“You ever get so lonely that you’re like, ‘I don’t even care if the government’s watching me right now’?” Branton asked the crowd, rhetorically. They laughed in reply, a strong amount of laughter for an open mic that had already been running for an hour. About eight or nine of the fourteen other comics there knew him, so delivering his nonsense with sincerity was no easy task, but he persisted.
“It came out that Alexa’s been listening to our conversations,” he continued. “I’m like ‘thank god! Somebody…’”
A portion of his audience remained intact as he continued. “Some people cover their webcams…I don’t even cover my windows! Notice me!”
“You’re getting better,” Margot offered as they walked out of the bar they’d just been working out their new jokes and on to the next.
“Thanks,” Branton nodded. “Tell that to the people booking all these shows I’m not on.”
Margot rolled her eyes. “I said you’re getting better. Not that you’re good.”
“And you’re getting worse,” retorted Branton, “at trying to make me feel better.”
They hurried down the subway stairs and onto the rail.
“Oh, grow up,” Margot responded. “You’re three years in. You’re still a baby. The whole point of this is to be a grinder, right? To face rejection day after day and wake up dead on the inside and still go out and make whoever will lend you an ear laugh until they can’t even breathe anymore and still not think you’re good enough yet? Isn’t it about relentless perfectionism and standing out in a crowd of loudmouth morons who got on stage because they’re girlfriends and boyfriends think they’re funny?”
“I thought it was just about telling jokes,” Branton replied. “Having the spotlight, the adoration of fans. Movie deals, TV shows, more money than I could count.”
“Then you picked the wrong industry,” Margot shrugged. “I got paid $15 for last night’s set, and unless the wage gap is happening at the Dusty Pig’s All You Can Laugh show, then you got the same.”
“I’m kidding,” Branton grumbled. “It was a joke.”
“Oh!” Margot snapped her fingers. “Well, that’s the issue! Your jokes! Try being funny next time, people love that. Heard it can be very lucrative.”
Branton scowled once more as their short ride came to a stop and they hopped onto the subway platform and out to the street. Two silent minutes of power-walking through the melting garbage smell of Manhattan and they pulled up just short of the small club that served as their second destination for the evening. A long line spilled around the corner to where they stood.
“There are like a hundred people here,” Margot observed. “What’s going on?
“I don’t even recognize anyone,” added Branton. “Something’s super off.”
An awkward, gangly African-American man, sidled up behind them, his backpack perched on top of his shoulders like a bird’s nest. “Sup,” he offered. “You guys here for the audition too?”
“Aubrey!” Margot exclaimed, hugging him. “I haven’t seen you in like a month! Weren’t you in LA?”
Aubrey nodded, launching into a re-telling of his exploits on the opposite coast as he nodded his hello to Branton. It was all very impressive, but Branton couldn’t listen any longer.
“What audition?” he exclaimed, startled at the force of his question. “What audition is happening?”
Aubrey seemed legitimately confused as his eyebrows furrowed. “Bro. It’s open call for East Coast Talent today; everyone gets one minute. Probably gonna be at least 300 people minimum. We won’t be up for hours.”
Margot and Branton looked at each other in disbelief that they’d been unaware; the second year comedy showcase had already launched dozens of careers, with over 25 million viewers tuning in for the final contest. A spot even in the first round could change the trajectory of an up-and-comer’s career. They turned back to Aubrey before responding in unison
“Yeah, we’re here for the audition.”