A Laughing Matter
Last year, my friend El came by for a walk. As we walked along the river near our homes, she said, “Oh, you have to come to my show!”
I said, “What?”
It did not compute.
El is a creative director for Wells Fargo, or was then. I’d never known her to act at all.
“Yes, I’m doing a solo show in six weeks! You gotta come!”
Mystified and confused, I said sure.
Sure enough, roughly six weeks later, El pinged me.
“You’re coming to my show, right? It’s this weekend!” and she gave me the details.
I still had no idea what she was talking about.
But, go I did.
I drove to the address she sent me at the time she appointed and found myself in a little theater in the middle of a tony residential district in Oakland.
There were about 40 people in attendance.
And I proceeded to watch the show.
It turned out this was Alicia Dattner’s Solo Comedy Showdown — a six-week program to guide people to delivering a solo show of their own to a selected audience.
Introducing the show, Alicia said, “You can go to a place like Berkeley Rep and see great acting. But you won’t see anything like this. There is something special here. Something raw. But don’t trust me. See for yourselves.”
Boy was she right.
I spent the next three hours (one performer went way over-time, but she was amazing) enthralled. Not all were budding comedians. Several told poignant tales of their lives. Some were gently funny or wry. Some rather serious. All were great story tellers. One or two were side-splitting funny. There were six or seven performers.
I was very moved.
I was also exceedingly impressed by Alicia, who drew these performances from people-on-the-street.
She was clearly gifted.
I have always been petrified of public speaking. And being 50 and more than half-way through my life, I’m trying to remedy my weaknesses (which is why I began dancing in my mid-40s, after decades of being afraid of dance).
I knew I wanted to do Alicia’s six-week program. To challenge myself this way.
But it took me two years to get up the nerve.
Finally, a little before Christmas last year, I got up the nerve, took a deep breath, and bought myself the program for $450.
Then I forgot about it.
Shortly after Christmas, I got an email from Alicia.
“So excited to welcome you to the program! Here’s the schedule! Here’s the first assignment…”
I ignored it for a week.
Then, one evening, I went to the foot of the stairs in our home.
I called up, “Bo? Can you come down here for a sec?”
My son grudgingly trudged down the stairs.
“I know you’re going to think I’m manipulating you, but I’m not, I’m really not.”
(I had been telling my son for years he should do stand-up. He regularly has me in tears from laughing so hard on our commutes to and from work. [We commute together.])
“What now, mom?”
I said, “Look, I bought this thing for myself, to work on my fear of public speaking, but I can’t do it. I’m not going to do it. I don’t care if you do it or not, but it’s there for you if you want it.”
“What the fuck mom.”
“It’s okay, I’m just telling you.”
“How much was it?”
“I’m not telling you that.”
“God damn it, mom.”
I forwarded my son the emails. He found out the price. He said, “Of course I have to go.”
The group met every Sunday night from 6–9 for six weeks.
The first two weeks, Bo came home mad.
“I don’t have time for this shit, mom. You’re going to make me lose my job. I want to move to Chicago. I want to go to Thailand. You’re ruining my plans.”
“It’s stupid. I hate it. It’s like talk therapy. I don’t want to hear about people’s problems.”
The third week, he came home… different. Moved. Touched. He was shining, soft.
I didn’t say anything.
Eventually, in the kitchen, he said, “Yeah, there are a lot of men in the group. Tonight we talked about toxic masculinity. A lot of the guys are going to do their show on that subject… I might too.”
Two weeks after that, he came home marveling.
He couldn’t wait to talk to me.
He said, “Mom, tonight, I just decided to not give a fuck. I was just myself. And I was funny. And I made people laugh.”
Finally, the night of the show arrived. Bo wouldn’t let us invite others. We did invite his father Renzo, who cycled up 30 minutes late in his florescent safety vest. Luckily, the show began 30 minutes late. I had saved Renzo a seat behind me, my daughter, and our friend Victor.
Once he was settled, Renzo leaned forward and said in an urgent voice, “Please! Text Alan, and tell him not to come!”
“What?! You invited others? And they’re not even here yet? The show is starting! It’s starting late already!”
“I know! Text him for me!”
Renzo has lost two phones in the last six months and now has no phone.
Alan and Dora arrived. Dora arrived with a dog.
They came in half-way through the first performer’s set.
To say I was dying, and furious, would be putting it mildly.
Bo was the second performer. He got up there, tall and gangly, wearing Adidas sweat pants, the lighting emphasizing his adam’s apple.
He immediately forgot his lines.
Then, he remembered a few. Then he forgot them again. Then, he improvised.
And he killed it.
Of course, I’m his mother, so don’t take my word for it.
And check out Alicia Dattner’s program!