Last night I saw a friend whose role in my life has grown more infrequent over time. This meeting induced a subtle sense of melancholy, marking the first time I have ever felt old. I understand the overbearing sense of melodrama when someone in their early twenties talks about aging, and I am aware of the youth I still possess. But when I say it’s the first time I have felt old, I mean that it’s the first time I have ever been palpably aware of the fact that I am no longer a child, and looking at this friend of mine is like staring directly at the face of my childhood which I am no longer a part of. It’s over. Part of it makes me sad, part of it makes me scared, but most of it just makes me feel confused. Confused at the emotional complexities of my twenties, new feelings that would give my younger self a brain aneurysm, new experiences, people, all of this is made very clear to me when I look at my old friend’s face. There is a kind of interesting realization with this though. All of these new feelings only become reflective when I’m in the presence of a part of my old life, as if my childhood friend acted as a kind of anchor to subdue the frenetic haziness of the present.
We caught up, discussed the comings and goings of people and things in our new lives. This feeling of foreclosure on my childhood stayed relatively benign during the conversation. It wasn’t until we found ourselves at an open mic night hosted at the Laugh Factory
When I was really forced to deal with the feeling rather than just acknowledging its presence.
For those who are not located in the greater Los Angeles area and are thus unaware of its cultural landmarks, The Laugh Factory is an old comedy club that--like The Whiskey, or the Rainbow--used to be a place where people would willingly decide to spend their evening. Now The Laugh Factory is such a fossil of old Hollywood that it probably makes more money selling t-shirts online to 50-year-old dudes in the Midwest who think they are the funny ones in their jaded friend groups. I can’t help but assume that selling tickets to young 20 year olds trying to have a good night out is what’s still turning a profit for the old night club. My friend and I found ourselves there that evening when after a few hours of updating each other on major life developments, the conversation fell flat and he confided in me that he had never been to a live standup comedy show. I suggested that this relic of the Sunset Strip might be able to blow out that pilot light sized level of intrigue and stave off an evening's worth of boredom. So we went.
To paint just a slightly clearer picture of what I am talking about, the stucco on the front of The Laugh Factory is completely adorned with the names of famous comedians who have performed there, but the names clearly stopped being added about 25 years ago. 25 years also appeared to be the same amount of time it had been since anyone under the age of 35 had walked up to the decrepit front doors and purchased a ticket. The only relatively new addition to the face of the venue seemed to be an LED billboard that overbearingly illuminated calendar information.
We paid our admission fee and walked into the foyer. The stale smoke of cigarettes lingered through the floor despite the fact that smoking indoors has been illegal my entire life. There was also a goddamn two drink minimum (a friend clued me in that this is probably still a thing at comedy clubs to make the comics seem funnier.) and the usher informed us that under no circumstances were we allowed to use our phones, which I thought was a little over the top for an open mic on a Thursday night, but we didn’t question it and sat near the front row.
I have been to a couple open mic stand ups before and am still currently under the impression that even when it’s bad, it’s good, so when the comedy started and it was bad, I thought we were in for a good night. The MC of the evening introduced the first guest of the night and it all went by the book in my very limited understanding of what to expect at this type of event. Her introduction tried as hard as possible to establish the comedian's credibility, spouting off major motion pictures that filled his acting resume. Assumedly, the information she left out was that these rolls had no speaking lines. The comic stood up, told some pretty off colored jokes, then walked off stage. The crowd at this point all seemed to implicitly understand the “if it’s bad, it’s good” rule of thumb.
Then the MC took the stage again in preparation of the next comic of the night. But this time it was different--there was no spouting off career achievements or any effort to try and convince us that we had spent our money correctly this evening. It was as simple as an introduction could be. “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage… Chris D’Elia.”
I wanted to believe that was just another joke spouted off in poor taste, but I, as well as every other person in that room, knew that wasn’t what was happening. The room fell completely silent. All that was audible were murmured fragments of sentences confirming my own uncomfortability; like “there’s no fucking way” and “did she say what I thought she said?” Before anyone had time to really make a decision regarding getting up and leaving, we were all face to face with Chris D'Elia. I truly do not have the vocabulary to explain the feeling shared between myself and everyone else packed into that small room on Sunset Boulevard at that moment. It seemed like every single person was eagerly waiting for the first guy to stand up and leave so that everyone else could follow. But no one did. It almost felt similar to watching the fire trucks pull up to a burning building--the safer choice is to get out of the way and let the firefighters do their job, but it’s also impossible to walk away from. So we watched the building burn.
