Chapter 17: I’M GOING TO HOLLYWOOD

I didn’t have a lot of intel on the Hollywood scene, but there was an Irish pub in Huntington Beach that had a comedy night. Seemed like a good spot to start.  And lucky for me, the guy who ran the room knew EVERYTHING. I hit the jackpot. He shared his knowledge, opinions and grudges of the whole town. (I don’t think he watched his own show.) His name was Doug* and if you know him, you know him. Still a bit of a legend among comics who got this gig.

I got the scoop on the Laugh Factory. Open mic night was Tuesday. The show starts at 7, sign up is at 5, but “YOU BETTER GET THERE EARLY CUZ THEY ONLY TAKE THE FIRST 15 PEOPLE IN LINE!” And yes, he yelled this through the show he was producing, as the comics were on stage. (Cut to me begging for a spot here years later.) When I get to the Laugh Factory, I’ll make sure to name drop Doug. That should help.

I had only navigated Southern California from the back seat of my dad’s mini-van, so this was gonna be different. Since a total stranger I met in a bar was giving me a ride to Long Beach, I had to be ready to go at 6:30am. (Do you think this worried me after I moved across the continent for a guy in Vegas?)

My “boyfriend” seemed un-phased by my early departure. Most people move to Hollywood to get back at someone who treated them like shit in high school. I moved to California and then found that special someone to prove wrong. We didn’t have revenge porn back. It was success or nothing.

The ride to Long Beach was a little further than I thought. Every mile that went by was a mile I’d have to get back, but I’d worry about that later. He dropped me off at a Metro line stop that was above ground which I thought would make me feel safer, but it took about thirty seconds to witness a man selling crack. Or maybe he was ordering it? All I know is he was shouting,

“CRACK!!!!!” 

I got on the train and started working on my set list. Sure I look a little lost, but I’ll just act like I’m going to work or whatever. As the train stopped in Compton, my naive 23 year-old Canadian tourist worries were some how calmed by the sight of a Home Depot.

After changing trains in DTLA and heading north up the red line, I finally see an exit that says Hollywood Blvd and spontaneously hop off. I’ve at least heard of that street. I can walk the rest of the way. Again, let me remind you it’s 2002 and I’m doing this without a cell phone or map. I just kept asking people which way I should go.

(I do that with my career in general, but we’ll learn more on that later.)

It takes me about an hour to walk to the Laugh Factory. I get there a little after 9:30am and there’s ALREADY PEOPLE IN LINE for the open mic! Holy shit. I thought I was early, but these guys had me beat. Or they were homeless people slumped up against the wall? Comedians often profile as bums. 

“Are you guys in line for the open mic?”

They look up at me proud.

“Yup!”

I don’t really want to sit down on the dirty Sunset Blvd pavement so I just smile and say, 

“Cool!”

While continuing to stand. But I can’t stand for seven hours straight. Not even at 23. 

I crouch down on the pavement. I only had my joke notebook on me. As the day progressed, more people joined the line. Everyone was so outgoing and funny. I found myself uncharacteristically shy and quiet. It was one thing for me to be the life of the party in front of all my friends in Canada, but around a bunch of L.A. comics? No way. I can’t compete. 

And that June Gloom had definitely faded. Or was just a beach thing? It was so cloudy when I left Orange County I didn’t even think about sunscreen. Now I could feel my skin morphing into the colour of Clifford the Dog. There’s no way Crunch gym could protect me from the UVB rays. 

One of the guys in line starts chatting me up. Let’s call him “Pistachio.” (I change names to protect the delusional.) Pistachio was an actor, comedian and model. The model part was unexpected, mostly because of his brown, socially distanced teeth. Maybe he does some “Before Picture” work. He asked if I could hold his spot in line while ran across the street to McDonald’s for a 49 cent cheeseburger. (HUGE special that year. Sorry if you missed it.) I thought maybe he would bring me back one, but when he returned he just offered to hold my spot while I went. 

After seven hours in this line, I was convinced I must be the least funny person. I was ready for a nap. (And some aloe vera.) There were two girls in line, Christian and Barb. Obviously we bonded. Three out of fifteen was above average for 2002.

At 5pm, the big wooden front door of the Laugh Factory opened. Someone wrote down all our names, while saying that would NOT be the order. The line up would be posted at 6:45 and we each would have 3 minutes.

