As a comedy writer, I usually perform my material from behind my keyboard, safe from the line of fire of a live audience. I respect standup comedians for their talent and bravery. They go onstage and bare secret thoughts. They volunteer their lives as fodder for people to laugh at.
For over 20 years I've watched some of the best comedians in the business, among them my friends Margaret Cho, Taylor Negron, Scott Silverman, Julia Sweeney and leader of the pack Beth Lapides -- take the stage Sunday nights at Beth's UnCabaret. From my seat, I poke the ice in my drink, hoping to dislodge my balls long enough to get up and tell one of my stories for an audience larger and livelier than my laptop screen.
I know I can do it. I used to watch war movies on TV, without ever imagining myself taping a lead weight to my crotch and lying about being gay to sneak into the Marine Corps.
Beth organizes shows that feature brilliant pops of dazzling talent, some ending in musical fireworks or a comedy crescendo worthy of a cuddle and post-coital cigarette. She's a comedy champion who has written here about women in combat.
She gives people a chance. Like the Marine Corps, she gave me a chance last Sunday to step up and perform the opening chapter from my boot camp memoir, The Pink Marine.
Like the boxer shorts the Marines issued me, I had to free ball it -- I couldn't read the story. Don't ask. Do tell. The appreciated invitation was an all-around good fit, Greg Miller, the co-founder of UnCab is a writing coach who helped with my book.
Before I took the stage, I feasted on fried artichokes and good pulled pork sliders in the bar of the comedy club's host eatery, First & Hope. The sweet, tangy pork distracted my nervousness.
The lights dimmed; a clash from percussionist Denise Fraser's cymbal kicked off the show -- reminding me of being woken up on Parris Island with clanging trash can lids. It got me in the spirit. I organized my thoughts and remembered the brave men and women who had gone before me. Karen Kilgariff went first, and she's a tough act to follow. So was my drill instructor Sgt. DeVito.
Before I took the stage, I used the calming mantra I learned to fire the M-16 effectively, BRASS: breathe, relax, aim, squeeze and shoot. It works when entering the 405 freeway; it helps remember story points and jokes too.
I started off shaky and unsure. But like every day in the military, I took another step. I told another part of the story. I kept going. And I learned a lot. The audience was kind and responsive -- they laughed. Like showering with 70 recruits, I emerged motivated. And grateful.
This hard-charging, lean green, slightly pink Marine cannot wait to get up again.
Beth, thank you for your service to comedy. And for taking a chance on me, like the Marine Corps did. It was an honor and a privilege to perform in both arenas.