Danny was an unorthodox comedian alright. If by unorthodox you mean completely opposite of.
Instead of getting up on stage and making people laugh, he’d go up there and totally bum them out. Not just by not being funny. Anybody could do that. But by bringing out the buried pain and fear in an audience. By triggering some deep shit.
And none of it funny. At all.
He’d stand in front of the room and psychically tap into what people in the crowd were going through. Then just sort of…bring it up.
It was beyond awkward. Some would cry with sorrow. Others would rage with regret. Pull out their hair. Tear their garments. A guy in Eire tried to jump to his death from the balcony. Fractured both ankles to powder instead. Paramedics carried him off while Danny tried to get the audience to sing rounds of Row Row Row Your Boat.
It’s was a hard act for an agent to sell. A night of anguish and torment with Danny Dee. Danny’s gave up trying. He was now reduced to appearing at various open mikes throughout the country. Traveling on his own dime. Using up his savings. Money made from investments in Mexico.
He didn’t give a fuck. The way he saw it, if the Mex-adventure did nothing else but bank roll this chestnut, it was worth it.
An unsuspecting crowd of cheapskates, the kind that go to a comedy club for open mike night, would be eagerly anticipating a few cut-rate laffs. Thrilled to have escaped the cover charge an evening of professionals would cost, the mood is light. They’re not even chaffing at the two drink minimum. Feeling uncharacteristically generous they are. Tonight they’re ready to unwind. Have a good laugh.
“Hey thank you, very nice. Thank you, Phoenix Arizona! Great to be here. Compared to, say, on life support. Like someone I know.”
Nervous laughter. People still smiling.
“Anybody recently have to pull the plug on someone?”
Much less nervous laughter. A sea of blank stares.
“Which statistically is how most of us are going to leave this earth. With all those tubes and pumps attached to us. Making our loved ones go broke by paying someone to wipe our ass. Until someone finally says ‘Fuck it, they’re costing us too much. Let them die.'”
No laughter. Not even the nervous kind. People turning to each other.
“Is this thing on? Testing testing. One-two. Hot damn Vietnam. Hey can I get a show of hands of people hiding a dark secret? Something you would have to kill yourself over if it got out? An affair? A costly addiction? An S.T.D.? A criminal past? An unwanted pregnancy? Any sexual weirdness? A really embarrassing kink?”
No hands go up. Lots of shifting around in seats. Grumbling and groaning.
“How about a gnawing need, one that’s not being met by your present life situation? Anybody have someone standing in the way of their happiness? Feel like they’re about to lose their job? Think their bad parenting drove their kids to drugs? Anybody got a special somebody you suspect doesn’t really love you? Maybe because you’ve broken their trust forever? Anyone?”
Quiet. Very. Finally, a guy yelling out “Fuck you!”
“Thank you very much. Put me on that list.”
Taking the mike off from its stand.
“No baby, just kidding. Love you like a brother.”
Walking over to a pitcher of water. Carefully pouring himself a glass. Taking a small sip. The catcalls starting to come from the dark. He looks around. Puts the glass down on the stool.
“Hey how about that whole death of loved ones thing? I guess the best thing about Fukushima is that it won’t be long now before we all join them. ”
Well, you can imagine. People would get pissed. Danny had to cut a length of heater hose, fill it with sand, cap the ends off, then wind the whole the thing up in black electrical tape. He kept The Snake down his pant leg, tucked into his sock, along with his passport and thirty-five hundred dollars. The improvised black-jack saved his ass in Newark, Ohio one night. Those people were crazy. Lot’s of dark secrets. Lot’s of fear. He was lucky to get out alive.
Why even do it? He wasn’t sure. Besides the obvious rush from standing in front of an angry mob, he figured he was reviving the cathartic tradition of Greek tragedy. Allowing people to look inside their pain. To stop running from it. And instead of a bunch of degenerate Athenians rhyming stuff from behind masks on sticks, he was giving it to them straight. Looking them in the eyes and telling them like it is.
With nothing but a length of plumping hose to back it up.
Other than that, he didn’t really know why. He had learned it was better not to attach too many expectations to any project, be they monetary or philosophical. That’s the best way to stay motivated, and stave off any disappointment. Besides, these things seem to have a life of their own.
Like the motivational speaker caper before this.
He had hit the paid speaker circuit with some schtick he had crafted in a motel room one night. It started with the usual keys to managerial success. See-learn-grow stuff. Basic common sense, presented in bullet-points. After underlining all kinds of nouns and adjectives on a dry-erase, he’d abruptly stop and drop the pen on the carpet. Then step on it.
