Tim Mossholder

 

Phil DuPont Shows Up At The Thursday Open Mic In Schaumburg, Illinois

Beth elbows me between sets and says, “Hey, isn’t that––?” Beth and I broke up four months ago but we still sit together every Thursday at the open mic. I live in Schaumburg. She doesn’t live in Schaumburg. She’s the only person I know who lives in the city with a car, and when I had to move out here on account of running out of money and living with my parents again, she not only made the effort to drive out when we were dating but also once we’d stopped.

But we both like this mic––it’s good despite, you know, the Schaumburg factor. The thing about being city comics is that we are the only ones in the room who care about the time limits. All of these fresh-out-of-college young stand-ups with their taut faces and lack of nicotine addictions launching into loose seven-minute sets like amateurs. They are amateurs, but that’s no excuse! Beth and I time them––which should be the job of the producer, this forty-something guy named Nick, but he’s always at the bar getting sloppy and flirty, sometimes the reverse order––and when they inevitably go over, we start booing. It’s nice to be mean with her even though she broke my heart.

Anyway: she’s right. Phil DuPont is there, sitting at the bar, talking to Nick. Phil DuPont. It’s crazy to see him. He’s a celebrity! Or: he was a celebrity. Some stories came out. Actually, a lot of stories came out. Women who had worked with him, women who had been backstage with him. His TV show got canceled. His tour got canceled. He fucked off for a while. Now he’s in Schaumburg. His belly spills over the rim of his jeans. He’s chewing on a straw planted in a glass of something that looks like Coke. I’m watching him. He’s watching the comics. Beth is looking at her phone.

“Why’s he in Schaumburg?”

Beth shrugs. “Why is anyone?”

Good question. I consider my own circumstances. “No money. Societal outcast. Physical appearance worsening with each passing day.” A pause. “Also there’s a Costco.”

Beth doesn’t laugh. She’s posting. The other week she told me she was really working on her posts these days.

“I feel like someone should say something,” Beth whispers, and I think she’s referring to Phil, like, “hey, Phil, get outta here,” but when it’s her turn to go up, she does a neat five minutes off the Notes app on her phone. The jokes that don’t land will become posts. The Earth moves around the sun.

I keep waiting for Phil to go up on stage, but he doesn’t. He sits at the bar all night with his soda. It makes me so mad. Nick going in and out, checking on him, the two of them whispering back and forth.

When it’s time for my set, I abandon the jokes about living with my parents three and a half minutes in (they’re bombing anyway––maybe they too should be posts) and point to the bar. “Phil DuPont is here,” I say.

Phil looks at me. The other comics out in the audience look at me. They don’t look at him. If they don’t look at him, he’s not real.

“Hi Phil,” I say into the microphone to Phil DuPont.

“Hello,” he says. It’s not a quiet voice. He knows he’s in the room; he’s not trying to hide.

“How are you liking Schaumburg, Illinois?”

A few people laugh. Not Phil. “Fine by me.”

“Fine by you,” I say. Crowdwork is 98% repeating what someone said back to them hoping they’ll find it funny.

I would like this to be going better, but it’s not. The producer, Nick, holds up the light on his phone to signal that I’m done. No time to land a punchline that doesn’t exist. Phil blinks. That’s all, folks.

 

In The Cursed Hours Of Friday Morning

He talks to me after the mic. It’s one thirty in the morning, Beth is off flirting with one of the just-out-of-college comics, and Phil DuPont is talking to me. I didn’t go up to the bar to talk to him. I went up to get another beer and tell the bartender I’d pay my tab next Thursday.

Phil is talk-talk-talking. Can’t he take a hint? I guess not––that’s part of his whole issue. He says a lot of stuff to me in a very polite way, like a guy who assumes everyone is afraid of him. I’m not afraid of him; I want another beer. He wants to know where my crowdwork was going to go, what else I was going to say. I don’t know, man. “I was gonna ask you why you dressed up so nice for an open mic,” I tell him.

Phil pokes at the bottom of his glass with a straw and says I’m very funny.

I say thank you because this is the Midwest and I’m not a psychopath.

