A fellow comedian came up to me after a show we both performed at a small East Village bar and told me: “I like you, but you need to work on branding. I know all about this. Google me. I was big in the ’80s. We can meet for drinks. You’ve been to the Friars Club, right?”
I had never actually been inside the Friars Club, though I had walked past its door on 55th Street many times and always wanted to go in. I even occasionally fantasized about one day being asked to join, inasmuch as my inner Groucho Marx would allow it.
I grew up in the Midwest on “Broadway Danny Rose” and Jackie Mason records with baby-boomer parents who felt a certain nostalgia for the borscht belt comedians of their youth. I remember seeing pictures of my grandparents dressed up in suits and cocktail dresses on their one vacation a year; a weekend trip to the Concord or Grossinger’s.
The comedy shows I performed in New York in the mid-aughts had their own romance: makeshift stages in the basements of bars near Pennsylvania Station, and if I was lucky, being paid in drink tickets.
The night my fellow comedian and I were meeting for a drink, I reapplied my makeup in the office bathroom and headed to the Friars Club. I opened the door for the first time, checked my coat and climbed the staircase up to the bar.
A big band was playing in the corner, and the first thing I heard when I walked in was the tail end of a joke one needn’t hear the beginning of: “So I asked her if they were hers, and she told me, ‘Well, I paid for them!’”
I was home.