Joke's On Me
I’ve been working for a television comedy for almost five months now.
I’m a Writers’ Assistant, which means I’m in the room with the writers as they write each episode. I’m laughing at their jokes, taking notes on their stories, and looking forward to the day I can take the word “assistant” out of my title.
In order to try and make that happen, every day is a battle to prove myself to the executive producers. Show them that I’m valuable, smart, have good ideas and – most importantly – that I can be funny.
It can be a challenge to not to shout ideas when I have them or pitch jokes along with everyone else. I have so many ideas sometimes it feels that I’m bursting with them but it’s not my job to give the writer’s ideas. I have to be very careful not to overstep my position. But it’s also in my own best interest to show my bosses that I’m worth promoting.
It’s a delicate, anxiety producing, dance.
These last few months I’ve been pretty quiet but last week, during a normal day of rewrites, I suddenly thought of a joke.
Now it’s one thing to be in the privacy of my own home, writing my own scripts in my pajamas, thinking I’m hilarious. It’s another thing to try out a joke in a room full of professional comedians.
I kept quiet for a while, not sure it was funny enough to actually say out loud. I went over it in my head a few times. It was funny. At lease I thought it was funny. Oh man, was it funny?
Finally, I took a breath, opened my mouth, and… mumbled it.
“What?” My boss looked at me.
Uh oh. Was it not as funny as I thought? But I was too far down the river to turn back now.
I said it again, louder this time.
There was a beat of silence and then – laughter. She was laughing. My other boss was laughing. Hold on – was the whole room laughing?
I heard some of the writers murmur “that’s funny” and “put it in the script” and before I knew what was happening, there it was. In a script, soon to be performed on stage by one of my TV heroes.
I waited for about five minutes until I snuck to the bathroom and did a celebration dance by the extra soap.
My joke made it through rehearsals, and rewrites, until finally it was the night of the show. This was the real test. Sure, my friends in the writer’s room thought it was funny but would a studio audience?
It was my birthday that weekend and I was leaving for a quick trip with my husband, Jason, to celebrate so I asked one of my friends and a writer on the show to record it.
All the way to the airport I obsessively checked my phon.
What if no one laughs? What if I show up to work on Monday and my things are packed up in a box that says “Only Funny People Allowed.”
Why had I decided to go on this trip? Stupid birthday. Stupid husband who’d convinced me to go. Stupid high pressure job that—
It was a text.
I dug my phone from my purse and there it was. The video. I held my breath and hit play.
I watched the actors lead up to the line and I could hear the audience in the background. Finally, I heard my joke.
There was a beat of silence where I saw my career flash before my eyes and then… laughter. Rippling, loud laughter that spread through the crowd and into my heart like a warm glass of relief.
I played the video over and over again, until my husband reminded me he was still there.
All weekend I beamed when I thought of it.
I know it was only a stupid joke but to me, it was a step. It signified something much more important than making people laugh or proving something to my bosses.
It made me think that maybe I was finally in the right place. That I had found something I enjoyed doing and wasn’t too bad at. Maybe I was finally on the right path – or at least walking in the right direction.
For so long in Los Angeles I’ve struggled with finding my place. I’ve bounced between dreams, never exactly sure what I was doing here. And even though this little joke wasn’t a clear answer, it did wipe a little fog away.
The next week at work I sat down refreshed and relieved. I’d done it. I’d gotten a real joke on the show. I’d taken a tiny step forward. Maybe I could relax a little now.
My boss shuffled some papers, looked up, and smiled.
“Okay,” she said. “Page one. Who has any jokes?”
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum. You can find them (and me) here.