I have a ticket to a school night show. No one can go with me, so I can be selfish.
Dana Gould is new to me, but after learning of him at another show and seeing some YouTube video, alternative standup is something I want more of. I save five dollars through the website, leave work at what should be a reasonable time but which Seattle traffic makes quick work of. Running down the tunnel the driver brakes and opens the door, saying nothing as I get on. I’ve been running for two blocks, down to the tunnel, but am hardly breathing.
My sense of quiet expectation is controlled adult giddy. I am the kid who is going to get away with something, everything arranged in advance. My adult body is tired, vision blurry, the persistent grownup colander-on-skull headache pressing like a gentle afternoon, but beneath all that is the kid knowledge that this is gonna be great.
Even if there is no place to park–a surprise to me at nine on a Wednesday–it is going to be great. Running for another two blocks only portends the greatness. A knot of hunched college-age wanna-be-cool-toughs hanging in the stage door smoking cigarettes is the treasure map X. Huh, yeah, yaknow, shit, say the kids, and the night receives the gift.
Chop Suey is the same startling concept of club venue that surprised me as a teenager and which I don’t really get even now: dark, grimy, packed with people, the booming unsculpted loudness its own entity. A guy at a little desk blocks the ramp up and in, a single narrow spotlight making him the only clearly defined thing. His mouth moves like he is speaking but no words come. Shouting is always required. He finds my name, at last. I turn my wrist the wrong way and he spins his finger, then stamps the underside, on the ligaments.
Divided into something like a mosh pit and an upper bar behind a counter and pipe railing, Chop Suey feels like a ring for aging fighters. A crush of people is already there, allowing only glimpses of a few rows of cheap, beaten folding chairs in front of the stage. People cluster in little groups, shouting at one another. Men and women with the requisite Seattle tattoos and facial piercings carry drinks, bus empties. A minute after I find a place to stand the music goes down and the show starts. It has worked out fine.
An emcee who seems desperate to please issues unforgettable jokes and welcomes. Multiple acts precede the headliner, the first two middling and gracefully short. Two guys from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 deliver very short sets; one plugs his children’s book, holding it out to us to show the pictures. The crowd doesn’t quite know what to do with this. Next, a tall, redheaded woman who truly believes her set goes on too long with strained sexual jokes, but I appreciate her energy and verve. I will her go to on signing all her bad words even as the spoiled, drunk-and-a-half college kids around me yell for her to leave. Her voice is full without overpowering and she lands every note. The moment she turns away I can see her face falling, her head down.
The crowd applauds a full minute when Dana Gould appears. I look around at it, the size large enough to intimidate the small stage but small enough to resolve to individuals: people my age, a little younger, much older. A woman with big earrings and blonde hair bounces in delight; a thin girl with deep eyes stares blankly, her reactions a little late. Bar guys swoop through in one last rush, faces grim determination.
Dana is practiced and articulate, commanding the room with a pronounced intelligence and full physical devotion. The humor is cerebral but proud to stomp through the gutter, sharp and clean and unafraid, split through with beautiful juxtapositions and metaphors, as profane and aesthetic as a lead crystal dildo. His genius wife entertains herself by sending him on retail quests for nonexistent products; he realizes you should not think of your whining and manipulative six-year-old daughter as a c***, and running away to San Francisco and turning queer would be the best comeuppance he could ever give his father. His whole show is fresh, intense, unapologetic, full bore loud. It is like watching a great man parade his nakedness, proud his dork is hanging out.
It’s an amazing show. In late elementary school I craved the gift of late Friday night bedtimes, allowing me to watch the height of 80’s TV comedy: SCTV, Night at the Improv, the brief Fridays. The naughty craziness of it transformed me, released me, showed me the way. Dana showed the same way. Standing the whole time is just fine.
Leaving was easy, being the first to get there: down the ramp and out. College women in skinny boots chatted with snarky voices to their thin uh huh boyfriends, and I weaved around an older trio feeling no pain, hugging goodbyes. The large blonde woman in red laughs: you wanna get in on this hug? A gentle but lifelong regret will have been saying no.
The night is not warm but not cold, collected, well-lit, filled with dynamism in its still sleeping. Nothing creeps out of the darkness. Rather, it is filled, overflowing with a gentle sense that it is there, that things can be done in it, good things that generate dreams. Houses sit nestled in their trimmed lawns, Christmas lights pulsing gentle safety and expectation. Even the houses dream.
Everything is all right. It has always been all right and always be all right, just like in high school when you walked the same night and the world was opening. Cup your hands around the little lights and feel their tiny mote of warmth. It is small but always there, every Christmas, for any passerby to feel. Go ahead and take it. The glow is free.