“The One-Two Punchline” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay | 2 - Mishmashers Mishmashers

“The One-Two Punchline” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay | 2

A surrealist fiction

2.

Jimmy sat on a stall before the bartender, holding the glass bottle of scotch in his hand. Every now and again, a man or a woman would stop by and sing his praises, for which, he appreciated. So little did their compliments ever result in a sale of a CD or anything beyond the fleeting ego boost, but he was happy they had a good night out and he contributed to it.

When someone tried to start a conversation, he politely shushes them, extending out his index finger and pointing at the stage. This was the young man’s first night doing stand up, which meant he wanted to be a supportive set of eyes if he happened upon him watching.

That was more than anyone else did for him when he started out five years back and the crowds did not know to consider things like that, spinning yarns of their own amid someone’s set and heckling, trying to make themselves part of the act.

Jimmy brought the alcohol to his lips and watched the young man; he was not too bad, a little rough around the edges, at worst.

Some of his jokes landed, some of them didn’t, but what was important was that he kept moving forward and didn’t lose momentum.

If you lucked out, a person would leave a show thinking it was their own fault they didn’t get a joke, because you didn’t stop to let the crickets chirp or allow any tomatoes to be hurled in your direction.

The young man’s name was Dalton Collier, a handsome boy who must have been fresh out of high school. His delivery was the antithesis to Jimmy’s. Jimmy’s act was all about enthusiasm and high energy, that way, even if a joke didn’t land, the audience might still be entertained by a wacky character. That was not Dalton’s shtick at all. Dalton was the slow burn, bombshell dropping, one liner type, saying his words with careful precision.

Jimmy watched on and smiled. He could remember when he first stepped in front of a crowd.

The crowd laughed in unison, Jimmy had been too lost in his own thoughts to catch the punchline he had said.

Dalton Collier was certainly a lot less nervous than he had been his first time around. Maybe that is why Jimmy had been earlier on the lineup, maybe this kid had already lapped him in the club owner’s eyes?

Jimmy shook his head and laughed at himself for the thought. It was his own insecurity clouting his judgment. The club owner had him set ahead of Dalton for the exact opposite reason, because he needed someone to break the ice with the crowd. The club owner, a chubby guy named Paul, had already said as much to him earlier in the day.

The crowd burst out again, offering Dalton Collier a near-unanimous ovation for his act, Jimmy even heard a few whistles from some of the females in attendance.

Come to think of it, Jimmy could not remember a time they were ever that loud for him at The Laugh Track. He sighed and laughed at himself again. The night had went without out a hitch, and, here he was, trying to ruin it for a dumb, imaginary reason.

As Dalton took a bow and delivered his final comment, Jimmy made certain to stand up from his bar stool and clap as Dalton disappeared behind the curtain.

The Laugh Track was not exactly the hottest night club throughout Urgway, but it met adequate standards and was safe. Or, as safe as you could come by in Urgway, a city where you could not walk the streets at night without at least having a fair chance at being robbed by a tweaker wielding half a pair of rusty scissors.

The pay was next to nothing, unless you were one of the headliners, a select group of men that more or less ran the scene of Urgway’s comedy circuit. They are the ones on the marquee and they are the ones that step out from the clubs and are brought into actual theaters to do their acts in front of thousands of people. That was the dream, and Jimmy would be there soon enough.

It was all about friendships in the greater Maharris, who you knew and how high up the food chain they were. Politicking and networking was key to showbiz, and, after scraping and crawling, Jimmy had more than a handful of important numbers in his contact list acquired over the years. It would be only a matter of time until he would call on the favors and ascend the hierarchy.

The rain was coming down hard when Jimmy stepped outside. He gripped and tugged at the flaps of his leather jacket and hugged himself with them. The puddles of water and sewage drains brought in a smell vaguely of the sea, Jimmy liked it even though he knew most likely would not.

As fate would have it, the man of the hour, Dalton Collier was standing in the alleyway as well. Jimmy’s boots splashed in the rainwater as he neared Dalton, alerting him of his presence. Initially surprised, Dalton smiled from ear to ear when they made eye contact.

Did you see it out there!?”

I did, I did,” Jimmy remarked, nodding his head as droplets of rain ran down his cheeks. “You did fantastic, buddy. Congratulations, you are a star! How does it feel?”

Dalton smirked, “I know I have a long way until I am anyone special. Everyone knows you here, you are like a character at The Laugh Track, everyone has their favorite Jimmy Lawson story, you know? But, man, it was such a rush! Getting the chance to play off an actual crowd, hearing feedback in real time like that?”

Dalton’s way of speaking and his demeanor was a lot different than how he showed himself when he was on stage. In front of the crowd, he was subdued and aloof, but, in reality, Dalton was a boy pursuing his dreams, carrying giddiness and healthy excitability. Jimmy could remember when he used to be excited like that.

Jimmy chuckled, “I have been at it a wink, but you will be at where I am before you know it, believe me. Take in the climb!”

Jimmy winked, a quirk that likely went unnoticed because of the rain. Then, he bowed his head and continued on.

Hey, where are you going!?” Dalton yelled from only a few feet away from him.

Home,” Jimmy answered coolly. “I have a lot of celebrating to do, another great night coming to an end.”

Dalton smiled, awestruck as Jimmy turned his back to him, and, for a moment, Jimmy figured that would be the end of it. Instead, he heard another yell, “Hey, wait!”

Jimmy looked at him again.

Did you really get your foot stuck under a door?”

Jimmy laughed and shrugged, “You are not ready for the inside dirt just yet, Dalton. Have a good night.”

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