Cocaine; Or, Suicide

In a city rife with stand-up comedians he was considered the funniest, the smartest, the most innovative, the one always on the cutting edge, the guy, the man, the seer, able to synthesize the totality of the culture and spin tales that entertained, made you think, made you laugh, because out of everyone he was the one with his finger squarely on the pulse, a true diagnostician, a master, the best of his generation, a talent that comes along once in a lifetime, an award-winning polymath who straddled the worlds of film, literature, music, philosophy, and art, he could not be denied, not after all this time, because he started young, a wunderkind, a prodigy, he hit the ground running and hadn’t stopped, kept topping himself, growing, maturing, he was nothing short of exhausting, made all the other stand-up comedians despair, throw up their hands, what was the point, but they couldn’t be jealous, he had everything covered, invented a new language, knew all the old traditions and forms inside and out, was beloved by those who came before him, the legends, they sought him out, wanted to be around him, acknowledged him as the one true heir, and those that were coming up behind him, they considered him their hero, he had the body of work, the fame, the money, the respect, the houses, the cars, and he was only just now arriving at middle age, how could it be possible, his best work was probably still ahead of him, and even better, he was a child of the city, born and raised, he understood it better than almost anybody else, spoke its unspoken language, knew its contours, could drive its streets blindfolded, he and the city were becoming synonymous, when you mentioned one you immediately thought of the other, but he remained slightly mysterious, because he kept to himself, was known to be private, didn’t hog the spotlight, if he had new material he would work out the kinks at one of the local clubs, back where he started, because he was humble, down to earth, you would never catch him talking theoretically, or critically, he was a fan, loved everyone, had nothing but praise for those who toiled in the shadows, the little people, he wanted them to know how much he cared, he did shows for free, and hobnobbed with people afterwards, laughed at their jokes, encouraged them, and yes, he had a drug problem, there were whispers, he couldn’t perform without the coke, it was the coke that was funny, not him, but these were just  rumors, usually started by failures, comedians that couldn’t hack it, like that one guy, no one can remember his name, he was a failure, and also a child of the city, grew up in the same neighborhood as the legend, was approximately the same age, shared many of the same experiences, decided to become a stand up comedian around the same time, but not because of the legend, but because it was something he was compelled to do, translate his life into comedy, but the legend hit first, the material was similar, shared the same themes and rhythms, the failure assumed there was room for both of them, but there wasn’t, the city was only big enough for one, that’s what he was told, the failure, that his act was a rip-off, but it wasn’t, he had just made the same observations, felt the same humiliations, picked up the same vibrations, this is what happens sometimes, for reasons that couldn’t be explained, there must have been something in the air, but it didn’t matter, no one knew who he was and no one wanted to know who he was, all they knew is that he wasn’t the legend, he was the guy pretending to be the legend, he made no imprint beyond this, he was forgotten as soon as he walked out of the room, people simply did not remember him, or if they did they could barely remember him, but he remembered himself, that was the problem, no one could remember him well enough to even remember if they remembered him, but he kept at it, all the while keeping tabs on the legend, seething as the legend rolled out new material right as he was working on his, and the material was always so close to his as to make his instantly obsolete, it drove him insane, he couldn’t work fast enough, the legend was always one step ahead, he would never get a chance to be on stage, he would always be in the audience, that was his destiny, to laugh and not to make people laugh, sitting and watching, just like he was when word got out that the legend was performing for one night only, and there he was, the failure, like a thousand other stand-up comedians, there was the legend and there were the thousand guys who were not the legend, and they all watched in awe as the legend performed, killed, slayed, with stories and jokes that were exactly like the stories and jokes the failure was working on, the failure sat in the audience and laughed, he couldn’t help himself, the legend really was the funniest, but then the laughter turned sour, and the failure thought, Jesus Christ, not again, I’m always one step too slow, it was uncanny, the failure and the legend were always mining the same vein, they always had been, but one had the public’s attention and the other one had crickets, and it would always be this way, the failure would always be the failure and the legend would always be the legend, it was all just a matter of timing, the legend had it and the failure didn’t, this was something you were either born with or not, it was the luck of the draw, and the failure understood this, which is why, during the middle of the legend’s performance the failure stood up, broke a bottle of beer against the side of the table he was sitting at and repeatedly jabbed the broken glass straight into his neck, went right for the jugular, everyone watched, but they seemed  unmoved, even as he screamed and flailed, security moved quickly and dragged him away and out the door, it was quite a scene, no would ever forget it, especially the legend, who, months later, would turn the incident into a bit that garnered him some of the biggest laughs of his career, it was the bit that ended up being the centerpiece of his next cable special, which the failure watched, just like everyone else, sat in his dingy apartment and fingered the scar running from his Adam’s apple to his ear, the legend had turned his moment of blackest despair into a bit, and he didn’t know if he should laugh or cry, whether it was funny or sad, he was here and he was there, but he felt as if he was slowly dissipating from both, like a vapor trail, and he felt, in this moment, that if he went outside and jumped as high as he could the world would spun out from under his feet and he would be lost in space, forever.

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