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t started as it often does in showbiz: I had to make a room full of old Jews laugh. A friend of mine who’d done ten years at Lorton Penitentiary once described the same routine.It was during a showcase of performers trying out for gigs on cruise ships at a theater in Miami. The rest of the time was spent fighting guys who were trying to rape him – with mixed results.There was a doo-wop group, a “human statue of liberty,” a boy band, a flamenco dancer, and a piano player from New York who sang in Yiddish. Once ensconced, I studied the pamphlet I’d been given.The audience consisted of 500 extras from the movie “Cocoon,” several of whom according to the showcase coordinator were “survivors.” Bussed in by cruise lines, they were used as a litmus test for picking performers. It was a sort of employees’ guide to the cruise line and it was mind-bogglingly rigid.” That was until the Yiddish-singing piano player, slotted to go before me, took the stage. When I opened the door and saw the inside, I almost had a panic attack. Name tags were to be worn at all times, and besides random drug tests there would be quizzes on the differences between muster stations and embarkation stations, weather-tight and fire doors, crew alerts and general emergency alarms, when to use a C02 fire extinguisher or a dry chemical one, what “alpha” and “daco” codes were, and how to identify a mass casualty incident.This guy annihilated so hard that at the end of his set, an old lady in a sunhat slipped him a number and said, “I got a daughter in Queens. “That’s where the shows are at, but first we got a ‘welcome aboard’ show. It was tiny, no windows, bare floor with a bed, a small desk, and a bathroom where I discovered later that, to fit onto the toilet, I had to jam both legs into the shower stall. My act would be graded based on such criteria as “Did comic receive big laughs at regular intervals? ” There were select allowable words for “family shows.” “Change ‘hell’ to ‘heck,’” the pamphlet read, “‘damn’ to ‘darn,’ ‘bitch’ to ‘witch,’ ‘sucks’ to ‘stinks,’” and “avoid words like ‘sex’ and ‘gay’ as well.” I had a total of two “family shows” and three or four regular shows, plus one “welcome aboard” show.
As the trip continued, I decided to mine the new world around me for material. The ship was absolutely mammoth – it had to be to accommodate the almost-4,000, many borderline-obese passengers, scooters whizzing by each other like pickup trucks – who consumed everything in their paths, edible and alcoholic.Needless to say, I hadn’t stockpiled material children could relate to.Afterward I got a note from the entertainment director to remove the phrase “knowing each other biblically” and my tried-and-true swear substitute “mother-flower.” But the good news was that “Johnson” was acceptable.On one tape they saw the piano player throwing the paddles overboard at around midnight. Then, during the later shows I figured I’d try letting it all hang out a bit more. Jameson, please report to the front office or make yourself known to a crewmember…” I went back to sleep.
In the middle of my second late show I’d gambled on some material about being Jewish and being married to a black woman. ” Before I knew it, I was reaching for his neck, but JR slid between us and jammed a beer into my hand, miming a helicopter noise while steering me in the opposite direction. Five minutes later: another announcement, then another, and another, all telling her to report to the front office with increasing urgency. A Filipino steward came in and dutifully looked in my bathroom and under my mattress.If Saul and Esther liked you, then, like a tuna sandwich with low-sodium mayo, you would be considered palatable fare for the passengers. Port’s left.” I scribbled it all down on my nautical crash-course cheat sheet. The beauty of comedy is that there are essentially no rules besides showing up, being funny, doing your time, and not getting the club staff pregnant.