I have always been afraid of speaking in public. I avoid speaking whenever possible. However, I ended up becoming a teacher. And now I am a Spanish teacher and a standup comedian.
I was always afraid to speak as a young boy because my first language was Spanish, and I didn’t speak English until I started school. I struggled with both languages through my entire grade school years.
There’s an old joke that goes like this: “What were the worst two years of your life?” “The fourth grade.”
Now, I am still struggling to overcome my stage fright. But now, I am a standup comedian. Each time I perform, I feel a little more comfortable, and a little less nervous. The more I perform, the more confident I feel in myself. All performers admit that they suffer from stage fright, but they have controlled it so well, that is hardly noticeable. I hope to reach that level someday!
I was fortunate enough to be selected to perform at the 8 at 8 at The Comedy Shrine in Aurora, Illinois. I felt this was a proud achievement for me as I struggle to improve as a standup comedian. Watch the video and you be the judge.
I will perform at The Comedy Shrine on Friday, March 6, 2020.
I was surprised to get asked to perform in the first place. I have steadily improved my act over the last nine months since I started doing the standup comedy open mics again.
Just as everyone seems to be abandoning Facebook, standup comedians rely on it for maintaining contact with other comedians. First, I received a friend request, which I immediately accepted because it was from a comedian I had seen perform. After I accepted his friend request, he then messaged me asking me if I had ten minutes of material. When I said I did, he asked me if I wanted to perform at The Comedy Shrine on Friday, March 6, 2020. Of course, I did!
And to think that someone else noticed that my act was improving. The pay for this show will be a videotape of my performance. So now I have to drum some audience members so we have a full house for the videotaping.
Okay, as you’ve probably already guessed, yes, that’s why I’m writing this post! I would like to invite all my readers to come out to The Comedy Shrine to come see me perform standup comedy. Of course, there will be other great standup comedians, too. If you see the show, your laughter will also be recorded!
Well, I’ve started going back to the comedy clubs after more than thirty-three years. Things have really changed since then. So many changes! I think the changes are for the better.
I was surprised by how many comedians go to the so many available open mics in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. And the comedians are so supportive of each other. Of course, that’s not surprising because Chicago is one of the comedy breeding grounds for the U.S. If you are a new comedian, you may perform every night of the week, multiple times per day. And there are no hecklers. I was incredibly surprised by that. I remember always dreading my confrontations with hecklers. Some of my best shows, of course, were when I was able to handle the hecklers.
Gone are the smoke-filled comedy rooms since smoking was banned indoors, which is great for me since I have always been a non-smoker. But I miss the ambience. However, the audiences are nicer now that they don’t smoke.
Back in 1986, I occasionally earned money as a standup comedian. Now, many clubs have a two-drink minimum for comedians who want to participate for the open mic. Yes, I understand that this helps keep the clubs open, but I remember getting paid five dollars and getting two drinks for performing at the open mic at the Higgins Street Cafe.
Back in 1983, all the open mics started at 9:00 or 9:30. Now they start much earlier, often as early as 6:00 PM. This is much more convenient for aspiring comics who must get up early for work the next morning.
There are so many comics attending all these open mics. Yes, I’m one of them, too. Last night, I went to The Comedy Shrine and there were forty comedians signed up! And about half of them were very funny. Not only do I perform, but I also enjoy watching the other comedians perform.
When I started performing this go-round, I wrote all new jokes. I had my friend Vito look over my jokes and he contributed some very funny jokes, as he did for me back in 1983 and 1986. Most of the jokes went over very well. Afterwards, several comics would ask me, “How long have you been doing comedy?” I suppose you can take that both ways: 1. That I sound like I have some previous experience as a comedian, or, 2. You must be new to comedy!
Well, I am finally overcoming my stage fright and getting more comfortable on stage. My new jokes are getting laughs at all the right times. Plus, I have been inserting my old jokes in there from time to time. At first, I was afraid to tell the old jokes, but I told one or two from time to time. Some of my biggest laughs come from jokes that are more than thirty years old!
