Stand-up Comedy at a Female Prison or How to Meet Your Cellmate
About twenty years ago, I think it was a summer day, but it could have been in the dead of winter, for all I know, the gig I was working was in a state Prison in Arizona. Now, if it had been a prison back east, the first thing I’d do was to see if there were any of my family members in the penitentiary. In my family that old expression, life begins at forty, really holds true because it’s usually their release date.
My grandfather was a mobster, although, he called himself a racketeer, like it was a lodge, or theater group he belonged to. He, himself had spent five years in prison for counterfeiting; he proudly bragged about taking the rap and not ratting out his nine other actors, who specialized in dialogue like, “There’s no such thing as the Mafia.” Actually, he said he was in college. I was 9 or 10 so I figured he went for his graduate degree. I really didn’t understand taking the rap for nine other guys; I probably figured it was some of kind fraternity prank. Years later I was to find out that the prison guards had given my grandfather a rifle (apparently he was a great shot) to go out on the prison grounds and shoot groundhogs–not entirely for fun, or to keep in practice, but because he made a great groundhog stew.
Although, I had family members who vacationed in state penitentiaries, I had never set foot in a prison. If my grandfather had still been alive I’m sure he would have had some penitentiary tips. I know whenever I worked in a dangerous place he told me to carry a roll of quarters, not as a bribe, but to use like brass knuckles. I suggested to my fellow prison-gig-comics that they to do the same, but they thought I was being a bit paranoid.
I did the prison show with two local comics, who I can still picture, but can’t remember their names. I might have been either too scared, or wondering that if I got lucky where I could take an affection-starved female inmate, maybe one serving the beginnings of a life sentence without parole, for a romantic rendezvous? I figured if the woman was doomed to remain within those walls forever she might be desperate enough to find me irresistible or at least available. I thought the best place for an afternoon of passion would be the room they use for solitary confinement, it might afford us some privacy and I wouldn’t have to deal with an ugly, jealous, roommate. My fantasy was interrupted with the chill of fear, what if I didn’t perform up to her heightened expectations, not on stage, but in the bunk, would I leave the place on a slab or without an under achieving extremity?
Immediately I could tell this wasn’t exactly Alcatraz; there weren’t any high cement walls with tall towers manned with guards armed aiming automatic weapons. There weren’t groups of prisoners lifting weights, ready to carry out voluntary death sentences. In fact I was surprised at the casualness of the prison and how friendly the guards were, a few seen laughing with some of the inmates. I took that to be a good comedic sign. There were several single level buildings, and except for the fences topped with barbed wire, it could have been a few rows of garden apartments. The grass was thick and evenly mowed and there were no signs of holes dug by groundhogs (maybe my grandfather had left the recipe to be passed down from generation to generation of prison guards).
