Deep down, I’ve always been fierce, but didn’t come to grips with that till later on. Funny’s different. My earliest memories revolve around funny stuff: laughing at funny stuff and getting in trouble for laughing too much. By the time I was six, I knew for sure I wanted to be a comedian. I knew I was funny, and since I was a rebel even back then, I never let the Dominican nuns at elementary school cramp my style. Whenever possible, I watched standup comics on television, especially the very few females in the comedy prime time scene. I checked out joke books from the library and studied them intently. Soon I began producing original material, comedic monologues or parodies of commercials that I performed first for my parents, then for my friends and their parents—and the cool thing is, I actually got laughs. The laughs hooked me. I wrote a sitcom script in second grade, and tried to get Sister Mary Elizabeth to greenlight my production. I planned on producing, directing, casting, and playing a major role, but she killed it right outta the gate…she said the family depicted in my script was not a good Catholic family. Hell, I modeled it after the Honeymooners and Bugs Bunny cartoons, with lots of sarcasm and conflict. That’s the way I viewed life, even at that tender age. But it didn’t play with the convent crowd.
Finally convinced that the nuns were simply too square to get my humor, I focused all my energy on the neighborhood, cultivating the loyal following I’d built up around the cul de sacs and carports in my little corner of the suburban Corn Belt. I grew up in Middle America, far from the bright lights and glamour of New York and L.A., but oh, how I longed to get to one of those two show biz Meccas. Looking back now, it’s revealing to recall my determination, my hunger and thirst to get in front of an audience and throw out some punchlines. Funny is fierce; it’s badass, a force to be reckoned with. Standup comedy is martial, you can tell by the lexicon of the trade—terms like “punchline,” for instance. Backstage, after a set, comics comment on their performances with, “I killed,” “I bombed,” “I crushed,” “I died,” “killer set,” “I blew the roof off.” It’s a certain kind of badassery.
Along with Marilyn, another funny kid who lived in the neighborhood, I co-wrote, co-produced, co-directed, and starred in a one-hour sketch comedy show. Marilyn and I cast our friends in some of the sketches, and we created props and scenery. None of this shit was Golden Globes caliber, or even Peoples’ Choice level, but for second graders it rocked. We packed the house—well, it was a carport, and the audience sat in folding chairs in the driveway, but still. The show killed!
I was always fierce, but focused on funny. About two weeks into first grade at St. Agnes School, the Dominican sisters began the process of squelching my nascent ferocity by suspending me from school for a day. Like many a prison movie, the riot had broken out in the yard, so to speak. I was out on the playground at recess, swinging on the swing set. Behind me I heard screams, so I jumped off, tucked, rolled, and rose to a crouch in my shiny patent leather shoes. Whirling toward the shrill cacophony of my female classmates, I saw dozens of girls stampeding, thundering across the playground in adrenaline-fueled panic. I grabbed one of them by the arm as they sped past. “Hey! Why are you running?”
She stopped, gasping for breath, and looked back over her shoulder. “The boys! They’re chasing us—if they catch you, they knock you down and pull up your dress and then, um, they PULL YOUR UNDERWEAR DOWN!!” She bolted away, gibbering in terror.
I couldn’t figure out why they were running. There were almost twice as many girls as boys in our class. We had them outnumbered! I shouted at the top of my lungs, hoping to rally the troops for a counterattack. “HEY! ALL YOU GIRLS!! WE DON’T HAVE TO STAND FOR THIS! C’MON, FOLLOW ME!” I spun, turned to face the pack of boys. Three of them had knocked down a pigtailed girl in a plaid dress with a lacy white collar. She was crying, I could see her face turning redder and redder. Furious, and pumped with adrenaline, I charged, hollering a spontaneous battle cry. “BOMBS AWAAAYYY!”
Running full-speed into the fray, I instinctively zeroed in on the biggest kid, the ringleader, a dentist’s son with red hair and freckles. I slammed into him head-on, knocked him onto his back, then jumped on his chest. Sitting astride him I pounded my fists on his face, chest, and shoulders. At that point, two nuns appeared out of nowhere, pulled me off, and dragged me away.