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Copyright Ian Coburn 2008

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She was the Real Feature

I had only been doing comedy for a year when I finagled my way into The Laugh Factory in Aurora, roughly an hour west of Chi-Town. I had been having a tough time getting on the slate for the club’s Sunday open mic night. Ens, the open night booker and assistant manager, didn’t feel I had enough experience. One night at Northern Illinois, AJ Jamal appeared as part of a week of comedians in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium. Originally, I was slated to open for him but then HBO intervened. They realized he would draw a big crowd (he was doing a lot of MTV back then) and wanted to capitalize on it. They brought in some guy to open for him and taped his set for an HBO special, then closed up shop and AJ came onstage. It was funny; the guy they filmed the special of couldn’t have been more different from AJ. He was white, wore a suit and tie, and was a political act. AJ is black, wears jeans, and could care less about politics. In the end, HBO bumped me out of the show to film a useless special because the crowd was all wrong for their guy. Dah!

I didn’t let being bumped stop me from telling Ens I was opening for AJ Jamal at NIU. With that news, he gave me a slot. “AJ and I are good friends; I’ll ask him how it went.”

This should have made me nervous, except I knew by then that every club booker and manager thought he was good friends with every name comedian. It was rarely the case. I had my best show to date at Laughs and after the set a guy named Mikey approached me in the back of the club. “I have a club on the north side of Chicago. We need a feature act for next Saturday night. I think you’d be perfect.”

I should have been wary of a guy offering me a thirty-minute feature slot based on watching me do a five-minute set. I should have been wary of a guy who didn’t have his show booked less than a week out from the gig. I should have been wary of a guy who said he’d call me Thursday with the address of the performance. Hell, I should have been wary of an adult who went by the name “Mikey.” I wasn’t wary, not from any of the red flags. I was going to feature! Nothing else mattered.

Since I only had about fifteen minutes of good material, I spent the week writing and rehearsing my ass off. I was eighteen—stupid enough to bite off more than I could chew—and loving every minute of it. I was also scared to death. I prepared exactly thirty minutes of material . . . well, thirty minutes if the audience laughed at every joke for at least thirty seconds . . .

The night of the show came. My friend, Pete, drove me. For the life of us we could not find the damn club. We looked everywhere for the big sign Mikey told me would read “The Comedy Jam.” We walked up and down the block it was supposed to be on but saw nothing. This was not doing anything for my nerves. I was already a nervous wreck because I knew I was cutting it close with the mic time. Now I was going to be late for the show because I couldn’t find the club? Suddenly, we saw the sign. It was sitting doorknob high. I am being generous calling it a sign. It was an old piece of brown cardboard, a little more than the size of a piece of letter-sized paper. Someone had scrawled “The Comedy Jam” with a red crayon. Ah, this was going to be great! 

Upon entering the club, we found a pretty nice setup. There was a small stage and a bunch of tables in a room the size of a beauty salon. Mikey was the only other person there. He sat us down in the back and we waited for the show to start, me worried to death.

“Dude, stop shifting around.”

“Sorry, Pete; I’m nervous as hell.”

And we waited. And waited. And waited. The show was supposed to start at 8:30pm. At 9:15pm, the other three or four acts entered. One of them carried a dirty, old toilet bowl. At 9:30pm we still didn’t have an audience. Mikey went out onto the street and pretty much begged people to come to the show. When we had ten, at around 10:30pm, he declared the show would be starting. Half of the crowd had just been sitting there for nearly an hour; they were not in a good mood. 

To make matters worse, Pete had left. He had to have the car home by midnight and lived about an hour outside the city. I had no way to get home and nowhere near enough money for a cab. Once I got paid, I’d have to use almost all of it to cover cab fare.

The emcee died a horrible death. The first act died a horrible death. The guy with the toilet, who carried it up on stage but then didn’t even address why he had it (he literally did nothing with it), did worse than die. I’m sure he wished he could have flushed himself down it and out of the club.

I was panicking. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, I literally considered running out the door. This gig was horrible. The crowd didn’t even want to be there. They weren’t laughing at all, which meant I was going to go through my thirty minutes of material in ten minutes, then not have a damn thing to talk about.

Just before it was my time to die, a gorgeous blonde with a fantastic body entered the “club.” She wore a white blouse and a short jean skirt. She was probably in her mid-twenties. She asked to be seated up front. Well, maybe something good would come from the gig after all; I might just meet a pretty woman. Of course, if I bombed, she’d have no interest in me.

I was introduced and prepared for hell. Surprisingly, the crowd laughed at my first joke. And my second one. And my third. I was going to be okay! They were digging me. About five minutes into the act, I looked at the blonde. She smiled, then licked her lips seductively. Huh? Had I just imagined that? Nope, because now she was opening her legs slowly. She was wearing white panties. She then slowly closed her legs.

Okay, well, that was interesting. I went on with my set. Of course, I looked over at her again. This time she blew me a soft kiss and again slowly opened her legs. Of course I looked. It was a recipe for disaster. Realizing she was going to do this every time I looked at her, I decided not to look. As soon as I made this decision, I started looking more. She kept at it.

Fifteen minutes into the set, I was basically just staring at her. I didn’t even know what I was saying but I had rehearsed so many times, I just regurgitated the next bit after I heard the laughter subsiding. The nameless blonde got up and went back to the restroom. Thank God! (I never thought I’d be glad when a woman with legs every guy in the world would want wrapped tightly around him, who was showing me just how far up her legs went, left the room. But I was.)

I got back into the act and was enjoying myself. She returned. Was she still playing the game? I looked. Oh, things had changed; she had upped the anti; she was no longer wearing the panties. Now I was in serious trouble. I couldn’t control myself and felt my general starting to salute. Thank God I was wearing a tucked-in, collared shirt. I stared at her crotch and un-tucked the shirt to hide my erection, a move every guy learns in high school, when the sight of something as simple as a cheerleader in her colors bending over to pick up her books in the hallway can cause a guy’s soldier to prepare for battle, instantly.

Of course, un-tucking the shirt was not enough. I had to adjust so that it was pointing up, instead of out. I put my hand in my pocket, pretending to be doing a bit, and moved it to the proper position. I went on with my act, trying hard not to think about how much fun the blonde and I were going to have after the show. It was going to be awesome! My first time was going to be with a hot blonde who had everything a guy could want, sexually.

A few minutes before I was about to get off stage, and then got off with the blonde, she got up and went back to the bathroom. She was probably going to buy some condoms. Yippee!

I finished my set and got off stage. I waited in the back for her. Nothing. Another women went into the bathroom, which was a single, so I knew she wasn’t in there. Hmm. I asked Mikey if he had seen where she went. “Oh, she left just before you finished.” What?! Hell, no!

I raced out of the club, still aroused. I trekked up and down and around the block. Nothing. I peeked through the windows of every nearby bar and restaurant. She was nowhere in sight. I went back to the club and waited in vain. Eventually, I admitted to myself she had just been toying with me the whole time. She was simply trying to throw me off my game onstage with her own game.

I did learn one very important thing that night—I could get through any distractions in a show if I could get through hers. It was small consolation at the time. Mikey paid me at the end.

“Nice job, feature.”

I smiled. Only I had seen the real feature of the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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