You ought to know that my family is full of hams and attention seekers. I realized now that the idea of performing always tugged at me. I would watch the comedians on TV and the classic old movies and they called to me in some manner. But I was stranded on the island of Staten, long before it became the comedy powerhouse it is today. Back then I had no mentors, no guide posts, no teammates. There were things I would attempt, things that were shots in the dark.
I remember when I was 6 or so, my young uncles, only a few years older than me, putting on their version of “The Soupy Sales Show” for the family and some neighborhood kids. They cribbed the jokes, gags, puppets, props and puns from the show and acted it all out in the family room. I remember this very well. So, obviously, things could be done...
A few grades later, the urge would come upon me again. I would just get tired of having no one to hang with and needed to break out from my daily rut. Every junior high school had annual plays, where anyone could try out. Through the years, I would attend those school shows and develop crushes on the lead actresses. There was an attraction to be part of that world, but I never made the effort to join the theater kids. I was…afraid. Of what, I’m just not certain. Of standing out? Attracting the wrong kind of attention? Of being the butt of someone else’s opinion?
At one point, looking for some outlet, I auditioned for a singing role in a play. I wasn’t good enough. I knew this as soon as I left the room. It never occurred to me to try out for a non-singing role. And those were usually the comic relief, so it would have been a good thing. But I exited alone. I had no posse to support me or encourage me. I was a dull kid, not the kind that elicited support of advice or was told things like, “Hey, you should try out for that!”
Once, for a senior day assembly, I decided I wanted to write a bit, a series of purloined vaudeville bits I tried to write from memory and present it all as a sketch about a day of school pranks. One was the 7 time 13 is 27 bit to confuse the math teacher and “Who’s on First” to annoy the gym teacher. My adaptation of “Who’s on First” was too long, too repetitive and left out all the little twists and turns (Decent editing skills were a ways off).
The audience got antsy and wanted us to wrap it up! I mean, this was right after they were calling out that they couldn’t hear us! Afterward, I didn’t hook up with any of the other players. I walked away from that alone, again.
My sister, however, decided she and her friends were going to do a show of songs. Somehow, I talked her into letting the boys do comedy between the shows. A couple of the neighborhood kids were willing to be part of it. In the process, we managed to break our fish tank rehearsing a skit; an adaption of Bob Newhart’s drivers test bit. We acted out a quick stop, threw out heads back and cracked the tank. Sorry, Goldie Fish.
We did the show in the basement. We made a curtain and everything. The parents and neighbors were invited. And my sister invited her teacher! We did good. The teacher enjoyed it so much, she invited us to do the show at the school assembly! And we did. We were well received, as I recall. But, it was my sister’s school, she was still in grade school and I was in junior high. It was her stage to shine on, not mine.
When we were 10 or so, my brother decided he wanted to make war movies with the other kids. I said I would film the movie, if he agreed to then be in a movie I would write and direct. We did a bunch of those over the years. We borrowed my uncle’s camera, editing machine and projector. They got some good laughs.
From then on my career was mostly acting as Master of Ceremonies at family picnics (the family members would often do acts--like I said, I come from a family of hams).
Over the years I would read or listen to things about established writers and performers and there are so many similarities I’d see. Writing things at school. I did that! One guy would record things off his TV with a tape recorder so he could listen to them again. I did that. So many Hollywood legends made movies when they were kids. I certainly did that. One guy from Staten Island and after he graduated, drove to Hollywood to start his career…(record scratch)…yeah, that was my issue. I didn’t have the courage to just up and leave. To go where? With whom?
I did some things in college. After graduation, I joined writing workshops in the city to read aloud my scripts and got involved in some acting. I traveled to Hollywood once. I drove to Montclair, New Jersey to work with a comedy troupe. There was the time I got involved with a Staten Island comedy group and ended up in a sketch, basically playing myself. And a stinit on Manhattan cable TV. These are the things I was able to muster up the courage for. When things ended, however, I fell back into my solo orbit.
I used to watch the ending good-byes on SNL and wonder if someday I would be part of that. As I’ve aged out, I watch them now and ponder where I missed my path, the less-taken one.
I muddle on, still hacking away. The pace isn’t as furious but it proceeds. I can be depressed, but not defeated.