Thursday, October 11, 2007

Homeless Comedy - "Man, you had to be there!"

So I live in "The Big Apple". Now being a New Yorker, you must know that it's become commonplace, even expected, that on your daily commute you will be approached by a homeless person. If I have something to spare, I gladly give it up. (Honestly, the homeless are innocuous. It's really not as bad as people make it out to be. Frankly, I think the homelessness in Southern California is a lot worse. It's rampant there!)

To some, it's a chosen lifestyle.

I even heard of a guy who got into Columbia University and never paid for room and board. He just alternated between sleeping in the 24 hr library or on friends' couches. He saved himself virtually half of a $30,000 a year tuition. Smart or crazy? Either way, it was a chosen lifestyle.

(I'm still tryin' to figure out how he showered. Probably, at friend's houses. Or made use of the sports teams' showers.)

But I digress.

I really respect the homeless that work for it. Some even group together and do a song and dance, play an instrument, or some entertaining routine. Frankly, A LOT of them aren't even homeless---panhandling is their day job. And if you have the dignity to spare, it can be quite lucrative. This article in the Freakonomics blog says panhandlers make "about a dollar a minute." Sadly, it's a story about a homeless heroin addict. (We all need to survive somehow.)

One event I did see recently on the train was a homeless guy doin' comedy...

He asserts, as he gets on a packed rush hour train, "I ain't homeless. You all are invading MY home."

Touché, homeless guy.

The train was jam-packed and for him to be doing a routine in a packed train was ballsy! In true New Yorker fashion, no one made eye contact with him.

He proceeded to tell his jokes, the chuckles growing from slow ebb to complete and full hearty guffaws. My jaw dropped! I was in awe. He didn't even make use of an "opener" to warm up the crowd. He made a train chock full of disgruntled, irked, ready-to-get-home-PRONTO! commuters laugh in 5-10 seconds. I was in the presence of comic genius! I wanted his autograph. And his number--eh, well...

I noticed it was his presence. He claimed the stage. He claimed his space. He wasn't mean about it--not territorial. He just knew himself. And he knew his audience. And he didn't swear or use obscenities once--a Seinfeld in-the-making.

He definitely had a "character"--the 'semi-angry-disturbed by the passengers homeless guy,' which he played well. I was envious. I'm still trying to build my character.

And I overheard a conversation between a Latino mother and her cute-as-can-be and highly precocious son.**

Son: He could make a fortune with those jokes

Mother: Well, he's homeless

Son: He should be on TV!! He had the whole train laughing!

I heard myself sighing in disbelief in response to the son's remark. I then looked over to the homeless man (who was still slaying the crowd) and found myself wanting to switch places with him. To grapple with a crowd like that and win out!

Do you know how hard it is to perform comedy in front of people who expect comedy to come out of your mouth versus a crowd who wants nothing to do with you or your comedy---a crowd that doesn't even want to look at you. This man still managed to get people to hand him money by the time the train reached the next stop. Insane! Insane!

Anyway, the kid was right. The next time I see the homeless guy I'm going to do a exposé on him--if he'll let me. Maybe we really can get him on TV.

I believe witnessing his performance was a sign that I should keep pursuing my dreams.

Man, you had to be there! (I'm so glad I was.)

**(I later found out he's 8 years old and starting school on his birthday, the next day. I wanted to steal the kid and take him home with me he was so cute.)

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Biddie said...

We do have homeless here, but not a huge population. Most of the homeless here in my town are homeless by choice.
When I went to New York in July of 99, I was amazed by all of the homelessness that I saw. (It was much like Toronto) I was never bothered by any of them, though. In fact, My x husband and I actually befriended a guy that was living on the steps of Carnagie Hall. (They were doing some reconstruction then) He had a little black cat that was missing half an ear, and I think part of his tail. That little cat did all kinds of tricks, and never left his masters side. A cat! I wanted so badly to do something for them, to change of life of the man. I wanted to give him money, but we didn't have any. We had been given the trip as a gift, and had less than $150 for almost 4 days. We were kind of starving, too.
I did see alot of panhandlers. One guy had a sign that Said something like 'I am an American Indian and I need money to get home.' He was raking in the bucks...
Anyway, I digress....
The man with the cat should have been on tv, or on stage too. All of these years later, and I still wonder about him.

