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The day I met the Mayor Of Show Business

(This post was contributed by Mr. Lee Zimmerman about his experience when he first moved to LA many moons ago… It’s a treat to have him contribute this post to the blog and I hope the feedback is such that he is encouraged to write more…. d. – checkerhead)


Back in 1991, I got a chance that few people ever get. I met a magazine editor named Richard Waner. He said he really loved my show after seeing me perform in Venice, Ca. and that he could hook me up with “something better than the street.” I had only arrived in town about five weeks earlier from Philly, so I didn’t know if I could believe anybody. But, boom!–he had great connections. He arranged for me to perform a six minute showcase at The Improvisation in Hollywood.

I was never as nervous before or since as I was when I saw who was performing there that night, their names scrawled loosely on a chalkboard next to the bar. Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Lovitz, Bill Maher and six other people I admired…I read the name Roseanne Arnold, which was the style at the time.

It was obvious that I was a little freaked out. Budd Friedman the club owner said, ”Why don’t you take a quick walk around the block, you got time” and I sharped, “Great idea!” I shot out the door ka-CHUNG! for a fast walk and tried to calm down…yeah, right.

I turned right and walked up Melrose Blvd, contemplating my entire life up to that moment. It’s the first week of June. I remember that the sun was just heading into the golden hour. I turned left on Fairfax and saw the Hollywood sign for the very first time since moving to L.A. That made me feel better, actually… It felt like I’m getting closer to my dreams, and why not? I really had worked hard, put in the hours, paid my dues, suffered for my craft, performed in the cold.  I actually did try new things, develop and enhance my material as best I could for years, hell; maybe I CAN do this. And if I CAN do this, why I never have to question my talent or worth as an entertainer again! If I pull off even a decent show, the Mayor Of Show Business will cut a sash with my name on it, kiss my cheeks and squeeze my bum. I never have to do another thing in this industry. It will mean that nine years of hard work equal true validation, once and for all. Anyone who ever mocked my dreams could just take a great big ol’ SUCK.
And I can have ALL OF THIS if I can just get my heart to slow down to a survivable rate for a mere six minutes. Impossible!

I skulked in, grabbed my stage gear and hovered by the main door with Budd. He said, “Don’t worry. If you fuck up, only two or three people will be fired.”

They announce my name and I saunter up to the stage, but I’ve never really worked with a mike before. I muttered something about being a little scared.

“What are these people thinking, hiring a puppet show to work at the Improv?”

They giggled nervously for me.

I set up my little stage and cued the sound guy for Jimi Hendrix, “Rock Me, Baby.” Right off, I can tell it’s working. They start moving and even screaming at every new sight gag and I’m thinking to myself, I swear I thought this–“all those years of street–having to be funny every eight seconds! Other comics take their time, a laugh every fifteen seconds because they can…not on the street, man. I am absolutely killing right now! This can’t actually be happening!”

Everybody there wanted me to do well, you could just feel it. They were feeding me energy in waves. I am nothing if not foolishly honest, and I tell you this–I could physically feel the power of that audience wash over me.  So, I kept on hitting it really hard and really fast…God bless Street Training!

The audience is whooping it up, just loving every little thing, getting up on their feet to see it all, and I’m giggling nervously, having an out of body experience. I’m barely able to stop smiling. I don’t think I ever did actually–except in the really sensual parts, where Jimi’s solos force me to make that Jimmy Page face that I make when I’m on stage. Goofy guitar hero gushy faces and winces and a pile of expressive whatever it is…can’t help those, man…and I always always always do a little dance on my ladder. This is no exception.

I’m giving up a solid performance, maybe a seven or an eight. I mean, we all know our skill level and if you judge as harshly as I do, I gave ’em a nice strong eight. I can live with an eight. I am OPENING with my finale and doing so with no tangles, nice and clean. When I hit the last note–BAM–the puppet drops, Jimi’s paper mini-amps fall over. There’s a split second beat, a vacuum gasp of air from the audience and then ‘WHAHH!’ APPLAUSE! There in the dark, a bunch of standing people. The volume and intensity actually knocked a little bit of wind out of my chest. Validated!  Mark Lonow is standing in the light of the sound booth. He’s the other owner of The Improv and after more roars from the crowd, he opens up the sound man’s mike, because it’s obvious to everyone that I couldn’t actually speak.
“I think we found someone new!” More applause. I gulped it together, but I had to wipe my eyes as I bent down behind my backdrop, reaching for the next puppet.

I won’t lie; my eyes were a little wet from the sheer ecstasy of this moment and I giggled up a twisted little release of air. I just stood there for a second beaming, trembling with relief…I said something that got a nice laugh, then I did David Byrne, “Who Is It?” One minute, forty-four seconds. It absolutely KILLED. The audience reactions were getting bigger and bigger and then it ended with a giant crescendo of laughs and applause–Boomf!

6 and half perfect minutes on stage. I walked on clouds on top of feathers braised with marshmallows for the next five hours. The staff was flipping out, I finally relaxed and I got to meet all my comedy heroes–Jerry Seinfeld was on that stage just a few comics later.

I had just set foot in town six weeks earlier, with a broken heart and 243 dollars. This was the day that I really arrived in Los Angeles.

11 Responses to “The day I met the Mayor Of Show Business”

  1. Joe Monti says:

    you are one of a kind. Great story!
    Joe Monti

  2. Great, great story. That’s just such an awesome experience. Thanks for sharing it. I’m quite jealous.

  3. Glenn Singer says:

    That’s what I’m talkin about

  4. martin ewen says:

    Oh boy! The trick with your writing is that you don’t have to have the background to recognise EXACTLY the feelings you convey.
    Those of us with that background, well you just walked over everything but our graves.

    If you don’t keep writing I will kill you.

  5. ZimmyPage says:

    Holy Moly! Ya’all are killing me. Thanks!

  6. martin ewen says:

    sadly and also not sadly at all, the odds are if you don’t keep writing it won’t be anyone else that’s killing you. On another matter, here, have a banana.

  7. Jim Show Jim says:

    That’s a great story, Lee. I think your David Byrne is my favorite bit in your show.

  8. Columpa says:

    “God bless street training” and the tenacity and passion of the driven artist!

  9. Stacy says:

    Yes. And duh, you KNOW to write, so GO.

  10. Tannis says:

    Love it! I can hear the giggle! 🙂

  11. pratik kambli says:

    Man i saw u today at TTF mumbai man u are too good ….one of a kind…god bless …..keep enjoying what u do the best u rock mate..!!!!…keep in touch….plz inform me when u come to mumbai next time….i hope u had good time in mumbai….cheer’s…..!!!!

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