May 29, 2013 Fiction







June fiction to entertain you with two completely different but totally unique plots and characters you won’t soon forget from Simon Moya-Smith and David Michael Joseph



FIRST DAY  as a stand-up comic



David Michael Joseph



          I sat in the back. It was dark and I was one of ten people in the empty comedy club. Next to me was my friend, Mike. He had accompanied me on my mission. I was shaking as I watched the Open Mic performer struggle. The tall, fat pale comic stumbled over his words as the microphone quaked. Awkward smiles shot across his face as his jokes were not hitting their marks. It was getting quieter. I could hear him sweat. Nervousness took over as I turned to my friend and said,

 “I can’t do this man. Let’s go home”.

His face dropped, showing his disappointment… but wait let me start from the beginning.


I had taken an acting class in my first year at Gloucester County College. My teacher was Ms. Gerbar, a short, flabby Jewish woman who reminded me of Woody Allen. Her oversized thick-rimmed glasses sat on her face, weighing down her nose, as her large teeth shot suggestions and comments loudly across the auditorium.

              I loved her class. It allowed me to make people laugh; something that brought me joy, and some peace of mind during a hard childhood. The class was large and the course mostly dealt with Improv. She taught us all the rules and we constantly practiced and drilled. I was a natural. I had always been a class clown, all the way back from my performing days at St. Matthew’s Elementary-Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here for eight years.

               I wrote funny tales, and included my classmates in the stories. Some teachers would let me read them out loud in front of the class, but many of the less patient ones escorted me out of class to the nether regions known as the hallway; usually it was a punishment for an ill-timed one-liner during an arduous math problem. From then on, I would perform my window in the door comedy, doing impressions and making funny sounds. The roar of a captivated class was intoxicating, until I was caught by the quick eyes of the teacher.

                I had always been a funny kid. I used humor to escape fights when confronted by my black peers. When I left the Rivertown, I learned the brothers fight differently here. If I wanted to survive, I had to avoid getting into fights with them. When playing basketball in the park, I made the older men laugh, and in return they protected me from thugs. I also learned an important life lesson; no one wants to kill the Joker. He can say anything and still get close enough to murder the king. I found out early in life that humor is a weapon.

                 Along with everyone else in my age demographic, I would listen to my parents’ Bill Cosby and George Carlin albums; I played them in the family’s huge record player and listened as I giggled along with old Bill. I laughed away the caustic realities of life. It was an escape from the madness that caught me later on in life; when the jovial innocence of a childhood gave way to the harsh realities of the world. That was the way it is and to try and change it would wreck my mind.

                  One day, Ms. Gerbar informed the class that we had to perform an individual talent for a grade. I had been writing jokes in a small notebook, but never showed anyone, except my friend, Mike. He had taken me in after I had been thrown out of my house and was couch surfing from one friend to another.

            Mike and I had been classmates at college and played basketball together. He was now a night security guard there. I would try out jokes on him and he would give me his brutally honest opinion; what was funny, what was corny, what needed help. I thought I was ready but still wanted to be sure. The acting class was my launch pad. I was so brash after my puberty years,

 I was ready to fly.

              The day my assignment was due, it was time to see if I was ready to take that step into the icy pool of comedy. I took the stage with the strut of a seasoned vet. It was just another acting assignment. I was playing the part of a comedian. No pressure. No microphone. No lights. Fifteen members of my class took up two whole rows in the hundred-seat theater. I don’t remember the exact routine but I recall owning it. For about twenty minutes, I stole their hearts and souls. I was a madman on stage; A kamikaze of Comedy.

               I stepped off stage to a standing ovation. Ms. Gerber came up to me, eyes humbly surprised. She said I was good and she enjoyed my act. It meant so much coming from her, since she was the connoisseur of comedy. She inspired me to hit the main stage and later told me the class would come and  support me if I did. Support? I didn’t need support,

 like some sort of AA meeting! I would go alone! I was a wolf.

                I went back to Mike’s sofa more inspired than ever. I had done my research and sought out comedy clubs in the city of Brotherly Love; the Comedy Cabernet had an Open Mic night on Wednesdays. I wanted to scout it out before I hopped on stage.

                 I took a bus to get to the High-Speed line. I leaned up against the window and watched the South Jersey landscape in its nighttime slumber. The train hit all the Jersey stops, went underground in Camden and rose above the Delaware River.           Looking out the window, it was as if the metal dragon was flying over the dark, dank body of water to the city of lights and liberty on the other side. It was a feeling of emancipation.

                   The train returned underground and I exited at 6th street. I pushed through the turnstile, and the native smell of Philly invaded my nose from. I climbed the cement spiral staircase two steps at a time, reached the street and was hit by the noise and bustle right away. Movements were everywhere, and everything was fast, faster than the Jersey Burbs.

                    I found the Comedy Club easily, it was above a Middle Eastern eatery. At the bottom of the stairs I could hear the roar of laughter inside. I met a black medium-height comedian who called himself Gumby. He was friendly and greeted me with a wide, ivory toothed smile. I asked him if tonight was the Open Mic night and he assured me it was. There were comics of all shapes and sizes milling around the small lobby, nervously engaging in shoptalk.

