One thing my mother taught me was manners. Say please and thank you. Be prepared when asked to do something that you commit to ahead of time. My family by no means resembled the families of, “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it to Beaver.” My household was quite dysfunctional, like so many others, with a variety of issues. Yet, my Mom did instill in me that please and thank you and being prepared, go a long way. What doesn’t go very far in favor, now or in the past, is a lack of manners and responsibility. I recently experienced this lack on two levels, personal and professional. If you are asking by now, what, “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it To Beaver’ might be, you can find out by Googling them. Google: the answer to all questions - except the question of face-to-face interface, an upfront and personal accountability that includes the social skills which come with such an interaction.
To be precise, I first met a friend of my adult step-son at a family holiday dinner in December and invited this young woman to perform for a February comedy event at the playhouse I run located in an historic river town along the Hudson. She was intelligent, funny, and I found I could converse with her at the dinner table about the history and culture of the past and present. I was impressed. I am always interested in helping young talent get ahead, so I invited her to be part of my Sunday afternoon theatrical and musical series in Peekskill, NY. She referred me to some of her work on You Tube. She was funny (although it was a voice over, over a video), so I gave her the opportunity to do ten minutes of stand-up on my stage. The publicity went out through traditional and social media, I talked about it on TV, I put up posters, etc. I was ready. She was not.
When she arrived the weekend of the show, she quickly told me that her computer had malfunctioned that morning so she could not print out her script. Duh, I thought to myself. Didn’t you memorize it by now, since you were asked to create it two months ago in December? Ok, I thought. Maybe she wanted to read from the script, as in a new style of comedy I had not heard of. I was open to that, if it was funny. She continued and said that she had a notebook with her and would jot down what she could remember from her computer file and would also make observations while she was with us, so she could come up with something and be ready for Sunday on stage. She had mentioned that day, as she had in past emails, that she was somewhat perplexed because I had asked her, and everyone else on the bill, not to resort to the F-word, since this venue was also a coffee house open to the public. Her tone was vague and nonplussed in a slacker kind of way. I responded by saying that perhaps she could approach this as a challenge, to be funny without dropping easy F-bombs to create laughter, the nervous kind or otherwise. As we all sat in the kitchen, I continued in earnest. “Feel free to make fun of me and my husband, since you will have had the chance to observe us in our home.” Could I attempt to put a fire under her butt, even at the expense of my being made fun of? Sure. I just wanted to be certain that she had something to say. Turns out she did not.
She took the stage the next day after a sixty-something year old woman who had actually her act together. This woman turned out to be a pisser, as it were, with superb timing, jokes, and mild innuendo. When my young guest grabbed the mic, she told the audience that she had a computer problem so she didn’t have anything with her to share. Duh, again. Isn’t stand up supposed to be a prepared performance? And, if not necessarily so, then we were ready for some amazing improv. It never happened. She told us she was a lesbian. That’s not funny. She told us she took the wrong train to Peekskill. That was a bit humorous when she mimicked the conductor’s ominous voice and his response (she called him the man who takes the tickets). She didn’t say much else on stage except a lot of what sounded like her inner thoughts bleeding through her brain, commenting on how she didn’t have much to say, as if she was talking to herself and we weren’t there. It was a full house. Fortunately for her, it was a polite full house. If this venue was in NYC, where this former Idahoan lives, she would have been unmercifully booed or laughed or both off of the stage within minutes. I called out, “You can make fun of Paul and me since you got to observe us this weekend.” That got the biggest laugh, but she didn’t take the idea and run with it. She just told the audience the size of her bra cup and how that was weird since she was a lesbian (?) and how she wore a plaid shirt for the occasion, and how, yes, she really didn’t have much to say. We had gotten that by then. Still, we applauded. My business partner asked me aside, “is that ‘I’m not prepared’ stuff part of her act?” All I knew was that her unpreparedness was a lack of manners and responsibility. She had an opportunity to hone her skills and she blew it.
I wasn’t concerned about my reputation of bringing original theatre, music and comedy to the playhouse. I have a loyal following; they could see that this disaster was an exception to what we had presented that day, a short comedic play along with the two comics. The weirdest thing is that she didn’t seem to be fazed by the embarrassment she created for herself. Not on stage, not after she left the stage, and not on the way to our home to pick up her things before we drove her and her friends, who came up to see her on stage, to the train. They, too, were unfazed by herun-performance.
So, where was her mother when it came to teaching the fine art of manners? Or, was this behavior all part of her mode of rebellion that she shared with us over Sunday breakfast, when she said, “Being a lesbian is the biggest rebellion I could give to my Mom.” Rebellion, manners, responsibility and the lack or abundance there of, will always be with us, on-line or face to face. Yet, in our world of impersonal technology, there is not much one has to do to engage in research, get information, or even prepare for life. All one has to do is Google one’s question and the answer pops up on the screen, albeit factual or not. And you don’t even have to say please and thank you to your electronic device when it is offers a response.