I Swear To God I'll
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Monkey"
Originally featured on 01-21-2008
As part of our series "Zodiac Thriller"

Her skin color brought to mind a strong pot of coffee. Yeah, she could keep me up for hours. That sort of comparison is how I form jokes — real candid like. If the joke isn’t funny to the crowd, I keep working it until it is. The worst mistake you can make as an Industry Comedian is to give up the driver’s seat. They’re listening to you because they want to lose control, and your job is to bushwhack through their barriers to humor. If you’re sparring and the punches you throw aren’t connecting with their targets, that doesn’t mean you should stop throwing punches; any coach will tell you to punch harder.

There will always be one guy in the back row who’s not laughing. That man is your audience. Blind yourself to everyone else and make it between you and Mister stern-face hasn’t-been-laid-in-a-year because that guy is the reason your profession exists. Know this.

“There was this philosophy prof at the Six, he charmed me with his internet and next thing-”

I’ll interrupt a complete stranger when I’m having drinks in the lounge. “You said internet.”

“Excuse me?”

“You meant intellect.”

“Who are you?”

“I just overheard, and I-”

“That’s cute.”

“Well yes, I agree. Verbal tics are pretty adorable.”

“You meant slips.”

“What?”

“You said tics. A tic is an involuntary, repetitive…y’know, like Tourette Syndrome.”

That’s when I’ll look them in the eye. If you come on as an arrogant prick and then you do something outlandishly embarrassing and humble yourself, they’ll like you instantly. Be an asshole, but let them have the upper hand at the same time — it’s like eating their cake and having it. I’m pretending to look her in the eye. I’m actually looking her up and down to form a compliment that will melt her heart, but she thinks I’m looking her in the eye. Then I say “I stand corrected” and bow my head a little bit, like a real southern gentleman, smiling with the corner of my lip. I’m still brewing that compliment.

“Looking at you could keep me awake all night. You’re the exact color of coffee with just the right amount of cream and sugar.” Don’t think I’m aiming for laughs just yet, 'cause I’m not. If that gets a positive response, then she’s a floozy — yeah, I screen people. Shut up, we all do it, and I’m not talking about the comedy profession when I say that, I’m talking about people in general; you can’t trust anyone, especially anyone of the opposite gender who’s good looking, and never ever trust anybody you see drinking a Diesel Martini (yeah, stupid name for a drink, I agree- hell, I don’t own this bar, I just ramp up its patronage). I mean, great Buddhalladonaielohainu Holy Ghost of Stonehenge (that’s what I say instead of 'Christ' or 'good lord,' it’s part of my schtick on political correctness, covers all the major religions, it’s the catchphrase I save for the climax of a rant — I mean after I’ve already done my religious tolerance bit, they’ve forgotten it and I’ve moved on to other topics, I tuck that one up my sleeve to whip out later, it’s the cherry on my joke sundae, it freakin kills 'em), ya gotta know somebody’s got at least a little bit of class and distinction before you solidify it as your goal to reduce them to a howling, panting animalistic frenzy of passion, am I right? Sexual attraction, oy, don’t get me started. Okay, I mean, opposites attract- nah, hold that thought. I don’t need to justify my preferences just yet. I’m talking about hormones, clouded judgment, hell, every woman on Earth is a hormone engineer; when they walk into that bar broadcasting their sexual chi or whatever it is, it’s like they're a gymnast walking on a balance beam, except that balance beam is your penis, and they're walking from end to end doing cartwheels and backflips on your goddamn penis, and they're doing it in high heels too…where was I going with this? Never mind, I’m still polishing that one, I shouldn’t have shown it to ya anyway. Jokes are like novels or poems; they need to gestate and revise to perfection before you try 'em out in the club. Ya got me all sidetracked now, what was I- oh yeah, Miss coffee complexion. I toss her my line, but like I said, it’s not supposed to make her laugh. I want her to be offended a little bit — that’s key too. You can’t come off as too safe and nurturing, because, think about it, would that get you hot? Sexuality is primal, it’s about danger, expanding borders of your comfort zone, you have to be unnerved before you can be turned on, ya dig what I’m saying? Actually, that’s not what I’m saying at all; you have to be a little misbehaved when you make your first impression, that way she knows you're human. If you come off as an angelic white-robed prince, then she has to wonder if you're gonna pull a knife out of that white robe and rape and mug her in an alley later. On the other hand, if I come off as a rude, slightly racist goofball, then I’m harmless.

She wrinkles her nose a little, kind of inches back, this recoiling like motion starting deep in her spine — that’s how she takes my compliment. Her body’s reaction, I mean, before she’s cogitated what I’ve just said to her — God, that’s hot. Then she looks down at her wrist, rotates her hand as if to confirm that it’s her I’m talking to. “Coffee? Really? You think?”

