Die Laughing: An account
of the 2002 Zaak Fresh Comedy Tour
By Zaak Fresh
July 16th, 2002
the freeways in my spiffy, new RSX type S, pursuing my version of comedic,
artistic crapola is not as easy as it seems on television. Nor would it
be worth it if it were. There's not much funny about being a comedian.
The crowd may be laughing, but the conscientious performer rarely is.
The artist's life has so few rewards. Phyllis Diller was asked, " What
drives a person to get on stage and tell jokes? " Instead of answering
the question in positive terms, compiling the good with show business,
she smiled, " Don't you see, that (being a comedian) is what makes
it so humiliating. "
As an up and coming comedian I hover with the cross-winds of uncertainty;
only to be lifted, encouraged, by updrafts of hope and promise that I
am convinced await me just past the endless array of Men's Room,
Cheap Gas Here and Last Exit Before You're Lost roadway
warning signs. It seems as though all those thousands of miles have left
me 'filled' with something more aromatic. Excuse me while I find that
elusive Men's Room.
In the comedian's dictionary under persistence there has to be a photograph
of me. Or at least, a moron who looks like me. Strangely, the more I hear
the word no, the greater the intensity to succeed. Ouch, my aching back.
It must be the arthritis. At my age, everything is stiffening except that
which I want to. The heck with it. If not for the dream, reality would
be unlivable. That which lay in wait at the end of my rainbow is more
enticing than the next breath taken. Those who say, " I never had a chance
" never took a chance. If a person can look up they can get up. And today
I've got my Acura up and ready to roll. Don't feel sorry for me. I do
that to the point of excellence.
Who in their right mind thinks they can make another person laugh? The
task I undertake on a weekly basis.
Comedy is rooted in everyone's emotional survival fabric. People need
to laugh, More than ever. There is nothing quite like being able to find
refuge within ones own sense of humor for momentary escape. With this
ambitious comedic undertaking I settled on taking to the highways, navigating
along pothole-filled roads, attendant's who do not speak any recognizable
language, traffic reports that accurately describe some road just not
the one I'm on, to secure my rightful place in the comedy time capsule.
Mile after lonely mile is the best time to practice and develop new material.
Time spent on the road should be constructive. Aimless gazing through
the window hardly lends itself to productivity. Talking on the phone has
its place, but fails miserably when compared to hours better spent. Wait
a minute, my cell phone beckons.
That was my Mom calling. She wanted to know where I was going. I told
here that I'm on my way to Rascals Comedy Club in West Orange, New Jersey.
Then to Gotham Comedy Club in New York's west side. Tomorrow I'll blaze
the New York State Thruway, past problematic roadside rock blasting, into
upstate New York to Toronto, Canada to the internationally famous Yuk
Yuk's Comedy Club.
* * *
It is Amateur Night Monday. Most comedy clubs of merit require that the
comedian bring in a minimum number of paying guests. This place demands
the highest number of paid attendees. Ten. Since the mid-70's Rascals
Comedy Club sits perched with its noticeable sign and historic reputation
beaming in all directions. It has two locations in New Jersey with a third
club in Arizona. With my car's music turned down I signaled for a left
turn into the slightly elevated parking lot; entering with caution because
the front spoiler on the RSX barely misses the raised asphalt. If only
the driver were so as skilled when not
behind a steering wheel. Cause for concern? No more than usual.
Once inside the club I endeavored to locate the outgoing Gonzo. He is
a large man who has operated this night for Rascals for over fifteen years
and counting. "Gonz!" I called. He waved back with a wide smile, walking
to me. We began chatting about the best position for me to go on stage
this night. We agree on fifth. I relaxed, then looked for a quiet place
to re-read tonight's routine. " Can I get you something? " asks the pretty
waitress. Looking at what she's not wearing on that tight, athletic, body
made my mind wander. " Forget it. I'm married " she snapped. A mind reader.
I wanted to ask her if she had a booking agent representing her, but I
had other problems. " Thank you. No. I'm performing tonight. " I said.
She left me sorry I could not help her tips. Did I say tips? Just seeing
if I'm paying attention.
The four wannabes who performed ahead of me were awful. The one directly
ahead of me stayed out there too long. When the red light erupts it's
time to un-ass the stage. He saw it as encouragement to continue talking.
Why couldn't Jack Kevorkian be here to mix his water bottle? When it was
my time to go out there the crowd looked as though they had their mouths
filled with Novocain.
"Zaak, we loved you. " I heard, smiling in return. " How soon can you
come back? " There's nothing quite like a show that goes well. And then
there's this night. They liked me. I thought I was a bit flat I left wondered
if they liked me, liked me more than the loser on stage ahead of me, or
wanted to know how fast can I bring back ten, drunken, paying guests.
The traffic clog was as thick as bugs on a bumper. There was a string
of tail lights streaming for miles. Problems at the Lincoln Tunnel again.
I looked at my watch wondering if I would make it on time. If I were a
gambling man I would say, no. But I gave up gambling twelve years ago.
Whew, another habit gone. The radio's traffic station reports extensive
delays. Even I can see that.
