I have my bouts with awkward social situations…so much so, that it has become worth noting those times when I manage to perceive an awkward social situation on the horizon, and then consciously avoid it.
I don’t know if every successful avoidance equates to general success in social situations. I think that’s all very subjective. However, this situation — as I relayed it to my best friend in text conversation—really felt like a success, so I thought I’d share it below (names changed, since town where it happened is small). Basically, I decided not to tell a joke in a congenial social situation with strangers:
I want you to know, that I’m proud of something:
instead of hurtling head-first towards what would become a clearly awkward situation, I avoided it. But it could have been bad. It will take a really long explanation for you to know why.
I’m at Market Street, and there are these three girls working behind the counter
Mary, Maxine, and then later the third one—Angela—shows up
Pat [store manager] was there, too, and we caught up for a bit. She introduced me to the girls (who are probably in high school), and the atmosphere became congenial. Mary and Maxine said that, including me, we were the “Three ‘M’s”
Angela came, and while I was waiting for my drink, they just made small talk. At one point, Mary jokingly said to Angela: “Angela, I just realized that you don’t belong here—you’re an ‘A.’ And we’re all ‘M’s.”
It definitely shouldn’t have, because of the already-existing context, but that ‘joke’ made me uncomfortable (like the kind of “Oh god…that was a terrible joke…and everyone’s complicit…and now it’s becoming a bit, and I just want to walk away” kind of uncomfortable).
But, I couldn’t just walk away—that’d be rude. So I felt trapped. Trapped in a bit I didn’t agree to with a bunch of non-comedians (I sound really elitist, as I type this)—and there was no sign of it ending. So my brain did a fight-or-flight response sort of thing, and immediately looked for ways to raise the stakes.
In other words, my brain chose to “fight,” by looking for ways to raise the stakes of the bit
What I was immediately reminded of when Angela was singled out was the book “The Scarlet Letter,” where a woman is forced to wear the letter ‘A’ around a small town as punishment for ‘Adultery.’
Also, I was coming fresh off of watching a news story where Donald Trump suggested that we put every Muslim in America into a registry
So I was like…Angela=A. And then we’re all ‘M’s…
Are you starting to see the joke that I was going to use, here?
I was actually close to saying “Maybe we should all wear labels—that way you (Angela) could be like the ‘Adulterer’ in “The Scarlet Letter,” and we could be prototypes for how ‘Muslims’ will be labeled in Trump’s future of America.”
I swear to god, I could have made this joke. I had one foot in, and one foot out.
50% of me had decided that it was okay to make this joke to three high school girls in Purcellville…one of the most conservative, Christian towns in the country.
And somehow…somehow, the other 50% took control, and just said to these girls, “Haha, maybe we should all wear letters.” And that’s it. They stopped talking about it after that, handed me my drink, and I sat down.
It wasn’t even a complete joke, but it made them laugh and put a cap on the bit.
My faith in humanity is only somewhat restored, but I think I have a lot more faith in myself now.
That’s it. This is a very sanctimonious post. I think all comedians have those moments where they feel like they’ve been roped into a bit (or idea) that isn’t there own, and so flirt with the general danger of the situation described above. Whatever path we end up choosing—as comedians, or as people—I just hope we avoid having to FORCE ideas into each other.