We were led through a long hall that resembled a hospital wing at a mental institution (not that I ever visited one before) and out a side door that opened onto the top of a small hill. I figured they were just going to show us the view and a possible escape route in case the heckling got out of hand. A guy who looked like a student prison guard ran out with a bullhorn. That’s when we were told that the hill was our stage and the bullhorn our microphone. Before any of us could object the grounds below us filled with women. As I sized up my audience I was disappointed that there wasn’t a Sharon Stone look alike or even a Sharon Stone unreasonable facsimile, but relieved that there weren’t any bald-headed women with Nazi tattoos. If I remember correctly I was supposed to be the middle act, of three, unfortunately I stood only a dozen yards from the junior emcee, who got a case of hill freight and handed me the bullhorn and asked me to open the show. He hadn’t even attempted to warm up the audience. So it became my chore. I didn’t know how to start. I couldn’t ask them stuff like: “Hey, where did you get arrested?; What are you in for?; How many years did you get?; Did anyone here kill someone?; Or Let’s have a hand for every one in for manslaughter!” I looked down at the 40 or 50 women, trying to figure out who the dangerous felons were, and who were in for sex crimes. After a hesitation, out of desperation, I took a chance and I went to my standard opening line, but altered it to fit my audience. I said, “I was almost arrested on the way here. I got a flat tire. It was one in a million. I ran over a guy with a glass eye.” The audience actually laughed. No knives were thrown, no threats made, and certainly no room keys were tossed at my feet. So I went into my Italian mob oriented material. “My grandfather was an Italian portrait artist. He’d painted the picture first without seeing the guy and then make him look like the picture.” Another big laugh and nothing to duck. Then I said, “ My other grandfather died peacefully for an Italian. He was shot in his sleep.” Again harmless laughter. I continued onto my Italian stuff, from there segued into my childhood/loser material. “My parents actually didn’t want me. I was accident. I was the product of very sloppy oral sex.” The line exploded with laughter. I was killing an audience that probably housed a few killers. I performed with tremendous energy, totally into my material and the character. I guess somewhere I was thinking kill or be killed. From my childhood I segued into sex material, trying to find an attractive woman who followed her laughter with lewd sexual gestures. I didn’t spot one. It’s difficult to distinguish gleeful movements from those filled with lust at such a long distance, especially with the ones who were handcuffed, chained to a fence post, or in straight jackets. Ok, in reality the only thing chained to the fences was bicycles, but that didn’t stop me from imagining it. My set ended to a large clinking applause.
I walked into the building I had entered from and got a cup of coffee from a machine. While I sipped the sludge a very cute trustee, who I hadn’t spotted during my set, came over to me, obviously star struck by my magnificent performance. She said flirtatiously, “A bull horn in the hands of man, especially a very funny one can be mighty sexy.” I was stunned by her aggressiveness, but figured her choice was either me, or some muscle bound sister con. I almost joked “Your place or mine?” but instead I stuttered, and dribbled coffee, trying to get out, “It was my first bullhorn,” which didn’t make sense. She returned my dumb reply with a smile that made me forget that she may have sliced and diced her last boyfriend. She asked me a few questions about my career. I stayed away from asking about hers, or what her favorite weapon was. We actually had a pleasant conversation about me and surprisingly, baseball. I made her laugh a few times. I was about to ask her if she’d like to go to someplace more private when the show had ended and the other comics entered the building. She was too cute to pass up an opportunity to see if she ever got furloughs and to tell her how cute she would look wearing an ankle monitor. I might never see her again; she could escape, or get knifed in the shower, or get out on parole, so I stupidly asked her for her number. I took out my pad and wrote it down as she rattled it off. As the amount of numbers past ten I realized she was giving me the number on her prison shirt. She laughed and said, “Come on, I know a place where we can be alone,” and then she winked, a wink that said only one thing and that involved many positions.
I couldn’t believe my luck, probably the prettiest girl in the prison and one without any visible scars wanted me in the biblical sense. I’m not sure what testament, or what chapter and verse, which could mean our tryst could end with my death or dismemberment, but I didn’t care. I, a mere stand-up comic, from New Jersey, was about to have sex with a criminal, a woman who did things bad enough to end up in a federal prison. The risk worked as a turn on. Who knows what wild sexual adventures she had in mind. She was now a trustee so even if she had once been violent that streak must be long gone. She grabbed my hand and led me down the hallway. The other comics didn’t see me, too preoccupied discussing their sets to notice, and we walked in the opposite direction. I wondered if my gallows gal had a pair of handcuffs or leg restraints hidden someplace, maybe even a cattle prod, or what if she was going to use me as shield to escape. First off, I’m not into bondage, except in the case of having sex on an airplane wing, still the thought of possibly being the first comic to have sex with an incarcerated woman and all the hazardous implications would make me a hero to my fellow comedians. I might even get a spot on TV, Letterman, Leno, or the View. In case of the View I’d have to alter the story to be more wholesome, like how I turned a feme fatal into a life devoted to helping flood victims, lepers, or pets get neutered for free. Maybe she’d eventually on TV as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.