 

Phil Makes Me An Offer That I Have Every Right To Refuse

He’s about to embark on a twelve-city tour across the Midwest. Twelve cities, three weeks. Sounds bleak, especially during the month of February, but I tell him it’s cool before I realize exactly what he’s asking by not asking. So I ask: “Who’s the opener?”

“The money is good,” he says. He’s not lying. Openers make bank, probably because it’s the worst job in the business––serving up early laughs for people who did not pay money for your name on the marquée. The best openers are a less famous version of the headliner. Someone with a similar energy, similar audience type. Am I a less famous Phil DuPont? Do we have a similar energy? I sure as fuck hope not, but here we both are in Schaumburg all the same.

 

Meanwhile

Beth and the girl she’s talking to are at the bar now, sitting up on the stools. Beth’s legs are open, not in a slutty way because she’s wearing jeans, but definitely in a way that suggests she knows the position itself is slutty. She’s buying the girl drinks and I’m negotiating the payment of my tab.

 

Phil’s Offer

Or, consider: one thousand dollars a show.

 

The Possibility

Twelve thousand dollars. That’s, what, a year’s worth of rent? Plus a little more that I’ve saved up. I don’t have to move back to this city; I can move to a different city. I can move to Los Angeles. I can move to New York. I can do the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The world is big and possible and all it takes is perhaps the tiniest reckoning of morals. All of which is to ask: is the opener held accountable for the sins of the main act?

 

Phil Rents A 2015 Toyota Prius In Sea Glass Pearl

He insists on driving. I thought he’d have a tour bus. Maybe because that was his old deal. Stadium shows, multi-city tours. I once watched the Justin Bieber documentary when I was stoned. He’s always sitting on a giant bed in the middle of a tour bus. Phil was never as famous as Justin Bieber, though.

As we’re packing up the trunk––him, two suitcases; me, a duffle and a backpack––I ask him if he’s rich. He thinks about it in a way only a rich person would. Poor people know they are not rich. I, for example, am not rich.

Phil tells me he lost a lot of money when––here, he trails off, waving his hand as if what happened to him was like losing a pair of sunglasses––but he’s still rich. The reason he drives is because if he gets into an accident and dies he’ll know it was his fault. I ask if I can drive the rental sometimes (I am a great driver) and Phil says no.

 

On The Subject Of Boundaries

Sometimes Beth would start flexing her bachelor’s degree in psychology and say something to me like, “It’s crazy how many emotional walls you have up for a woman with zero boundaries,” and I’d say, “What the fuck are you talking about?” and she would say, “Wow, you really want me to do all the work here, huh?” It’s not that I was lazy––or am lazy, still––but more that I’ve never been impressed by blanket statements made about the way I behave, even if they came from someone I was in love with.

It’s only outside of Joliet that I wonder if I should establish boundaries with Phil. Employer/employee type shit. For example, should I sit in the backseat when he’s driving so it’s hard for him to, what, grab my thigh? It’s tough to conceive what this would look like, what it’d feel like. Growing up, teachers would use the phrase “compromising situation.” As in: obviously no one should touch anyone else inappropriately, but also don’t put yourself in a compromising situation. This whole thing is a compromising situation.

Perhaps the reason I am not afraid of him is because instead of doing anything to intimidate me, Phil has spent the first forty-five minutes of the drive adjusting the air conditioning. I tell him it’s February. “It’s hot, it’s too hot in here,” he says. It’s not. I zip my jacket up all the way and stuff my hands in my pockets. I think about the layers of waterproof whatever jackets are made of, and the fleece under that, and the sweatshirt under that, and the t-shirt under that. Maybe that’s a boundary.

 

The Castle Theater Is Half Full

We’re backstage sharing a dressing room where I’m putting on lipstick and Phil is staring at my face in the mirror. He’s not leering. He’s looking. Whatever he sees in me, I don’t want to know. He doesn’t have to put on makeup. It’s his whole thing that he’s ugly. It’s mine too, but I still have to wear mascara.

Phil asks if I have a manager.

