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How To Have The Last Laugh

How To Have The Last Laugh
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BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL

It’s her way or the freeway.

“There’s a pecking order. It goes me and then all of you,” says Los Angeles club owner “Goldie Herschlag,” (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), who heads the ensemble cast of Showtime’s drama I’m Dying Up Here. The series (its first season is available for binging OnDemand) focuses on the famed 1970s stand-up scene. Even though the Sunset Strip is the mecca for comedians on the rise, Goldie’s stage is “the only runway to Carson.”

Goldie’s confidence in her decisions is responsible for her success—and that of others—at a time when, just as female comics were a rarity, female club owners were non-existent. (FYI: The character is loosely based on Mitzi Shore, owner of The Comedy Store and launcher of careers from Seinfeld to Letterman to Leno. Ahead of her time, Shore challenged comedy’s boys’ club mentality by having one room that exclusively booked female comedians, and created specialty nights to showcase the talents of Latino and gay performers.)

Goldie runs her business with an iron fist, and a tough-love chaser. “Going up” unpaid, because the entrepreneur likens her club to a school, the comedians master their craft with a process that’s as such: A never-ending stream of Open Mic Nights. The Cellar. The Main Stage. Then, when the comics have perfected a “tight fifteen,” Goldie calls The Tonight Show, “Where they knock it out of the park.”

Still there are those who doubt her methods and try to convince her to doubt herself. Good luck.

Competing club owners and agents/managers say she’s not treating “her kids” well enough. Network executives say the young comedians are not ready, when Goldie says they are, or conversely, say the stand-ups are ready before Goldie has given the OK. She even loses an Executive Producer position with CBS on an all-female comedian variety show because she wouldn’t back down from a fight over better material than the sexist drivel the network’s writers churned out.

Even the comics to whom she’s giving a break offer push-back.

Because they’re all young and hungry (literally), they’re often enticed by the aforementioned club owners/agents/managers who dangle ten dollars a set and a free buffet in front of them; as well as shots on TV and their names on a marquee. Impatient with Goldie’s lengthily timetable, they all take turns threatening to leave their mentor.

Before she shows them the door, Goldie shows them headshots of their peers who’ve already made it via her tutelage, as she yells: “Carson. Carson. Carson. Sitcom. Development deal. Carson. Carson. Carson. Film career. Carson. Carson. Carson!” This usually shuts them up, at least for a while. (The ones who don’t take her advice, usually see the error of their ways pretty quickly.)

There’s something inspiring about someone who has created standards for herself and

sticks to them no matter what, which BTW is different than people who are just plain stubborn and simply want their own way. Goldie has put in her 10,000 hours; she also trusts her gut.

In fact, watching her in action reminds me of the satisfaction experienced whenever I succeeded in the face of naysayers. It also brings to mind the lamentable times I let someone talk me out of something, like taking a job, quitting a job or walking away from a relationship that was no longer gratifying; there were also lesser missteps, like not buying the sweater or getting the haircut on the suggestion of another, whose opinion I opted to hold higher than my own.

By the time it occurred to me that the person spewing advice about the job opportunity had been making a baseless argument or just talking big, reaching out to the employer was useless, as someone else had already snapped up the position. Continuing to suffer in a toxic work environment, or romantic entanglement or friendship, because I allowed myself to be guilted into staying, made it only more difficult when I chose finally to extricate myself, as happens when one stays too long at the fair.

Now, when I find myself in those situations, I try to bring to mind the times I said, “Thanks, but I’m going to go with my plan.”

Nothing feels better than having things work out, after you “stick to your guns,” as my mother used to instruct. Or as Goldie says in her modest way: “You want genius? You come here.”

 

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Lorraine Duffy Merkl
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels BACK TO WORK SHE GOES and FAT CHICK, for which a movie version is in the works.