I’m behind the curtain of a very tiny stage at the First Baptist Church in Medford, Massachusetts, about to perform stand-up comedy at a church fundraiser / variety show. And If I ever felt like a star, I’m a long way from that feeling right now.
“Variety show” is a kind word for this hodgepodge of theater, music and excruciatingly awkward pauses. I am the opening act, followed by Debbie Dooley — a rhythmically-challenged, 12-year old tap dancer; the Pacemakers — four 80-year old jazz musicians who are all off synch, probably because they’re following the beat of they’re own pacemakers, and Mrs. O'Reilly — the Pastor’s wife, who can play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” by blowing across the tops of partially-filled bottles.
And that’s just the top 3. The other performances I can’t explain without diagrams.
A woman I barely know asked me to perform and since I have a speech impediment that makes it impossible to utter the word no, I said yes. I did not realize that I would be performing with the cast of Waiting For Guffman, complete with an all-cast sign along of Give My Regards to Broadway (which I haven’t sung since 6th grade music class and my performance has clearly suffered over time.)
So here I am. Hanging out behind the curtain with Dot. Dot’s job is walk out on stage, holding up signs that say “Cheer and Clap”, “Quiet Please”, and “Sigh.” I tell her to get the “Laugh” sign ready in case this senior citizen crowd doesn’t get my jokes about Internet dating or how I secretly think my boyfriend may be gay. Dot laughs and says, “I’ve never been to a comedy show, but my daughter has once.” I wonder if I’ve entered an alternate universe.
I’m only ten miles from Harvard Square but feel like I must have taken a wrong turn at Mass. Ave. and wound up stumbling down a wormhole, transcending time and space to land at a similar church variety show, but in Davenport, Iowa, 1952. I look down at my notes and cross of the gay boyfriend joke.
When Fred, Dot’s husband, introduces me as a “lovely lady from Sum-ah-vull” his Cliff Clavin accent jolts me back to the suburbs of Beantown, 2003. I realize I haven’t slipped down a wormhole, only my career has.
I decide I’m going to be as professional as possible, despite the girl with braces tap dancing in the back hallway, despite the Pacemakers inability to play as a group, and despite Dot smiling at me, ready with her cheesy signs.
I walk out onto the stage, pretending I’m in front of a packed house at Carnegie Hall…no Madison Square Garden! And I realize: It’s Saturday night, these people probably haven’t been out of the house since the big liquidation sale at BJ’s, and they actually believe I’m a professional comedian. And you know what? These God-fearing, Christian shut-ins deserve a good show! And by golly, I am proud and honored to do my very best to give it to them!
And if anybody asks what I did Saturday night, I was at the movies.