I gesture to him and then back to myself and then back to him. “Of course I don’t have a manager.”

We blink at each other.

“I just thought, if you did have a manager, I wonder what they would have to say about you doing this.”

“Can you get me one?”

He doesn’t have one. “No booker, no agent. Fired ‘em. Life’s easier without those schmucks,” he says.

I have a feeling that maybe Phil didn’t do the firing himself. But that also means this tour exists because Phil wants it. Something about his broken personality won’t let him retire into obscurity. So he must have cold-called the theaters, arranged everything. What a huge amount of work for a theater at half capacity. Tickets to his show are $25, which is outrageous. To see live comedy? Not that I’m complaining. I get my grand no matter what. Forty people have to commit to seeing Phil in order for me to get paid, and I would wager most Midwestern cities have forty Phil DuPont apologists.

My set goes fine––they’re college kids, mostly. I suppose there’s more of an overlap between a forty-something guy and college seniors than I’d expected. They laugh at everything I say because they don’t know what is and isn’t a joke.

After the show, Phil and I go out to some sticky, awful restaurant slash bar. I eat an entire cheese pizza and drink four beers. Should I be getting drunk in front of Phil, probably not. “Compromising situation.” He picks at a grilled chicken sandwich, eats like three french fries. I didn’t want to eat with him, but when the show wrapped up, Phil looked so sad and dumb and empty-eyed that I figured I ought to. His set was pretty good––new jokes but tonally no different than his old stuff, he still “has it”. On stage he’s bright and smirking and confident. The second he’s backstage, more like a deflated tire. Over dinner, Phil asks if I ever watch TV and I’m so confused by the nothingness of the question that I don’t answer.

 

The Bloomington-Normal DoubleTree Gives Me Three Towels Even Though I Am One Person

We have separate hotel rooms, obviously. I have freshly shampooed hair. I have one thousand dollars. I have never been happier in my life.

 

Just The Way You Are

Phil plays a Billy Joel satellite radio station. He taps the wheel, he taps the arm rest. No rhythm to any of it. I wonder what it’d be like to have sex with him. I am cursed to wonder this about anyone I spend more than five minutes alone with. Bad, probably, is the conclusion I come to. He tells me Billy Joel is the greatest artist of the last century.

“I only know about his drunk driving,” I tell him. That’s not entirely true, but it feels good to say something cutting to Phil in order to enact a cosmic retribution on behalf of all women.

Phil says my generation is obsessed with remembering people based on their crimes. He goes on and on about how young people have way too much respect for the law. I also take offense to his claim as someone who has received not one but four speeding tickets and a parking violation. He asks me how I’d like it if people only knew me for my worst crime. Before I can answer, he turns up “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”

 

The Other Bloomington

I can’t believe there are two different Midwestern shitholes named Bloomington.

 

Steeling Myself For The Possibility I Have To Throw Myself Out Of The Prius Like Lady Bird From Lady Bird (2017)

I ask Phil what the fuck happened with those women, like, what he was thinking and why he would do whatever it was he did. I don’t know what we’re supposed to talk about. Our interests? I have no idea what I’m thinking. Or worse, I know what I’m thinking and it’s: I’ve made an enormous mistake. I’m certainly not the first person to ask and I doubt I’ll be the last. Sitting beside him in a hybrid car on our way to Bloomington (the other one) is not going to make him spontaneously honest.

With neither surprise nor irritation, Phil says, “I didn’t do anything to anyone.”

“Is that true or is that what your lawyers want you to say?”

He says, “It’s funny you think I have more than one lawyer.”

“Well, I have zero lawyers.”

“That’s great,” he’s tapping his fingers on the steering wheel even though we’re not listening to any music, “keep it that way.”

 

Backstage At The Comedy Attic

We’re only three days into this but Phil and I are already arguing about sets. Well, my set. He tells me I can go for twelve to fifteen minutes, but I plan to stick to twelve. “Go for fifteen,” he pushes, “I’m not going to cut you off.” That’s the thing: there is no good fifteen. Doing a fifteen-minute set requires a perfect eight-minute joke. It’s almost impossible to figure out the placement of that kind of longer form bit without the padding of twenty minutes. So it’s twelve minutes or it’s twenty minutes. Like a skateboard trick: it lands or it all fails. An audience doesn’t remember the leap, they don’t remember the turn of the board in the air. They remember the guy crashing down onto the curb.

