It was 8:45 PM on a Saturday night and the babysitter was not here. I had to be onstage, telling jokes at a New York City comedy club, at 9:15. I’d already left her a voicemail in my high school Spanish.
“Hola, uh, es la mama de William. Donde?”
I would be late for my spot if I didn’t leave immediately. I wrapped my one-year-old son in a blanket and ran for the car. The babysitter and I communicated via Babelfish.com. I would write an email in English and convert it to Spanish. She would do the same, in reverse. I thought we were good for sabado. Damn. Merde?
I had four fifteen-minute sets that night, at three different comedy clubs. My final set ended at about one a.m. In theory, William and I could hang out in the car between spots, but while I was onstage, I’d have to hand him to somebody. I pulled up to the club at 9:12. Five or six comedians were standing out front. Some I knew, some I didn’t.
“Hey!” I shouted, flipping on the hazard lights. “Can anyone sit with the baby? I’ll pay you twenty-five bucks and I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” A comic named Maggie slid into the back seat.
“Thanks,” I said, handing her the diaper bag. “Now, try not to kidnap him.”
“You’re no fun,” she said. Maggie rode with us for the rest of the night, pocketing about a hundred dollars, which was not much less than me.
This wasn’t supposed to be my life. I wasn’t going to have kids. When I got pregnant by accident, I was forty and single. But also bored. I took a “Hey, why not?” approach to motherhood. My belly became a prop that I took on the road. We had a good time, the fetus and me. Indiana, Texas, Montreal. We flew to Alaska in my fourth month and L.A. in my eighth. My last show as a non-mom was the night before I delivered. When the baby came, I lost fifteen minutes of material.
And my lifestyle.
Comedians have the best lives. I used to stay up until four a.m. and sleep until whenever. Now, most mornings I wake up like the amnesiac from Memento. I have no idea where I am, or whose child is crying. Next to my bed is a helpful Polaroid of my son, captioned with the words: “You are his mother and his diaper needs to be changed.”
William’s dad is also a comedian. We took the baby on the road when he was six months old. My boyfriend would do his set, then run back to the green room, where I was waiting to pass him the swaddled baton. The emcee would kill a few minutes onstage until I arrived. It worked because there were two of us.
Now the baby is older, and there’s often just one of us.
The boyfriend and I usually work alternate road weeks, but recently we each booked separate gigs during the same week. Neither of us could afford to cancel. We figured it would cost less for me to take William to Michigan than for my boyfriend to take him to North Dakota. I found a sitter online. She came to the hotel at seven p.m. I debriefed her on her mission as I saw it, which was to keep my son awake for as long as possible so I could sleep in the next morning.
“He’s gonna start yawning in an hour. Don’t buy into it.” “He’s gonna start yawning in an hour. Don’t buy into it. If you cave and put him to bed, he’s gonna wake up at six a.m. And that can’t happen because I will be dead by Sunday. I need you to keep him talking until eleven or so.”
“Like, sleep deprivation? For a two-year-old?”
From the tone of her voice, I could tell she was not completely on board.
“Of course not! That’s a torture technique. Jeez. All I’m saying is, when his eyes start rolling back into his head, point out the window and yell, ‘plane!’ That’s it. Now, if he happens to spend the next thirty minutes looking for a plane that isn’t there, well, that’s his choice, isn’t it?”
“Five or six times over the course of the evening should do the trick. And you don’t have to say ‘plane’ each time. ‘Firetruck’ works. If you really want to keep him hopping, try ‘Daddy.'”
I returned to the hotel at 1 a.m. I’d done two fifty-minute shows. I was tired.
“What time did he go to bed?” I asked.
“A little before eight.”
Being home is hard, in a different way. After William was born, I cut back on the road work and took a day job writing for a now-defunct website. We had health insurance and the basic bills were paid. But I was in a frustrating position as a comic.
After William was born, I cut back on the road work and took a day job writing. Sunday-Thursday spots in New York City don’t pay much, or at all. But they are the best shows to try out new material. There is no pressure to kill. And new jokes get fine-tuned for the weekend shows, which do pay. That system worked great before I had a kid. Now, I had to hire a sitter for those nights. And all of a sudden I was out $10-$50 dollars every time I did a set. I went from eight to fifteen development sets a week to about two.
My growth slowed, despite the fact that I had so much more to talk about. The problem was solved for me in January, when the day job ended. Now I’m back on the road, doing long sets where I have plenty of opportunity to sneak in new stuff. The corporate benefits are gone, but so is the stagnation.
And the boyfriend and I have settled into a groove. When we’re both in NYC, we perform on alternate weeknights, or one of us will do an early set, and race home so the other can make a late set. We spring for a sitter on weekends and the occasional miercoles o domingo. My schedule’s not the same as it was during the non-mom days, but is anything?