What You're About To Read Is True.
I'm doing my Rod Serling impression here in my office and I can feel my dogs judging me. (Hey, if you two can do better I'd love to hear it.)
I have been urged by a bunch of people (okay, one person) to share the story of auditioning for "Last Comic Standing." I'll tell you right now - this story has an anticlimactic ending. If you happen to own a t-shirt that reads "Life Is A Journey...Not A Destination," this would be the ideal time to slip it on, because that's how this story works.
For me, however, it was an unforgettable experience - in much the same way that eating bad clams on our family vacation to Cape Cod back in the 70s and ending up in the emergency room was an unforgettable experience for my dad.
It also helps to keep in mind as you're reading that I'm a total jackass who often drags perfectly nice friends into ridiculous situations.
So. This was a couple of years ago and I had just done my first standup show. Ever. A few weeks down the road, I'd be lucky enough to get booked at the Hollywood Improv and The Comedy Store, but none of that had happened yet. I had one show under my belt, along with my comedy bud Erica. (Her name is not really Erica but she's very funny nevertheless, plus I know she'd appreciate the glamorous nighttime-soap name. Feel free to imagine her with loads of eyeliner and epic shoulder pads.)
A few days after this first gig, I see on the Web (never a good start) that they're holding open auditions for "Last Comic Standing" at the Hollywood Improv on a Monday morning at 9:00. Having watched "The Secret" way too many times, I wonder hmmm...is this the Universe tapping me on the shoulder with yet another opportunity? (When, oh, when will I learn to turn the other shoulder?)
I call partner in comedy crime Erica and start pumping her up. "We'll have two minutes before the judges, so polish your best bits and iron your jeans or whatever."
There is much discussion as to when to arrive for the auditions. It seems like a good idea to get there early...say, 8:00-ish? It's a little inconvenient, I say, but okay. I get another call from her an hour later. She's been talking to some of her Hollywood-adjacent friends and has learned that people get to this audition REALLY early. Like the night before early.
What?? I'm not sleeping out on Melrose Avenue for this thing. They aren't giving out Peter Frampton tickets, after all.
We go back and forth and finally decide that I'll pick her up at 3:00 am, which should put us at the club at about 3:30. At this point Jon Bon Jovi (not my husband's real name) chimes in to say that we're crazy and he's washing his hands of the whole affair. (Well!)
Sunday evening - I pack. Never one to travel light (don't get Jon Bon Jovi started on this), I assemble a hatchback full of supplies that rivals a Red Cross airlift into Bangladesh: bottled waters, folding chairs, power bars, comfy socks, a bunch of bananas, wipees, hand sanitizer, my stage clothes and on and on. Once the car's loaded I go to sleep.
For five minutes.
2:00 am - I'm showering, dressing and running through my two-minute set over and over in my head. I pull up in front of Erica's apartment, which is in the middle of the one pocket of LA in which I have no cell reception. She's also mentioned that the front-door buzzer on her building doesn't work. An intriguing and challenging pickup situation indeed. Eventually, she looks out and sees me idling on the street and we're off.
[Side note: If you need to drive anywhere in Los Angeles, I highly recommend doing so at 3:20 in the morning.]
3:40 am - We get to Melrose and slow down as we approach the club. There's the front door...and there's a row of tents and sleeping bags that's a block long...make it two blocks...nope, three blocks of campers who have been living on the sidewalk for four days, protecting their places in line. The line of bodies snakes around the corner onto Crescent Heights and dribbles onto the sidewalk along a row of houses.
Stunned silence in the car. Okay, maybe a few expletives. "So are we doing this?" "Crap. We're here. I guess so."
4:00 am - We park and walk to the end of the line with our mounds of supplies and settle into our spot in the dark.
The previous season's winner on the show had been Josh Blue - a very gifted comedian who happens to suffer from cerebral palsy and has built a very successful act around his disability and others' reactions to it. It quickly becomes apparent that the woman in line on our left intends to capitalize on this fact, which she sees as the beginning of a trend.