Gotham Comedy Club:
This comedy staple is located in New York City's west side. It is one
of the few nightclubs where parking is hardly a cause for concern. Most
entice the performers with easy come-ons and over-priced parking lots
with which they have a financial rooting interest in. This is the level
of the 'Pre-show'. Cast mostly around 6:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Here the performers must bring in 3 paying customers, who agree to a two
drink minimum each. No problems, right? Fingers crossed so help me.
"You are.?" An aggressive woman queried me as I entered. "Zaak Fresh."
I three-quarter grinned back at her. "Are your guests (those who paid
to get it) here, she countered, looking past me, pursuant to something/someone
more important than me. My first thought was that she might be one of
my ex wives. I said, " Yes " pointing to four people next to me. I've
been known to pay for my own guests to come see me. And all of them earn
yearly far more than I make. What a disgrace. It was Will Rogers who said,
" I never had a friend I really liked. "
"Very well. " She released. " You
may proceed to be seated. " Walking past her into the spacious, street
level, club I could not help wondering if my beautifully colored, leased,
Acura RSX would be in good safe parked outside. Seeing it out there on
the mean ole' city streets on cinder blocks would be the low point of
my already low life. It would have to be. Certainly the added LoJack protection
system I have gives me piece of mind. Nice. The MC leaned over and asked
me, " How do you want me to introduce you? " As long as I'm mentioned in any other way from
the past tense I'm ok. These days, I've got a short list of priorities.
Keeping out of rehab and off the morgue drawer are high on that list.
I did not have to sit long before my name was called. Too bad. The comedian
before me had the crowd roaring with laughter and that's never good for
the next guy to be called to perform.
" I'd like to introduce Zaak Fresh! " Undaunted I strode to center stage.
The audience took time warming to me; given that my clean and easy style
catches most off-guard. Easy listening laughs take longer to sink in.
There were my usual zingers and stingers. Few of which were absorbed in
the identical spirit that I issued them. But when I was done the crowd
was noisy. Cheering more loudly than at any time since I started doing
comedy. The MC closed me out by saying, " Take a bow, champ. " I replied,
" I'd rather take cash. "
Who in their right mind is awake this early? Growing up in my father's
house anything beyond " Early to rise. " was felony.
With thermos filled with ice tea, trustworthy, dashing, RSX-type S beneath
me I set my sights on the Garden State Parkway. Three hundred miles into
the trip I asked myself, " Where is my birth certificate? " Oh, no. I
immediately slowed the car to a crawl and stopped at the side of the New
York Thruway. It did not take long to decipher that the document sought
was nowhere to be found. Mistake! I made an illegal U-turn and head back
to the starting line. I was about one hundred and fifty miles going south;
when I came upon the toll collector, who wrote my license plate number
for me having made that illegal turn. Ahhhhhhhhh! Suddenly, I had post
vacation syndrome. And I hadn't gone anywhere! Determined, I'm still Canada
A week later I discovered these northern drivers are more aggressive than
one might think even by New Jersey standards. Fortunately, my RSX-type
S handled it is excellent fashion. Downtown Toronto is lovable. It's inner
city is anything but. Dotting the clean sidewalks are a plenitude of outdoor
café's that reek of everything one likes about small town living while
feasting on everything that the big city has to offer. And aside from
traffic problems on the Don Valley Parkway, one week after their grand
opening, arriving too early as usual, I stood in front of the famous Yuk
Yuks Comedy Club. . I fell in love with this city not long after stepping
onto the pavement.
Yuk Yuks Comedy Club:
1976 Yuk Yuks clubs have stretched across Canadian like a welcoming breeze.
A total of 12 clubs house over 200 professional performers; all who deliver
outstanding entertainment to any audience or age group. With mister ego
(me) they ought to. Heck, in a few hours I was to make this club mine.
One week earlier I stood outside and was told that their liquor license
was not yet obtained, thus canceling my show that night.
It is Monday. And finally I get my chance to show what I can do. Once
street level at the club I see an old style, movie theater, cutout in
the exterior wall. A pretty, buxom, cashier takes your admission cost
and guides you inside. Once securely in I saw the club is in the basement
quite literally. Though Yuk Yuks downtown is certainly not a below grade
facility. Lining the walls are endless rows of notable comedians who have
performed for the comedy giant before. Their immortalized images are not
encased in the ordinary K-Mart frames; rather part of form fitted sections
that perfectly line the walls. As of this writing I still have not come
to grips with why my face is not amongst those displayed. A ghastly oversight?
Let's hope that's all it is.
The club has few negative points. The stage area is cramped. The clubs
noteworthy name is much too small, painted with an industrial appearance
on a circular sign off to the left of the stage, appearing to have been
a last minute addition. Having said that this is a first rate comedy club
by everyone's standards. The crowd was good. My only complaint about them
was that they were ready to pounce and laugh at each utterance of four-letter
words. Young people. After a stirring round of applause I left the stage,
shook a bunch of hands, and headed outside.
3:45am : Zero Hour. Time to hit the road. The alarm clock is blaring.
In a few minutes I'll be in search of the expressway south to New Jersey
in an RSX that more than lived up to my expectations of traveling low
to the ground, a thousand miles in a sports car. In actuality, it was
paradise. The car drives itself. I was only permitted, after a generous
lease arrangement, to be part of it all. In six months I'll make a return
run up north. There's always another show. All in all, I'm feeling kind
of lucky to laugh living someone else's life.
One more thing, do they still say