I Have Short Hair So You Don’t Have To Hold It Back
This is the true story of my life as a stand up comedian.
They have two-for-one meals on comedy night. Trevor had the steak and the chicken parmigiana. I had sandwiches before I left home. I went to a seminar the women’s collective put on so that I could learn to embrace my body. I was fat. I tried to stay in shape by telling myself to diet and throwing up on a semi regular basis. Trevor was fat but he didn’t seem to care. I hated Trevor; but once you got close to him that became beside the point. Trevor was a mirror. There was nothing between us but time.
Trevor bombed one night in front of a captive crowd. They didn’t want to be there. I told him I thought his act was alienating. He went quiet and then mumbled something about how he thought people found water calming. I didn’t know what he meant until he started performing his act in a tank of water while he talked about the environmental impact of mining. It’s hard to convey why it was funny in print. Stand up is mainly rhythm. For the big finale he balanced a beach ball on his nose. You were supposed to laugh at the dichotomy. A woman tried to feed him fish after a show but he said if they wanted to see a seal perform they could have stayed home and watched The Voice. His act was banned by the Queensland government, not for its political content, but because it breached water restrictions. He appealed the decision. The authorities compromised and allowed him to perform in establishments with an even street number on Tuesdays.
I should mention that Trevor was a virgin. It’s not important to me, but it has become part of his mythology.
Tina was on. She told jokes I’d heard before but I still laughed at them. I took up smoking so I’d have an excuse to stand outside with her afterwards. I said that I was feeling lonely. She didn’t think that was a problem other people could solve. She told me eighty percent of human communication is non-verbal. I was fluent enough to know she was saying she just wanted to be friends. All my best friends were men; I was better at pretending I didn’t want to fuck them. She said something but about her time in Brazil but I wasn’t really listening. I laughed and she touched my forearm in a way that almost never leads to sex. She asked if I even knew what she was talking about. I said it was probably one of her jokes. She called me a cunt but I was happy.
She went home with a boy. It didn’t make it any easier that they had arrived together. When she walked away I looked at the floor. I dreamt about her that night.
In the dream I was thinner than I actually am and she was beautiful. We stood naked in the sun outside my parent’s house. I held her in my arms. She wasn’t worried about skin cancer or the neighbours. I didn’t have an erection and she asked if that meant I was gay. When I woke up I took a moment to consider my internalised homophobia. I couldn’t think of anything to make her laugh so I said ‘I love you’. In my dreams I love you.
She had a boyfriend. I saw them together, she wore black and he was dressed in sailor tatts. I spoke to him and he knew. We stood next to each other at the urinal and I snuck a peek at his penis.
Dad called in the afternoon and asked how I was doing for money. He said I needed to get myself a proper job but I didn’t want his two cents, I just wanted his money. When I was eleven, dad dropped me off at the art gallery and told me to call him when I was done. He wasn’t pleased when he picked me up half an hour later. He said you obviously can’t appreciate all that art in that amount of time. But how long do you have to look at something before other people think you understand it?
He wanted to know what I was doing that night and I said I was going out for drinks with people in the industry. Dad asked if this meant I was finally going to get a job but neither of us thought this joke was funny anymore. Tina had just been signed by an agent and I was going to go congratulate her. I think she was pleased to see me but she spent most of the night talking to other people. I ended up leaving early. It’s hard to go for celebratory drinks when you are one of the losers.
My dad manages a bowls club and he lets me use the hall to put on shows. Laurel from the club broke her hip and I put on a benefit gig to help pay for her medical expenses. I didn’t know how it would go. I was hoping the reception to my comedy would be couched in the idea that Laurel was loved.
There was a groundsman at the club called Neville who spent most of his time drinking. He had a bulbous, red nose which made him look like a caricature alcoholic, which would have been funny if drink hadn’t ruined his life. As a comedian I am trying to move away from easy irony. When I was eight Neville tried to show me how tie the knots he’d learnt in the navy. After fifteen minutes he realised he’d forgotten how. I said it didn’t matter; I would stick to Velcro shoes. I thought he had bigger problems anyway like early onset dementia. I wasn’t very sympathetic, but in fairness, when you’re eight you haven’t really been given a chance to properly fail.
One night a fight broke out between patrons. They weren’t regulars. The club was in an inner city area which was prime real estate for development. I would go into more detail about it but it’s basically the plot to Crackerjack.
One of the men pulled a knife out of his Billabong board-shorts. Dad didn’t employ security. Neville came up behind the pair and screamed, “I fucking love this”, as he glassed them. You could still get a glass made of glass then. He wandered over to the bar to get another drink but dad said it was probably time he went home.
I asked Tina if she would host the show for Laurel. Trevor had already agreed to be the opening act. She said she thought it would be okay, she wasn’t moving to Melbourne for a couple of weeks. I said I could pay her but I knew she would still think she was doing me a favour. She went to art school. For her end of term project she dug a hole in the ground and left it empty. She said her performance rejected the idea of the art object in favour of the ephemeral. It was supposed to be a critique of the objectification of women. Sometimes she wanted to feel like more than just a hole for somebody else to fill. I sat in the field and stared at it all day but when I tried to speak to her about it she could tell I didn’t really understand.
When I arrived Trevor was working his way through the house red. On the table in front of him were the remnants of a twelve piece feed, which in hindsight seems an apt choice for his final meal. I introduced Tina to my dad. He said he knew why I was always talking about her. I blushed. I didn’t have it in me to play it cool.
Tina did ten minutes of comedy from a set the Herald-Sun would go on to describe as ‘fresh’ and ‘innovative’. My friend worked for the local newspaper and I asked her if she would come and write a review. I wanted a quote I could put on my comedy festival poster.
Trevor staggered to stage and groped Tina as she introduced him to the crowd. She threw her glass of water into his face but it wasn’t until later that he really woke up. He started speaking about love into the microphone we usually use to announce the winner of the meat tray. A woman at the bar complained when my dad told her they were out of red wine. Trevor interrupted his stream of consciousness to throw up on her. I closed my eyes in horror, which I regret now, but magic can only happen when the audience is looking the other way. He made a noise which I now think of as a man who never worked experiencing labour pains.
When I opened my eyes a young man was emerging from a pile of loose skin. Trevor had vomited up the thinner man inside him. He had a body that doesn’t do my self-esteem any good to think about. He wiped himself down and did twenty-five minutes of stand up mixing warm vulnerability with well-founded arrogance. I laughed. It’s easy to forget comedians can be funny. He did comedy for everyone that wasn’t perfect. It was the kind of thing I would like to have done. My own relentless morbidity fell flat to an audience that had just witnessed rebirth.
When the review came out I got two lines. She said I had some good one liners but that my set lacked a coherent narrative structure. Tina introduced Trevor to her management and they arranged a venue in Melbourne. They asked me to come down and hand out flyers. Word spread and five thousand people came to watch him in Federation Square. Steve Bennett compared him to Daniel Kitson.
I asked Tina if she wanted to go on a date. She said she was with Trevor now. After you’ve been sexually humiliated I think it is almost more embarrassing not to masturbate. Trevor started hanging out with Tom Waterhouse. You could tell that even though Tom is always smiling on TV he is hurting like the rest of us. One night I spiked Trevor’s drink to induce vomiting. I wanted to see if he was a babushka doll all the way down to God. I saw my face in his spew but I don’t think it was a sign. Sometimes you just see what you want to see.
– by Angus Gordon
– Art by Colin McElwaine