Tuesday night saw the 15th Annual MAMA Awards come and go. The Modesto Area Music Awards are the 209’s version of the Grammy’s with all the pomp and circumstance to boot.
The MAMA’s added the category Best Comedian six years ago and for the sixth year in a row I was a nominee. A fact I kept conveniently under wraps from this column. Not that I wasn’t excited or proud of the nomination, but the MAMA is done by an online voting process.
It always seemed a bit odd that something as subjective in nature should be decided online because nothing says award legitimacy and credibility like the opinions of 22-year-old college kids and stoners on their computers at midnight.
Being the only MAMAnee with a newspaper column is definitely an unfair advantage that I refused to use. Besides the fact that the other comics would have never let me hear the end of it, what if I had pandered for votes via Manteca to a T and lost anyway! I much prefer thinking everyone in Manteca likes me, and would hate to pull back the veil and realize that you only tolerate me because I’m in the paper once a week. Leaving town over such a shame would never work, because Vacaville to a T doesn’t have the same ring.
We arrived comedy strong as a Manteca group, roommate Anthony K who won in 2011, came along for the adventure. Fellow Mantecan and MAMAnee Jason Sohm and wife Marilyn filled out the crew. Jason is an Manteca High grad, and 3rd year comic making big waves in the Nor-Cal comedy scene. We decide to forgo the picture taking portion of the pomp and circumstance, and slink into the show. In the lobby a Modesto Bee reporter is asking questions to various nominees, and pins me down with “When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?” I gave a short canned answer – but only because the real answer would have taken too much time – and the drink line wasn’t getting any shorter.
(cue flashback fog and music...)...The year was 1977, and the kindergarten classroom of Mrs. Carr at Van Allen School is where it happened. (Mrs. Carr was coincidentally the mother of Manteca world champion motorcycle rider Chris Carr, and my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Wentworth was the mother of Manteca pro golfer Kevin Wentworth. This has nothing to do with the story, but it helps fill out a column.) We had a weekly show-and-tell —or as I like to think of it – my first open mic. It is said that public speaking is the No. 1 fear of most people. I must have missed that memo, or was just born without the shame gene, because it has never bothered me. On this day I had worked out a wonderful bit that involved me talking to my Stretch Armstrong toy. A toy that against my father’s wishes, I had smuggled to school – a decision I would forever regret. Mrs. Carr slid the chair out into the middle of the room and announced the start of show-and-tell. Showtime!
“Who wants to go up?” she asked. I put my hand up immediately. I was a seasoned veteran of this show-and-tell, and figured once my hand went up, the other comics, err kindergarteners, would back off but one hand went up along with mine. Lil Georgie Hernandez. George was a skinny little Mexican kid that lived at the dairy down the road. He spoke with a heavy accent, and wasn’t much for the limelight. So when Mrs. Carr directed him to the chair first I was a bit thrown back.
Had she not taken notice of my Garfield soliloquy that destroyed the room the previous week?! I can’t believe I’m getting bumped for Georgie and he didn’t even bring anything to show.
“Oh boy it’s going to be amateur hour” I thought to myself. He made his way to the center of the room and sat on the chair. He stayed motionless in The Thinker position for a few seconds. Then stood and removed his coat from behind the chair, draping it across the back. He sat back down for a brief moment, before rising and throwing a flurry of 10-12 boxing punches into the air! He bowed, put his jacket on slowly, and walked back to his desk. Never cracking a smile and never breaking character. It was the greatest thing I had ever seen another human being do in my life still is to this day! I lost it. You know that good pure kid laughing? The kind where you can’t breath – and are on the verge of passing out? It was that good. Only one problem: Nobody else in the classroom was laughing.
Apparently some sort of “Don’t laugh at the poor little Mexican kid from the immigrant family” guilt had affected a group of 5 year olds but not this 5 year old. Mrs. Carr got right in line, and insisted that I cut the laughter. Are you serious? I recall answering with a “but It was funny?!”
Back talk and sass have long been part of my arsenal and she did not like the tone. “Ok that will end show-and tell and Chris you will sit on the bench during recess for the rest of the day.”
Bumped and now dismissed from the open mic?! This is BS! If I’m being honest, I’d say 50% of my time on Earth, has been spent on the proverbial “bench at recess”..I was sitting on the bench when George approached, “I’m sorry you got in trouble for me being Fonzie” Fonzie? What are you talking about George? ”I saw Fonzie do that on Happy Days last night, but when I got in front of everybody, I forgot to say that I’m Fonzie” My God! He had done an accidental bit, and killed me with it! It made what I had seen somehow become even more awesome. I can look back now as a comic and realize, had he referenced that he was doing a Fonzie impression before the performance – he probably would’ve gotten the class to laugh but not me. It was the fact that what he did was so far out of the box – senseless and beautiful – that hit my funny bone.
Often times in comedy – and in life in general – it’s the accidental things that make stuff great. Georgie had for me done the one thing I love to watch: Commitment and conviction. You can have the greatest material, ideas, and thoughts in a room but if you don’t have everyone thinking that you believe in yourself – then you are dead in the water. My mom still reminds me about coming home that day, (With my Stretch Armstrong torn in half by the older kids), but all I cared about was what I’d seen Georgie do and told her when I grow up I’m going to be a comic.
It’s a strange thing being a comic. When the only thing in life you are truly serious about – is not being serious. I’ve tried for 37 years to recreate that Georgie moment – and I haven’t come close. I think most people have that “Georgie moment” — a memory in time – when they saw something that changed their course. Whatever yours is – follow it – and like Georgie be committed and convicted to it. You may never get to where you want to be, but you might like where you end up, anyway, I didn’t win the MAMA again but that never stopped Susan Lucci.
And if you want a few comics trying to have their Georgie Moment, (here comes the shameless plug) but as I told Manteca’s young writing prodigy Lawrence Silveira last week, “There is only shame if what you wrote before the plug stinks”) You can see me and some of Nor-Cal’s Top Comics at The Pub and Lounge in Manteca for just $10 you can laugh all you want...and Nobody will make you sit on the bench for it...
“It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do”