I could have handled myself better.
You might want to stop reading now, because that’s all that should be said. Apologies are supposed to stand on their own, but I’m going to vent and ruin the apology with explanation.
When you stumbled up to me, I was in the middle of a sale. An audience member had enjoyed my silly so much that he felt the need to give me cash in exchange for a souvenir. I love it when that happens, as it helps me provide for my family. You know: pay the mortgage, buy food, that sort of thing.
Your first action was to plop your beer down on my merchandise table, almost spilling it in the process. You took no heed of the fact the table was in use, or that you almost ruined one of my books.
What you did wasn’t so different from the actions of many before you. Quite the opposite, in fact. Were you the first person to ever accost me I might have acted with more grace. Unfortunately, you were that proverbial straw, and my camel’s back was already carrying too much weight.
(As is, I thought I hid my annoyance fairly well.)
Once your beer was balanced precariously upon the table, you hiccupped: “Can I tell you a joke?”
To be fair, at least you asked. More often than not, customers approach comedians with demands: “Let me tell you a joke…” Every comedian knows that statement will be followed by something racist, pedestrian, or both.
Nine out of ten times, or hell even ninety-nine out of one-hundred times, I’ll smile and say, “Sure!”
Because I want to be nice.
The person will tell their joke; I’ll fake laugh, and they’ll go away happy. I’m trying to build relationships, after all, not piss customers off.
This time, I wasn’t up for it.
Yes, I still smiled at you, but my response was: “Oh God no.”
I said it in an exaggerated manner, so that it wouldn’t be abrupt or off-putting. That was my mistake, as you giggled, “Well I’m going to anyway.”
Fortunately, your joke wasn’t racist, it was simply a stock joke passed down through the years. You probably saw it on the Internet.
When I didn’t titter, you were annoyed.
“Well I can see you didn’t like that. I thought you could use it in your act,” you huffed.
Here’s where I ask a question. It’s hypothetical, but meant to get you thinking.
Would you walk up to a guitarist in a rock band and say, “Let me show you this riff I saw on YouTube… You can use it in your next song!” and then play a Van Halen track?
No, you wouldn’t. And no, the guitarist in that band couldn’t use it.
Artists cannot take stolen material and pass it off as their own. Thievery is as frowned upon in the creative world as it is in the physical one. Authors cannot plagiarize, painters can’t copy, and comedians don’t steal.
(Well, good ones don’t.)
Artists are artists because we feel we have something to say. There’s something inside us that needs to get out. Ideas, thoughts, feelings, pictures, sounds… It’s about self-expression, not appropriation.
Sometimes that truth gets lost when it comes to comedians because of the way we’re viewed; comedians aren’t held to the same esteem as musicians or painters. When Pamela Anderson can (and recently did) declare, “I’m going to do stand up comedy,” of course you don’t take the craft seriously. When former kid stars or reality show contestants become “comedians,” you don’t respect it as an art form.
I get that.
But it doesn’t make it right.
It also doesn’t make me special; I’m no prima donna.
Every day cashiers, waiters, dentists, receptionists…. Every day someone in their field of work deals with someone obnoxious, clueless, or rude.
If cashiers, waiters, and receptionists can weather the storm of insolent behavior, I can, too. Especially considering what my actions caused me: money.
Yes, I hurt your feelings by not laughing at your Internet joke, but your revenge was wonderful. When you scooped up your beer, barked: “Well, I was going to buy something!” and stormed off, I screamed “Shit!” inside my head. My behavior lost me a sale.
Which brings us full circle.
You came to me full of giggles because you enjoyed my act. You wanted to relate to me on some level, and the option you chose was to share a joke you liked. You wanted to buy something from me.
And I took your moment and crapped on it.
I could have handled myself better.