As he took the stage, he immediately addressed the overabundance of shock that filled the room, and he glanced at my friend and I who still hadn’t looked at each other. A gentleman in the back of the room audibly roared the word “Nope”. D’elia, without any further hesitation, just began to tell jokes... I immediately noticed that the impressive amount of spit coming out of this guy's mouth was enough to make the most right wing, anti vaxxer in North America make a bee-line sprint to their nearest CVS to get a needle in their arm.
This is when the feeling from earlier in the night came roaring back. Here I was, not 10 feet away from another relic of my childhood that would never be the same and was completely gone. Simultaneously, this huge wave of confusion came over me. I didn’t even realize I was laughing. When he first started speaking I was convinced that I was going to get up and leave, but the anxiety of having to stand up alone and leave was too overpowering. The next solution I had was to force myself to remain silent throughout his entire bit. Which unbeknownst to myself also became a point of contention in regards to my total lack of self control. At that moment I became aware that I was laughing and for the first time in my life, I had a problem with it. I had a problem coming to terms with the idea that an individual can be capable of inflicting damage onto others, and simultaneously be talented. The two are not as mutually exclusive as I had once thought.
This confusion led to a tremendous amount of guilt--why would I willingly sit in a room, passively supporting a predator? For whoever is unaware of Chris D’elia’s indictments. He was accused of seeking out underaged girls online. Here
This is something I still just don’t have an answer to. All of these insane realizations and thoughts were taking place simultaneously. Within the span of 5 minutes, I went from having an okay time at a comedy club to being in the center of an emotional minefield. Staving off an anxiety attack became more of a priority than digesting what was actually taking place in front of me. Yet even during this cranial decimation, I was still laughing at the jokes he was telling! Everyone was! The saliva jetting out of his mouth with the same vigor as a sprinkler system honestly made things funnier too. I could have left at any time and I didn’t. Maybe I’m a shitty person, maybe the pairing of my childhood friend and the iconoclasm being represented by childhood were too impressionable for me to leave. Honestly I still don’t have an answer to why I stayed.
Something that I have been thinking about though is the dialectical relationship between standup comedy and its audience that is unlike any other artform. If I went to see a band play and there was a surprise performance by Mark Kozelek, I’d like to think I would have a much easier time getting the fuck out of there, only because Mark Kozelek isn’t actually talking to me. Chris D’Elia is engaging in a conversation with the entire room, albeit a one sided conversation, but a conversation nonetheless. And that is a really hard thing to just walk away from. Somebody talking to you is a hard thing to ignore and pretend like it isn’t happening, especially when you have been trained your entire life to listen when someone is talking to you. Tenfold when walking out means potentially getting yelled at in front of the entire crowd by the guy you are trying to avoid. Which is also a reason why everyone stayed. There is an intimacy to stand up that does not exist elsewhere, if I sneezed Chris D’elia most likely would have replied. Another issue that came to the surface was that before this evening, I hadn’t thought about Chris D’elia since I heard about the accusations, and once I had found out, I wrote him off as a second class citizen and moved on with my life. All of a sudden I was blindsided into reexamining this initial, relatively painless dismissal. And there was a feeling of anger prescribed to this because all I wanted to do with my Thursday night was see a stupid stand up show with my friend. I didn’t want to start a dialogue with myself about the moral ideology behind trying to revive your career after being canceled. Or have to grapple with my own moral responsibility for staying at the fucking show. The anger was also there because, between the moment he walked out on stage and me trying to get this story written, I still straight up have no idea if it is okay for someone to attempt to re enter the public eye after being canceled.
After he was done, it honestly seemed like he had completely won the crowd over with people cheering sacrilegiously for him. My friend and I were dumbfounded, but we also fucking clapped. We decided we had enough stand up comedy for the evening and for the foreseeable future and got up and left. As we walked back through the foyer, we saw him again, talking to the bouncer; he was standing between us and our escape. I passed him while approaching the door and my motor skills overpowered the cacophony of thoughts numbing my head and I nodded at him.he gave me a nod in return and I left feeling so much more unsure of myself than I did walking up to the decrepit old comedy club an hour and a half earlier. A day later, that confusion has grown tenfold. I don’t know if this story is worth anything to anyone, myself included. But I do know now that there is so much of myself that I don’t understand, and I guess seeing an old friend and watching an unholy stand up comedy show on a Thursday night can really squeeze those realizations out of you. Like I said earlier, feelings that would make my childhood self have a brain aneurysm.