One of the people that I work with as a stand-up comedian is a booker who gets me, let's say, "non-conventional" gigs. Just to give you an idea of him, this booker happens to be an ex-crackhead minister with only one arm. When he does comedy, he'll often take off his prosthetic arm and wave it around as a joke. He doesn't perform stand-up that often, however. That's because this booker realizes his biggest talent is finding funny people who are willing to do absolutely anything.
I happen to be one of those people. Even if it's a bad gig, it ends up being a hilarious memory. I've done everything from insane private birthdays for rich Russians to really cool rehab gigs for hundreds of people going through recovery.
One day, this booker calls me and tells me he has a unique gig for me. He says it only pays a couple hundred dollars, but that the job takes place in Manhattan and only lasts 30 minutes. That's when he tells me the gig is performing stand-up for a married couple that is celebrating the husband's birthday in a restaurant. I figure, Oh, OK. That's not unique. I perform standup at restaurants all the time.
Wrong. They want me to perform for them and their friend as I sit at the dinner table with them while they ate.
I say, "So you literally just want me to go out to dinner with these people, who I've never met in my entire life?" Yup. They want a comedian to sit with them and entertain them for half an hour as they eat their meal at Phillipe, an upscale Chinese restaurant in NYC.
At this point, I'm thinking there is no way that this is actually what the couple wants. The wife emails me and fills me in on their details: They both work for a car company, have three children, are Dominican, and love Chris Rock and Katt Williams. She says she asked other comedians to do the gig, but they were all too expensive.
Still, from the email, she seems pretty cool, so I decide to go through with it even though it sounds totally crazy.
As soon as I get to Phillipe, the maître d' is like, "You're the comedian?" He seems like the sort of snobby maître d' you'd see in a movie, and all I can think to myself is, What kind of big-shot comedian were you expecting to be doing this dinner gig? By the time I get to the table, the couple and the husband's best friend—who was eating dinner with them—have already been there drinking for a half-hour.
A waiter comes by the table and asks us to keep it down. They tell him to fuck off.
The couple is all blinged out with these huge Jesus pieces. As soon as I sit down at the table, the wife takes out her phone, starts filming me, and says, "We're going to remember this." I'm completely unsure of what to do, so I figure I'll just do some really low-brow race humor.
The husband is this massive, imposing Dominican man and his friend is black, so I jokingly ask if they met in prison. They start cracking up. Then they tell me that yes, in fact, they did meet in jail.
Then they tell me about how they took in their 85-year-old Jewish neighbor after he lost his wife. They actually took the guy down to the Dominican Republic and got him a hooker. As they're telling me this story, I'm not really sure if I should be eating their food, but the husband hands me a spring roll and is like, "You're a fat piece of shit. You should eat!"
At one point, I jokingly ask them if they decided to go to Phillipe because they heard about it in a rap song. Yet again, I was right: The wife had heard about the restaurant in a rap song. Then they offer to sell me a car and tell me how I need to go visit them and try out their new gun at a shooting range.
The conversation switches to talking about refugees and the wife tells me, "I'm nervous, but I'll sell them cars." Shortly afterward, a waiter comes by the table and asks us to keep it down. They tell him to fuck off, and that that's what he's being paid for.
I'm loving the night by now. I thought it would be terrible, but they're so full of life and unlike anybody that would normally come to a comedy club. It made me sad that I spend most of my time in Bushwick with muted and reserved people who, if they were a food, would be radishes. I'm only supposed to be there for half an hour, but I stay for over an hour.
To this day, the couple and I still keep in touch and I will always answer the phone if that one-armed booker gives me a call.
As told to Alex Swerdloff.