Lewis knew that it was now or never. He had been practicing for months. Everyone told him to give up his on dream of being a standup comedian, but deep down he knew it was his destiny. This is what he has wanted to do for his entire life. And finally after all these years of working dead-end jobs to make ends meet, he was at his first open mic.
He sat at the bar sipping on a glass of Johnny Walker Black. Normally he would just stick with whatever whiskey the bar tender kept in the well, but not tonight. Tonight he was going all out. After tonight, he would never drink from the well again.
The mic screamed with feedback as the MC called up the next wannabe comic. “Alright headed to the stage now a local favorite, give it up for Dave Mercier!” Judging by the crowd’s reaction, you would not think Dave was an open-mic-er. The applause was deafening as Dave trotted up to the stage with ease.
“Alright how are you guys doing tonight!?” he asked disingenuously. The crowd roared with appreciation. There were roughly thirty people at all the tables, but it sounded like there was triple that amount. But that didn’t bother Lewis. Thirty people, or three hundred, he planned on winning each and every one of them over.
Lewis immediately tuned out Dave’s set. He needed to focus. Quickly he downed the rest of his tumbler and signaled for another. He left his flash cards at home because he didn’t need them. There were plenty of countless nights rehearsing his set in the mirror. Every syllable and every pause was planned. He could do his act in his sleep, despite what his girlfriend Sherry thought. She didn’t have any confidence in his comedy. Countless arguments erupted whenever he mentioned his dream. “Comedy is not going to put food on the table!” was a favorite line of hers.
The crowd erupted and Lewis was jerked back to reality. Dave must have landed a really good joke, because Lewis was the only person in Banner’s Tavern that wasn’t laughing. He looked down and noticed that he had finished another glass of Johnny Walker. He wasn’t sure if he should risk a fourth glass, until he saw the bar tender give Dave the light to let him know that his five minutes were up. Now it was becoming real. His hands started shaking at the realization that he was about to stand before thirty strangers.
“Can I have another?” he asked the bar tender. She shot him a sideways look and poured him another glass. This time she put a lot more ice than his previous glasses. “You got this,” he told himself. He grabbed the glass from the bar tender before she could even put it down, and finished the entire drink in one gulp.
“That’s my time- thanks a lot you guys!” Dave said as he exited the stage. The crowd applauded until the MC grabbed the mic. Lewis was up next.
“Alright give it up one more time for Dave Mercier!” the MC said. The crowd reached another decibel. “Ok our next comic for Banner’s Tavern open mic Tuesdays is a newbie, please welcome to the stage for the first time, Lewis Johnson!” The crowd’s tone changed from excited to obligatory. Lewis took a deep breath and made his way to the stage. His shoes stuck to the floor as if there were Velcro on the souls. The smells of stale beer and cigarettes filled the air. The room was so dark, all he could see was the MC in the spotlight. He could feel judging eyes on him as he ambled his way to the stage. He couldn’t help but think of grade school dances, when he would muster up enough courage to ask a girl to dance but always got rejected. That wouldn’t be the case tonight though. He finally reached the tiny steps onto the stage and passed the MC on his way up.
“It’s Johansen” he said to him kindly. The MC rolled his eyes and continued to his seat off to the side of the stage. Lewis could feel the sweat pouring down his face.
When he arrived at the mic stand, the spotlight blinded him. He could barely make out a few silhouettes at the front tables, and nothing after that. The mic slipped in his hands as he struggled to remove it from the mic clip. A loud cough sounded from the audience, which was a signal that he should start.
“Um… Alright h-how are you guys d-d-doing tonight?” he stammered. One person gave a half-hearted “woo” in response. “Um… Are… Are you guys doing alright?” This time the only response he received was another cough. He was starting to flounder. He knew he needed to get to his opening joke, and fast.
“Did you ever notice,” he blurted out. A loud, audible groan came from the left side of the stage. He was able to make out a man sitting at a table alone in the second row. His table was littered with empty beer bottles. The front of his shirt was wet with sips that couldn’t quite make their way to his mouth. His large stomach was resting on the table in front of him. A cigarette was dangling from his mouth, holding on for dear life. He rolled his eyes as he pulled out his cell phone.