 

The Other Bloomington DoubleTree

When Phil and I get back from the Comedy Attic, we go to our separate rooms and I call down to the front desk to ask for two more pillows. I already have four in my room, but I want six. Wrapped in towels, I climb into bed, two pillows behind my head and the other four arranged in pairs besides me. Every inch of me is cocooned in bedding. The next morning, all but one pillow is on the floor.

 

Meet And Greet

Phil does not linger after shows. He does not stand in the lobby and shake people’s hands and thank them for coming. No photos, no autographs. “Everyone is a fucking blogger,” he says to me, but I only kind of know what he means. He’s of the generation that thinks if someone writes for Buzzfeed News that they’re a blogger and not a journalist, but I’m not going to be the person who explains it to him. Phil doesn’t stop me from going out and mingling. He encourages it. “Obviously there’s value… if you need it…” so while he sits and mopes in his dressing room, I go out and chat with the people who linger outside.

Everyone wants to know if Phil is nice. It is always odd, in my experience, that people are so obsessed with knowing whether a successful person is nice. Why does it matter if Phil is nice? Should the fact that Phil got in trouble for touching women without their permission speak to his niceness? What I tell them is that Phil has always been nice to me. Or at the very least, not unkind.

 

The Unholy Itch Of Unknowing

Now that we’ve established a rhythm to this whole thing––satellite radio, reading billboards aloud, saying “cows” or “horses” if we see cows or horses, typical Midwestern driving shit––maybe Phil will want to tell me what he did. This time I ask leading questions. “So is it, like, are you an alcoholic? Do you hate women?”

“What makes you think I want to talk about this while I’m driving,” Phil says.

“Like, are you in AA? Did you do anything? To deal with this?”

“The thing I am doing to deal with this is drive myself around the Midwest on my own damn tour.”

I should know better than to ask, but part of me thinks one day Phil will change. One day we will wake up in our separate hotel rooms, but he will be struck with a sense of moral purpose. In the meantime, I will continue to feel horrible about myself, like I am the one being punished. This might be true, but at least I never groped anyone.

 

Actually, Phil Does Not Want To Listen To The Radio Today

Phil regales me with stories of how things used to be. The clubs were grosser. Smoking was legal. Everything was sticky. The microphones were sticky! But it didn’t matter. Everyone loved it. Everyone was happy. (I want to clarify who that refers to specifically.) Phil tells me a story about a guy named Dan Bird who used to drink three whole forties on stage and then tell jokes until he threw up. He tells me about Vern Gibson making his first million dollars on a tour and then coming back to LA and buying a boat and taking everyone out on it. The day was so beautiful, he says. The water was so blue, he says. Phil can’t even make a fond memory sound great. It’s a kid’s drawing of a nice day. He tells me about being on his first movie set. He tells me about selling his TV show. He says residuals like seven times.

 

I Also Have A Story About How Things Used To Be

When that article came out, the one about Phil and all those women, all the group chats I had with my female comedian friends were lighting up left and right. We couldn’t stop talking about it. We made all these jokes. It felt like a dam bursting. Comics would come through clubs and there’d be industry gossip and inevitably Phil’s name would come up. Someone would say they had a friend who heard he slipped his name in some girl’s jeans pocket or reached a hand down over a shoulder to get a handful of tit. That was the legacy––friend of a friend of a friend. But where there’s smoke. When it got written about, when someone took it seriously, it was like the tide was changing. People cared! It mattered.

At the time, I only knew Beth in a friendly way. A familiar face in the club circuit. Every now and then we’d get a beer. She texted me: “Is it weird I feel kinda bad for him?” and I told her: “Yes, but I won’t tell anyone you have a horrible opinion.”

