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Humor December 2016

Levine's Levity

Bucket List No Laughing Matter

By Bill Levine

One goal was to be a comedian. This odd desire was based on having cracked one-liners for the entertainment of my drunken frat brothers. My dad nixed the life coaching firm by pointing out that I could save $500 by just listening to him, whose advice was “Get off your ass and get a job.”

Like all baby boomers I intend to diligently execute my bucket list or drop dead trying. Just like we were told to not trust anyone over 30, now we need to frown on any cohort who has less than a 30-item bucket list. Yes, old baby boomers don’t die, we just stay in perpetual motion.

Many of these bucket list items are more doable than ever. For instance, travel excursions are available anywhere. OK, perhaps the areas of influence of ISIS, Zika, Putin, and no-fly zones are off limits, but the rest of the world is accessible, by air or ship or yak. I for one have a bucket list goal of vacationing, in Tahiti, which is now served by 12 airlines.

Then there are those crucial “this is really me” career opportunities. With the proliferation of online schools like Trump U. anyone can pursue a dream career, if he is willing to invest his life savings to garner a blacksmith management degree.

But what if we are equally afraid and enthralled in contemplating some of these bucket list activities? Sure, some of us would like to be shot out of a cannon, but fear could reduce this goal to shooting pictures with a Canon camera. In all honesty, I have to admit that some of my bucket list items have been unfulfilled as much by lack of moxie as by lack of opportunity.

For instance, when I was 23, I went to a life coach firm, where I had the opportunity to write a brief essay outlining what I wanted to do with my life. One goal was to be a comedian. This odd desire was based on having cracked one-liners for the entertainment of my drunken frat brothers.  My dad nixed the life coaching firm by pointing out that I could save $500 by just listening to him, whose advice was “Get off your ass and get a job.” At any rate, comedy as a realistic goal did give way to the establishment of a real job. It was one thing to handle drunken frat brothers, but the idea of deflecting a heckling bunch of lounge lizards was intimidating.

I settled into an IT career, a left-brained endeavor, and a comic wasteland. No one ever heard of a joke about “two programmers walk into a bar with parrots on their shoulders.” Still, I did have a creative side and took on the challenge of writing humorous essays on IT, starting in the early ‘80s. I was fortunate enough to have a piece run in the New Yorker of computing, Computerworld. Later I branched out to writing humorous pieces in other than IT areas with some success.

Even then with experience of sitting down and writing comedy, stand-up still seemed like a quantum leap. Yet I never gave my stand-up comic yen the proverbial hook. It was just sublimated into a lifelong interest in patronizing stand-up. I was part of the very small, hard-core audience of the Boston comedy scene’s informal, pub-based infancy in the late ‘70s, where the stand-ups would thank me profusely for coming. When I got married, Les and I followed these comedians into the spiffier comedy clubs that had sprung up as the Boston scene exploded. We would make comedy clubs in NYC a must stop in the ‘80s, big crowds or not. We went to a near-empty New York club and, emboldened by the intimacy, handed headliner Carol Leifer pictures of our two Clumber spaniels, which led to some ugly dog jokes.

We saw the big mainstream comedy names back in those days, mostly in Atlantic City show palaces. Our official AC belly-laugh list included Buddy Hackett, Rodney Dangerfield and Gabe Kaplan. Thirty years later, Les and I are sometimes the oldest patrons of local comedy shows held in basement folk clubs and attics of Chinese restaurants.

Millennial jokes may fall flat on me, but I am there to study the art of comedy. I pay attention to the stand-up’s material and the timing of the comic’s joke delivery. Finally, I study the demeanor of the comic. Is he or she nerdish, cerebral, frat boyish, acerbic etc.? I realize that the comic has to throw these aspects into a blender and come up with either a solid comic cocktail or else risk bombing or dying on-stage. I invest in this critical analysis, partially to be a comedy connoisseur, but truthfully another goal is to springboard my own open mic debut in some future century. Stand-up is no easy gig. I have seen too many comedians fail with decent material, including big names who have not polished new bits.

Indeed, the specter of melting on stage dissuades me from even sitting down and developing a 5-minute set of jokes and contemplating a stage persona. Every time my quips at Passover seders fall as flat as matzah or when I can’t merit top banana at friends’ dinner parties, visions of “ killing them” at comedy clubs vanish.

I have not, though, eliminated stand-up from my bucket list. I just need to crawl towards open mic, instead of blindly hurdling over obstacles and inebriates. To this end I am starting with my Toastmasters Club. I have taken on the challenge of completing “The Humorous Speaker” manual, which prescribes 5 humorous speeches. This should be in front of a friendly, sober audience. Maybe then I can come away with 5 minutes of material, which I can parley into a Toastmasters humorous speech contest routine. Then maybe I will audition for open mic night, or if not, execute Plan B where I wax comedic to empty stools at a Tahiti tiki bar.


Bill Levine is an IT professional, aspiring humorist and confirmed freelance writer from Belmont, Massachusetts.

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