'Everything he does makes me feel special'
Sunday, September 19, 2010
In September 2005, comedian Chris White attended his friend Allyson Jaffe's wedding with the long-term girlfriend he thought he would marry.
But a few months later, after 4 1/2 years of dating, they broke up. In his stand-up routine, he compares the experience to being 25 feet away from the finish line of a marathon when a lion jumps out and bites your leg off as the official tells you to crawl back to the starting line and begin a new race -- "a race with only other crippled people. And the name of this race is: 'Your 30s.' "
White, now 33, is playing it up for laughs, of course, but the devastation wasn't minor. Jaffe, manager of the DC Improv, was among those he relied on most for support. They'd met three years earlier at an open mike competition at the Improv where they both lost to -- if White recalls correctly -- "a pot-smoking student at American University."
After that, they saw each other regularly at comedy events and became part of the same close-knit group of friends. In time, Jaffe abandoned her stand-up dreams to focus on management -- the 32-year-old is now a part-owner of the Improv -- while White redoubled his efforts to make a career out of comedy.
When he quit his copy-editing job to pursue stand-up full time in 2005, Jaffe cheered him on.
"I always liked what Chris did, so I tried to help him -- putting together packages, mailing them to management companies and just being an ear," she says. "The fact that Chris gave it a shot and tried is so admirable."
And he succeeded enough to pay most of his bills with comedy, traveling the country for gigs and sleeping in hotel rooms as often as not. But he remained devoted to D.C. and his friends here. In early 2007, when Jaffe told White that her marriage was crumbling, he rushed back to the city to sit beside her.
Talking about the sense of betrayal they now shared, "I just lost it and cried," she says. Over the next few months, as Jaffe separated from her husband and tried to re-imagine a future for herself, she turned again and again to White, who by then had a new girlfriend. "He was amazing and just kind of got me through it."
When his relationship ended a few months later, more than one mutual friend asked White if he would finally start dating Jaffe. They made each other laugh and were constantly heading off on adventures together, to Coney Island for a hot dog-eating contest, or to watch Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his hole in Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day. Even White's mom suggested it, he recalls, saying: "You guys hang out all the time. You seem like a really good match."
His response: "No, we're just friends. That doesn't make sense."
But something was building. There were long, silent pauses and moments when it seemed they were looking at each other in a new way.
"It was like, 'Should I kiss you? What's going on?' " she says. "We have such a great thing right now. And this could ruin it. Or this could work."