I could have finished watching “Making a Murderer” last night, and very nearly did so. But a post popped up on Facebook mentioning duos at Unexpected Productions. And I thought, “Huh, haven’t done one of those in years. I should go. Never know, something magical might happen.” So I went. And it did.
When I arrived, there was a clearly homeless guy coming in at the same time. He heard me asking about signing up, and asked if he could, too. He didn’t sign up then, but once the show started, he yelled to Jay Hitt that he’d like to be on the list, too. So Jay added him. And this was for a nearly sold out house, the largest audience I’ve ever seen at Duo Night.
Most of the duos were pre-formed, but there were six of us (including Bob, the homeless guy) who were to be paired at random. Most of the others were students. As Jay did the random pairings, I thought, “Please pair me with Bob. Getting up on stage in front of a large audience with someone you don’t know is terrifying enough for a student, but a wild card like this? Please let me have him.” And I got him.
I won’t lie–it wasn’t great improv. But it wasn’t terrible, either. My primary objective was to make Bob look as good as possible. We set him up as a talk show interviewer, and I was an “expert.” The audience gave suggestions of space and porcupines, so I was an expert on space porcupines. Bob occasionally forgot he was the interviewer, and a couple times he tried too hard to be funny, using difficult material like ISIS, and Catholic priests with little boys. But it was better than you’d think. The set closed when the tech person started playing “The Twilight Zone” theme, Bob said, “Is this the Twilight Zone?” and I stepped forward to deliver a Rod Serling monologue about Bob having stepped into what he thought was a theater, but was actually the Twilight Zone. (Thanks to Tim Moore, I have very recent examples of great Rod Serling monologues.)
But I didn’t really know yet what was magical about the night. I went outside shortly after for a smoke, and talked to Jay and Kent L. Whipple in the lobby. Apparently, Bob has been something of a regular at shows recently, scraping together his quarters and dollars for admission. He hadn’t actually taken the stage until this night, but he’d been making a point of coming. And he’d just told Jay earlier that night that he’d been a very early member of L.A. Connection Comedy Theatre Improv Comedy in the late 70s.
After the show was over, I went and talked to Bob some more. A really interesting guy. Besides L.A. Connection, he’d done some scripted work in northern California, including playing Linus in a production of “Snoopy” that Charles M. Schulz actually saw. He’d also been a journalist in northern CA before being laid off in the late 90s. We talked about his improv history (almost 40 years ago!), The Grateful Dead (did you know that John Mayer has been filling in for Jerry Garcia with the suriving members of The Dead?! it’s true! look it up!), and other miscellany. He apologized for being rusty.
Bob wasn’t always easy to understand, and would often get sidetracked, or forget what we were talking about. When I first started talking to him, he didn’t realize for a few minutes that I was the same person he’d been up on stage with. But he seemed perpetually delighted, both on stage, and in conversation with another improviser.
As an older improviser who was out of the scene for close to 25 years (and one who did his fair share of mind-altering substances back in the day), it isn’t hard for me to imagine myself where Bob is now. My first audition after getting back into improv, most of the other auditioners already knew each other; I was told later that they were asking one another (half-jokingly?), “Who’s the homeless guy?” As someone who’s been through a few different layoffs and hideously low-paying jobs, it isn’t hard for me to imagine myself keeping warm over a Sterno can (as Kent mentioned he knew Bob often did).
Humility isn’t something I think most people who know me would put anywhere near the top of a list of my qualities. I’m very much humbled by the time I got to spend with Bob last night, though, both on stage and off. That’s the magic I would have missed if I’d stayed home and finished my Netflix binge.
Bob, I’m honored to have played with you. I’d be honored to play with you again any time.