Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Hey everyone my name’s Barry Romero and I’m a comedy-guy from Lincoln, NE (which stands for Nebraska)! My past gigs have been mostly open-mic stuff but I opened for Ruth Hillbridge twice in Omaha. Click here for a clip of that video miniurl.er674kd.net
So it said on his profile, his public image, and his t-shirt.
Barry gulped from the mug of chai tea in the corner of the sushi restaurant, as the pop station continued its repeat of the previous hour complete with double ads for area community colleges and the Chase County tobacco-quitting assistance program.
“…and you can check your eligibility online at www dot…”
He held down the power button on his tablet until it faded away. Not a damn thing accomplished. Time to get high.
On the bus ride he sent text messages to unresponsive colleagues, including Miss Hillbridge, and the red-clad attendees of the football game had already begun populating the streets, as they had the week before, and two prior to that. His earbuds blasted real American music—nary an ad until it reminded him just what he was listening to.
“You’re on Blue-Blue Internet Radio!”
He could apply now for the nursing school’s summer internship program.
“You have a new message.”
Excitedly Barry Romero swiped and pushed, and found the sender hadn’t been contacted by himself first.
“Hey Barry. It’s Quin. New number. Wanna chill? Same pad. Gimme call. Peace later.”
“Barry!” said the forever-distorted other side. “How you doin’, joker?”
The public transport widely rounded the corner and stopped upon straightening out. Two old ladies with shopping bags climbed the steps, not bothering to present their passes.
“I’m all right,” replied Barry, watching the elderly. “You up to anything right now?”
“Nah dude. Just waitin’ for the game to start. About to par-take. You wanna come over?”
“Urh, maybe.” The two ladies sat next to him and smelled like powdered soaps.
“You still cool?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m still cool.” And his stash had to last until the next paycheck.
“Figured you were,” said Quin, after a snide laugh. “Anywho, you remember the house Quince and me got on Freemont?”
Quince—Quincy Fisher, from Suite 16 in Crouch Hall, and younger brother Quinten by only ten months.
“Urh, yeah, yeah,” Barry said, having forgotten until that moment. Freemont Avenue, the next stop.
“Just buzz when you get here, friend.” They hung up and the bus steamed to a halt next to the glass-enclosed bench, where two large families of football fans jostled on board after Barry had scampered away, recalling his former school friend and the student discount tickets.
Blurry halfbacks and unfocused free safeties, victory buds with victorious buds. “Those were the days…weren’t they, Barry?”
“Urh, yeah,” Barry said to Quin Fisher as he peered around the obvious bachelor apartment reeking of the stuff and incense, his lifeblood and vain shame. Blankets over the windows. “Hasn’t changed a bit, has it?”
He shook his head as he looked at the ashy tables, scorched tinfoil in crescents littering floor and countertops alike, trash bin full of paper plates and beer cans of all states of uprightness lining the walls. Even Quinten, in a hemp sweater and holey jeans, rekindled precise evocation of more boyish evenings. “You want a beverage, friend?”
Barry had been awake since 6:00 p.m., the clubs all packed, too packed, and the vets had hogged all the stages as seniority dictated, the kids all out and on something, wholeheartedly satisfied by crowdwork, cheap progressive comments, and bumpkin jokes.
“You still tryin’ to make it big in this pissant town?” asked Quin as he threw himself down on the green-brown recliner, puffing dust, expecting all others to make themselves thoroughly at home.
“You know how it is,” Barry said, inspecting the music posters. The Doors. Jefferson Starship. John Lennon. Looked like Kinko’s had done a fine job.
Barry Romero asked how the older Fisher brother had been doing.
“Quince got married, friend,” was the response, not looking. “His wife’s pregnant. He’s workin’ at the pipeline up in Alaska.” His ragged dishwasher hair hung somewhat over his cheeks and he fiddled with one of the knickknacks upon the mismatched footrest topped with a swindled Taco Bell tray, serving as an altar to such saints.
