Mike sat in the green room staring at the bowl of yellow candies in front of him. He hadn’t actually expected someone to fetch him his favorite brand, much less sort out his favorite flavor to fill the bowl. This was the sign, he had made it.
Comedy had been his calling since he made the principal laugh in third grade. He couldn’t even remember why he’d been in the office, he’d caused trouble somehow. Mike remembered the laugh though. The crytalline tinkling laughter as she tried to stay mad at him and failed. Two thousand miles away from that school, in the green room for a stadium they assured him would be packed, he readied himself to make them laugh again. Three shows this week, in three cities. He’d barely managed to find time for his annual physical with the tour underway. The doctor had told him to eat healthier and exercise more. Mike grabbed a handful of candy and chewed it defiantly, knowing his empty stomach would punish him for it later. He could probably work it into his routine even. Or maybe not, as he paused while reaching for a second handful. Perhaps he shouldn’t mention it at all, especially not the doctor.
“Two minutes to showtime!” A knock on the door and a voice calling from the hallway brought him back to the present. He took a slow sip of the water bottle he’d forgotten he was holding and stood up, refilling it from the water cooler by the door. The door opened silently and he made his way to the back of the stage, down a well lit but dull grey hallway. The much darker area behind the stage was mostly empty and he could just make out the mike and stool on stage for him, complete with more water. It didn’t feel like two minutes had passed when the stage manager started gesturing at him to go, but he walked out into the spotlight anyways.
From the moment he sat down and the applause had quieted enough he could hear himself, autopilot kicked in. He told a few new jokes he’d come up with on the trip over, interspersed by his old classics and a few fill in the blank jokes using nearby towns. All the while the laughter held back the nagging thought that sat in the back of his mind. The dark spot on a scan, the elephant only he knew was there.
“So I have an imaginary friend now.” He found himself saying the words, without knowing what would come next. There was a fair bit of laughter. He took a sip of water, more to try and stop himself than because he was thirsty. The acid in his stomach was bubbling up already. Finally the sip was too long to be believable and he set the water down, “It’s a big black elephant, standing right over there.” He pointed off to the side of the stage, thinking of where exactly the spot had been on his scan. The laughter was confused now, trailing off as this odd joke seemed to have no punchline.
“I went to a doctor recently, that boring yearly checkup they make you do for insurance reasons.” The crowd was quiet except for the occasional chuckle. They still didn’t know where this joke was going. “The doctor found a bump, ordered a scan, and this morning showed me a picture of a dark spot in my neck. Terrifying, right?”
There was a smattering of laughter. “So he takes some samples, sends them off, tells me he’ll get back to me. Meanwhile this spot, this big black elephant in the room, is following me around.” Whatever joke he was going to make of this, he was taking too long now. The crowd had fallen into the kind of silence reserved for urgent news reports. “The only other thing he told me was eat right and exercise. I think that’s doctors’ way of saying goodbye. Like in customer service they tell you ‘Have a nice day.’. With doctors it’s ‘You should probably eat more vegetables and go for a run.”
A laugh rippled through the room. He was bringing it back together again. “So of course I requested a giant bowl of candy in the green room out of spite.” The laughter came back. The fans he had briefly frightened laughed with relief that things were back to normal. They would remember what he had said though, it was out now.
“And these guys back here are great. I asked for all yellow ones, my favorite flavor, and they actually did it. That’s the measure of success for a comedian. When the stage crew listens to your stupid requests and takes you seriously.” He could enjoy this bout of laughter even more because they were laughing together. The joke wasn’t very good, but the relief was. He had shared a terrifying real fact about himself and they knew and were still laughing. This was the laughter he had heard in the principle’s office that day. She had also confronted some horrible truth with him and laughed with relief that the world still existed the way she knew it. Whatever he had done that day, he was still a comedian that could make her laugh.
After the show, back on the bus, he cradled the bowl of candies. The stage manager had insisted he keep it. They had given him pats on the back and told him great show, with only the slightest hint of worry lingering behind their eyes. His agent would probably be annoyed, but the results weren’t in yet so there was no reason for a press release or any sort of statement.
Mike ate another handful of candy and tried to think of a better joke about dark spots as they drove to the next town.