If you're a regular reader of these pristine paragraphs, you know I can't resist a challenge. So how could I say no to William Stephenson?
Bold as brass, William called a couple of weeks ago and said he was an aspiring comedian who usually works on Sunday nights at Garvin's, a nightclub near Connecticut and Calvert.
Sunday is "open mike" night at Garvin's, a chance for any and every comedian who shows up to strut his stuff. William does a seven-minute routine, he explained, and this coming Sunday, he was planning to spoof a TV game show. But he needed an on-stage straight man. Would I be it?
"What do I have to do?" I asked him.
"Just answer nine questions," he said.
You have to answer five times that many to open a checking account, so I figured I'd survive. "Sure," I said. "See ya Sunday."
A digression: I'm not much for stand-up comedy. I once saw Joey Bishop in Las Vegas. I'm still waiting to smile, much less laugh. When we watch "Saturday Night Live" on television, I'm always asking Jane if it's ever going to get funny.
Anyway, when I arrived, William greeted me. Then he sat me down at a table with the other comedians.
One guy had a fake pigeon stuck to his shoulder.
Another guy kept growling to himself, like a polar bear.
A third guy was wearing a bow tie, lashed around his throat. No shirt. No collar. No jacket. Just the tie.
Clearly, I hadn't stumbled into a tea at the British Embassy.
Twenty minutes late, the show began. It quickly became apparent that Richard Pryor's influence has spread far and wide.
The fourth word out of the emcee's mouth was unprintable. So were the eighth, and the twelfth, and most of the next 20. Same with the leadoff comedian. Same with the next one.
Let's put it gently: You'll never see these guys on Johnny Carson.
You may not see William there, either. But his game-show spoof, called "So You Want to be Black?", had me and the audience chuckling pretty hard.
The questions were about black tastes and life styles. They were multiple choice and tongue-deep-in-cheek. I won't give examples; better to hear the routine for yourself. In any event, being a straight man proved painless and entertaining.
But our departure wasn't. We left in mid-show, having promised the baby sitter an early evening. The emcee glared at us as we picked our way between the tables.
"We'll talk about them after they're gone," he snickered. Then he shouted a two-word obscenity at us at the top of his lungs.
This is comedy?
Well, William Stephenson's routine is, anyway. If you go to Garvin's on a Sunday night, bring ear plugs. Remove them for William.