Zimers

Zimers

 

Last night, I introduced an act halfway through the show and just when I started to give his credits, I forgot the name of the show he was on. I’ve introduced this guy a million times with the same credit and this was the first time I blanked on the name. I froze. After a few seconds of awkward silence I had to ask the guy the name of the show, which he told me from offstage.

After his set, I went back up and told the audience that I had some zimers. I didn’t have Alzheimer’s, just some, which prevented me from remembering the name of the show. I wrote that joke a few weeks ago, but it came to life on this night. The response from the audience was mixed. I could tell some people were not comfortable with the “making fun of the handicapped” aspect of the joke.

Some people didn’t quite get it at first, then laughed, and others made groaning noises. I’ll take it. A woman very close to me my whole life died recently after suffering from the disease in her later years. She had been a second mother to me since I was 3. She always enjoyed my Detroit visits after I moved away in 1979. She’d greet me with a warm bear hug that went on and on, until we couldn’t squeeze each other any harder.

The last time I saw her, she didn’t know me. Not at all, didn’t know me from a can of paint. She embraced me but only because her daughter told her hugging me was something she used to do. Our last hug bore no resemblance to what we used to share. The feeling was so odd. She didn’t know her only daughter either, but trusted her as a caregiver. I will continue to do my Alzheimer’s joke, it’s one I’ll never forget.

William Stephenson

Waffle Hands: Friends of the People

On Friday, I played Jermaine Fowler’s grandfather in a sketch for the second season of TruTV’s “Friends Of The People.” I was a high school principal in the first season, but it never aired. It was a pretty routine shoot and somewhat familiar. The pickup was at the same spot, 96th and Broadway. The 11:15a.m. call time was reasonable and I made it with minutes to spare.

There were several other players in the van. I remembered one from the Top Five shoot from 2013 (my scene didn’t make the final cut). The seven other actors and I rode out to a great big house in Westchester County that is often used for TV and movie shoots. I was told the owners live on the top floor and have rented out the rest of their massive home since 1980.

I filled out my paperwork and waited to go to wardrobe to get my “grandfather” clothes. I was asked to bring a sweater and shirt as this is not a great big budget production. They didn’t use my stuff and put me in a shirt and sweater/vest. The shirt was funky from a previous use, but it turned out they had to give me another after seeing a problem on camera.

Next was hair and makeup. The hair lady looked at me for 7 seconds and said I was cool. Now it’s time for the waffle hand. This was my first time having anything attached to me and it took more than a minute. My hand was slathered in glue and shredded cotton balls before the spongy plastic waffle was slipped on. It was then painted to match my skin tone and the effect worked, it looked like my hand was made of waffle.

My scene was ready and I headed to one of the living rooms with a couch. Jermaine and I sat and waited for the camera to roll. We each had just one line and after a few takes, we were wrapped. Now I’m hungry and head to the craft services table to see what was what. I hadn’t been there long enough for the lunch spread and had to settle for a sandwich a guy was handing out. I didn’t know what it was and bit into it to discover it was one of those foods I had never tried.

If I don’t like the way a food looks or smells, I don’t eat it. Hummus was on the top of my no-go list. I was right. It tasted like an alley taco.

William Stephenson

What I Do

Since late 1982 when I started my standup comedy career, I have spent very little time analyzing my act. When people that have not seen me perform ask what kind of comedy I do my response is “the funny kind”. And yes, I have always been a smart-ass. Over 30 years later I suppose is time enough to have some kind of handle on what I do.

Much of my material is gleaned from personal experiences. My first laugh came in my first open mic at Garvin’s Laugh Inn in DC. While working at a record store in Detroit, I waited on boxer Leon Spinks, he of no front teeth. It was so difficult understanding what he was saying, I wrote a joke about it.

Leon: I want to buy some Reefa Fraykin.
Me: We don’t sell marijuana.

For the most part, I love making fun of behavior I find rude, unnecessary, counter-productive and wrong. Like the idiots standing just inside the subway car and not getting off at the next stop. I don’t know if they don’t understand that space is needed for people getting on and off or don’t care. Either way, they are wrong and should be shunned. I always give them a decent stink eye as I squeeze past them shaking my head in disdain. Last winter in NYC there was an animal hat trend that bothered the hell out of me. It was like living in a petting zoo. I did see an Asian dude with a panda bear hat which was cute, but I couldn’t wait for the weather to break.

Since most of my audiences qualify as humans, I joke about things that all humans can relate to. I don’t have a “target” audience or try to appeal to any “demographic” because those things don’t matter to me. I will leave that to those more ambitious than I. (Everybody!) Anything marketing related has virtually no meaning to me. I’m fairly Amish when it comes to promoting even myself. I worry only about being funny and leave all the rest to….

Not sure how I want to finish this;

A. The Lord
B. Fate
C. The beaver

William Stephenson

Stoop Settin’

The warm weather affords many the opportunity to partake in a traditional method of passing time, settin’ on a stoop. The act of sitting there staring wherever your eyes take you is important. It gives your mind time to figure things out.

Growing up in Detroit we had a front and back porch. You had to “act right” sitting out front. Many punishments came with the stipulation that you were not to wander past the porch. If you wanted to fight or eat a juicy watermelon over spread out newspapers, you had to “take that mess around back!” The front porch was used for less rowdy stuff like playing my car/your car, which was a simple but fun game. When a car came down the street, the first one was yours, and the next one was whoever else was on the stoop. If you were lucky, you became the “owner” of a shiny Cadillac or Lincoln, and if not, you had to deal with the raggedy Corvair or Dart. The game was over when you got tired and went in the house.

People watching is perfect for stoop settin’. You can wave to the passers by and maybe laugh a little at Tube Top Tammy, who managed to squeeze every ounce of her overweight-ness into a fire engine red or lime green top, matching nothing else she had on. The front stoop was where little girls learned to braid hair and sit with a dress on. Bubbles were blown into the air from sticky bottles, and contests were held to see whose bubbles went further.

Nowadays stoops in NYC are filled with 3 generations on hot, summer nights. Every other stoop has something different going on. Lovers too broke to do anything else but cling to each other. Outside dinner parties. New Yorkers have extended the stoop to include the sidewalk, where they set up card tables and play dominoes. I smile when I come home late at night and see somebody just sitting, alone with their thoughts.

If we make eye contact, I give them a look that says “I hope you figure it out.”

William Stephenson

Before The Show

Before The Show

Every comedian has a pre show routine that helps them do their best. Mine always starts with a shower no later than 2 hours before showtime. It’s important to be as fresh as possible,which is why I rarely do anything between shower and show.

There is something quite magical standing in the shower with invigorating hot water cascading down. Occasionally a weird thought or joke will pop into my head before I get out. (Who first came up with the word “queasy”?) I leisurely get dressed while listening to music or watching TV. Since I’ve been working a lot at the Comedy Cellar, I know it takes 35 minutes on the subway, but I leave an hour before showtime in case of any variety of delay. I’m only late a couple of times a year and it’s usually the trains fault.

Once at the club, I order a coffee in a to-go cup with hazelnut. At the comedians table I peruse the lineup, hoping its filled with acts I love to watch. I head down to the show room about 3 minutes before showtime. Just enough time to check out the room and make sure my fly is up.

As the intro music plays I walk to the edge of the piano, take a closer look at the crowd and wait for my cue. After 30 plus years in standup it is still thrilling to approach the microphone. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

One of the fascinating things about what I do—talk to 120 strangers crammed in a small space—is there is never the exact same crowd. People are from all over the world yet the laughter sounds exactly the same every night. Another reminder that we are all just people, with so much more in common than not.

William Stephenson

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