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  • Jessica Abrams

Tales of a Standup Comic: Bombing in Tucson

I'm sitting in the kitchen of the Airbnb I've called home for the last two nights. The shades are down and the air conditioning is cranking. I want to do what I do in L.A. to break up the day and re-boot the complicated motherboard that is my emotional make-up: haul ass up a forty-five degree incline and expunge my demons so that by the time I've come down and my legs squeak with sweat against the car seat I am calm. Happy, maybe. But no one except the random homeless person is outside during the day in Tucson, so I'm sitting in this slightly dank room eating trail mix and drinking Gatorade. You know, like I'd actually gone on a hike.

I hate it here. I hate the parched air, the absence of trees. I hate how unrelentingly hot it is and yet the few times I mentioned climate change people looked at me like I had just started speaking Chinese. I hate how you can't do anything during the day except wait like a Saudi woman behind the gates of a walled compound. I hate how the hot winds seem to blow everyone off the streets and instead people communicate via catchy sayings on license plates. Would I hate it so much if I hadn't bombed the other night performing standup comedy on stage at Vail Center for the Arts? Probably not. But as it is, the city has taken on the collective face of every rejection I've ever encountered and I want out.


About a month ago, a stranger reached out to me on Facebook Messenger: did I want to perform clean comedy in Tucson? Always looking for an adventure and some cash, I said yes. This was before I came to the realization that I always want to be somewhere I'm not. It took me eight hours in the car, shitty food and a wall of heat to realize this, but when I got the message I was excited. Maybe even thrilled. And very flattered.


The moment I got on stage I knew. I knew that it was going to be a struggle to win these people over and that I was probably never going to do it but I'd still have to stand on stage for forty-five minutes and try. And there's no worse feeling than knowing you're on a fool's errand and there are fifty or so people watching you and unwilling to give you even the slightest bit of leeway for having the balls to do it. They paid their money and they want their laughs, goddammit.

Did it help that I started off my set by identifying myself as a"tree-hugging, socialist-leaning, whale-saving, yoga-doing, organic-eating, gun-hating, coexist-sticker-displaying woman hear me roar"? No, it did not. Nor, in retrospect, did it help that I admitted I had no idea where Vail was and initially thought I'd be performing in a ski resort. It also didn't help that I asked if anyone in the audience knew any Jews (out of fifty, three did). But they hated me even before all of that. I saw it. I felt it. I'm a sensitive person -- maybe too sensitive for this racket -- and I know when a group of people simply does not get me and all the cute outfits and fun lipstick and self-deprecating urbanity won't win them over. I was going on the assumption that these people knew my "type", but they didn't. And my initial pronouncement condemned me to worse than a type. It made me a stereotype, and not the kind of stereotype they could laugh at (or ideally, laugh with) but one that they knew was probably judging them, as if they were the ones on stage.


Which made me think about my bubble. My Trump-hating, ignorance-judging, religion-criticizing bubble. I know I'm in it. I know this. But I guess I always assume that once I'm with actual humans as opposed to Facebook thumbnails, we'll see past differences and get along. But maybe my very essence reeks of judgement or, at the very least, a particular sophistication that presupposes a level of understanding and awareness. And maybe that's off-putting. I don't know. I'm fucking trying here to be the change, so I have to ask these questions.

The next day I wrote it off as something every pro has ever experienced. I even felt victorious. But then the man who booked me on the show stupidly forwarded me and the other comics an email from an audience member who was not happy. She claimed the evening was a "waste of money", that she "hated it from the start but couldn't leave" and she called it an "old-fashioned dog and pony show". Personally, I never thought it was anything more, but clearly she meant that as an insult.

I read this during a vulnerable moment in a restaurant, a moment (or rather, the first half of a day) that comes from being alone for more than twenty-four hours in a strange town and eating sub-par food brought over by a waitress so fucking nice it took everything in me not to be a raving bitch back. That's it, I thought, I'm out of here. I'm not going to do the other shows, I'm going back to L.A. tonight and maybe Europe for the rest of my life and I may never do standup again. After all, I'm really an actress and a writer. Comedy is the side piece that takes all my time and energy and only occasionally brings me a modicum of joy.


But I called a friend. I had to because there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. It was too damned hot. This friend talked me down and made me realize I can't go running back home after having bragged about this adventure to everyone. Also, what kind of professional turns tail after one unsophisticated rube doesn't like her comedy? That was a joke, by the way. Anyway, here I am, sitting in this air-conditioned faux-adobe structure every now and then peeking through the blinds to see if the sun has set.

And I'm doing another show just like that one in four days, so shit -- I'd better come up with some new material.




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