[A Barrel of Laughs, 1,429 Words, Genre: Realistic Fiction]
* Image courtesy of Martin Rumsby
Keith would drink a glass of whiskey and soda water each night. Every night like clockwork, he would sit in front of his television and place an audio CD into his DVD player. He would settle in on the couch, pouring himself that whiskey and soda, then he would press play on the remote control to play that audio CD. He had a range of musical tastes, Keith did. From classical music to heavy metal. He had a taste that would account for every sort of day that he had.
He would sit there, sitting on the couch, slowly sipping on his whiskey and soda and think about things. He didn’t have to upkeep a garden or anything like that, living in the apartment as he did. Mostly he thought of work and his career as a stand-up comedian. It wasn’t going so well, but as of late, things had been picking up. And that wasn’t a good thing. The people that he had told about his desire for performance as a stand-up comic had decided to attend some of his shows. He now found that he was gathering some sort of momentum with his own personalized audience.
The problem with this, as one always encounters problems for every significant change that occurs in life, was that due to his newfound audience, he had to re-work his material. Previous to his newfound following, Keith had used his workplace as a source of inspiration for his material. He would make jokes and jibes about his fellow employees. People calling in sick when they wanted a holiday, the boss giving him bullshit for the tasks that he had half-arsed; those sort of things. But when he found that his fellow employees had started attending his gigs, he found himself choking up on stage. It was all very well and good to use this sort of material when there was no witness from work present. But when he depended on the work he was getting from the financial company as an accountant. He couldn’t very well continue burying his fellow employees in the dirt, as they say.
He sat there thinking about it. Sipping his whiskey and soda… At a head’s end, he threw the remote control up against the wall. It didn’t smash or anything like that, the batteries fell out. And he sat there in the heat of the hot weather, without an air conditioner, darkness coming into the night. Stuck with his thumb up his arse, figuratively speaking, thinking, ‘Well! What the hell am I supposed to do now?’ That was last weekend, when he had witnessed some of his fellow employees enter the comedy club and take a seat out amongst the audience. Just before he was about to make some sort of half-jibe about Janet from reception. It was a release for Keith. The jokes, performing in front of the audience as he did. He wasn’t the most capable of employees and because of that, he built up a lot of stress and worry about it over the week. He would use the things that happened during the week to make quips and remarks about office life. It helped him to laugh it all off at the end of the week. He would perform on weekends and repeat the process, it had become a way of life for him.
But when his fellow employees entered the club last weekend. He froze up. He froze up and choked, then the host had to take over the microphone and the next comic had to stand up on stage prematurely. One of his fellow employees had waited around for him until they could have a discrete conversation with him. In that conversation, with the other employee, he had been told that they knew what he was doing here. About how he was making fun of all of them in front of an audience. The audience had been small, but still, they told him he would find himself in a whole bundle of shit if he ever did anything like that again. Then they told him, just to make sure, that he and their boss would be attending the comedy club next weekend as he had a routine timeslot in the comedy club.
And now Keith sat there. Minding his drink, nursing it and taking slow sips at it just to make it last. The music played on… It was a jazz concerto and the music prevented him from becoming further enraged. He went to bed that night without any idea on what to do next. His material had been taken away from him, the well of his inspiration, his muse of office politics. He went to bed troubled that night and did the same thing again and again without any fresh ideas.
The weekend arrived and it came to that time where he would have to perform in front of an audience, his manager among them, without any fresh material of note. The venue was packed, people were standing up at the back of the club, some people couldn’t find seats. He approached the stage, not knowing where his actions would lead him. He stood up in front of the microphone and scanned the audience. He could see them all. It looked as if the whole building of his office had decided to attend his performance. He scanned them all, looking for him, his manager. When he found his manager sitting at center left of the club, half lit up and half in the shadows, their eyes locked. He stumbled over his words, fumbling for something to say like a bar of soap in the shower. He stopped and for about thirty seconds said nothing. He and his manager’s eyes were locked with one another in some form of showdown. And that’s when the words started pouring out of him, “You know, if a stapler jams, it’s not really your fault… You can’t blame the manufacturer, it’s just something that happens. And when that happens, because it’s going to happen every so often, you just have to accept it as one of those things that happens.” His manager didn’t know where he was going with this and either did Keith, they had had that conversation a couple of weeks ago. When Keith had to make an excuse for why he was handing in paperwork that wasn’t collected together, “And if you can’t use a stapler, you have to look for a paperclip and if you can’t find a paperclip, well, then you’re pretty much fucked then ain’t ya’?” His manager, Keith could see, was starting to smile. Keith then started going over all of the different excuses that he had made for all of the problems he had encountered over work for the past week due to his own incompetence. “And when you arrive to work late, sometimes it’s not because you slept in or anything like that. Sometimes it’s just because traffic’s bad.” His manager started to chuckle and like the alpha wolf in a pack, that chuckle soon spread throughout the rest of the audience. Keith started to feel at ease and for the next ten minutes, Keith listed off every excuse that he had made to his manager throughout the week and found himself explaining his behaviour to his manager and the rest of the office. By the end of the set, his boss was in hysterics and so was the rest of the audience. Keith exited the stage to the sound of a great applause and the burden of the performance being lifted off of his shoulders now that it was over.
For the rest of the night, he sat in the corner of the room watching the other comics get up and do their set. At the end of the night his manager came up to him and congratulated him on his performance. “Well done tonight Keith, that was some funny shit up there. I’ll be back next week to have a drink and see what else you got.”
“Ah, yes sir.” Keith didn’t know what else to say.
And it was then that Keith realized what sort of hole that he was in. Every weekend, when he went to do stand-up, he would have to explain all of his behaviour from the previous work week in front of his manager and the rest of the audience, largely made up of his fellow employees. This wasn’t why he had wanted to become a stand-up comedian, this sounded more like his own form of self-styled hell.