“You going on stage?” he asked me.

“No, this is my first time.”

He shook his head as if it was the cutest thing he’s ever heard. If I were a puppy he would have patted me on the head. “You found the right place!”


A middle-aged couple from Georgetown entered the lobby and made eye contact with me, as if I was someone they knew. Gumby engaged them right away; he started performing on the spot. He was a natural and his quick one-liners had them paralyzed. “Let’s all take a picture.” the woman exclaimed loudly.

She grabbed and pulled me into the frame.

          They left with smiles on their faces, Gumby’s eyes following them to the stairwell. I saw the power of Humor; for a few minutes the couple were entranced by a total stranger. If he approached them anywhere else they might have grabbed their things and screamed for help.

 Truthfully, I would have as well. Without a smile Gumby appeared rough and ready to rumble.

            I went inside and took an empty seat at the back. The club itself was huge, it had a big square stage that was surrounded by tables and chairs.

            Todd Glass was on stage, killing the audience. He was a local professional funny man, his loud nasal voice boomed into the microphone. I watched a few other nondescript comics. Deep inside I knew I could do it just as well. My confidence peaked, but I was not performing that night, so of course I felt indestructible.

             When the fifth comic came out, the level of performance dropped like an amputee juggler. His weak entrance and painful one-liners cleared the room; during his act, half the people left the room. It must break one’s spirit to know you had the power to clear out a room better than a noxious gas. I also left; I saw what I wanted and would be back next week. As my adventure in comedy would start, I skipped down the stairs out to the city sidewalk.

               For two weeks I worked with Mike. I would ride my bike up to GCC at night, and we would go over my routine until I had it as good as it can get. Then it was time to walk the plank. The D-day was nerve wracking, I thought about what I was going to say over and over again. Mike and I had agreed to meet and attend the show together.

                 He drove us to the station, but first we stopped at a liquor store on the way and he bought two long cans of Millers. We made it to the station just in time to catch our train. We sat on the side, almost in the corner. Mike was loose and cheery, but I was nervous. He handed me a can,

 “Drink this. It will help you get ready.”

                 I gently took the beer to my lips, the edge of the can was cool metal as the liquid poured into my mouth. We finished our beers while hiding behind our seats. I repeatedly went over my set list. I prayed silently hoping for the best. For the first time, the train ride seemed much too fast.

                We arrived at 6th street and made our way to the club. I found the hostess holding the setlist and signed my name; I was number twelve. Like before, the room was packed with laughter, drinks and paying customers. The club had the Open Mic after the main show. Most of the time it was a bonus; a little icing on the funny cake.

                 Mike and I found an empty table all the way to the rear and watched the other comics perform. It was easy to tell the seasoned veterans from the semi-pros. After the first five comics, came the exodus to the door. I was scared, yet relieved. What if there is no crowd! I’m alone with only Mike to laugh at my jokes, to whom I’ve already told repeatedly!


          They had gotten to the ninth when the nerves kicked in at full gear. My stomach twisted and my brain bobbed up and down, filled with negative thoughts. I leaned over to Mike, “I don’t think I can do this. Let’s get out of here. Come on man, I’ll come back next week.”

              As disappointment crossed his face, he couldn’t hide the shame he felt for his cowardly friend. Suddenly, I grew some balls, grabbed my set list and got ready. I scanned the room; there were ten people left in the audience. I was next. I approached the DJ booth at the side of the room, and the pretty female MC asked me how I wanted to be introduced. I didn’t care, as long as I got this over with.

“I will blink you when it’s time to get off stage. You have five minutes.” She smiled, showed me the flashlight and left.

              I stood by the side of the stage and waited as the other comic danced around the stage nervously. I didn’t even remember him. I did remember he went over the time limit and got flashed in the eyes like a potential roadkill.

               The MC took the microphone from him and he walked off stage. The MC announced my name. I nervously walked up the small flight of steps to the stage and pulled the microphone out of its stand. The light blinded me and I squinted uncontrollably, my pupils burning. I must go on

 with the show. My hands shook. I must go on with the show. My memory lapsed. I must go on with

 the show!

                 I eased my mind and went for it. My five minutes rolled by quick and I got laughs. The MC took the stage and a high overcame me; the stage was a drug and I had my first hit. I was hooked. I walked off stage to minor applause and praise from my travel mate. We strolled to the High-Speed line station side by side through the Philadelphia night.

“You did good man. I’m glad you got on stage, I thought you were going to chicken out.”

We continued to the flight of cement stairs that descended into the High-Speed line station.

“You might have something man. You might have a shot at this.”

We inserted our tickets and walked through the turnstile, back to the Garden state. That was the only time Mike ever saw me perform. We were evicted a month later.

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  1. paul pekin June 01, at 19:31

    good story. It held me from start to finish, congrats to dmj


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