The final performance of Lonely People is Thursday, and forgive the self-indulgence, but I’d love to say thank you.
It was May 26th 2011, and we were planning our next move. I was on my second beer with Darren Miller and Kevin Mead, two of my freshman college roomates, in a Williamsburg bar called Mothers. We had been performing as the comedy group Mike Duffy since 2008 and felt like we hadn’t made any real progress professionally since moving to New York. We were too unfocused. We were doing one indie improv show here, or performing one sketch show there. There was no trajectory. Practice. Perform. Rinse. Repeat.
After a few beers and a few too many admissions of unhappiness, we decided that we should turn down every show opportunity handed to us for the next year and work on a singular project. We had moved to New York to perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade, and goddamit, that is what we were going to do.
A year and a half earlier, we had been writing sketches for Backyard Brawl (a sketch comedy competition at UCB), when we realized that all of our sketches were about sadness. A man too depressed to finish his masterpiece. A boy realizing his mortality on his tenth birthday. A cat newscaster losing his wife in the Space Shuttle Challenger. During this period, we joked that one day we should do an honest comedy show about sadness. We loved that it seemed like a terrible idea that no one would want to see. And in September of 2011, we set off trying to make that a reality.
We spent way too long discussing structure. September to January was just us fighting about natural thematic progression and sketch placement. We didn’t even start writing until February of 2012. Along the way, we decided to ground the show in the reality of our own true sad experiences. We would each tell a story from “the loneliest moment in our life.” Not only would this bring a certain level of catharsis for us, but hopefully make the audience feel a little bit more comfortable about laughing at people’s pain. If we were baring our hearts for you to laugh at, the audience might feel comfortable laughing at the sadness of fictional characters. In April of that year, we enlisted our old college mentor Emily Axford as a director, and finally submitted for a spank.
We were promptly rejected.
After 11 months of work, the rejection really stung. We cursed out the UCB and complained to each other about how we didn’t get the spank because we didn’t hang out at McManus. A month later, I had lunch with Kevin and remember explicitly saying “Fuck UCB. We’re not going to get a run and it’s useless to keep trying unless we start playing politics.” I even expressed that it might be best to break up Mike Duffy for good.
When the soreness of the rejection faded away, we realized that the notes we received were spot on. They said the show didn’t feel lonely enough, and that was true. We had padded our show with material unrelated to our theme because we were afraid of it being depressing. The notes we received pressured us to return to our initial goal: write an honest comedy show about sadness. And we tried to do that as hard as we could.
A few months passed, and we decided to give it another try. We had now spent over a year working on this show and it seemed stupid to not put a few more months of work in. The idea of getting a run was outrageous. We just wanted a chance to perform the show once. Just one time. We resubmitted the Spank on June 9th. We were notified on June 22nd that we would get our chance on July 12th.
Oh fuck. Now we have to perform it.
We had two and a half weeks to actually get the show on it’s feet. We were so strapped for rehearsal time, we did our first full run through the night before our performance. The run through time was 45 minutes. We were only allowed 30 minutes. Fuck shit fuck balls. At 11pm, less than 24 hours before the show went up, we were frantically re-writing. Before the night was over, two sketches had been cut and the show had only been run-through a single time.
The next day was terrifying. We kept our wits about us by reminding each other that we just wanted to do the show once. We aren’t going to get a run. We probably aren’t even going to get a second spank. In the re-write process, we added a line near the end of the show, that became the crux of the entire thing. An audience member played by Kevin, is mad that our show is so depressing. He calls it self-serving, self-aggrandizing bullshit. Darren replies “We’re friends. And we had fun when we wrote it.” That became our mantra before heading on stage that night. If nothing else, it was a lot of fun to write a show with my best friends, directed by our old college friend, with videos filmed and created by our OTHER freshman college roommate, and get to perform it on the greatest sketch comedy stage in America. That felt like enough.
Backstage, one of the last things I said to my two best friends was probably the saddest pre-show pump up line I’ve ever used. “We may never get to perform as a group on this stage again. Let’s perform like that’s true.” We had been doing comedy doing since 2006. Mike Duffy had been a group since 2008. At that moment, I truly felt to me like this was the end.
I remember almost nothing of the performance, except that it was really jarring to hear laughs. We hadn’t prepared for the timing of it, and we lost a few lines anticipating the pace. But the laughs were there. And regardless of what happened next, we had our last great moment as a group. We had written and performed a 30 minute show at UCB, and it wasn’t a complete train-wreck.
Two days later, I got a call from Emily that we had gotten a run. I yelped like a baby. A happy, confused, honored baby.
Over the next six months, we got a chance to perform a comedy show we wrote about being sad and getting over it, and we got to do it at the theatre we had idolized for years. Over that time, we felt like we were truly accepted by the UCB Community. We fulfilled another dream by getting to host Harold Night and I was lucky enough to get asked to join the Maude Team Supereasy. The political and insular UCB community we had loathed, turned out to just be a loving, friendly community that had never seen us perform. My negative feelings towards UCB came from an entitlement on my end. People didn’t talk to me because people didn’t know me. No one knew we had been working at this since 2006. Why the fuck should they know? Why the fuck should they care? Everyone else has been working for just as long. I felt a bit ashamed that I had hated that world so much for the past year, when at least for me personally, that hatred came out of jealousy.
In the run, we had some truly shitty shows and truly some amazing ones. However, none felt quite as fulfilling as that spank show. In our moment of defeat, our potential last moment as a group of friends who make comedy together, we jumped off the cliff together and somehow didn’t die.
All this leads to one big heartfelt THANK YOU. Thank you for coming to the show. Thank you for telling your friends about the show. Thank you for dealing with me “pinning” a poster on Tumblr every time we have a performance. To Nate and John, thank you for giving a group of nobodies a chance to do this. To the UCB Community, thank you for being so fucking nice and proving me wrong in my cynicism. And to the people who helped us make this show, Kirk Larsen, Emily Axford, Mike Antonucci, Jane, Ethan, Tristan, Ray Mead, Cutting, Patrice, Paget, and whoever else I’m forgetting, thank you, thank you, thank you. We could not have done this without your hard work.
And to my two best friends, who I spent two years writing and fighting and working on a single project with, I’ll remind you what happens at the end of our show. Kevin calls our show self-aggrandizing bullshit. Which it is. Darren replies “We’re friends. And we had fun when we wrote it.” Which we did. And then I reply, “Yeah, we’re friends! And friends are the opposite of lonely.” Which they are.
Next month, my friend Travis is leaving us all Lonely People in New York.