 

William Fremd High School Class Of 2006 Reunion

This girl I went to high school with lives in Grand Rapids and works at a restaurant. “Works” is dismissive––she owns the restaurant. Her name is Catherine. I message her on Instagram the day before Phil and I do a show there to see if she wants to get dinner. Catherine and I haven’t spoken since we graduated. Neither of us went to the ten year, which is how I know she’s a good egg. When we meet, she gives me a big hug. I know it’s not flirting, but it feels like flirting. To hug, I mean.

We go to her restaurant. She orders the most beautiful roasted vegetable platter I’ve ever seen and I get braised chicken.

Catherine does the thing many people who have never had a job in the arts do, which is say how cool it is. I’m laughing. I make zero money! Well, now I’m making money, but before that. I tell her it’s going well. I’m touring, after all. She asks if she can come to my show that night. I explain it’s not really my show.

“Well, whose show is it,” she asks. She’s smiling. Her life is so great.

“It’s Phil DuPont’s,” I tell her.

She keeps on smiling. She has no idea who that is.

“He’s, um,” I try to think of anything of Phil’s that would have crossed her radar besides, well. “He had a TV show… for a couple of years. It was on one of the streaming channels.”

She shakes her head.

“He’s a stand-up, like, a real guy’s guy sort of guy, talks about, like, being––”

“Phil DuPont,” she says, nodding. The smile vanishes. I wonder what tipped her off.

I pull some gristle out of my teeth.

“Phil DuPont,” she repeats. “Yes, of course. I saw––I know who that is.” She smiles again, but this time I can tell it’s not real. “That’s still,” why does she say still, “really exciting though,” she says as if it took willpower to think of those five words, let alone put them together.

 

The Unused Comp

I leave a spare ticket for Catherine with the box office guy. She doesn’t claim it.

 

Phil’s Set

“I like this state,” Phil says over and over again. “I like this state, I like Michigan,” he says. Michigan, whoever they are, cheers back. Why do they like him? What do they see in him––or is it that they see themselves? A man who is not proud, not glamorous. The appeal to Phil is that he is normal, and I suppose what is more normal than perpetual violence. What, then, do they see when they watch me? Certainly I am not normal––unless, horrifyingly, I am?

Backstage, he goes for a hug, if not one of those masculine half-hugs, and I back off. “Fair enough,” he says. He gives the backstage wall a pat as if it was my shoulder. “Good show tonight,” he adds, but I think he’s talking to himself.

 

On Hold With The Front Desk

I want to know how many pillows is too many pillows for one woman.

 

Some Speakeasy In Ann Arbor That Phil’s Friend Told Him About And Neither Of Us Know Its Name

“Did a famous person tell you about this place?” I ask him. Phil never seems to want to know much about me, but I would like to know everything about him. I’m building a psychological profile. I’m a true crime podcaster. I’m drunk, again. I’m convinced I can solve him––is this what it’s like to date men? But who has solved him, is my big question. Who talks to him? Who tells him about secret bars in the middle of Michigan? He’s not married, he has no kids. I don’t see him text or talk on the phone, but again, we have separate hotel rooms. Maybe he’s better with boundaries than I am.

“Did you ever bartend?”

“Of course,” I tell him.

He takes a sip. “Not me. Not nimble enough.”

“What?” How nimble is a bartender supposed to be.

“Well, I did try. I was a bartender for, like, a week. But I was horrible. I dropped glasses. I spilled. Total liability issue,” he explains. “Any bar job I had, I was a bouncer.” He launches into this story about how he once had to fight a guy who wouldn’t leave some definitely-underaged girls alone. He glosses over the part where he let underaged girls into a bar, but he loves telling me how he thought he was going to lose a tooth that night. He does a lot of this. Not reminiscing, not exactly, but asking me one question about myself and using it to tell me something about him.

 

I Step Outside For A Phone Call

It’s a woman named Lisa––or is it Elisa?––and is it okay if she records the call. Why would someone need to record a call? I can’t really hear her. She’s telling me she works for some comedy website. I’m familiar with this website. They once made a list of the best comics in Chicago and included Beth and not me. It’s the first time I’ve thought about Beth in days, which makes me resent the reporter more than I ought to. Lisa or Elisa asks me if I’m dating Phil DuPont and I laugh and I tell her I’m gay.

