a hack, not only on stage but with women. Chuck left and Billy called to me, “Hey, Ian, come over here.”

I sat with Billy for an hour or so; he gave me the number of his agent, Roger Paul, who would do some big things for me in the future. He gave me the numbers of some key club bookers. He gave me the numbers of some key comedians. He gave me his number. Most importantly, he gave me confidence. “Stick with it, kid, you got real talent. Fuck Chuck, that hack. I saw what he did to you last night when you were trying to talk with that waitress. He did the same thing to me tonight when I was trying to talk to some women. He’s never gonna work here or anywhere else I work, for that matter.”

Mental note: never piss off the headliner.

It was time for me to go. I thanked Billy and got up to leave. Dave approached. “Hey, you leaving?”

“Yeah, I gotta go. Good games.”

“Have you ever been with a guy?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know you ain’t gay?”

(I realize that, ironically, Sally probably thought I was gay or at least hiding in a closet.) “I haven’t been shot but I know I wouldn’t like that, either.”

“What room are you in at the Days Inn?”

(Everybody knew the comedians stayed at the Days Inn; Kankakee isn’t that big.)

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Come on, what room?”

“Take care, Dave.”

I left. The next morning I got up early, packed my crap, and prepared to head home. When I went to leave, I noticed someone had slid a note under my door. I picked it up.

Ian, once again it was an absolute pleasure. Good to see guys like you working your way up the comedy ladder. When I went to leave the bar, that guy asked me for your room number. I gave him Chuck’s.

Billy

I laughed my ass off for ten minutes, unable to do anything else. I felt bad for Dave but it was hilarious. Typical Billy; simple, subtle, but topnotch. Looking back now, I realize I could have gotten laid twice that day!

It wasn’t until years later that I heard what happened. I was working with a guy in Indiana and I mentioned the club in Kankakee, which had since closed. (It only lasted a few months; in comedy, you work new clubs quickly, while they’re still open, or you miss the boat.)

“Oh, shit, I know that club, I know that club! My friend Chuck was working there and the last night of the show, the strangest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life happened to him. It was like two in the morning, he was sound asleep, when there was a pounding on his door. He turned the light on and looked out the peephole. There was this guy standing there. The guy called to him, ‘I seen your light go on, I just want your autograph, buddy! I swear!’ My friend opened the door and the guy dropped his pants, I mean butt naked, showing everything, while he said, ‘This is what you’re missing! Hey, you’re not the guy I’m looking for!’ Chuck closed his door and yelled for the guy to go away, that he was calling the front desk to call the police.”

As hard as I laughed at hearing his story, and as satisfying as it was to finally learn what happened, I think it was even more interesting and funny for Chuck’s friend to hear the story in reverse; to hear the setup of the bizarre event from me. He laughed every time he looked at me for the rest of the week. He literally could not be around me, it was so funny to him and he couldn’t shake it from his mind.

I never did work with Billy again. We spoke several times over the years but I never got to tell him what happened; he moved and changed his number before I got a chance. If you see him, tell him the story; just don’t give him your room number; you never know who might show up at your door . . . if it’s Sally, call me, then tell her I finally have a clue!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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