On the sidewalk in front of her, she has erected a shrine of sorts to her son, whom she describes as a "yellow-bus kid." Included in the display is his 8x10 high school graduation portrait in a shiny gold frame, surrounded by clusters of other photos in smaller, assorted frames. At first we're afraid her son has passed away (hence the shrine), but she explains:
"That boy who won last season - Josh Blue - he was a yellow-bus kid like my boy. They like that on this show. I'm taking these pictures in with me so they know I have a yellow-bus kid."
It's important to note that this woman is wearing a pair of frilly pink panties. On her head. With no trace of irony.
Erica and I shift uncomfortably in our folding chairs, clearly out-strategized by Ms. Panty-Head.
Directly to our right, next to Erica, is a young man in fatigues who says nothing through the entire ordeal but does a lot of twitching and gives off a VERY strong Mark David Chapman/John Wayne Gacy vibe. Right. And we'll be scooting THIS way toward our good friend Ms. Panty-Head and putting the purses over HERE.
4:30 am - Lots of buzz in the line, rumors flying everywhere, a "sign-up sheet" (notebook paper) being passed down the line. Everyone's sizing each other up. "Dude doesn't look funny at all."
It's still dark.
7:30 am - The commuters are whizzing through the neighborhood, coffee in hand, giving us some (deserved) curious looks. The sun is now up. I'm desperate for coffee, but there are no bathroom facilities and stores with public bathrooms won't be open for ages so it's too risky.
Erica and I joke around but make sure not to waste our comedy mojo on the street. A man who calls himself "Caneman" videotapes people in line. He's wearing a coat that looks to be made from the pelts of a dozen bright yellow Muppets.
Ms. Panty-Head sniffs the air like a bloodhound, then reaches into her bag and changes the panties on her head from pink to white. Erica and I exchange looks. Is this conceptual humor? Are we just not sharp enough to decode it? We must observe this one closely.
I look around and take in the raucous, bleary sidewalk scene and it occurs to me that, in a single caper, I have brought about my mother's doomsday scenario: her daughter has spent the night on the curb in a sketchy part of town with a bunch of drunk people, one of whom is wearing underwear on her head, AND there are no clean bathroom facilities.
8:30 am - I have to go to the bathroom. The line doesn't seem to be moving so I leave Erica to guard our camp and I trot down to a service station at Melrose and Fairfax. When I return, the street is empty. Everything from our outpost is gone.
8:45 am - I find everybody. In the moment I'm in the bathroom (of course), someone in charge comes along and redirects the line up the street so it now curves around the corner of the club and way down a different side street. Poor Erica manages to haul all our stuff two blocks over. Erica is widely regarded in our part of the line as a stud.
11:45 am - Nothing has changed except our moods. Everyone is twitchy now and misinformation flows like sweat. The street is filled with profanity, loud music, cackles of laughter and two uptight white girls in folding chairs staring bitterly into their power bars.
1:00 pm - Erica walks all the way to the front door of the club to get a status report straight from the source. I guard the campsite from the unruly bands of prop comics who are scrounging for Fritos and cigarettes. She returns with those within a 50-yard radius crowd around to hear her tell us that the people from the show haven't even arrived yet.
Auditions have not yet begun.
The doors are still locked.
Everyone is outraged. Violence is contemplated, particularly against one comic who has been bugging the crap out of all of us for the last [gulp] NINE HOURS.
1:15 - 1:29 - Stony, exhausted silence.
1:30 - Gut-check time. I confabulate with Erica as to just how much bleepin' bleep-bleep we're going to bleepin' put up with from that bunch of bleep-holes. I mean, who the bleep do they think they are? Bleepers. Don't they know we bleepin' killed at our bleepin' first show? What the bleep? (Did I mention we both went to very reputable institutions of higher learning?)
Bottom line: If we leave right then, we can have Thai food for lunch before I drop her off and go pick up Morticia and Gomez at school.
3:00 pm - I walk up the alley at my kids' school, picking lemongrass from my teeth and wearing some very large, very dark glasses. I run into a dad friend - a TV producer/director who's been sweetly supportive of my comedy aspirations.
I tell him my tale of "Last Comic Standing" woe. He replies that his friend is the producer on the show. "You should have called me - I could have gotten you in for a private audition."
Epilogue: The following week, I hear through back channels that much later in the day, when the folks from the show finally made an appearance at the club, they let the first 20 people inside to audition...and sent the rest of the line home.
It's a tough town. Bring a folding chair.