“Well, then why are you opening for him if you’re gay?”

“Are gay people not allowed to do something morally dubious for money or?” It’s a stupid sentence. The second I say it aloud, I wish I hadn’t.

“Okay, but why.”

“I need to make money at my job.”

“That’s so interesting,” she goes in a way that suggests to me it is so interesting.

Back inside, Phil is on his second Coke. “Who was that?”

When talking to someone older, there is always a debate to phrase it the way I would understand the situation and to phrase it the way they would understand the situation. “Blogger,” I tell him.

He nods slowly. “They always find me.”

“You don’t make yourself difficult to find.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean your name is on a marquée and you perform comedy for a live audience on a regular basis.”

“They’re obsessed with me.”

I cough but for dramatic effect only. “Well, they were asking about me.”

“No one would ask you two questions if I wasn’t dragging you along with me.” I know this, but I don’t want to hear it said aloud. This is me making it, I want to tell him. Doesn’t he get that? I’m finally getting everything he had––the money, the theaters, the press. He’s not paying attention to me anymore, or rather: he’s back to asking about the blogger.

 

Phil And I Compare Our Favorite Parts Of The Article About His New Tour

“I like that they call you a relative unknown.”

“See, I like that they call me a sell-out.”

 

The Comments Section

I used to know this girl but, I never thought she was that funny so this doesn’t realy surprise me.

 

Phil Confiscates My Phone

He snatches it right out of my hands and throws it behind us. Fine. Fine. In the meantime, he wants to talk about how no one respects the business of these things. How no one understands that sometimes you have to work for a bad person in order to become a good person.

“Do you think me doing this makes me a good person?”

“You’re helping someone, no?” he says. Phil skips past the Billy Joel satellite station and lands on one for The Police. “Helping someone is always good.”

“I don’t know if it’s that simple,” I tell him.

“Sure it is,” he says, turning up the music.

“Didn’t people help the Nazis.”

“That’s a very inappropriate example,” he says. “Why are people your age obsessed with comparing everything to the Nazis?”

 

I Have Counted Eighteen Silos In The State Of Michigan

“Do you ever think about moving to one of those little towns and opening up a little store?” I ask Phil. “Like, selling antiques and dairy products?”

“Obviously not,” he says.

 

I Am Heckled By A Woman In Columbus, Ohio

The thing that is most striking about her is that I would bet ten dollars, no, fifty dollars that we’re the same age. I don’t why but I never associated heckling with young people before. That’s not me saying heckling is for old people, but my familiarity with the practice centers around an agitated person in the second half of their life looking for someone to scream at.

She’s wearing glasses. Her hair is pulled into a tight ponytail. In the middle of doing my breakup jokes, right at the top of my set, she says I deserve to be alone. That’s possible. Then she says I’m complicit. Then she calls me a bitch! A few people in her section of the audience applaud. “Why did you spend $25 to yell at me?” I ask.

It gets a laugh from another section of the audience.

“Just send me an email next time,” I tell her.

A bigger laugh. How awful it must be for her that I am good at my job.

 

Phil Is Heckled By The Same Woman In Columbus, Ohio

He seems a little taken aback by it. This idiot really thought he was back, huh. I guess I did too. Watching him flounder on stage is oddly thrilling, deeply gratifying.

He’s not even handling it at all. After about thirty seconds, he lets her go. He doesn’t take control of the situation. That’s why there’s a microphone––so the comic can be in control. But when she’s back in her seat, Phil says, “Are you done? Have you said your piece?”

Your piece. There’s something so finite about it, as if her yelling at him has an ending. Even when she sat down after giving me what-for, I could tell there was more bubbling beneath the surface. There’s so much to her. There’s so much more to me. Your piece.

 

I Check My Bank Account

We’ve done six shows so far, that’s six thousand dollars. Six thousand dollars isn’t nothing. It pays off my bar tab, and then some. It’s more money than I’ve had in my bank account in years. I could put some in savings if I was feeling really wild.

