It was a drizzly night, and I was walking down the street with Luke, my boyfriend at the time, to a comedy club where he was performing that night. He held an umbrella over my head and had his arm wrapped around my shoulder. I should have been giddy, but instead I felt apprehensive. We’d been dating for a few months, but this was the first time I was going to one of his shows.
“So, you’re not going to make fun of me, are you?” I asked, flashing back to Jerry Seinfeld and man hands and close talking. What if he called me out in public on some absurd quirk I never knew existed?
“No,” he said. “That’s a cheap laugh.” His material was more sophisticated, even a touch political, he said.
An hour later, he stepped onstage. There were only 12 people in the club — four of them friends I’d begged to come. Luke told his first joke, and the audience just stared at him. He launched into a second joke, and the sound of silence was overwhelming. Third joke, and still nothing. I summoned up a chuckle to break the tension. Luke was totally bombing.
Then finally, “My girlfriend says…”
The funny thing is that I don’t even remember the joke itself. All I remember was that my face flushed and I felt…angry. Not only was he selling me out for a laugh — but he wasn’t even being true to his own vision. One of my friends turned to me. She didn’t speak but her arched eyebrow said it all. “This is the guy you’ve been telling us about?”
Luke and I broke up a few months later. While he was generally a good guy, he was also needy. He came off as confident, but after that night, I couldn’t help but notice his constant approval-seeking. I figured that was what made him want to be a comedian.
Fast-forward five years, to six months ago. I was at a friend’s birthday and a tall, uber-hot guy sauntered up to me. “I’m John,” he said, extending his hand.
Our conversation was great, and I felt the chemistry instantly. After a few minutes, I asked, “So what do you do?”
“I’m a stand-up comedian,” he said. Uh-oh, I thought. But I ignored my instinct to run.
Our first date was like a montage from a romantic comedy—a game of pool, some darts, us sitting in a park around 2 a.m., making out. Ditto for our second date, only this time he came back to my place.
But on our third date, the comedian in him reared its head. We were at a Thai restaurant, and, evidently, the way I hold chopsticks is just hilarious. He made fun of me, and I smiled, enjoying the banter. But then he launched into a barrage of jokes that lasted literally five minutes. I couldn’t believe anyone had so much to say about chopstick usage. I grabbed his hand. “Next topic,” I said.
On the cab ride home, rather than cuddling with me, he spent the whole ride giving the cab driver a monologue about crazy New York drivers. I tugged on his sleeve, wishing he’d pay attention to me instead of the driver. “He’s laughing,” John said, as if I was interrupting some sacred ritual.
A few weeks later, I brought John to a party and he started telling two of my friends a story about a trip to Italy. “Oh, you’ve been to Italy?” I said, excited because I’d just gone myself a few months before meeting him. “What’s your favorite city?”
He shot me a disapproving glance, like I’d just slapped a puppy. He turned back to my friends and continued his story—something about staying in an old monastery and thinking it was haunted. My friends laughed at the punchline. But when they walked away, John was visibly angry. “You ruined my joke,” he said. “Why are you always interrupting?”
“Um, it’s a conversation,” I said. “That’s how they work. You say something, others say something. It’s a back-and-forth.”
“I was telling a joke,” he said. I realized that for him, he was never interacting—in his mind, he was always performing. Rather than bending over backwards to make people laugh, I wish he’d just relax. I also wished he’d focus his energy on me.
Five months later, though we were still dating, I felt pretty sure John wasn’t the guy for me. One night, we went to a nice French restaurant. I had gussied myself up for the occasion—and he, of course, wore a t-shirt. (Don’t even get me started on the comedian dress code.) We were having a good time, and I thought maybe I was being hard on him.
Then a pair of hot blondes waltzed in and sat down at the table next to us. As they looked at the menu, one of them said, “Mussels sound good, but I don’t want too many.”
John turned to them. “You can never have too many mussels,” he said. To my horror, he flexed his arm and kissed his bicep. The women, for some unknown reason, laughed.
I was appalled. Seriously, he’d dropped our conversation to joke with these two women he didn’t even know? Why was he so much as looking at them when I was sitting across the table, showing tons of cleavage? I felt invisible, ignored, and pissed. John was always soliciting the laugh, like a kindergarten boy desperate for a gold star. He was always trying to “own the room,” always trying to be the life of the party, always thinking in terms of “material” rather than having actual conversations.
And more than that, I was never the center of his attention. He didn’t want a girlfriend—he wanted an audience.
Later that night, we decided that our relationship wasn’t working and said our goodbyes. I’ve been comedian-free for a month now.