Words by Shawna Blake
Illustration by Alicia DeMellier
“I currently work for the government. I say ‘currently’ because I live in constant fear of being fired for getting caught with a coworker in the supply closet. That’s what I’m spending most of my time on at work.”
This was the beginning of the first joke I ever told on stage. While it’s usually the case that there’s a little truth behind every joke, for me there’s much more than a little truth. I was definitely with a coworker in a supply closet. And in a boss’s office. And in a boat in the parking lot of that office. The usual places. The problem is I wasn’t just afraid of getting caught with him. I was in love with him.
Joe was 100 kinds of misery and ecstasy compressed into six feet of beautiful man. He was an incredibly hateful, semi-illiterate, borderline racist who treated me like absolute dirt. But my god, did he look good doing it. We were never actually together but he had a hold on me for four years in which time I traded self-respect, power, and opportunities for the times he’d get drunk and tell me he cared about me. I was depressed and desperate. Then I found stand-up.
Talking about him on stage and getting people to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation gave me some power back that I hadn’t felt like I had since I’d met him. It gave me a community of people, the audience for that show, that were all on my side. Every time I got a laugh it helped me see more clearly. It helped me to break free of an awful situation and find a freedom and sense of accomplishment.
Since then, I’ve gotten to be a part of an amazing community of delightfully wacky and screwed up people who are all trying to work through their own demons by revealing them on stage. I’ve had other guys in my life who I have written jokes about in order to write them out of my life. I’m a big believer in the old adage “laughter is the best medicine”. When a group of people laugh together they share something incredibly special. Laughing together is agreeing. It’s understanding. It’s sharing. Life is full of conflict and stress and misery, of course, but finding people to share this with is so important. Laughing together at the hardships – the divorces, the deaths, the wars – is a way to remember that we are in this thing together.
Through stand-up and the community of people I meet each time I do it, I’m able to really be heard and seen. I’m able to connect and create and commune. It’s helped me grow and survive and feel in a more real way.
I’m glad I traded a supply closet in for a stage. I much prefer handling the mic.