(Not to brag, but I had fifteen minutes of material. Wow. Finally an opportunity where I needed less time. I’m gonna LOVE L.A!)

After the sign up, I went for a walk along the legendary Sunset Strip. I walked by Dublin’s, Miyagi’s and a bunch of other bars that have changed names a million times since then. I turn back to the Laugh Factory fast though. I’m nervous, might bomb, or spontaneously start peeling on stage, but at the very least I’ll be punctual.

There’s an older man named Harvey hosting the open mic from the side of the stage. I’m going on 12th which is mild torture cuz now I have to watch all the funny people kill while I do whatever the fuck I can. And when they say you only have three minutes they mean it. Harvey said, “THANK YOU! NEXT” enough times I don’t even think of Ariana Grande when I hear those three words.

The show didn’t exactly go the way I thought it would…

All those confident people in line that I was so intimidated by…

Had no material.

I was so spooked by them talking about all their “credits” all day. I had no idea starting comedy in Canada was mine. It’s like an secret industry undergrad.

Barb and Christian were great though. I could quote a Barb joke right now, which is a good sign if I can remember one of your bits from 19 years ago.

My set went by so fast. I used only the BEST jokes of my illustrious three year career in comedy. Jamie Masada was gonna sit with us at a creepy set of chairs upstairs and let us all know if we have any future in this town, so I needed to go with tried and true. 

I watched most of the comics storm away from Jamie after their chat. When it was my turn to sit down, I plastered a giant, optimistic smile across my face. He leaned back in his chair and took his time.

“Where are you from?”

“Canada. I just moved here- well, Huntington Beach- for a guy I met in a nightclub who convinced me I was his soulmate but it’s not working out. I wanna move up here STAT.”

“Canada? You work for Yuk Yuk’s?”

“YES! You know Yuk Yuk’s!”

It’s the only comedy club in Canada. Of course he knows it.

“You’re funny… very likable… You come back… do a few more open mics… and maybe you’ll get a showcase.”

Holy fuck. SHOWCASE! The magical word as a comedian or contestant on the Price is Right. I want to hug him. I actually might have. A Canadian with hope (pre- Me Too movement) can be very physical when showing enthusiasm. 

I fear this blog is already too long for one week’s adventure, so let me wrap this up right here at Jamie Masada’s upstair’s chair:

“Also, how the fuck do I get back to Huntington Beach?”

P.S. This was the year I got a new camera with a panoramic setting. It seemed neat at the time, but I accidentally left it on that mode so all my pictures got developed in the shape of a CVS receipt and out of frame. 

P.P.S To all the Dougs out there: It’s hard for me to drop the name “Doug” without me remembering my friend Laura in Toronto coming across a guy on Tinder who’s profile read, “The name’s Doug. The “o” is silent.” She didn’t swipe right, but I would have. That’s gold.

Chapter 16: June Gloom

I had never heard of June Gloom until I moved to California. It never made the brochures. But within days, I was living in it. Both physically and emotionally.

I cut off my exorbitant Canadian cell phone STAT. (On a side note, I just Googled old cell phones and couldn’t even find the one I had. That’s how tacky it was. No one ever took a photo of it.) So when it came time to bite the bullet, and call my parents, there was no denying it. I was in the 714.

My parents were shockingly supportive, probably cuz it would give them a reason for an impromptu trip to visit. (Which by the way, nobody does when you live in Ottawa.) My mom was quick to say, 

“AWWWWWWWW, YOU’VE GOT A CALIFORNIA BEAU!”

Ya mom. I’ve got beaus… in different area codes.

(You know that went in my act.)

I’ve never been a fan of discussing my love life with my parents. Too awkward. If you tell family about your relationship, you’ll also have to tell them about the break-up. And what if it jinxes things? A fear of commitment was already starting to lace my personality and it was only 2002. (I still refuse to get a tattoo to this day. I know a week later I’ll want it off.)

We had lunch with his dad, who was in town from Utah. He seemed pretty conservative. My bf had mentioned something about Mormons but I literally knew nothing about that. We only got a few American channels in the city I grew up in, and every time a commercial came on that mentioned “The Church of Latter Day Saints” I got up and went to the bathroom. Pre-Google, you could pretty much roam the whole planet knowing jack shit. 

But we had gunned it for parental approval when we hadn’t even figured each other out.