“Well sure, y'know, a couple shots of espresso, half and half, easy on the sweetener-”

Now she’s doing the catty raised eyebrow thing, letting me know she’s not that easy, and moreover that she’s smarter than me and if I’m not careful she'll chew me up. “You don’t drink much coffee, do you?” Holy Aphrodite on Mount Sinai do I want to bone this chick.

I look at her with that deep isolating stare that pretends to be casual. And then I chuckle, because she’s made me uncomfortable. That’s part of the test too; a good tryst has to start with some healthy discomfort. If she can fend for herself in a battle of wits, then I trust her.

She sits there stone-faced and lets me chuckle. And then I move in for the kill.

What I whisper in her ear at that point makes her double over and laugh so hard heads turned. Well of course it does, I’m a professional. And let’s not kid ourselves; we’re in this business to get laid.

I press on. Momentum is key. Laughter lubricates the ribs. “Seriously, why did you say internet?”

The lady with skin like coffee looks at me guardedly and says “I have no idea. Maybe I can tell you my dreams and my life story and then you can shrink my head and figure it out, and maybe you can tell me why my tongue slipped over intellect and said internet. But I’d need another Brandy and Scotch.”

I didn’t need to hear her life story, any more than she needed another Diesel Mar- Brandy and Scotch? What the hell was she drinking, anyway?

The compliment is the primer. If it’s successful, I do my routine. My routine is about evolution. I talk about apes and lizards and amoeba and three toed fish and baby, you and I together would be the next step in evolution, I say as I lick my lip and thrust my hip — physical humor isn’t low-grade, cheap humor, and it isn’t cheating. Not if it works, that is; if a thing is effective, then it’s high class.

What people don’t realize is, I’m really an angry man. I’ve got this one routine where I rip on all the things that piss me off, it’s like taking all my pet peeves to the laundromat, except the laundromat is a stage and a microphone and a crowd of people who paid money. Each item ends with the catchphrase “I swear to God I’ll…” My face gets all red, I got spit flying, my fist is shaking, I’m angry. They eat it up.

The evolution bit is my favorite. I’ll give away my secret; y’see, I’m funny because I actually believe the things that I’m saying — genuinely believe the words that are coming out of my mouth, it’s all literal, sincere, candid, just me expressing myself, and I exaggerate it just a tiny slight bit so I can disguise it as a joke. That way they won’t think I’m crazy. That way nobody knows what I’m really thinking, and the magazines peg me as this enigmatic man of mystery or whatever. I’m like one of those ironic mastermind criminals who hide their stolen goods where people would least expect; right in front of their noses. See? The last place people would ever look for clues as to my actual convictions is in the shit that’s actually coming out of my mouth.

Evolution…where should I begin? Alright, let’s face it, I’m just your average Joe, I do my rant, you laugh, I’m not saving the world, and if you were saving the world, you wouldn’t be doing it here. I’ve probably slept with a few of you gals out there listening to me, and I’ll probably sleep with a few more. You all work for living, you sit at desks, you push pencils, you answer phones, you drive cabs, you swing a hammer, drive a snowplow, whatever the fuck you do, and you don’t mind it too much. Sometimes you need a little comic relief, and that’s where I make my living, and I don’t mind it too much. We’re the top of the food chain, the paragon of living organisms on Earth, we’re heroic beings formed in the image of divinity, always pushing our frontiers with passion and ingenuity and all that crap. What do you think of that? If you’re looking to your right and your left wondering where these geniuses are who advance our shit to the next level, friends, I’m looking around me too and I don’t see them. Top of the food chain? Sure we are. That green fuzzy stuff you see growing on rocks, lichen or whatever they call it, I’ll let you in on a secret: that fuzz thinks it’s the top of the food chain too. The next politician or intellectual figure who tries to shove that ego-speciest-nationalist bullcrap down my throat, I swear ta Gawd I’ll spit it right back out and tell ya’ll the truth: monkeys rule the world, folks. Thank ya very much, I’m here all week.

Nah, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I just ramble. Making someone laugh — I mean really, really laugh — is the same as making someone orgasm; you got to warm 'em up properly, you got to work them, and although to you it’s all about the material, to them the most important thing is rhythm and timing, I can’t stress that enough. I don’t care how clever and insightful you are, they didn’t come to the freakin Funny Bone 18/Over Nite Club to get a history lesson — if they wanted their intellect tickled, they’d stay home and read a book. So get over your own ego and remember who you're performing for and why.

You have to treat your audience as people and interact with them; you can’t deliver your comedy routine to a brick wall. You have to listen, be attentive, and sometimes that may require you to improvise. I’m talking both in the bed and on the stage. But as I said to start with, if something isn’t working, you can’t just jettison it and fumble for something new; you have to be confident in yourself, because if you're not, they'll see that, and the moment they see you as a nervous amateur who’s trying to please them, you got nothing. You mold and milk that joke to a crescendo, you hold back the punchline until they're well lubricated and ready for it, and sometimes — this is key — you just have to surprise 'em a little bit, y'know?

What I whispered in her ear was “You're beautiful”.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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