I still had no idea where she was taking me, nor did I ask, in fear of ending her amorous mood, which might turn to anger and end with me unmanly yelling for help. Once the word got out it would definitely end my television fantasy and any hope of meeting another women in the entire United States prison system.
She stopped at a door, looked both ways, opened it and then quickly ushered me in. The room was dark, the only light filling a shaft leaving the window. I think we were in a storeroom, since there were tables and chairs stacked against a wall. She pulled me further into the room and against the far wall then turned to me, her lips skipping along my ear and said, five words that changed it all. “Do you have a condom?” I knew I didn’t have one, and I quickly thought about what I had on me that I could use. I had a cellophane wrapper from some cup cakes I’d eaten earlier which would sound too crinkly, a napkin I wrote some jokes on, even if it could work I’d never risk the possibility of a new great joke, and I also had that roll of quarters. I guess I could empty the quarters and use it somehow. As I thought about my options I noticed a roll of duct tape that sat on one of the tables. I could tape the end of the empty quarter roll. Could that work? I have to seal both ends and tape it to myself so it didn’t slide down. I know it would be painful to remove, but it might be more painful telling this possible serial killer, mass murderer, or international terrorist, I didn’t have a simple all American condom. Before I could finish my thoughts she reached down and grabbed the roll of quarters thinking it was me. I was glad I didn’t bring of roll of dimes that would have been embarrassing. Now she was lifting her other hand towards my belt and was about to…. Well you get the idea. I wanted to stop her, but she might have felt rejected and that might trigger some homicidal impulse. While I was making my mind up, we both heard the door open. Before anyone could turn on the lights she reached into my pocket pulled out the roll of coins and whispered, “I could spot a roll of quarters from a mile away. I sort of worked in a bank—well, I robbed them. I can get some smokes with this.” Suddenly the room was flooded by light. “
It wasn’t a guard. It was another female con, this one big enough to block the entire door way without shutting it. “Did you get it?” She said to her pen pal.
“Yeah, but I didn’t check his wallet yet.” Before she could finish I handed over my wallet. “Take whatever you want.”
My prison princess looked at me and said, “Duh…”
She removed the sixty bucks I had on me. “That’s all you got?”
“This is a free gig.”
Then the other one laughed as she closed the door, “For you it’s not.”
Miss cellmate, my fantasy felon, didn’t whisper this time, “You can leave now, but not a word to anyone. We have ears everywhere. Or you know what will happen to you.” Then she kissed me on the lips and held it for a minute or two. It would have been a good kiss if I weren’t so worried about being stabbed.
“I just wanted to thank you for a lovely evening. But I’m not ready for a relationship yet. Not for another twenty years, I killed a teller, blew his head right off.”
Her big friend opened the door and told me to scram. I did exactly as I was told and bolted past her. In the hallway I passed a few inmates with smiles that were far too big to be left over from the show. I ran to my fellow comics, ready to hide amongst them. Before I could reach them they burst out laughing, in fact they were hysterical. Then it hit me. I turned around. Mrs. Big, my hoosegow hussy, and the work-study-guard were all laughing. He approached me, handed me my sixty bucks and the roll of quarters. One of the comics who shall remain nameless, because I can’t remember his name, walked over putting his hand out to shake.
“You set this whole thing up?”
“Yeah, we work here all the time. We played this trick before on a few singers. When you told us about the roll of quarters it was too much to resist so we made a few phone calls.”
That’s when I started laughing. I had to admit it was a great practical joke. The best that was ever played on me. Before I stopped laughing I felt a hand on around my waist and turned. It was my Jailhouse Jane, Judy or Jennifer. I never found out her name. “You’re a good sport.” Then she stood turned and gave me kiss that could make me confess to killing Kennedy. She teased my ear again and purred. “Hmmm. If you want a second helping, I’ll be out in three, two with good behavior.”