What’s more is that I could move. It’s more than enough money to move. What do I even own, a bed? Two pillows? Everything I am doing is towards the betterment of my own life: that’s what I have to remember. Not just materially, spirituality. If I am not good, I can become good at any time.

 

I Can’t Sleep

“Hello. I am in room 608, and I was wondering if I could get four pillows sent up here.”

 

I Have Another Story About How It Used To Be

In college, my friends and I saw Phil. We paid $65 to see him in a concert hall downtown. Laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. We could not have related less to his material. Him: rich, self-loathing, teetering between older young person and middle-aged person. Us: eating boxed mac and cheese, bathing in youthful narcissism. We thought he was the funniest man in America. Driving home, I told everyone it had been the best night of my life. I thought: that’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to do with my whole life, no matter the cost. Well.

 

The Swell Of Desired Justice En Route To Cincinnati

“I guess the big question is: was it worth it?” I’m not supposed to ask about this kind of stuff when he’s driving, but it slips out. What’s he going to do, kick me out of the car? “Because we’re assuming you didn’t do something, but you’re living your life as if you did. Small theaters, self-booking. Schrödinger’s comedian: a reality in which you both groped women and didn’t grope women.”

Phil is quiet.

Against my better judgement, I feel sorry for myself––or is it Phil?––and apologize. “I only got a few hours of sleep last night.” My face is dry and achy, and my eyes are burning even though it’s overcast.

“I slept okay, actually,” he says. I don’t know if the “actually” is a verbal tic or a clarification, the slightest suggestion that perhaps Phil DuPont does not sleep through the night.

 

Evasive Maneuvers

“I think what you’re really getting at is whether or not this is worth it for you.” Phil taps the steering wheel. “And that’s not my question to answer.”

 

A Victory (Small)

Phil stops talking and puts the Billy Joel satellite station back on. When I lean forward and hit repeat for “Uptown Girl,” he doesn’t tell me not to.

 

The Manager Of The Louisville Palace Is Somehow Also Named Phil

The Palace is gilded in that disingenuous way where even someone like me can tell it’s a garish paint job with a shitty sealant instead of real gold. The manager tells us the style is Spanish Baroque, but I would safely bet neither Phil nor I know what that means in this context or any. All of these dingy theaters are caked in history, but this is the first one that seems obsessed with its own legacy, portraits of its famous former performers up in black and white on the wall. There’s something funny about me deciding which flannel shirt to wear with a picture of Dolly Parton smiling down on me.

The Palace can fit almost three thousand people. Only two thousand of them do. It’s the largest audience I’ve ever performed for. I ought to feel proud, but as I walk out onto the stage––steps broad, hands out, never let an audience suspect you are shy or hapless––I become acutely aware that any energy I feed off of is meant for Phil. Midway through the set I realize it’s Thursday again. Or is it Friday. No––Thursday. The open mic in Schaumburg. I wonder how Beth’s set goes.

 

After Hours At The Louisville DoubleTree

Phil and I have stopped hanging out together after shows. In fact, after my set that night, I leave. I go back to the hotel. At the bar, there’s a woman a few seats down from me having a decaf coffee. She has long red hair and glasses. The frames are metal. She turns to me and says, “You look very familiar.”

“That’s because I’m very famous,” I tell her.

She laughs because I still “have it.”

We do not get to the root of why I look familiar to her. Maybe I have one of those faces. I would hope that she’s not reading any comedy-specific journalism, but that seems unlikely once she tells me she works in skincare. There’s a dermatology convention in town. She’s there to sell her serums, her creams. Seems a lot more stable than what I’m doing, and her face, for what it’s worth, is blemish-free.

“Do you need an opener?” I ask her.

“A what?”

“Like,” I think for a second, because it’s possible that jobs in the comedy world do not have a real-life equivalent, “a living ‘before’ picture?” My skin is bad even though I’m far past puberty. One could accredit that type of issue to poor diet and little exercise and eating candy in a rental car and never drinking water and bad genetics and constantly touching my face.