I’ll keep working at standup comedy for the near future. I enjoy hearing the laughter. Maybe I’m crazy, but I finally found my true calling.
I often try not to think about comedy clubs. Then, suddenly, Riddles is put in my path. Why is there a comedy club here? I usually drive up and down 111th Street. A very mundane experience. I know all the usual landmarks by heart: Beverly Arts Center, Burrito Station, the fire station, Mount Greenwood Park, the Oak Lawn Dolphin Club. All the usual landmarks that I begin to not see after seeing them so many times. But then one day, I see the Riddles Comedy Club! And I can’t avert my eyes. I’m staring at it with my mouth gaping.
Just a few years ago, I visited the Riddles club in Orland Park with the hopes of performing at their open mic night on Thursdays. I wrote some jokes. And you better believe that they were very, very funny. So funny that I was afraid that someone would die laughing. Anyhow, I went to Riddles a few times just to check out the ambience. My very first night there, I was told that I wouldn’t have to pay a cover charge if I was an open mic performer. As tempting as this invitation was, I politely declined. Okay, I admit it. I was afraid to go on stage! I had flashbacks to when I actually did go up on stage, once upon a time.
Anyway, when I was finally comfortable with the club, I decided to perform. I wrote some more killer jokes. I thought about rehearsing, but I was afraid to sound too rehearsed. So, I didn’t rehearse at all. But believe me, I was ready! Oh, yes, I was! Or so I had fooled myself into believing so. When I get to the club and tell them that I want to perform for open mic, they tell me that open mic has been cancelled. How disappointing! Well, not really. What I really meant was, “What a relief!” Especially, since I was invited to stay to watch the show without paying a cover charge. Well, open mic night was cancelled because the starring acts had arrived a day early and want to perform in order to warm up for their weekend performances. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I was also greatly relieved that I didn’t have to perform.
Whenever I get the urge to perform again, I get really motivated. But then, I lose the urge when I realize that I would have to leave the house about 8:00 pm and not return until after midnight. I used to enjoy that, but I didn’t have to get up early to go to work. I would usually wake up at the crack of noon, go running, and then relax before I went to the comedy clubs. I have become such a homebody lately. I really enjoy staying home! Of course, I occasionally leave the house. I not exactly a shut-in.
I plan on going to Riddles very soon. As a spectator. Luckily, they don’t have an open mic night. Yet!
I have been watching Woody Allen movies for a long time. Once, in the 1970s, we–Vito, Jim, and I–saw four Woody Allen movies for a dollar (Only on the north side!) I remember his earlier, funnier movies, to quote Stardust Memories.
Later, when we lost track of each other, Jim would call us up so we could go out to see his latest movie. Of course, no movie after Annie Hall was as funny for me as his earlier efforts. So, today, I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And it was okay. Certainly not as funny as Annie Hall. I did enjoy the shots of Spain in Barcelona and Oviedo. The movie reminded me of my trip to Spain. I haven’t actually been to Spain, but when I do go, I plan on visiting Barcelona where I knew a couple of people. I really will go to Spain someday!
But back to the movie. The plot was easily identifiable as a Woody Allen product of obsessive attention to the minutiae of life. In his typical fashion, he exaggerates details that most normal and sane human beings would overlook. In one scene, Scarlett Johansson apologizes profusely and I couldn’t help but picture Woody Allen directing her into acting as she did–that is, a Woody Allenesque neurotic tirade complete with the exaggerated hand gestures.
Of course, if Woody looked anything like Scarlett, he would have had a completely different career. The one thing that really bothered me about the movie was the narrator. If you’ve ever taken a writing class, you know that one thing that is drilled into head constantly: Don’t tell, show! Well, the narrator constantly explains the actions that we see on the screen, rather than letting us think about them and contemplate what the characters are thinking about their dilemma. Okay, the actors were great in this movie, but I guess I was mainly focusing on Woody Allen as the writer and director. For some reason I’m always attracted to his movies even though I don’t think they’re very good. But I will immediately go see the next one that comes out.
