I am issuing a challenge to our nation's stand-up comedians. Before you accept, I suggest you call, email, text and tweet the best joke writers you know because you're going to need them. Ready? Here's your task:
Make somebody laugh in Lamaze class. If that's too tough, find a yoga class and perform your best monologue. The results will be similar. And equally ugly.
I'm a stand-up comedian by trade and, like others with the same vocation, I pride myself on the ability to get chuckles in the unlikeliest of venues. A well-timed, off-the-cuff one liner can lighten the mood in a tense locker room, during a family argument, even in the midst of a memorial service.
But is there a tougher audience than a roomful of pregnant women or a class of participants intent on flexing everything from their toes to their jawbones while forming new relationships with their breath? If so, I haven't found one.
I thought Lamaze class would be, as we comedians say, "an easy room." When my wife and I signed up (CORRECTION: when my wife signed me up), I scanned our classmates and saw a dozen young, vibrant couples who seemed very personable. Granted, the women looked as if they hadn't had a decent night's sleep in three months, but that was to be expected. And it was safe to assume that none of them had been drinking, which seriously reduced my chances of getting heckled.
A registered nurse described what a contraction would feel like: the pains might begin 45 minutes apart; gradually they would grow closer ... and become more excruciating.
As the expectant mommies' faces grew wide with fear, she continued, "When they are five minutes apart, it's time for your husband to call the doctor." Sensing an opportunity, I opened my mouth.
"Unless the game is on."
I could see guys biting their lips and having contractions of their own as their stomach muscles tightened. Clearly they wanted to laugh but couldn't risk the ramifications from their wives, who collectively stared daggers at me. My wife rolled her eyes, her expression saying, "I don't know him."
That was 17 years ago, and my ego still hasn't fully recovered. Thankfully, there have since been hundreds of shows and thousands of audience members who have belly laughed and reassured me that stand-up comedian is the world's greatest job title.
Provided you choose not to perform in yoga class.
I recently took up yoga on the advice of my physician, who gently chided me for my lack of flexibility. At my health club, I attempted to duck into the back of a beginner class unnoticed, but the instructor saw fresh meat and sidled up to me as I unrolled my mat.
"First time here?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Excellent," she said. "Always remember to be aware of your breathing."
She dimmed the lights, fired up a New Age CD and began contorting herself into positions I'd only seen in Cirque du Soleil productions. We were told to follow her movements.
"Find your center," she said softly at various intervals. "Make circles with your ankles. Roooooollllll your spine."
As humorous as I found these commands, I said nothing. Speaking requires breathing, and I feared losing my awareness.
Eventually it was time for "shavasana," also known as "taking a nap." We lay on our backs, legs and arms spread at 45-degree angles and closed our eyes as the instructor told us to "feel as if you're a corpse."
It was too much. I took a deep breath and spoke.
"That should get everybody out of work."
I heard "Shhhhhh," from one side of the room and "Thanks a lot" from the other side. The lights came on.
"I think we're done for the day," the instructor said.
I rolled up my mat amid glares from my classmates. Sulking out of the room, I showered, changed and headed to the airport. It was off to Orlando to perform for 1,000 automotive software engineers.
Should be a much easier room.