Les Becker said...

"I believe witnessing his performance was a sign that I should keep pursuing my dreams."

...or move into the subway? :-)

Sidhusaaheb said...

Obviously, the man has talent. Perhaps, some day, some one who can actually get him his own show on television will spot him on that train. Then, again, that might never happen and he might actually spend the rest of his life following the kind of routine that he does now.

That is what they call destiny, I suppose. Talent, even if it is combined with a lot of hard work, does not always ensure success.

Ha Ha Sound said...

Interesting. What train line was it on? I'd like to find this guy and watch him.

BTW, this is only based on what I've seen, but it seems like Miami has more homeless people than anyplace else I've been in the U.S. But that's not based on any statistics or anything.


I would have loved to have seen that! i hope that you bump into him again and can help him on his way! :)

The Mushroom said...

The guy needs more than "a big break", he needs a real break. If you have some strings, pull 'em. The hand you extend to him had better include a microphone.

~*SilverNeurotic*~ said...

There's a lot of homeless people hanging out on the boardwalk in Atlantic City just hoping some lucky winner will walk out and feel generous. It's really sad to see and frustrating to know that there just isn't a whole lot you can do for them besides give them some change.

I hate it when someone makes a comment about how they don't help out a homeless guy because they will just spend the money on booze or drugs, yes, there does seem to be a lot that are alcoholics or drug addicts but it's also a disease. A great majority of the homeless suffer from mental illnesses...they need medical attention, but do they get it? Very rarely.

It's nice to see that despite all their hardships, there are some that still manage to keep their sense of humor intact...and are willing to share it and help people smile and relax for a few minutes.

modelbehavior said...

We had a kid at NYU like the Columbia kid who lived in Bobst Library illegally and showered in friends dorms like once a week. He saved a lot of money.


Lucy said...

Biddie - I have driven up to Toronto several times and seen the many numbers of homeless there. Up there it's definitely a lifestyle choice. The homeless in Toronto don't look downtrodden by any means. They're almost content to the point of chipper!

When people can train animals (let alone cats--the most anti-social of all pets) to do tricks, it makes me upset that the bratty Upper East Siders can't control their forever-barking ankle-biter purse-dogs.

les becker - Your comment is not too far off. I have thought about doing street comedy and I think I even mentioned it once in this post.

sidhusaaheb - Man, oh, man, Sid, who put the bad milk in your coffee this morning? I think that's a terribly bleak view. Dreams never die and your trust in them shouldn't fade either. Success is a result of hard work, yes. As well as, luck. But giving up on them I think is sacrilege. It's the whole reason we were placed in this earth in the first place. Some give up more easily than others, and that is the distinction between the truly successful and the harmfully bitter.

ha ha sound - I believe it is on the red line. My comedy friend once told me about this guy before and I didn't believe him. I guess I should have. But I'm glad I got a chance to see it live in person. I feel blessed.

It would make sense that the warm weather cities would be where more homeless gravitate towards.

Ubermouth - Same here. I would love to give this man the opportunity to make it on a real stage.

the mushroom - definitely! I can only give him a break, once I have developed the connections myself. But for sure! He's far too talented to not be onstage somewhere.

~*SilverNeurotic*~ - I agree with what you say about the sense of humo(u)r remaining intact as well as a sense of sanity. If you can tell jokes while still enduring great hardship is beyond all rational psychiatry. This man is clearly filled with a lot of heart, courage, and still somehow remains level-headed. He's my hero.

modelbehavior - I admire that. I only wish I had thought of it myself. Although, I think it's different for girls. Remaining clean, especially during that time of the month, can be difficult with out the environs of a stable place to call home. I can't imagine how people did without during the Middle Ages or even now in 3rd world countries. I guess we have to consider ourselves very lucky. It's something we take for granted.