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Flash Fiction: The Stand-Up

Mark is a former therapist who turned writer when he moved to California. He writes poetry and stories with a satirical twist.


I'm worried that I'll be next...

I'm worried that people won't laugh anymore--that the world will take comedians too seriously and won't get the punchline.

At night, I work at the comedy club and see the change from a few years ago. Now, audiences have thin skin. They take my sarcasm the wrong way. They are waiting for me to say one thing that could destroy my career. One bit of ill-humor about gender, politics, or religion, and I'm toast.

While society needs to laugh more, people in the cancel culture are eliminating comedians left and right. First, there was Rosanne Barr, then Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart. The list goes on. Will I be next?

It was a struggle...

I had a hard time writing my last routine, struggling with changing things that were funny but politically incorrect. It felt like I was editing out who I was, and that seemed unfair.

When I got up on the stage, my mind went blank. I saw an audience waiting for me to make one mistake--one off-color joke about race, ethnicity, or gender so they could nail me to the cross.

At that moment, I made a choice. It was a difficult one. Should I be profane at the risk of ruining my career, or should I play it safe?

I don't know how long I stood at the mic that night, sweat pouring from my brow and hands trembling. I didn't want to lose my job, so I didn't take any risks, giving the audience what I thought they wanted--not what I wanted.

If I am going to survive this business...

That night, there was nothing in my routine that was offensive. There was no Lenny Bruce or Don Rickles in my gags. Instead, it was clean and wholesome.

I was so wound up I could barely get my words out. All I saw were the bright lights shining as I spilled my comedic guts, timing my jokes perfectly, one punchline after another.

When I had finished my routine, there was silence. The only thing you heard was the wine pouring.

Silence never happened after an act. I'd usually get a reaction, a tomato thrown my way, or an obscene heckler. I wanted anything but quiet.

But then, thank God, the audience applauded. And they kept clapping, calling for an encore. No audience had ever done that before.

For the finale, I remembered a joke I had told years ago. It was about being the only white kid in a black high school, trying to fit in. The audience loved it and gave me another resounding applause.

After the set, I couldn't have been more relieved. I went out with my buddies and celebrated.

I clinked a beer glass with my friends. "Here's to good, clean comedy. No profanity, no sex, no offensive material."

But then my good fortune took a strange twist.

The club's owner, Mr. Sherman, pulled me into his office the next day. He told me that he was breaking my contract.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you're not funny anymore," he said.

"Not funny? I had them falling out of their seats."

"No, you didn't, Eddie. When nobody laughed, I had to turn on the laugh track. What you heard was fake laughter."

Canceled, I muttered, walking out of the club with my head hung low. It was just a matter of time.