“Really?” he said audibly. Even though he was by himself he spoke as though someone was listening. “Did you really just start with ‘did you ever notice’? Hack!” A few people in the crowd chuckled.
“Uh….” Everything Lewis knew about his act was gone. His mind was now blank. The only thing he could focus on was the man in the crowd. He knew he had to gain control again. “Um… d-did you ever notice that when you are at the airport-“
“Seriously!?” the heckler interrupted. “‘Did you ever notice’ and airport humor? The 80’s called, they want their jokes back!” This garnered more chuckles from the crowd than before. Lewis could feel his shirt becoming drenched in sweat. He looked away from the man. The spot light blinded him once again. He heard the murmurs of people losing interest. He tried to remember a joke, ANY joke, but he was frozen in place.
“Hey sweetheart,” the heckler continued as he took a big gulp of beer. “Don’t quit your day job, eh?” The crowd erupted. The man was bellowing with laughter. Lewis’s heart sank. The volume of the crowd didn’t change as the laughter stopped. Every table was abound with conversation. Lewis could make out some of the chatter.
“Man this guy sucks!”
“What a loser!”
“He barely said anything!”
Lewis was frozen in place for what seemed like an eternity. He couldn’t believe what was going on. All his dreams were over in an instant. As if out of reflex he yelled, “Thanks-alot-and-goodnight” and dropped the mic with one last screech of feedback. As he ran off stage he could hear the heckler laughing harder than anyone had all night. He glanced at the MC as he walked by. The pitiful look on his face said it all. Lewis pushed through the patrons waiting at the bar and made a B-line for the door. As he was about to leave, he could hear the MC trying to salvage the night.
“What can I say folks? Comedy is not for everyone.” The crowd laughed in appreciation.
The street was loud. Lewis’s eyes had to adjust to the streetlights. The ground was wet and the sounds of people waiting outside other more popular bars could be heard in between speeding cars. Further away he could hear an arguing couple screaming at each other. Muffled music drifted in and out as people entered the other establishments. He fumbled around his pocket for his keys and made his way towards the side alley where his car was parked.
When he got to the alley, he felt like he was back on stage. It was dark, except for the one light the hung over the club’s side door. The sounds of the street now seemed so far away. Garbage lined the brick walls of the club. His car was backed in as far is it could go. He struggled to open his door and slumped into the driver’s seat. There was a pause after he put the key in the ignition, and he began to sob uncontrollably.
Sherry’s comments filled his head once again. He couldn’t bear facing her after tonight. The thought of actually telling her how the night went made him feel ill. This was sure to be the final straw for her. There was no way she would stay with him now that her point was proven. Lewis’s life was over.
The side door of the club burst open. Through the wet windshield Lewis saw a man nearly fall into the alley. The man stumbled and leaned up against the wall of the club. Swaying with the wind, he began to urinate on the building. Lewis activated the windshield wipers, and his heart sank once again. It was the heckler. There before him stood the man that single handedly crushed his dreams.
The heckler finished urinating and stepped away from the wall. As he turned to go back into the club, he stopped and squinted in Lewis’s direction, still swaying. Lewis glanced back, tears still fresh on his face. The heckler noticed who he was staring at, and started laughing as hard as he did in the club.
Lewis lost control. He flipped the high beams on and slammed the gas pedal to the floor. The tires screamed as the car raced forward. The heckler was getting closer and closer. A look of fright came into focus as the car hit him with a loud “Bang!”. He rolled over the entire car, cracking the windshield in the process. Lewis slammed on the breaks and the car came to a screeching halt. His hands were glued to the steering wheel. He forced himself to look in the rear view mirror.
His taillights revealed the heckler lying in a puddle. Blood was trickling down his face, gaining speed as it touched his wet skin. His leg was pointed in the wrong direction. The beer bottle he was holding shattered in his hand and all that remained were a few large shards of brown and red glass. His body retched as he coughed up blood. He rolled onto his side in an effort to find air.
Lewis looked away from the horrific sight and started to tremble. He tried to focus his senses on the streets, but all he could hear was the heckler choking on his own blood. He slammed his eyes shut. His foot drifted from the break to the gas pedal, and he pulled out onto the street.