Mark Tanenworth stood stiff behind the microphone. Internally he felt as if he was having a seizure, his nervous system had lost order and was abuzz with chaotic electric impulses. Externally he was a pillar of inaction, ten storey buildings could withstand an earthquake on his foundation. He shouldn’t be here, couldn’t handle it, but now he was here he couldn’t leave. He had walked into his own trap, the trap he had set for himself thinking it would be his escape. So what now?
“C’mon buddy, only get five minutes so use ‘em up.”
The call had come from just left of stage. The MC for the night was smoking a cigarette and watching Mark with a sort of vacancy in his eyes. Mark looked out over the smattering of people in attendance, filling up one or two seats per row. He cleared his throat and glanced down at the sweat smeared notes in his palm. It felt nice to look down here so he began to talk.
“You ever, uh, wondered what it would be like if, uh, like we could-”
“- Into the mic, buddy, or preach it like you mean it,” the MC said.
Mark glanced at him, noticed he was chewing gum in between the breaths of smoke. Probably nicotine gum; run out of flavour.
He drew the microphone closer to himself, cleared his throat again and spoke louder this time, “I said you ever uhh thought it would be cool if we could suck our own dicks?” That wasn’t how it was meant to open. “I mean you ever wondered what would happen, what it would be like?”
His whole head flared up and beads of sweat began abseiling down his face, base jumping off his nose. He matted himself down with the palm notes. “I think that if it was as easy as rubbing one out in the elevator then we would probably all be doing it, right?” The silence was stinging. But then he hadn’t said anything funny yet so why would they laugh? “I know what you’re thinking,” he continued, finding some rhythm to the bit he had been reciting in his head for the last two months, “No way, right? But think about it,” he cleared his throat, “the first time you felt around down there it was a little shameful, a little blasphemous, but really awesome. Then you get better and better until you need a picture to help out, then a movie, then a dirty movie. Then you discover soap and lotion.”
Mark was getting into a groove, but realised he was mostly staring at the ground directly in front of the mic stand. He looked up and was met by the same stony faced expressions that greeted him. They were still far from intrigued, let alone entertained. He went on with his bit.
“Well it’s only natural that the next step would be taken if it existed. But the only next step from here is a woman, and you’re only 14 years old!” Another beat that failed to resonate with any ear drums. “OK so now imagine we were in the world of rubber spinal cords; a world where rib cages couldn’t keep a mouse under lockdown. You’ve tried it once before and it was weird. Just a tiny lick and the shame lasted for days. You remember the ten commandments they taught in Sunday school: ‘Thou shalt not take false idol in thine own cock’ But then one day you get to school and the cool kid has a circle of people around him. He tells the story of how great it is to suck your cock. Says he can do it better than his girlfriend and she’s the one you used to imagine before you needed pictures and movies.
“Suddenly some other kids pipe up. They’ve done it as well. They start trading stories and tips. Explaining the best disposal strategies, “Always keep two toothbrushes: one for regular brushing; the other for post auto-fallacio.” Mark had almost delivered his whole bit. His only joke on his first ever attempt at stand-up, delivered it well considering and he hadn’t received a single laugh.
“You know this sorta just goes on like this for a while, but if you didn’t laugh yet I don’t see a point in continuing really.” The small attendance remained steadfast in their blanket emotionless faces. “I mean why are you even here? You skip out on a Walter Wallace special for this. You must be really happy people.” He paused and soaked in the silence. He took a theatric deep breath, “Mmm, I can just sense that happiness eminating throughout the room,” he said accusingly. If they didn’t want to laugh then he wasn’t going to let them treat him like shit. “You know, you guys should have the TV show and the national tour. You got this whole thing figured out, yourselves. Fuck Walter Wallace!”
“Wooo,” the unenthusiastic, possibly ironic ‘woo’ was the first sign of life Mark had received.
He shot back immediately, without thought, “I’m sorry, sir, could you please not interrupt the show.” His quick turn drew a few chuckles out of the audience; the rush of life through Mark’s body was almost overwhelming. “I’ve been thinking, you know, Is anyone actually happier since Walter Wallace came on board? I mean have you seen the shows? The guy does nothing and the people love every minute of it. A billion people watch him do nothing and I spent a year writing a joke about sucking my own dick and I can’t get nod of approval from four fucking sadists in a shitty, decrepit comedy basement.”
The ‘woo’ got some more chuckles out of the lifeless souls.
“Thank you, sir, truly thanks, please come to all my shows cause you’re the only laughs I got.”
“Mark Tanston everybody, let’s hear it for him.” The MC came up on the stage as Mark got down and headed for the exit. As he reached the door he heard the MC continue, “It’s always fun to see someone start and finish their career on the same night.”