I actually saw the movie Stranger Than Fiction because it was about a writer writing a novel. I liked the way the line between reality and fiction was blurred. I bought the DVD when it came out and I actually saw it soon afterwards. I only say this because I have a stack of DVDs that I bought years ago and have yet to see.
Another reason I wanted to see it was because I have a personal connection with this movie. It was filmed partly at UIC. In fact, I had to change classrooms because they filmed in my classroom. One day, as I talked to a student in the hallway, another student said, “Did you see who just walked behind you?” Of course, I didn’t. Because I like to make eye contact when I talk to someone. Well, it was Dustin Hoffman! And I didn’t see him! People at UIC who were around the film crew said that Dustin Hoffman was actually funnier than Will Ferrell in person.
So that was my brush with greatness. And I missed it!
My first recollection of Spam is eating it at home. Fried. With tortillas. I was fascinated with the whole process of opening up the can with the little key that was attached at the bottom. When my mother finally opened the can, I was expecting to see sardines. Not ham because the can was too small. So my mother fried the Spam and served it to us on tortillas. We ate it occasionally just to vary our diet a little. But not too much since we always ate beans, rice, and tortillas at almost every meal.
Since I am speaking of Spam, I am reminded of a certain British Comedy troupe who coined the term spam for all that unwanted e-mail that we receive. But not intentionally. They had a skit in which the waiter recites the menu, most of which is comprised of Spam.
When I was in high school, one of my friends introduced me to Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS, Sunday nights at 10 p.m. I was so young and naive that I just didn’t get the show. Who exactly was Monty Python? Where were the trapeze artists? Where was their tent? What strange language were they speaking?
Of course, I knew better than to actually ask anyone these questions. You know how teachers and college professors say there is no such thing as a stupid question? Well, I’m convinced that all my questions were stupid judging by the looks of the people who heard them when I occasionally voiced them. So I never asked questions.
I discovered that Monty Python spoke English–English English, as opposed to American English. Luckily, one of my friends was an English to English translator and he explained the jokes that I didn’t get, which was basically all of them. I would have quit watching Monty Python immediately if it weren’t for my friends and the home where we watched the show.
It started quite by accident when we were at Myrna’s house one Sunday night. Her father, we called him by his first name Tom, told us we had to leave about 10 p.m. because he had to get up early on Monday morning to go to work. He had been watching PBS and then Monty Python started on the tele. One of our friends had actually seen the show before and explained to the rest of us that it was a British comedy. Well, this piqued Tom’s interest and we all sat around to watch it. He forgot all about sending us away until the show was over.
The next Sunday, we all watched Monty Python again at Myrna’s house. We really loved the show and I eventually laughed because I got all the jokes without the aid of an interpreter. One Sunday, Tom told us that we couldn’t come over to watch Monty Python anymore. We watched it at Cecilia’s house for a few weeks, but it just wasn’t the same. Luckily, Myrna told us that we were invited back to her house on Sunday nights to watch Monty Python with her father. He told us that he missed us while watching Monty Python. So every Sunday night we watched Monty Python with Myrna and her father Tom.
But getting back to Spam, that was the skit we re-enacted the most. So the Internet term spam is derived from the Monty Python skit in the restaurant where just about everything on the menu includes Spam: “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, eggs, and Spam,” etc.
Well, I thought of all this because of all the spam that I’ve been receiving lately. The maddening thing about spam is not so much that I receive a lot of spam, but rather that I have started to receive it from myself, too! And, I’m fairly sure that I didn’t send it out. I’m not sure why, but I thought I would share some of the Subject lines with you (in no particular order):
You want yours bigger, all men do
Iva debt consolidation
I hadn’t had sex for a while
Whip out your huge manhood
Best offer in gambling history
Huge discount watches
Start seeing dollars pouring in
How about a $2400 welcome bonus
Best Rolex Replica
Elite products for your style and reputation
Enlargement of organs possible
After that it’s only fun and winning
Affordable luxury online in the world’s no. 1 rated replica watch store
Legal software sales
10 inches is possible
Online University Diploma degrees
You have just received an e-card
Penis Products Reviewed
Looking for a watch? Visit Replica Classics
Great sex secrets revealed
Your diamond replicas
Perfectly crafted luxury timepieces
Suffer from short babymaker? Don’t loose (sic), the only solution is here.