Quin held up a toy skeleton. “You remember the night we found those Mexican chicks from Garrison High?”
After four months she had stopped returning his messages. “Not really,” Barry said. The polymer bones had been a youthful gift from the taller one, skinny, her name started with a J, for Ya, and Quincy had shut the door, the one right before him now, saying he had wanted to show her The Secret of NIMH.
A stack of DVDs next to the SDTV. Mostly cartoons. Classics and Disneys. And there stood the record player from that pawn shop in Des Moines, when they had driven for the weekend to be displaced rivals.
“So you’re still cool, then?” Quin queried calmly, his hands in his sweater pocket.
Barry nodded. Had to last until the check. His heart sped as the sounds of the cheap baggie emerged from the chair, and his host beckoned him to sit, sit, make himself at home, amigo, hermano.
As the bits were broken up and minced deftly, Quin gazed over and said, “Not having the best of luck in the bein’-funny game, eh?”
“You know how it is,” Barry said, complacent and almost hungry. Now would come the usual contriteness, apologies for having lost touch, not going to his shows, noting how they had meant to after seeing his updates, but Barry Romero knew the majority of his acquaintances had blacklisted his feed long ago.
Quinten, however, chuckled as the crackles began from the well-used device. “The ones ’round here all suck, don’t they?”
Barry regarded him suspiciously. Couldn’t be.
“The same fuckin’ lame-ass jokes,” the younger brother continued. “The lame-ass insults about what town you’re from, or how rednecks do this but black people don’t.”
He checked the milled substance and reclosed the container, twisted it thrice. “Well,” he said astutely, “the weird thing about comedy is that you can make it by doing absolutely nothing new.”
Maybe it could have been. Barry falsely imparted, “If the audience likes it, then that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
“To most,” Quin finished. He then filled the blue-and-lime apparatus after blowing into it like a whittled flute.
“To most,” Barry recited, fledgling and thrilled. “I guess I can’t really comment on it.”
“Why not?” He shuffled through the clutter and tried to flick an empty Zippo.
With a pause he couldn’t prolong, Barry clarified, “I always flop, man. People leave the fuckin’ venue when I do my act and then I see them come back and laugh at the lowest-fuckin’-brain shit I’ve ever heard. Sometimes it’s even totally plagiarism, too.” He remembered and his blood redoubled, “Like this one guy—I’m not kidding, either—actually stole a joke from someone who stole it already!”
“Which one?” He found a second butane torch, this one properly juiced.
“It’s a Cosby one, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, shit!” Quin said with exactness. “You mean the ‘Hi Mom!’ joke?”
“Yeah!” Barry uncontrollably yelped before attempting to hold it back. Couldn’t show it. Couldn’t be what he knew he was. “…And he said it like Mencia, too, not Cosby.”
“Bullshit. And people laughed at that.”
“Must be hard being judged by people who’ll laugh at anything.”
Those words—those words filled his being and confirmed the benevolence of his fellow man and spirits.
“…Yep,” uttered Barry Romero.
Wordlessly the two men accepted the tainted air into their wholes and held it inside for practiced intervals before letting go. They had had their respective turns when Barry debated readdressing the conversation he had been longing to have more than any other.
“Here,” Quin said instead as he laid down the loaf to be cracked in two, shared between brethren of verdant rows. “You got your phone on you?”
“Urh, yeah.” After revealing his link to the outside world, Barry received instruction to go to VidNow and enter an absurdity.
” ‘Amorous Robot’?”
“No,” Quin said mightily. ” ‘Amorphous Robot’.”
“Who the fuck came up with that?”
Quin smiled as he plucked greenish-tinted spectacles from the mess of junk, junky mess. He slid them on curiously while his old chap typed in the letters, and the search function asked if he had meant “Aquarium Robot”.
“That one, right there,” he said, pointing to a rectangular image of a light-skinned hippy holding a microphone. Barry clicked on the thumbnail with his first finger and the side-turned phone played what appeared to be a recorded standup set with the title “Top Ten Ways I Would Die to Be Funny”.