I thought it would be a funny gag to pull the toupee out of my hair brush and put it in my underwear the first time we slept together, but I refrained. I’ve never been one for physical comedy, but for him to believe I had a huge bush even for just ten seconds would have been hilarious. It’s probably for the best I didn’t pull the stunt because our sex life…

Never really got off the ground. 

I blamed myself for not being hot enough. 

And he turned into a total asshole. 

As it turned out, we were only “the perfect couple” over the phone. 

To make things scarier, my money wasn’t going to keep me afloat very long. I didn’t even have a bank account yet. I was still stashing cash in a bag like some psycho in Gone Girl. And you know I already bought a Hurley hoody. The stack was diminishing. 

He started pressuring me to get a job. He fully knew that would be nearly impossible before I got my papers. I told him that before I even bought the ticket. But I was dealing with someone totally different now. He directed me to some shit hole bar in Huntington Beach.

“Go there. They’ll hire anybody.”

(This moment is reminiscent of Swoosie Kurtz telling Winona Ryder she could get a job at Burger-rama in Reality Bites, pointing out they hire handicapped people.)

This wasn’t my only problem.

My friend Natasha had a ticket booked to come visit me in a few weeks. Not only was I pretty sure I was about to be homeless, but I was gonna be homeless with a house guest. 

I went to the dirty bar to apply for a job. The manager must have thought I was a mole from ICE, particularly cuz I started the conversation with, 

“Hey, do you hire illegals here?”

When it was clear I wasn’t gonna be cracking open bottles of Bud for pool players, I hit the pay phone in the back. My dad had given me his calling card number to use whenever I needed. I  called Natasha and burst out crying.

“It’s not working out. I think you should cancel your trip. I have to come home.”

“No… who cares about the guy? You don’t have to stay with him, but you’re not coming back here.”

“What? Why?”

“Because… You belong there.”

I couldn’t decide whether to stop crying or cry harder. This was the most powerful thing I could hear right now. 

“But where will we stay when you get here? I have to move out. I can’t stay there much longer.” 

“We’ll figure it out.”

My boyfriend wasn’t using the word “we” anymore. But hearing the word from an actual friend felt a thousand times better anyway. 

I hung up the phone and ponied up to the bar. I asked if they had any Canadian beer, just to be an asshole. The bartender was pretty proud to crack open a Moosehead for me. 

I sat there, teary-eyed, looking down at my green bottle. Maybe Natasha was right… I do belong here… I’m a stand up comedian. Peter Bobak even nicknamed me 90210 during Frosh Week. Maybe this tragic romance was just the universe’s plot to get me down here. I didn’t have too much Intel into the comedy scene in L.A. (We didn’t even have MySpace yet!) But I knew there was an open mic at the Laugh Factory on Tuesdays. That’s where I needed to go. 

There’s a not so creepy man sitting beside me. Time to get some answers.

“Hey, is there a bus that goes to Hollywood?”

He laughs.

“Public transportation isn’t really our thing.”

Hmmmm….

“How much do you think a cab would be?”

Harder laughs. He see’s I’m quite serious.

“You don’t have a car?”

“Nope. I’m Canadian.”

Why did I say that? As if Canadians don’t have cars. This is why people think we live in Igloos. I fucked it up. 

He buys me a beer, and I tell him how I moved here for a guy I met in a nightclub in Las Vegas who convinced me I was his soulmate. 

He laughed harder at the cab thing. This seemed to actually worry him. 

“Listen, I work in Long Beach. I can’t drive you to Hollywood, but if you want I can drop you off at the Long Beach train station. From there you can get to Union Station and hop on the train or bus to Hollywood. But you’d have to be willing to leave early.”

YAS! I knew there had to be a way! Back then I watched more Amazing Race than true crime so I wasn’t concerned with getting murdered. (Kristeen, I know you were busy watching Reba.)

I made it all the way to California…

Sure because of a guy… 

BUT-

That doesn’t mean there’s not another reason why I’m here.

And I ain’t turning back until I take a shot at the big leagues. 

And just like that…

The June Gloom cleared. 

(Natasha, me, Bobak, an old school camera and everyone in Ottawa’s fave cigarettes back then, Belmont Milds. This pic is a wee more recent than blog story but captures us all perfectly. I messaged Tash five seconds ago asking her for pics from 2002 cuz I’m Last Minute Magoo. Next week maybe lololol)

(Pic at top of blog- me, Tash, Erin Binks and Mo, who I nicknamed Cookie after watching Mickey Blue Eyes together.)