Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how important it is to follow your dreams. We all have them. Some of us want to be doctors, some want to be lawyers... and some want to be a size six!
I have a lot of dreams. Of course, they've changed through the years. When I was 8, I wanted my own pink princess phone. (I never got it.) In high school, I yearned to be voted homecoming queen. (I never was, although in junior year, I did come in fourth out of a field of nine. I later learned it was because some kids ran a campaign to elect me as a joke.) I've had a lot of other dreams, too, like being a successful Avon representative. And persuading hubby Rick to take me to Disney World for our long-delayed honeymoon. And, of course, let's not forget the three children I've always wanted: Rhett, Schuyler, and Antoinette (Toni for short).
But even as most of my dreams come and go, one has remained constant. Now, as you Jeanketeers all know, I love nothing more than a good laugh. I've never possessed one of those straitlaced, practical minds. I'm always thinking of wisecracks and witticisms, always searching for the funny side of a situation. That's why I've always felt I was destined to be... a professional joke writer! Sure, it might not save lives or broker peace in the Middle East, but by making people laugh, I'd be making myself happy, and that's all that should matter, right?
At Fashion Bug last Monday, my supervisor Roz and I got to talking. As we unloaded a shipment of slouch socks, I asked her if she had any hobbies or interests outside of managing Fashion Bug. "Are you kidding?" Roz answered. "I'd go ape if this was the only thing I had going for me."
It was soooo exciting to hear a manager-type say that! I asked Roz what those interests were and, after a little hesitation, she said she liked to knit and shoot pool.
"Oh, come on, Roz!" a voice behind me chimed in. I turned around, and the assistant manager, Ellen, was standing behind us. She elbowed Roz encouragingly. "Tell Jean about your stand-up career! You know, the one you've been avoiding forever."
I asked Roz what Ellen was talking about. Roz said she'd done a few amateur-night gigs at some local comedy clubs. I wasn't a bit surprised: Roz can be a real card. She's had me in stitches more than once (and not the medical kind!). She said she hadn't done stand-up in months because she wanted to come up with new material and just hadn't had the time.
"Friday is open-mic night over at Laughingstock's," Ellen told her. "Come on, no one's going to care if you tell the same jokes again!"
Ever have one of those moments when opportunity rears its head? I immediately sensed a chance to show Roz that not only was I a sock-stocker, but a born Laughingstocker, too! As soon as I had Roz alone for a moment, I told her I was a bit of a cut-up myself, and that I wrote this pretty daffy, lighthearted newspaper column she may have seen. Roz said she hadn't. I waited for her to ask what I was driving at, but she didn't, so I broke the suspense myself.
"If you want new material, I'll write your routine!" I said. "I can come up with jokes until the cows come home! This is something I was born to do. After all, if you're somebody like me, you gotta have a sense of humor! I can write down a bunch of them tonight and bring them in to work tomorrow!"
"Well, if you want to, I guess I could take a look at what you've got," Roz said. "Only, just don't write anything, you know... weird."
I assured her I was incapable of that, and that I wasn't one of those dirty-joke writers who likes to offend people. I stayed up into the wee hours writing Roz's act. I cobbled together one-liners from old columns. I reworked a couple of my "Jean's Proverbs" into jokes, too. The work seemed effortless, and I really thought a lot of my jokes were good enough for Roz (and maybe even for that Queen of Sassitude herself, Joy Behar!). Was an exciting new career opening up for me?
The next morning, I handed my jokes to Roz. She seemed genuinely surprised, as if she didn't actually expect me to go through with it. She warned me that even if she wound up liking my stuff, she still wasn't sure she was going to do open-mic night. But I walked away with a little smile on my face, knowing that my work would speak for itself.
The next day, Ellen announced to me and the other Fashion Bug sales associates, Tanya and Pat, that Roz was going to perform Friday, and that we and our hubbies were invited. I knew my jokes would make her a big hit!
I almost didn't make it to Laughingstock's that night. I practically had to rip Resident Evil out of hubby Rick's PlayStation 2 and drag him kicking and screaming to the car! He said he didn't want to see some ugly broads moan about being on the rag. But I was determined to show Rick that the best humor isn't one of Howard Stern's potty-mouthed put-downs, but stuff inspired by real life!
Laughingstock's was a funky little club. Everything was done up sort of 1930s-style, with big wall murals of Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx and that guy who played the violin. Despite the sophisticated décor, our group had to sit through a couple of pretty dismal acts. (After all, this was an amateur night.) One guy stammered some incomprehensible routine about Cher mating with a chicken, and another girl accidentally spilled her cup of water on herself! Rick, who was only allowed to have two beers because he was driving, was really chomping at the bit, but I asked him to hold tight.
Finally, after almost an hour and a half, Roz went on. Tanya, Pat, Ellen, and I burst into cheers. Roz looked soooo adorable up there, with her rainbow suspenders, bowtie, and scrunched-up sleeves! (It was such a refreshing alternative to the slutty clothes most show-biz women wear these days.) We also loved how she started off by saying hello to our town. That was very professional, like something a nationally famous comic would do.
When she launched into her opening joke about her boyfriend leaving the cap off the toothpaste, my brow furrowed a bit. This wasn't part of the routine I wrote for her. Patience, Jean, I thought. She'll get to your stuff.
Five minutes later, she still hadn't done one of my jokes. By that point, she was describing how an ex-boyfriend used to pick things up off the floor with his feet. Everyone was laughing—except yours truly. Why wasn't she using my material? Where was the line about how cats look at your finger instead of the thing you're pointing to? How "one size fits all" is the great lie of our time? What the deal was with this Go-Gurt? And my topper: "That Osama bin Laden should take a chocolate pill!" Why, Roz didn't even refer to chocolate once! All her jokes concerned bad relationships and bad sex and so on. I was disappointed to see her go in for blue material like every other comedian.
After Roz left the stage, Ellen turned to us. "I've heard those jokes a hundred times, and they still make me laugh," she said. "I don't see why she's so uptight about writing a new routine: She could tell those jokes for years without them getting old." Roz had stuck to her old material after all!
Hubby Rick and I cut out soon after. We were heading to the car when we spotted Roz at the back entrance, smoking with a couple of the other comics. Roz approached me.
"I'm sorry I didn't use your jokes, Jean," she said. "I know you worked hard on them, but they just didn't seem right for me. My sense of humor is a little different from yours. Plus, I had trouble making out some of your handwriting. It's hard to read red ink on pink stationery. But don't be mad. I appreciate the effort, I really do."
I accepted her apology, but I still didn't understand why she didn't use my jokes. When I talked to Rick about it, he was his usual blunt self: "Who gives a crap about how cats act? And there ain't nothing funny about Go-Gurt. You just eat it. Your jokes would've put the audience to sleep."
Poor, naïve Rick. I'm not angry about Roz's decision, but I finally figured out the real reason behind it. She felt a little threatened, so she decided to squelch my jokes. I've heard show-biz egos can be pretty tough to deal with, and sometimes they'll do illogical things like turn down great material because they're so insecure inside. It's sad, but I can't allow my dream to be destroyed. That's why I vowed to begin mailing my jokes to Joy Behar and various other comedians, unsolicited. It seems like a long shot, considering all the mail they must get, but I'm sure once they get around to reading my stuff, they'll recognize it for the gold that it is!