Applause ceased from the beginning and the man with short dreadlocks and a full beard stood with a relaxed posture in front of a brick wall and the sign for the club, the Downtown Sioux Shitty. Barry had always wanted to try having his hair like that. But top tens were the worst.
The guy in the video waited for the laughter to finish. He then spoke with a sly baritenor, “Some of my friends are terrified of y’all, and I have no idea why. Either you fuckers laugh, or you don’t. I guess there’s some in-between, like you can laugh for my sake—and if you do, fuck off—but I don’t see too much laughing on the inside. Or hear. Or sense, I guess.” Smattering of chuckles.
“That’s because you guys expect to laugh or not-laugh—and, yeah, I’m, like, saying there’s not laughing, and then, not…laughing…. There’s a difference, y’know?” the videoman said with strenuous specificity. “Do you know how much of comedy comes down to that fuckin’ expectation? Or location, placement, you fuckers being—quote, unquote—’ready to laugh’? Sometimes it’s not cool to tell a joke, I get it, but if I were hit by a bus and then I’m layin’ on the ground drowning in my fuckin’ blood and then the concerned passerbys call the cops and then the cops would yell, ‘Call a bus!’—y’know, I’d like to think I’d be able to laugh at that, still. Maybe I should go get hit by one and find out?” Some of the attendees clapped sporadically. “Hey, fuck you, I’m talking about the downfall of mankind here.”
Barry chuckled, holding his phone with Quin looking over his shoulder.
“Dedication to my craft. I’m bleedin’ out and I grab the officer’s collar and yell, ‘SAY IT, DAMN YOU!’ ” he continued, pantomiming and inflecting. “A competitor—shit, I mean a friend of mine said he’d totally take out a second mortgage if he could spend it on guaranteed advertising for his standup. Fuck, man. If it were that easy I’d just try to find the correct…family business…if you know what I’m gettin’ at, capiche? Y’know, the Church of the Antichrist.” Quiet, no laughs. “Nah, man, if I wanted guaranteed advertising I’d just get myself hit by that fuckin’ bus. All I gotta do is tell my dad to put the link for my website somewhere in the handout they give you at the funeral.” A bit of a lull, and he added, “I guess I’m the only one who—”
The video ended, popping up a screen of further watching, including three top tens emblazoned with stock photos of enraged grandmas. Barry smirked.
“That wasn’t bad,” he said.
“Click on that one,” Quin commanded as he indicated another with the same man, the sole from the list.
The next had him performing at the Northern Huskie Tavern, more pixelated.
“My aunt called me last week and wanted to know if I had gone to church recently,” he opened, prompting a few laughs, “which, of course, means she intends to murder me,” causing more, and thicker. “The fuck she calling people and asking that for, huh? Not even priests ask people that.” He paused his gait midway across the stage. “But I suppose they don’t have to, y’know? What if they did, though? Like he slaps his hand on your shoulder and says, ‘My child, when’s the last time you’ve been to a service?’ And then you have a few options. He could be testing you, like he knows you haven’t been there since your cousin’s wedding. Just waiting for you to lie and go to hell. Or he could be suffering from dementia…I think this one would be worse because it means you could confess anything…. You look up John Gacy’s rap sheet and read it off in the box—’Father forgive me for I have sinned. I killed sixteen little boys and never told the families where they could find the bodies. Then I ate some fried chicken and they tried to fry me.’ ” Confused laughs. ” ‘By the way it’s been twenty years since my last confession.’ ”
Barry laughed, and the phone suggested a video about the pope, among others.
“And he was doing this back in 2010?” he asked, using information on the page. Sixty-five views.
“This guy does music reviews, too,” Quin said as he offered again.
“Oh yeah?” Barry accepted.