She smiles. She tells me her name is Erin.

We go back to my room. I refrain from showing her how many pillows I can order from the front desk, though I trust she would be impressed. There’s an inherent softness to the way she speaks to me. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t know me, hasn’t seen all the ways I fuck up on an almost constant basis. Maybe it’s because she’s not also a comedian, a job in which the urge to have the last word ruins relationships. When we kiss, her hand cups my cheek and it’s the best I’ve felt all year. We kiss for a while, and then I say, “I think if we have sex I’m going to cry,” and she says we don’t have to. When I wake up in the morning, she’s gone. A couple of skincare samples sit on the bathroom sink.

 

At A Gas Station Between Louisville And St. Louis

I make Phil open up the trunk so I can swap my winter jacket for my jean jacket. It’s warm! Or at least: it’s warmer! Still gray, but warmer. I’m feeling lighter, easier. (More complicit? a mean voice in my head asks.) For a stretch of I-64 where there’s construction, and the speed limit is 45, we keep the windows open. Phil won’t let me drive but he does let me pick the music. I make him listen to sad, gay girl rock music, and he tells me it’s derivative but not bad.

 

Once Again Our Little Traveling Show Has Been Written About By A Comedy Website

“This guy called me gormless,” I tell Phil, reading aloud backstage.

“Do you see yourself as without gorm?”

 

I Sign My First Autograph In Kansas City

Some guy who’s at least a foot taller than me holds out the drink special card and gives me a Sharpie. I scribble my name on it in a way that looks incoherent enough to look cool. He says something over the din of the theater bar about being brave.

“Thank you so much.”

“No, I said Phil is brave.”

 

The Phil DuPont Farewell Tour

Our last show is in Iowa City at a nice, roomy theater called the Englert. It’s smaller than some of the ones we’ve done, but it’s our first and now only venue to sell out. Maybe Phil really is back. He tells me I can do twenty minutes tonight, and he’ll give me an extra two hundred dollars. Thank you, Phil!

With my extra eight minutes, I ask the packed Iowan house if they think Phil DuPont is a good guy or a bad guy. “Show me your work, by the way,” I tell them, “it’s math class now.”

They don’t laugh, they don’t participate. That’s fine. What do I care if I’m loved in Iowa? Phil is in the wings, and he’s laughing.

 

Upon Late Night Consideration

A tour of the Midwest in late winter ought to turn me off of the entire landscape, but in fact, I am surprised to feel the exact opposite. The desire to move east or west is gone. I have never felt more at home. The bad food, the bad drinks, the bad theaters. Phil––whose badness is so inherent I have grown to accept it as personhood. Maybe there is such a thing as being an apologist but in a good way.

 

Or

None of the above.

 

Light Breaks Across The Iowa Sky

The morning is the same as the evening, which is to say: I have twelve thousand and two hundred dollars and I am done with the tour. Phil is smiling in the hotel lobby. He sold out a show in Iowa City. Big fucking deal. But maybe it does mean he is back. He is loved, he is wanted. If you can make it here, etc.

The car ride back is quieter than I expected. We ran out of things to talk about three days ago and still found a way to make conversation. Maybe we’re both sad. I know I am sad, but in a way I cannot articulate let alone think into being. I know that the influx of cash, while helpful, makes little difference. I know I am not moving to New York or Los Angeles. As we drive past the fields and the gray and the dead and the living, I cannot imagine a future that isn’t this, stretching on for seemingly ever. As for Phil’s sadness, I think he has come to realize that the promise of his performance in Iowa City (and Schaumburg, and Louisville, and Columbus, and Ann Arbor, and the Bloomingtons, and––) is what we who live in the Midwest have come to learn is true: it is easy to hit your head on the ceiling.

A few miles out from home, Phil thanks me. Is he grateful? I think anyone would have done what I did, which is what makes me feel so miserable. We were just lucky (“lucky”) to be in the same place at the same time on the same night. He tells me he is traveling soon for some meetings. He doesn’t say where, just that he’s going. I almost say good luck, but instead say nothing. He does not need my luck. That is for me.

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