Back in the 1980s, my brother Jerry told me about a writer’s group that met every third Tuesday in Beverly at 107th and Hale. So I joined the group because I really enjoyed writing and reading my works for this group motivated me to write. I met a lot of interesting people and I always looked forward to every meeting.
One of the poets, introduced me to her sister who just by chance had married a Mexican whose last name was Navarrete, just like one of my aunts in Mexico. The poet’s sister just happened to be a commercial artist. Eventually, she drew a caricature of me for my comedian’s business card. I remember that she was afraid to show it to me because I might think that she was making fun of me. I really loved it! It was exactly what I wanted. I was always proud of my business card.
Elizabeth-Anne Vanek was the president of the group and she was a published poet. She was the heart, soul, and muse of the group. Without her, the group would have disintegrated. I also met Marc Smith before he became famous for his poetry slams at the Green Mill. He came to many meetings and would read his latest poetry for us.
I also remember Frida who came to every meeting religiously and listened to everyone’s work patiently and then commented with objective criticism. She was a writer who didn’t actually write anything. She couldn’t write anymore. Her muse had abandoned her.
I also brought my friend Tony Trendl from the Marquette Park Track Club for a couple of meetings. I must admit that I did the most writing in my life while I belonged to this group. It was then that I started writing for The Finish Line and the Illinois Runner. However, I never published any of my short stories that I read to the group. My writing improved immensely while I was a member of the Writer’s Desk.
And in another one of those cosmic coincidences that frequently occur to me. I now live right down the block from where the Writer’s Desk used to meet!
When I was growing up, in an age before everyone tried to be politically correct, everyone told ethnic jokes. They were always insulting and mean-spirited to the whatever group was targeted. Sure, some people were offended by these jokes, which only led to them being the target of more ethnic jokes. However, these jokes also brought a lot of joy and laughter among friends. For example, I worked in a peanut butter factory, named Derby Foods, with the ethnic groups who lived in Back of the Yards. In general, we all got along together very well. Shirley, one of my Polish coworkers, loved to hear any kind of joke because she loved to laugh. Her real name was Ursula, but she preferred to be called Shirley. Anyway, she especially loved to hear Polish jokes. She always insisted that I tell her any new Polish joke that I heard. And when I didn’t learn any new jokes, she insisted that I retell her the old ones. Whenever I told her Mexican jokes, she told me she liked the Polish ones better. In this age of political correctness, I will not tell any Polish jokes lest I offend anyone. But, I suppose it would be okay if I told some of the Mexican jokes that I still remember. I’m not doing this to propagate any negative stereotypes about Mexicans, but merely as a scientific exercise to preserve our humorous past. Now, I’m not saying that these jokes are actually funny anymore, but once upon a time, people actually laughed at these jokes. Some of them are actually quite dated. Okay, you have been forewarned!
Why can’t Mexicans be fireman? They don’t know the difference between José and Hose B.
Mexican weather report: Chili today. Hot tamale.
Why do Mexicans wear pointy shoes? To kill cockroaches in the corner.
What is the name of the Mexican telephone company? Taco Bell.
Why don’t Mexicans have barbecues? The beans keep falling through the grille.
How can you tell if you’re at a Mexican birthday party? There are more adults than children.
What do you call a Mexican basketball game? Juan on Juan.
What do you get when you cross a Mexican with an octopus? I don’t know, but boy can it pick lettuce!
Why doesn’t Mexico have an Olympic team? Because every Mexican who can run, jump, or swim is already in the U.S.
What do you call a Mexican in a BMW? A valet.
Upon further reflection, I retract the above listed jokes because they are in extremely bad taste. With apologies to Ursula, I mean, Shirley!