The first music review discussed the merits of a resurgence of the ’90s swing and bop resurgence. The next consisted of a five-minute analysis based on a single screenshot from a Soundgarden video which referenced the history of Poland and Satanism. A pair seemed to be exact copies of one another—a treatise to categorize Back in Black as proof of seven separate secret societies—but the two videos had different titles.
“Ha, I get it,” Barry said, almost starving and his head stretched with helium, the stuff decent, good, not bad.
After a moment his friend replied, “Figured you would.” He pointed again at one represented by a psychedelic smiley. “Look at that one next.”
Before complying Barry interjected, “You know, this guy, Android Ribcage…what a shitty name, though, anyway, he has it, y’know? He has what comedy needs, man—he doesn’t care if anyone gets it. He’s what he is, man!”
Quin nodded, and silently tinkered with his dark glasses.
“That’s what I’m missing,” Barry Romero posited with long-stymied virulence. “I need to stop caring about them and tell the stuff that I want to tell, y’know, get my points across. The fuck cares who laughs or not! Sucks, though, that he only has like a thousand views total. He’s good. Is he working, still? I want to get in touch with him.”
“That could be possible,” answered Quin. “I actually know him a little. Let’s watch the video first and I’ll see what I can do.”
“All right, sounds good.” Finally, someone.
Barry opened the video with the mesmerizing thumbnail and it started with two guys sitting in a dirty apartment, the familiar one with dreadlocks and the familiar one with jade sunglasses and a hemp sweater—silence, as the video had been muted, its audio removed due to a claim from a record company. Barry in the present confusedly turned to Quin, who chuckled and took out a remote from his sweater and turned on the television.
Instinctively, Barry turned toward the screen and watched the static turn into a smiley and the smiley change shape, into symbols and letters, bulls, stallions, demons, and he must have been tripping bad and almost thought he saw the former-smiley now-devil walk out of the television and stand above him, piercing horns brimming with sharply azure glimmer.
The shape even appeared to be smirking, wearing sunglasses, standing on goat legs.
“Hello again, you, me,” greeted the definite hallucination.
Barry Romero looked at his friend in order to steady his mind, still himself, and found that Quin had stood up and moved beside the unreal figure of the monster. The pretend monster. The thing in his head. Just had to stop staring at the static. “You okay, friend?”
Barry shook his head.
“This is my favorite part of the whole thing,” Quin said to the fiendish illusion which had nearly become crimson and muscular. Barry could even smell the spice and feel the heat emanating from the body.
And it grumbled, “I always look so damned surprised, don’t I?”
Quin chuckled again. “Are the chambers ready?”
“Almost,” the thing replied haughtily. “Almost at full charge. Just give it another minute or so and we shall begin.”
In a matter of seconds it all came back to the person named Barry, as it had before and after—the electricity, alive, discovering this, proclaiming he would give up anything, anything for success, to learn its hidden truths, and Quinten led him to this apartment with the promise of an epiphany, guaranteed.
“At least you don’t seem to be fighting back this time,” Quin assured.
Barry resigned, without the ability to resist. “How many times?” he asked the man and beastly apparition.
“Fifty-six,” Quin said, placing his hand on his shoulder. “Peace, friend,” he then added with a reasoned touch. “You will always give yourself peace.”
Hey everyone my name’s Barry Romero and I’m a comedy-guy from Lincoln, NE (which stands for Nebraska)! Right now I’m just doing some open-mic stuff but I intend to MAKE IT BIG! Shoot me a PM for scheduling info!
A middle-aged black public accountant walked her two chihuahuas down the sidewalk and Barry stood in the threshold of the exit to the street, hungrier and exhausted.
With a pat on the lower back, Quin cheerfully told him, “I always thought your hair looked better back then. Now get out of here.”
Barry had stumbled to the corner light and barely heard someone say, “And see you next month!”
Another weekend wasted, Barry thought murkily, repeatedly, ebulliently, hesitantly, desperately, brokenly, hastily. No interest. Time to get high.
Credit: Edmund Gray-Graham