Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Plebeian Comedian by Patrick Hennessey

     Logan Riley grew up in a Long Island suburb located twenty minutes outside of Manhattan. He was an ordinary, well-mannered boy with no major illnesses. He kept decent grades and obeyed his loving parents. Baseball, bike rides, cartoons, and other typical interests for a pre-teen suburbanite, filled his summer vacations and accentuated free time during the school year. He had an above-average talent for drawing. He enjoyed a fair amount of friends, but was neither popular nor unpopular amongst his classmates. Logan was simply just there.
     Although his parents considered themselves non-practicing Catholics, Logan had been Baptized when he was an infant. At age seven he received his first Communion. At age twelve he attended Sunday School to prepare for Confirmation, where teachers asked students to study up on the Saints in order to pick a Confirmation name; Logan chose St. Peter, Apostle of Jesus, guardian of the Pearly Gates. During class he doodled depictions in his notebook of what the entrance to Heaven might look like. The gates were gargantuan and ornamental, hovering just above an infinite network of clouds. 
     While learning about Saints and sinners in Sunday School, Logan grew fond of his classmate Issac. Issac was the funniest person Logan had ever encountered. His jokes were well-timed, gladly received, and succinct. He sometimes left people in stitches with just a single word. Because of his superior sense of humor and confidence, Issac was extremely popular amongst students and teachers alike. Even certain parents were fans of the boy. Young girls would flock to him after class and wait for his next quip, laughing heartily every time one arrived. Being of the age where crushes were forming, Issac had a clear advantage over his underdeveloped peers.
     Logan envied Issac's abilities to impress girls. His own attempts to strike up conversations with the opposite sex failed miserably, usually ending with an embarrassing snub, or worse, complete indifference. Instead of becoming an individual, honing his built-in talents for drawing, or pitching fast balls, Logan projected. He made a poor decision -- he wanted to be funny like Issac.
     His first ten thousand jokes failed miserably. They were ill-timed, inappropriate, and downright dull. He mistook uncomfortable silences and polite chuckles for genuine laughter. Classmates considered him delusional, but Logan remained committed to wisecracks. 
     He studied the masters, watching classic comedies films and beloved stand-up routines. Every once in a while he plagiarized a joke and got an authentic laugh, but those laughs only made Logan feel hollow inside. He wanted to triumph with original material. It took six long years before that finally happened.
     At eighteen, Logan was nearing the end of his senior year. His parents had given him a car for his birthday, so he drove himself to and from school. This allowed him to stop at Dunkin' Donuts every morning where he'd purchase a large coffee and a chocolate cruller. One day, a clumsy worker dropped a large Box 'O Joe behind the counter. The box exploded, coffee spilled out, and a mess spread all over the floor. The place fell silent.
     "I guess she needed a coffee break," Logan said, without hesitation.
     Customers on line erupted in bona fide laughter. Even the clumsy worker behind the counter joined in laughing. It took a moment for Logan to realize... they were laughing at his joke! An unparalleled sense of pride welled up inside him. He smiled wide, took a slight bow, and shot a quick wink at an attractive businesswoman. It was at this very moment that Logan decided to forgo a college education and pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
     Logan's parents were vehemently against his decision. They knew the stage was not their son's true calling. Logan evaded their desperate pleas and offered them a deal. He wanted two years. Two years would be all he'd need. If after that time he was still toiling in obscurity, he would give up and attend University. After some goading, his parents accepted, but with a stipulation; they wanted Logan to get a job to support himself. There would be zero handouts until he was attending college. Sure, he could keep his car and live under their roof, but otherwise, he had to pay his own way. Logan accepted and the deal was done.
     Logan immediately set his plans in motion. He took a two-week bartender certification course to become a master of mixology. He then applied to every comedy club within a fifty mile radius. Meanwhile, he wrote material for a minimum of four hours every day. He attended open mics at night and clocked in as much stage time as possible. The reception to his sets were lukewarm at best, but every once in a while a joke would land and the audience would erupt in approval. That fleeting acceptance produced enough good vibrations in Logan to keep him high for days. The material that worked best for him was clean and cute; pithy observations about everyday life. No cussing. No sex. The opposite of blue. He focused his writing, filtering out the filth. 
     After two months of patience and persistence, Logan scored a bartending gig at "Comicality," located in Greenwich Village. He sold his car and commuted to work everyday on the Long Island Rail Road. His life became a flurry of bartending, socializing, drinking, drugs, and random sex. A terrible bout of crabs from a waitress named Julie - whom he''d developed feelings for - was a major low point. Logan grew cynical. His outlook became darker. Almost everything he said on or off stage was infused with sarcasm. He began to abuse his audiences.
     Years passed. Logan broke the deal with his parents and never went to college. He moved to Brooklyn instead and hopped from one bartending gig to another, constantly chasing bigger paychecks and better industry contacts. He floundered through spells of both productivity and idleness in the comedy scene, but never achieved the stardom he'd hoped for. 
     At age twenty-six he began drinking everyday to ease the pain. 
     At age twenty-nine he entered rehab. 
     At age thirty he became clean and sober, giving up the stage for good.
     With a knack for networking, Logan had collected many contacts over time. People remembered him fondly as a person, but poorly as a comedian. It didn't matter. Clean and sober, Logan acted on his strong suits. He utilized his contact list and worked his ass off to open a comedy club called "Schticks." With financial backers in place, and a prime location in Midtown Manhattan, the club enjoyed great success for a little over a decade. Eventually, Logan started hosting the club's popular open mic nights and helped mentor hundreds of up-and-coming comedians. Some went on to brilliant careers. Most remembered him fondly. Logan also returned to art and baseball, two of his childhood passions, which was incredibly therapeutic for him.
     Sadly, Logan passed away just shy of "Schticks" eleventh anniversary. He was mountain back riding in the Catskills and took a wrong turn, accidentally sending him over a cliff. 
     News of his untimely death was met with heartbreak and sadness. There were vigils. There were memorials. There were benefits. Comedians honored him. Friends honored him. Family honored him. "Schticks" honored him. Logan had undoubtedly made an impact on this Earthly realm.
     After death, he arrived at the Pearly Gates, which looked surprisingly similar to a doodle he'd drawn in Sunday School decades earlier. He was greeted by St. Peter, the very Saint he'd chosen to study up on for his Confirmation into the Catholic Church.
      "Logan Riley. Among other things, I see you were an aspiring comedian," said St. Peter. "Tell me, what was the greatest joke you learned on Earth?"
     Logan thought for a moment, then answered: "The greatest joke on Earth was me."
     St. Peter shook his head. "No. The greatest joke on Earth were the ones who doubted you."
     The Pearly Gates opened and Logan entered.