Previously: Greg Estrada, who produces open-mike comedy shows, hasn't performed a stand-up routine in more than a year. But he swears that one day he'll try to make an audience laugh again. To catch up on previous episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.

Episode 14

Greg estrada arranged a microphone and a stool in front of his bathroom mirror. Gripping the mike, he looked himself over. He had dressed in the uniform he always wears to his comedy shows: white button-down shirt, silver tie. Even here, alone in his home, he says, he felt tense, the way he does in front of a real audience. Then he started speaking to himself: "So, I'm dating this woman with an 8-year-old kid . . ."

After a year-long hiatus, Greg has decided to put together a new stand-up routine. He no longer wants to be just a producer. "It's getting kind of boring," he says. "It's becoming a grind now. I don't get that rush of performing. Most of the comics . . . think that I'm this sleazy producer leech, like a P.T. Barnum thing." He wants to show his comedy buddies that he is one of them.

Greg, 41, could sift through hundreds of old ideas that he has collected on scraps of paper. He would find jokes about growing up Hispanic in Bethesda, about running his family's carpet business, about 20 years of mediocre relationships with women.

"I've got tons of stuff in my vault, but none of it feels real to me right now," he says. "Most of joke-telling is about the emotion behind it . . . I want to talk about what's going on right now." That means telling jokes about his blossoming relationship with his girlfriend, Lia, and her son, Jackson. The only question is, can he poke fun of something that has brought him so much happiness?

Of course he can. "I love spending time with Jackson," he deadpans, "but secretly I fear that he's gonna wake up in the middle of the night and want to kill me because I'm dating his mom."

Greg describes the premise of one bit he's been working on, inspired by a recent date with Lia and Jackson. "We went to Baskin-Robbins, and everyone's ordering single scoop, single scoop, single scoop, and then you order a milkshake. They look at you like . . ." His voice trails off, as if he is still searching for the punch line, and he explains the joke instead of telling it: "A milkshake is really long. They've got to put the ice cream in, and then the milk, and then the mixer. Their face is, like, 'I want to kill you.' " He shrugs a little and changes the subject.

He performed recently in front of Jackson and Lia, a 42-year-old mental health therapist. "It amuses me," Lia says, but she adds that if Greg's material "feels too personal, my reaction is to say, 'You cannot use that.' "

With a week to perfect his routine, he's been rehearsing at every opportunity. "I haven't done this in a year," he says. "I'm terrified of going blank on the stage."

He's even been rehearsing while driving his truck. Some passing drivers have given him funny looks, he says. He's been considering a new bumper sticker: "I'm not talking to myself. I'm practicing my routine."

-- Tyler Currie