|NY Hustle||Friday, 23rd November|
|I stepped out of the 42nd street subway station into a cold February day. People walked hand in hand. I trudged through Times Square with my head down. I didn’t want anybody to see me. Not for the next hour anyway.|
It had been over a year since we started the comedy room in the back of Joe Franklin’s Restaurant. Me and my ‘comedy friends.’ It was a simple concept. We ran a comedy room (essentially a microphone stand in front of a bunch of chairs) in the back of a restaurant located a block from Times Square. No more scraping for 1 am spots around town. We could book ourselves as many times as we wanted and practice our craft -- for a price.
“Here you go, Shetty.” Jake stuffed a handful of colored flyers into my mitten.
“Where is everybody?” I asked.
“Just us barking tonight and Melissa working the door. Everybody else is out of town.”
I hated barking. ‘Barking’ is going out into the streets and recruiting strangers for our comedy show. On most nights, we had 6 comics to help pack the room. 5 on the street, 1 to stay at the door and collect money. Because we were understaffed, tonight would be harder.
We barked once a night, twice on Friday/Saturday (weekend late shows). We were there throughout the year: summer, winter, fall, winter, spring, winter. It was such a part of my life that when I think of NY, that’s all I remember. The corner of 45th and Broadway. The lingering stench of the garbage cans. The neon ‘Lindy’s” sign glowing beside me. The freezing wind. In four years, I had blended into the scenery, no different than a street lamp.
Jake and I headed out the front door. Like two soldiers stepping onto the Vietnam battlefield, we went our separate ways. “See you in an hour.”
“Comedy show!” I yelled from my corner. A lady stopped.
“Who’s on it?”
“Me!” She rolled her eyes and continued walking.
The cold started eating away at my fingers. A half hour went by. 30 minutes of ‘No thanks’ ‘We have reservations,’ and ‘Sure, I’ll come back later.” I gave a flyer to a passing man. A minute later, the paper came back to me, tumbling with the wind along the sidewalk.
“Forget this. I’m done.”
I started walking back to the subway. I turned the street corner, stopping dead in my tracks. What I saw has stayed with me everyday since. It was a 25 year old man. His weathered face, tired eyes, no smile. In his left hand was a stack of colored flyers.
I stepped closer to the glass doors. What the hell has happened to me?
My phone started ringing.
Jake’s voice yelled at the other end.
“I just got two people in!” I need some help here!”
I turned around and went back with a new sense of determination.
An old man side-stepped past me. I quickly ran passed him and asked again.
“It’s really good! Think it over!”
He grumbled and took my flyer.
That’s how it was. People still didn’t want my flyers, but it wasn’t going to stop me from trying.
“HERE! TAKE THIS FLYER!”
“I SAID NO!”
“WELL THEN, BURN THIS FOR HEAT!”
300 flyers in my hand thinned out. 200… 100… 50… and finally nothing.
I met Jake at the entrance. “Good job, Shetty.”
We peered into the comedy room. I couldn’t believe it. Every chair was full. It was always interesting for me to see a stranger on the street and then to see him inside with his coat off.
“You want to go first or second?” Jake asked.
“It doesn’t matter.” I replied. It really didn’t. Looking back, the shows in itself meant nothing, but what I did to perform meant everything.