If Henry knew one fact, it was this: comedy was the most real thing in the world.
That statement wasn’t exactly true: Henry believed he knew several facts. He knew that Amal had left to work on his routine. He knew, as he peeked at the audience through the curtain backstage, that the man wearing only half a shirt would function as the ideal audience for his material, someone to direct jokes to. Halfshirt keep firing off witty asides to his friends—if Henry got him to laugh, then Halfshirt’s friends would laugh too. He knew that the nonbinary emcee, performing on stage while Henry waited in back with knots in his stomach, needed to get a new bowtie. Their gag didn’t work with a dark blue one. He knew the emcee took too much water from the pitcher on the onstage chair. He knew 20 different books he ought to give the emcee about conversational stand-up, if Henry could find them. Henry knew several things, but several of the several things slipped around his mind, and he had to decide which strands of thought to pick out.
Henry looked over to the bar. Amal was out amongst the audience at this point. He sat at the bar, twirling the straw in his vodka-with-purple-dye martini. He always ordered vodka, but he didn’t always get it purple. Amal hunched over his drink, turning his back to Representative Fulton. He must’ve finished all the “preparation” he needed, thought Henry.
Representative Fulton sat, with his various guests, in the center table. His slight smile look plastered on.
Amal never officially said “yes” to co-operating with Henry’s prank. Henry had one more chance to convince him, and that would be in ten seconds when the emcee called his name. This, Henry knew. And if he wanted to perform comedy, not a lecture, he’d have to half-forget all the things he knew.
“Now! Ladies and Gentlemen,” boomed the emcee, who already shifted their rail-thin body to point towards Henry. Henry pulled his nose back from the space between curtains. “Now that I know where you’re all from, I’ve got enough information for my hit man. The problem is, he needs a 24-hour notice, and all the tips from my tip jar! But here to do the slaying until then, please welcome the comedian itching to go, it’s Arizona’s own Henry Cockburn!”
The smoky club filled with applause as Henry walked on stage and threw his arms wide open. The knots in his stomach tightened— they would always do that, at every performance. Henry wore a grin on his face to put Fulton’s plastered expression to shame. The comedian scanned the crowd with each step. The short woman with the cap, with hoop earrings and an arm around her date, might not appreciate gratuitous swearing. Step. There was a big-lipped man with pink hair and a good build— even if it was crass to assume he’s gay, he might enjoy a shout-out to last month’s court ruling. Step. Fulton looked unsuspecting, but in the same way a cat might look unsuspecting while waiting under a hidden bird nest. Step. Amal took a drink. Step. He looked up at Henry. Step. He raised his drink to Henry, and then gulped. Step step step.
Frederick, the town drunk, was in the back row. He was already laughing by the time Henry reached the microphone. No extra steps to take there.
Henry turned the mike’s stiff knob, allowing it to slide down to his height. “Jude’s a wonderful emcee, but they keeps forgetting that they has an inch or five on me. I wish that I could forget too.”
Easy laugh. Henry looked to the audience, and kept Halfshirt Man in peripheral vision.
“How’s everyone tonight?” Henry flashed his most childlike of smiles.
Some whoops emerged. Too many whoops from Frederick the Drunk, of course. But the wrinkled, gangly woman around Fulton’s arm responded with a loud cheer. An obnoxious woman, but hopefully in a contagious way.