“Who are we kidding? This is all bullshit!” he’d announce, “This is common sense. And common sense, my friends, has failed us like a traitorous whore.” That would wake them up. Just in time to drop some quasi-esoteric pronouncements. Nothing particularly spell-binding. Just cryptic and creepy enough to create a strange vibe in the room.
“My friends, the vulture Maat, has come to feed on the carrion of our folly. Saturn’s scythe is reaping it’s reward. A Judas and a Jezebel sit among us.”
Having weirded the air, he’d present The Blonde Beast Plan– a full-on Nietzsche National Socialist boot-stomping call to destroy the competition. Completely over-the-top shit. Especially for a bunch of fast-food franchise managers. Which made it all the better really.
He would work them. Just to see if his oratory chops could coax out the closet fascist. The one hidden deep inside these sad corporate serfs. He wanted to see if he could demagog them.
First tap into some smoldering resentments. The stabbed in the back by November Criminals bit.
“Let’s be truthful. As managers of a Clown in the Box, you receive very little respect. From society. From your parents. From your peers. Some of your own children ridicule you. They prefer to tell their friends you’re currently unemployed. The hours of soul-deadening drudgery keeping them I-podded and padded, repaid with what? Disrespect? Dismissal? Disdain? It’s disgraceful!”
Clench a fist. Seethe. Hiss it out.
“Thisssssssss has become…unacceptable!”
Throw the fist and fling it open. Like you’re throwing away the Treaty of Versailles.
“Now our competitors-through better customer service and reasonable pricing-are trying to strangle us out of even this meager existence! To add starvation to our shame! Not content to piss on our piñatas, they want to ANNIHILATE US!”
Wave hands around wildly. Okay. That’s enough. Calmly place them back on the podium. Let them sit there like two spiders while you peer around. Lock eyes with somebody. Nod at him. Smile.
“Well they are in for a surprise, aren’t they?” Big stage wink. “We have a little clown in the box for them, don’t we?”
Hand spiders jump up. Start to strangle an imaginary throat.
“When we arise from our ashes! And smite them with the hammer of our righteous wrath! When we see the fear in their eyes. When we laugh at their pleas for mercy! ”
Check to see if anybody is buying it. Lots of head-nodding. Okay, good. Bring it home.
“Your sales will be gargantuan! Their might will make the gods and Death tremble! The people of the Earth will realize what a terrifying beast a non-salaried manager can be. Backs will bend in awe as you pass. Garlands. Accolades. Sweet gentle kisses will peck upon your victorious feet…”
Pause. Hold it. A little longer. Not yet. Now! “As they trample on the bones of your vanquished foes!”
Hold fists out and up like Gigantor.
Let the cheering die down a little. Now quietly. Measured.
“We are the destroyers. And we have come to do our will…”
Look down. Then up.
“And we have come…to destroy!”
Drop into a front horse stance. Throw two stiff punches. Strip mall Tae Kwon Do style. Hold out last punch and await response.
Pandemonium. Dudes kicking over banquet chairs. Tearing off the bunting from the tables. Throwing the Hydrangea centerpieces across the room. Howling like Vikings.
They ate this shit up. It was ridiculous to witness. The madness. The blood-lust gurgling up in a bunch of shift managers. Danny would look at them and think “What the fuck is wrong with you people? What’s gotten into you?”
Yeah, the whole gag backfired. Sales actually went up. He started to get re-invited. Even the franchise owners wanted to take the course. It took on a life of it’s own. He was even starting to make some decent money. Staying at Embassy Suites instead of Travel Lodge. Hitting some corporate milf action here and there. Everything would’ve been groovy, sans the moral dilemma.
Do I ride this gravy train for a little while longer? Buy myself some concrete bunkered compound in Belize. See if I can’t get more women involved. Build a sex cult. Create a tax-free enchanted kingdom. Maybe treat myself to some narco bling. Like a solid gold Kalashnikov encrusted with rubies. My birth stone. So pretty.
But at what cost? A rather generous pie slice of personal integrity and self-respect. The only two things you can ever really earn or keep.
He really tossed the motel sheets over that one. Finally, one morning, on his way to his complementary breakfast, he made his decision. He pulled the plug. Let it die.
Cooked up this comedy bit instead. There was no way this thing would succeed. He’d never be tempted to sell out. Because nobody would ever buy. It was fail-safe to fail.
The only thing was, that lately, he was starting to see some of the same faces in the audience. And they all had a weird look in their eyes.
He suspected that would happen. With his luck.